Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stay Classy, Mr. President

One wonders what will transpire between the President and First Lady when she sees this photo of her husband, Mr. Sarkozy, and an unidentified passerby at a G-8 photo-op:

Ogler in Chief

And you thought that this sort of thing ended when the Clintons left Washington.

UPDATE: ABC News has posted the entire video sequence here, and it appears to exculpate the president. The photo above merely catches him turning to assist the woman behind him down the steps.

At least the video absolves our president. France's president, not so much.


Economic Tsunami

I have a quirk that manifests itself just about every time I go to the beach. As I sit there in my chair gazing out over the ocean I can't help imagining what a one hundred foot tsunami would look like as it rose up just off the coast. I picture with a shudder how much death, damage, and devastation such an unimaginably powerful wave would cause to the entire coastline. I think a lot of people might be starting to experience similar fantasies right now about our economy.

Whether you think the trend illustrated by the graph below is good or bad will depend upon your point of view, of course, but I wonder if it's not an indication that a significant number of people are emerging from their hope-and-change trance and starting to realize that the current administration's policies are generating an economic tsunami.

The wave crest of a tsunami may not be particularly high at first, but as it approaches the shore it suddenly rises to enormous heights and wipes out everything in its path. People standing on the beach of our economy are seeing the surf suddenly rush out to sea. The ocean is beginning to swell and rise to alarming proportions in the distance, and many, especially among political independents, are gathering up their children and preparing to flee.

The green line represents those who think the President is doing a good job. The red line represents those who think he's not:

When people consider the cumulative effect another "stimulus" bill, higher taxes, the cap and trade energy bill, nationalized health care, and astronomical deficits and debt will have on their personal finances they begin to feel genuine fear for their future and that of their children. I suspect the above trend lines reflect that growing fear.

The really bad news for White House political strategists is this: Eventually the media may tire of playing the Washington Generals to Barack Obama's Harlem Globetrotters, and when they do these numbers will get much, much worse for the President.

If the media starts reporting the consequences of our debt and extraordinary spending binges voters will start fleeing the beach in panicked thousands as the tsunami looms high over their heads, and then that red line will shoot right off the top of the chart.


Spiritual Alcoholics

Mark Galli at Christianity Today writes that it's been a tough couple of months for evangelical Christians:

We discovered that Carrie Prejean, Miss California, sudden heroine in the gay marriage debate, posed nude for the cameras to kick-start her modeling career.

Then there were the Gosselins, a seemingly devout couple who were sacrificially raising a "ginormous" family on reality TV for all to see their Christian witness. They have decided to divorce. They mouthed the usual mantra, about doing it for the sake of the kids-and the hearts of the devout nationwide sank in despair.

This week we're squirming over South Carolina Governor, and active Christian, Mark Sanford. Every day we discover more sordid details of his extra-marital affair, with Sanford himself revealing, well, just way too much information. Do we really need to know how many times he kissed his paramour, and where they met, and which meetings resulted in "crossing the line" and so forth? Now he's trying to spiritually justify staying in office. It feels so narcissistic and self-serving.

It's discouraging to see Christians who could have been models of our faith become merely examples of what G. K. Chesterton called the one doctrine subject to empirical proof: original sin.

There is something in the evangelical psyche that denies this reality. Yes, we're a movement that preaches repentance and confession of sin as a chief means of grace. But after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in. We preach, teach, and live "discipleship," "obedience," and "following" Jesus. We're deathly afraid of cheap grace. We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow's mite and our righteousness larger than life.

This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, "What does that person have?" Because it is such an integral part of our evangelistic method, we spend enormous amounts of psychic energy trying exude that something.

After rightly suggesting that the flaws of Jon and Kate reflect our movement's flaws, she says that we must do things differently: Find new role models, practice forgiveness better, and take marriage vows more seriously. Do, do, do. Then she concludes, "Then, and only then, will Christians have something to offer the world." The problem, of course, is that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that Christians will actually do these things consistently. Not private Christians. Not public Christians-it's only a matter of months, maybe days (!) before another scandal will be revealed in the press.

Such moral exhortations are no doubt needed, but we must never believe that "then and only then" will we Christians have something "to offer the world." What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, "We are sinners saved by grace." What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

All of this is true, but too many of Christianity's detractors draw from these sad truths precisely the wrong conclusion. They occasionally think they're making some devastating criticism of Christianity by pointing out that too many Christians are no better in their personal lives than those outside the faith. That's a charge that cannot and should not be denied, but the question it should prompt is: So what follows from that? Does it invalidate Christianity that Christians are flawed human beings like everyone else? Christians don't (or at least shouldn't) claim to be better people than those outside the Faith. They claim only to have a reason to think that some behavior is wrong and to have a motive to strive to improve it. Secular man has neither.

It has been noted that a church is like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The pews are filled with people wrestling with demons of one sort or another, and a single moment of weakness can toss any of them off the wagon and back into their own personal agonies. It happens to all of us amid the stresses and strains of work and family life. For the critic to point at us and say, "See, Christians are no better than anyone else so Christianity is false and has nothing to offer," is like pointing at an alcoholic fighting to stay sober who nevertheless succumbs and takes a drink, and saying, "See, AA members are no better than a drunk in the street, so AA is worthless."

Christianity is not something people are urged to consider because it makes its followers perfect. Christians urge others to consider the Gospel because they believe the Gospel is true; they believe that it offers grace and forgiveness to people who very much need it; it offers a basis for moral behavior in a world that has no grounds for saying that anyone is obligated to act one way rather than another; it holds up a mirror to our faces and makes us aware of our faults and flaws; it gives life meaning and hope that no secular worldview can offer; and it helps people to be better than they would otherwise have been. It does not promise that if you become a Christian you'll be a moral exemplar.

Every person, Christian or not, is wrestling with at least one "addiction" in their life. It could be alcohol or drugs, sex or power, anger or lying, unkindness or selfishness, money or pride, hypocrisy or self-righteousness. Everyone, Christian or non-Christian, has something in his or her life that, like the alcoholic, may be defeated for a time but from which he or she is never completely freed. Christian faith gives people the resources to help them wage the life-long struggle with that addiction, but, like AA, it doesn't deliver them from it. It offers them forgiveness and acceptance, not total deliverance, not in this life. Christ, Christians believe, helps us be better people than we would have been had we not been Christians.

It's very disappointing and sad to see anyone fail to remain "on the wagon," but it's a little odd of the critics to fault the wagon just because the people riding it are, to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche, human, all too human.


Five Cups a Day

Here's a piece from Science News that may prove very helpful for people concerned about Alzheimers:

When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease were given caffeine - the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day - their memory impairment was reversed, report University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Back-to-back studies published online July 6 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, show caffeine significantly decreased abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer's disease, both in the brains and in the blood of mice exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Both studies build upon previous research by the Florida ADRC group showing that caffeine in early adulthood prevented the onset of memory problems in mice bred to develop Alzheimer's symptoms in old age.

Five cups is a lot of coffee for some people. In fact that much caffeine would probably kill you, but at least you'd remember why you were dying.

Maybe it's time to invest in coffee stocks.