Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pictures

Well here a few pictures, as promised, from our family trip.




OK, this isn't from our trip, but this is one of the few times of late we've been able to get a decent picture of all three boys together. This was taken on July 4th with the Louisville skyline in the background.













The picture of the mountains was taken by my wife (OK, Kathy took all the pictures.) In any case, this shows you the beauty of the mountains in Tennessee. The boys and I are currently going through a little book called "Leading Little Ones to God." We read about God's revelation in nature. The verse we learned? "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Ps. 19:1).


Jack showing off some golfing skills and Andrew and Josh relaxing on the porch.






Here are the boys on our hiking trip. I know that photo looks a bit surreal, but those are really mountains, and yes they are holding hands. There was a large gorge about 5 feet behind them.

In Need of an American President

Chuck Baldwin says that gullible Christians shouldn't believe everything they read and hear. He also endorses the strange, almost incomprehensible notion, that we need an "American" president:

"What we need is an old-fashioned AMERICAN President. A President who will put the interests of America above the interests of internationalists. A President who will stop selling out American workers to China and Mexico. A President who will keep his word to support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. A President who will protect America's borders. A President who will stop using America's fighting men as the world's policemen. A President who is more concerned about the economic well-being of Americans than he is about constructing some "global economy" for the multinational corporations and international bankers. And, yes, a President who believes in telling the American people the truth. Show me a President that will do this, and I will be happy to support him, whether he tells me he prays or attends church or calls himself a Christian or not. And any President who does not do this, George W. Bush included, I will oppose, no matter what he calls himself."

Romans 13

Romans 13 is a text much abused by statists, clergy, and statist clergy of all stripes.

Before the Iraq war, prominent evangelicals such as Henry Blackaby cited the apostle Paul to stanch any opposition to the Iraq war. Regrettably, Blackaby was not alone.

Today, I see that an MP in the Zimbabwe parliament is citing the great apostle to condemn the political opponents of Robert Mugabe. Really, you can't make this stuff up.

For some clear-headed observations on the text, I would commend Chuck Baldwin, and Rushdoony. Feel free to check out my brief and meandering thoughts related to Christians and government as well as a response to Christian anarchists.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Going on Vacation With the Family, and Lloyd Jones

The Dow's returned from our first (brief) family vacation since our youngest son Jack, who will be three in November, was growing in him mom's womb. Yes, we do get out of the house, but "traveling" generally entails heading home to see family.

The last few weeks have been a bit trying, so it was good to get away. My wife's brother died in a freak car accident, our van was hit while parked by a hit-and-run driver, I was rear-ended in my car and we lost power for 20 hours. That last part doesn't sound so bad except our sump pump wasn't working. Fortunately, the flooding was relegated to the unfinished portion of the basement and did not impact our school area.

Anyway, we went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a shrine for redneck Christians and bikers everywhere. It's a strange place. A temple to the god of consumerism where you can attend First Baptist church and then waddle next door for a little body art.

You can also, however, hike in beautiful locales, ride horses, do a bit of fishing and be entertained round-the-clock. We kept fairly busy. The older boys enjoyed their very first horseback riding experience with mom while dad kept Jack in toe. We also went hiking. I was nervous for most of the walk given the nearness of the gorge below to the path we were treading.

Suburban weenie that I am, I haven't taught my children to be rugged outdoorsy-type (I'm like Homer in the 'Simpson's' edisode where he takes the family camping), but Andrew and I did manage to catch a number of fish. We also went to see a very fine magic show, not usually my forte, either. There were a few relatively expensive duds, too. Going to tourist traps can certainly be an exercise in highway robbery, but I already knew that man is a sinner.

In any case, hopefully I'll put some pictures up later, but I did get to stroll through a very large bookstore where I procured some good stuff by R. C. Sproul, John Stott, D. A. Carson and a number of other reputable evangelical scholars. For some reason, I didn't find any good Catholic commentaries.

On the way home, I began reading "Why Does God Allow War?", a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the longtime minister of Westminster Chapel in London. The book was originally written at the start of WWII and sought to discuss issues of suffering and war. It is a decent book. After all, Lloyd Jones was one of the great biblical expositors of the 20th Century.


However, the book contained a forward by John MacArthur and was published in May, 2003. In short, Crossway publishing pumped the book out as a piece of propaganda designed to con Christians into supporting the (unjust) war in Iraq.

