09 November 2004

Kerry, the Left, and 'rights', Part II

The Left's Article of Faith as a Matter of Public Policy

From my perspective, the left like to pretend that their's is the "intellectual" position. Disagreement with them--being opposed to their position--is, therefore, "anti-intellectual." One of their positions is that articles of faith ought not to be made matters of public policy. Faith, you see, is an irrational endeavor, not subject to proof. And it is precisely because they are not subject to proof that matters of faith cannot be matters of public policy. Public policy must be based on objective footings; matters of faith, being unprovable, are subjective. It is for this reason that the Left are skeptical of (actually, they are down right mean to) people who wish to make policy decisions based on some revealed word of some revealed God. After all, the existence of God has not been proved. Also, it has not been proved that either the Bible or the Koran, or any other candidate, is the word of God. Furthermore, belief in God, a being whose existence has not been proved, is exactly what marks conservatives as irrational. For surely, it is irrational to believe in the existence of something for which there is no proof. Since the Left, in large part, entertain no such belief, they are the intellectuals among us. (Bear in mind that I am talking about the secular Left. I am aware that there are non-theists on the Right; but this is a critique of the Left.)

Ostensibly then, the Left talk as much as they do about rights because they know that rights exist. And of course they know that rights exist because they can prove that rights exist. Think of what would happen to their position on almost any subject if they failed to prove that rights exist. If rights do not exist, then animals would certainly have no rights. You and I would not have a right to health care; and it would be irrelevant that we are the only advanced nation on earth that does not accord health care the status of a right. If rights do not exist, then it would not matter (assuming it's true) that Bush has presided over the largest job loss in our nation's history, because we would have no right to have jobs. If rights do not exist then it would not matter (assuming it's true) that Bush lied about the reasons for going into Iraq, for no one could have a right against him that we not invade Iraq. Surely, given stakes as high as all this, the Left, who assert that matters of faith (i.e., matters that cannot be proven) cannot be matters of public policy, are able to prove that something called 'rights' truly exists!

Color me skeptical of the Left's ability to prove that rights exist. First, if the problem of rights is considered as an empirical problem, it is difficult to see what sort of evidence would count as evidence of the existence of rights. In empirical matters we use a set of known facts to establish other facts which are in question. If we wish to demonstrate that a man commited a murder although no one actually saw him do it, we may present a set of facts which establishes his guilt, a set of facts which justifies our belief in his guilt. What empirical facts could anyone offer which would justify our belief that rights exist, much less that we have them? Let's take the proposition, "Rights exist" and compare it with the proposition, "Crackers exist." Just immediately I can think of one way in which it could be established that crackers exist, assuming that we agree what crackers are. First, we could narrow things quite a bit by stipulating specifically that "Crackers exist in the pantry." We simply open the pantry door and if we see that there are crackers in the pantry, we know that the proposition, "Crackers exist" is true. (Note: If the proposition, "Crackers exist in the pantry" is true then the proposition, "Crakcers exist" is also true.) But I doubt that we are going to able to go anywhere in the universe, open a door and find rights sitting on a shelf. This, we shall probably want to say, is because empiricism is of no help in establishing metaphysical realities.

Second, since empiricism does not help, we could conceive of the problem as a purely rational one. We could attempt a rational proof that the proposition, "Rights exist" is true. The problem is that a rational proof of the proposition, "Rights exist" (which we shall probably have to treat as a theorem) is nothing more than a proof that the proposition is derived by purely logical means from other propositions (which we shall have to treat as either more fundamental theorems or as axioms). The problem is this: if we demonstrate successfully that "Rights exist" is derived logically from certain axioms, that is not going to mean very much since axioms are by definition not provable. In other words, the proof that "Rights exist" rests upon a "foundation" that is itself without foundation: proven propositions rest upon unproven propositions. That is the way of things in logic. (If this is news to you, then my heart goes out to you.)

In response to this, one might wish to claim that axioms, while not provable, are self evident. This only raises the question, What is it for something to be self evident? Some are coming to the opinion that talk of something being self evident tells us more about the person believing the supposedly self evident proposition than it does about the truth of the proposition (see, e.g., Bradley and Swartz, Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and its Philosophy, [Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1979], p. 145). Also, Rudolf Carnap pointed out long ago that, although many do like to conceive of axioms as being in some sense self evident, there is no requirement that they be and many logicians select axioms somewhat arbitrarily (see Carnap, Introduction to Symbolic Logic and its Applications, [Meyer and Wilkinson, tr. New York, NY: Dover, 1958], p. 171). So, while a rational proof will help us to see just what sort of propositions "Rights exist" may be derived from, this proof will not go very far in helping us to prove that rights actually do exist. So, at this point, no proof that rights exist is available.

In response to all this, the Left could argue that rights exist because they are acknowledged by documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. But reflection upon what those documents assert ought to reveal that these documents assert the existence of rights as gifts from our creator. The Declaration of Independence asserts that we are "endowed by our Creator" with the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The rights enumerated in the Constitution, if we think about it, are merely specific examples of the general rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, we have the specific rights to speech, free exercise of religion, assembly, the bearing of arms, and so forth precisely because we have the more general rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given to us by our Creator. So while the Left may feel free to invoke our founding documents, inasmuch as our founding documents invoke the authority of a Creator in specifying which rights we have, their invocation of these documents strikes me as rather illegitimate. They shall have to go elsewhere to prove that rights exist. They can get little, if any, help from either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. To point to these documents as proof that rights really do exist would be something like pointing to the Bible as a proof that God exists, especially since the Creator who endowed us with these rights is a matter of faith.

We might try, as an act of desperation, to make something of the fact that most--if not all--humans believe that rights exist. Sadly, we can get no more help from this, even if true, than we could if all humans believed in the existence of God. One hundered percent agreement on the truth of the proposition that "God exists" would not meant that God exists. And so, even if one hundred precent of humans believe that "Rights exist" is a true proposition, that would not mean that rights exist. It's one thing to have our beliefs accord with the truth; it's quite another to have the truth accord with our beliefs.

What does this inability to prove the existence of rights mean? One thing it means is that the existence of rights is a matter of faith. In the absence of empirical evidence or rational proof, the Left believe--ostensibly--that rights exist and that we (who have no right to be here, remember) have them. And they make no bones about making public policy decisions on the basis of this article of faith. Furthermore, they treat as heretics any who disagree with them or question their own brand of (religious?) orthodoxy.

It is a well documented fact that the Left have a problem with people of faith, especially those who make their "articles of faith" a matter of public policy. But since the existence of rights is as difficult to prove as the existence of God, the Left, inasmuch as they believe in rights, are just as much people of faith as any on the Right. And since they attempt to make their articles of faith (e.g., the "rights" to abortion and health care) matters of public policy, they do precisely what they accuse "people of faith" on the Right of doing.

Kerry, the Left, and 'rights', Part I

The Paradox of the Left's Position on Abortion

[With the election over one might think that the matters I take up here are irrelevant. A moment's reflection will reveal otherwise. If not, then file this, and the following two blogs, under "There is no horse so dead that it can't withstand another beating."]

Propositions have implications; it's that simple. One of the implications of denying that a fetus has a right to life is that no one has a right to be born. In other words, none of us has a right to be here. One thing that has bothered me about the Left (Democrats in particular) is that they assert, by implication, that none of us has a right to be here while at the same time asserting that we have rights. I have long wondered how a leftist would answer the question, "How, since no one has a right to exist, can anyone have any rights at all? How can I, who have no right to be here, have a right to--among other things--health care? If I have no right to be alive, how did I acquire a right to anything that preserves my life?"

