Friday, June 30, 2006

Are We Really Free?

Two hundred and thirty years ago next Tuesday, thirteen American colonies defied the most powerful nation on earth and declared themselves "free and independent States." This bold move, accompanied by the Revolutionary War, had its foundations in the writings of "enlightened" philosophers who had reasoned that each individual was endowed by God with certain rights and freedoms. Among these were "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," along with freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembly, association, and many others enshrined in America's Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Since then, many other rights and freedoms have accrued to the citizens of the United States. Many of these are corollaries of rights already recognized by the founding documents, while yet too many others have been engineered out of the ether. For instance, perhaps the best-known, totally unfounded right is that of abortion. This derives, says its proponents, from the right to choose and the right to privacy, both of which are missing from the Constitution. The Founders certainly did not, and if alive today, would not want the nation's basic law to allow for the selective murder of innocents. They would be horrified to see how their ethical and noble masterpiece of human law has been perverted.

Some of our freedoms have been so curtailed or twisted as to be unrecognizable. The evolution of the freedom of religion is perhaps the most egregious example, which began with the elevation of "separation of church and state" from a phrase lifted from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to constitutional dogma. The Constitution guarantees only that the government would not establish a state religion and that Americans are free to worship as they choose. It says nothing at all about prayer in schools or governmental meetings, Bible passages or references to God on government buildings or grounds, or any interaction between religious organizations and government. Truly, as has often been said, we no longer have freedom of religion but freedom from religion. It has been turned on its head.

The Second Amendment, guaranteeing the right to bear arms, has been similarly violated. It may no longer be politically correct to say so, but in the Founders' minds, this right had three applications: Arms were necessary for 1) hunting animals for food, 2) protecting oneself from predators and hostiles, and 3) defending oneself against the tyranny of the government. Today, there are myriads of laws defining this basic right down to a mere whimper of its former bang. Studies have shown time and again that an armed citizenry makes for a safer society because both criminals and governments have to respect the potential for retaliation. While the sixth commandment certainly forbids aggressive self-defense (Exodus 20:13; 21:12-14; 22:2-3; etc.), in a carnal society the freedom to bear arms actually provides a necessary deterrent to violence.

The Founders would be aghast at the Kelo v. City of New London ruling last year, which essentially allows governments to condemn existing properties in favor of more tax-lucrative enterprises. The right to property was among their highest principles; to them it almost by itself defined a free man. That the Supreme Court of the land would use their writings to justify the outright theft of a citizen's land would be unconscionable to them. On top of this are all the frequently nitpicky statutes and regulations that limit—and sometimes even prohibit—how a person uses his land. In essence, the once sacred right to property has been minimized to a kind of feudal system of ownership, in which the government (the overlord) has the last say in how property is utilized and disposed, plus it demands and takes an exorbitant share of its value in taxes.

Finally, though this does not exhaust the list, we no longer have equality under the law. There are too many examples to name, but maybe the most obvious is the "hate crime." If a man assaults another man, he gets x amount of time in jail or a fine of x dollars. However, if the other man he strikes is a homosexual—that is, a protected minority—he will receive x+ in penalties from the judge. Sometimes, even if the minority status of the aggrieved person is not pertinent to the crime—that is, there is no malice involved—the perpetrator will still receive a heavier sentence. In reality, this means that an injured minority has a higher value than an injured member of the majority. This miscarriage of justice occurred in the landmark case of the 1998 beating death of gay University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard. He was murdered, not because he was a homosexual, but because he had failed to pay his drug supplier! While this is an extreme case, similar inequalities have removed the law's impartiality and restricted the average citizen's supposedly inalienable rights.

These five examples are just the tip of the gargantuan iceberg of lost freedoms and rights—we did not even mention those stripped by the Patriot Act. How free are we, then, if so much has been taken away? What are the chances that these rights will be returned? Although it has happened from time to time, government does not have a good record of willingly returning powers it has arrogated to itself. This is why Jefferson recommended "a little revolution now and then" to restore the proper balance.

True Christians, whose "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20), have an advantage over the unconverted citizen of an earthly nation: We can feel free—and actually be free—despite the encroaching bondage to national government. Jesus discusses this in depth in John 8, saying that true freedom resides paradoxically in submission to Him and to His truth (see verses 31-32; see Romans 6:15-23). In fact, one is never truly free until he comes to this point, no matter what his political circumstances!

