The Christian Witness to the World

Presidennt, Pope, Prime MinisterThe arrival of Pope Francis in America takes me back in my thoughts to an earlier era when a pope who grew up under communism and understood the horrors of socialist practices worked with an American president who was a Protestant (with a Catholic father) and a British prime minister who was tutored all her early years by her Methodist shopkeeper father (and who later said that C. S. Lewis was one of her spiritual mentors) to overthrow the Soviet empire.

There’s an excellent book on that subject that I can highly recommend, appropriately titled The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World. It details how Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II worked together, both behind the scenes and in public pronouncements, to bring an end to one of history’s most brutal and atheistic regimes.

John Paul, because he grew up in Poland and saw Soviet socialism firsthand, recognized the evil in the system and sought to free his people. Reagan spoke often and eloquently on behalf of the Polish people and his partnership with Thatcher helped undermine the Soviet economy, leading to change.

It was a wonderful example of working together for the good of all, and each of the three leaders did so from their common Christian faith.

Pope FrancisThere are things about Pope Francis that I admire: his strong defense of the unborn and his obvious compassion for the poor top that list. Other things he says are more bothersome: his lack of understanding of how the free market and business works; his insistence that climate change is an undoubted fact; his misunderstanding of the Biblical roots of the death penalty for serious crimes.

Much of what he believes, I’m sure, is the result of his Argentinian background and the type of theology he imbibed there—the incursion of some Liberation Theology that, in fact, liberates no one from sin. Yet I don’t doubt the sincerity of his Christian faith, no matter my disagreement with how he thinks it manifests itself in society.

I am not Catholic and never will be. My Biblical beliefs lead me in a different direction. But I do maintain a great desire to work with all true believers.

William PennThe Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, wrote something that has always appealed to me. Penn had been persecuted in England and even thrown in prison at times, yet he seemed to harbor no resentment toward that Protestant Anglican establishment. Here’s what he said that I think is worth repeating:

He that suffers his difference with his neighbor about the other world, to carry him beyond the line of moderation in this, is the worse for his opinion, even though it be true. . . .

Since all of the parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the soul is immortal, that there are eternal rewards and punishments, and that the virtuous shall receive the one, and the wicked suffer the other: I say, since this is the common faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the rest in which we differ.

Christians, especially in these perilous times, need to pull together and concentrate on our common faith and work to see it influence all of society. Catholics need to set aside any sense of being the only true Christian church and recognize other genuine believers. Protestants must not hold grudges toward the Catholic church for grievances, both real or imagined. We must love one another and seek to find the common ground that will protect us all from an ever-more-intrusive government. We must be public examples of the love of Christ, first toward one another, and then to the world.

Jesus said the world would know we are His followers by seeing the love we show to one another. It’s time to put that into practice now, more than ever.

Margaret Thatcher: Unintended Consequences

I’m taking my time reading through Margaret Thatcher’s The Path to Power, going one section at a time, as I try to increase my knowledge of the history of the United Kingdom in the late twentieth century. As I’ve followed her life from her time with her family, to her university years at Oxford, to her early political career, I’ve been fascinated with her observations of the era.

I was struck particularly by a section of the book dealing with the cultural shift in Britain in the 1960s. Thatcher, from the perspective of hindsight, details the loss of the Christian foundations in her country:

Path to PowerBy now (1968) the left-of-centre consensus on economic policy was being challenged and would continue to be so. But the new liberal consensus on moral and social matters was not. That is to say that people in positions of influence in government, the media and universities managed to impose metropolitan liberal views on a society that was still largely conservative morally. The 1960s saw in Britain the beginning of what has become an almost complete separation between traditional Christian values and the authority of the state.

She freely acknowledges that she didn’t catch the drift at the time. In fact, she voted in favor of a couple of bills that haunted her later. One decriminalized homosexual conduct between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one. The other allowed abortion “if there was substantial risk that a child would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped, or ‘where the woman’s capacity as a mother would be severely overstrained.'”

She was influenced, she said, by her concern for other people’s suffering, but didn’t see at first the moral ramifications of what she helped start. Her analysis of those issues changed considerably later, as she explains:

As regards abortion, homosexuality, and divorce reform it is easy to see that matters did not turn out as was intended. . . . Instead, it could be argued that they have paved the way towards a more callous, selfish and irresponsible society. Reforming the law on abortion was primarily intended to stop young women being forced to have back-street abortions. It was not meant to make abortion simply another “choice.” Yet in spite of the universal availability of artificial contraception the figures for abortion have kept on rising.

Homosexual activists have moved from seeking a right of privacy to demanding social approval for the “gay” lifestyle, equal status with the heterosexual family and even the legal right to exploit the sexual uncertainty of adolescents.

Divorce law reform has contributed to—though it is by no means the only cause of—a very large increase in the incidence of marriage breakdown which has left so many children growing up without the continual care and guidance of two parents.