There in the heart of red-state, God-fearing America, I saw "Bush-Cheney" bumperstickers all around and could still purchase this and this at every book-nook in town. Nothing like being among God's people.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Great Piece by Raimondo

While in college, one of the most useful books I read was by Thomas Sowell, called "Knowledge and Decisions." Sowell's book led me in turn to some of Hayek's work on the importance and value of knowledge. Sowell shows how the fragmented and disconnected knowledge of millions of people can be coordinated into social processes in political, economic, and legal spheres. It is an intellectual stem-winder directed at all forms of socialistic planning.

One of the great disappointments of the Iraq war is seeing those I have so admired, such as Sowell, defending untenable positions. In his latest essay at Antiwar.com, the indispensable Justin Raimondo applies analysis much like Sowell's to foreign policy.

Raimondo writes:
The case against interventionism can be made in a purely practical, empirical framework: i.e. it can be shown that it just doesn't work. Not because the wrong people are in charge, not due to incompetence, the wearing of ideological blinders, or some other disability or shortcoming on the part of policymakers – but because it is simply not possible, no matter who is in charge.

What rules out any really effective foreign intervention, either military or economic (i.e. taxpayer-funded "aid" programs of one sort or another), is the sheer complexity of the terrain we find ourselves on. There are just too many factors to fit comfortably into convenient equations, too many layers of historical debris to uncover and clear away, too many ancient disputes that can only be dimly understood by outsiders. The common complaint, by war critics and the neocons, is that there wasn't enough "planning" done by the administration, that insufficient resources made available to the Iraq war effort, etc., etc. Yet no amount of resources deployed under the constraints of even the most meticulous, well-thought-out plan can achieve what we set out to do in Iraq, i.e. create a stable democratic ally, or even a stable replacement for the despotism we upended.

The natural impulse of the state is to simplify complex matters. In this case, they lay the blame for each and every attack in Iraq at the feet of al Qaeda. But the "planners" that dragged us into the Iraq war were largely ignorant of the religious and social terrain there. Two weeks before the war, George Bush didn't know that multiple sects of Muslims existed. I guess that was an important piece of information.

Raimondo continues:
As a libertarian, I am opposed to central planning on principle: it couldn't work in Iraq for precisely the same reasons it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and doesn't work anywhere. However, at least the domestic advocates of economic planning in the US are reasonably close to, and knowledgeable about, the people whose fates they would hold in their hands. In the case of our "conservative" planners, who would map out the future of a foreign country on their drawing boards, they are treading on largely unknown terrain, without any first-hand knowledge or experience to guide them even provisionally. This is worse than hubris: it is sheer stupidity.
In short the "conservatives," obsessed with "National Greatness" and driven by the imperious virus, have forsaken all of their principled opposition to statist planning. Ultimately, it cannot and will not work because it is at odds with human nature, but the planners can do a terrible amount of damage in the meantime.

What About Vouchers?

My friend Eric Schansberg has written a brief defense of school vouchers at his blog. Eric is a Christian libertarian and an economist by training. (He also has a great blog you should check out and has written three books I highly commend.) As with many libertarian and conservative supporters of vouchers, Eric believes a voucher program would protect the religious freedom of parents and students, result in taxpayer savings, and ultimately improve educational services by breaking the monopoly of state schools.

Is it true? What are we to think of vouchers?

In the early 20th century, the socialist Fabian Society came out strongly in favor of state subsidies for Christian schools in England. After passage of the Education Act of 1902, Graham Wallas resigned from the board in protest, believing that the society had forfeited its progressive principles by supporting legislation which subsidized denominational schools.

George Bernard Shaw rebuked Wallas saying, "Nothing will more quickly destroy independent Christian schools than state aid: their freedom and independence will soon be compromised, and before long their faith."

Writing later, Shaw let the cat out of the bag. His support for state-financed private and religious education was little more than a ploy to undermine family authority:
In the case of young children, we have gone far in our interference with the old Roman rights of parents. For nine mortal years the child is taken out of its parents hands for most of the day, and thus made a State school's child instead of a private family child…to put it quite frankly and flatly, the Socialist State, as far as I can guess, will teach the child the multiplication table, but will not only not teach it the Church Catechism, but if the State teachers find that the child's parents have been teaching it the Catechism otherwise than as a curious historical document, the parents will be warned that if they persist the child will be taken out of their hands and handed over to the Lord Chancellor, exactly as the children of Shelley were when their maternal grandfather denounced his son-in-law as an atheist.

As night follows day, state aid will lead to state domination. A variety of legal precedents make clear that even a remote cause could vindicate statist controls. For example, universities are subject to Title IX "anti-discrimination" statues if any of their students so much as take financial aid. Remember, too, that not so long ago the federal government asserted control over restaurants because salt in the salt shaker was considered part of interstate commerce.

