Comics Commentary

I’ve been an aficionado of clever comic strips all my life. My favorite, throughout my childhood and into high school, was Charles Schulz’s wonderful “Peanuts” strip with all the memorable characters: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, etc. The strip was a cultural phenomenon back in the 1960s, in particular.

Schulz used his strip to communicate his Christian faith as well as offer commentary on cultural changes and the meaning of life. He never preached stridently; he allowed the message to come at you indirectly, making one stop and think a bit about what he was saying.

Later, I became a great fan of the “Calvin and Hobbes” strip. My students sometimes must feel they are awash in the insights from that one.

When Bill Watterson, the brilliant artist of the strip, brought  “Calvin and Hobbes” to an end in the 1990s, I was deeply saddened, but later some of my students presented me with the entire collection, from which I have helped “instruct” students ever since.

Nowadays, one of my favorite comics that touches on the foolishness/silliness of our modern cultural trends is “Mallard Fillmore,” a title with a nice touch for an American historian like me. The artist, Bruce Tinsley, is a conservative in politics and, based on what I’ve seen in his strip, a committed Christian. He takes on political correctness in a poignant way.

Lately, Tinsley has been on target with some of the most egregious modern trends and/or practices based on wrong ideas, one of which is that people really aren’t accountable for their actions:

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Tinsley offered this commentary on the drift of society:

Just the right amount of sarcasm, in my opinion, in the pursuit of communicating truth.

He often pokes fun at education trends and the issue of free speech. Sometimes, he can combine them rather easily, as universities have become a haven for the stifling of speech that the prevailing “wisdom” decries:

While I am a devotee of expounding Biblical principles and trying to explain how they apply to each one of us individually and to our society as a whole, I appreciate the ability of comics such as these to help me make my points. Regular readers of this blog know that I punctuate many of my posts with what I believe are appropriate comics and political cartoons to aid in my explanations.

That will never stop as long as there are talented artists (and I do believe that is the correct term) who can highlight the concepts I want to expound upon.

The Compulsory “Cure”

I wonder how often I’ve said, “This is one of my favorites,” when speaking of something C. S. Lewis wrote? I’ve probably used that phrase for far too many of his writings, so that it loses its impact when repeated. Yet it always remains true of one particular essay, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

Out of the many insights contained therein, here is one that stands out to me: what Lewis identifies as “the changed relation between Government and subjects.” A prime example, he notes, is how we’ve changed our concept of punishment for crimes committed: we’ve decided that criminals must be cured, not punished.

But a “just cure,” Lewis objects, is a “meaningless” term. Why?

When we switched from the “old” idea of punishment and turned to providing “remedies” for what used to be called criminal actions, we have turned the criminals over to the experts who will ultimately determine if a “cure” has been achieved.

Thus the criminal ceases to be a person, a subject of rights and duties, and becomes merely an object on which society can work. And this is, in principle, how Hitler treated the Jews. They were objects; killed not for ill desert but because, on his theories, there were a disease in society.

Then comes one of Lewis’s most bracing statements (at least to me): “If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.”

Lewis then offers another example, one that should make Christians follow his logic more seriously:

Who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory “cure.”

It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Straightener will reply: “But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

In modern America, sixty years after Lewis wrote this, Christians have not yet been subjected to a compulsory “cure,” but we have definitely been subjected to societal pressures to accept what the “experts” now consider to be normative in matters of sexual morality (as one example). We are facing a rising crescendo of “informed opinion” that our views are rather inconvenient to the new order of things. We must conform—or suffer the penalties (in the workplace, for instance) for being nonconformists.

And far too many of us have the same mindset Lewis saw back in his day, when he observed that WWI and WWII, which “necessitated vast curtailments of liberty,” led to a populace “accustomed to our chains.” Intellectuals, he argued, “have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the linguistic analysts.”

What was lost in the process?

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man) has died.

The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something.

But that “something” is up to the State, whatever it considers to be “good.” What we would choose becomes irrelevant.

Hence the new name “leaders” for those who were once our “rulers.” We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, “Mind your own business.” Our whole lives are their business.

Lewis concludes his masterful essay with this warning:

Let us not be deceived by phrases about “Man taking charge of his own destiny.” All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel and dishonest.

The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?

Merely a rhetorical question, to be sure, but one that ought to make us ponder the direction our society is taking.

Reagan & Modern American Conservatism

Finals week is upon my students and me. Another semester nears an end. Naturally, I am relieved, but I do enjoy the teaching. When students ask which courses are my favorites, I have to say I like them all. Yet there are some that usually stand out because of my particular interests: my course on C. S. Lewis is one, as is the course on Whittaker Chambers.

