Misplaced Faith

Vail Columnist Cal Thomas (“My View,” The Vail Daily), motivated me to write a follow-up to my post on Misplaced Worship.

Thomas was apparently motivated by the interest the Democratic Party is showing in nominating Oprah Winfrey for their presidential candidate to run in the next election. He questions why the Democrats would be so desperate for power that they would nominate a celebrity like her, particularly since they have been so critical of our current “celebrity” president. In politics, of course, it’s all about the power, and Thomas states that politicians on both sides of the aisle hold on to their power by typically promoting dependence on government over encouraging self-reliance.

He reminds us that the Puritans and our founding fathers favored self-reliance, and it is self-reliance, not reliance on others, that has made our nation great by encouraging hard work, obtaining a good education, being thrifty and living within one’s means. He maintains that reliance on others encourages envy of others, greed, and an entitlement mentality, and this prevalent mindset in America today is what is holding us back from becoming great again.

Thomas touts the virtue of reliance on self in calling it the parent of many other virtues. He quotes blogger Col Gornam Singh who surmises that “the self-reliant man is patient and persevering. He does not envy others, nor does he think of begging favours of others. He faces his misfortune with a quiet courage. Therefore (Ralph Waldo) Emerson calls self-reliance ‘the essence of heroism, the first secret of success’. The self-reliant man feels neither fear nor shame to labor with his own hands, if necessary. He is always learning new lessons, gathering valuable experience. His example is an inspiration and his achievement is an example to others. This confidence in himself wins him the confidence of others.”

Thomas makes a good point when he tells us that, as political power increases, our individual power decreases “by way of higher taxes, greater debt, and more regulations on business and individuals.” He really drives the point home that if government could make our life better through our dependence on it, we wouldn’t be in the sad shape we’re in today.

He concludes by saying, “People who look to Washington and Hollywood for deliverance are always disappointed in the end.” He says that this faith is misplaced and will do us no good in the end. Instead of “progressing,” our nation has regressed from its origin. We’ve dug for ourselves a deep hole as a nation, and the only way we can climb out is for our government to encourage its citizens to be more self-reliant, not more dependent on them.

Of course, the problem needs to be recognized before it can be addressed, and I fear it will take a revival or a revolution to put us back on the right track again.

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America’s insidious fault

According to John Adams, America, from its very beginning as an independent nation, showed little appreciation of virtue. He believed his fellow Americans had “never merited the Character of very exalted Virtue.” He hoped that education would serve to mold Americans’ character and inspire their virtues and abilities. Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,  recalls that Adams believed that America was “becoming a society consumed by luxury and vice and fundamentally riven by a struggle between rich and poor, gentlemen and commoners.” He maligned that “Americans were driven by the passions for wealth and superiority as any people in history.” He concluded that “something else (besides education) would be required to save Americans from eventual tyranny and destruction, from the fate of Europe, indeed, from the fate of every people in history.” Adams apparently didn’t know what would be required to get us on the right track, but he did express that ascribing to the beliefs of a Thomas Paine or following any of the French philosophies wouldn’t accomplish the objective.

While John Adams painted as dark a picture of the American people as anyone in history at that time, based on statistics that show a growing wealth gap and the fact that the working middle class has been treading water in their attempt to attain financial security over the past several decades as living expenses continue to rise, his pessimistic opinion of America holds true for us today.  As he observed, “ambition and avarice, not virtue and benevolence, has indeed become, and continues to remain, the image of America.”

So then, assuming most Americans don’t like the way things are today, we need to know what can be done to reverse this destructive trend. Adams didn’t have the answer, but in order to stop a structure from collapsing, we should first look at the condition of its foundation; we must therefore look to what we believe America should stand for to try and find a solution to the obvious dilemma we find ourselves in.

Our foundation as individuals and as a community of individuals (a nation), is our belief system. Our beliefs determine our world view, the way we look at everything, including politics and economics. Biblical Christianity focuses on virtue and benevolence, and Christians who believe what the Bible tells us should understand that the love of money is the root of all evil. Greed is not good, it is a sin.