Margaret ThatcherThatcher concludes with these reflections:

Knowing how matters have turned out, would I have voted differently on any of these measures? I now see that we viewed them too narrowly. As a lawyer and indeed as a politician who believed so strongly in the rule of law, I felt that the prime considerations were that the law should be enforceable and its application fair to those who might run afoul of it.

But laws also have a symbolic significance: they are signposts to the way society is developing—and the way the legislators of society envisage that it should develop. Moreover, taking all of the “liberal” reforms of the 1960s together, they amount to more than their individual parts. They came to be seen as providing a radically new framework within which the younger generation would be expected to behave.

Margaret Thatcher was able to own up to her mistakes and learn from them.  In the same vein, when Ronald Reagan saw the consequences of a liberal abortion law he signed as governor of California, he delved into the subject and came away a staunch pro-lifer. He always regretted his earlier action. While I wish neither Reagan nor Thatcher had made those mistakes, I am heartened by the fact that those who have a Biblical foundation to their thinking can see their missteps and make amends for them later.

Margaret Thatcher & C. S. Lewis

Path to PowerWhile I was in New Zealand, I happened across a book sale at one site. I’m naturally drawn to such things, so I spent a few minutes perusing the offerings. To my delight, I saw Margaret Thatcher’s The Path to Power on the table. It’s the second volume of her autobiography, following after The Downing Street Years. In The Path to Power, she explains her early years and how she eventually worked her way to the prime ministership.

I’ve been a fan of Thatcher since the 1980s, but had never read one of her books. Here was this one for the paltry sum of $1 in New Zealand currency, which meant it cost even less in American money. How could I pass it by? Well, I didn’t.

Reading the opening chapters on the plane back to the U.S., I was reminded that she attended Oxford during WWII. Suddenly, I realized that she was at Oxford at the same time that C. S. Lewis was coming to prominence there. Naturally, I wondered if she had been influenced by him at all. I didn’t have to go too far into that chapter to find the following commentary from the woman who was raised a Methodist:

Generally speaking . . . I did not go to Anglican churches. But oddly enough—or perhaps not so oddly when one considers the great impact he had on so many of my generation—it was the religious writing of that High Anglican C. S. Lewis which had most impact upon my intellectual religious formation.

C. S. Lewis 5The power of his broadcasts, sermons and essays came from a combination of simple language with theological depth. Who has ever portrayed more wittily and convincingly the way in which Evil works on our human weaknesses than he did in The Screwtape Letters? Who has ever made more accessible the profound concepts of Natural Law than he did in The Abolition of Man and in the opening passages of Mere Christianity?

I remember most clearly the impact on me of Christian Behaviour (republished in Mere Christianity, but originally appearing as radio talks). This went to the heart of the appalling disparity between the way in which we Christians behave and the ideals we profess.

What an excellent passage and an insight into the thinking of Margaret Thatcher. How encouraging to know that C. S. Lewis touched her life in this way.

Obama: Dishonoring Margaret Thatcher

Today is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. It’s such a special occasion for the British that even the queen will be there to pay her respects. The last time she attended a funeral for a former prime minister was in 1965 to mark the passing of Winston Churchill. However, today is also a day of insult, and the British have noticed the slight. There will be no representative present from the Obama administration.

Those who think this is no big deal will point to the fact that no administration figure attended the funeral of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela last month. Apples and oranges. Chavez was a Marxist radical who hated the United States. Obama knew he couldn’t openly mourn the loss of a dictator who persecuted Jews, served as a banker for Iran, and trampled the civil liberties of his own people as he built up a personal cult following. Ideologically, Obama was practically Chavez’s soulmate, but he had to stifle his admiration for appearance’ sake.

Thatcher, on the other hand, was America’s best friend during her tenure as prime minister. She and Ronald Reagan teamed up to deal the death blow to the old Soviet Union without, as she famously noted, firing a single shot. Both leaders brought their nations back from the brink of fiscal disaster, and both restored the proper kind of pride in their countries. Neither do I believe it is coincidental that both were firm in their Christian faith.

As most of the civilized world—or what remains of it—pauses to reflect on Margaret Thatcher’s accomplishments, may we see in her life an example of fortitude and devotion to principle that inspires.

Obama Initiatives?

President Obama is doing his best to stay prominent in the news cycle. He’s trying hard to be innovative and relevant. For instance, he announced a brain mapping initiative, designed to conquer epilepsy, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease. I sincerely hope it’s successful. While the scientists are at it, they might want to map the president’s brain as well. Who knows what they may find?

As they go about their brain mapping, those scientists may discover some limitations have been placed on their research:

Obama followed up that initiative with another. Well, to call it an initiative might be a stretch—we’ve seen this before:

Yes, believe it or not, he wants to jump start that old program that allowed nearly everyone to buy a house regardless of credit rating or ability to make the payments. What kind of amnesia is this? Can he really have forgotten the housing bubble that led to the recession in 2008? Is he really so ideologically blinded that he would rush into that despite all the evidence that it leads to chaos and financial ruin? The short answer: yes, he is.

