Friday, June 24, 2005

Liberty and Justice for All?

Over the last two days, two branches of the American government—the judicial and the legislative—proved again either that they have no idea what this nation's Founding Fathers meant when they drafted, debated, and ratified the Constitution, or that they simply do not care what it says. Activities like these are what provide fodder for conspiracy theorists to imagine grand plots whose aims are to subjugate Americans to a New World Order. Whether there are such schemes is moot, but the freedoms of American citizens are being trampled and obliterated, it seems, on a weekly basis by our own government.

To the Patriot Act (a collusion of the executive and legislative branches, with the approval, so far, of the judicial) and to the broad discretionary powers of the President (most of which have been assumed through executive orders and without Congressional or judicial oversight), we can add our governments' right to condemn private property for just about any cause. Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable seizures of property, can be ignored by local governments—and by implication, state and federal governments—if they can show that new development on the condemned land will economically benefit the community.

This decision means that, if your city fathers decide that a shopping mall or factory or sports arena will provide more revenue to the city than what you pay in property taxes, they have every right to force you to sell your home, farm, or business to them for "fair" compensation. It used to be—and is still the law in many locales—that government could only condemn property for necessary infrastructure—roads, sewers, airports, power plants, etc. Now, however, if a private citizen pays $1,000/year in property taxes, but a strip mall on the same land will bring in $10,000/year—and add a score of new employees and lots of customers who will pay local sales taxes—the citizen's only option is to take whatever price the city offers for his place.

Who knows if this will be the extent of a government's use of this new power? What if the local city council, dominated by one or the other party, wants to make matters difficult for the rival party, and uses this power like a club? It is not out of the realm of possibility that a government could also use this power to force "undesirables"—the poor, members of another race, etc.—out of a certain sector of the city. Or perhaps it could be brought to bear on a "cult" whose ownership of a piece of property in the city is an embarrassment to the "orthodox" community. Do we really want to open the floodgates to these possibilities?

The second anti-Constitutional activity this week involved the House of Representatives approving the wording of a Constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to punish those who desecrate the American flag. It would read: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." This is the sixth time since 1995 that the House has approved this amendment, and the Senate has twice voted it down. If passed, it would overturn a 1989 Supreme Court decision that found that the First Amendment protects flag burning. Analysts believe this attempt will also be defeated, as supporters can muster only 65 senators, two short of the 67 needed for passage.

Flag burning is an emotional issue, and since 9-11, it has gained support across the country. In fact, 9-11 was played like a trump card during the debate: "Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center," said Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). "Ask them, and they will tell you: Pass this amendment." Nevertheless, the First Amendment is clear in its protection of speech, even rebellious or defiant speech: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . ." The Founders wanted the people of this country to have the power to speak their minds, especially when the government seemed to be getting too big for is breeches.

The Court has found in several instances that "speech" covers symbolic actions—actions deliberately done to make a political point. Burning the flag, then, is along the same lines as burning or hanging a political figure in effigy. Clearly, both of these acts are offensive, but as Americans, we are free to offend and to be offended. Would not the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson laugh us to scorn if they knew today's Americans are so "sensitive" that they would attempt to amend the Constitution to avoid being offended? In days long past, private citizens would "have a quiet talk" with anyone who would dare to be so offensive against our national symbol. And that would be that.

Do we really want the government to institutionalize authority over disagreeable speech or symbolic actions? If the Congress can punish for desecration of the flag, what other kinds of "speech" could they someday ban or penalize using this amendment as a precedent? How about banning certain books, either political or religious, that they find offensive? Perhaps it could be "offensive" remarks that oppose abortion, promiscuity, or homosexuality (Canada already has such a law against the last)? Or maybe Congress might want to impose its authority on churches who offend by not conforming to "orthodox" practices? All the sea needs is one tiny crack in the dike.

It is ironic that the recent hubbub over the Pledge of Allegiance centered on the words "under God." It seems that we need a national debate on "with liberty and justice for all" instead.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Apologizing for the Dead

On a regular basis, the church receives a question from a subscriber or a visitor to one of its websites about the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead. The Latter-Day Saints base their doctrine on I Corinthians 15:29, in which the apostle Paul seems to mention that it was being practiced in his day: "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?" The Mormons interpret these two questions to mean that Paul approved of the practice, using the fact of the resurrection from the dead to reason, "What good is baptizing for the dead if there is no such thing as a resurrection?"

