Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Test to See Whether the Average American Should Be Allowed to Vote

I want to make a confession here that is certain to get me into trouble. Mainly, I fear it will get me into trouble because what I am about to admit may be rabidly anti-American and mostly misunderstood. But I'm going to say it anyway and invite you to call me names afterward: sometimes, I wish there was some sort of test required in order for a person to get to vote.

Let me clarify by saying that this is not prompted by any sort of age, race, or demographic snobbery. It isn't even based on IQ, as the kind of test I am proposing would change from election to election based on the current democracy-ending, economy killing, Western Civilization overthrowing issue we are currently facing. This year, it seems, we are headed for financial catastrophe, and so a little economic test should be given before anyone is allowed to vote in the voting booth.

First, I imagine a very sagacious old man politely stopping each voter before they go into the booth, and after apologizing for the inconvenience, he would say that he has to ask them a few simple questions before they are allowed to vote. Should they fail, they will have to go home and steady, and furthermore, they have to stop commenting on Congress and the President until they come back and pass the test. Here are a few sample questions this wise old man might ask:

1) Friend, is debt always bad?

If they answer Yes! They are not allowed to vote. Now, being out of debt is always preferable to being in it, but just because someone owes money or owes nothing is no indication of their financial status. The bum on the street who owes nothing and has $10 in a tin cup has no debt. The recent college graduate may have $120,000 in debt because he has a mortgage and an education and a job that pays $50,000 a year. Who is in better shape financially?

2) Friend, how much, exactly, do you owe in credit card debt in proportion to your personal income?

Now, a formula would have to be worked out for this, but if the statistics of indebtedness to credit card pirates is any indication, this would flunk the average American right out of the voting booth. But not for the reason you might think.

See, the current debate over borrowing and raising the debt ceiling is all about credit ratings and ...well, borrowing. If a fellow cannot figure out that paying 25% interest on three pairs of Gap Jeans and two Polo shirts is fairly stupid, coupled with a barely manageable mortgage and two car payments, then the old man should tell them stories about why it is good to save aluminum foil and string until the potential voter is embarrassed and goes home.

3) What are the reasons that the Congress and the President are debating the debt ceiling?

The voter would only be required to have a passing knowledge of such things. Anything other than a blank stare, and also they cannot simply say, "It's just politics!" There are very good reasons why this debate is happening: Democrats and Republicans have significant disagreements on government spending and borrowing and what things fall into the category of "goods" and what falls into the category of a "right". For example: Health care. If it is a right, then the government must figure out a way to pay for it. If it is a good, then the government might help, but it is not an obligation.

It is a good thing that we are almost in long as we don't actually default. It should present us with a chance to discuss the direction of the country and how we can move forward economically without a digging ourselves a hole we can't climb back out of.

4) Why is Social Security an entitlement?

This one is a no-brainer. It is an entitlement because we (most of us, anyway) paid for it. The problem is that we also blew the money and the current wage earners aren't paying enough taxes to pony up the dough for those retiring. The guys who stuck their hands in the cookie jar are either dead or are playing golf and nobody wants to be the dude left holding the bag. It's like a horrific game of musical chairs and every politician is raiding Social Security in order to find a seat. Someday, the music will stop and somebody is going to be standing there like an idiot.

I think that this little quiz should be sufficient. Bad answers, even Democratic ones, would be allowed. Just please, no blank stares. Let's actually think about this for a bit, and if you don't, you are hereby banned from saying that Congress is stupid, that our politicians are acting childish, or anything else of that nature. Also, if you make an average wage, and you are contemplating buying a new X-Box game on your third and nearly maxed out credit card, all the Congress is going to come over to your house and horse laugh you if you post something about financial responsibility on any social media.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can Sin Be Cured?

If I had a platform to teach evangelicals about sin, the first thing that I would tell them is that sin is not a disease. At least, it is not like a virus or a bacterial infection. Unfortunately, it appears that this is how we tend to think of sin, and even more unfortunate is the tendency to think that sin can be 'cured' here by prayer, piety, or will power.

