Limbaugh irritated at least one caller (end of 1st hour) by quoting Neitzsche on hope: “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.” (Taken from an aphorism which appears in Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human.) Rush later (top of 2nd hour) summed up his view of hope: Hope is an excuse for doing nothing.
The caller severely chastised Limbaugh for relying upon Neitzsche for a definition of hope. The caller, a Christian, was angry with Limbaugh for summarily dismissing “hope”, on the grounds that “hope” is a Biblical term, which does not mean doing nothing and expecting things to happen (as Limbaugh wanted to characterize it). Rather, hope, to the caller, is doing all that can be done and then waiting for God to do the rest.
Of course, Limbaugh responded (rightly, I think) by linking this man’s view of hope with the Obama campaign. There is a messianic view of Obama, Limbaugh went on to explain, and this man’s view really did not correct anyone who wanted to use the word in relation to the senator. After people have done all that they can humanly do, they can then wait for the government (in the role of God) to do the rest. This only resulted in the caller becoming even angrier with Rush for allowing Obama and his ilk to hijack the word “hope”. (Never mind that Limbaugh changed his tactic, showing the caller that the Obamanistas can still use the word hope as he, the caller defined it, simply making government, for all practical purposes, God, in which case, Rush was saying, there is still a problem with hope. It still means, at some point, doing nothing and expecting something to happen. It may be that hope is doing all one can do and then letting God take over. The point is that, in this drama, the part of God is to be played by Obama.)
The caller can have his problem. But I wonder about his definition of hope. He says it is a Biblical concept, which it is. But it is not a concept found only in the Bible. Like most words, the meaning is subject to some variation. The question is not whether hope is a biblical concept but whether his definition (doing all that you can and then letting God do the rest) squares with the Biblical conception. It’s one thing to claim that a concept is biblical. It is quite another to give an accurate (or even simply adequate) explanation of the concept. In this case, I don’t think the caller comes close to an adequate explanation.
Keep in mind his explanation: Hope is doing all that can be done and then waiting for God to do the rest. I don’t have time for an exhaustive study, but I don’t think even a cursory study will justify this claim. The Bible doesn’t know this definition.
All of the words (including the Hebrew) translated as hope in Scripture connote expectation, not doing all one can do and then waiting for God to finish the job. Some of the Hebrew words translated hope can also be rendered as refuge or confidence. The idea is not possibility or even probability, but rather (like the word faith) a form of certainty, not uncertainty. This used to be the connotation of the English word hope. Presently it expresses simple desire, mixed with some uncertainty about results, not an expectation. One says, “I hope he wins” and entertains uncertainty about it. When there is a real expectation of winning, what one now says is something like, “I bet you he wins it,” very little uncertainty, if any. But since this is a position with respect to the future it is properly a hope. That is the biblical conception of hope, or at least the quick and dirty guide.
“But James,” you say, “when this man talks about doing all one can do and then waiting for God, that waiting is waiting in expectation that God will act, just like those Old Testament saints.”
Firstly, when stripped of its pious-sounding language this conception doesn’t involve letting God take over. It involves cessation of activity. In order for it properly to involve letting God take over an important element must be present. Biblical hope – the hope the caller was talking about – has grounds. If one is going to act and then let God take over, one ought to have some grounds for expecting that God will take over. If one is going to do all that one can do and then let God take over, one should have some grounds for expecting that God will take over. If not, then one is testing God (see Matt. 4.5-7).
Secondly, those Old Testament saints, if you read the passages closely, expected God to act in the same way they expected the sun to rise. And they expected Him to act because He had promised to do so. (Depending on the action they were expecting, of course.) But He didn’t promise to be their cosmic pooper-scooper, gladly cleaning up when they made a mess of things. His promises were promises of covenant faithfulness. When Israel trusted in God in the face of their enemies they did so because He had committed Himself to them. In vindicating them before their enemies He vindicated Himself and His holy name; their vindication, you might say, was simply the residue of His vindication of Himself.
But His covenant faithfulness was conditional upon their own covenant faithfulness. When the Israelites were defeated at Ai, there was weeping and throwing of dust upon heads (see Joshua 7). They went into battle expecting a victory as at Jericho, a larger city than Ai. Instead, they were roundly defeated at Ai. Why? As it turned out, there was disobedience in the camp: Achan had violated the ban. Israel, in disobedience, had no grounds for their expectation. And here, another important element is introduced. In a sense, one could say that Israel did have grounds for their expectation of victory: their deliverance from Egypt, provision in the wilderness, the victory at Jericho. But this expectation also involved some ignorance. Had they known about Achan’s sin, they might not have entertained much hope of victory at Ai.
The book of Judges provides a resume of Israel’s failures at covenant faithfulness. It’s a circular resume. Israel transitions into apostasy; and God leaves Israel to her enemies. Israel cries out – in hope – to God for help; and God, in fidelity to His covenant, delivers Israel from subjection to her enemies. I don’t think a review of the narrative in Judges will support a claim that Israel’s hope was demonstrated by their doing all they could do and then stopping to let God take over. The fact of the matter is that Israel could, quite clearly, do nothing in the face of her enemies. In the end, however, God ceased coming to Israel’s aid, sending them into captivity for their covenant infidelity. But even as they entered this captivity, they had hope. Why? Because they knew they could do all they could do and then wait for God to take over? No. He had made promises through the prophets. They maintained hope only because He had promised.
It also deserves mention that this man’s conception of hope, when applied, requires us to fix our hopes on this world. Think about it. Where is the action taking place that this man is talking about when he says hope is doing all that we can do and then letting God take over? Here in this world. This vision of hope fixes itself on the things of this world. And let’s face it: What we’re really talking about in this vision of hope is deliverance. After we have done all that we can do, God is going to deliver us from whatever circumstances we are working through. Are we really promised such deliverance, in this world? (It was this vision of hope which Neitzsche, rightly, took pleasure in lambasting.)
All this is important because, among other important reasons (like just understanding your Bible in the first place) if one is going to yell at a man (and this man was yelling at Limbaugh at the top of his lungs) for his incorrect understanding of hope, one should at least see to it that one’s own conception of hope squares, at least in part, with the text. This man probably believes that the Scriptures teach that God helps those who help themselves. After all, his vision of hope squares very well with that silly notion.