Government policy should not support and encourage greed in our society. There are those who focus on doing all they can to confiscate the wealth produced by our working class, and based on statistics, the wealth gap between them and the working class is increasing; the trend which Adams said has been with us from the beginning of our nation has become worse just in the last twenty years. If allowed to continue, this trend could destroy our working middle class, and we will become Mexico. Worst of all, it will destroy the founding fathers’ hope that we could be a land of opportunity for all who want to improve their lives and work together to truly make America great.

The Bible also tells us that pride is also a sin, and we are to be humble and reject any feelings of superiority over any other human being. No educational process or occupation should be elevated in prestige over any other. No economic class should be favored over another. We are to practice charity for all and help those who cannot help themselves and insure that no person takes advantage of another and that everyone gets a slice of the pie. This is why Christians such as theologian and author G.K. Chesterton were in favor of an economic system called “distributism,” which enabled every employee to have an ownership interest in what his labor produced.

From my description of what is expected of Bible-believing Christians, it should be obvious that even unbelievers should recognize that, if the Christian moral code was followed and Christian behavior was practiced by all of us to the best of our ability, America would not be in the dilemma we are in today. If those who make our laws and those who lead us would be influenced by biblical virtues and guidance, every American, rich or poor, would have an opportunity to achieve financial security. We would see the narrowing of that wealth gap, and there would not be the divisiveness between the economic classes as there is today. Am I being overly optimistic? I don’t know; but I do know this: We sadly seem to be backing away from the belief system that can most effectively influence us all to behave better.

As most people in our country surmise, Christianity is under attack in America these days. We’re in fact now living in post-Christianity America where the majority of people check the box “other” when asked in surveys what their religion was. Europe has already acquiesced to this phenomenon, and another of Adam’s predictions is turning out be true. We’re following Europe’s bad example in gradually pulling away from the only belief system whose principles can serve to guide us in avoiding the fate Adams described: “Tyranny and destruction.”

At this point, I can’t say what needs to be done legislatively to try and reverse this destructive trend; but I do know that a continuation of government support for the wealthy which is coupled with a support of antagonism towards Christianity is counter-productive.

Actions and Words

Logically, a person should live according to what they claim to believe. If a follower of a particular religion claims to believe in a particular doctrine, then his or her actions must be consistent with that doctrine, or the follower of that religion will most certainly be subject to being labeled a hypocrite. The credibility of the particular religion could also suffer. As John Calvin said, “Even the philosophers rage against and reject those who profess an art that ought to govern one’s life, but who twist that art hypocritically into empty chatter. How much more then should we Christians detest the foolish talk of those who give lip service to the gospel?”

Such Christians whose actions contradict what they claim to believe are called nominal Christians. They demonstrate their knowledge of Christ to be false and offensive when they don’t “put off their old self and be renewed in the spirit of their minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”(Ephesians 4:20-24). John Calvin said that “doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart…We have given priority to doctrine, which contains our religion, since it establishes our salvation. But in order for doctrine to be fruitful to us, it must overflow into our hearts, spread into our daily routines, and truly transform us within.”

Calvin tells us that “philosophers (atheists) expect to find the only correct and orderly treatment of moral philosophy. They, while doing their best to encourage us to be virtuous, have nothing to say except that we should live according to nature. Christians though believe that our nature is inherently sinful, and we must overcome worldly temptations and put on a new heart for Christ which motivates us to live according to His nature. How can we find the power to do this?

Calvin concludes by saying, “The gospel’s power ought to penetrate the innermost affections of the heart, sink down into the soul, and inspire the whole man a hundred times more than the lifeless teachings of the philosophers.” Only when we Christians live our belief do we prove to be good witnesses for the truth. Actions do indeed speak louder than words.

