Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another path in the dark

The evidence now seems clear that, at least sometimes, methods like waterboarding and sleeplessness are effective for gaining useful information. Walter Pincus in the Washington Post describes the effect of such methods on Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the planner of the September 11 attacks, and observes:
.... The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate. ....

Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda's strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in "considerable detail the traits and profiles" that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States. .... [more]

Those who oppose the use of such methods [at least those with whom I am acquainted] do so because they find them morally unacceptable. It makes no difference to them whether these methods gain useful information. Waterboarding [or sleeplessness, or death threats, or ...] is torture. Torture is immoral and that settles the question. The United States should not be implicated in torture.

The Pincus article caused Richard Fernandez to reflect on the nature of interrogation:
When a man “breaks” under interrogation, he does more than blurt out secrets. The process truly breaks something inside him; changes something forever. The mystery is what. It isn’t morals: Mohammed’s transition from the man who boasted of decapitating Daniel Pearl to a hunter of his former associates still leaves a man who deals in violence and death. Breaking didn’t turn KSM into Gandhi; it didn’t convert him into a man you’d like to invite to dinner. Like others who have switched sides — double agents or police informers — betrayal is a lateral move within the same business.

The real key to breaking someone is to make him do something that will forever estrange him from his former life; to put him beyond the pale of forgiveness; to create such a change in attitude that he can never go back to his fold. It wasn’t the duress that broke KSM, it was what he did and said and thought under duress that brought him to the other side. He crossed some line which made him realize he could never come back into the Brotherhood. And he knows that he crossed it himself. Where did it leave him? In the night, facing some other way. Among the damned, betrayal is another pathway in the dark. But that’s where the damned like to live; amid things that are already broken. Real psychological conversion is something beyond the power of waterboarding to achieve, but interrogators are not in the business of offering salvation. They are in the profession of allowing vile men to reinvent themselves, to live for just a moment more on Raskolnikov’s ledge. “Where is it I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once!” If intelligence agencies had a pill that would turn a fanatical monster into Mother Teresa, they would be foolish to use it. Duress isn’t meant to shatter a man; it’s sole purpose is to leave all the fanatic’s vile cunning intact, only to break that thing which keeps him working for the other side. .... [more]

How a Detainee Became An Asset - washingtonpost.com, Belmont Club » The last brother

Deciding who gets care and who doesn't

In "Confessions of a Health Care Rationer," Dr. Eric Chevlen explains how health care rationing works in the real world. If you are the least bit interested in the subject [and who can avoid being so these days], his description of the alternatives will be helpful. Read it all here. I find convincing his argument for explicit rather than implicit rationing [rationing in some form, he argues, is inevitable].
.... All modern societies ration health care. A wise society considers the options and chooses a method of doing so which best conforms to its values and capabilities. Thus we come to the terrible question we would so very much like to avoid: How shall we ration health care? How shall we explicitly ration it? So noxious a question is this, so offensive in its tacit assumptions and implications, that most politicians and wishful thinkers will deny that we need to address it at all. They will argue that the fundamental problem is one of distribution, not one of unmeetable demand. They will argue, with more enthusiasm than evidence, that an emphasis on preventive care would substantially reduce aggregate demand. Some will say we must reduce the role of government; others will argue that we should augment it. If only we will adopt their plan—they’ll say—waste, fraud, and abuse will be abolished. There will be chicken—or at least chicken soup—in every pot, and a vaccine in every arm. People love honesty, but they hate the truth. To frankly acknowledge and address the ineluctable reality of healthcare rationing is not merely to touch the proverbial third rail of American politics; it is to lie across the tracks in front of the onrushing train. ....

While the application of any standard of explicit rationing must be equitable, at heart the criteria themselves cannot escape some element of arbitrariness. Whether the criteria are age of the patient, life expectancy with or without treatment, cost of the treatment, rigor of evidence, or simply public clamor—rationing everywhere and always means that someone is denied health care which he believes is necessary for his wellbeing and to which he feels entitled.

