Archive for the ‘ American Character ’ Category

Coolidge: Humor, Humility, & Faith

CoolidgeA few weeks ago, I gave an endorsement to Amity Shlaes’s biography of Calvin Coolidge, even though I had only read half the book at that time. I’ve now completed it, and my endorsement not only holds but is greater than before. She presents Coolidge from all angles, inspecting both strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and disappointments.

Along the way, she gives many insights into the character of the man himself. He took office as president upon the death of Warren Harding. While waiting to make the White House his home, he was staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington. One incident during that interregnum showcases not only Coolidge’s character, but also how different security was for a president in the 1920s. Shlaes recounts,

Calvin CoolidgeOne early morning in the Willard bedroom, a sound woke Coolidge. A strange young man had broken in and was going through his clothing. In the morning light, Coolidge could see that the burglar had taken a wallet, a chain, and a charm. “I wish you wouldn’t take that,” Coolidge said. “I don’t mean the watch and chain, only the charm. Read what is engraved on the back of it.” The burglar read the back: “Presented to Calvin Coolidge . . . by the Massachusetts General Court.”—and stopped in dead shock. He was robbing the president. It emerged that the burglar was a hotel guest who had found himself short of cash to return home. Coolidge gave the burglar $32, what he called a “loan,” and helped him to navigate around the Secret Service as he departed.

I love that story, hard as it is to believe it could actually have happened. Certainly nowadays it couldn’t. But it reveals a soft side to Coolidge and a willingness to reach out to someone in need, even someone who was in the process of robbing him.

Tragedy hit the Coolidge family about a year after he ascended to the presidency. His son, Calvin Jr., died suddenly from a blister he had gotten from playing tennis. It was a bewildering episode, since no one suspected a blister could lead to death. The Coolidges were devastated. Yet God uses the trials in our lives to get our attention. As Shlaes relates,

Protecting the space that faith enjoyed in American culture, the realm of the spiritual, seemed to him [Coolidge] especially important. In those early days after Calvin’s death he had refused many appointments, but had agreed to talk to a group of Boy Scouts in a telephone hookup. “It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist,” Coolidge had told the boys. “We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love.” Now he was preparing a speech for the dedication of a statue of a Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury. In that speech he wanted to make clear his conviction that government’s power, since the days of Jonathan Edwards, had derived from religion, and not the other way around.

Those are just two snippets from the book. It abounds with others. I highly recommend it.

Pro-Abortion Lawlessness

Late last night—actually, early this morning—abortion supporters “won” a “victory” in Texas.  Yes, I put quotation marks around those two words for a reason. Any victory for those who favor abortion is an abomination before God. A win, for them, is by any means possible, even at the cost of disrupting a legislature and overturning the rule of law.

Here’s what happened.

Unborn ChildThe Texas legislature was on the verge of passing a bill that would protect the lives of unborn children, disallowing abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. This bill would save hundreds of lives in that state and move us closer to being a nation with a conscience once more. Those without a conscience, however—or rather, those with a seared conscience—decided to stage a combination of legislative chicanery and outright riot to forestall the possibility.

One Democrat woman legislator held a filibuster on the bill, seeking to keep the chamber from voting before midnight, when the legislative session would legally end. She had help from a raucous crowd, both inside and outside the building, attempting to create an atmosphere of chaos. Republicans were finally able to end the filibuster at 11:45 p.m., but then were kept from voting on time by the mob that made it impossible to conduct business.

I’m reminded of the same strategy in Wisconsin a couple of years ago, when protesters occupied the state capitol and even made death threats against Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators there. What we are witnessing is an ongoing tactic of trying to get one’s way by intimidation and lawlessness.

Is this where we have come as a society? Well, that’s really a rhetorical question. You can see it plainly. We celebrate the murder of innocent children, all in the name of reproductive rights. There’s a translation of that phrase I can give you: utter selfishness and depravity.