 

 

Misplaced Worship

Dr. Sigmund Freud once stated that every human being must worship something. Most people claim to believe in God, but recent surveys indicate that now the majority of people who claim to be Christians don’t actually worship God by attending church. Matt Smethurst, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition, gives us a reason why he believes this has happened over the past sixty years or so. He concludes that many who say they are Christian simply don’t understand what Scripture tells us about God’s sovereignty and His worthiness to be worshiped. They have been led to misplace their worship.

In an article entitled What Are We Afraid Of? in this month’s issue of Tabletalk magazine, Smethurst explains that many people in this postmodern age ‘have dislodged God and replaced Him with a mirror…Our culture’s reigning authorities have shifted, with the sovereignty of science bowing to the sovereignty of the self.” Christians familiar with the Bible should recognize this reality and resist postmodernism’s siren call, just as Adam and Eve should have resisted taking Satan up on his promise to make them God.

So then, if people aren’t worshiping the God of Scripture, who or what are they worshiping? Smethurst quotes the late American novelist David Foster Wallace in a commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. “The compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, and you will end up feeling like a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is they are unconscious. They are default settings.”

Smethurst warns that when one worships anyone or anything other than the God of Scripture, their “disordered doxology” will result in fears over poverty and aging, weakness and exposure and many other threats too numerous to list in this post. “Without God as a gravitational center, everything spins off in a thousand directions. Such is the insanity of idolatry. No wonder life feels so chaotic, so exhausting.”

The Christian who trusts his Bible as God’s Word understands that we can trust only in Him to be faithful to us. “He has never failed one of His own.” He alone is worthy of our worship.

Trickle Down Economics

“Trickle down economics” is a term used to justify tax breaks for the rich. The theory is that when the wealthy receive a reduction in their income tax, they will spend and invest that savings. The overall economy will benefit, and the working middle class will somehow benefit indirectly through that money “trickling down” to them in some way. Yes, capitalists will get the initial break, but the theory is that ordinary workers will become more productive when equipped with more capital. They’ll become more valuable to their employers and will get paid more. Labor will also directly benefit through cutting taxes on the rich. Cutting income taxes on rich entrepreneurs so they keep more of what they earn will induce them to work harder, invent more, start more companies, and hire more employees. That’s the theory anyway, and, in their attempt to discredit this theory, liberals have been relatively successful in creating dissatisfaction in the working middle class (according to the most recent surveys). This they know they must do to regain control of our government in the future.

What do the Republicans have to say in defending the tax cuts for the rich? Well, it seems they try and justify tax cuts for the rich by pointing to how trickle-down economics once worked to benefit all Americans during the Reagan years and how it will work again this time around. When asked whether they still believe in trickle-down economics, Secretary of State Steven Mnuchin said “Uh, uh, I do.” So then, according to Mnuchin, Republicans who passed this bill expect trickle down economics to work.

So, what does it take for the trickle-down economic system to function the way it’s supposed to perform? Economists tell us that for trickle-down to work best, it takes a limited capacity which will constrain the production of commodities; marginal investment which has been stimulated by the tax cuts and flows into capacity; increased capacity is directed toward the production of commodities; the creation of excess capacity exerts downward pressure on prices; lower prices on commodities can stimulate marginal demand; increased commodity production requires additional employment; and economic stimulus is sufficient to offset the cost of tax cuts. Considering the fact that the tax cuts on the rich alone will result in over billions of dollars of lost revenue, this last condition is what the Republicans are counting on to happen so that the deficit won’t spiral out of control.

It would take an economist to thoroughly understand these reasons I just listed, and most folks in the working middle class aren’t well versed in this discipline; but it doesn’t take an economist to see that the rich are also receiving a substantial tax cut in this new law, and the majority of Americans don’t believe the rich need such a break even if somehow some of it does trickle down to them.

Recent surveys support the fact that indeed, the majority of working middle class Americans aren’t buying the trickle-down theory. They have  expressed disappointment over this new tax law despite the fact their tax burden has been substantially reduced. Could it be possible that they have reached the same conclusion the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center has reached: The new tax law gives the biggest benefits to people just below the top one percent of incomes in 2019 and 2015 (benefits being measured as the percentage change in each group’s after tax income)?