The real important question, then, is not whether Obamanistas have hijacked the word hope. There are really three questions. First: what does Senator Obama mean by the word hope when he uses it? Second: What is the object of this hope (i.e., what we are to be hoping for)? Third: What are our grounds for entertaining this hope?
I’m arrogant because, among other things (I’m sure), in making that statement I make several assumptions which demonstrate this arrogance:
1. I assume that Jesus existed.
2. I assume that Jesus is the son of God.
3. I assume that he is a member of the Trinity.
4. I assume that the Christian God is the true one.
5. What's more, I assume that my particular sub-branch of a sub-sect has the true faith, the true way, the true connection to the one true God. (This one, by the way, happens not to be true.)
I had thought about writing a response, but during the course of outlining it, I happened to recall a Buddhist koan, which goes, if I recall it correctly, like this:
QUESTION: What is the ultimate expression of silence?
ANSWER: I will not express it at this time.
While meditating on the meaning of that koan I hit upon the idea that an argument against a charge of arrogance is probably self-defeating. After all, it’s easy enough to see how the charge can seem reasonable from his perspective. I am a finite person. I did not live when Jesus is supposed to have lived. I cannot possibly have had time to verify all of the claims of the Bible. My finitude makes it impossible for me to have more than a best-guess regarding the life-system to which I hold. On his view, I don’t have an epistemic right, if you will, to the certainty with which I hold to my faith. Obviously, of course, his perspective relies upon a few assumptions as well, which could open him up to the charge as well. But arguing tu quoque would resolve nothing: at best we’re both open to the charge of arrogance. What’s really wanted is a defense resulting, if you will, in acquittal. But, like I said, such a maneuver might be self-defeating. Besides, it is not impossible that I’m arrogant.
There is another possibility. I've noticed that my critic has assumptions of his own, to which he holds with such certainty that he freely comments in a condescending, superior and belittling tone. (No doubt he thinks I’ve earned it for supposedly asserting the superiority of Christian morality to his own atheistic morality. So be it.) That other possibility is this: he, and others like him, are the arrogant ones. As St. Paul might say, God is not far from any man (see Acts 17.27) and therefore those who claim not to know him have no excuse for doing so (Romans 1.19-20). On this view, I humbly submit to the testimony of the Scriptures, not thinking myself able to refute them. He and others, however, have determined that they know more than St. Paul. (Maybe they do, but it’s a bold claim.) They have taken it upon themselves to declare themselves smart enough, and knowledgable enough, to have determined that, for example, there is no God, or (despite being equally as ignorant about the ancient past as I) that Jesus did not exist, or (despite being equally as ignorant of the Divine Nature as I) that the Divine Nature is not triune nor Jesus a member of the (arguably) triune Divine Nature. I realize that in saying so, I assume (again) the truth of the Christian faith; that can’t be helped. But he also, in responding to me, has assumed throughout the truth of his own life-system. (I don’t begrudge him that: it can’t be helped.) I, however, am the arrogant one. So be it.
The realization that offering a defense against the charge of arrogance would be self-defeating induced me to devise a koan of my own:
QUESTION: What is the ultimate, indefeasible vindication from a charge of arrogance?
ANSWER: Behold, a white horse.
Oh. Wow, man.
No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work’s sake, and what men call originality will come unsought. – “Membership”
I have found it to be very practical advice. Now-days, when I see what gets called "original" it is usually wearing its pants down around it knees and walking through the mall.
My ideal candidate has for years been Walter E. Williams, a man who knows a whole lot about economics, putting it mildly. Of course, he’ll be the first to say he hasn’t a chance of being elected to any office, given his views of the purposes of – and limitations upon – government, especially the federal government. Sadly, he's probably correct.
I mean, you'd never hear Walter Williams say something like, “If you work in America, you should not be poor” as Senator Obama has. How can one say such a thing? How can simply working for a living entitle one to membership in an economic class? Why not say, "If you work in America, you should be as wealthy as Bill Gates?" I suppose one good reason for not saying so is that if one were to say that, then people would really know you were excreting solid bovine waste.
Charles Krauthammer sums it up nicely:
[Obama's] going around issuing promissory notes on the future that he can't possibly redeem. Promises to heal the world with negotiations with the likes of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Promises to transcend the conundrums of entitlement reform that require real and painful trade-offs and that have eluded solution for a generation. Promises to fund his other promises by a rapid withdrawal from an unpopular war — with the hope, I suppose, that the (presumed) resulting increase in American prestige would compensate for the chaos to follow. (Here )I wish those working poor here in the U.S. would spend a year in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. I don't mean a year visiting, on vacation. I mean move there, to try work there, get accustomed to the dirt diet that poor children there attempt to live on.
I suspect at the end of that year, when they get back here, they might have an appreciation of how good it can be to be among the working poor in the U.S. I have had such an appreciation since my childhood, from time (a lot of it!) spent in Mexico; and I don't mean the parts of Mexico where you see other gringos. You'll never see those places on a postcard.
My anonymous reader would like to know what made me so afraid that I “started to need the crutch of religion to be able to face the world.”
Well, the simple fact is I just can’t think of any fear I ever had before becoming a theist, and then a Christian (after contemplating Judaism and Islam), the object of which simply disappeared when I picked up that crutch. I, quite frankly, cannot recall entertaining the thought, “I’m so terrified of such-and-such. Let me take up this crutch and all will be well.”
No fear motivated by commitment to Christ. What motivated me was a conviction that Christianity is true.
My anonymous reader next complains that I “clearly feel that atheists are a lesser sort of man”. Apparently, the only motivation one can possibly have for thinking that atheists are amoral is some conviction that they are of less value than theists.
