Politics


From Jesus Radicals (who I don’t wholly endorse but do like):

All governments operate on a model of ruling over people. But the Gospels claim that Christians should model Jesus’ suffering servanthood. These are fundamentally incompatible outlooks. Anarchism, at its best, is a commitment to systematically critiquing all structures that place one person or group in a position to dominate others or creation. So anarchism, as a political philosophy holds some promise for Christians because the two share a commitment to critiquing the power structures and working towards a more level playing field.

Because the term “anarchy” has recently worked its way back into political news reporting — and its applications haven’t been particularly flattering — I feel I should clarify what I mean when I use the term. Perhaps this is classic pseudo-postmodernism, defining a word to make it mean what I want it to mean, but I want to be met on my terms, not someone else’s pre-suppositions.

So, with that in mind, when I talk about being an anarchist, I don’t mean that I advocate the wild-eyed throwing of Molotov cocktails, or even of lawlessness. What I mean is that I do not believe that, just by the virtue of its existence, I necessarily owe a political system — even a very noble political system — my allegiance; that is, I am not obligated to unflinching loyalty to a given government or system of government just because I was born under it. People generally agree with this when you apply it to Communism, but when you point that same gun at post-liberal western democracies, you’re a traitor. Nevermind that post-liberal western democracies have gotten really efficient at generating the illusion of freedom without granting it.

As a Christian, I am obligated to obey the lawful laws of the land, but I cannot genuflect to Caesar while muttering about just following orders. My loyalties lie with a King and his kingdom, and — as institutions go — to the Church.I suppose this makes me more of a monarchist than an anarchist.

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I suppose that I should be thinking about more important things, like the fact that it is Holy Week or that my coffee was a little burned this morning (differing levels of importance, of course), but I can’t stop thinking about this government health care reform fiasco, either for the monster that it actually is or for the monster it is being represented as by the right.

That’s mostly because of my Facebook feed. It’s been almost two weeks now, and still I see multiple snarky comments about it every day. And, I suppose, it deserves a good deal of snark addressed in its general direction, though the kind of snark I would address at it and most of what I have seen are completely different beasts. Most of the comments I have seen have said something to the effect of “Congress and the President have had the gall to take away orrr Got-Gibin’ freeeeeeeeeeeeeedum! Thiiiiiiiiink about tha’ SOLDIERS!”

The irony of all of this is that many of these folks decrying our socialist future and supposed loss of freedom are the same ones who, not too long ago, were adamant defenders of warrant-less wiretaps, the truly freedom-squelching PATRIOT act and the Bush administration’s executive orders that allowed the gummunt to detain people indefinitely without charges for being “suspicious.” And these are just obvious examples.

Of course the health care reform package is a dragon that needs to be slain…but so is most of our political system. Most people do not realize just how detailed, and how deep, the regulation goes.

Here’s an example: a couple of years ago, the extended family, with which we share our homesite, had a milk cow. She gave a lot of milk, so much so that three families couldn’t consume all of it. It filled our refrigerators. We froze it. Finally, we were forced to start giving it away by the gallons. We had to give it away because we could not legally sell it.

Turns out, you’ve got to have a permit to sell raw milk, even if the people buying it come to your house and watch you pasteurize it (which we did). You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.

Farmer Joel Salatin, who is kind of one of my heroes, has an example: 

I want to dress my beef and pork on the farm where I’ve coddled and raised it. But zoning laws prohibit slaughterhouses on agricultural land. For crying out loud, what makes more holistic sense than to put abattoirs where the animals are? But no, in the wisdom of Western disconnected thinking, abattoirs are massive centralized facilities visited daily by a steady stream of tractor trailers and illegal alien workers. But what about dressing a couple of animals a year in the backyard? How can that be compared to a ConAgra or Tyson facility? In the eyes of the government, the two are one and the same. Every T-bone steak has to be wrapped in a half-million dollar facility so that it can be sold to your neighbor. The fact that I can do it on my own farm more cleanly, more responsibly, more humanely, more efficiently, and in a more environmentally friendly manner doesn’t matter to the government agents who walk around with big badges on their jackets and wheelbarrow-sized regulations tucked under their arms.  

Or this:

In the disconnected mind of modem America, a farm is a production unit for commodities — nothing more and nothing less. Because our land is zoned as agricultural, we cannot charge school kids for a tour of the farm because that puts us in the category of “Theme Park.” Anyone paying for infotainment creates “Farmadisney,” a strict no-no in agricultural zones.

You can read the rest of the article, titled “Everything I want to do is Illegalhere. Or buy the book here .

I realize all of these examples are agriculture related, but that’s where my interests lie these days. The deep piles of regulations reach into every aspect of your life. And so, that’s why — even though I do oppose further encroachment by the gummunt — you’re not going to hear me ranting too much about losing freedom.

We haven’t been free for a long, long time.