Peter Coy recently wrote an article for Bloomberg Business Week entitled “Trickle, Shmickle.” Based on the title, we can assume he’s not in favor of trickle down economics and we would be right. Coy does say though that “just because trickle-down economics is easy to make fun of doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fairness, one must seriously consider the possibility (italics mine) that society as a whole will benefit from a tax policy that seems tailor-made to benefit the rich.” We know that economics isn’t an exact science like biology so, sure, there’s always that possibility. After all, it seemed to work for the Reagan tax cuts. Back then, we called it “Supply-side economics.”

But that was then, and this is now. Back then we were just coming off of double digit inflation, and some economists believe trickle-down works best in such an environment. Now of course we are in a low inflation economic environment. Will it work the way it did in the Reagan years?

Coy doesn’t believe trickle-down will work this way in these times. He refers to the new tax  law provisions for businesses as an example to support his conclusion. He points out that theoretically “the case for trickle-down in the U.S. is that companies would love to expand their businesses but are holding back because they don’t want to have to pay so much in taxes.” Are businesses planning on expanding now that the tax proposal has become law? Will trickle-down even be given a chance to begin to work the way the theory is supposed to work?

One particular surveys says it won’t be given that chance. The Bank America Merrill Lynch survey this year asked companies what they would do if they were allowed to repatriate foreign-held profit at a reduced tax rate. Capital spending came in fourth, behind debt repayment, share repurchase, and mergers and acquisitions.” Apparently, testing whether trickle-down will work or not will just have to wait awhile for us to see if it works this time around.

Regardless, it’s obvious a person doesn’t need to be an economist to see that something’s wrong with the trickle-down economics theory. Coy states that if it were true, the wealth gap would be self limiting. “As soon as the rich started getting richer, wealth would cascade like the Niagara down to the benighted lower classes. Instead, the gap between rich and poor keeps growing.” It is this growing gap that liberals have also exploited to create division and dissatisfaction in the rank of file of the working middle class.

Will this dissatisfaction disappear when these workers receive their first pay check under the new tax law? It remains to be seen whether their approval of a higher take-home pay will neutralize their unease over the wealth getting even more of a break. If the working middle class remains dissatisfied, and that dissatisfaction motivates them to abandon the Republican Party in the next election, well then, America will be back on track to becoming more socialized, surely the worse of the two evils. Socialism doesn’t cure the wealth gap, it increases it; but that subject’s best covered in reading what Wallace Garneau has to say about this in his post on his website, The Daily Libertarian.

So then, my point is that throwing the Republicans out of Congress for giving the wealthy a tax break will be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. If this happens, the Republican Party will have squandered a big opportunity to keep the working middle class happy campers; and, if they lose them, it will be a long time before they get them back again. The opposition party is keeping their fingers crossed.

 

Worldview and Politics

As I’ve pointed out several times in The Cabana Chronicles series of books, our worldview determines how we think about politics. In my first book and my follow-up The Religions of Secular Humanism and Christianity, I pointed out that secular humanists focus on man saving himself from destruction. They believe that we can attain world peace by going soft and making nice to other nations, even rogue nations like Iran. Christians understand man’s inherent sin always trips us up in attaining such an admirable objective, and we also know man can’t be trusted.  Historically, Iran’s track record hasn’t inspired anyone to trust them.

Although he may have confessed to being a Christian, through his words and deeds, President Barack Obama indicated that he leans more towards the belief system of secular humanist. In one of their stated objectives in their Manifesto, secular humanists state their goal is global unification to attain world peace. They are big backers of the United Nations. Coddling up to other nations like Iran is one way of trying to achieve that objective, and that is exactly what Obama did in ramming through his Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.

