Conservative Theology

November 30, 2008

Religion and Politics / The Methodist Church and Abortion

JB

Another reason I'm glad I left the United Methodist Church.  Apparently now they support abortion.

November 30, 2008

Religion and Science / The Myth of Religious Neutrality

JB

Metanexus has posted an excerpt from Clouser's excellent book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality.  The excerpt includes Clouser's novel view of what constitutes religion.  Clouser defines religion as the belief of something which is not dependent on anything else.  Therefore, since the materialists believe that matter and the laws of nature are not dependent on anything else, by Clouser this would be fall under the category of a religious belief.  Similarly, the gods of the Roman Empire would not be considered a religious belief because the gods (at least most of them) were dependent on something else for their existence.

November 28, 2008

BrewBlogging / Visual Body-based Vocabulary Help

JB

Adam Couturier had the following vocabulary-help image on his blog:

http://parkersmood.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/hebrew-human-anatomy-with-dual-forms-1.jpg

November 27, 2008

Religion and Politics / Christianity and Conservatism, Pt 4

The Moral Hazard of Regulation

JB

For this entry in our series, I am simply going to quote Ron Paul (all emphasis is mine):

Since the bailout bill passed, I have been frequently disturbed to hear “experts” wrongly blaming the free market for our recent economic problems and calling for more regulation.  In fact, further regulation can only make things worse.

It is important to understand that regulators are not omniscient.  It is not feasible for them to anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong with whatever industry or activity they are regulating.  They are making their best guesses when formulating rules.  It is often difficult for those being regulated to understand the many complex rules they are expected to follow.  Very wealthy corporations hire attorneys who may discover a myriad of loopholes to exploit and render the spirit of the regulations null and void.  For this reason, heavy regulation favors big business against those small businesses who cannot afford high-priced attorneys.

The other problem is the trust that people blindly put in regulations, and the moral hazard this creates.  Too many people trust government regulators so completely that they abdicate their own common sense to these government bureaucrats.  They trust that if something violates no law, it must be safe.  How many scams have “It’s perfectly legal” as a hypnotic selling point, luring in the gullible?  Many people did not understand the financial house of cards that are derivatives, but since they were legal and promised a great return, people invested.   It is much the same in any area rife with government involvement.  Many feel that just because their children are getting good grades at a government school, they are getting a good education.  After all, they are passing the government-mandated litmus test.  But, this does not guarantee educational excellence.  Neither is it always the case that a child who does NOT achieve good marks in school is going to be unsuccessful in life.  Is your drinking water safe, just because the government says it is?  Is the internet going to magically become safer for your children if the government approves regulations on it?  I would caution any parent against believing this would be the case.  Nothing should take the place of your own common sense and due diligence.

These principles explain why the free market works so much better than a centrally planned economy.  With central planning, everything shifts from one’s own judgment about safety, wisdom and relative benefits of a behavior, to the discretion of government bureaucrats.  The question then becomes “what can I get away with,” and there will always be advantages for those who can afford lawyers to find the loopholes.  The result then is that bad behavior, that would quickly fail under the free market, is propped up, protected and perpetuated, and sometimes good behavior is actually discouraged.

Regulation can actually benefit big business and corporate greed, while simultaneously killing small businesses that are the backbone of our now faltering economy.  This is why I get so upset every time someone claims regulation can resolve the crisis that we are in.  Rather, it will only exacerbate it.

Key points:

  1. Regulators are not omniscient.  They do not have the power to see either the large-scale outcomes of their regulations, nor the ways in which someone might find a loophole.  And attorneys get paid more than regulators.
  2. Regulation favors big business over small ones (and I would add existing businesses over new ones).  Big businesses have the manpower to work through endless regulations, and can hire the attorneys to find the loopholes.  Thus, you get big businesses who can skirt the law, and small businesses who are no longer able to compete.  The big businesses can look very magnanimous by proposing additional regulation, but that can just be a cover to keep their power.
  3. Regulation encourages average people to put their trust in the regulation, assuming that the regulators have controlled for everything they need.  This creates a moral hazard, because it means that consumers no longer exercise proper judgment, assuming that the regulators have done adequate planning.  The judgment shifts from the individual's judgment to the beaurocrats.  I think we've had enough experience with beaurocrats to know that such a move is unwise.
  4. Regulation, by creating a confining space, shifts the question from "how should I solve this problem" to "what can I get away with".  The market can react quickly to bad behavior, but beaurocracies react slowly to changing conditions.  Therefore, regulation can actually prop up bad behavior, and discourage good behavior.

