Archive for August, 2015

A Historian’s Perspective on Bad Times in American History

I don’t think there’s really any disagreement about how pessimistic the majority of Americans are about the future. Currently, all the polls reveal that pessimism.  As I survey the scene—the spiritual/moral, political, and cultural aspects [what does that leave?]—I have grave concerns as well. I’d like to offer a historian’s perspective.

Since I teach American history, I have a more in-depth knowledge of what has transpired previously. I can imagine myself transported back into earlier eras and think about how I might have felt about current events at those times. Bad moral climates, disunity, and devastating government policies have cropped up throughout our history.

If my life had spanned the late colonial and revolutionary era, for instance, I would probably have been quite distressed over the state of affairs. The colonies had declared independence, and it was a thrilling prospect, but the progress of the war was anything but thrilling.

George Washington was often near despair over the inability of the Congress to pay his troops or provide for their needs. Thousands deserted during events such as Valley Forge. There was talk of meekly bowing to the British because all hopes for the future now appeared to be delusional. Even after achieving independence, the new states didn’t seem to want to work together; the entire national governmental structure was on the verge of collapse.

If I had experienced the 1790s, I would have been shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth daily in some of the newspapers, particularly those that accused Washington of wanting to set himself up as king. The French Revolution, which took place at that time, was one of the bloodiest episodes in all of history, and many in America were hailing it as a magnificent development. I would begin to question the wisdom of the electorate and wonder if this fledgling country could survive its first decade after the Constitution.

Later, during the War of 1812, our military defenses were so disorganized that the British actually burned Washington, DC, including the president’s house and the Capitol. Their troops were ravaging the countryside, destroying everything in their path without any effective countermeasures. What a low point for a nation.

Then there’s the Civil War and the decade that led to it. Passions were so heated in Congress that representatives started bringing their weapons with them into the House and Senate for protection. Slavery, by this time, had become entrenched. The Founding Fathers had hoped to eliminate it, but now the South was proclaiming it to be a positive good from God.

The nation split; more than 620,000 died in the war that followed, the highest tally for any American war. Bitterness remained for years afterward [you can still see its remnants today].

The Progressive Movement, after the turn of the twentieth century, introduced more government involvement in people’s lives and decided that the Constitution was an outdated document that had to be reinterpreted. Woodrow Wilson, a racist and a eugenicist, took the presidency. The eugenics movement sought to limit who could have children; only the “best” should reproduce. This movement formed the cornerstone of Nazi policies in Germany later.

Wilson moved the country down the path that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s—the fulfillment of progressive dreams as the government took charge of getting the nation out of the Great Depression. FDR’s policies were so dismally foolish that the Depression continued until WWII. If I had lived during those decades, I would have mourned the loss of Biblical principles and constitutional limitations. The reigning ideology tossed out the concept of the rule of law. Now, anything could happen.

I did live during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not pleasant. First was LBJ’s Great Society, which could be described as the New Deal on steroids, followed by the rancor of the Vietnam War, then Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, and finally, the debilitated presidencies of Ford and Carter. The economy was in the tank, the worst since the Great Depression. Along the way, we also concluded that innocent children in the womb could be murdered.

I say all of this to make this point: there have always been bad times. Quite often, those who believe in Biblical morality and constitutionalism have come to the edge of despair. Yet we are still here. There is still hope to turn things around. We survived the disunity of the Revolution and the Civil War. We overcame the disgrace of the burning of the nation’s capital. Calvin Coolidge reversed Woodrow Wilson’s policies and Jimmy Carter brought forth Ronald Reagan.

Will the disaster that is the Obama administration become a footnote in our history that will bring forth another resurgence of sanity, or have we turned a corner and lost our way forever? That page in our history has yet to be written. We are the ones who will write it. If we take our responsibility seriously, hope remains.

C. S. Lewis: The Christian & Money

MoneyC. S. Lewis’s attitude toward money is fascinating. He was no economist, and if he could have lived without having to think about money ever again, he would have been most happy.

In his early years, before he became famous, he had to be very careful with his expenses, so one might think that when the money started rolling in after the publication of his quite popular books, he could have relaxed and used all that extra funding as a buffer.