Well, at least he came up with a budget—late, of course—but one that will be just as well received as his last two, neither of which garnered any votes in Congress. The Medicare cutbacks and Social Security fix have angered the progressive element of his coalition; the complete lack of spending restraint makes it a dead letter with conservatives. Finally, something both sides can agree on:

Perhaps the final insult to the leader of the free world was the death of Margaret Thatcher. How is that an insult? Comparisons can be made, and the president doesn’t fare too well on that score:

Oh, for genuine leadership again!

Margaret Thatcher: Conviction, Not Consensus

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Britain from 1979-1990, departed this world yesterday morning and, I hope, has entered into an eternity without the pain and weakness she had to endure over the past few years. Raised a Methodist, daughter of a middle-class grocer, not born into privilege, she had to work hard to earn a university degree, become accepted into the gentleman’s world of politics, and rise, improbably, to the highest elected office in her land. Determined, conservative, and confident in the rightness of her beliefs, she brought Britain back from the edge of a socialist abyss and restored prosperity through the privatization of industry and controls on spending. If nothing else, she showed that a nation can be rescued from the brink of disaster, thereby offering hope for America at this critical time in which we now live.

Even before she took the leadership of the Conservative Party, and before her prime ministership, her indomitable spirit earned her the epithet “The Iron Lady,” a nickname that first came from the Soviets. She always liked it.

Throughout the 1980s, she partnered with Ronald Reagan to reverse the tide of Soviet aggression; the two saw eye-to-eye on almost everything, united in philosophy and faith. He called her Maggie and she referred to him as Ronnie. They got on famously, a relationship built on mutual respect, and one that, for at least a brief moment in history, led to the ascendance of liberty over totalitarianism. In addition, both followed policies that revived their ailing nations—policies that now have been abandoned, the sad consequences of that abandonment becoming more evident over time.

Thatcher spoke her mind and never minced words. She told it straight. By doing so, she developed an avid following of admirers on both sides of the Atlantic. The critics were just as avid.

I scoured the Internet yesterday for samples of Thatcher’s straightforwardness in speaking. I found a treasure trove of examples. Here are a few, beginning with comments on the economy and socialism:

Gentlemen, if we don’t cut spending, we will be bankrupt. Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No. We are not wrong. We did not seek election and win in order to manage the decline of a great nation.

Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.

Mrs. Thatcher also had a lot to say about being principled:

There are dangers in consensus: it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do.

To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all principles, beliefs, values, and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.

Do you think you would have ever heard of Christianity if the Apostles had gone out and said, “I believe in consensus?”

I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.

She also could manifest a biting wit:

If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.

When I’m out of politics, I’m going to run a business; it’ll be called rent-a-spine.

If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.

I think our world needs more Margaret Thatchers. Iron Lady indeed.

I never say “rest in peace.” If we are in the presence of God, we will always be busy, but we will enjoy our tasks. I believe Margaret Thatcher is already about her Father’s business in her new location. She is content, but we will miss her. May many more conviction politicians fill the gaping hole she and Ronald Reagan have left.

A Privilege, Not a Right

Back in the fall of 1981, Ronald Reagan had to deal with a public-sector strike threat. The union threatening the strike was PATCO, which represented the air traffic controllers. I’m sure they had some legitimate complaints, but they sought to risk the safety of all air travel passengers by their action. Reagan was firm with that government union, reminding the members that they had taken a pledge when they were hired not to strike. Reagan’s position was that no public-sector union had the right to play with people’s lives in that manner. Consequently, he warned them that anyone who did not report to work within 48 hours would be fired.

They didn’t believe him. They didn’t report for work. He fired 11,400 air traffic controllers. For President Reagan, it was a matter of the rule of law. It had to be upheld or we would plunge into chaos.

Yes, it took some scrambling to cover the missing controllers and to train new ones, but the skies remained safe regardless.

One interesting commentary on Reagan’s decision was that his firing of those workers was a powerful foreign policy move. Why foreign policy? The Soviets were watching, and they were learning just who this new president was and that he was a man of his word who would take action when necessary. They had to be careful in their dealings with him.

Reagan’s stand was the same as FDR’s, who had famously said there should be no public-sector unions with the right to strike. The liberal said this first, the conservative much later.

The Wisconsin public-sector unions have confused a right with a privilege. They were allowed certain privileges—wisely or not—and they have concluded they are now “rights.” They have recently been given a stiff dose of reality.

In fact, if anyone might have a better claim for going on strike, I submit it is a different group:

As Margaret Thatcher famously quipped [or at least a paraphrase of a comment she made], “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

The supply is not unlimited. Public-sector unions need to come to that stark realization.