The simple fact of the matter is I don’t think atheists are a lesser sort of man. I think atheists are amoral, which – as I’ve said previously – is not the same as thinking they are immoral. I’ve also said that atheists do things which I think are moral, but that my judgment that this is so rests upon the Christian worldview, which the atheist believes is false. And if my judgment that an atheist’s behavior is ethical rests upon the premises of a false worldview, then my judgment may also be false. So what possible difference can it make what I think about whether an atheist is acting ethically in a given situation? I’m talking about the only sort of morality their naturalistic assumptions admit of. And what is quite interesting is that some atheists themselves also will say this. It must be wrong only when a theist says that atheism has no ultimate foundation for ethics. All men, even atheists, still bear God’s image; that doesn’t change because a particular man, or group of them, denies God. However, that fact does not entail the notion that there is something objectionable about asserting that someone’s worldview leaves no ultimate foundation for ethics – or, in other words, that the worldview is ultimately amoral.
This man (I’m assuming the reader is male) must be a profiler. In the course of an exchange in the comments to the original posting, I asked certain rhetorical questions. He claims to know that the “way” I asked these rhetorical questions in the comments to the original posting, indicates that “[I] have a chip on [my] shoulder concerning atheists.” Now, so far as I know, to have a chip on one’s shoulder is to be in a state of mind in which one dares another, inviting a fist fight, or some other kind of fight. According to The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Third Edition, 2002), “In the past, a young boy would place a wood chip on his shoulder and dare anyone to knock it off as a way of showing how tough he was.” I think the context will demonstrate that my rhetorical questions indicate I was taken aback by my opponent’s seeming suggestion that certain American purveyors of pornography produced pornography as a direct consequence of their active pursuit of a life in accordance with Judeo-Christian ethics. The purpose of my rhetorical questions was to communicate doubt about this apparent assertion. I still maintain that doubt.
The…word membership is of Christian origin, but it has been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. In any book on logic you may see the expression “members of a class.” It must be most emphatically stated that the items or particulars included in a homogeneous class are almost the reverse of what St. Paul meant by members he meant what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another, things differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity. Thus, in a club, the committee as a whole and the servants as a whole may both properly be regarded as “members”; what we should call the members of the club are merely units. A row of identically dressed and identically trained solders set side by side, or a number of citizens listed as voters in a constituency are not member of anything in the Pauline sense. I am afraid that when we describe a man as “a member of the Church” we usually mean nothing Pauline; we mean only that he is a unit – that he is one more specimen of some kind of things as X and Y and Z. How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members of units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable…. If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost of incommensurables. – C. S. Lewis, “Membership” in “The Weight of Glory” and other addresses, (originally, a paper read to The Society of St. Alban and St. Serguis, Oxford, 10 February 1945 and published in Sobornost, no. 31 [June 1945]).Makes one wonder: Is my church a body, or a collections of units?
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. -- Psalm 1.1-2
Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes; and I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways. Establish Your word to Your servant as that which produces reverence for You. Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your ordinances are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts. Revive me through Your righteousness. -- Psalm 119.33-40
My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge. -- Isaiah 5.13Pursuant to a discussion in the comments under this posting, with an (aforementioned) anonymous reader, I made the statement that many Christians have adopted various forms of antinomianism. He responds with a quote from wikipedia to the effect that antinomianism is little more than name calling (because, since few groups "explicitly" call themselves antinomian, the charge of "antinomian" is leveled by some sects against "competing" sects) and the accusation that I believe that "those [who] don't follow the Christian moral code aren't TRUE Christians or don't belong to a true Christian sub-sub-sub-sect."
I will agree that few groups explicitly identify themselves as antinomian and that the charge is usually made by one group of Christians involved in dog-fights with other groups. I wasn't in a dog-fight with another Christian; I was talking to a non-Christian. I also didn't specify any sect or sub-sect as being explicitly antinomian. And the record in the comments will reflect that I was light-years from even hinting that Christians who don't follow the Christian code are not true Christians. (Furthermore, when I wish to discuss differences with Christians of other persuasions, I generally do so by name – whether name of individual, theological school of thought, or denomination. I also generally have these conversations with members of those groups and not third parties.)
First, I said that many Christians have adopted various forms of antinomianism. What I should really have said, perhaps, is that many individual Christians (as opposed to entire sects) have adopted, whether consciously or not, interpretive and hermeneutical frame-works which nullify various, and selective, provisions of the moral law. They may not explicitly be antinomian; I’ll grant that. But I do believe they can properly be said to be practically antinomian, that is – to greater or lesser extents – antinomian in practice.
Take, for example, the case of a Christian woman reported by a Christian counselor, who gave the following justification for her decision to leave her husband for another man with whom she was already romantically involved. In Ephesians 4.24, St. Paul says, “Put on the new man.” Well, there you have it! God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “I hate divorce.” But she doesn’t have to obey the commandment because St. Paul is giving her permission to “put on the new man”. (Sorry men, but since St. Paul did not say anything about putting on the new woman, no divorce and remarriage for you.)
This woman isn’t alone. Several years ago a well-known contemporary Christian music artist divorced her husband to marry another man (who, as I recall, divorced his wife in order to marry her!). When interviewed by a Christian magazine, the woman I have in mind agreed that divorce is prohibited by the Christian moral code (with some exceptions), but she had the Holy Spirit’s special permission to divorce her husband to marry another.
Some Christians, having imbibed Western individualism, have come to believe that no one – and I do mean no one – can judge their behavior except for God. And this despite the fact that Jesus Christ authorizes church leadership to exercise discipline. (See, e.g., Matt. 18.15-17.) Besides, anyone whose church disciplines him can, and usually will, simply move his church membership. Here again, in the refusal to be disciplined, the moral law is nullified. And anyone who talks meaningfully of church discipline is called a legalist, as if the assertion that, yes, we may not be saved by law-keeping, but we are still obligated to the moral law (and to the “general equity” of the judicial laws) is an assertion that we are saved by law-keeping. Tell someone that you’ve just excommunicated a man (after tens of attempts at other means) for adultery and abandonment of his wife and children and you’ll get called a legalistic, unloving, unchristian, Pharisee. What can be said except that these people, who have adopted interpretive frame-works which effectively nullify portions of the moral law, have thereby adopted some form of antinomianism? The antinomianism may be unintended, but that makes it no less antinomian.