By the way, that unlawful mob yesterday received direct written support from Barack Obama, who may be perhaps the most lawless person ever to hold the office of the presidency. It’s time to stop acting as if he’s just a nice guy who simply holds an uninformed opinion on abortion. No, he’s the foremost proponent of killing innocent children. How often do I and others have to remind an uncaring people that he’s one of the few legislators on record as opposing a bill that would have required medical attention from doctors for any child born alive during an abortion? Who else has pronounced God’s blessing on an organization—Planned Parenthood—whose primary purpose is to carry out as many abortions as possible?

Barack Obama fits the description offered by C. S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters, when he has the senior devil gloat over how wickedness is no longer found primarily in the dark corners of society, the sordid dens of iniquity, but rather in the corporate offices and government bureaucracies of the land run by people who are well-manicured and respectable.

This is the face of evil in our day. It’s time to stop mincing words. It’s time to speak the truth more boldly than ever.

The Pillars of Christianity

When I was working on my master’s and doctoral degrees in history, I distinctly recall an attitude that some of my professors had toward the American colonial and revolutionary eras—they conveyed to us, their students, the idea that the leaders of those eras were just so backward when compared to the more enlightened age we live in now. I didn’t accept that attitude then; I don’t accept it now.

Yes, we have progressed technologically in ways our Founders would find astonishing. Technology, though, is hardly a substitute for principle. Neither can we be considered more advanced if we have dismissed the Biblical framework that gives us a proper understanding of the place of man in God’s creation. That Biblical framework offers us, as well, a greater comprehension of the role civil government should play in the overall society. Personally, I believe a lot of those early Americans have a lot to teach us still.

When I was writing my master’s thesis, I researched the lives and writings of two prominent Americans of the Founding Era: Timothy Dwight and Jedidiah Morse. Most people today have no idea who they were. Dwight served ably for many years as president of Yale, ensuring it retained its Christian foundations. Morse, a pastor, also was famous as the Father of American Geography; he wrote the first American textbook on the subject, which was the first to include key geographical features of North America. His fame was eventually superseded by that of his son, Samuel F. B. Morse, who invented the telegraph.

Jedidiah MorseJedidiah Morse gave a sermon in 1799 that includes one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on the relationship of Christianity and civil government. A lot of quotes from this era, both genuine and spurious, have made their way to the internet, but I’ve never seen this one make the rounds. I’d like to offer it now for your consideration. Here’s what Morse would have us remember:

Our dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated. The foundations which support the interests of Christianity, are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own. . . .

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. . . .

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

When I read those words, I am impressed by the wisdom behind them. Religious beliefs always provide the context of what a people accept as appropriate in society. Christianity, in particular, lends itself to genuine liberty. When Christianity recedes into the background, liberty recedes also. Morse’s words are a warning to a people who, in their pride, abandon Biblical principles and replace them with man-centered, humanistic ideas. If the blessings of our republican forms of government seem to be disappearing, we would do well to ponder what Morse says—the reason is that we are attempting to overthrow the “pillars of Christianity.”

We have a lot to learn from those who have preceded us. It’s not too late to take their warnings seriously and make a course correction. It will take humility on our part, however. Are we up to the challenge?

Up from Slavery: The Character of Booker T. Washington

Up from SlaveryI’ve been reading the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery. The story of his childhood in slavery, the privations he suffered both under slavery and in the years after its abolition, would have made many men bitter. Washington, though, never lost the vision planted in him by God that someday he would be able to rise above it. He learned, along the way, that one’s goal was not to be selfishly motivated but to become the best for the benefit of others.

Although he experienced racism, he also saw models of true Christian devotion and love in white people who came into the South to help after the Civil War. His time at the Hampton Institute, getting a college education, was the most formative time in his life. The man who established Hampton made a lifelong impression on Washington, as he explains,

I have spoken of the impression that was made upon me by the buildings and general appearance of the Hampton Institute, but I have not spoken of that which made the greatest and most lasting impression on me, and that was a great man—the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. I refer to the late General Samuel C. Armstrong.

