Friday, September 17, 2004

The Victim: Truth

As the presidential campaign grinds on toward the day of the election, everyone agrees that this political season has degraded into one of the meanest in recent memory. quotes Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson as saying, "When I was in politics, I was accused of being Nixon's 'dirty tricks expert'—but I never rose to the heights, or rather sank to the depths, of this year's campaign." Colson writes in his column, "Campaign of Hate," on September 16, 2004:
In one sense, the degrading of political discourse is part of a broader pattern in American life: the coarsening of culture. You see it in the clothing people wear (or don't wear), the lack of manners, and the vulgar language that has become commonplace. Cultures coarsen when morality declines.

But this year there's something more to it.
We have come to expect mudslinging and attack ads, especially during the waning days of presidential campaigns. Two and a quarter centuries of such campaigns have produced mean-spirited personal attacks on candidates, from opponents calling James Madison a pygmy to Southern cartoonists depicting Abraham Lincoln as an ape. George W. Bush joins Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan in the dunce club, while John Kerry can claim John F. Kennedy and Michael Dukakis as fellow elitist, New England liberals.

The "something more" that Colson senses consists of two elements: 1) an attitude of utter hatred behind the attacks, and 2) a fundamental disregard for the truth. The attacks are more bitter, visceral, and partisan than in former years, and the candidates and their proxies are issuing them in a game of one-upmanship with insufficient concern for their accuracy. It is almost as if both sides have determined that the campaign that strikes last before Election Day will win at the polls, and whether their punches are fair or not matters little. Anything goes for such a prize.

It is ironic that a central issue of the campaign is honesty—both sides have accused the other of lying, resulting in the suffering and death of many: Kerry about Vietnam and Bush about Iraq—yet neither side has qualms about shading the facts to its advantage or lying outright. Spin is in, and perception is everything. Truth does not even enter into this equation. If it does, it is in the form of what the recently out-of-the-closet New Jersey Governor James McGreevey calls "one's unique truth."

However, in today's political world, what is truth to one may not be truth to another. For instance, the Bush administration's truth about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is totally different from the Kerry campaign's truth. Even though major stockpiles of WMD have not been found in Iraq, enough small finds have been made to allow the Bush team to trumpet their contention that America's attack was justified. Kerry supporters, though, take the exact opposite view, arguing that the little that has been found proves America's war in Iraq was illegal, imperial, unjustified, and rash.

What is the truth? Saddam Hussein had and used WMDs both against Iran and against the Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Throughout the Clinton administration and into the Bush administration, Hussein made it known that he still had such weapons and had no reluctance about employing them again. He publicized that his scientists were hard at work on delivery systems and new terrors. What he actually had to work with is unknown, but every nation's intelligence of the situation agreed that Iraq was a WMD threat.

Bush acted on this by going to war, believing that removing the threat was vital in winning the War on Terror. In his place, Kerry says, he would not have taken such a drastic measure, believing that further negotiation, continuing the economic embargo, and increasing pressure from a larger coalition would have solved the crisis.

The key to understanding this is that neither side is dealing with the truth but with belief. They have believed something to be true and acted on it—campaigned on it—whether it was true or not. Belief, however, has no foundation without real, authoritative truth. One can believe the moon is made of green cheese all he wants, but such belief does not make it true. In fact, this belief is really folly.

The prophet Isaiah writes concerning the Israel of his day, which parallels the societal state of modern America: "Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey" (Isaiah 59:14-15). We have come to the point that truth does not matter anymore, which means that justice, righteousness, equity, and goodness are no longer goals people strive to attain. What most people seek is whatever they believe is best for them; this is the new standard of "truth."

Truth, which has "fallen in the street," is the victim of man's human nature running roughshod over everything to get for itself. Who will brave the mean streets to revive it?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Facilitating Lawlessness

As I neared the intersection of two four-lane streets on my way to work a few days ago, I was suddenly forced to jump on my brakes. In front of my truck rolled a line of a half-dozen cars preparing to make a left turn, but the driver of the SUV at the head of line had unexpectedly stopped—despite the green arrow—to allow a man standing at the right-hand corner to cross the street in front of her! This was against the light, against all the horns blaring behind her, against the laws of the road, against all reason!

At first, I thought she was distracted by something: talking on her cell phone, eating her breakfast, applying makeup, reading a newspaper, scolding a child, or something similar. However, when she finally turned, allowing me to see into her SUV better, none of those things appeared to have been a factor. She had simply decided to halt all traffic to let the man cross five lanes of a large, big-city intersection against the dictates of traffic law.

What prompted her to do this? The man had made no effort to cross against the light. If she had just made her left turn, the traffic would have cleared quickly, the signal would have changed in about a minute, and the man could have crossed safely and legally. Instead, she risked being nailed in her rear bumper or causing a similar accident among the vehicles behind her. Happily, all the drivers behind her were alert, and nothing untoward occurred.