Yet, from the start, once The Screwtape Letters began the money flow, he kept none for himself. Every bit of his royalties, from whatever publication, went into a fund that was dispensed to those in need.

One prime example was an American lady, Mary Willis Shelburne, with whom he corresponded for more than a decade. She was constantly worried about her financial situation. His response was to work out an arrangement with his publisher to send her a monthly check from the sales of his books.

In Mere Christianity he laid out what he believed should be the proper perspective for a Christian:

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.

Lewis Letters Volume 3In one of his earliest letters to Shelburne, though, we get a glimpse into his own insecurities regarding money. He is terribly honest when he writes,

I’m a panic-y person about money myself (which is a most shameful confession and a thing dead against Our Lord’s words) and poverty frightens me more than anything else except large spiders and the tops of cliffs: one is sometimes even tempted to say that if God wanted us to live like the lilies of the field He might have given us an organism more like theirs! But of course He is right. And when you meet anyone who does live like the lilies, one sees that He is.

I think that’s one of the most endearing things about Lewis—he knows the truth, compares his own inner fears with that truth, confesses his weaknesses, yet comes right back to the bedrock foundation of his faith, regardless of his fears.

He was not superhuman. He suffered from the same concerns as anyone else. Yet, even through his expressed concerns, we see what genuine faith looks like.

The Moral Majority?

My main reason for writing this blog—its only real purpose—is to bring the Christian message to the forefront as we contemplate the state of our culture and the society in general. Within me resides a hope, which I trust comes from the Giver of All Hope, that what I write can aid, in whatever small way, in restoring a Biblical pattern of thinking that will, in turn, strengthen the foundations upon which our society is built.

I believe there are two chief impediments that are making it difficult to make progress. The first is a misperception that guides some of us hoping for societal restoration; the second is a profound personal failing on the part of those who claim the name of Christ.

What is that misperception? We seem to think that there is a silent majority out there just waiting for the re-emergence of Christian culture. What we fail to understand is that we are living in a post-Christian nation. Whereas, in decades past, most Americans would have subscribed to some type of Christian morality, we are now a nation bitterly divided over the nature of morality—or indeed whether such a thing as morality even exists.

Jerry Falwell, as he attempted to get Christians involved in politics back in the early 1980s, started an organization he called The Moral Majority. It rested on the assumption that most Americans believed in Biblical morality.

That was the case at the Founding of the nation; even those who cannot be classified as Christian believers lived in a culture that expected people to adhere to the basic moral teachings of the Scriptures.

The onset of evolutionary theory severely undercut that consensus, which eventually led to the holocaust of abortion, the drive for same-sex marriage, and a general philosophy of postmodernism, where each person constructs his own concept of morality. Polls seem to indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans rarely gather in a church on Sundays.

Yet we continue to act as if what we promote is generally accepted by the society at large. No, it is not. Promotion of the homosexual lifestyle shows up in nearly every television program, in one way or another. It is just assumed by the media that couples live together and engage in sex routinely before marriage. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence to bolster their assumption.

The myth of the moral majority must be shattered before we can make any real progress. We have to see reality for what it is first so we’ll know how to proceed.

The second problem, though, is deeper, and it’s the primary reason we don’t have the kind of influence we seek. It has to do with personal holiness. Now, I know that word—holiness—has become a turn-off. It reeks of past attempts to focus entirely on externalities: don’t wear makeup, don’t watch television, etc. Christians have been their own worst enemy by making holiness into a repellent idea.

True holiness, though, is beautiful. It simply means one’s love for God inspires our thoughts and actions. Holiness is an attitude of the heart that seeks to please God in all we do, and it’s a joyful thing. Yes, a heart for God will lead to changing our external actions, but not because we follow a list of rules. We change because we want our lives to honor the One who brought us out of darkness into His light; we change because it connects us to His heart; we change because it brings harmony and His love into the lives of others with whom we associate.

Christians who live holy lives are attractive; they draw others to them, thereby providing an opportunity to deliver the message God has placed on their hearts: personal salvation first; societal salvation as a result of the permeation of Biblical principles into the society.

