Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

The C. S. Lewis Conference: A Report

I had a wonderful weekend at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Why was it held there? I’ll get to that.

As I did last fall, I presented a paper at the Academic Roundtable, a time for deeper thinking as a group of academics listened and discussed what each had to offer. The most interesting part of such a roundtable is getting perspectives from different disciplines. I was the only historian in the group; others were professors of theology, philosophy, and architecture.

My paper was on the distinction that we must make between liberty of conscience, which is a Biblically based concept, and pluralism, which is the more humanistic viewpoint—a viewpoint that attempts to push the Biblical worldview out of the public square. It seemed to be well received.

Plenary sessions were offered by excellent speakers. One of the most interesting to me was Malcolm Guite, a minister, theologian, professor, and poet at Cambridge University. He was a captivating speaker, is a songwriter and performer (he gave us some samples), and his poetry is the type that I actually love, which is saying something because I’m not naturally attracted to poetry.

Malcolm Guite

With his full beard, long hair, and short stature, he reminds me of a hobbit. That’s a compliment, by the way.

At a special faculty luncheon, Dr. Mary Poplin of the Claremont Graduate School spoke, and her personal testimony was both striking and stirring. She was a strident radical feminist and atheist (toying with Buddhism along the way) before God gave her a dream of standing before Jesus. That, along with other miraculous occurrences, led her to faith at the age of 41. Shortly after, she went to India to work with Mother Teresa.

Mary Poplin 1

Dr. Poplin also spoke at the final plenary session, outlining the four distinct worldviews that are in conflict. I was struck by how her presentation was very similar to what I do in the classroom, even starting with Colossians 2:8, one of my favorite scriptures:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Green Pastures-Outside 2I raised the question earlier as to why this conference was taking place in Massachusetts. The site was only about half an hour from a house that the Foundation has purchased and is planning to use as a study center. So one of the highlights of the conference was an excursion to that home in the town of Northfield.

Currently, a massive renovation of the home is taking place, with the goal of its being a place where students can come and discuss issues of faith and the Christian answer.

The Foundation already owns Lewis’s home, The Kilns, in Oxford, which it uses as a study center; the goal is to make this a place that can be used in the same way.

One of the dreams of the Foundation is to also establish a C. S. Lewis College in the town. It would be focused on the study of the Great Books and intensive discussion/argumentation (that latter word used in the best sense).

Green Pastures 1

A bonus on this trip was that just down the street is the birthplace of famous 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, which we also were able to tour.

Moody Birthplace-Outside

Included in the home was an excellent museum.

Moody Birthplace-Museum

I took a shuttle to and from the airport. While the shuttle was waiting for another person to pick up at Amherst College, I noticed a statue that I had wanted to see, so I was able to jump out and take a picture of it.

Amherst College started in the early 19th century as an institution to train ministers. One of its key founders was Noah Webster, who, as some of you know, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation (and the book that was published as a result of that). The college acknowledges Webster’s role.

Webster Statue-Amherst College

I have to admit to being disappointed somewhat by the statue. First, it barely resembles Webster; second, it seems to have been neglected. But there is a scripture on it, 2 Timothy 1:12, for anyone who might take the time to read it:

For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Amherst College no longer exists for its original purpose, but a testimony remains for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Many thanks for the hard work and dedication of those who planned and carried out this conference. The Holy Spirit was evident in every aspect of it. A spirit of love and genuine fellowship prevailed.

Three Revolutions

Three revolutions: American, French, Russian.  A world of difference when you compare them.

The American Revolution, in my view, was not a revolution in the popular understanding of that term, whereas the other two were. In fact, my students know that I famously (infamously?) rename the American Revolution as The American War for Continued Self-Government.

Not very catchy, I know, but more accurate. I point to the fact that this perceived revolution was for the maintenance of the rights and liberties that were already granted. When the British government refused to acknowledge those rights and liberties, the colonists, in self-defense, were forced to take up arms.

The result was a government that certainly had some new and improved features, but it was hardly anything that overturned the basics of representative government that Britain supposedly upheld.

I like a couple of the memes making the rounds after the Brexit vote, as Britain decided to leave the European Union:
Learned Your Lesson

Before It Was Cool

The French Revolution may have been inspired, to some degree, by what happened in America, but the nature of it was altogether different. Whereas Americans fought for self-government, the protection of property, and liberty of conscience with a reliance upon Christian faith, the French divorced themselves from that faith and a bloodbath ensued. What did they achieve? They replaced an insensitive king with Napoleon Bonaparte, an unaccountable dictator.

