Monday, November 30, 2015

Pro-Life Evangelicals?

It has forever been a conundrum to me how professing pro-life Evangelical Christians can also be pro-capital punishment. To me this is a self-evident contradiction. But it is true. Most Evangelicals support the death penalty while also being "pro-life" in regards to abortion.

Why the intellectual disconnect? I do not have any other evidence (perhaps readers can provide them)  than my own informal survey of fellow Evangelicals, but the primary reason I've found is that many Evangelical Christians believe that some people deserve to die for their crimes. Wow, this response surprises me when coming from the mouth of those who probably have a better understanding of the scriptural concept of grace than other professing Christians.

I also found that the second most cited reason for the support of capital punishment by Evangelical Christians is that many believe that the threat of capital punishment is a deterrent to capital crimes. In other words, people believe that the fear of dying for a crime keeps people from killing. Unfortunately for the folks who subscribe to this view, there is little evidence that this assertion is valid. Why doesn't capital punishment deter killing? Because most murders are crimes of passion, meaning they were unplanned irrational acts, e.g. during a fit of rage.

I oppose the death penalty for three reasons. First, it undermines the biblical teaching of grace. While I do not think that most of my fellow believers have this intent, I think most of them have not sufficiently given the problem the thoughtfulness it requires. Second, as there are more and more examples these days of men being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit -- sometimes for decades -- how many people may have been executed for crimes they did not commit? We must always err on the side of caution as any judicial system is flawed. Third, I would hope that a criminal who commits any crime that might warrant the death penalty would instead be sentenced to a long life behind bars. For in this way they might come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Why would we take this opportunity from anyone? 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Slow Death Of Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving; it is one of my favorite holidays. Not only is it a four-day weekend for me, but it is a time for family, close friends, and, of course, a traditional meal of favorite dishes that we work together to prepare. And enjoy!

Of course, it is also a great time for reflection, to count our blessings and to, collectively, thank the Lord for those blessings. After all, he is the ultimate source of all good things.

Unfortunately Thanksgiving is dying a slow death. This is a reflection of our nation's growing post-Christian worldview. Thanksgiving Day is our nation's only civic religious holiday, though fewer and fewer Americans observe it as one. The same is true with Christmas and Easter as both have long been secularized. But where Christmas has seen the baby Jesus replaced with Santa Claus and the risen Savior with the Easter bunny, Thanksgiving Day is becoming a day of leisure and shopping. Thanksgiving Day is soon to become Black Friday Eve.

"Come on in and take advantage of our poor service workers!"

What is also troublesome about this trend is that Thanksgiving is becoming not just another work day for many people, or at best these folks are given short-shrift for their own family celebration, but it is a reinforcement of the pattern of the wealthy imposing their selfish, or at least self-serving, wishes on the working poor. For example, more and more wealthy retired folks decide it is too much of a bother or inconvenience to prepare a Thanksgiving meal at home so they decide to eat out. Restaurant owners delight in this trend, but their workers do not. But they are powerless to resist, as they cannot risk the income loss, let alone a job loss, if they refuse. This is simply the strong imposing their wishes on the weak.
credit: Pintrest

And retail businesses are equally guilty. More and more retail establishments are bending to the wishes of their customers and opening on Thanksgiving Day, if only for a half day. So, another work day for their employees, who are not deemed worthy enough to have a day off to spend with their own families. And again, resistance is futile.

The problem is multi-layered: materialism, consumerism, egotism, and many other -isms I'm sure. All of which reflect the true values of people, because it is our core values and beliefs that drive human behavior.

This saddens me. I feel most keenly for the poor working folks who have to suffer through this ignoble reality. This slow death of Thanksgiving Day is being perpetrated by folks who callously disregard the needs of others, imposing the trump card of their own will because they can. And the cavalier "there is nothing I can do about it, so I might as participate in it," is an acknowledgment of having bought the lie.

Goodbye Thanksgiving Day, it's been great knowing you. And hello Black Friday Eve, you disgust me.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Responsive Democracy

Did you know that Argentina was once one of the largest and wealthiest economies in the world? At one time in the recent past Argentina was ranked economically alongside the most most successful European nations. Like the United States it was blessed with many natural resources and an educated population. But unlike the United States it couldn't keep its act together politically and became yet another example of "what might have been." Argentina is an example of how not to govern a nation.

credit: Wikipedia

So it was with some curiosity I viewed the results of the recent election there as a right-wing president was just elected, replacing a string of left-wing presidents. The people are looking for change. It is still too soon to tell, but there might be an interesting parallel here. But the question remains to be answered: will there be real, valid change?

Photo: The Independent

My knee-jerk history-in-a-nutshell response is probably not. The past, especially the relatively recent past is a good predictor of the future. I suspect that we'll look back in five years and see that nothing has changed in Argentina: the same economic problems, the same blame game, and the same diversionary tactics, e.g. "the Malvinas Islands are ours!" But I am hopeful. Here is a potential experiment in what good governance can do. I wish the new leader and his administration the best of  luck!

What demonstrates that democracy truly works is when the people -- the voters -- genuinely exercise control of the government. This is apparent when their votes actually do effect change. Real change. Measurable change. A responsive democracy. Swapping the political control of the executive branch or Congress from one party to the next is not genuine change. Seeing serious intent by these two branches of government to address real problems with meaningful solutions, and then following through, is.

Many voters question the ability, even competency, of our Congressional representatives in managing the country's affairs. Congress continues to earn some of the lowest approval ratings in history, but for some reason voters continue to reelect the same people, again and again. But voters can't have it both ways: they strongly disapprove of Congress, but continue to vote the same people into office. What's up with that?

Remember, the United States is a republic: voters elect representatives to do their bidding in the government.  But who selects the candidates for voters to select from? The parties. Do the parties reflect the interests of their members? You tell me!

But there's more here than simply that Congress, and I'll throw in the president(s) as well, are inept. Perhaps nothing changes in Washington because it's all a facade.

Is it possible that we only have the semblance of a democracy without having the real nuts and bolts? Maybe the reality is that the United States is no longer a real democracy, as voters cannot effect real, valid change. Instead the United States has become an oligarchy.  Oligarchy: a government run by a small group of people. You can find a recent news article here.

This idea of an oligarchy is not my own, although I see (and feel) the logic to it. As per the New Yorker article linked above, this has been proposed most recently by a pair of academics, Martin Gilens of Princeton University, and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. You can read their analysis here.

I shy away from conspiracy theories, and many folks will dismiss Gilens and Page as simply that, conspiracy theorists. But I am also not a fool. We need to look at all facts plainly in the face. And I agree with them; the evidence suggests that they are correct. I intend to explore this topic in more detail at a later date.

But I do have a case in point for right now: the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, aka ObamaCare. What a bold mockery of universal medical care! This healthcare act was written by the healthcare insurance industry to serve its own ends. It is neither affordable nor offers patient protection. Granted, some very few have benefited, but these fortunate examples are tokens granted as concessions by our oligarchical overlords. Ya gotta sell it to the people!

My wife, a nurse, does not have health coverage from her employer (how ironic). And she is not eligible for ObamaCare. Why? Because she is eligible to get healthcare from my employer. That would cost $780 a month. Say what? Yes, over $9300 a year. And this isn't complete coverage, as there are still co-pays and deductibles to meet. So, as we can't afford it, she goes without healthcare insurance. All the while she is being fined by the IRS a $100 a month. That is right: she can't afford health insurance, so she is being fined for not having health insurance. You can't make this stuff up!

Welcome to America, Inc. -- our post-national republic. And look out Argentina, here we come...