According to Steve Forbes in his editorial in Forbes magazine, “This agreement put Iran on a glide path to legally developing nuclear weapons in less than a decade. In effect, it gave a free hand to develop the ballistic missiles that could deliver those weapons of annihilation to the U.S., not to mention to Europe and to Iran’s neighbors in the Mideast, principally Israel. So poor a negotiator was the former president that he didn’t insist on such conditions as Iran’s ceasing its massive support of terrorism, its egregious human rights abuses and its imperialistic ambitions to make Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq into visual satraps of Tehran and to turn Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the gulf oil countries into satellites.” No wonder historians have already weighed in on rating Obama very weak on foreign policy.

Right now many liberals, many of whom confess to be secular humanists, are criticizing President Trump for refusing to rectify Iran’s compliance with Obama’s flawed deal, and, most recently, have been very critical of him stirring up tensions in the Middle East by revealing his intent to make Jerusalem the capitol of Israel. The reality is that tension among these nations is a way of life for them and has been that way for many, many, many years. In our own times, American presidents have been trying to reconcile Arabs with Jews and everyone else in the world for decades to no avail.

So then, the objective of world peace is a pipe dream, and instead we need to be focused on stopping Iran from further development of nuclear missiles. Europe should obviously be supporting us in this effort because they have more to lose than we do if things get out of hand. As the old Kingston Trio song (“The Merry Minuet”) goes, “and we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.”

As Forbes concludes, we need to either “fix” the Iran nuclear deal or “nix it.” “A nuclear-armed, religiously fanatic and ambitious Iran is a far greater long-term threat than North Korea.” Whether one likes Trump or not, it’s obvious we now have a president who understands the enemy’s motives and understands what must be done to keep him in check.  So, what’s the plan, Stan?

Forbes supports the U.S. Treasury Department’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (which controls one third of their economy) as a terrorist entity which enables us to impose hurtful sanctions on Iran. “We must also follow through and impose crippling sanctions on Hezbollah (which reported has 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel). There are other measures, such as no-fly zones in Syria, that would help thwart Iranian imperialist ambitions.” None of these actions of course would be taken if Barack Obama were president. A person’s world view isn’t just an opinion, it can have disastrous affects on humanity if it’s an incorrect one.  I believe we now have a president who will take these actions Forbe’s recommends. One of the main purposes of government is to protect its citizens. I believe we finally have a man in office who understands that mandate.

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Rights

How each of the major monotheistic religions treats the subject of women’s rights is a controversial subject. Dr. Tim Witmer, author of several books on the subject, tells us that there is probably more misunderstanding about the husband wife relationship than any other in our society. Christianity is unique among the world’s monotheisms in explaining “the dignity that is afforded to the feminine gender” and the Bible gives us clear guidance on the authority within the family. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in particular, articulately explains the roles of wives and husbands.  Islam and its American version, Mormonism, misinterpret Paul’s directive to support their treatment of women as second-class citizens. Let’s take a look at what Paul said and interpret what he really means.

Ephesians 5:22-24 states that husbands are the head of their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.  At first glance this seems to support how wives are treated in the Islamic culture; but, when we understand that the verse is telling us that husbands are to be the head of the family as Christ is the head of the church, and that, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands, we see that it is Jesus Christ who actually sets the standard of the equality in how wives are to treat husbands and husbands are to treat their wives. Husbands and wives have an obligation to the Lord. Both have an obligation to submit to God’s plan for order in the family.

Dr. Witmer explains that “it is the sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus Christ” that sets the standard. Christianity fully supports the equality of women and men. Christ was considered equal to God even though he understood his role and purpose was to submit to the Father in fulfill God’s plan of salvation for his chosen people. “The submission of the wife to the husband is an expression of her submission to Christ. This does not mean ‘as part of your obligation to the Lord.'”

It should be noted that husbands have obligations too. In fact, Paul addresses 40 words to how wives are to act and 115 words on how husbands are to act. Husbands have an obligation to the Lord too. They are to provide loving leadership as they strive to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. “A husband’s primary concern should be that his wife and children are encouraged in their growth in Jesus. Only then will our children see in their parents the reality of the gospel. Only then, according to God’s intended plan, will our marriages relate the mystery of the relationship between Christ and His church.”