It has been my fortune to meet personally many of what are called great characters, both in Europe and America, but I do not hesitate to say that I never met any man who, in my estimation, was the equal of General Armstrong. . . . It was my privilege to know the General personally from the time I entered Hampton till he died, and the more I saw of him the greater he grew in my estimation. One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, class-rooms, teachers, and industries, and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education.

Washington learned at Hampton that head knowledge, by itself, was not enough. The emphasis was on character-building and hard work rather than looking to others to provide for oneself. He saw a basic flaw in some of the expectations of his newly freed race:

The ambition to secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labor. There was a further feeling that a knowledge, however little, of the Greek and Latin languages would make one a very superior human being, something bordering almost on the supernatural.

That’s why, when he started the Tuskegee Institute after he left Hampton, he required all students to take part in manual labor. He was just as concerned for the development of their character as their minds. The two had to go together.

98f/42/hgmp/12704/tep038Unfortunately, Washington is not held up today as a role model. Instead, the image of W.E.B. DuBois is the current hero from this era because he stressed the political side. Yet, interestingly, DuBois never had been a slave, had grown up in the northeast where he was largely accepted as part of the community, enjoyed the privilege of a Harvard education and a stint overseas to learn the ways of Europe. He was hardly the typical black man of the period. Despite all these advantages, DuBois became a bitter man, criticizing Washington’s character-centered approach. He instead focused on the top 10% of his race, believing that progress would be made via higher education alone, without the manual labor aspect of Washington’s regimen. DuBois rejected Christian faith, became increasingly bitter over time, and eventually joined the Communist party.

What a shame that DuBois gets more attention nowadays than Booker T. Washington. We need an army of Washingtons in our time, dedicated to humility, gratitude, integrity, and hard work. The victimization mentality must disappear from all races if we are to make genuine progress.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2As I reflect on Memorial Day, I try to make it as personal as I can. That’s not easy because I never served in the military. My dad was in the newly formed Army Air Force after WWII, so he didn’t see combat. His brother—my uncle—was in the service during the Korean War, but I don’t recall any particular information about that; I don’t think he actually went to Korea. If he had seen combat, I assume I would have heard about it.

When I reached the age where I could possibly become part of the armed forces, Vietnam was in full bloom. I went to college right after high school, thereby earning a deferment. The draft was on, but protests against it, and Vietnam in particular, led to a new system—kind of a lottery—where dates of the year were pulled out of a drum, and each draftable guy was assigned a number according to his birthday. I remember watching the news that evening, waiting to see the number for my birthday. It turned out to be #254, meaning I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. My college roommate, however, came up #16, so he voluntarily signed up for the Air Force, headed to officer training.

So I went on with my life, got married, and never even considered joining the military. I believed God had other plans, and He did. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those who have served. Those post-Vietnam years were bad for the armed forces: returning GIs being called baby-killers; Congress cutting back on national defense to the point that spare parts for airplanes, etc., were unavailable; an honorable service turned into dishonor by the prevailing post-Vietnam syndrome.

Ronald Reagan restored our national defense and brought the proper kind of pride back to the military. Once again, it is honorable to serve. Yes, we’ve done our best to turn each branch of the armed forces into a social engineering project with the outright acceptance of homosexuality, thereby damaging the luster of military service. But I’m going to continue to honor those who serve and recognize those who have died in an attempt to rid the world of the evils of taxation without representation and attacks on liberty of conscience (American Revolution), naval impressment and national disrespect (War of 1812), slavery and illegal rebellion against lawful authority (Civil War), despotic colonialism (Spanish-American War), German militarism (WWI), Nazism and other forms of fascism (WWII), communism (Korea and Vietnam), Middle East dictators (Gulf War), and radical Islam (War on Terror).

On the whole, the United States military has been used to carry out noble objectives, even in wars that brought protests and disunity at home. The soldiers who served, and particularly those who died in their service, deserve to be acknowledged and honored on this day.