My concern is this: too many people who claim the name of Christ don’t portray the Christ they claim to know. I’ve been a Christian now for many decades. I’ve seen true holiness in action; it does exist. Yet it is not the norm. We don’t talk much about sin anymore; it’s an embarrassment to mention the word in our culture. If we mention it, we’re accused of being judgmental.

But I want to say something very direct: sin is killing us. I am saddened almost daily by “Christians” who don’t act much differently than the world around them, whose language is filled with the same crudeness that we say we deplore, whose attitudes show forth in gossip, slander, and revenge.

Those who name the name of Christ have no problem with “shacking up,” accepting homosexuality, or allowing the government to become God. They are endorsing the very sins that are sending our nation into spiritual darkness. Is it any wonder we hardly make a dent in the culture?

I am grateful for those who stand for righteousness; they do make a difference. But far too many who say they want to make a difference are not different themselves. That will never work. What we need is this reminder from Scripture:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. …

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.

Those are not my words. They come from Another. My job today is simply to deliver them. Your responsibility, if you say you are a Christian, is to ponder them and act upon them.

A Weird Campaign Season

This has been a weird campaign season. On the Republican side, no one expected the rise of Donald Trump to the top of the pack. As for Democrats, everyone anticipated a Hillary coronation. She, however, has been her own worst enemy.

Front-Runner

At first, most commentators, myself included, fully expected her to weather the storm simply because she is a Clinton, and Clintons always get away with their misdeeds.

Robs Bank

But lately, with the Democrats themselves in a panic over her obvious hubris, blatant lying, and possible criminality, they are desperately seeking an alternative that isn’t Bernie Sanders.

So what do they come up with? An extension of the Obama presidency in the person of VP Joe Biden. This is the best they have? I can see his soul-stirring message already:

Campaign Slogan

He’s also been called a human gaffe-machine (and possible serial-groper). At the very least, he would be entertaining. Unfortunately, if he is the candidate, the media will allow him to do and say almost anything, in contrast to how they will treat whoever the Republican candidate may be. Here’s one scenario:

What a Character

I, of course, shudder at that scenario, for the many reasons I’ve outlined in previous posts. Let me summarize once again:

Trump's Changed Mind

Wouldn’t it be better if the Republicans nominated a genuine Republican conservative this time? A self-aggrandizing opportunist is never the answer.

Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Evil Deeds

PP ProtestLast Saturday, people nationwide stood outside Planned Parenthood centers to protest this organization’s abominable practices. The protest was not only about defunding but about the seared conscience our country has developed about abortion itself. The bottom line is that abortion is murder, and it must be stopped.

The utter callousness of the abortion industry—and “industry” is the correct term—must be exposed for what it is. Most of the national news media is not going to help get out this message. An informal censorship on the issue has dominated; anyone not already informed and depending on the major networks to be informed will learn virtually nothing about what is happening.

Oh, but we’re very informed about trivial matters:

Sister Planet

Evil tries to disguise itself. Planned Parenthood has a history of deception. The only way to battle this deception is with an assault of truth.

Has a Heart

The pro-life message has been making inroads in our culture, despite the degenerate drift in our society. Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to shine even more light on the evil deeds of darkness.

The Trump-McCarthy Parallel

I admit to being amazed at the support Donald Trump seems to be getting, not only from what might be called “movement conservatives,” but more specifically, from evangelical Christians. One article indicates that he is the leading candidate among that latter group. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but if it’s even close to the mark, it’s astonishing.

Donald Trump 2I won’t go into detail again (see a previous post) on why I do not support Trump’s candidacy, but I can offer a short summary: supreme arrogance (he says he’s never asked God for forgiveness for anything; constant boasting about how rich he is and how smart); other personal character traits (favorite words being “loser” and “stupid”; resorting to twitter jibes on an adolescent level toward those who criticize him); and his recent “conversion” to conservative policies.

On that last point, some have tried to compare his change to conservatism to Ronald Reagan’s. I’ve studied Reagan in some depth and know that his worldview changed over time as a result of intense study and grappling with foundational philosophical issues. I’m not convinced that is the case with Trump; neither do I trust him to remain true to what he now says he believes.