Pro-life advocates are wont to say that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. Humans have rights; therefore the fetus has rights. Among the rights that humans have is the right to life. No problem with the logic there. The problem is with the premise that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. But it's not the problem I have taken up here, so I lay it aside. The point is simply that our having any rights at all is not a problem for pro-life advocates. The same cannot be said for pro-choice advocates.

Consider the position of pro-choice advocates: none of us has a right to be born, a right to become human. We have no right to be here. Now consider the position of the Left: we (who have no right to be here) have, while we are here, rights. A woman, who has no right to be here in the first place, has a right to an abortion. One simply has to wonder how we, who have not even a right to exist, no right even to be born, acquire a right to anything at all, much less a right to have an abortion. Even worse than that: if we have no right to exist, no right to be born, no right to be alive--how do we have any of those things that people call "Human Rights"?

I suppose one could say that it is true we don't have a right to be here, no right to be born, no right to exist. However, existence may be such that although we don't have a right to it, we do have rights once we get it. In other words: No, we don't have a right to exist, but existence--whether we have a right to it or not--comes with rights. Having come into existence, having been born, whether we have a right to it or not, gives us certain rights; existence means having rights.

So there it is. Although no fetus has a right to become human, once it does so (i.e., once it is born) it has rights. Being human means having rights. I suppose that works--until you try to account for someone like Peter Singer, who asserts that non-human animals also have rights. Think of it: non-human animals have rights. Question: is not the fetus, before becoming human, a non-human? It is if, as some evolutionists argue, phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny. If so, then a fetus is a non-human animal; and as a non-human animal the fetus surely has rights. Of course, we know that the Left are not about to take away a woman's right to an abortion on the grounds of animal rights. And so we also know that whether or not a fetus is human is irrelevant to the question. For the Left, a woman has a right to an abortion whether the fetus is human or not, whether the fetus is an animal or not: the fetus may be the only animal without rights.

This brings us back to the question I raised above. The fetus--whether human or not, whether animal or not--has no rights. By implication we--as former fetuses--have no right to be here. So then, how do we come to have any rights at all if we've no right even to exist? Where precisely does John Kerry get off lecturing us on the fact that we are the only advanced nation in which health care is not a right? Where exactly is he coming from when he asserts that health care is not only for the rich and the connected, but is a right for every American?

We've already covered the possibility of saying that, although we have no right to become human, once we do so we have rights. This argument is shown for the vanity it is by noting that the same people who assert that animals have rights do not extend rights to the fetus, which is, at the very least, an animal. So, obviously, being or not being human has nothing to do with having rights.

I suppose we could slice the pie into humans and non-humans such that the fetus, although not human, is (as a fetus) not protected even by animal rights, and neither are non-human fetuses. No fetus, of whatever sort, has any rights. Even so, this is still to say, with respect to humans and existence, that we have no right to exist (i.e., since no fetus has a right to develop into a human). So we are still left with the question: How, since we have no right to exist, do we come by any right to anything at all?

The best answer to the question will probably be something like, "Well, we may not have a right to exist, but once we come into existence we acquire rights to those things that preserve and enhance our existence." So, although we have no right to come into existence, once we do come into existence we have a right to continued existence and a right to those things which make our continued existence possible. The problem we have here is in knowing just how we come to have rights. For all their talk about rights, the Left do not spend much time explaining how we come to have rights. (The Right, for the most part, assert that rights are God-given. This is an article of faith, of course, so the Left, if they have any answer at all, probably won't offer this kind of answer)

Here then is a paradox of leftism: We have no right to be here, no right to have made it through gestation, no right to have been born, and therefore no right to exist. By extension we have no rights to those things which make our continued existence possible. Ultimately, the logical implication of the Left's position on abortion, ironically, is that a woman has no right to an abortion. How could she have? Having no right to exist in the first place, she can't logically claim any rights at all.

It will be clear that throughout this essay, I have made a great assumption. (And what else could it be but an assumption?) I have assumed that our not having a right to exist means having no rights. If we have no right to be here, then we have no rights while we are here. In other words, existence in and of itself confers no rights. We could just as well assume the opposite state of affairs: Existence means having rights; to live is to have rights. But now we are making two assumptions. The first is that rights exist. The second is, of course, that we have them. But it is difficult to see how we can have rights if rights do not exist. Our own existence is clear to us, although we cannot prove it. But do rights exist? This will be the topic of my next blog.

Copyright 2004 Philologous Lector. All rights reserved.

11 October 2004

John Kerry is rather unsophisticated, philosophically speaking

Contemporary wisdom, if you ask the left, has it that John Kerry is smarter than George Martel (I mean, uh, Bush). For that matter, the left think that they are smarter than rightists, period. They would be hard-pressed to convince me--and I'm a former leftist.

1. John Kerry versus George Martel on the justification of beliefs

John Kerry (during an interview w/Diane Sawyer) has said that: knowing that there were no WMDs; knowing that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda; knowing that Iraq was no 'imminent threat'--we should not have gone into Iraq. Going into Iraq was a mistake. This line of reasoning is the justification for his claim that the present conflict in Iraq is the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In other words, knowing what we now know, we should not be in Iraq; Saddam Hussein should not have been removed from power. So Kerry cannot understand how it is that Bush can maintain that going into Iraq was not a mistake, given the recent news that Hussein possessed no WMDs after all.

Much has been made by others about the truth of the three specifications above. Our best intelligence justified a belief that there were WMDs in Iraq. We did not go into Iraq because of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in particular; we went into Iraq because of a relationship between Saddam and terrorists in general. George Martel declared a war on terrorism, not merely al-Qaeda. George Martel did not say that Iraq constituted an imminent threat (that was actually John Edwards, by the way); what Martel said was that Iraq was a gathering threat. True as these responses are, they still miss the issue. And the issue here is justification of beliefs. The question really isn't whether George Martel was wrong about WMDs, or whether Saddam was linked to any terrorist organization, or whether Saddam Hussein was a gathering (or even an imminent) threat. The question is whether Martel was justified in believing these propositions to be true. I believe that he was; and until a matter of months ago so did Kerry.

Justification of a belief is not, as Kerry tries to make out, a matter for hindsight to determine. Hindsight can only tell you if your belief is true, not whether it was justified. Justification is something different than verification. It is possible to be justified in believing something that is, in fact, false. In general, a person is justified in believing a proposition P if at the time he believes P, he also believes a proposition R, where the relationship between R and P is such that R justifies belief in P.

Look at it this way. Everyday, when I go out in the morning to leave for work, I walk out my door fully expecting that my car will start. I believe to be true the proposition (A), My car will start this morning. I believe this proposition to be true because I believe to be true the propositions (B) My car has started everyday for the last four years and (C) I am justified in believing that my car will start this morning precisely because it has started every other morning. If I believe propositions (B) and (C), then I am justified in believing proposition (A). But if, in fact, my car does not start then I know that my justified belief is false; hindsight tells me this. But hindsight cannot tell me that when I walked out of my door I should have expected that my car would not start, or that getting into my car was a mistake because, in fact, my car did not start after all.