Then there’s the one I just completed called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.”

That course has two purposes: first, to highlight the life and accomplishments of the man I believe to be the best president of the 20th century; second, to understand him within a movement of modern conservatism, of which he was the prime example, exemplifying the various strands that comprise the movement.

To understand Reagan the man, as well as the president, I have students read his autobiography. It reveals what motivated him to aspire to the highest office in the land. They are pleased to learn about his Christian faith.

This course, though, is more than a simple biography of one man. It describes how some men and women responded to the drift in America toward the idea that government can manage our lives better than we can, as well as the cultural drift away from traditional moral principles (which most of them found in the Bible).

The most comprehensive book to deal with this rising movement after WWII is George Nash’s masterful work, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945.

It can be a tough read in some spots, as my students earnestly inform me, but it’s also an essential read.

Nash shows how modern American conservatism built on a philosophical basis, not merely as an emotional reaction to liberalism, socialism, or communism. Instead, it had bedrock principles that formed the core of a movement that eventually landed Reagan in the White House.

In addition to those two books, I offer selections from my own study of Reagan and Whittaker Chambers (yes, he figures in this course also).

My goal is to help these students grasp that conservatism has a good history. True conservatives are bound by the concept of the rule of law, they hold to the tenets of the Constitution, and they realize the necessity of a firm spiritual/moral grounding for our government to function properly.

I also hope they come away from the course with an ability to discern what genuine conservatism is in our day and what is not all that genuine. I don’t want them to fall in line with something trendy that may pass itself off as conservative when, in fact, it’s much closer to populist demagoguery.

My mission from God, if I were to put it in those terms—and I do—is to provide them with truths that will become the anchor of their lives and will stay with them to the end. This course helps achieve that goal.

I sincerely hope that everything I teach leads my students toward faithfulness to God and His purposes in their lives. He has given me this privilege—and this responsibility—and I do not take it lightly.

What Alfie Evans Should Mean to Us

Alfie Evans is now with our loving God. That’s what I believe. More on that later in this post.

But that doesn’t excuse how he was treated by a callous society.

Some have commented that this despicable treatment cannot be laid at the feet of a socialized healthcare system, that it could have happened simply by any insurance company in the private sector refusing to provide further aid to a child they deemed unlikely to live anyway.

While it is true that an insurance company could have come to the same decision as the British National Health Service, the latter has far more power to make that which is despicable even more despicable.

A government entity can do what a private insurance firm cannot: deny the parents their parental right to remove their child from the system and choose to go elsewhere for medical help. In Britain, the courts ruled that the parents had to step aside and obey what the government decided: your child, in essence, belongs to the state, and the all-knowing, all-wise state will determine whether that child will live or die.

And if you speak out against that determination, be warned: you will be liable to prosecution.

No private insurance company can do any of that. It can only occur when government takes the reins and says it is the final judge of who is worth saving.

That is a moral degeneration of the most horrendous sort. When some in America warned of death panels with the passage of Obamacare, they were ridiculed by the system’s supporters. That would never happen, they retorted. Don’t be so alarmist.

Perhaps some of those deniers will now have second thoughts? I hope so.

My belief that Alfie Evans is now in the presence of his Creator, Father, and Lover of His Soul is the ultimate comfort in the midst of this heartwrenching action by the government.

So, if that’s my belief, some might say, why are you so concerned about what has happened? After all, Alfie is certainly in the best place possible.

My concern is what this says about us, what it means for nations like Britain and America. It reveals a seared conscience that doesn’t allow the sacredness of life to guide our thoughts and actions. It leads to a horrible dehumanization of humans, a devaluation of value implanted by God in each individual.

We are made in God’s image. But ever since the introduction of abortion as a mechanism to remove an unwanted human being from our lives—too inconvenient to raise a child right now, or that child has too many problems (Downs Syndrome as one example)—our disregard for that image of God in each of us has hastened our fall into the pit of hell as a people.

It began with abortion. It increasingly extends to those at the other end of the life cycle—they are too expensive; they don’t contribute anything anymore; let’s rush them into death. Now, as with Alfie, infanticide is becoming more accepted, more “natural.”

God’s love leads a society in an altogether different direction, a direction that values the life of all people, but especially those most vulnerable, the ones who cannot defend themselves.

Are we on a slippery slope that cannot be reversed? Will we descend into greater depths of callousness and depravity?

Those who name the name of Christ and declare Him to be the salvation of the world need to stand strong in these times and be that proverbial “sore thumb” that bothers the consciences of those who are on that slope. The Christian witness is the only hope for changing men’s minds and hearts.