The Bible, however, asserts in many passages that, before a person can be baptized, he must first repent (Acts 2:38) and believe (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31, 33), but the dead, of course, cannot repent or believe because "the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Baptism is for the living; it is a ritual by which a living person acknowledge his sins, figuratively dies with Christ in a watery grave, and rises out of it to live a new, righteous life through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit (Romans 6:4; 8:9; Galatians 2:20). Besides, there is no scriptural support for reconciling with God by proxy!

There is also a translation problem with I Corinthians 15:29. Paul is not talking about being baptized "on behalf of" or "for" the dead. The Greek word translated "for" is huper (often transliterated hyper), and it has several meanings: "above," "over," "instead of," "for the realization of," or "for the hope of," depending upon the context. Here, it is best translated as "for the hope of": "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the hope of the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they then baptized for the hope of the dead?"

What is the hope of the dead? The resurrection, and baptism illustrates this when a person rises out of the water, just as the saints will rise from the grave in the resurrection. Paul is thus saying, "What good is it to be baptized if we do not rise in a resurrection from the dead? Why then should one be baptized for a hope that would never be realized?" The apostle affirms in verses 17-22 that, because Christ died and rose again, we indeed have this hope to look forward to.

Now, however, the modern culture of victimization has put its own twist on this false doctrine. Today, minority groups are demanding apologies for historical wrongs perpetrated on their ancestors. For instance, a small but vocal segment of the American black population is demanding not only that an apology be given for their forebears' bondage, but also that reparations be paid to them for their ancestors' work, pain, and suffering. Sons and daughters of Americans of Japanese descent have asked for—and received—similar words and payments for their parents' internment during WWII. Not to be left out, descendants of American Indians desire an admission of national guilt and restitution as well.

This concept has reached out to embroil industry as well:

A Chicago ordinance required Wachovia [a North Carolina-based financial holding company] to look through its history for any relationship to slavery. Because the bank was established in 1781, an investigation showed that it had connections to hundreds of now defunct banks, including two that were involved with the slave trade before the Civil War.

Ken Thompson, Wachovia chairman and chief executive officer, expressed his regret in a press release, stating that he was "deeply saddened" by the discovery and apologized "especially to African-Americans and people of African descent." . . .

Wachovia is not the first bank to apologize for connections to slavery. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. admitted to past slavery connections earlier this year. The bank offered to create a $5 million scholarship program for African-American youth, but reparation activists dismissed the offer as insignificant., the website of a Charlotte, N.C., television station, has reported that black leaders in that region plan to take steps toward seeking financial damages for the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. (Alexa Moutevelis, "Wachovia Apology Renews Reparations Debate,", June 03, 2005)

Most people realize that the reparations movement is nothing more than an organized shakedown of the government and wealthy corporations. Cherchez l'argent, as the French say: "Follow the money." If the movement were really about principle, a statement of regret would be enough.

Is this any different in principle from baptism for the dead? America is 140 years removed from slavery, and obviously, none of the original players in that drama is still alive. Not one slave owner can apologize for his slaving ways, and not one former slave is still living to receive it. While the dim repercussions of slavery are still felt—predominantly in the form of racism, a different subject altogether—slavery itself and any apologies or reparations are literally a dead issue! As God puts it, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). Guilt and recompense are not legally transferable to subsequent generations.

Besides, America paid the price of slavery. Over half a million men gave their lives in a war that settled the question of involuntary servitude in the United States, not to mention the destruction to America's economy and infrastructure due to that war, especially in the South, where the institution of slavery flourished for centuries. In the meantime, the descendants of slaves have won legal equality with whites and the same access to the American dream as any other citizen.