The Russian Revolution also is known as the Bolshevik Revolution, led by the bloodthirsty tyrant Vladimir Lenin. He, and his successor, Josef Stalin, set up a socialist/communist state that attempted to destroy all religion and constitutional limitations, and became one of the most genocidal nations in the history of man. Stalin alone murdered 30 million of his own citizens.

So, no, I don’t link these three revolutions.

That’s why I love to teach American history and point to what the Founders sought to accomplish. The Fourth of July—the day the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved—should be a time for celebration.

I have to admit, though, that these last two Independence Days have been muted celebrations for me. The Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage occurred just prior to Independence Day 2015 and we have devolved since then.

Religious liberty is under greater attack than ever in our nation’s history. The Democrat party has given itself over completely to an anti-Christian philosophy. The Republican party, which is supposed to be the counterweight politically to the radicalism of the Democrats, has tied its future to a man totally unworthy of the presidential office.

Safe and Sane

Yes, my outlook is somewhat subdued today. The bright side of all this is a reminder that this world is not our final home and that no nation or government is our salvation. Our final home is in the presence of God and He is our hope and our salvation. Let’s keep our priorities straight and He still may have mercy on us.

America, bless God, and then He may have a reason to bless us.

Should Convention Delegates Be Unbound?

The Republican party is getting anxiety attacks from the latest move to deny Donald Trump the nomination at the convention. There is an organized effort to release the delegates at the convention from the restriction that they must vote for whoever won the primary or convention in the individual states.

Is this anarchy? Is it a threat to the voice of the people?

While not an exact comparison, let me offer a history lesson today.

We are so used to referring to our nation as a democracy that we fail to grasp what the Founders actually established. They called it either a federal republic or a constitutional republic. Regardless of the precise wording, the one word they always avoided—actually abhorred—was “democracy.”

Constituitonal Convention

James Madison’s notes at the Constitutional Convention, and the comments made elsewhere throughout this Founding Era, reveal a profound antipathy to anything resembling a direct democracy. They constantly called to mind the ancient Greek city-states that were often democracies. The problem? The citizens were often deluded into following the rantings of popular speakers who would lead them astray by appealing to their emotions. Many Founders referred to democracy as “mobocracy.”

The word that describes those kinds of speakers/politicians is “demagogue.” As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a demagogue is “a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.”

The Founding generation wanted cooler heads to prevail in political discourse and the decisions to be made by the federal government. That’s why they deliberately chose to divide up the representation in a number of ways.

Constitutional Republic

First, they did give the people a direct say by letting them choose their representatives in the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, was to be chosen by state legislatures, thereby giving state governments representation as well. A lot can be said about how we later changed that—for the worse—but I’ll let that slide for now.

The president, in the Constitution, is not chosen by a direct vote of the people, but by specific “electors” chosen by the state legislatures. The goal was to ensure that popular enthusiasm wouldn’t allow a poor choice. They hoped the electors, who were supposed to be the wisest of statesmen, would choose better. In fact, the first time a direct vote by the people became common was in 1828, three decades after the Constitution was ratified.

Again, that electoral college approach has been altered by states simply allowing the slate of electors for whichever political party wins the popular vote to cast the official votes. Keep in mind that in the disputed election of 2000, the Florida legislature would have been well within its constitutional rights to choose its electors rather than waiting for all those recounts to be completed. They didn’t do that purely for political reasons: they would have been accused of overturning “democracy.”

Unfortunately, that’s where we are today in our understanding of how the system is supposed to work.

One of the big arguments in the decades following the ratification of the Constitution was whether the congressmen elected by the people in the House could vote their conscience or whether they were bound to vote according to what the majority of their constituents wanted.

Andrew JacksonThe ones pushing for the latter position were primarily the Democrats who, with the advent of Andrew Jackson, began to believe that congressmen were mere ciphers who cast the official votes for whatever their constituents desired. The feeling began to grow that the people are always right.

But the overwhelming view of the Founders was just the opposite. They knew that people could be misled and congressmen had a responsibility to consider seriously every proposed bill that came before them and vote according to what they believed was best for the nation, regardless of what their constituents wanted.

If they went against the wishes of those who elected them, they then went back to the people to explain why they did so. If they could convince the voters that they did the right thing, they were reelected; if they were unsuccessful in convincing them, they resigned themselves to the results of the next election.