Then there are those who run rough-shod over the point in John 8.1-11 and decide that since no one is without sin, no one can judge. And when they do this, they set this passage against those portions of Scripture (yes, even in the New Testament) which teach how to exercise proper judgment. (See, e.g., Matt. 7.1-5) There was a real, good, legal reason why the woman taken in adultery could not be stoned in punishment for her sin. It wasn’t that her accusers were not morally perfect. It’s that the process they were following was illegal. That’s right: stoning her to death in that circumstance would have been illegal. But you wouldn’t know that from the way John 8.1-11 gets thrown around as a covering for sins. “Hey,” they say, “unless you are without sin, you can’t throw stones at me; you can’t pass any judgment on my behavior. And you’re not without sins, so shut up.” Little do they realize that if this had been Jesus’ teaching in John 8.1-11 then he could not possibly have meant what is recorded in Matthew 18.15-17. Why bother with the testimony of two or three witnesses if none of the witnesses are sinless? Only those without sin could treat anyone like a publican and a sinner.
There is no provision in the moral law which cannot be nullified in the foregoing manners. This is a form of antinomianism. It is not explicit; and it is selective. But it is there nonetheless. And my saying so is not just a charge against a competing sect. I didn’t identify any sect, for one thing. For another thing, I happen to think that this is something which affects, to greater and lesser extents, all Christian sects. I did not even exclude my own sect from the “charge”. Finally, the adoption of this selective and practical antinomianism need not be intentional. I frankly think a great many Christians have been confused by the aforementioned dog-fights, have heard many propositions bandied about and have personal theologies which really are hodge-podges of various schools of thought. The lady who wanted to “put on the new man”; the Christian music artist to whom the Holy Spirit gave permission to divorce her husband – these were probably doing precisely what someone else taught them to do. The simple fact of the matter is that while I believe many Christians have adopted (by something like osmosis, maybe) interpretive frame-works which nullify various portions of the moral law, I don’t know of any who have thoroughly denied the moral law. I believe most people are doing the best they can do, in accordance with what they have been taught. The problem is with what they have been taught, as well as what they have observed of Christian leaders over the years.
Second, I make what I believe to be a proper distinction between what a Christian is required to believe and how a Christian is required to act. I may sometimes make decisions about who is a true Christian on the basis of the former, but I don't do so on the basis of the latter. In other words, those Christians who are practical and selective antinomians do not for that reason fail to be true Christians. They do, however, fail to be obedient Christians; and church discipline always assumes that the people being disciplined are true Christians. No exercise of discipline is for not being a true Christian. Discipline is for specific violations of the requirements of faith and practice. No finding of guilt is a finding that the accused is not a true Christian. Finding of guilt can only be guilt either of teaching heresy (matters of faith) or of being contumacious in the commission of sins (matters of practice). It cannot be otherwise.
The quote in the wikipedia article notwithstanding, many Christians are practical and selective antinomians.
The problem is that this has been going on since almost immediately after President Reagan left office. It was not very obvious during the first Bush administration, but it certainly became obvious under the present President Bush. The first clue was his reference to a “compassionate” conservatism, which irritated ideological conservatives, who are inclined to see conservatism as inherently compassionate. Clearly, “compassionate” conservatism sees a larger role for government in meeting human needs, a role that flies in the face of conservative belief that smaller government is one of the best safeguards of liberty. The government preferred by the “compassionate” conservative is not necessarily a small one. Then there are President Bush’s cozy ties with Mexico’s National Action Party; and certain similarities between the NAP and Bush’s polices can give us a clue. Internationally, the NAP is associated with the Christian Democracy movement, which, though slightly right of center is not conservative in the classical (i.e., Reagan-conservative) sense of the term. For example, Christian Democracy generally prefers the social market to the free market.
What chiefly characterizes “action” politics is the concept of taking necessary action as dictated by exigent circumstances, rather than the simple application of one’s ideological principles. An “action” oriented party is not committed to any ideology (although, in the case of Mexico, the National Action Party generally tends to lean to the right). What this means is that both leftist as well as rightist policies will be considered in the formulation of the party’s agenda. Sounds a bit like John McCain (a member, like Arnold Schwartzenegger, of the Main Street Republican Partnership), doesn’t it? It also sounds a bit like the President. I doubt it is coincidental that the two most “action” oriented politicians (i.e., most willing to reach across the aisle and embrace leftist policies) are from states which border Mexico, which has had two NAP presidents in a row.
I don’t mean anything conspiratorial. While it is generally labeled a “conservative” party, the Republican Party has in the past taken a certain “action” oriented approach in regard to a range of issues. Frankly, I think any conservative approach the party has ever taken has been rooted in pragmatism, including its largely free-market approach to economics: in general, it works. The Republican Party took an anti-slavery position in the years preceding the Civil War, but, while there were no doubt people morally opposed to slavery, the Party’s position on slavery could well have been due to pragmatic considerations. The Party’s platform at its inception was largely devoted to the issue of modernization of the entire nation, North and South. Slavery, because it facilitated the preservation in the South of the “old ways” was just unacceptable. Even if slavery were not immoral, it had to go if only to make “progress” possible. The Party’s first successful presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, took a very pragmatic attitude toward emancipation of slaves that, in modern parlance, could be called very “action” oriented: if he could preserve the union without freeing the slaves then he’d not do so; if it took freeing the slaves to preserve the union, then he’d do so. We know what he ended up doing. We don’t all of us know why. Whatever action – whether it be classified as leftist or rightist – will preserve the nation is what action politics requires. So if, as in the 1970s the nation is experiencing stagflation, you just freeze wages and prices, like Nixon did (the same man who took the final action moving the U.S. off the gold standard; the same man who declared, “We are all Keynesians now”; the same man who once said he wished people would stop worrying about moral problems and start working on the problems which really afflicted the nation – a conservative?).
So today, if there is a national health care crisis, even if one opposes “universal” healthcare, one might favor Mitt Romney’s mandatory health insurance plan. If there is a crisis, it must be averted. If it can be averted by the operation of a free market, then so be it. But if it requires government action rather than the market forces which conservatives prefer, then that is what action politics will consider. I just don’t think the history of the party will support the notion that it has been committed to the principles of conservatism, depending, of course, on the type of conservatism we are talking about. The Party has been pragmatic almost since its inception.