In fact, he’s rather mixed up on some things: he claims to be for repealing Obamacare, yet says a universal, government-run healthcare system is workable in some countries. He doesn’t quite say why he considers it unworkable here. Perhaps he really doesn’t. Perhaps, were he to attain the presidency, we might be subject to another failed promise from a politician.

Joe McCarthyI’m also seeing a historical parallel with another situation. Back in the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy made a big splash as a crusader against communism. He was bold and brash and developed a large following. Many in conservatism at the time saw him as the leader against the establishment and flocked to his bandwagon. Yet he was little more than an opportunist, seizing on a hot topic that he did not really grasp clearly.

As evidence for this conclusion, I turn to Whittaker Chambers, a genuine champion of liberty who left the communist underground, gave his witness to Congress, and suffered publicly for doing so. Yet he succeeded in unmasking the underground movement, with the climax being the conviction of Alger Hiss—who had been his compatriot in the underground and then became a top State Department official—for perjury.

McCarthy wanted to tie his crusade to Chambers. They met. Chambers came away with some rather pointed comments about the senator. In a letter to William F. Buckley, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

Chambers at DeskThese heavy-handed tactics were of deep concern to Chambers, who wrote:

I know he thinks this is a superior technique that the rest of us are too far behind to appreciate. But it is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

He tried not to come to a rash judgment, but concluded, “It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

What worried him the most was the damage McCarthy would do over time:

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was correct: McCarthy stumbled on his own arrogance and ignorance; his actions discredited anti-communist efforts to this day.

Personally, I have those same fears about Donald Trump. Everything Chambers said about McCarthy looms in my mind when I hear Trump speak, and I am concerned that his nomination, let alone his possible election as president, may be the death knell for true conservatism, and Christians who currently look past his character failings will one day regret their willful blindness.

There are some who say that God doesn’t need a committed Christian to accomplish his purposes, that He can use someone who is terribly flawed and not in touch with Him to carry out His will.

I understand that position. God does work in all situations. He did use Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgments on His people of Israel. But that was for the purpose of punishment for sin. Frankly, He has a lot of politicians to choose from if He is ready to unleash His judgment on America. Trump is not unique in that sense.

Since when do we deliberately choose a spiritual renegade over a committed Christian man or woman who is seeking to do His will? Those men and women do exist, and some are running for president right now. Why would we throw our support behind someone who is more egocentric than anyone else in the political realm?

I don’t want to have to defend myself before God after making a choice like that. I’m going to give my vote to someone who at least has a heart for righteousness and the God who defines what is and is not righteous.

If Trump is the Republican nominee, we may be destroying whatever remains of principle in that party. If he should ever be elected president, we may see in that office someone who is a combination of Nebuchadnezzar and Joe McCarthy. He may be the channel for God’s judgment, but I will not willingly go that route. I still want to help save America.

My musings in this post will not be accepted by all, I know. But I hope you will, at the very least, avoid being caught up in an emotional appeal and will take some time to reflect on the concerns I have expressed here. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

C. S. Lewis: Miracles

Seeing is not always believing. Presuppositions rule. Jesus heals people and the Pharisees claim he is doing it by the power of Satan. He raises Lazarus from the dead and they decide to kill Him. Their presuppositions said that since He was not one of them, this cannot be allowed.

In the story of Lazarus (a different Lazarus) and the rich man, Jesus has the rich man saying from hell that he wants someone to go tell his relatives the truth. The response? Even if someone should rise from the dead, they will not believe.

MiraclesC. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, explains it this way:

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible.

If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.

Yet despite our fallible senses, miracles do occur. There have been stories about miracles throughout the ages, but Lewis draws a distinction between the fanciful stories and those that are recorded in Scripture:

The fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien.

They are what might be expected to happen when she is invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign.

They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the King, her King and ours.

A miracle, then, is a friendly invasion. It is God refashioning His creation at a moment in time for a specific purpose. And we can believe what we see when we are submitted to the King.

Miracles Quote