Korean War Memorial

The Nature of Our Culture

Controversy over the role of the media, both the news and entertainment varieties, on the nature of our culture rages on. For a Christian who knows even basic Biblical truths, this should be no controversy. There are numerous passages of Scripture that point to the fact that we become what we think, and that if our minds are inundated with false ideas and/or repeated scenes of degradation and depravity, we certainly will be affected.

On the false ideas front, we have the news media. It is so out of balance that a majority of our population rarely hears another side. The only major news outlet that provides a fair shake to anything Christian or conservative is Fox. It is noteworthy that it does lead the ratings, yet since it is only one of a number of news organizations, if you tally up the numbers for all the others together, most people are still getting their perspective from a very biased source. And the Obama administration does its best to marginalize Fox. A recent study reveals that even though Fox is #1 in the ratings, at presidential news conferences that channel’s representatives rank ninth in the number of times they are called upon to ask a question. As a result, Obama and his minions are hardly ever pressed on controversial decisions they make.

I’m told we have a flu epidemic in the country right now. Well, there’s a different strain of that epidemic also making the rounds:

As for the entertainment media, we are quickly becoming what we watch. I’ve noted before that it’s difficult anymore to find a television program that doesn’t showcase, from time to time or even regularly, a sympathetic homosexual character. There’s an agenda to make homosexuality normative . . . and it seems to be working.

Our latest episode of navel-gazing over gun violence—attacking the guns and not the sinful actions of men as the cause of the violence—has us wondering again about the influence of all the violence in the entertainment field. Movies, in particular, are a major factor in shaping our collective character. Have you noticed which movies are currently most prominent?

Here’s an Oscar they should give out at the awards ceremony:

Not all depictions of violence and depravity are uncalled for. Sometimes, as in the case of Les Miserables, the contrast between the degraded lifestyle and the redeemed makes for powerful visuals for the better. Les Miserables doesn’t glorify depravity; it shows instead the grace of God in leading people out of their sinfulness. Yet, for most films, the opposite seems to be more common—violence and degradation for the sheer fascination of it. That’s when a line is crossed, and we cross that line incessantly.

That’s why we are what we are.

The Election: An Analysis

I spent a good part of my day yesterday culling through analyses of the election in preparation for my talk to a local Republican club last night. But I did more than just gather information; I prayed as I gathered, seeking to know how the Lord wants me, and all Christians in particular, to respond to the results. In today’s post, I’m going to share what I told that group. Tomorrow, I want to address the perspective Christians should have on what has transpired.

Election Results

Obama won nearly every swing state, which was a shock to most prognosticators, myself included. The popular vote was 50-48 in Obama’s favor, but he received about ten million fewer votes than in 2008. Romney underperformed also, receiving nearly three million fewer than McCain did. The great opportunity for Republicans to take the Senate dissipated; not only did they not retake it, but they lost two seats, despite the fact the Democrats had more seats to defend—nearly 2/3 of the races. The House stayed in Republican hands, but even there they lost a few seats. The lone voice for some sanity in Washington, DC, is slightly weakened.

What Does This Election Say about the Electorate?

 We are a severely divided people. The split is almost even, but that masks the downward trend away from a Christian culture. Consider that Obama won without any agenda for a second term, that experiencing the worst economic time since the Great Depression made no difference, and neither did the massive national debt nor Obamacare, which will now surely be fully implemented. Astonishingly, some polls indicated that voters trusted Obama more with handling the economy than Romney, and that 53% still blamed Bush more for the current state of the economy.

One exit poll (I don’t recall where this was asked) sought to measure the impact of Hurricane Sandy on voters. In that poll, 42% said Obama’s response to the hurricane—interrupting his campaign to “take care” of the emergency—was an important factor in their vote for him; 15% said it was the most important factor. What exactly did Obama do besides get a wonderful photo op out of it? Yet these voters “felt” good about his response, so much so that it either solidified their vote or caused them to change it. All too often in politics, perception rules even when it doesn’t comport with reality. These people were voting primarily on emotion, not principle.