Allowing the camel's nose into the tent via a voucher program would ultimately yield to the state complete power over curriculum decisions and matters of accreditation. But who is appointed to accredit a Christian school? Is this legitimately the realm of the state? No, the state is a ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1-4). It is God's Word that is the standard of certification, and the state usurps God's prerogative when it claims the right of accreditation.

As a practical matter, would vouchers decrease the cost of education by making services more efficient? Have Medicare and Medicaid decreased the cost of health care? Have Pell Grants, the GI Bill and other forms of federal aid decreased the cost of a college education?

Similarly, it is likely that vouchers would increase the cost of private education. Dumping money willy nilly into schools that by and large operate frugally and efficiently compared to government schools is simply a recipe for educational inflation.

Finally, there is a question as to whether vouchers work. Educational writer Jay Matthews recently wrote up a study of housing vouchers that should give us pause:
Researchers examining what happened to 4,248 families who were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods found no significant difference about seven years later between the [educational] achievement of children who moved to more middle-class neighborhoods and those who didn't.

Although some children had more stable lives and better academic results after the moves, the researchers said, on average, there was no improvement. Boys and brighter students appeared to have more behavioral problems in their new schools, the studies found.

So there were no educational gains. The only accomplishment educationally from housing vouchers was the moving of discipline problems from one school to another.

Matthews fails to note that educational success is primarily connected to innate intelligence, which the Education Department can't do much about just yet, and a stable family life, which helps to instill the virtues of hard-work and discipline while attaching value to the importance of education.

The bigger problem I have is that my reading of Scripture effectively precludes state-sponsored and financed schools and primarily leaves education in the hands of the family. Education must be as to the Lord, and if either church or state are primarily responsible to provide education they will still instill fealty and subjugation to an institution rather than God. (As an aside, I have no opposition to Christian schools, but would argue that they should be separate from ecclesiastical control. In other words they should be extensions of the family, not the church.)

In "The Messianic Character of American Education," Rushdoony put it this way: "Wherever church or state have claimed a prior, or any, jurisdiction over every other sphere of human activity or institution, there has been, with the realization of their claim, a steady diminution of liberty and the substitution of bureaucracy for law. The emancipation of education from ecclesiastical control was thus a major advance in liberal education, but a truly liberal education must also be free of the state, from its support or control."

God has made parents stewards of children, to mold and shape. Our children, says the Psalmist, “are a heritage from the Lord,” indeed, “the fruit of the womb is a reward.” We are called to elicit from our children those things that are pleasing to God. Ultimately, they belong to Him, and that is why Christian education is imperative. The goal then of education for the Christian is to glorify God and to free man. Freedom is ultimately only found in Christ, thus education must place Him at the center of all things.

Ultimately, we desire that our children become Christians and that the Holy Spirit uses our efforts toward that end. At the same time, we do not see that ALONE as the goal of “Christian” education, for “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy" (Col. 1:15-18).

Education must be Chistocentric, for in the falling rain and the rotation of the earth we see the power and supremacy of God. In the beauty of a Shakespearean sonnet or a Bach concerto we glimpse God’s glory. In the narrative of history we take note of the merciful providence of God. In mathematics we see the order of God. In government we glimpse the justice of God. So our duty is to ensure that our children are not taken captive "through hollow and deceptive philosophy," but that they learn to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (Col. 2:8, I Cor. 10:5).

I say again, God has placed education in the hands of the family primarily, not the state or the church. I recall Doug Wilson once saying, and I’m paraphrasing, that "We are responsible for what our children learn, whether we teach it to them or not." Reading through Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 I am always struck by the fact that I am responsible for what my children are taught. That by no means implies that I must teach them everything. However, should I choose to delegate certain things to the church or school, I am still ultimately responsible.

All of life, including education, has an inescapably religious and ethical component. For the Christian, divine revelation is our authoritative source, and from Scripture we learn that education must be theocentric, with the glory of God being the ultimate objective. Therefore, education that is either statist (advancing the interests of the state) or ecclesiocentric (advancing the cause of the church) is problematic. Education must ultimately be under the authority of parents, acting as God’s trustees on behalf of their children.

Would vouchers ultimately strengthen families by providing money to them directly and enhancing the educational choices and opportunities for their children? I think more likely the consequence would be the further leveling of all educational alternatives, leaving fewer choices for Christian parents.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Liberal Discovers an Inconvenient Truth

The Boston Globe wonders what happens when liberal academics stumble upon inconvenient truths.