I don’t think the conservative move of the party under Reagan’s leadership was primarily ideological in nature. That right-ward move was also pragmatic and action oriented, not the result of ideological commitment. Yes, there are committed conservatives in the party; but they have never struck me as constituting a majority of the party membership. The Republican Party has, since Reagan, been a rather loose coalition of pragmatic, action politicians and ideologically conservative politicians. What motivates action politics is bare national survival, whatever that may require. What motivates conservatives is the conviction that conservative principles, consistently applied, will ensure the survival of the nation. For action politicians, if it appears that conservative principles are appropriate to the situation, then those principles will be applied. If conservative principles appear unlikely to work, then they will be discarded in favor of more liberal policies. Whatever works.
For action politicians, ideological commitments are like appetizers or deserts: nice if you can afford to indulge them; but a steady diet may be injurious to the nation’s long-term health. The present move away from (or perhaps simply a continuation of) the pragmatic, action oriented approach it has really always favored.
This leaves conservatives with two choices. They can recognize the action politics which has really been the dominant approach in the party virtually since its birth and remain, arguing daily the superiority of conservative principles in responding to crises. If they do so they must understand that application of those principles will wax and wane; and they will have to live with it, celebrating when those principles are translated into policy, working harder when they are not. Or, if they want a truly conservative party, then they will have to found such a party. That may sound like a good idea, but it really isn’t: conservatives are not of the same stripe. Some are cultural, liberal, social, neo-, paleo-, even libertarian. What they may find is that instead of a single conservative party challenging Democrats and Republicans for state and national leadership, we may end up with several different conservative parties challenging Democrats, Republicans, and each other, of course – and getting nothing for their efforts, except a stronger Democrat Party.
As part of a discussion in the comments under this posting, with an anonymous reader, I made the assertion that while a Christian may fail to live up to his code, he at least knows what he's failed to live up to. The reader asks, “You don't truly want to imply that no one else but Christians have standards that they want to, try to, live up to, now do you?”
Well, not only do I not wish to imply this, in the original posting I asserted out-right that atheists live in accordance with some sort of standards. I grant that the above-mentioned assertion could be understood as implying what the anonymous reader asks about, but I didn’t see any need to qualify the assertion given that I’d already considered non-theistic moral standards in the original posting.
But the issue (and I explained this in the original posting) isn’t whether an atheist lives in accordance with some standard. What I asserted in that posting was that the standards which govern an atheist’s ethical life are rooted in his own autonomous notions of morality. I don’t think people who live in accordance with their own autonomous notions of morality can be credited with living a moral life. How could he? His moral principle comes from within himself. He isn’t meeting a standard. He is the standard.
In an effort to overcome this point he says, among other things, that “Thou shalt not kill is nothing more than preservation of the species.” Well, that may be. But it doesn’t tell us that not killing is a moral good unless it is a moral good that the species survive. My anonymous reader probably wants to survive. Or perhaps he just wants, as a human, to see his species survive. If that be the case then, as I said, his moral principle comes from within himself and is nothing more than his desire to survive projected upon the whole species. The species ought to survive. Or maybe the species just wants to survive, and the moral principle, “Thou shalt not kill” serves that desire.
Anticipating just this sort of thing, I discussed (in para. 12 of the original posting) briefly Kant’s view, which I happen to agree with, that in order to count as a moral act an act must proceed from a duty, not a desire. The desire to survive entails no duties.
Even if this were not the case, surely a duty not to kill is not the only duty following from the “preservation of the species”. In order to be preserved, there must be reproduction in the species, so perhaps laws outlawing homosexual behavior are proper after all. If everybody were gay the species would die out. Sure they were born that way, but the equipment still works for purposes of procreation and they should be required to use it for that purpose. (Or maybe we could just require that gays marry and father/mother children and get a little same-sex action on the side.) Polygamy – but only by males, of course – should also be permitted, especially in those cases in which there happen to be more females than males. Besides, if there are people out there who must resist the urge to kill for the sake of the preservation of the species, then everybody should be required to resist whatever urges the indulgence of which do not serve to preserve the species.
However flippant that all may seem, the point remains that I don’t think we can get a duty not to kill from the concept of the self-preservation of the species.
My anonymous reader seems to suggest that the fact that we don’t see snakes turn into serial killers and kill lots of other snakes tells us something about how we should act. “How often,” he says, “do you see a snake turn into a serial killer and kill lots of other snakes? Is a snake therefore a…Christian?” Well, I grew up in Texas; so the only snakes I saw close enough to observe were garters, and I never did see one garter kill another. All the other snakes I saw were the kind I didn’t want to get close enough to observe – at all. (Reminds me of this joke. Tanto and the Lone Ranger were out one day…. Actually, never mind.)
The fact that snakes are not Christians must mean that one does not need to be a Christian in order to believe that it is wrong to kill, I suppose. It certainly tells us that one does not need to be a Christian in order not to kill, a point I might understand his making if I had asserted, whether explicitly or implicitly, that only Christians do not kill, or that only theists believe it is wrong to kill. Not only did I not do so, I explained why, even though an atheist may not kill, his not doing so isn’t moral behavior: his not doing so proceeds from his own autonomous notions of morality. He doesn’t kill for reasons that seem good to him. If he doesn’t kill because he acknowledges some universally applicable moral code as obligatory, then he does so because has personally judged this code to be universally applicable.
Now, I wonder: if the non-murderous behavior of snakes is to tell us something about the moral status of killing, what are we to make of the behavior of the female praying mantis? I shudder to consider the possibilities.
My anonymous reader also informs me that, “[A]theists aren't immoral nor are they amoral. The moral code(s) they live by are ‘partly’ the same ones of Judeo-Christians, and Muslims, Taoists, Wiccans, Druids, etc... not because those religions are right but because some moral codes are universal.” Well, perhaps some moral codes are universal. But his assertion that this is the case tells us very little. It does not, for example, tell us how we become obligated to any moral code, even a universal one. It does not tell us how we may enquire into the content of these universal codes. Some moral codes may be universal, but that alone does not tell us that “Thou shalt not kill” is part of the content of any universal code to which we may be obligated. (What’s more, he has not decided simply that this universally applicable moral code is obligatory for him, but also that it is universally applicable and obligatory for all other humans, whether they have judged it so or not. But I digress.) I asked, in the original posting (para. 22) how we may know that it is wrong to murder:
Do you know it's wrong to murder in the same way that you know George Bush is President of the United States, or that it is (or is not) snowing outside (where you live) right now? Is the proposition, "It is wrong to murder" true by definition in the same way as "2+2=4"? It is difficult to see how it could be.Apparently we know because snakes don’t kill their own kind. (But praying mantises do.)