This type of thinking is detrimental to Christians, especially people young in the faith who do not know any better. The immature tend to think of sin in terms of things we do: like cussing, looking at pornography, sleeping with one's girlfriend, or drinking too much beer on the weekend. The cure for these 'sins' then, is to simply stop doing what you used to do that the Bible calls sinful. Thus, the young Christian thinks that he is becoming better by stopping his or her sinful behavior, and because of this, they may declare that they have been cured.

In the zeal that comes from first understanding the gospel of Christ, one's resolve to be obedient can indeed squash down old sinful impulses. The problem comes when those old impulses arise again. The believer may begin to think that something is wrong with them, which is correct, but they may blame it on the wrong thing. They may think that God has suddenly abandoned them or that they have become less faithful. Neither may be the case. They may simply be learning what having a sin-nature really means.

If sin were to be compared with a disease, it would have to be compared with a genetic one that is currently incurable but is treatable. Let's take high blood pressure as an example. High blood pressure can be genetic, and the effects of high blood pressure can be aggravated by poor eating and exercise. In the case of conversion, a young believer begins to 'live healthy', forsaking harmful behaviors of the past, and so the symptoms of sin lessen. Over the course of time they find, despite their good diet and exercise, they are still having high blood pressure. The only way to treat this is by medicine. In our case, the medicine is grace.

I worry when people begin to say that homosexuality and other sins may be 'cured' by prayer or some other form of piety. This is tantamount to saying that lust may be cured. Our sin is an inherited disposition. It is no simple disease. The symptoms of sin will manifest despite the fact that the Christian is living faithfully. God allows these impulses to continue so that we will learn to take our medicine, that is the grace that is offered us through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Le Tour de France 2011

I am a flag-waving fan boy for the Tour de France. I confess it. I actually record each stage and watch each one from nearly start to finish. I know that most people would probably find this more boring than golf, or NASCAR, or baseball, or watching paint dry. I don't care, really. This race rivets me.

The Tour starts on July the 2nd, and by the time it is finished on July 24th, the riders have covered about 2,131 miles. They cross mountain ranges and vast stretches of countryside on their journey to Paris. After all of those miles of racing, this years winner managed to beat out his closest rival by only 1 minute and 30 seconds. Can you imagine racing a guy for that many days, over the mountains, through the valley, over the rivers and through the woods, only to have him beat you at the end by less than two minutes? After over 2,000 grueling miles, Andy Schleck lost the Tour de France to Cadel Evans by less time than it took me to write this paragraph.

So why do I love it so? For one thing, I love to ride my bike. I have a road bike that was Tour worthy in 2009. I have logged a 1,000 miles or so on it since I won it, oddly enough, watching the Tour de France with friends. I have climbed little mountains on it, rode the flats, and watched my friends ride away from me when I didn't have the strength to keep up. I have run out of gas as little rises in the road have kicked my tail, and I have felt the pride of climbing a steep incline without having to get off the bike and push...even if that option would have been faster.

So I love to watch it because I understand the sport. I love to watch it because these guys astound me. I love to watch it for the races within the race: the battle for the green jersey for the sprinters, the battle for the white jersey for the best young rider, the battle for the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains, and of course, love the drama of watching the guys battle for the coveted yellow jersey, the jersey that signifies the overall leader.

All of these are good reasons for me to enjoy the Tour de France. But they aren't the real reason why I love the Tour. I remember my first real bicycle. It was a Pittsburgh Steeler dirtbike that I got for Christmas one year. That bike meant freedom to me as a little lad of maybe 6. Back in those days, parents were a little less paranoid than they are now, so I could basically hop on that bike and go where ever I liked. That bike meant adventure. It meant trips to the gas station to buy a Dr. Pepper, some baseball cards, and a pack of gum. I also remember the day I got up and headed to the garage to find my bike gone. Some jerk stole it right out from under our car port. If I ever get my hands on that guy...