Robert Putnam, author of the bestseller Bowling Alone, has found diversity has a downside. Reporting on Putnam's findings, The Globe reports, "The greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings."

Pat Buchanan also comments on the study, writing that the fate of the American polity is being sealed by mass immigration.

None of this is news to readers of this blog, who were treated to commentary on Putnam's research last October. You can read it here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Are Things Getting Better?

I haven't commented on the spate of "good news" coming out of Iraq lately, so let's review some recent developments.

Writing in the NY Times, two liberal academics pining for jobs in the next Clinton administration say this is a war we just might win: "Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

The Associated Press chimes in with a similar analysis: "The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working."

The claims of military success have stanched, for now, the political bleeding, and there has been a minor uptick in support of the war as a result.

I won't waste time with O'Hanlon and Pollack, who both supported the war and were instrumental in providing intellectual cover on the left for Democratic politicians. Read some of Glenn Greenwald if you're interested in seeing these fellas dispatched.

But is security improving in Iraq? As recently as June, Reuters reported that daily attacks by guerrillas averaged 178 per day--a new high. With 80 confirmed deaths, the month of July was the least deadly for American soldiers since last November, or so the story goes. In fact, when the real tally was announced, there were 88 confirmed casualties, six more than March when the surge began.

Moreover, Iraqi civilian casualties skyrocketed: "Iraqi government figures released on Wednesday showed a sharp rise in the number of Iraqi civilians killed in July to 1,653 from 1,227 in June." Even this figure is likely low, given the penchant of the Iraqi government to undercount civilian deaths.

But all of this military "success" is meaningless if the political train rolls off the tracks. The administration has been making the case that Sunis are slowly turning against al-Qaida in the Anbar province. Even if true, that in no way implies reconciliation with the Shiite government. In fact, Sunnis are walking out of the Maliki government.

As importantly, Maliki is losing support from other Shiite and secular parties. Juan Cole writes: "The Maliki government has lost the confidence of three other political parties, the Islamic Virtue Party (15 seats in parliament), the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr (30 seats), and just on Monday, the Iraqi National List led by former appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. All have pulled their ministers from his government. The government of the major province of Basra, source of Iraq's petroleum exports and its major port, has collapsed. The governor, from the Islamic Virtue Party, failed a vote of no confidence by the provincial council, spearheaded by a rival Shiite faction, but he refuses to resign even though Maliki backed his removal. And if Basra collapses socially and with regard to security, it is unlikely that the Baghdad government can survive."

Even Secretary of Defense Gates calls results on the political front "disappointing."

In short, be leery of buying into a blizzard of propaganda. That's how we got into this mess in the first place.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Remind Me Why...

Here is a local story cataloging the continuing HOMOgenizing pinkification of the GOP (that’s Gay Old Party).

On Tuesday, Glenn Murphy, chairman of the Clark County, Indiana Republican Party and president of the Young Republican National Federation, resigned both positions in the wake of an investigation into alleged criminal deviate conduct. The allegations which come from a police report indicate that Murphy performed an unwanted sex act on a 22-year-old man while he slept in a relative’s home. This is the second time that Murphy has been arrested for such conduct.

Meanwhile, on the national stage, the leading GOP presidential candidate is a cross-dressing, abortion-supporting, gay-rights backing liberal, who nevertheless wins plaudits from conservatives, and much too frequently gets a pass from Christians, because of his support for the "War on Terror."

Can someone remind me why I'm supposed to vote for Republicans?

Oh, He's No Caligula

In an interview on Anti-war radio, attorney Bruce Fein says that the current administration has more in common with Caligula than the Founding Fathers. You can find an MP3 of the interview here.

Fein served as a senior poohbah in the Reagan justice department and drew up the first article of impeachment during the Clinton imbroglio. Now he is teaming up with Bob Barr, Richard Viguerie, David Keene, and a handful of others to restore sanity to the much diminished "conservative movement."

Fein has been busily attacking the pretensions of the emperor and critiquing the Unitary Executive theory and the increasing tendency of conservatives to support a "living Constitution," as long as it provides for the accruing of executive power.

Democrats, too, have baled out and given the administration broadly enhanced powers to eavesdrop on the phone calls and emails of Americans.

Christians have naturally been silent given that the president is "God's man." As Chris Ortiz writes, "Torture, spying, and preemptive military action, and the "servants of Christ" offer not a peep of protest. In fact, they do just the opposite: they wave their flags of freedom while the state is tapping their phones."