If I may have the audacity to posit this (and I am really just repeating what I have heard elsewhere), the only real answer to America’s runaway government is a good dose of repentance. Not thinking too hard about Romans 13 at the moment, but taking a look at the Old Testament track record for Israel, one thing is pretty clear — leadership can be a blessing or a punishment, and straying too far from godly precepts means that you just might be led by the Assyrians for a while.

Our problems are less grounded in the reality of politicians who are determined to give us mandatory insurance coverage or trillion-dollar deficits than they are in the fact that we are a faithless people, and we have chosen a faithless representation…and that includes plenty of self-identifying conservative types who talk a good game while in their home districts but can’t in practice keep their sticky fingers out of the money pot or stick to their culture war guns beyond platitudes.

I am not one who buys the revisionist idea that America was founded as or ever was — in any real sense — a Christian nation, and I think our current political situation is the end sum of 200 years of taking the Lord’s name in vain when convenient.

There are many things we cannot reverse without massive, violent social upheaval, but we can start by acknowledging that God is greater than any nation or system of government, and that our nation is on life support only by His great grace. A good deal of the American electorate, of which Christians are a significant portion, are guilty of thinking switching politicians will save us, but real salvation — even in a temporal sense — does not lie with any man or electoral mechanism. Until America takes a backseat to the Gospel in the hearts and lives of Christians (and while many will protest this is the case, experience and just having my eyes open tells me otherwise), America never will be great.

And yes, America does need to repent of its social sins, from its unjust wars to the fact that we have neglected the poor, the hungry, the widow and orphan, and the fact that — while doing so with bald-faced gall — we have turned to the government to take care of the problem.

But all of this is to say that, looking back at the history of Israel, a good dose of sincere repentance did end up in restoration.

And yes, I do have faith that God is bigger than our economy, or the Senate, or the judiciary, or our failing, flat-broke empire.

Now that I have somewhat belatedly seen the documentary Jesus Camp, which has been quite the rage amongst disillusioned evangelicals, I have a few thoughts.

Before we go on, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it:

First things first, though. Let’s be honest: this thing was a hit piece, pure and simple, so of course, when they showed the people who homeschool their children, they’re going to show them discussing how to disprove global warming and how six-day creationism is the only logical option, and of course they’re going to use clips of Becky Fischer saying that she wants children to be radicals for Jesus, and that children are her number one targets because they are most moldable.

But those people aren’t representative of all Christian homeschoolers (heck, the original American homeschoolers, the Amish and the Mennonites, are nothing like those people), and the clips of Becky using battle talk have an Evangelical context that, frankly, wasn’t explored. Just because you hear something one way doesn’t mean it was intended that way. And no matter how you want to interpret it, and there are plenty of ways you can, Becky didn’t mean that she wanted the children to strap on dynamite packs to blow up busses.

With this in mind, I have a distinct feeling that while Becky may have known what was going on, the families followed in the documentary were probably not quite aware of how they would be portrayed. In fact, I think they were probably blindsided at their first screening.

On a different note, the clips of Air America host Mike Papantonio as the supposed voice of reason are both a poignant but very deliberate choice. He is supposed to represent reasonable non-evangelicals, but — even though I found myself in agreement with him more than once — in reality he’s no more an authority than a smartass kid in a dorm room (or a blogger).

That said, there were plenty of things to find disturbing about it, and a lot of why I keep an arms length from a lot of what evangelicals do.

Particularly disturbing was the fact that, while the name of Jesus was mentioned, there was never a clear presentation of the Gospel during the entire camp, at least during the parts of film that made the cut. Lots of talk about changing the world, but no Gospel.

There was loads of wonky Pentecostal-y religious stuff, but more unnerving to me was the sense of destiny the both the children and Becky seemed to have (all the talk of “this chosen generation,” etc.), and how much they linked it to America, and American politics. There was a strong, strong mix of false civic religion in with…whatever brand of Christianity they were practicing.

Here’s an example:

And that played right into the filmmakers agenda. The last 15 minutes of the movie was bits of news clips about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation interspersed with clips of culture war sermons, as if to say, “It’s these people’s fault.” Sigh.

Concluding thoughts:

I’m not sure why the raves about this movie, from one side or the other. Evangelicals have been known to have a few goofy religious practices, and you’d have to be blind to think they aren’t politically activated, and that they have blended and confused politics and religion.

And yes, they have given plenty of ammunition to the firing squad.

But the people featured in this documentary are not representative of the evangelicals I know, and I live in the Bible belt where I have a pretty good chance that, if I  hunked a rock into a crowd, it would just as likely hit someone who would rather say, “Praise the Lord,” instead of cuss you for it. The people I know, while they love Fox News and think Barack Obama is probably the Antichrist and Nancy Pelosi is the Whore of Babylon, are not Becky Fischer. Nowhere close.