This doesn't mean that all regulation is bad.  But it does mean that an economy which is governed more by regulation than by free market principles will likely be more morally hazardous than the reverse, and tend to have more systematic injustice than the reverse.

People tend to think that any regulation will make the situation better, but in fact it is really easy for regulation to harm a situation.  It easily leads to morally hazardous situations which favor the big guy over the small guy, even when the subject of regulation is the big guy.

November 21, 2008

Religion and Politics / Christianity and Conservatism, Pt 3

Between Constraints and Unlimited Potential

JB

In Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions he delineates between two basic visions of humans in politics - constrained and unconstrained

A constrained vision of humans views people as essentially being unable to achieve permanent moral progress for two reasons:

  • What practically constitutes good in any particular situation (as opposed to what we think will produce good) is difficult for even the most educated mind to know, and is not something we might expect individuals to be able to understand
  • The ability to perform good even when we know what it is can be very difficult.  Even the most moral among us have deep moral failings that prevent us from being able to do the good we want.

An unconstrained vision of humans, instead, views true moral progress as being achievable - either now or in the future.

From a Christian perspective, there are good and bad points to each of them.  The constrained vision has the advantage of being very similar to the Biblical concept of original sin.  Humans are simply unable to progress, no matter how good our intentions or well-reasoned the process.  Ultimately, however, Christians have a hope for the future in which the world is restored to goodness.  Thus, the unconstrained vision tickles our eschatological hopes.

Now, I have given up hope in trying to discern the end-times as portrayed in the Bible.  But one thing appears certain - the vision of the future in scripture cannot be obtained without God.  That is, whether we are able to achieve relative goodness before the return of Christ, or whether we will require the return of Christ to restore goodness in our institutions, scripture makes it clear that any sustainable progress within society will require God's help.

The constrained vision is too pessimistic and cynical.  The unconstrained vision is hubristic and self-important.

Thus, the conservative view of society has two components - a governmental component and a spiritual component.  The purpose of the governmental component is to provide the incentives necessary to maintain a base level of morality in a fallen world.  Thus, government itself should, in general follow the constrained vision of humanity.  On the other hand, the Church should not be so limited.  The Church should be the one which removes constraints by the power of God.  God will be the power to change lives and nations and governments.  Governments cannot do this, social action cannot do this, only God is qualified in this endeavor.

This, I believe, is the message of Christian conservatism in politics.  We must structure our governments in recognition of our fallen humanity.  But we must not limit our vision to what can be accomplished in government, but instead look to God to see what He has for us on the horizon, and seek His help as individuals, as people, as churches, and as nations to change our hearts towards each other.

November 16, 2008

Religion and Politics / The Emergence of Pro-Homosexual Hate Groups

JB

Ever since the group Bash Back antagonized a Church in Lansing, I've been reading up on the doings of the pro-homosexual hate groups.  I don't know how long these groups have been in operation, but it is clear that they are now invigorating themselves, largely in response to California's Proposition 8.

What amazes me about so many pro-homosexual organizations is the complete lack of thought that goes into anything they say.  Many of the things they say are either (a) obviously false, or (b) downright contradictory.  For instance, here are Bash Back's "points of unity":

  1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
  2. A rejection of Capitalism, Imperialism, and all forms of State power.
  3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” All oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.
  4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the State deems it to be illegal.

I don't know if anyone ever told them, but #2 is actually self-contradictory.  Capitalism is the removal of state power over the economy.  Maybe they were thinking of Mercantilism?  In any case, it is obvious that they have little education as to what the different forms of economy are that exist, especially since they don't have a destination economic system listed.

Second, if they are not shooting for recognition in marriage, what exactly are they trying to be free from?  If they are trying to force someone else's way of thinking, how is that not a form of state coersion?

What is amazing is how often these sorts of groups and websites call for action according to some grand ideal, but never list any specifics.  When people list specific egregious acts that have been performed against homosexuals, invariably the perpetrator is already in jail for the crime!  If this is a state oppression, the state wouldn't be the one sentencing the oppressors.  It's possible in some areas that law-enforcement is turning a blind eye towards crimes against gay people.  If that is the case, then that should be their message.  I think everyone can agree that selective enforcement and prejudicial action by police is bad for a society, no matter who is being hurt and who is benefitting - in the long run, we all lose out from that sort of problem.  But that is not the call, which leads me to believe that, mostly, crimes against gay people are followed up as just as much (or, perhaps, just as little) as crimes against everyone else.