God is currently blessing Alfie Evans. May we help spread His blessings to this needy world.

The Real Church of Jesus Christ

The Church of Jesus Christ consists of all those who have received the truth about themselves and their relationship with God. It consists of those who have seen the awfulness of their sins, who have come to the Cross in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of those sins, and who have thereafter dedicated their lives to serving the One who gave His life for them.

Those who have done so are the actual Church, and that Church has only one real purpose, as explained succinctly by C. S. Lewis:

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

We, the Church, divide ourselves into different segments, which we call denominations. All too often, we look down on those not of our particular segment and miss the true spirit of the Holy Spirit. Yet, those who are truly His recognize the essential unity we all share regardless of where we choose to worship.

We may have different ideas on specific doctrines, but, as Lewis reminds us, we have a lot more in common than we may realize:

It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion [denomination] is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine.

And this suggests at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.

In my lifetime thus far, I have been associated with the following denominations: Lutheran, Assemblies of God, Mennonite, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Episcopal, and an assortment of independent fellowships that claimed no specific denominational ties. In all of them I found sincere Christians who desired with all their heart and soul to glorify God in Christ.

“The Church,” Lewis says, “will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal Head will share His immortality.”

All of these thoughts today lead me back to one of my favorite Lewis quotes, taken from his wonderful sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Near the end of it, he tells us what our attitude should be toward one another, how we should view one another in the light of immortality.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

If that is true, as I believe it is, it should be the very guideline we follow as we interact with one another, and all our interactions should be aimed, ultimately, at helping others to become one of those everlasting splendors God wants to fashion. For the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.

The Ongoing Comey Saga

Former FBI chief James Comey entered most of our minds for the first time back in the summer of 2016 in the heat of a presidential race.

I listened carefully as he held a press conference to share the bureau’s conclusion concerning the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail fiasco. He came across as professional and, as he proceeded to lay out all the reasons why she should be indicted—and those reasons were substantial—he then startled me, and probably most who were watching that press conference, with the assertion that she had done nothing that called for an indictment.

The case he presented and the conclusion he came to were diametrically opposite. The veneer of professionalism seemed to melt into what appeared to be either a fear of going forward with the prosecution of a Clinton due to pressure from Attorney General Loretta Lynch or some kind of political bias on behalf of the Democrats.

Or perhaps both.

Then, just a few weeks before election day, Comey re-emerged with the astounding news that the investigation had been reopened due to further information that needed to be followed up. At this news, the Clinton camp screamed while Republicans rejoiced.

Within a few days, that matter was settled, but many Democrats blamed Comey for Clinton’s loss.

After Trump was inaugurated, and Comey was still the head of the FBI, rumors surfaced that he and Trump were not seeing eye-to-eye on very much. Reports indicated that Trump wanted some kind of statement of loyalty from the FBI chief and that he refused because his primary loyalty was to his job and the Constitution.

Trump, concerned about the ongoing Russian collusion investigation, summarily fired Comey, thereby stoking another “fire” when the DOJ appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to carry on that investigation.

Along the way, Comey has raised the ire on both sides of the political divide, depending on his latest action:

After his firing, Comey didn’t disappear. He was called on to testify before Congress and made it clear he passed on information to someone else for the express purpose of having it made public so that a special counsel would be appointed. That admission in itself raised many eyebrows.

But that wasn’t the end of James Comey’s public persona. Recently, he came out with his book (doesn’t everyone in the news come out with a book eventually?) that purports, by its very title, to show that its author is above politics. He claims that he has a higher loyalty to truth, and that he has maintained that high standard.

I certainly agree that we all have that responsibility to put truth ahead of loyalty to any one person, and that someone in the position Comey once held has a particularly heavy responsibility to do so.

The question is whether the book actually backs up its title. Comey has been everywhere lately, interviewed apparently by anyone who has a camera, attempting to make his case that we should believe in his integrity.

Many, though, on both sides of the political aisle, have been less than convinced by his manner. To many, he appears primarily to be self-consciously casting himself as some kind of modern hero standing up to the powers-that-be. Could this book be more self-serving than nation-serving?

Political cartoonists seem to think so. Here’s a litany of their responses thus far:

Comey’s book has sold well, but how much of it is truth and a commitment to a higher loyalty, as the title claims, and how much is mere egotism? That’s your call.

Evangelicals & Politics: The Dangers Ahead

A group of evangelical leaders concerned about the future of evangelicalism, spurred by 80% of evangelicals having voted for Donald Trump in the last election, held a meeting recently at Wheaton College just outside Chicago.