Imperfect as it is, using the criterion of medical necessity based on medical evidence is likely the most just and practical way of performing the unavoidable and unpleasant task of rationing health care. Implicit rationing is dishonest and procrustean, bluntly mismatching resources and needs. Rationing by age or life expectancy inevitably leads to decision making based on invidious, not to say immoral, comparisons of individual worth. Rationing primarily by cost obviates the fundamental purpose of having health insurance. Rationing by public clamor introduces the injustice of preferential treatment for those with the greatest political clout. The optimist will consider healthcare rationing based on evidence-based medical necessity as the best of all possible ways of doing it; the pessimist will fear that he’s right.

As Congress and the people consider restructuring the American healthcare system, they must keep in mind that rationing health care may not be undeniable, but it is unavoidable. To claim that Congress will devise a new federal healthcare plan that will not involve rationing is like claiming that it will invent a triangle that doesn’t have three sides. Currently, within the private sector of health care, we have a large number of private insurance companies vying for the business of their customers. They ration health care on the basis of evidence-based medical necessity. The Obama health plan, the details of which are still being worked out, will also ration health care. The alternative to that is an accelerated escalation of aggregate healthcare costs. But the single-payer system to which Obama’s plan will lead will have no competitor and no pressing financial incentive to please its customers. No competitor for the single payer means no alternative for the patient. We can reasonably expect that a single-payer system of rationing will be largely implicit rather than explicit, and governed as much by cost and political considerations as by medical evidence. .... [more]

Confessions of a Health Care Rationer | First Things

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Doctrine of the Fourth Commandement

Pastor Stanley Fox of the Yakima Seventh Day Baptist Church in Yakima, Washington, emails me that they have made available the text of James Ockford's 1650 work The Fourth Commandement: Deformed by Popery; Reformed and Restored to its Primitive Purity. Pastor Fox writes:
This is a great work on which I have spent much time as Nick Kersten of the Historical Society can verify. He was a lot of help in providing me with direction and editing the forward to this book. I would really like to see the work be made available. James Ockford put too much into it in hard times to see it fade from sight. His information is quite good and thought provoking and set the stage for all future defense of the Sabbath. The first known writing in support of the seventh day Sabbath by a Baptist was James Ockford.. He published a book in 1650 in London with the title, The Doctrine of the Fourth Commandement, Deformed by Popery, Reformed & Restored to its Primitive Purity. Its publication caused such a concern in Salisbury that the mayor asked the Speaker of the English Parliament what should be done about the book since it undermined the observance of the “Lord’s Day.” The mayor referred it to a committee of Parliament which recommended that all copies be burned and the author punished. Only one copy is known to have escaped the flames.
A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, Don Sanford, pages 58-59.

The SDB Historical Society has a copy of that book on microfilm. I received a copy of it from Don Sanford some years ago. It is hard to read and in Roman black print and early modern English. This has been retyped in 14 pt. modern print so as to be easily read although the spelling has not been changed which is explained in the forward. This is a great historical work on the seventh day Sabbath. This work is now available on our church web site: www.yakima7thdaybaptist.org.
Google Books also has it indexed but not available unless you have access to Early English Books Online through an academic library. [EEBO: "Provides full text, digital images of every book printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and every book in the English language printed abroad, from 1475 to 1700."]

The Fourth Commandement

Identity politics and religious liberty

When this blog began my denomination was debating whether to remain affiliated with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Much of the discussion necessarily involved whether that organization's rather strict interpretation of the alleged "wall of separation" between church and state was correct. An important factor in the debate was interpreting the beliefs of the Founders. Did Jefferson's metaphor, for instance, accurately describe how the First Amendment should be interpreted?