Third, how can they say they oppose oppression?  That is precisely what they are doing!  That's the entire purpose of Bash Back - to engage in oppression against the people they don't like.  They should just be honest about that rather than hide it.

These points of unity are just as boneheaded as the reasoning in recent anarchist propoganda for proposition 8 domestic terrorism.  First of all, it's interesting because if a Christian group, no matter how small, put out stuff like this, it would receive national attention.  Anyway, the piece promotes sabotage and targeted vandalism. But what's also terrible is the reasoning behind it.  They don't like the fact that our society has "order givers" and "order takers", and that makes us undemocratic.  What kind of reasoning is this?  You will always have order givers and order takers in every type of society ever conceived of!  What is different is that in a democracy the order receivers have a say in who the order givers are.  And I don't know of any group of citizens who is being systematically denied that voice, nor is that being claimed.

So, as you can see, the pro-homosexual hate groups are consistently putting forth nonsense for support of their positions (and, if you think this is bad, you should see their Biblical exegesis!).  This is different from, say, Communism, which, despite its being totally wrong, at least had a clear and self-consistent message about what the problems with society was and how they should be solved.  These groups are different - they are just full of hate.

Anyway, the pro-homosexual hate groups are starting to emerge and gain traction.  It is time to point out publicly both their idiocy and their hatred of their fellow human.  But remember, in all things, this isn't a personal problem, it's a Jesus problem.  Which means that the solution lies in Jesus more than politics or any other mechanism.  Certainly, politics is a valid course of action, but remember that unless the Lord builds a house, the builders work is useless.

November 07, 2008

Religion and Science / Missing Michael Crichton

JB

In memory of Michael Crichton, I'm linking to two of my favorite essays of his:

November 06, 2008

Religion and Politics / Religion, Politics, and the Democratic Party

JB

Democrats have been making a power play for the religious vote in the last few elections, and it appears that it is finally starting to take hold.  While we have begun to talk about the relationship between conservatism and Christianity, what we also need to do is to take a look at how the Democratic Party is using religion, and whether or not we want to be using religion in the same way.

Now that he is our President-elect from the Democratic Party, I am going to use Obama as a model for the use of religion in politics, based primarily on his speech on the subject that he gave to the Sojourners in 2006.

His main points seem to me to be the following:

  • Most people have a hunger for religion, and don't separate out their religion and their lives
  • Religious language is a strong motivator for change in the world
  • We live in a pluralistic society, which means that there is not one assumed standard of religion to use
  • Therefore, while we can appeal to religion in our messages, we cannot use religion as the foundational principle for a policy, unless it can be established on non-religious grounds
  • However, we can use religious language and argumentation in support of our principles that we have established on non-religious grounds
  • Finally, we should always deal in good faith with those who disagree with us

The problem with this is that it is a practical abandonment of Christianity.  If you look at the logic of what he is saying, then Christianity is not allowed any voice, except when it is the same voice as a secular argument!  Thus, while the religious right has its definite problems, the religious left has fundamentally, in its core reasonings about the relationship between faith and politics, decided that faith may only be in support of the party, it may never lead, contradict, or offer any substance on its own terms.

I can't say I'm surprised.  This is probably coming from theologians as much as anyone else.  Theology is one of those areas where its practitioners seem bent on making Christianity as irrelevant in the actual practice of life as possible, and to instead replace it with other disciplines such as sociology.  Obama's position about faith and politics is a practical outgrowth of the theology that has been spewing out of the academies for the last half-century.

Obama does seem to make a conciliatory note in the direction of religion.  He says:

So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This would seem to mean, at least on the face of it, that grounding legal traditions in faith-based reaosning is legitimate.  However, Obama refuses to continue to apply that same reasoning in the modern day.  For instance, he argues this about abortion:

I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. [emphasis mine]

So, while Obama indeed believes in putting together faith and politics, the way that he has done so makes it so that faith cannot have a legitimate role in the public square on its own terms, but must instead only play supporting roles to ideas found on the terms of other fields of endeavors.

This seems to be the general direction that the Democratic Party is moving in.  Obama, being the president-elect from the Democratic Party, has now solidified this as the means of interaction of faith and politics for the party.

Therefore, when you hear religious language from the Democratic Party, keep in mind that the party does not have any intention of putting any part of its platform under the authority of God, but only under principles which are accessible to people who don't believe that there is no God.  As someone who believes that the foundations of truth are in God, I don't think that is a sound way to handle the politics and faith issue.