Every individual is enslaved to his own nature and so to the deceptive whims of the god of this world, who is the father of that nature (II Corinthians 4:4; John 8:37-44). Thus, to be free, one must overcome both his own nature and the influence of Satan, which is mimicked in the cultures of this world, and this is only possible through belief in Jesus Christ and, as He put it, "abid[ing] in His word" (John 8:31). So a Christian is called to liberty (Galatians 5:13), one of loving self-control and outgoing concern.

This is the only true way to be free.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Slowly But Surely?

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Common wisdom posits that given enough time, water runoff can reduce even the tallest mountain to countless grains of sand scattered over the ocean floor. Geologists assert that the stunning Grand Canyon was carved over eons by the flow of the Colorado River. A few years ago, a documentary on the Himalayas warned that, because of the composition of the rock that they are made of, the world's tallest mountain range was subject to lightning-fast erosion, geologically speaking. Sometime during that same geologic period, they say, California will crack in two along the San Andreas Fault, and the western half will become an island in the sea.

These are geological examples of a process called gradualism. Normally, this term is applied to evolutionary biological ideas: As The American Heritage Dictionary puts it, "The view that speciation proceeds by imperceptibly small, cumulative steps over long periods of time rather than by abrupt, major changes." In other words, many evolutionary biologists believe animal and plant species evolved slowly rather than quickly, in baby-steps rather than giant leaps, over millions—yea, billions—of years. Right.

Gradualism is also part of the political lexicon: "The belief in or the policy of advancing toward a goal by gradual, often slow stages." This nefarious strategy has been in place in this country—planned and coordinated or not—since its founding. While the ink of its signatures was still drying on the Constitution, the two political parties that formed during the Constitutional Convention were already looking for ways to amend it to conform to their ways of thinking. Over the two and a quarter centuries since then, the basic law of the land has been amended, re-interpreted, ignored, and generally mishandled until the United States, despite being powerful and wealthy, is a mere shadow of its former self in values, nobility, and freedom.

The evolutionary concept of gradualism reaches out to encompass other areas of life too. It is used in various treatments, especially to "cure" addictions. For instance, the nicotine patch and nicotine gum, extremely popular a few years ago, worked on this principle. A smoker wanting to kick the habit wore a patch with slightly less nicotine than is found in a cigarette. After a set time, he transitioned to another patch with even less nicotine, and he repeated this process until he was weaned from his addiction to the drug. For some, this drawn-out process apparently works. It would be interesting to find out if the makers of the nicotine patch and/or gum (or better yet, an independent laboratory) ever did a study on the actual success-rate of this product line.

Educators in our public schools have also used gradualism very effectively—but note that "effective" does not mean "proper." Psychologists use the less-innocuous term "conditioning" for this process. Children of only five years of wisdom enter the system with, as Rush Limbaugh calls it, "skulls full of mush." Teachers, whose curricula are often mandated at higher levels, begin to indoctrinate them in various socially or politically correct notions, say, for instance, environmentalism. Within a short time, these children are lecturing their parents on the benefits of recycling, leaving old-growth forests to the owls, and driving "green" automobiles. By the time such children have graduated from high school, many of them are full-fledged environmentalists, ready to save Gaia from horrible, hateful humanity.

Similar gradualism occurs every day in the larger society. In 1980, homosexuality was still "in the closet." When the AIDS crisis broke out in 1981, HIV was considered a "gay disease," confined to the bathhouses of San Francisco and wherever homosexuals were concentrated. Within a few years, once the homosexual PR machine began to crank, the public was manipulated into feeling pity for AIDS "victims," and a short while after that, into conferring a kind of "favored minority" status on not just those with the disease, but also on all homosexuals. Now the gradual process has come to the point where the public is being pressured just about daily to approve not just civil unions for gays but marriage! Thirty years of gradual, persistent assault on the mores of America has resulted in nearly total tolerance, if not acceptance, of what was once considered deviant, perverse, and sinful.

As used by liberal advocacy groups everywhere, gradualism is a real-world demonstration of the "frog slowly boiling in a pot of water" metaphor—and a scheme of which we need to be aware. Advertisers and public relations firms use it all the time to sell merchandise and ideas that people would otherwise reject, and most of the time for good reason. Personally, just a few years ago, I would never have purchased a cell phone—nor did I even consider that I had a need for one. But now that I have been worked over by the media, I wear a cell phone clipped to my belt everyday as I head off to work! In just this same way, we are worn down, ever so gradually, until we accept what we formerly rejected out of hand.