Mike Potemra at NRO recommends a new book about that subject:
Anyone who loves to grapple with the issue of religion in public life will enjoy Notre Dame professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s new book God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, which painstakingly lays out the agreements and differences among these key figures and then applies their thought to the central church-state issues that have faced the Supreme Court over the past few decades.
Potemra then describes what Muñoz believes the best approach to the issue today:
Muñoz himself articulates a view he believes captures the best in their three approaches, a system he summarizes as “no legal privileges, no legal penalties”: The state would be allowed to acknowledge religion in symbolic fashion, but not in such a way as to “affect individuals’ rights.” His discussion of the singling out of religion in our current context is quite interesting:
Given modern identity politics . . . Madison’s prohibition against state recognition of religion can appear to single out religious persons or groups for unfavorable treatment. . . . If the state promotes Black History Month (officially the month of February), Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month (officially the month of April), and Gay Pride Week (usually in June) but cannot take cognizance of religious celebrations such as Christmas, religion seems subject to unequal treatment. In a more libertarian age when the state was not involved in the promotion of culture and identity, noncognizance would not have the same impact. But given modern identity politics, the prohibition against state recognition seems unnecessarily hostile toward religion. “No legal privileges, no legal penalties” would allow religion the same type of symbolic state acknowledgement that other identity and cultural groups receive.
Freedom from -- and for -- Religion - Mike Potemra - The Corner on National Review Online

It's not about making adjustments

Mark Galli, referring to a recent book by a non-believer arguing that religion does more good than harm, summarizes its thesis thus: "religion helps people live happier and healthier lives by giving them meaning and purpose; and it benefits society enormously, by establishing food closets and hospitals and rescue missions and what not." Galli thinks we should be wary of such praise. From "A Pretty Good Religion."
Unfortunately for fans of religion, the Christian gospel is not primarily interested in religion. To be sure, the New Testament talks about religion. It discourages sexual license and other forms of immorality. It encourages patience, kindness, and other virtues. It tells believers how to worship aright. ....

But this sort of thing, religion, does not stand at the heart of the New Testament message. The gospel isn't primarily about helping individuals to live the life they've always wanted; it tells people to die to their yearning for self-fulfillment. It is not about helping people feel good about themselves, but telling them that they are dying. It's not about improving people, but killing the old self and creating them anew. It's not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate all our private space. The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place—to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it; instead it announces God's plan to raze the present world order and build something utterly new.

In short, religion is about making adjustments, making the best of things, inviting God to play a part in our lives and community, and the pursuit of spirituality! The gospel says our lives and our world are catastrophes, beyond tinkering, beyond remodeling. The gospel is about the Cross, which puts a nail in the coffin of religion as such. And the gospel is about resurrection—not an improvement nor an adjustment, but the breaking in of a completely new life because the old life has been obliterated.

The gospel's harsh judgment should make us quiver in fear; its unrealistic demands should make us sigh in despair; its surprising grace should leave us astonished in wonder; its unexpected hope should cause us to collapse in joyful laughter. It should leave fans of religion and sociologists of religion dumbfounded. It should make common people either run from Christianity in fear and trembling, or fall at Jesus' feet and clutch his ankles, saying, "My Lord and My God!" .... [more]

A Pretty Good Religion | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Legislating morality

Every law ever passed legislated someone's morality and imposed it on everyone. The fact that I can no longer legally smoke a cigar after a good meal in a steakhouse represents the imposition of someone's morality on me — in this case the view that I have no right to subject restaurant employees to the potential ill health effects of "second hand" smoke. [Since there are other ways to accomplish that goal, it is probably an effort to make smoking so inconvenient that those who indulge will quit.] It would be difficult to find any law — from parking ordinances to environmental regulations to appropriations for mass transit or for flowers on the White House lawn — that isn't the imposition of a moral value. The question is never whether morality is going to be legislated, but what morality, and whose morality, and when government should simply restrain itself and respect individual choices.

Jonah Goldberg finds it "refreshing" that the President has chosen to make the argument for health care reform with a moral argument: it is a "core moral and ethical obligation that we look out for one another ... that I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper." Goldberg in "Obama and Faith" on legislating morality:
.... Of all the silly arguments that have been passed off as deeply profound in American politics, the notion that politicians can’t “impose” their personal morality on others tops the list.