In Ohio, the majority approved the government auto bailout. Of that majority, 75% voted for Obama, believing the false narrative the Obama campaign fostered that Romney was a coldhearted vulture capitalist who would have let GM fail completely.  These voters were not thinking about the good of the nation as a whole; they were focused entirely on their own well-being. In this case selfishness won over principle.

Obama promised more goodies that Romney did. Rush Limbaugh nailed it, I believe, when he commented that Romney’s recipe was the traditional route to success called hard work, whereas Obama took the government-will-take-care-of-you path:

In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins? And say what you want, but Romney did offer a vision of traditional America. In his way, he put forth a great vision of traditional America, and it was rejected. It was rejected in favor of a guy who thinks that those who are working aren’t doing enough to help those who aren’t. And that resonated.

When Romney proclaimed that Obama was the candidate of “free stuff,” the voters took him at his word and grabbed for the “stuff.”

We witnessed a populace more concerned about free contraception than the taking of innocent lives through abortion. We saw three states vote in favor of same-sex marriage [if Washington eventually did so—I don’t have the final word on that] and the election of the first openly homosexual senator, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

The maxim that so many conservatives want to believe, that we are a center-right nation politically, has been proven shaky, if not false. I already questioned that; now we have more evidence that we are more center-left and that the real definition of “moderate” in American politics is “liberal.”

What Does This Election Say about the Republican Party?

Republican turnout was not as high as anticipated. We can legitimately debate the specifics of how the Romney campaign was run—not forcefully combating the false images; expecting the bad economy to carry him to victory by itself; avoiding the ripe topic of Obama’s Libyan foolishness; the adoption of the play-it-safe mentality that worked so well for President Thomas Dewey in 1948 [?]—yet those are tactical questions only. The real issue is what the party is willing to stand for. What is its soul?

American conservatism—which is not the same as the Republican party, but ought to be—is a three-legged stool: economic liberty, moral values based on the Biblical worldview, and commitment to a strong national defense. Romney enunciated the first, hinted at the third, and only vaguely accepted the second. He always has been weaker on abortion and homosexuality, and much of the mainstream Republican establishment agrees with him on those issues. Some Republicans tolerate those evangelicals in their midst because they form a key foundation for political victories, but they don’t really like them.

So what will the party become in the post-2012 age? Will it swing toward a tepid middle-of-the-road philosophy or offer a stark contrast to the statist and antichristian stance of the Democrats? As Grover Cleveland noted after losing his reelection bid in 1888 when he rejected the advice of his advisors to change his political views on one issue: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

To those who say a Biblically based, conservative message will not work, I say it depends on the messenger. There is a way to communicate truth and its application to policy that can win over people. They key is finding the principled politicians who can convey that message effectively. We had some principled politicians this time around—Akin in Missouri, Mourdock in Indiana—who lost due to their verbal stumbles. What the Republican party needs are articulate leaders who can guide those who are open to hearing the truth about how government is supposed to work.

What Does This Election Tell Us about the Future of America?

As I watched the tragedy unfold Tuesday evening, and I came to the realization that Barack Obama will be president for four more years, a profound sadness enveloped me. Some of you know I have a book manuscript that compares the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers. I want to be a Reagan optimist, but I admit, by nature, I’m more of a Chambers pessimist. I always need a reason for optimism because I know the human condition too well: sin/selfishness dominates this world. In a letter to a friend, Chambers wrote this in the early 1950s:

On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes and mandates. The enemy—he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

Is this true? How far gone are we? While I believe Reagan had good reasons for his optimism in the 1980s, can we say the same today, or has the cultural transformation gone beyond the point of no return? Is there really such a point or is it possible to turn this around? The culture has changed; that much is undeniable. We are undergoing what one commentator calls a “tsunami of secularism.”

We need to rebuild our foundations as a society, but it must begin with a return to the Biblical worldview, which will then lead us back to principles—the general truths that must undergird a society. If that happens, we will then see a renewed commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law. Only by taking these steps will we be able to restore what has been lost.

I agree with Reagan when he said, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.”

What are Christians to do? How are we to respond to this election? I’ll try to deal with that tomorrow.