Were we--including, at one point, Kerry and Edwards--justified in believing that Saddam Hussein had WMDs? Yes. We know that, at some point, he had them; and we know this because he had used them. And we did not know whether he had gotten rid of them. So since we know that he once possessed them, but did not know that he had gotten rid of them. We were therefore justified in believing that he still possessed them.

Of course, it is right about here that someone like Kerry wants to say that we should have let the inspections continue. That would have allowed us to acsertain that, as it appears, Saddam had no WMD's. But that is a matter of preference, not fact. Bush preferred not to take chances with the sort of irrational man that Saddam had proved himself to be. (Besides, WMD were only one of the reasons we went in.) His attempts to purchase yellow cake uranium justified belief that he was a gathering nuclear threat. And his paying the families of suicide bombers was a prima facie case for his supporting terrorism. And we have declared war on terrorism, not merely al-Qaeda.

So even if Kerry were correct about all three specifications (which he isn't), we were still justified in believing that (a) Saddam Hussein had WMDs, or was trying to get them; (b) that he was a supporter of terrorism and terrorists, whether or not al-Qaeda specifically; (c) that he did constitute a gathering (WMD and terrorist) threat. And if these types of things are a justification for a pre-emptive strike, then invading Iraq was not a mistake. When it comes to justification of belief, George Martel is to me more philosophically sound than that supposed intellectual giant, John Kerry.

2. John Kerry and 'persuasive definition'

One of Kerry's most popular refrains is something like, "Bush went into Iraq with no plan to win the peace." Typical Republican responses have tended to talk about what is presently going on in Iraq (e.g. the upcoming elections, infrastructure construction, etc) as evidence that we are winning the peace. But I think this response overlooks what really is the issue.

The issue, quite simply, is this: Peace with whom? It is one thing to say that we are not winning the peace. But the concept is meaningless apart from some consideration of with whom we are or are not at peace.

The simple fact is that we are winning the peace. We are winning the peace with those in Iraq with whom we desire peace: the Iraqi people as they are now constituted without Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule. There exists in Iraq a new and different regime than existed when we entered. The people with whom we are still fighting in Iraq are aligned with the old regime. The people with whom we are still fighting in Iraq are precisely those with whom we do not wish peace: the so-called insurgents, more properly known as terrorists (i.e., Ba'athists, the Fedeyeen Saddam, al-Qaeda, etc). We have declared war on terrorists; we are fighting terrorists in Iraq. We are winning the peace with those Iraqis who desire peace and who have eschewed terrorism; we are winning the war against those Islamic-fascists who have chosen to live and to die by the sword of terrorism. John Kerry can only succeed in his argument by defining the present state of affairs in Iraq as "the peace" and then asserting that we are losing this peace.

Of course, Kerry thinks he can legitimately do this because Martel stood on an aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished, as if that meant that all armed conflict in Iraq was at an end. It is a simple fact that when Martel addressed those sailors their mission had been accomplished. If it signified anything more than that, it signified only that major combat operations had ceased, which they had. It remains the case that major combat operations are over. There is a great difference between encountering pockets of resistance and engaging in major combat operations. Although, like most war heroes, he doesn't talk much about it, I've heard that Kerry served in Vietnam and is a decorated war hero. One would expect a decorated war hero to understand all this.

3. John Kerry and little straw men

Kerry also keeps saying that it was al-Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein, who attacked on 9-11. Of course his point is that, coupled with the three specifications I mentioned above, our going into Iraq was senseless. How does he put it? Our going into Iraq in response to 9-11 makes as much sense as invading Mexico in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But this criticism only makes sense if, as I also mentioned above, our declared war was against al-Qaeda alone. How many times does Kerry need to be reminded that we have declared war not on al-Qaeda but on all those who use terror as a weapon and those who provide aid and comfort to terrorists? Kerry's argument is an argument against a proposition that really hasnt' been entertained, the proposition that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the attacks on 9-11. He scores a point with this argument only because it is true that invading Iraq in response to 9-11 would make as little sense as invading Mexico in response to 12-7-41. However, invading Mexico in response to 12-7-41 would have made perfect sense if Mexico had been a Japanese ally and provided a haven for the Japanese airplanes after they finished their attacks, or provided safe harbor for the Japanese fleet to re-fuel after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. It is a known fact that, if one wants to limit everything to al-Qaeda, that Saddam Hussein did in fact provide safe haven for elements of al-Qaeda. And that is just the tip of his terrorist-supporting iceberg!

4. John Kerry and contradictions

If Kerry would demonstrate his superior intelligence, he must demonstrate that he knows what a contradiction is. On three occasions, he has demonstrated to me that he doesn't.

a. Only John Kerry could assert both that no outside nation can have a veto over our ability to launch a pre-emptive strike if we determine that it is in our best secuirty interests to do so AND that launching such a pre-emptive strike must pass a 'global test'. And only Kerry could assert that those two propositions are not contradictory.

If we must pass a global test before a pre-emptive strike, that surely means that someone will be grading that global test. If we fail that test then, presumably, we cannot launch that pre-emptive strike. Now, the person or persons grading that global test, in failing us on that test, have a veto power over our power of pre-emptive strike. If John Kerry thinks we don't see that then he really believes we're stupid. But, of course he thinks we're stupid; that's why we need his leadership.

When John Edwards was asked about this global test business in his debate with the Vice-President he responded by saying something like, Yes Kerry said we must pass a global test, but you also heard him say that he would not give any nation a veto on matters of our national security. What an uncommon idiot! Does he really believe that resolving a contradiction involves nothing more than restating one member of a pair of two contradictory propositions? I suppose that Edwards's point must be that, yes, Kerry did contradict himself, but that's all right because only one of the contradictory propositions is the one he actually meant--or somethink like that.

b. According to Kerry Prime Minister Allawi contradicted himself. This he did by stating, one one hand, that terrorists are pouring into Iraq and, on the other hand, that democracy was taking root in Iraq. This, according to Kerry, was evidence that Allai is not to be trusted and is probably a puppet of the Bush administration.

But since Kerry seems to have no idea when he's contradicting himself, I doubt he really knows whether or not Allawi contradicted himself. For Alllawi could have contradicted himself if it is not possible that (A) democracy is taking root in Iraq and (B) terrorists are pouring into Iraq. The fact is that it is logically possible for both propositions to be true. If (B) terrorists are pouring into Iraq because (A) democracy is taking root in Iraq, then not only are both propositions consistent with one another, but (A) is the cause of (B)!

Kerry thinks Allawi contradicted himself, but cannot see the contradiction in asserting (C) no nation gets a veto power over our right to defend ourselves and (D) we must pass a global test before defending ourselves. Kerry is either stupid or just dangerous--or both.

c. This will be brief: in a press conference last week, Kerry said BOTH he had no idea what kind of mess he was going to find on January 20 AND that he had a plan to take care of it. Only someone who is being irrational can believe that he has a plan to solve a problem he has not encountered yet--well, either irrational or a (delusional!) megalomaniac. At any rate it is still contradictory to assert that you do not know what is wrong, but you have a plan to fix it. This is a claim to have and to not have knowledge of the same thing at the same time.

5. John Kerry and circular reasoning

Kerry continues to assert that there is a right way to go to war and a wrong way. According to Kerry, George Martel chose the wrong way.

Since there are no prescibed rules (apart, of course, from rules promulgated by others, constituting a 'global test) for going to war, Kerry's reasoning on this is circular. What is the wrong way to go to war? Why, the way that Bush went to war. And what is the right way to go to war? Why, the way that Kerry would go to war.