Whenever I see evangelical leaders concerned about unstinting support for Trump and the potential problem of having the Christian witness tied to him, I am usually encouraged. But I have my qualms about the political direction of some of Trump’s evangelical critics.

Those who have read my blog on any kind of a regular basis know that I have written often with my own concerns about the presidency of Donald Trump. I did my best during the Republican primaries to warn Christians about his character; he received the nomination regardless of my warnings and those of others with a much larger audience than mine.

My concerns continue as his thin-skinned egotism and history of immoral behavior (which has really never abated) lowers the dignity of the presidential office. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did the same in their own respective ways.

Yes, Trump has made excellent judicial appointments that will hopefully reverse some trends, but I sincerely doubt if he knows any of those appointees who were recommended to him by a group of constitutionalists who see the dangers of an out-of-control judiciary.

Principle is in short supply with this president.

Christians are to stand for Scriptural fidelity and the purity of the Christian witness to the world. Neither are found in the character of the current occupant of the White House, and those with strong ties to him may eventually fall with him.

And I do fear that a fall is coming.

On the proverbial other hand, I have a similar fear with those who oppose Trump: that some of those who gathered at this meeting in Wheaton are not sufficiently grounded in Biblical precepts of government and policy, and they, in a similar fashion, are linking their ideas to the Christian witness to its detriment.

We’re informed by some that the younger generation of evangelicals don’t have the same concerns as the older generation, and that their cry is for “social justice.” Let it be known that I also believe in social justice, but the term has been so overused and misused (and you can feel free to apply over- and mis- to any other term you wish) that I shun using it myself.

If by social justice, one means that the inalienable rights God has given each person should be protected by government, then I am in agreement. The paramount inalienable right is that of life, which is why I am so supportive of the pro-life cause at both ends: unborn children and the elderly.

If by social justice, one means that no one should be treated differently due to external features such as skin color, again, you will find me on that side of the issue.

If, however, social justice is promoted as a semi-Marxist envy of those who “have” and is built on a bedrock of class conflict/warfare that seeks to take away from the haves to give to the have-nots, thereby classifying all “haves” as evil, then count me out. The history of the twentieth century was replete with those kinds of tyrannies, and they continue today regardless of the changes in leadership:

If social justice goes beyond the basic rights of all people regardless of color and insists on calling all white people evil (based on their color apparently) and foments an attitude of bitterness for wrongs both past and present, I will not be one of that number.

If it is true, as reported in a recent article, that 85% of black evangelicals identify with the Democrat party, I’m saddened. Why? Well, if you want to look historically, that was the party that defended both slavery and segregation. More recently, as the “champion” of minorities, it set up government programs (Great Society, anyone?) that have proved to be the catalyst for the destruction of the black family in America, leading to even greater degrees of poverty.

For evangelicals, in particular, the Democrats are the party that are wholesale on board with abortion on demand (which Planned Parenthood has always used to decimate minority communities), same-sex marriage, and, under the Obama administration, a large-scale attack on the religious liberties of Christian organizations who fail to fall in line with the “new morality.”

I want to ask my black brethren this: “How can you support a party that has set itself up in opposition to so much of what a Christian evangelical says he believes?” Democrats, in their present persona, are about as anti-Christian as a party can be.

Republicans give greater lip service to Biblical standards; their problem is hypocrisy. Yet, even with all that hypocrisy, there are some Republican officeholders who do remain faithful to their principles and their word. At least there’s some hope there, however slight.

To my evangelical friends who give unyielding support for President Trump, I urge you not to be unthinking cheerleaders. Recognize the danger to the Christian witness when we give ourselves to a leader unconditionally.

And by all means, don’t provide excuses for wrong behavior. Maintain your Biblical standard.

To my evangelical friends who are tempted to go the way of political progressivism, please stop and think about the ramifications. When you ally yourself with a worldview that is fundamentally antithetical to Christian faith, you taint the faith as well.

One report, focused on one evangelical college (which will go unnamed) notes that 80% of the professors there voted for Obama in 2012. This is the president who made the greatest strides toward marginalizing Christian faith in American society. How anyone could have supported him is beyond my understanding.

I’m trying to be a voice of Christian reason here, holding fast to fidelity to Scripture and hoping to make both sides reconsider where they stand. It’s not easy or fun being in the middle.

I sincerely love all who are truly in Christ, no matter where they come out on the political spectrum. However, I am urging all to put Biblical principles ahead of politics. If we do, we might find we agree on more things than we imagined.