Behind all of this, of course, is Satan the Devil, a master manipulator. By hook and by crook, he has managed to win over one-third of the angels and every human being (Revelation 12:9) to his way of thinking—rebellion against God. Those who would try to change us back to that anti-God way of life will use the same stratagems. We need to watch out for such ploys, Paul warns, "lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices" (II Corinthians 2:11). And do not think that he would not try to trip us up—he tried his best to wear down our Savior in much the same way (Matthew 4; Luke 4).

Paul advises us to put on the whole armor of God so that we can defend against Satan's tricks (Ephesians 6:11). Part of every good defense is having a good idea what the enemy can and will throw against us. So, beware of gradualism and stand firm!

Friday, June 9, 2006

Crisis? What Crisis?

Probably everyone has heard and used the tired cliché, "He can't see the forest for the trees." The Dictionary of Clichés asserts that some form of this cliché has been making the rounds since at least the mid-sixteenth century. It means, of course, that a person is "unable to grasp the broad meaning of a situation or the point of an argument because of an excessive attention to details." One gets the picture of the proverbial absent-minded naturalist so busy inspecting the beautiful striped rope that he fails altogether to observe the tiger's fangs on the other end.

Christians can fall prey to the same misfortune in watching world news for signs of the times. It is easy to read so many news articles and watch so many news programs on this or that topic, becoming saturated with the nitty-gritty minutia of a story, that one can forget to step back to see it in context. Many pundits have made similar comments regarding this week's targeted killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by Coalition Forces in Iraq. Sure, it was a victory for the good guys, but in the larger order of events, it is not necessarily earth-shattering. Good can come from it if the Iraqi government can use the opportunity to contain the insurgency and stabilize the country, but as with the capture of Saddam Hussein many months ago, this event will probably not turn the tide. Someone will likely step in to take his place, and who knows if he will be more or less effective?

Along a similar vein, Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), a global intelligence-gathering and forecasting service, made a striking comment on June 6 about China's mounting economic woes. Stratfor CEO George Friedman writes: "We have been writing about this problem for several years now, and people keep asking when the crisis will come. Our answer is simple: If this isn't a crisis, what would a crisis look like?"

His comment should make one think.

The church of God has been writing and speaking about "the crisis at the close" for many decades now. In fact, Herbert W. Armstrong, who died twenty years ago, often used this phrase as a synonym for the prelude to and the actual Great Tribulation. More recently, we have taken cues from William Strauss and Neil Howe's generational studies as found in The Fourth Turning. They predict, based on historical cycles keyed to the character traits of generation after generation of Britons and Americans, that we are just about due for a major Crisis. They have found that major crises descend on the English-speaking peoples with regularity, about every 80-100 years, once in every four generations. Since the last Crisis occurred during the Depression and World War II, we are on the verge of another in just a few short years.

We would recognize something as horrible as the Great Depression, right? We would surely realize we had plunged into another World War! We would know if we had entered the Crisis! Would we?

Perhaps, yet most people fail to realize that they lived through World War III. We know it better as the Cold War, but historians are now writing, with the benefit of hindsight, that the dangerous political games and arms races of the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties constituted a real war, despite the fact that American and Soviet armed forces did not pummel each other to bloody bits on battlefields. We admit that each side had the ability to annihilate all life on earth multiple times over (appropriately called "MAD," mutually assured destruction), but we are still reluctant to assign the term "war" to this tense, uncertain time. Nevertheless, each nation was for all intents and purposes on a war footing for about 45 years. Ronald Reagan gets a great deal of credit for winning the Cold War for the West through economics—he essentially forced the U.S.S.R. into the ground by outspending it on arms and research.

With this in mind, how certain are we that we have a firm handle on world affairs? Maybe it is a good time to take a few steps back to look once again at the big picture, which should give us a new perspective on what is happening in the world. Fresh eyes often spark fresh ideas. While we are taking in the view, we should ask ourselves a few politically incorrect questions:

  • Where are the real points of conflict in the world? Who are the antagonists? What are their aims?
  • What kind of character do current world leaders have? Would we buy a used car from any one of them? Are they politicians or statesmen?
  • How vital is economics in the grand scheme of things? Are the industrialized nations really as prosperous as they are said to be? How stable is the world's economy?
  • How are the major alliances in the world configured? Are they shifting? Do the world's international institutions have any power or prestige to bear on conflict resolution? Could they be counted on in crunch-time?
  • What affect does migration have on world affairs? Births? Aging?
  • Is multiculturalism and diversity helpful or harmful to a nation? Socialism? Religion?
  • Finally, what is the true spiritual, cultural, political, and financial condition of the nations of Israel? Just where are they in the biblical and historical cycle of liberty, backsliding, war/captivity, and deliverance (Judges 2:11-23)?