Whenever Kerry gives his list of things that Bush did or did not do before going to war in Iraq, and presents this list as the standard by which he judges Bush's going to war in Iraq as doing it the wrong way, he is using an arbitrarily selected set of standards and calling it "the wrong way." Ultimately, it's the wrong way only because its the way that Bush did it.

Now, of course, Bush's critics are trying to make as much as they can that he won't admit to any mistakes. There is one good reason why he shouldn't; and it's a logical one at that. If he admits to making a mistake with respect, ostensibly, to Iraq then he finds himself agreeing with Kerry, with whom he is presently in a dispute with. To admit to making a mistake with respect to Iraq is to admit that Kerry is right. He can't very well do and at the same time insist that Kerry is not the man to lead the war on terror. Apparently, Bush knows what a contradiction is and how to avoid it.

And they say that Bush is the stupid one. I don't see how that's possible if Kerry is the standard against which Bush is being graded.

Copyright 2004 Philologous Lector. All rights reserved.
27 September 2004

Terrorists themselves demonstrate why they cannot be reasoned with, and ought not to be.

Think for a moment about the thing that you are most terrified of. What is it? Being buried alive? Now let me ask you this: What if I knew what that was and were just the sort of person to prey upon that fear?

What if that fear was of being bound hand and foot and then suspended above a pit of hungry alligators? What, furthermore, if I did that to you? There you are, bound hand and foot, hanging above a pit of hungry alligators, looking down (or from your perspective, up) at them. And there they are, looking up at you, mouths wide open, waiting for the feed to begin. As you hang there, looking "up" at them, you can swear you can see them salivating at the thought of you. They lick their chops. Mmmmmm, each one must surely be thinking, as dainty a morsel as ever I shall eat in this life.

What if I had you hanging there because I wanted something from you? What would you be willing to give me? But now wait. Let's say that this really isn't your worst fear. Let's say it's not you suspended above that pit of alligators. Let's say it's the person you love most in all the world, your wife, your son--your daughter. Isn't she beautiful? She's just turned sixteen and she is, after your wife, a vision of loveliness. Surely the angels in heaven could wish they possessed the half of her beauty. Now what would you be willing to give me? (Oh. Did I mention the fact that I have your eyes taped wide open and your head braced so that, if the times comes, you cannot help but watch as your daughter becomes lunch? You will see it all, and hear it all.)

Now I ask again. What demand can I not make? What will you give me to purchase her release? Your own life? No, I don't want that. So. What will you give me? You will probably be willing to do whatever I want. When you think about it, I have the perfect weapon,don't I?

And just what is that weapon? Is it the rope with which your daughter is bound? Is it the alligators? No, my friend, it is your fear. And who is the victim? Your daughter? No, my friend, you are the intended victim. In this scenario your daughter is merely the means to an end.

Now, if you didn't know me better, you might think that I'm bluffing. But you know me well; you know I've done this before, successfully, tens of times already. In fact, you know people to whom I've done this, people who thought I was bluffing and found out--horrifyingly--that I was not. Yes, friend, you know me as a cold-blooded killer for whom this is no more complex than a quick game of checkers.

Perhaps you think for a moment that you might try to reason with me, but then you realize that my logic is so tight as to be indefeasible. My logic is simply this: give into my demands and get your daughter back; refuse me and she becomes alligator food. I must confess that I find the simplicity of it all compellingly beautiful beyond words. Frankly, it almost brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

But you decide to try anyway. "Sir," you ask, "where is the justice in this? It is I who have harmed you, I who owe you what you've demanded, even assuming that your demands are just. My daughter has done you no harm."

I reply: "My dear, misguided friend, you misunderstand. My cause is just. I demand nothing more from you than is my just due; therefore the means that I employ in securing my just deserts are themselves just. So you see, my friend, there is no injustice in what I do here. The injustice is perpetrated by you in denying me what I have justly required of you. Don't dare to lecture me on the requirements of justice. It is you who need lessons in justice, and I who shall provide such lessons."

Maddening, isn't it? How can you deal with me? You know I've done this before; you know I'll do it again. Even if you placate me by acceding to my (just?) demands, next time it could be your neighbor's daughter suspended above those ravenous alligators. Perhaps you don't especially like your neighbor, but his daughter has done you no wrong.

Then the thought occurs to you. You have an opportunity. You could take me out. In doing so, you may lose your daughter's life and probably your own as well. But you can't overcome my tight "logic" (remember what that was?) and you can't appeal to my sense of justice. All you can do is keep me from doing this again--to someone else anyway. So. What do you do?

In the wake of the recent beheadings there have been those who suggest that we should have acceded to the terrorists demands and released the two Iraqi women nick-named 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ'. Had we done so, the argument goes, no beheadings would have taken place.

The argument seems to rely upon a very dangerous assumption, which is that we can rely upon it that there is some bit of rationality, or even a sense of justice, on the part of these terrorists to which we can make appeal. I deny this. I make this statement because I do not believe that terrorists have any sort of commitment to rationality, or even to justice as we would understand it, not because they are religious (or, more particularly, Muslim) but because of their actual reasoning.

Let's take a look at their reasoning. Their justification for the 9-11 attacks was something we did. We did something to them, so they attacked us. We had it coming. This seems quite satisfactory not only to them but also to many of the leftists among us.

However--and this is where we get to the 'logic' of it all--this line of reasoning relies upon a logical fallacy. Think about what happened to 'us' on 9-11-01. 'We' were attacked. Some say it was because of 'our' policies; others say it was because of 'our' sins. Supposedly there is a logical relation between 'our' policies, or 'our' sins, and what happened to 'us' such that 'we' deserved what 'we' got.

Now the reason that I have placed terms such as we and us and our in scare quotes is not that I deny that anything significant happened to us on 9-11-01. The reason is that the logic in this argument is fallacious. To be blunt: those who rely on this logic are committing the fallacy of division, attributing to parts the characteristics of the whole.

The logic I am discussing goes, I think, something like this: A nation N has a policy P which has--arguably--harmed a group G. Citizen C is a member of the nation N and, hence, also has the policy P which has harmed a group G. Since--arguably--the US is liable for the harm it has caused G by virtue of its policy P, C is also personally liable. It is easy to see how someone (especially someone educated in government schools) might find this logic persuasive.

But applying that same logic to, say, your favorite sports team ought to show the difficulty. Team T is an excellent team. Player J is a member of Team T. Therefore, Player J is an excellent player. See the problem? That which is true of the whole is not necessarily true of each of the parts. And in the same way that an excellent sports team can have a member who is not an excellent player, a nation can have citizens who do not share or support its policies, citizens who are not guilty of the "crimes" for which they have been punished by death. It is quite possible, though, I admit, not very likely, that no one who was murdered on 9-11 either shared or supported whatever policies of the US for which they were murdered. Ought we to waste even as much as a few seconds trying to reason with people for whom division constitutes acceptable logic? No. If people are going to use fallacious logic to justify their killing, then they are too dangerous to negotiate with. And they cannot be appeased because there ought to be a rational connection between a demand (say, for justice) and the way that demand is satisfied (say, payment of a debt either by the one who owes the debt, or a third party who is willing to pay the debt for the debtor). And terrorists have demonstrated time and again that there is no rational relation between their demands and the people they kill in pursuit of those demands.