That’s called living by principle and following one’s conscience. That means a representative is exactly that—a representative—which differs from a public functionary who must do whatever the people demand, even if it goes against sound logic and good policy.

Why even have congressmen if they are mere functionaries robbed of their own minds? Just take a nationwide vote on everything and do whatever the people want at a given moment? Sorry, but that sounds very scary to me. Public opinion is anything but stable and principled.

So how does this relate to the upcoming Republican convention?

Republican voters in the states made their decision on who they thought the nominee should be. They send delegates to the convention to make it official. What are those delegates? Are they thinking people who should have an opportunity to evaluate the voters’ decision or are they mere ciphers who are forced to vote a certain way even if they believe it would be to the detriment of their party and the nation?

I’ve read quite a bit about whether these delegates are truly free to vote as they wish. I think the evidence comes down in favor of that overall. Yes, some states have told them they have to vote according to the results of the primary. One Virginia delegate has now challenged that in court.

In other states, the Republican party itself has dictated they have to vote according to the results on the first ballot, at least, or in some cases, beyond that. But party rules can be changed at the convention.

A hypothetical: suppose the presumed nominee, prior to this convention, should do something particularly outrageous, along the order, let’s say, of advocating a lifetime tenure for the president, or giving the president the authority to dismiss federal judges whenever he disagrees with a court decision. If such a presumed nominee were to do something like that, do you think it would be wise to force the delegates to vote for that person regardless? Or would the party then rethink its rules?

Donald TrumpThe nomination of Donald Trump has divided the Republican party in a way no previous nomination ever has. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates 52% of Republicans are not satisfied with Trump as the nominee. That is unprecedented in the lead-in to the national convention.

Trump won only 44% of the vote in the primaries, and that figure is only as high as it is because he added to the percentage once his remaining opponents dropped out and the voters were resigned to having no other choice. Other polls indicate that up to 70% of the general electorate can’t stand this man.

Trump’s antics—whether one focuses on his character, his lack of policy knowledge, or his highly disorganized campaign—have not changed since his pledge to become more presidential in his bearing and manner.

Most political prognosticators (I know, they can be massively wrong at times) see an electoral disaster looming for Republicans.

Why, then, is the party establishment circling the wagons around Trump? They argue, with some discernment, that a circus at the convention would doom the party for sure in November. It might.

I would argue that going forward with Trump is the surest path to a Hillary Clinton presidency. Anyone else nominated would stand a better chance of beating her than Donald Trump.

So if the delegates were unbound, yes, there would be some instability introduced into this election even if Trump were to win the nomination anyway. And he would be an even more damaged candidate afterward.

If Trump were to lose the nomination at the convention, who would be nominated in his place? I don’t know. Perhaps that would be an even bigger tumult and the eventual nominee would be trounced in the general election.

However, it is also conceivable that someone might get the nomination who could unite the party in a way that Trump never can. If that should occur, and this nominee is a good communicator of Republican principles, there is a chance that the most despised Democrat nominee in history could be kept out of the White House.

I’m often accused of helping Hillary Clinton become president by not supporting Trump. I firmly believe, however, that those who are in Trump’s corner are the ones who are assuring a Clinton victory. He is electoral poison. Trump as the Republican nominee will put Clinton in the presidency.

So I do understand the anxiety over a contested convention, and I know there could be disastrous results, but I think we already have a disastrous result in a Trump nomination.

Free the delegates to be true representatives, not mere ciphers.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed?

I have taught Biblical principles in my courses for the past twenty-seven years. I’ve wanted my students to understand that we must look deeper than outward appearances when we scrutinize historical events.

A principle is a source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered off-shoots of it.

The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide acceptance in America. The key word is formerly. So my goal has been to reintroduce those principles as best I can through my teaching and writing.

FoundationsThat’s why, back in 1993, I published a book based on the principles I teach in the classroom. I’ve revised it a few times along the way.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government is a primer on the principles that I believe come out of Scripture and ought to be applied to everything in our society.

The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth have led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle. People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome.

Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls on Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.

Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and ignore principles. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles.

America has always had those turbulent times; historians probably understand that better than most. There was a presidential election in 1800 that was quite controversial. Leading up to that election, one man, Jedidiah Morse—a Congregational minister, the compiler of the first American geography book, and father of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph—preached a sermon that issued the following warning:

Jedidiah MorseOur 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.