So that's why I love the Tour. Deep down, I just like the adventure of it. The idea that a guy can hop on his bike with his buddies and ride all over Europe getting chewing gum and Dr. Peppers, and while they are on their way, a million people stop by to cheer for them as they fly by them on the way to the Champs Elysees.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Theology of Disliking MMA and Enrolling My Son in Karate

Occasionally, I will read about some pastor extolling the virtue and manliness of cage fighting. If you think that getting into a cage with another man with the goal of beating him into unconsciousness or submission for sport is manly, I think that you and I have different ideas about manhood. I am truly concerned about the sort of hyper-manliness that is rolling east from Seattle these days, because I think it is ridiculous, unmanly, and fleshly. I think that it doesn't take the imago dei seriously enough, and while I will defer settling the matter in the Thunder Dome, I will enter the more civil arena of the blogosphere.

Before you read my two cents on the matter, you ought to go and read The Confessions of a Cage Fighter. It is one of the better reflections on the subject of MMA that I have ever read, and the fact that the writer used to be a MMA fighter helps the street cred of the article. It is actually the best take-down of Mark Driscoll style manhood that I have read to date.

Now that I have laid out my disdain for the sport of MMA, let me try and establish my manhood credentials so manly men will continue to hear me out. I spent six years in the military, the Army National Guard to be exact, I have taken self-defense courses, I have engaged in fisticuffs, I can grow a garden, I like to shoot and eat wild game, and I have a wife and two children. There, I'm sort of manly. I also want my son to be manly, and so I let him enroll in karate at six years old. The point of this article is to square that with my dislike of MMA as a sport.

I agree with Mark Driscoll about many aspects of manliness. One, I do believe that the responsibility for protection is a manly art. I want my son to be able to defend his sister if he needs to, and if that means punching someone in the jaw, then he needs to be able to do that. I am not raising a total pacifist; I just do not want to raise a man who beats other men for sport.

I would allow my son to train in the mixed martial arts. I would allow him to get into a ring with another fellow in order to train and spar. I have done this myself. But I have never gotten into a ring or onto a mat where the over-riding purpose was to beat the other fellow into submission. Rather, it has always been to learn the arts of defense and offense should force become necessary. This is a key difference from the goal of a cage match.

If any of my close friends wanted to take a self-defense course with me, I would get into the ring or onto the mat with them and learn from them or from our coach. I would not, however, aim to do them any harm. They may get injured, I may get injured, but that is not the goal. The goal is to learn, not to harm, and that is the difference between MMA as a sport and as a discipline of defense. A soldier trains to fire his weapon accurately in the hopes that he will never have to fire it at another person. A gladiator learns to use the sword in the hopes that he can run his opponent through in the arena. A soldier can be a man whose heart loves peace. A gladiator is a man whose heart is full of murder.

So go and read that article that the Cage Fighter wrote, and think long and hard about why MMA is becoming a popular, even accepted past-time in the church. And yes, I am willing to throw boxing under the bus as a sport for the same reasons listed above.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Debt Ceilings, Politics, and Stuff

I'm a little irked at what is going on in Washington D.C. right now. I'm irked because the truth about the economy, jobs, and American debt is being hidden behind a rhetoric meant to make us afraid. It seems, dear American, that the current strategy of the Republican party might be to scare us into voting Republican next round.

I find this disconcerting. First of all, I'm probably going to vote Republican anyway. If not that, then I'll vote independent. My reason being that I am a financial conservative and an ethical conservative, and at least the Republicans pretend like that matters to them.

My purpose in writing here is not to go off on a rant, it is to muse about the facts as they are being presented in order to see if a rant is justified. Lately, the Congress has been battling the President over the 'debt-ceiling'. That is, they are fighting on whether or not they can raise it to borrow more money. The simple fact of the matter is that we are spending more money than we are raising in taxes. Our choices, then, seem simple: raise taxes or cut spending or hope for a miraculous economic boom.

Raising taxes is not an option, according to Republicans. I like that because this is what Republicans are for: cut taxes. You will never hear me complain about a tax cut. Ever. The rule of thumb is not to raise taxes in a recession, and it seems that we are in one right now. Plus, any tax raise that is significant to the bottom line must come out of the pocket of the "wealthy". The logic here is that the wealthy are the ones doing the hiring, so if you take away their money, less people get hired. So don't take job-producers money and give it to the government. Argue about that if you like, but at least it makes sense in theory.