There is another reason why we ought not accede to terrorists demands, even when they are threatening to kill someone we love. The success of terrorist acts increases the likelihood that such acts will be resorted to again and again. If I can get something I want from you by threatening harm to someone you love, and you give in to me, perhaps I won't harm your loved one this time. But if, after giving me what I've demanded, you have something else that I want, then you can believe that I'll be back: You've already demonstrated that you'll deal. And I know what your price is.

As evidence of the absence of anything rational in terrorist behavior, look at the relation between who they kill and what their grievances are. To the minds of these people the lives of any two Americans are equal in value to 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ'. How reasonable a claim is that? In what way can a construction worker be related to a murderess such that the construction worker is justly to be killed if the murderess is not released. Aye, there's another rub. Note the dissonance: 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ', though not released, are still alive; two Americans are dead because 'Mrs. Anthrax' and 'Dr. Germ', though still alive, are still being held. (Keep in mind also that, to these people, Nick Berg's having his head sliced off restored the dignity of the Arab male's body (which dignity suffered great harm at Abu Ghraib, you'll recall)).

I'm sorry. We cannot, in the long run, afford to give these people what they want. Their demands are unreasonable. and what they offer us in return is nothing compared to what they want, which is nothing less than dominion over us, which is preceisely what they shall have every time they are capitulated to.

20 September 2004

Sojourners ad reveals some sloppy logic, sloppy handling of facts, and sloppier exegesis.

In this blog I respond point by point to the recent full page ad published in many papers across the nation. The ad begins with the assertion--in great big letters--that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, to which one could almost respond, Yes and He doesn't fornicate either. But I digress. The ad serves to make the claim that people of faith can vote for either a Democrat or a Republican and do so for reasons that are rooted in faith, something with which I agree. But the ad poses several questions, which are thinly-disguised tacit assertions of fact. What follows is an appraisal of, and response to, those questions. As it turns out, Sojourners mis-handles the facts, logic, and Scripture.

We believe that poverty--caring for the poor and vulnerable--is religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25.35-40, Isaiah 10.1-2).

This use of Matthew 25.35-40 is mystifying. Jesus is addressing his disciples. The application which Sojourners attempts to make here would ultimately make salvation a result of works. Governments are not the ones who are supposed to be feeding hungry people, clothing naked people, and so forth. People are to be doing these things. And the people being praised here are not righteous because they have done these things; they have done these things because they are righteous. I, Philologous, feed hungry people. I clothe naked people. I extend hospitality to strangers. I cannot make sacrifices which cost me nothing (see 2 Samuel 24:24), or at least nothing more than my tax bill. Shall I tell the Lord on judgment day that I saw him hungry, and naked and a stranger, so I paid taxes that supported a bureaucracy with the efficiency of the post office and the compassion of the IRS? The government cannot do works of righteousness for me. To vote for people who promise to give us other people's money is to let our bellies be our gods.

A little further down one of the candidates will tacitly be accused of confusing--among other things--the roles of church and nation. Church is the place where religion is practiced. If caring for the poor is a religious issue--and I believe that it is--then it is a personal responsibility. If I am called to be a charitable person--and I believe that I am--my responsibility is not fulfilled by my government. It is not for the government to show my compassion for the poor. And there's no use saying that we can show our compassion for the poor through our government. By its authority to tax, the government forces people to be "charitable" who do not wish to be. Then, when individuals are called to make charitable donations, they would be justified in responding, Scrooge-like, that the taxes they pay constitute the full extent of their charitable duty. Now that's nonsense. The poor pay virtually no income taxes, so if letting people keep their money is the same as giving them that money (as some people like to argue) then the poor are the recipients of a great amount of compassion indeed. Still, our duty to be compassionate is not performed by our government; it is performed by us as individuals, and through our houses of worship and the charitable organizations we found and support with our financial gifts. It is Sojourners and others like them who confuse the role of church and nation.

Note also the choice of words here: Policies, we are supposed to believe, somehow, "reward" the rich, without (with perhaps the exception of exempting the poor from income taxes) showing compassion for the poor. What is a reward? A reward is a gift, is it not? The fallacy in the religious left's logic is that it is a bit of a strawman: they criticize a policy that supposedly "rewards" certain people (i.e., the rich) at the expense of compassion for others (i.e., the poor). And of course the tacit assertion is that allowing people to keep their money constitutes a gift, or a reward. So I suppose we are to believe that allowing people to keep more of the money they earn constitutes a reward, a gift. Imagine your employer, at the end of a pay period, presenting you with your payroll check and saying, "You've done real good work this week. I'd like to reward you for it, so here's your pay check." No one who does a week's work looks upon his paycheck as a gift, or reward, from his employer; he looks upon it as something to which he is entitled. Anyone, rich or poor, who is allowed to keep more of his income for himself is not the recipient of a gift; he is merely keeping something to which he is entitled: his income. Note also the shifty reasoning which the religious left engage in: It is right to tax the richer at a higher rate for no other reason than that the rich have the money to take in the first place. The guy who breaks into your house and steals your property feels the same way: you have plenty, so you shouldn't mind if he takes some. Of course, Sojourners may like to argue that it isn't stealing because the government is the one doing the taking. But by the same logic capital punishment isn't murder because the government is the one doing the killing; and we know how the left feel about capital punishment.

So, in contrast with the religious left, we might ask: Do the candidates' budget and tax policies punish the rich (who have not, unless proven otherwise in a court of law, broken any laws)? Does their compassion for poor families actually cost them anything? Or do they show their compassion by using other people's money? In other words: Do candidates believe that it is right to steal from the members of class C1 (for no other reason than their membership in C1) and give that stolen money to members of another class C2 (for no other reason than their member ship in C2)? Do the candidates believe that when they take someone's money and give it to you they are showing their compassion for you? Do they believe that when the government allows you to keep any portion of your income it is a gift, or a reward to you? We might also ask them: Where, in Scripture, do you find warrant for believing that God grants to governments the authority to transfer wealth from one group to another for no other reason than that one group is rich and the other group is poor?

Finally: I have nothing to say about so-called free trade because I doubt that Sojourners and I will be agreed as to what counts as fair. After all, if I pay x-percent of my income (y) in taxes and my neighbor who makes twice what I make (2y) pays 2x-percent of his income, instead of x-percent, these people think it's fair just because he makes more. (More frankly: I wonder if they understand the mathematics involved here.) And frankly, I don't think, at this point in time, that debt cancellation for the poorest countries is a bad idea. It could engender some good will, but maybe not.

We believe that the environment--caring for God's earth--is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2.15, Psalm 24.1).

Here we have a false dilemma. One is either protecting the environment or serving corporate interests. One might suppose that antagonism to corporations is equal to protecting the environment. Also, no mention is made of the length of time that any harm to the environment may last, or even the amount of harm--however it may be quantified. For example the wreck of the Exxon Valdez spilled a great deal of oil. And that oil did extensive damage, and that damage lingers. Is that damage permanent? Who knows? It depends on how one defines the word 'permanent.' If the damage is still there when the universe ends, then I guess it was permanent. If the damage is gone in a hundred years, then I guess it wasn't permanent. I am discussing the length of time involved in 'harm' because of the verb tense used in the ad. Note the clause: "...serve [present tense] corporate interests that damage [present tense]... ." Use of the present tense seems to imply continuous, cease-less, action. In others words the implication seems to be that (a) the policies always (and only) serve corporate interests and (b) the damage, whether intentional or not, of whatever kind, is permanent, as if these acts "total" the whole environment the same way a roll-over accident totals an auto.

