Archive for August, 2018

An Epiphany: I’m a Liberal, Not a Conservative

I received an epiphany a couple of days ago. I discovered that I’m not a conservative, but a liberal. From whence did this epiphany emanate? It was solemnly declared by a certain conservative columnist (who will go unnamed because I don’t wish to focus on individuals but ideas). His column was all about the need to purge everyone from the conservative movement who continues to raise issues about the conduct of Donald Trump.

His comments go far beyond mere purging; he says conservatives must call those traitors to the cause what they really are: liberals. The tone of the article was rather angry.

Now, I don’t wish to imply that he named me specifically. I’m not well known and prefer to stay that way. He focused instead on individuals like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a man I admire for his willingness to speak truth to power (yes, that’s a cliché, but please allow its use here for my purposes). Ignore Sasse’s 90% conservative voting record; he’s not a real conservative; it’s all a head fake.

You see, we now know, as a result of the insight from this conservative columnist, that Ben Sasse is really a liberal. And since I agree with most of what Sasse says about the president, I must be a liberal as well.

As you might guess, it came as a shocking revelation to me that I am, in fact, a liberal. I didn’t realize I had been fooling people for so many years.

So, it’s now time to throw out everything I’ve written and everything I’ve done in political circles for the past thirty-plus years because it was all a lie.

For instance, my first book, a spiritual biography of Noah Webster, based on my doctoral dissertation, must have been the result of all those years being influenced by my liberal professors.

The book merely talks about this Father of Early American Education as a conservative of his day who believed that government had to be based on the rule of law and that character was a cornerstone of good government.

And all of Webster’s talk about how education is not our societal savior and how grand schemes of government control over education will not lead to utopia? Well, I only included those things because I was writing about this old reactionary guy. My hidden agenda was to promote modern liberalism, undoubtedly.

My second book, which deals with Biblical principles and how they should apply to all of society, and particularly to government, must have been a ruse also. After all, when those principles are explained in the book, I keep coming to the conclusion that they seem to support conservative concepts.

But, great deceiver that I am, I only promoted those ideas because I’m actually a Deep State mole seeking to undermine the conservative movement from within. Finally, someone has caught me in my great deception. How will I ever live this down? I’ve been found out.

And what to make of book number three? You know, the one that examined the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Why on earth did I interview all thirteen of the House Managers—Republicans all—to provide them with a forum where they could give their side of the story and explain to all who might read this volume exactly why they felt they had done the right thing?

Again, this must have been part of a plot to mislead true conservatives as to my beliefs and character. What better way to make them think I’m “one of them” than by inserting myself into the controversy on the conservative side? Not only that, but I was clever enough to make it appear that I agreed with those House Managers that President Clinton ought to have been removed from office.

Why did I go to such great pains to conceal my real convictions? Well, I’m a liberal, not a conservative. That’s the real reason for sure.

Then came the penultimate misdirection—my book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. I spent so many years reading everything both men had written only because I had to make sure my cover wouldn’t be blown.

If you look carefully, though, you can see I tripped up now and then. I actually allowed criticism of both men on certain points, which certainly gives away that I’m not a true conservative because criticism like that cannot be allowed.

I did, however, conceal most of my liberalism by writing things that would be considered commendatory about both Reagan and Chambers. This, obviously, is the height of all my deceptions in these varied books. I fooled everyone—because I’m a liberal, not a conservative.

Well, what about my teaching? Students have been fooled for thirty years as I kept hidden from them my true beliefs. And that work I did for the Christian Coalition back when it was a real force to be reckoned with? Pure subversion.

And then there’s this blog I’ve written for ten years. Can you possibly understand how difficult it has been for me to pretend every time I write a post that I’m really a conservative? The pressure has, at times, been nearly unbearable.

Okay, that’s enough.

The conservative columnist who wrote what he did has dealt with us once and for all—we are liberals in conservative clothing, undermining real conservatism.

Yet, I see it differently. Those of us who are willing to critique President Trump, not only for past indiscretions but for the manner in which he conducts himself in the presidential office currently, are actually attempting to save conservatism.

We see the kind of conservatism espoused by that columnist as more of a tribal allegiance—shall I say nearly a cult of personality—that has little to do with principled conservatism.

Our goal is to conserve conservatism, hoping that when the Trump Era finally comes to an end, that there will still be a movement devoted to the Constitution and the concept of the rule of law, and that considers character as a bedrock necessity for good government.

Learning to Love Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963.

Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—of God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

John McCain: A Reflection

John McCain died on Saturday evening from an aggressive brain tumor. His death was announced not too long after the family informed the public that he had decided to stop the cancer treatments.

McCain, in some ways, was a controversial senator, not always in agreement with the Republican party in which he served. That’s why he earned the nickname of a “maverick.”

I have no problem with mavericks as long as they are standing on the principles they espouse and are doing so with integrity.

Often, I disagreed with McCain on specific policy issues, but in my many years of watching him, I rarely disagreed with the manner in which he carried himself. Many who are commenting on his death have said something similar: he was a gentleman respected by others in the Senate even when they opposed his latest vote.

No one can adequately analyze John McCain without spending some time remarking on his time as a POW during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down, he was captured, beaten, and nearly died. When the North Vietnamese discovered that he was the son of an American admiral, they sought to use him for propaganda purposes, promising to release him.

So McCain could have been freed from that camp if he had chosen. Instead, he refused to be used for propaganda and also felt it would be wrong for him to receive special treatment that the other POWs wouldn’t get.

That angered his captors even more, and the beatings became worse than before. Yet McCain suffered it all willingly.

Five years he spent in that horrid camp. He didn’t come home until after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. President Nixon met with him to show his appreciation for what he suffered.

Some people think that if a man is captured in war, he is not a hero. I reject that categorically.

Others will point to his divorce after his return and chastise him for that. I agree that he wronged his first wife. It’s also instructive, though, that later, when asked if he had any regrets, he cited his divorce. Whether that was a true repentance or simply a regret, I cannot know, yet one wants to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who will publicly acknowledge a moral failure like that.

His nomination for the presidency in 2008 was ill-timed, coming as it did on the heels of the bank bailout and recession blamed largely on Republicans. Although McCain was not my candidate of choice for that nomination, I had no problem supporting him in the campaign. I don’t have to agree with everything a candidate does. In McCain, at least I saw someone who sought to halt the oncoming Democrat onslaught.

And he was solidly pro-life.

What about McCain’s faith? Was he a Christian? An article by Ed Stetzer and Laurie Nichols on Christianity Today International‘s website states the following:

McCain was a man of faith and talked about his faith when he had little, and quietly practiced when he had much. He has been attending North Phoenix Baptist Church for years. His experiences might have pushed him away from God, but he quietly engaged there at the church. When Rick Warren asked what being a Christian meant to Senator McCain, he replied, “It means I’m saved and forgiven.”

My sincere hope is that this testimony is real and that McCain is now with his Savior.

It’s only right to take the time today to honor the service of John McCain.

Feel-Good Beliefs vs. Dying to Self

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false,” C. S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity. “Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years,” he continues, but concludes, “but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.”

The problem is that most people don’t want to think that seriously about things that matter. When it comes to the most important part of life—the issue of eternity—they would like to fall back on the various “feel-good” beliefs: “I’m not any worse than that person”; “The good I’ve done will outweigh the bad”; “A God of mercy surely wouldn’t send anyone to hell.”

The list may be endless.

Lewis would have none of that fuzzy, baseless thinking:

A vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach.

But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.

People avoid the hard issues: the presence of sin in one’s life; the guilt that accompanies it; the nagging sense that no matter what one does to push away that guilt, nothing is sufficient.

We want an easy, accountability-free existence. But that’s not reality. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to empty Himself of his Godhead and live as a man. There was nothing easy about what He suffered on our behalf. He had to go through the portals of death (physical) and a crucial moment on the cross when He was, for the first time ever, separated from the Father.

He had to die in order to be resurrected and give us the hope of eternity with God. There’s a principle here that applies to us; Lewis explains it succinctly in his “Membership” essay:

A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.

There’s no getting around it: we must die to our self-centeredness. We hate the idea, but once we do it, we realize that’s where true life resides. As Lewis so poignantly puts it in “The Weight of Glory,”

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

It’s time to stop being ignorant children.

By the Bible or the Bayonet?

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch lawyer, scholar, theologian, and author. His most noteworthy work, The Law of War and Peace, made him famous as the foremost authority on the law of nations, which we now tend to call international law.

There is a statement attributed to Grotius that I wish I could document as actually emanating from him, but I haven’t found the source. I’ve read some of his Law of War and Peace, and the statement certainly sounds like something he might say. If anyone knows for sure if he said it, or if not, who did, I would welcome that information.