Perhaps the saddest part of this fiasco is realizing how many people are wasting their time, resources, and energy on fighting the squabbles of the past, when they could be working to make their and their children's futures brighter.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Dull and Compliant People

Within the past month, I read an article denouncing both government and industry for its use of fluoride in drinking water, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other dental applications. The main point of the article, besides the author's desire to counter "this fluoride scam," was to warn Americans about a political side effect of fluoride use: Evidently, fluoride acts as a "tranquilizer," producing lethargic, mind-numbed citizens over time. In support, she quotes an Australian parliamentarian reporting on Nazi and Soviet use of fluoride during World War II:

In this scheme, sodium fluoride will in time reduce an individual's power to resist domination by slowly poisoning and narcotising a certain area of the brain, and will thus make him submissive to the will of those who wish to govern him. Both the Germans and the Russians added fluoride to the drinking water of prisoners of war to make them stupid and docile. (Kidd, Devvy, "Germans & Russians Used Fluoride to Make Prisoners 'Stupid & Docile',", May 14, 2005)

My background in chemistry and biology is deficient to the point that I cannot comment one way or the other on her claims. Whether fluoridation causes people to be dull and compliant is moot, and in the end, it is an unnecessary argument. Yes, if our governments and corporations are involved in a fluoridation conspiracy, it should be stopped, but even so, it is only one area of our modern society's multi-pronged attack on our intellect, emotions, attitudes, expectations, and motivations. If we did not have fluoride making us slow-witted and sluggish, it would be some other chemical, some other habit, some other addiction, some other program.

For instance, a decade ago, parents of public school children began to be concerned about government schools dumbing-down curricula across the nation. Remember ebonics? Remember new math? Remember outcome-based education? Now we have No Child Left Behind, a revamped Scholastic Achievement Test, and billions of dollars in school funding (thanks to the dense Joe Public who keeps voting for school bonds and tax-and-spend politicians). Essentially, though, the curricula have not improved! There may be a greater emphasis on science, technology, and math, but universities are still having to run too many freshmen through remedial courses to get them up to college speed.

Today's curricula are craftily designed—particularly in English and "social studies" courses—to gloss over the nation's achievements, influential leaders, and important documents and to draw attention to people and events of relatively minor stature yet which promote modern, liberal "isms": multiculturalism, feminism, socialism, relativism, humanism, etc. For example, in a recent history textbook, History of a Free Nation, Benjamin Banneker, a black surveyor who assisted in surveying Washington, D.C., gets more ink than does President John Adams. Similarly, Molly Pitcher, a woman who heroically took her husband's place at a cannon after he was killed in battle, seems to have been a more decisive player in the American Revolution than was George Washington.

On top of this, we are a TV nation. As Thomas Sowell once sagely commented, "Someone once asked why television was called a medium. The answer was that it was seldom well done." Television is inherently biased toward presenting simplistic themes, plots, emotions, and analyses because the more subtle and more complex come off as boring and take too long. This is why offerings of these kinds can be found only on public broadcasting and obscure cable stations. The average viewer does not feel obliged to wait or reason during a television show; he wants only to be spoon-fed and entertained. In fact, studies show that a person's brain activity slows down toward the level of sleep while watching television.

The programming rage for the last several years has been the "reality show." These programs pit ordinary people against one another, a course, a location, a series of challenges, or even their own fears and problems, and by the process of elimination, a winner eventually emerges to win a gazillion bucks. And so we have American Idol, The Amazing Race (perhaps the best of the genre), Survivor, The Apprentice, The Bachelor(ette), Nanny 911, and The Osbournes, among scores of others, each more inane than the last. These shows join sitcoms, game shows, soap operas, and cartoons as the average American's daily fare. Talk about being mind-numbed!

Space does not permit covering Americans' fixation on sports and entertainment, their obsession with materialism, or their passion for excess in food, drink, and sex. This is the age-old, tried-and-true, "bread and circuses" method of controlling the rabble. Those in power have learned to keep the people ignorant, fat, and happy, and as such, they will not—cannot—give the authorities any trouble.

And it is working. The American people have essentially rolled over just about every time a once-taboo subject has pricked the collective conscience—whether it is premarital promiscuity, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, no-fault divorce, public prayer, public display of God's Word, capital punishment, government debt and deficits, personal and public honesty and accountability, etc. A few courageous citizens fight an uphill battle virtually alone in some of these areas, but most stay home, ensconced on their couches, staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the boob tube, mere spectators of life in these United States.

God says of Israel:

Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; . . . then he forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. . . . And when the Lord saw it, He spurned them, because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters. And He said, "I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith. . . . I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend My arrows on them. . . . The sword shall destroy outside; there shall be terror within. . . .

"For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" (Deuteronomy 32:15, 19-20, 23, 25, 28-29)

It does not take great intellect to understand what this portends for America in the near future—or have we already grown too mindless and complacent to care?