Now, let's discuss those nasty corporations. Leftists like to talk about corporations in interesting ways. "The corporations" do this. "The corporations" do that. Corporate interests are talked about as if they have nothing to do with people, that is everyday people, not rich people. Corporations employ people; a "corporate interest" cannot be pursued without employees. When a corporation cannot pursue its interests, its employees cannot pursue their interests (i.e., because they are out of work).

Leftists like to talk of "corporate interests" as if these interests can be neatly excised from the society at large. For example, when they talk of drilling in Alaska and of the President's desire to permit the drilling, they talk of his serving the corporate interests of his rich oil friends. One would almost think that an oil company's interest is merely in drilling for oil. But oil companies do not make money drilling for oil; they make money on what happens to oil after it has been pumped out of the well.

In many ways, an oil company's corporate interests are our interests. Think about it. Whoever drafted the Sojourners ad, probably used a computer to do so. You are using a computer to read this. Look at your computer. Do you see any plastic? On my desk, as I sit writing, there is an electric pencil sharpener, a radio, this computer (tower, monitor, printer, etc) and a water bottle--all made of, or containing, a large amount of, plastic. (Most of the automobile that I drive is made out of plastic!) This may come as a shock to the left, but plastic is made from petroleum. The manufacturer of my radio (a name you would probably recognize) employs a great many people, some of whom actually make the radios that are sold, some of whom work administrative and executive jobs. All of these people have work to do because someone--an evil oil baron, specifically--drilled for oil somewhere. I suppose that much of the plastic on that radio, or computer, could be replaced by wood. But then someone would have to chop down a tree. And that, too, damages the environment. So when we talk of choosing between environmental interests and corporate interests we need to be careful not to talk as if these "corporate" interests can be neatly separated from all of our own individual interests. We all have an interest in oil. People who are bothered by that ought to try to find the energy source that will replace petroleum (by being at least as powerful and efficient, if not more) and everything (e.g., plastic) that we derive from oil.

Of course, discussion of "corporate interests" cannot be limited to oil corporations. And I certainly cannot here discuss all of the types of corporate interests that there are. But consider this. Even leftists like Ben and Jerry have interests. Ben and Jerry have a corporation that makes ice cream, a corporation which has interests, corporate interests. The people who work at and for Ben and Jerry's share that interest, so do people, like me, who enjoy Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Assuming that Ben and Jerry's does not have its own dairy farm, but buys milk from dairies, those dairies, and all of the people whose work is associated with that dairy have an interest in Ben and Jerry's corporate interests. (NB: If you are tempted to respond that Ben and Jerry are environmentally conscious or something like that, then you have missed my point.)

I believe that the left are not as bothered by the effect of "corporate interests" on the environment as they are by the fact that people who own corporations get rich. That is what the left want to stop. The religious left may be worse because they think they are serving God in keeping people from getting, and staying, rich.

One more thing. I am not rich, unless you compare me with a Sudanese refugee or something. But I do own some stocks: I am a corporate interest.

We believe that war--and our call to be peacemakers--is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5.9).

The problem with this part of the ad is that it limits 'peace' to something which is to be contrasted with war. On this view, Jesus, in giving us a duty to be peace-makers, is giving us a duty to do no more than to be absence-of-armed-conflict-makers. But 'peace' in Scripture is not just the absence of war. Jesus, a Jew, was talking about shalom-making. As it is used in the Tanak, or Old Testament, 'shalom' is a word that admits of a great many meanings, perhaps the least of which is merely the absence of armed conflict. When Joseph, in Egypt, saw his brothers again--but before he revealed himself to them--he inquired after "their welfare, and said, 'Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?'" (Genesis 42.27) In this passage both the English words 'welfare' and 'well' serve to translate the Hebrew word 'shalom'. In his commentary on this passage in Matthew, Hendricksen says that this peace is the peace of God's salvation (cf I Corinthians 1.18). Peace-makers are those "who, having themselves received reconciliation with God through the cross, now strive by their message and their conduct to be instrumental in imparting this same gift [i.e., not absence of armed conflict] to others." Look in Scripture and see who are called sons of God; it is those who have put their trust in Him and in His Anointed One. Other wise, everyone who ever signed a peace treaty ending a war, is a shalom-maker and, thus, a son of God. No only that, but on the Sojourners' view, Jesus himself is not a peace-maker, for he says he says he has not come to bring peace [i.e., now we are talking about armed conflict] but a sword. Read it for yourself:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a
sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the
daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household (Matthew 10.34-36).

Even if this much were not true, a war on terror and those who support it (e.g., Saddam Hussein) is hardly a "war of choice." War is upon us. Indeed, terrorists and those who support them have made the choice for us. And with respect to shalom-making (i.e., where 'shalom' refers to health and wlefare): A war on terrorism and those who support it, if successful, certainly ought to increase the health, well being and prosperity of just about the entire world.

Our invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was an invasion pursuant to, and enforcement of, UN Resolution 1441, a resolution which, unless I thoroughly misunderstand, forms part of the body of international law that Sojourners claims to be concerned about. If other nation's have not the strength to enforce resolutions which they supported in the UN, why should that stop us from doing so? The left in general, and Sojourners in particular, seem to be in the position of asserting that the body of international is nothing more than what the UN is or is not willing to approve at any given point in time, no matter what resolutions they pass. It seems as if Res. 1441 is part of the body of international because the UN approved it, and not enforcing said resolution is also a part of the body of international law merely because the UN refuse to do so.

Let's look at Res 1441 in a different way. Say that 1441 was a resolution asserting that the refugees in the Sudan be provided with clothing, clean water, latrines and so forth. If the US were to be the only nation to begin acting on that resolution and other nations--other nations which supported 1441--were unwilling to act pursuant to that resolution, how seriously would we take criticisms that we were acting as a rogue nation? Not very, I hope. And yet that is precisely that sort of logic by which we are criticized for acting in accordance with the real-life resolution 1441, which required--among other things--that Saddam Hussein account for weapons of mass destruction which he was known to have had before he forced UN inspectors out of Iraq. If the UN had no intention of actually enforcing Resolution 1441 then they should just have spit in Saddam Hussein's general direction. It would have accomplished just as much.

If Sojourners wishes to give lectures on respect for international law, they may lecture the UN first.

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8.32).

Even if truth-telling is a religious issue--and it is--this passage is hardly the passage to cite in support of the case. Jesus isn't speaking of truth-telling at all; much less of truth-telling as setting the truth-teller free. The truth he is talking about here is the truth that one learns by being His disciple. And the freedom that He is talking about is freedom from sin (see John 8.34). And one does not provide for oneself freedom from sin, not even by telling the truth. A more relevant passage to the issue of truth-telling as a religious obligation might have been Psalm 15.2, which in answer to the question (v.1), "Lord who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" responds, in relevant part, "He that...speaketh the truth in his heart."

This is not a petty criticism. It matters which passage of Scripture one cites in order to claim authority for a religious obligation. Even though we have a duty to be truthful, John 8.32 cannot be cited in support because truth-telling is not the issue there. It is difficult to accept Sojourners as a credible source of information on what Scripture teaches if they will cite as authority passages of Scripture with only the most superficial relevance to the topic at hand.