However, I’ve decided that even if Grotius didn’t write this, it’s so good that it needs to be shared. As I tell my students, if he’s not the author of this thought, then I’ll claim it for myself.

Here’s how it begins:

He knows not how to rule a kingdom that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village.

Notice the progression. The concept is that one should not be given a greater realm of authority if he cannot handle a lesser realm. One must prove himself at a lower level before being granted more responsibility.

The statement continues:

Nor he a village that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself.

The principle keeps getting extended downward. Yet how many men and women in our day, particularly in politics, are awarded by the people with high office when they cannot even govern themselves?

Shall I insert here Senator Ted Kennedy, who drove a car off a bridge and swam away while the woman with him in the car (not his wife) was left to drown? The people of Massachusetts, in their electoral wisdom, made him a senator for life. Should that have been?

You would think the statement might end where I’ve already ended it, but it goes even further:

Neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite her vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.

Will and appetite refer to desires/emotions—they need to be servants to one’s reason. Desires and emotions cannot drive one’s actions. Yet even reason, as we know, can go astray. Autonomous human reasoning is a mini-god itself. Therefore, our reason also has to submit to God and His loving rule.

I call this the principle of self-government, and I’ve devoted a chapter to it in my book, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government.

Proverbs 16:32 tells us, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”

There have been many “great” men in history, at least by standards other than God’s. On the outside, they may look like “winners,” but God looks at the heart.

A society with Biblical self-government at its roots, and that looks to place people in positions of civil authority whose lives reveal that self-government, will be a society substantially free from oppressive rules and regulations. Only a people not self-governed under God will turn to a strong civil government to hold themselves in check.

In truth, the people of a nation receive the type of government that their level of self-government deserves. What does this say about modern America? After all, our representatives, from local officials to congressmen to the president are merely a reflection of us.

One more quote—this one documented.

Robert Winthrop (1809-1894), who served as speaker of the House of Representatives and also as a senator, gave an address to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849. What he said in that address is a fitting conclusion to the thoughts I want to share today:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint.

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without [outside] them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

May we be controlled by the Word of God and show ourselves worthy of self-government.

Rejecting God-Ordained Reality

As a Christian, I believe what Scripture tells me about mankind—that sin abounds. Even if I were not a Christian, the testimony of man’s sinfulness is everywhere, and that, in itself, should be enough to convince anyone of the truth of what Scripture says.

Sin is heinous. It’s also stupid. Its stupidity manifests itself in many ways. Some would not call what I’m about to highlight “sin,” but I insist it is because anything that goes against God’s created order stems from man’s rebellion against Him.

I’m about to begin another academic year. Thankfully, I don’t teach at a university that has succumbed to the erasure of God-ordained truth. I don’t have to worry about this, for instance:

Man, woman, he, and she are still allowed where I teach. The God-ordained reality remains as a cornerstone of my university’s culture.

The environment is one of God’s gifts to us. We are to be stewards of this gift. Yet, even something as good as the environment can replace God in people’s estimation; they can sometimes turn it into a mini-god of its own. This results in some rather silly concerns:

If there is a problem with toxic waste, let’s take care of that. But to place so much blame on straws??

The media often considers itself another one of those mini-gods. It can create its own reality, promoting what it believes to be true while ignoring God-ordained truth. Self-defense is a basic human right given by God. Yet some would seek to overthrow such common sense and replace it with their own version of reality. The media’s role, all too often, is as a filter against reality:

As is obvious, false worldviews bleed over into politics rather easily. Principled arguments in favor of one position or another would be the reasonable, God-ordained way of figuring out the best policies. There is another way, however, that dominates our politics, and it’s based on pure selfishness of personal gain:

Accuse anyone you don’t like of racism—as one example—and you can “win.” When “winning” is everything, and you have no scruples with regard to how you “win,” you actually lose. Tossing aside principles is not the God-ordained way to live.

We currently have a revived trend toward the false religion of Marxism. Yes, I called it a religion, and for good reason. Although Marx rejected God, he still had his own god—himself. He claimed to be working for the common man, yet was not acquainted with too many of them. He spent most of his time immersed in his own thoughts in libraries. He never really had a long-term job or provided for his family; he sponged off of others his entire life.

Yet for many today, he is an icon. They still try to fashion their politics around his vision, but often without any real understanding of God-ordained reality.

Bottom line: man wants to reject God and his ways, and always sets up his own mini-gods (all false). The consequences are all around us.

Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthly choice will go with us into eternity.