I was also provided with links intended to show me that morals have nothing to do with Judeo-Christian religions (here and here). The links are to on-line profiles of two porn stars, one a Jew, the other a Christian (specifically, Roman Catholic). Since the links are intended to point to the behavior of the two performers, the point is clearly that people within the Judeo-Christian sphere are not paragons of moral virtue. And this would be an important point if my argument in “Amoral Man” was an argument that Judeo-Christians are better behaved than non-Judeo-Christians. To be fair, his provision of these links was in response to two questions I asked about the Christian credentials of two adult magazine publishers (i.e., Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione). By asking the questions (which, I admit, were poorly phrased and confused the issue), I was aiming at the notion that Judeo-Christians involved in porn were pursuing the standards of the Judeo-Christian ethic. I assert that regardless the Christian credentials of Bob Guccione and Jenna Jamison, they aren’t pursuing the requirements of the Judeo-Christian ethic in the areas of sexuality and objectification of women.
In a subsequent comment, the same reader writes:
Really, just how could I hope to explain, given “facts” 1 through 5? I will first stipulate to each of them. I believe they are all arguable (except perhaps for item 2), but even if they are not, they don’t, even if true, affect my argument (i.e., that atheists are amoral). First, I didn’t assert that Judeo-Christian morals are “better” than the morals of “amoral” atheists. The apples belonging to a man who has apples are not “better” than the apples of a man who has no apples. My reader seems to think that I equate amoral with immoral, having apples as having good apples and not having apples as having rotten apples. I don’t. I explained why I believe atheists are amoral (not immoral). He offers nothing in response. Apparently it’s just wrong (morally wrong?) to say so, no matter what one’s reasons might be.
1. The US is the most Judeo-Christian-theocratic nation on earth.
2. The US has the largest numbers of serial-killers per capita
3. Logic dictates that chances therefor are that the large majority of serial killers belong to one Judeo-Christian sect/cult or the other.
4. Most of them will have been considered by their friends, collegues,etc... as well behaved and good theist Americans.
5. Facts show all of the above to be true.
If the morals of theists, especially Judeo-Christian ones, are so much better then the ones of the 'amoral' atheists then how to you explain the above?For that matter how to you explain the fact that atheists aren't represented in the US jail population in the same percentages then they are in the general population? Let alone why they are not even much more numerous if they are amoral.
Second, let’s say that the large majority of serial killers do belong to one Judeo-Christian cult or other. Let’s say also that I have argued the superiority of the Judeo-Christian ethic. This fact about the population of serial killers tells us nothing about the superiority of the ethical system in question. For one thing, there is only a problem with serial killing (among others) if the Judeo-Christian ethic is applicable and, therefore, murder is wrong. For another thing, that people violate the prohibitions entailed in an ethical system tells us nothing about the applicability or superiority of that ethical system.
The serial-killer Christian would be a violator of the Judeo-Christian ethic on that point, not a follower of it, when he kills. Think of it this way. If we have a law specifying a speed limit on highways, and people violate that law, it doesn’t tell us that there is a problem in our system of laws, unless, perhaps, that system has no provision for dealing with offenders. My anonymous friend seems to think that an ethical system, in addition to being comprised of positive and negative duties (i.e., Thou shalt and Thou shalt not, respectively), must also somehow guarantee obedience to these duties. And therefore the inferiority (or just the absence of superiority) of the Judeo-Christian ethic is demonstrated by the fact that people following that ethic violate that ethic. But that isn’t the case. The Judeo-Christian who serially-murders isn’t obeying; he’s disobeying. And that tells us nothing about the Judeo-Christian ethic itself. If there is a superiority in the Judeo-Christian ethic, that superiority is properly demonstrated by the obedience given to it, not any disobedience. Arguing against the supposed superiority of the Judeo-Christian ethic on the basis that people, even some Judeo-Christians, disobey it is to say that we can determine which ethical system is the best on the basis of how many obey it, or don’t disobey it.
Now, what ought we to learn about the Judeo-Christian ethic from the fact that not as many atheists are serial killers as Judeo-Christians? Apparently we are to learn that the Judeo-Christian ethic is not superior. Well, that is very interesting. From the fact that atheists obey the Judeo-Christian ethic (it’s the standard which he employs in setting up this problem) we are to learn that the Judeo-Christian ethic is not superior. My argument that atheists are amoral, in addition to not being an argument that they are immoral, is also not an argument that Christians, as a class, are more moral than atheists. The man with the apples, above, may choose not to eat his apples; and the Judeo-Christian may choose to disregard the system of ethics entailed in his worldview. That doesn't make the atheist moral; it just makes the Judeo-Christian immoral, as judged in terms of his own ethical system.
For one thing the Christian who will agree that atheists are, or can be moral is judging the atheist’s behavior by the Christian ethical system. When I was an atheist I found that offensive: for the Christian to judge me as morally good presupposed the truth of his entire life-system (not just the ethical provisions), a system which I rejected. (Though I do have to confess to having had a certain respect for elements of the Judeo-Christian ethic and its influence upon Western civilization – much like Oriana Fallaci had.) Who was the Christian to tell me I was or was not a good person?
For another thing, no argument about the supposed superiority of the Judeo-Christian ethic is an argument that, as a rule, the actions of all (or even just most) Judeo-Christians are morally superiority to the actions of non-Judeo-Christians. That would transform the discussion of ethics from what we ought to do to what we in fact do. The same ethical system that commands the Judeo-Christian to do or not to do also judges him when he fails to do or not to do. If the Judeo-Christian ethic fails just because a Judeo-Christian fails to meet the standard then no Judeo-Christian can be said to have missed the standard: the standard, remember, is supposedly invalidated by someone’s failure to meet it!