If that dire warning was applicable in 1799 when Morse preached that sermon, how much more so today?

America may be more bitterly divided now than it has been since the Civil War, and there is no guarantee that Biblical principles will gain the ultimate victory in this earthly realm. But God does reward and protect those who serve Him with a whole heart. He is looking for faithful individuals through whom He can work to make changes.

Jesus asked the best question for our times: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

The book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is the kind of faith He seeks; it is the only kind of faith that will make a difference. May it be the faith that He finds.

If you would like to peruse the principles in my book, you can find it at Amazon by clicking here.

My doctoral dissertation was on Noah Webster, widely considered America’s first schoolmaster. His Speller taught generations how to read; his 1828 Dictionary was unique, not only in its being the first produced by an American, but in its Biblical basis. Webster’s illustrations for words included Biblical citations and short homilies on the significance of some key words. His influence in early America was great.

Noah Webster Books

I’m highlighting him today because he offered insight to his generation when it came to choosing political leaders. His words are timeless; they apply to our current situation.

“In selecting men for office,” Webster urged, “let principles be your guide. . . . Look to his character as a man of known principle, of tried integrity, and undoubted ability for the office.”

To ignore lack of principle and integrity in a candidate is to violate the sacred trust given to us as citizens:

When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility; he not only sacrifices his own responsibility; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country.

Webster continued: “If rulers are bad men, it is generally the fault of the people.” After all, who puts men of depraved character in office? We can too often be deceived by them, he notes, but often we vote them in simply because they belong to “our” party. Here’s how he framed it:

Noah WebsterThey choose men, not because they are just men, men of religion and integrity, but solely for the sake of supporting a party [emphasis mine]. This is a fruitful source of public evils.

But as surely as there is a God in heaven, who exercises a moral government over the affairs of this world, so certainly will the neglect of the divine command, in the choice of rulers, be followed by bad laws and as bad administration.

I trust you know why I chose to emphasize that one phrase in the quote above.

By 1837, Webster was becoming distraught by what he was seeing in the culture and politics of his nation. He wrote to a friend,

Principles, sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, & perversion of truth can be arrested, neither liberty nor property will long be secure in this country.

And a great evil is, that men of the first distinction seem, to a great extent, to be ignorant of the real, original causes of our public distresses. Many of our greatest men are making vigorous efforts to remove present evils, but not an effort is made to correct the radical cause of our political calamities.

Webster’s concern in 1837 should be our concern today. Our principles have been corrupted; integrity is discounted; truth is being perverted. Yet we don’t address those fundamental issues. Instead, we rally to someone who either promises free stuff or who pledges to build a wall.

Webster’s prescription for the ills in our society is a return to Biblical principles and integrity of character. I agree with that prescription. That’s why I will never vote for anyone who lacks the very rudiments of those qualities. That’s why I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump.

WebsterNoah Webster was a man of his time, but the ideas he fostered are based on the Book that applies to all men at all times. If you wish to know more about Webster, his views, and his influence during his lifetime, my book, Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography, is available. You can find it on Amazon right here.

We are faced with virtually no good choice in this coming presidential election, so let’s keep in mind that government is not our savior. There is only one Savior. Our responsibility is to be faithful to Him and maintain our integrity. Stand for righteousness, then stand back and see what God will do.

Historical Ignorance & Hiroshima

At HiroshimaPresident Obama was in Japan a few days ago, where he laid a wreath at Hiroshima, the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Many were concerned he would turn this event into another apology for America. That was a valid fear since he seems to consider his own country to be responsible for most of the evils of the modern era.

I’ve read through his speech at Hiroshima. There is no apology per se, but the language does suggest an unwillingness to differentiate between aggressor and victim in how American involvement in WWII began. He mentioned how wars are caused by a “base instinct for domination or conquest,” yet pointedly never identified who was seeking domination and conquest at the time. His words leave it open to the possibility that America was just as guilty.

Let’s be clear: there is no moral equivalence historically with respect to the combatants in WWII. Too many Americans in our current generation suffer from severe historical ignorance.

Japan, in the years leading up to the war, was ruled by a military with a fascist worldview, which included a sense of ethnic superiority—all other peoples were inferior to the Japanese. Lacking certain natural resources, that ideology led them to invade and conquer the peoples around them and take over the resources they wanted.

Pearl Harbor AttackIt also led to 7 December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor that sought to take America out of the equation, thereby clearing Japan’s path of domination and conquest.