So let's move to the sticky issue of the debt-ceiling. This is what really cooks my grits when I think about those pesky facts. Here's one: during the Bush administration, the Congress raised the debt limit...count'em...six times. Did we have all of this grousing back then? Was their the thundercloud of a coming apocalypse hanging over us at that time? I don't remember it if there was. The guy going nuts about this debt ceiling hike this time, Representative Cantor, voted for the increase in the debt ceiling back in the Bush era. Why is it the end of the world now?

Perhaps the politics have changed. I like that, too. Maybe we really do have some fiscal conservatives in Congress now who will do a good job of trimming the budget. (And all of us will feel this, trust me on that. We are all far more dependent than we pretend.) But here's what I don't like: don't act like you are taking the moral high ground on this if you have been part of the problem. (I'm looking at you, Congressman.) Admit that you used to be an economic free-wheeler back in the day, but now enough is enough. Don't operate on a politics of fear, but in truth.

Is that asking too much?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

You Don't Have to Punt God for Science

One of the greatest challenges for the modern Christian is to reconcile the relationship between their faith and science. Certainly, this difficulty is not only felt by Christians, but any religion that has an authority that they view as superior to the natural order. Conflict arises when the data seems to be telling us one thing, while our religion tells us that another thing has occurred. In Christianity, this is most obvious in things like the resurrection of the dead, the age of the earth, and miraculous healings, and the fore-telling of the future.

Here is how the conflict generally begins. For example, let us take the idea of the age of the earth as our example. If we take Moses seriously in Genesis chapter one, then God created this universe in the span of six days. He wrote, "And God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were day one" (Gen. 1:3-5). He put in evening and morning, and he called it day one. Pretty hard not to follow Moses' thinking.

It is scientifically ridiculous to believe that this is possible. This act of creation cannot be duplicated, it cannot be verified as to how it happened, and everything in science indicates that the universe must be billions or trillions of years old, not mere thousands as the Genesis account seems to indicate. If the universe were only thousands of years old, we wouldn't be able to see the stars because the light wouldn't have even reached earth yet! So how is the Christian to reconcile these things.

One thing to do is to punt Genesis One as allegory or poetry. The problem is that everyone knows that this is cheating. Genesis one wasn't written as allegory and it doesn't conform to Hebrew poetry. Moses was writing simple prose, and he was quite serious. Punting is an option for a Christian, but it isn't a very brave or thoughtful one. Much of what the Christian faith teaches is just as scientifically absurd as creation ex nihilo, not least of all the idea that Jesus is fully God, fully man, and that he died, stayed dead for three days, and then resurrected himself. Oh yes, and Jesus did all of this 2,000 years ago in order to save people from the eternal consequences that adultery brings. So really, Christians shouldn't wuss out on Genesis One because they haven't thought through their authority structures with regard to truth, too much is at stake.

If a Christian does go ahead and own Genesis one, then the modern world will look at them incredulously. They seem to be denying the obvious: the universe is 'old', not new. This is, in the end, an appeal to authority, and science is a good authority. It is observable, and it is testable, and it works. It works almost every time.

We can use science to fight disease, determine age, and make a multitude of discoveries about the universe and everything in it. But something God does something unusual, like instantly eradicating cancer, raising someone from the dead, or create an entire universe out of nothing. This is where science will fail. It simply cannot be used to test the veracity of a miracle; it cannot prove a miracle has occurred.

Herein lies the dilemma of the scientist or naturalistic man. The religious man has to decide if he wants to punt on Genesis for the sake of science. The naturalist has to decide if he wants to punt miracles, and ultimately the existence of God, so that science can be his supreme authority.

I do not write about these things merely to convince the naturalist to believe the Bible. I write these things so that both Christians and scientists can understand what is at stake when they discuss these things. This is about miracles, God, and science. The Christian can live with all three. The naturalist cannot.