But even if all of the above were not true, even Psalm 15.2 wouldn't help very much. Apparently, we are to believe that the President lied about (a) there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and (b) Saddam having ties to known terrorist organizations. With respect to (a) it seems that the failure so far to find WMDs means that Bush lied. It is interesting to note that, for their present purposes, Sojourners, and the left generally, are quick to decide that Bush lied, rather than was merely wrong about there being WMDs in Iraq. Look at where this sort of logic takes us. Your weather man tells you that it is going to rain where you live tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, but no rain. Your weatherman, by the left's shifty way of reasoning, wasn't wrong about the rain. Oh, no. He's a dirty rotten liar. When Bush, and others, were informed by various intelligence organizations (and not only the CIA) that Saddam Hussein was attempting to secure yellowcake uranium, and decided upon the basis of that (and other) information that this made him a "gathering threat" the left would have us believe that Bush was somehow to know that the CIA, and other intelligence organizations, were wrong.

One more thing. The left often talk as if the fact that WMD's have not yet been found in Iraq means (a) they were never there or (b) that they shant ever be found. Regarding (a): It is not disputed that Saddam had them. The question is their present whereabouts. He was supposed to account for them. That means that if he no longer had them he was to inform the UN what happened to them. Regarding (b): I just want to say that the left's logic is simply laughable. We have not found WMDs yet, therefore we never shall. Let's apply that logic differently: I have not died yet, therefore I am eternal.

We believe that human rights--respecting the image of God in every person--is a religious issue How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1.27)

It is difficult to understand how Christians, who supposedly believe that only God can change the human heart, can find a way to convince themselves that a President can change someone's attitude. I can't think of a single person who can change my attitude about anything. My mind can be changed by appeal to facts and logic. My behavior can be changed by someone possessed of enough authority to command that I act differently (which presupposes knowledge of my present behavior). But changing my attitude is an impossibility. (Ask my parents, or my wife.) As to the policies that supposedly "led to" the abuses of Iraqi prisoners, I do not think that there has been an adequate explanation by anyone of how a policy "leads to" abuse. The abuse in question is part of the policy, or it is not. Talk of a policy "leading to" some behavior is not the same as a demonstration of a causal connection between the policy and the behavior it supposedly "leads" to. The sort of reasoning which has some policy of this President "leading" to some behavior by soldiers overseas approaches the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc: "The policy P was in place before/when the behavior B in question occurred, therefore the policy P is the cause of, or "led to" the behavior B in question." In other words, P preceded B and therefore was the cause of B.

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6.33, Proverbs 8.12-13)

Given that the left believe that our government ought to be engaged in charitable works, I just don't believe they are qualified to pass judgment on who is or is not confusing the roles of God, church, and nation. The government of our nation has a duty to protect our lives (which includes our property, by the way) (see Romans 13.1-7). Often that means going to war--even pre-emptive war--to do so. The left are the ones who are confused if they believe that a nation has some duty to "turn the other cheek" when its citizens are either killed or threatened with being killed!

With respect to this business of seeing "evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies", one has to wonder just what that really has to do with anything presently at issue. If someone wants to kill me, I don't have to spend even a second wondering which of us is the most evil. Who is evil is no issue. I don't have to prove that one who tries to kill me is evil, or more evil than I am in order to be justified in preventing him killing me. I don't even have to see the evil in my own life in order to be justified in killing someone before he kills me. Again: war is upon us. States of being (i.e., 'evil' or 'not-evil') are irrelevant; actions are relevant. The actions of people who wish to blow people up, fly aircraft into buildings full of (innocent?) civilians, slice heads off of living, unarmed, and defenseless people, is prima facie evidence that they are evil-doers. What do the left expect? For us to allow people to kill us while we spend months or even years in introspection? What if those who wish to kill us do not give us that long? Here's a question: Should a man who regularly abuses his spouse permit someone else to rob and kill him because, after all, being a spouse-abuser makes him evil? We do not have to assert an unqualified moral superiority here; all we have to assert is our desire to live, to see our neighbors live, to see our families live--and to kill, if necessary, those who wish them harm. Most of the people that terrorists kill do not formulate or implement policy. Can the left seriously entertain the proposition that some US policy justifies the acts of 9 September 2001? If so, how do they avoid the fact that such a proposition implies that those who died that day deserved to die? (NB: This is what Pat Roberston was accused of saying when he--foolishly--stated that 9-11 happened because of our sins. Saying that it happened because of "our" policies is no different.)

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV-AIDS--and other pandemics--and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30.19)

The biblical injuntion here spoken of has nothing to do with abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV-AIDS--and other pandemics--and genocide around the world. The injunction here is to choose life by keeping convenant with God, or choose death by breaking covenant him. Keeping the covenant is life; breaking it is death. Had Sojourners been serious about a biblical injunction regarding life they should have pointed us all in the direction of Deuteronomy 20.13: "Thou shalt not kill" (which I think is better translated as Thou shalt not murder, since God authorizes all sorts of killing). And with respect to capital punishment, it is interesting to note that the same God who forbade murder also commanded capital punishment, and sent the Israelites into battle. Some like to believe that Jesus made some changes in the law, so now capital punishment is forbidden. But Paul said that the government "beareth not the sword in vain" (Romans 13.4). Not only so, but we need to pause and think for a moment about what Scripture says Jesus is going to do to his enemies when he returns. It is strange to think that the same Jesus who has the temerity to cast the unrighteous into the lake of fire becomes suddenly squeamish at the thought of capital punishment.

I can sympathize with some of many criticisms of the Christian right. I am not the biggest fan of James Dobson, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell precisely because of some of the sloppy reasoning and exegesis of Scripture they engage in. But frankly, my sympathies are closer to those of the Christian right than to those of the Christian left. (I believe myself to be just to the right of center, if even that far). But I believe that the Christian left is just a bit worse (note their citation of only-superficially relevant passages) than the right. And this ad is a great example. I suppose, just to be fair, I should offer an appraisal of some of the positions of the Christian right. Perhaps I'll do that my next time out.

09 September 2004

According to Kerry our traditional allies are irrational

Yesterday (090904) Hugh Hewitt played for us just a bit of an interview that MTV did with John Kerry. The senator was asked how he would bring our allies into the war. His answer revealed just how irrational he must truly believe our (traditional) allies to be.

It seems, listening to Kerry, that these traditional allies are not with us in Iraq because, among other things, the US have not signed the Kyoto treaty. I have my doubts about that. But let's say, for purposes of argument, that Kerry is correct. If that is the real reason for their reluctance to go into Iraq with us and our coalition of the 'bribed and unwilling' then these allies are being just a bit irrational.

Let's just review for a bit how I conceive of rationality, in order to see why I believe this. Borrowing a bit from C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Chapter 1) let's say that I have been threatened by a man, and his relatives, who wants to kill me because he thinks I maligned his girlfriend. Let us further say that yesterday, when you were set upon at the mall by a squad of minimum-wage-earning high school graduates (because of your position against raising the minimum wage), you asked for my help as a favor. I obliged. Today, I am asking for your help as a favor.

You ask, "Why should I help you?" I respond by appealing to a sense of fairness: "Well, yesterday, when you were in an unfair fight, I helped you."