We have abortion politics in general, and former New York governor Mario Cuomo in particular, to thank for that. In 1984, Cuomo gave his famous address at Notre Dame in which he laid out the notion that a politician can be “personally opposed” to abortion but should refuse to translate that conviction into public policy. As political rhetoric, the speech was compelling. As a serious philosophical, theological, or moral argument, it was a mess. For instance, Cuomo found inspiration in the Catholic Church’s relative silence on American slavery as justification for keeping religion out of the abortion debate. Never mind that abolition was the most religious of political movements.

“It is a mark of contemporary liberalism’s commitment to abortion,” Ramesh Ponnuru writes in The Party of Death, “that one of its leading lights should have been willing to support temporizing on slavery in order to defend it.” ....

In 2004, another Catholic Democrat captured the inherent contradictions of Cuomo-ism nicely in a presidential debate. John Kerry insisted that his faith was “why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this Earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.”

But he also said that, when it came to abortion, “What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith.”

The statements cannot be reconciled. By Kerry’s own admission, he seeks to legislate his articles of faith on people on nearly every issue under the sun — except abortion. Suddenly, on that issue alone, he is an adamantine secularist. ....

Politics has always been a contest of values, and religion remains the chief source of those values. Our political discourse has long been cheapened by the canard that only conservatives try to use the state to impose a religiously informed moral vision, while liberals are guided by science, reason, and logic, as well as some secular conception of decency and compassion. No party has a monopoly on such resources, and it’s about time we all recognized that.
And, of course, "some secular conception of decency and compassion" is also a moral value.

Obama and Faith by Jonah Goldberg on National Review Online

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kids lie?

Reviewing a new book titled NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Kay Hymowitz notes that much of the expertise about child-rearing has been wrong, and that which is right is also obvious.
For more than a century American parents—ever more distanced from grandmothers and ­suspicious of tradition—have looked to social ­science to explain their children to them. Thus they have gobbled up books and articles by experts who ­periodically deliver the latest truths about ­child-rearing. ....

...As Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman remind us, the psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a path-breaking paper in 1969 called "The Psychology of Self-Esteem" in which he argued that feelings of self-worth were a key to success in life. The theory became a big hit in the nation's schools; in the mid-1980s, the California Legislature even ­established a self-esteem task force. By now, there are 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject.

And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn't improve grades, reduce ­anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be ­counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.

The benefits of teaching tolerance and promoting ­diversity look equally unimpressive in the current ­research. .... One ­researcher found that "more diversity translates into more divisions between students." Another warns that too much discussion of past discrimination can make minority children over-reactive to perceived future slights. As for trying to increase emotional intelligence, the education fad of the 1990s, it doesn't seem to ­promote "pro-social values" either. It turns out that bullies use their considerable EQ, as it is called, to ­control their peers. ....

You might assume from these examples that the ­authors want to make a point about our national ­gullibility in the face of faddish science. Unfortunately, they deconstruct yesterday's wisdom at the same time that they embrace today's—even when research is on the order of "do-we-really-need-a-$50,000-study-to-tell-us-this?" or of dubious practical value. Kids lie, they ­inform us. In fact, 4-year-olds lie once every hour. Still, Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman are impressed by ­research showing that "lying is an advanced skill," ­supposedly demonstrating both social and cognitive ­sophistication.

As for teenagers, well, they lie too. Parents shouldn't worry about them, though; they fib not ­because they want to get away with stuff they shouldn't be doing but because they don't want to ­upset mom and dad. ­Depending on your point of view, you might not be ­surprised to learn that permissive parents don't get more truth-telling from their teens than stricter ­parents. In any event, teens like conflict because, it is now claimed, they see it as enhancing their ­relationships with their parents.

Given how often last year's science has become ­today's boondoggle, Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman's analysis would have benefited from a dose of ­skepticism. .... [more]
Thanks to Mere Comments for the reference.

Book Review: “NurtureShock” - WSJ.com

Dressing for the occasion

When I was teaching I almost never dressed up. I could usually be found in front of a class in Levis and an Oxford shirt. I sometimes did when it was important to make a good first impression — the first few days of class, for instance. Also when I presided over meetings, served as parliamentarian, attended ceremonial occasions, etc. Since retirement I do so even less often, but I maintain part of my wardrobe so that I can when I should.