My anonymous reader may be correct. There may be a great many Judeo-Christians in our prisons. But remember that, on his own admission, it was our Judeo-Christian-theocratic system which weighed those Judeo-Christians on the Judeo-Christian balance, found them wanting in respect of conformity to that standard, and put them in prison in the first place.
Having stipulated to items 1 through 5, above, for purposes of clarity regarding my position, I want now to offer some brief consideration on what it means to be a Christian. When he asserts that the United States are the most Judeo-Christian-theocratic in the world, I have to agree, of course. But I agree only to the extent that it can be said that we have not as fully jettisoned our orthodox Christian heritage to the same extent as it appears European nations have done.
But the fact is, not everyone who says, “I am a Christian” means the same thing by the word Christian. (NB: I didn’t say that not everyone who says he is a Christian is a Christian, or a “true” Christian.) For example when I say that I am a Christian I mean, among other things, that I receive the Apostles’ and Nicene (381) creeds as statements of the catholic faith; in other words I identify myself as an “orthodox” Christian, as contrasted with, say, a “liberal” or “neo-orthodox” Christian.
When someone like Oriana Fallaci called herself a “Christian” atheist, she did not mean by “Christian” what orthodox, liberal or even neo-orthodox Christians mean by the term (see also here). When someone like Robert Jensen calls himself a Christian (a true Christian, in fact), he does not mean by the term (as he himself explains) what orthodox, liberal or neo-orthodox Christians mean by the term. What people like Fallaci and Jensen mean when they call themselves Christians is simply nothing more than that they recognize a certain cultural value to Christianity apart from theological-philosophical elements. (In a sense, I suppose I would rather have Fallaci and Jensen inside the tent with me, pissing out – sort of – than outside the tent, pissing in. [Apologies to Winston Churchill.] But I digress.)
But there is something Fallaci, Jensen and others do which some Christians in the orthodox, liberal and neo-orthodox sense also do: they select which parts of the body of doctrine, including the ethical elements, they will apply to themselves and others. What this means is that caution must be exercised when styling the United States as “Judeo-Christian-theocratic” because while they may in some sense be Judeo-Christian, they are not confessionally and explicitly so. (That last point is important because my anonymous reader informs me that people are not what they do not explicitly call themselves. But more about that in a subsequent posting.) They are so in the sense that elements of the Judeo-Christian worldview provide much of the cultural motif; and that is about it.
It doesn’t happen right away, of course. Recall that the people at the beginning of the exchange process (in this case people in the education and construction related businesses) receive the full value of the dollars presently on the market. That is, despite new printed money being on the market, due to the fact that the market has not yet realized that there are, again, more dollars floating about, is still treating these new dollars as if they are worth $.70. So those people at the beginning of the exchange process are still getting $.70 for each dollar they spend. By the time the market realizes what has happened and that money ends up in the hands of those people at the end of the exchange process, those dollars are only worth $.50. Now, that $500.00 received by the beneficiaries of the War on Destitution is worth only $250.00. (And that $250.00 will buy less because everyone else increased prices to recoup some of the loss in the value of their dollars.)
The city fathers (a miracle!) realize that right now might not be a good time for another “loan”. But they still need to increase the benefits distributed to the poor. They have no choice but to raise these additional funds through an increase in taxes. Clearly, the people who need to be taxed, or at least taxed at the highest rates) are those at the beginning of the exchange process. After all, when the money was inflated they still received the full (i.e., un-inflated) value of their dollars. Those people closer and closer to the end of the exchange process will pay less and less in taxes. Those at the bottom will pay none. (This, by the way, is about the only consideration which comes close to justifying a progressive income tax.)
Sadly, and thanks to the last round of inflation, the ranks of the poor are about to increase. You remember why, I hope. That means that there will be more beneficiaries of the War on Destitution, which means that the War on Destitution is going to need more money. Gee, I wonder where that will come from. More taxes? Another “loan”?
Now, in our country, there are several things that offset some of the effects of inflation. The biggest of them is just the sheer size of our economy. Those inflated dollars can be absorbed a bit because as our production of goods and services increase there are more places for those inflated dollars to go. So although our money is no longer related to gold, it is still somewhat related to things of tangible values, such as automobiles, television sets, computers and the like. If these things increase there are more things to which those dollars can be related for value. So our situation is not as obviously dire as it is in our thought experiment here. Yet.
We have been lulled into complacency by at least two things. First, there seems to be this idea that because nothing bad has happened yet, something bad is not likely to happen. I wonder if this sort of thinking is rooted in ignorance of the fact that inflating money supply is not a new way for governments to conduct business. Inflating money supply has been around for as long as there have been governments. Sooner or later it will come to an end. It always does. The second thing, I think, is ignorance of the fact that this is how the federal reserve system works and how, ironically, this system increases poverty and concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of those at the beginning of the exchange process.
The foregoing has been only an approximation of how the federal reserve system works. For fuller explanations, have a look at the two video reports, here). They are about an hour apiece, so quite a time commitment. But they are very much worth it.
There is no doubt...that Christianity is imperilled by great and serious dangers. Two life-systems are wrestling with one another.... Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while...all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the Son of the living God, and God himself, are bent upon saving the "Christian Heritage." This is the struggle... .
In this struggle Apologetics have advanced us not one single step. Apologists have invariably begun by abandoning the assailed breastwork, in order to entrench themselves cowardly in a ravelin behind it.
... If the battle is to be fought with honor and with a hope of victory, then principle must be arrayed against principle; then it must be felt that in Modernism the vast energy of an all-embracing life-system assails us, then also it must be understood that we have to take our stand in a life-system of equally comprehensive and far-reaching power. And this powerful life-system is not to be invented nor formulated by ourselves, but is to be taken and applied as it presents itself in history (Abraham Kuyper, "Calvinism a Life-System," in Lectures on Calvinism (The Stone Lectures, Princeton University, 1898).