In thinking about this incident since then, it appears to be a kind of metaphor for life in America these days. We are checking ourselves unnecessarily and dangerously to tolerate—even facilitate—others' immoral or unethical behaviors. We are too eager to display our permissiveness in face of all we know to be against it, from traditional, biblical morality to plain old common sense.

Perhaps the most easily seen example is this nation's tolerance of homosexuality, a practice thoroughly condemned both by Scripture and—not long ago—by American churches and society in general. Most Americans, though, have chosen to support supposed Constitutional rights and freedoms over real biblical standards, ignoring historical societal decay after the acceptance of homosexuality, as well as obvious public health consequences. They have, in effect, given sodomy a pass despite everything to the contrary.

We also tolerate public theft of the citizenry by our very own government, and many vote to accelerate it every few years! Politicians make long careers out of promising largesse from the local, state, or national treasury, bribing the people with the heavily taxed earnings of their fellow citizens. This national sin—ever-growing entitlements and pork-barrel spending—has landed the United States in a precarious financial position, one that can only grow worse. Counting future guaranteed outlays from Social Security and Medicare, total indebtedness in America is now upwards of $60 trillion! Most Americans are willing to tolerate such fiscal incompetence and indiscretion as long as it works in their favor.

The Western world has made a god out of the concept of tolerance. If nothing else, it has become a chief virtue of modern man, but how is it virtuous to accept destructive behaviors? Would we tolerate sharks in our swimming pools? A little arsenic in our drinking water? Dynamite among our firewood? Do we allow automobile manufacturers to sell us unsafe vehicles? Are we happy to let unlicensed doctors and dentists ply their trades on our bodies? Why, then, are we so eager to tolerate moral and ethical dangers in our society?

Wise Solomon says something similar concerning adultery: "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:27-29). If we tolerate sin, there will be consequences. Society as a whole will certainly decline, and as individuals, we and our children will "be burned."

Unlike the lady in the SUV who facilitated an illegal deed, putting others in danger, we need to follow the rules of the road. For Christians, the rules are laid down in God's Word, and the safest, most beneficial course for all along the road of life is to put them into constant practice.

Friday, September 3, 2004

Divine Intervention

On Thursday afternoon's show, Rush Limbaugh joked about Hurricane Frances bearing down on Palm Beach County, Florida, where he lives. He said, paraphrasing, "Since Palm Beach County has voting irregularities like a Third World nation, maybe God decided Palm Beach County should be devastated to be, in fact, Third World."

Many in his audience probably laughed and promptly forgot about it. His observation, however, has a serious side that modern, sophisticated, and predominantly secular Americans never consider—at least seriously. They snicker at insurance policies that refer to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters as "acts of God," when they, in their scientific arrogance, prefer to call them "acts of nature" or "weather events." Even those who are moderately religious, like the Deists of the Enlightenment, do not believe that God is active in earth's events, whether natural or human. To them, He may be watching, but He certainly is not involved in human affairs.

This points out how utterly blind to God most people are, even Christians. For starters, because they are not looking for God's hand of intervention in their lives, they are certainly not going to see it. Having become so secular and scientific in their outlook, the miraculous is totally off their radar. They consider those who report of miracles to be medieval in their thinking and the miracles themselves to be mere coincidences of natural phenomena or overstatements of what actually occurred. To them, miracles are impossible because, by definition, they are unverifiable by scientific methods and therefore do not and never have happened.

Today's thoroughly modern Christian does not derive this negative view of God's intervention from His Book. In the Bible, divine involvement in human affairs occurs from cover to cover—in fact, it is the central fact of human existence, which the Bible takes great pains to reveal. At every critical point in man's history, God has been involved. At Creation, before and after the Flood, at the dispersal of the nations from Babel, in the history of Israel, among the great empires of ancient history from Egypt to Rome—God was instrumental. God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to this earth and lived among us, bringing us the good news of His Kingdom and dying for our salvation. Then He sent His apostles to the four corners of the globe to spread the word among those He would call.

That sounds as if God is active and involved in human affairs.

As Creator, He certainly has power over the various elements of His creation. Manipulating the weather is like child's play to Him. He can send rain or drought anywhere, anytime. He flooded the entire earth to a depth greater than the height of the tallest mountain, so flashfloods, coastal floods, and river floods are easy. Spinning tornadoes is like breathing to Him, and earthquakes rumble and tumble at His command. The Bible makes many claims about His power over the elements (Job 26:7-12Psalm 147:15-18Nahum 1:3-6; etc.). Jesus Himself calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:24-26).

In the book of Amos, God shows that He uses "natural" disasters to teach people lessons, to bring them to repentance, to correct their ways. In this passage, He also admits that most people fail to make the connection between the disaster and their sins. Notice Amos 4:6-13:
"Also I gave you cleanness of teeth [famine] in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I also withheld rain from you [drought], when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, . . . yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, . . . yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God of hosts is His name.
He also says He will continue to do this in His Millennial Kingdom: He will send drought on areas that refuse to keep His feasts (Zechariah 14:16-19). Are we to assume that, for some reason, He does not punish for sin now?

Maybe Rush was right.