A look at the great expanse of the forest should help us regain our bearings as we move toward the coming Crisis and, beyond that, our goal.

Friday, June 2, 2006

The Frustrations of Good Men

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Within this past week, I finally finished David McCullough's 2001 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner, John Adams, a book I have been wading through since sometime in 2004. My slow progress was not for lack of interest, since the book is a well-written, informative, and insightful account of the life of one of the nation's founders, who has, sadly, not received the credit he deserves. No, I simply neglected it during busy times and allowed other interests to interfere, something that seems to happen all too often these days.

From the book's earliest chapters, McCullough shows that John Adams was a breed apart. He was not just intelligent, but diligent, thoughtful, and incisive. His parents reared him to hold firm principles of personal conduct and public responsibility, and he embraced them with little variance for the rest of his long life. He read the classics in their original languages, studying deeply into the ideas of great men down through the ages, yet he never wavered from his understanding of God's sovereignty in the affairs of mankind and of individuals (unlike many of the Founders, Adams was not a Deist).

One instance will illustrate his pugnacious adherence to his principles. As a young lawyer, he courageously defended the British soldiers indicted for killing colonists during the Boston Massacre because he believed in everyone's right to a vigorous defense and a fair trial. He managed to have six of them acquitted, while two received manslaughter sentences (under the law of the day, these last two should have hanged, but they were instead branded on the thumb). Throughout his life, even during his presidency, he would continue to act against popular opinion in order to remain steadfast to principle. Such principled stands played a substantial role in his loss to Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election.

Several times in his life, he complained to his wife, Abigail, of the corrupt, degenerate nature of humanity, which he observed daily while practicing law or in his political dealings. He sometimes despaired because of man's duplicity and thirst for power. During his long political career, his foremost worry was that the fledgling country would dissolve into bickering, petty parties that would elevate partisan gains over the common good. In fact, his chief criticism of Jefferson—an on-again, off-again friend over the last fifty years of his life—was that the tall Virginian played party politics, which Adams considered low, brutal, and contemptible (so much so that, as a point of pride, he never campaigned or even asked others for their votes).

Through his early training in God's Word, his immersion in the classics, and his own shrewd observations of men, Adams held that human nature was not intrinsically good, as others of his time believed, but that it was corrupt, deceptive, grasping, ambitious, cruel, greedy, and susceptible to all sorts of evils. For this reason, he included and insisted on a clear separation of powers, along with checks and balances, in the Massachusetts state constitution, which he wrote (James Madison, by the way, used Adam's constitution as one of his templates in his drafting of the U.S. Constitution). Adams argued that man must be restrained by law, or else in his "liberty" he would selfishly take advantage, corrupting the government and ultimately the nation.

Nevertheless, despite such constraints founded in the bedrock of the Constitution, Adams felt frustrated by the open corruption of men. He had done his best to enshrine noble principles in the nation's founding documents, but even his strident efforts proved ineffective in curbing humanity's predatory nature. The no-holds-barred political brawls (and even one physical brawl on the floor of the House of Representatives) between the Federalists—advocates of a strong central government—and the Republicans—believers in states' and individual rights—during both Washington's and his own term in office provided proof to him that men, even those he at one time considered to be patriots, would use every means at their disposal to win. He could only conclude that "victory at any cost" is the norm among human beings.

If he bewailed the situation then, when the first signs of corruption in American government were hatching, what would he think of the situation today, when it is in full flight? Were he transported by time machine to our day, he would rejoice and wonder at our power and prestige but weep over our spiritual, cultural, and political condition. He would surely wail, "What have you done to our noble nation?"

This attitude is one of which God approves. Notice Ezekiel 9:4-6:

. . . and the Lord said to [the angel], "Go through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." To the [other angels] He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the temple.

We live in a time of great abominations, of terrible transgressions of God's perfect standard and way of life. We see our culture degenerating daily before our eyes. We hear of corruption in politics, business, and just about every other area of life. Our children are growing up in an era of great affluence poisoned by mounting rejection of authority and truth. Our society is swiftly devolving into the kind of which God says, "[E]veryone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

Does this frustrate us? Does this sadden us? Does this make us yearn for the second coming of Jesus Christ in power to solve the mess mankind has made? Yes, it should, but while we grieve, we need to keep faith and hope strong because we have God's promise to act in justice.

Then [Jesus] spoke . . . to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ". . . And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-2, 7-8)