You knew this was coming. And you were right. The city fathers come to me for yet another “loan” to finance their new war, the War on Destitution; so I once again print more “money”. Whatever the city fathers do with this “borrowed” money, by the time any of it flows and finally makes it way to the poor they will find that their dollars are, once again, worth even less than before the government started helping them. Unless the government just distributes this money directly to the poor (like, say, welfare payments) that money won't really end up in the hands of the poor. For one thing, the first thing the government well do is create a bureaucracy to run this program for the poor. Those bureaucrats will be the initial recipients of the new "money" I've printed up, in the form of salaries and benefits. Secondly, the programs themselves will take the form of building government-run low-cost housing for the poor. So the second immediate recipients of the new money will be all those associated with the construction of this government housing. Then, of course, will come the food distribution apparatus. On and on it goes.
Now remember, the market does not yet realize that there are yet again more notes being tendered than I have actual gold for, so all those initial recipients are spending those new dollars, and having those new dollars treated as if they are still worth $.80 each. So if each of these recipients spends $1,000.00 of these new dollars, he's still getting $800.00 worth of goods and services. But, eventually, money is going to make it's way into the hands of the poor and the destitute. And by the time it does so, the market will have realized that there are more dollars in play, and those dollars (by the time they end up in the hands of the poor and destitute) will be worth only, let's say, $.70. The poor, despite all this government help are still getting poorer. (Actually, when you think about it, the poor are getting poorer just because of this government help. And I’m leaving out of our discussion the sociological effects of this government largess, such as, for a single example, the destruction over time of the family unit among the poor.)
And this will be true even if those new, “borrowed” dollars are given directly into the hands of the poor. That is to say, even if the poor are the first recipients of this new money they will still end up poorer than they already were. Let's say the poor have distributed to them once per month, in this new government program, $500.00. At the present rate of inflation (remember money has been printed up several times and that before this last time these dollars were only worth $.80 each, instead of $1.00) those $500.00 are only worth $400.00.
One could, of course, say, “Yes, but James that’s $400.00 they didn’t have before.”
And one would be correct. And that would be really something if I stopped printing money, which I would do if the city fathers stopped asking me for “loans”. But that is not likely to happen; so, soon enough, those poor and destitute will find that their $500.00 checks, instead of purchasing $400.00 worth of goods and services, are only purchasing $350.00 worth of goods and services. Now, instead of saying that this is $350.00 more than they have before, you find yourself saying that they have lost $50.00. Just like that.
But the city fathers do not stop asking me for “loans”. Now that we have won our war with that neighboring city, the city fathers have decided to reward our veterans with “free” educations and guaranteed home loans, among other veterans’ benefits. So once again I “loan” the city some more “money”, in the form of printed paper. But now let’s say that instead of devaluing those dollars just another $.10 this “loan” results in a $.20 decreased in the value of the money presently in the market.
Recall that I, the bank, have printed notes for which I don’t have gold in my vault and “loaned” this “money” to the city to finance its war with our neighbors. This printed money devalues all of the other notes currently in the market. Let’s say that I have one million dollars of gold in my vault; and there are one million dollars worth of notes in the market. When I print more notes than for which there is gold in my vaults, the value of those extant notes decreases.
Let’s say that the amount of notes I print up amounts to ten percent more than the total value of the gold in my vault. That means that the other notes have been devalued by ten percent. That is, a note previously worth one dollar in gold is now worth only $.90. So now, if you want to redeem your notes for dollars you have to bring in 10% more in notes than you are going to get in dollars. You want a dollar’s worth of gold? You need to bring in $1.10 in notes. That’s inflation. And it was caused by your city fathers.
Of course, no one knows this except for me and the city fathers. The notes they spend on military supplies are, so far as any one knows, worth every dollar those notes say they are worth. When the city goes to the arms supplier and gives him a thousand dollars in notes, they get a thousand dollars in arms. And when the arms supplier turns round and spends that money on whatever things he purchases he gets a thousand dollars worth of goods and so on until…until the market “realizes” that there are more notes going round than for which the bank has gold. That means that in order to keep making the same amount in real (i.e., gold) dollars people conducting business need to raise their prices, in this instance by $.10. Remember $1.00 in gold now requires $1.10 in notes, so a man who still wants to make a real dollar for his goods or services must charge $1.10 for those goods or services.
You noted that the people for whom a dollar note was still worth a dollar were the people at the beginning of the exchange process: the city fathers, the arms suppliers, and the like. Those people lost no money. Their $1.00 notes were still worth $1.00 in goods and services. It is the people towards the end of the exchange process who lost money, the working people. Their $1.00 is only worth $.90. They wake up one morning to find that they lost $.10 for each dollar they made the day before. And they can’t raise their prices to make up that loss. Overnight they have fewer dollars to live on. If he went to bed with $100.00 he now has, effectively, only $90.00!
Let’s say the war with our neighbors drags on. The city fathers need more money. Again, I print more notes. The process begins all over again until that day when the working people wake up to find that their dollars are now buying another $.10 less. And on and on it goes. Until some of the people who were at the bottom of the rich class, find themselves at the top of the middle class, and some at the top of the middle class find themselves closer to the bottom of the middle class, and those at the bottom of the middle class are now poor, and some of those who were poor now find themselves utterly destitute.
Then the poor in the city cry out to the city fathers for relief. Relief from whom? Why the awful rich people who keep raising the price for everything and won’t give raises in order to make up the difference! (We can’t blame them. The city fathers have seen to it that no one is taught economics and knows how the city banking system – me – works. They have no idea the real reason their dollars are buying less and less.)
So the city fathers, benevolent creatures, agree to provide this much needed relief: The War on Destitution. And how will they fund this War on Destitution, I wonder?
- James Frank Solís
- Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
- ► 2012 (27)
- ► 2011 (13)
- ► 2010 (40)
- ► 2009 (122)
- Oh, Torment!
- Arrogance and Assumption
- A thought about 'originality' -- Wisdom Sunday
- Oh, Walter, where art thou?
- Fear and loathing
- Lewis on "membership" -- Wisdom Sunday
- Practical antinomianism
- The "action" politics of the Republican Party
- Amoral Man – Post Script
- The Road to Poverty – Part V
- Principle against principle -- Wisdom Sunday
- The Road to Poverty – Part IV
- The Road to Poverty – Part III
- ▼ February (13)
- ► 2007 (188)
- ► 2006 (300)
- ► 2005 (63)