So, as with all polemical documentaries of this sort, what you are going to take away from it is going to depend on three things — perspective, perspective, perspective.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians realize that the Bible is more than a book of good advice, that it is the book of the Church and cannot be rightfully separated from her. You hear lots of polemics from conservatives about the Bible being inspired, inerrant, infallible, but then you hear about this:

http://conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible_Project

Once you separate the Bible from its context as the book of the Church, you get goofy ideological narratives about it. The stated goals of the project start out innocently enough:

0.Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

0.Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

0.Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]

I have no problems with these, depending on how you define “liberal bias,” though gender neutrality doesn’t really bother me and I think translations that are accessible to those who are only barely functionally literate are a good thing.

But then follow the doozies:

0.Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.

Using inaccurate “conservative” terms is just as inaccurate as inaccurate “liberal” terms. Besides, there’s already a conservative version that does just that — it’s called the ESV.

Also, I wasn’t aware that the meaning of “miracle” had changed; and what are they going to call Jesus, the Prince of Not-What-You-Think-When-You-Say-Peace?

0.Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census

See my previous comments. I can’t see why include this except for some kind of sneaky political motive that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.

0.Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.

I don’t really know what they mean by “the logic of Hell.”

0.Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning

See my comment earlier about the Bible being a book full of good advice.

I wonder if they realize that the so-called economic parables were not meant to be about economics, but about stewardship. But then again, most parables are actually about salvation. Of course, expressing them in their “full free-market meaning…” sounds suspiciously like what they’re accusing liberals of doing — corrupting the biblical text for political purposes.

Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

Nevermind that textual criticism is traditionally a liberal field, I wonder how these folks came to the conclusion that they know what is Scripture in opposition to the testimony of the Church throughout the ages. And I’m not sure how the adulteress story is particularly liberal. Grace?

0.Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels

Don’t really know what they mean here. Like at all.

Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.” 

How about preferring accuracy? As literal as possible, as free as necessary? New Bible translations don’t bother me, but this won’t be a scholarly work — it’ll be a mutilation.

I self-identify as “conservative,” but I read about this and am disgusted and angered.

In Mississippi, there is a ballot petition going around under the name of Personhood Mississippi.

Basically, the voters hope to put it to a referendum and amend the state constitution to define human life as beginning at fertilization and give full legal rights to — I guess — zygotes, embryos and fetuses.

I realize that this is an effort to effectively make abortion illegal in Mississippi, and I believe that induced abortion at any stage is a grave evil.

Something about defining humanity through a ballot initiative, however, rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe it’s because it gives too much power to the god of state. It is no longer, “God says this is life,” but rather, “Mississippi says this is life.”

Then — and this is my real concern — there’s precedent.

If a group of voters can constitutionally define “life” one way, what’s to stop a mobilized group that wants to define it a different way from doing the same thing? At that point, it’s no longer judicial activism legislating evil, but the pure will of the people — 50 percent plus one.

Slippery slope may be considered a logical fallacy, but I happen to believe in it.

EDIT: Apparently, the Diocese of Jackson has released a statement  not endorsing the petition because the bishop thinks it might hinder national efforts to end abortion.

Recently, a co-worker asked me to settle a political debate: should the government have the right to retroactively add stipulations on how a company given bailout funds can spend those bailout funds?

My gut instinct was no, but only because government regulators would step in and have a howling fit if banks wanted to add stipulations to loans to citizens after the papers had already been signed. Consistency, you know.

Actually, my gut instinct was to howl that the companies should give the money back and face the music with their stockholders. That should be the cold hard reality of this beast we call capitalism.

Aside from the bailouts being idiotic economics, you can’t claim to have an aim of keeping capitalism alive by acting like a fascist. That’s right — I’ve invoked the F-bomb, but choosing to save some failing banks instead of all failing banks is fascism, not socialism. Look it up — it’s called cartelism, and it’s one of the chief means a fascist government uses to exert control over the economy. They favor one business over another, rendering competition pointless.

The Obama administration, I think, will exploit the ability to retroactively add stipulations. But before Republicans get too giddy about the ability to legitimately call the Obama administration fascists, they need to remember that it was the Bush administration that pushed the bailouts.

But all of this has had me thinking about what a Christian economic worldview should be. Capitalism is basically godless, and Socialism is a response that believes God’s abundance is not enough. Capitalism’s underlying philosophy is, “By my hands, I succeed, and by my hands, I fail;” Socialism says, “I will be God for you.”

Capitalism at its logical extreme believes that the individual can become God, and thus has devastating economic consequences when it is revealed that Wall Street is not only not God, but in its effort to become so has convinced the entire world economy to move into a creative but nuclear house of cards that requires Wall Street to be the chief cornerstone. Oops.

Socialism always fails because it believes that it can build the government until it reaches to the heavens, and then they will be like gods. But God didn’t let the builders at Babel succeed, either.

So I guess my personal economics are shaped by the Jubilee economics of the Old Testament (you can’t exploit someone without debt), but held in the context of the reality of the Church. Despite what modern polemicists may say, the Church in Acts 4 wasn’t a commune, but it sure wasn’t capitalism.

Applying that is the hard part, I guess.

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