That attack killed nearly 3,000 Americans and is what drew our nation into this world war. What followed was an unbroken series of atrocities at the hands of the Japanese military: Bataan Death March and prison camps that rivaled anything Hitler concocted.

That’s another key point: Japan was in alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As soon as America declared war on Japan (although Pearl Harbor made it clear who declared war first), Hitler declared war on America in solidarity with his Asian ally.

Once America and her allies began to push the Japanese out of their occupied areas, the Japanese government pledged to fight to the last man against any invasion force. Allied military analysts predicted extremely high casualties not only for their own troops, but for the Japanese as well.

The Manhattan Project was the secret development of the atomic bomb. It was begun only because Hitler was working on getting the weapon also. A world in which Hitler had an atomic bomb and no one else did, would have been a world living in constant fear of what a madman would do with it.

Truman & Atomic BombPresident Truman, after the surrender of Germany, received word at the Postdam Conference in July 1945 that the bomb had been tested successfully. Was he now going to use it?

Here’s where our historical ignorance enters in again. It has become fashionable to blame America for using this terrible weapon. Yet if you had been the president at that time, here is what you would have considered, and it’s what Truman considered: dropping one bomb might end the entire war without any further casualties for American troops.

Given the choice between an invasion that would have resulted in more American deaths and an even higher number of Japanese deaths, or the dropping of one bomb that would be devastating enough to bring the Japanese to stop fighting, Truman made the choice that was actually more humane.

In an attempt to minimize the deaths of Japanese civilians, leaflets were dropped over Hiroshima telling the people that devastation was coming; they were urged to leave.

After the bomb decimated Hiroshima, did the Japanese military realize they needed to end the war? Hardly. They pressed their scientists to come up with the same weapon. That led to the dropping of a second bomb, this time on Nagasaki.

The saddest part of this episode to me is that Nagasaki wasn’t the first choice of a target and became the target only because of the weather. Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan and was most resistant to the government’s policies. Such are the cruel ironies of war.

Even after the Nagasaki bombing, the military refused to surrender. The only authority in Japan that could overrule the military, the emperor, finally decided to do so. He addressed the Japanese people on the radio, informing them that the war was over. The military tried to stop the broadcast, but was unsuccessful. Many of the top military leaders then committed suicide.

These facts are either ignored or glossed over today. There is this great desire to paint America as the heartless combatant. Yet that is far from the truth.

Here is an excellent video—only 5 minutes and with interesting graphics, so you ought to invest those 5 minutes in watching it—that provides a fine overview of the Hiroshima decision. The speaker is Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. After viewing it, in conjunction with what I’ve written here, I hope you will have a clearer understanding of what took place and why.

Ignorance of history can be corrected. What’s harder to correct is an ideology that seeks to remain ignorant.

Book Cover 1My book, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom, has been out now since early November. I’ve had the opportunity to speak about it before a number of groups locally.

It documents the impact Chambers had on Reagan as the latter read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness. Chambers helped Reagan understand why people would be attracted to communism, and spurred him on to take on communism, which ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The “future of freedom” part of the title refers to an analysis of which of these two key individuals in American history was more accurate in his prediction about how freedom will fare as we move forward in Western civilization.

Chambers was pessimistic, convinced that modern man would shut his ears to the message of civilization’s decline and the need to turn back to God. Reagan, however, saw freedom as the wave of the future, pushed by the desire God placed in everyone to shake off tyranny’s shackles.

I’m pleased to announce that the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, has decided to make my book one of its offerings to visitors. The Center is a division of Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which is an organization devoted to teaching high school and college students the principles of American liberty (on a basis of Christian beliefs).

The Center informs me that the book definitely will be useful in its programs. I’m also hopeful that I will be invited at some point to be included as a speaker in those programs.

Reagan Ranch Center

YAF also owns Reagan’s ranch, situated close to Santa Barbara, high up in the nearby mountains. During my sabbatical, I was honored to have been given a personal tour of the ranch. Cross one off my bucket list.

20141027_151616

What a blessing to have the book that was a labor of love for me for so many years now being sold by the organization that has such a close connection to the Reagan legacy.

If you haven’t yet obtained your copy of The Witness and the President, simply click here and be enlightened on the link between Chambers and Reagan.

The book is also being considered for sale in the bookstore of the Reagan Presidential Library. Your prayers for that are solicited as well.