You could respond in one of several ways and still be rational. (1) You could help me, assenting to my claim of fairness. (2)You could deny me help, explaining that my giving you help yestersay did not create in me a right against you to respond in kind--ever, regardless of circumstances. (3) You could tell me that, unlike my circumstances yesterday, you have a sprained ankle and that, as a consequence, you could not possibly help me in a fight today. (4)You could even tell me that you just don't feel like fighting today--for reasons that satisfy you. ( And if I were here to try the 'but-I-helped-you-yesterday argument', you could, rationally, tell me that if it creates an obligation in you to give me a hand today, then helping me would not be a favor; it would be re-payment of sorts.)

Conversely, there are several ways you could respond which would be irrational. But let's just say that you tell me that you are not going to help me because I won't agree with you not to run my air conditioner at a setting that I find satisfactory. (Bear in mind that helping me means helping me not get killed!)

In these examples, what I am getting at is a sort of ratio between the request for help and the response. Clearly, the first set of examples are all rational, even if we do not agree with the end result. (We might want to say that there is some other consideration which would overcome the denial of help. That would exceed the narrow limits I have set for myself here.) But what reasonable relation can there be between help in an unfair fight and the setting of an air conditioner such that your agreement to help me can (and ought to) be predicated upon my agreement to run my air conditioner at a setting that you approve of. Rationally speaking, can't you help me in the fight and table the discussion of the air conditioner for now? It seems to me irrational for you tacitly to assert that I can only save my life by setting my air conditioner in accordance with your demand.

Now, if John Kerry is correct, then our (traditional) allies are being a bit irrational in predicating their refusal to join us upon our refusal to sign Kyoto. What is the rational connection between clean air (assuming the fairness of Kyoto's stipulations) and a fight against people who fly jets into skyscrapers, slice people's heads off, take hostage children in schools and kill them, and so on? It would be more rational to come to our aid and table Kyoto for now. If our (traditional) allies are going to be this irrational about the matter, then we shouldn't bother ourselves about them.

The unanswered question here is this. Is Kerry right about all this? Is he really saying that our (traditional) allies are this irrational? Frankly, I don't think he has reflected adequately upon the matter. I believe he stopped thinking as soon as he came up with something he could throw at Bush and didn't bother thinking through any of the implications. And if he does believe all this and, furthermore, believes that our so-called allies are justified in this sort of reasoning, then his priorities are screwy. Clean air over the physical lives of your supposed allies? Is he serious?

Perhaps the US should sign Kyoto. But in order, now, for the US to sign Kyoto there must be a US. And at this point, in order for there to be a US, the US must win the present conflict against terrorists. Otherwise Kyoto will be moot, since there won't be a US pumping impurities into the air. Perhaps that's what these so-called allies really want. Well, that's what Kerry seems to think.

As for me, I believe those who have argued that these so-called allies have other, economic, interests which simply are not served by joining the war in Iraq. And I certainly don't fault these nations for acting in their economic self-interest. But I do believe that they have sacrificed other, long term, interests. They will pay dearly for it, unless they get help from us again--this time against Islamo-facists, who seem to be taking--without a fight no less--what they could not take by arms in the eighth century. (Thank you Charles Martel!) Of course, Europeans were a whole different breed back then.

At any rate, if these allies are going to make their decisions so irrationally, then we shouldn't worry about doing whatever it might take to bring them to the table. Kerry's conviction that he can, and should, bring these people into the conflict in Iraq by the US's signing onto Kyoto, and whatever other terms they may wish to dictate, is a sign of his own irrationality. He and these so-called allies of ours are well-suited to each other.
08 September 2004

Kerry/Edwards: specious campaign logic

In commenting on the over-1000 dead in Iraq, John Kerry said that there are now more terrorists in Iraq than were there before our troops went in. Obviously, this is intended as a criticism of President Bush's prosecution of the war, but at least Kerry is willing to assent to the claim that there was a link between the former Iraqi regime and terrorism.

This, we should recall, was one of the reasons for the invasion of Iraq in the first place. There was certainly little reason for terrorists to be in Iraq if Iraq was not, as the administration claimed, was a haven--if not a training center--of sorts for terrorists. Kerry also intended that the increased number of terrorists be seen as a demonstration that the war is not proceeding well.

It is difficult to understand how a proven combat leader like John Kerry could mistake this as evidence that the policy in Iraq is failing. Can he truly believe that terrorists were going to surrender immediately after the first shots were fired? Why should they have done? Kerry, and others, talk as if the present circumstances mean that we are losing the war on terrorists in the Iraqi theater. I think it appropriate to recall that, initially, the South was winning the Civil War. At any time before the tide turned in favor of the North, Yankee pacifists could have argued against continuing the war. (If you want to say, in response to that, that the Civil War was more worth fighting than the war in Iraq, then: (1) The burden of proof is on you; and (2) You're missing the point I'm arguing here.)

We might also recall that, after the invasion of Normandy, the Germans didn't just give up and move out of France; they had to be beaten out of France; and it still wasn't over when that happened. (Thought experiment: Imagine what would have happened if, in response to the invasion of Normandy, Hitler had sent more and more troops into France. Had John Kerry been a senator then he would, no doubt, have complained against Roosevelt that "There are now more Germans in France than there were before we went in.")

It is no different with the terrorists who have moved into Iraq: they are not going to lay down their weapons just because we succeeded in removing from power the man who gave them a home away from home. We shall have to defeat them in Iraq, and wherever else they may be or go. The fact that, as Kerry puts it, there are now more terrorists in Iraq is no more a sign of failure than would have been more German troops in France after D-Day. It simply means that the war continues apace. We were told that would happen.

That we are fighting more terrorists in Iraq now, if true, means that we have taken the battle to them. We are, after all, fighting them in Iraq, not New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, California or Massachusetts. It's not so great for the Iraqi people, of course, but it was their former leader who gave terrorists a home there in the first place. We have to live with the actions of our leaders and former leaders, whether or not we like or agree with those actions; and so do the Iraqi people. On Kerry's view, apparently, if you attack your enemy and he counter-attacks then you are a failure. If only my enemies would be so obliging!


The Vice-President has warned that not voting to re-elect President Bush could result in another terrorist attack. John Edwards, in responding to the Vice-President's warning, said that, by Cheney's logic, if the people of the US vote for Kerry and the US are attacked the people will have only themselves to blame.

This, of course, was a criticism of Cheney for suggesting that the people could be responsible for what happens to them because of the way they vote.
Some Bush/Cheney supporters might prefer to spend time arguing that the VP didn't really say, or even intimate that. Not me. I say, "So what if he did?" Can anyone seriously suggest that the people of the US can vote with impunity? Can we really believe that we can vote for people who make decisions on our behalf and not, even in the least, be responsible for those decisions, or their effects? Did Edwards believe that sort of thing when he was still a trial lawyer?

When the Left have spoken of how the world hates us, have they not all the while implied that we are responsible for the decisions made on our behalf by the people we have elected? (NB: As the Left use the term, 'we' includes our ancestors.) Against Edwards, I assert that if we elect Kerry/Edwards, knowing of their "wait-until-fired-upon" philosophy of battle, and are attacked, then we shall have been somewhat responsible. It could not be otherwise. And there's nothing wrong with saying so.

I'm sure Edwards knows this as well. But he's running for election: the things he says don't really have to accord with the truth. The things he says merely have to inspire anger against his opponents. And we are supposed to be angry with Cheney's implicit assertion that we might have only ourselves to blame if we elect them and then are attacked. But isn't it true that, in fact, we very well may be responsible?

Well, not exactly. I won't be: I vote Republican.



About Me

James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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