My brother worked in a corporate environment where a suit and tie were the normal daily attire. It remains true that many businesspeople, lawyers, politicians — people who need to make a good impression — dress more formally than has become common in our increasingly informal society. In other words, dressing up isn't about your own taste in clothing. It is about other people — people who probably won't care about your appearance once they know you, but who might be put off by a bad first impression. It is also about the occasion, about showing respect.

At his blog Donald S. Whitney offers "Clothing Tips for Ministers," a group that appears frequently in front of strangers on formal occasions.
This article ... is not about when and where ministers should dress up; it speaks only to those occasions when they do.

For even those who serve in the most casually dressed churches and who never wear a coat and tie in the office or pulpit, will perform and attend weddings and funerals and will participate in other events where they will wear a suit, if not a sport coat and tie. ....

I'm writing these clothing tips specifically to help the minister (and anyone else) who sometimes must dress up, but who feels some need for guidance on the matter and cannot afford to spend a great deal on clothes. ....

And lest anyone misunderstand, I also want to make this abundantly plain to any minister who may be reading: to know how to dress tastefully in more formal ministerial settings is nowhere near as important as it is to "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Tim. 4:16, NIV). Without strong piety and theology, a well-dressed minister is—to borrow King Solomon's phrase—"like a gold ring in a pig's snout" (Prov. 11:22, NIV).
He then suggests ways to buy clothes economically and offers good advice about what to buy. Some examples of the latter:
  • Your first and best suit should always be navy blue or black and relatively—if not completely—solid, that is, without pinstripes, checks, etc. Ministers used to refer to this as their "Marryin' and buryin'" suit, as it was the most appropriate one for the most formal of occasions in which they most frequently found themselves. Such a suit is versatile, too, as it is fitting not only for weddings and funerals, but for any other suit-wearing occasion. The same is not true for a lighter-colored suit which, while appropriate in many other situations, would be out of place in a funeral, because tradition dictates dark colors. .... Two-button, three-button, and double-breasted suits are always in style. Lapel width on the two and three-button suits may change with the fickle winds of fashion, but lapels that are approximately 3.5 inches wide are almost always acceptable. .... Except when seated, keep your coat buttoned as much as possible....[T]he bottom button on two and three-buttoned suits should normally remain unbuttoned.
  • If there is a middle ground between the formality of a suit and the less formal sport coat, it is the navy blue blazer. While blazers come in a variety of colors, the classic is navy blue. This should be your first sport coat and the workhorse of your wardrobe. Other than a white dress shirt, it may be the single item of dress clothing you wear most often. With gray slacks it is almost as dressy as a suit (especially if the blazer is double-breasted), and yet it accommodates any situation where a sport coat is appropriate. You can "dress down" a two-buttoned blazer somewhat with tan or khaki slacks.
  • While shirts in a wide variety of colors are available today, a white dress shirt is the most traditional, formal, acceptable, and versatile. There is no dress-up occasion when a white shirt would be inappropriate. .... After white, then a light blue, a thin blue stripe, and perhaps a very pale yellow (or ecru) or other pastel (such as a pale green) would be your next investments. Wear pink at your own risk. Dark or very bright colors work well as dress shirts only occasionally.
  • Buy classic ties, not trendy ones. Classic patterns—such as British regimental stripes—will always be in style. Never wear humorous or themed...ties with a suit. .... At the outset of building your wardrobe, look for ties that accommodate the greatest number of clothing combinations. A maroon tie with a very simple pattern, for example, has the versatility to coordinate with almost any color suit and the simple pattern works with either a plain or busy sport coat. ....
  • ...[D]ress shoes should reflect classic styles, not current trends. .... Color choice is simple with dress footwear, for virtually all traditional dress clothes go with black or cordovan shoes. You may never need brown dress shoes. And your belt should coordinate with your shoes. .... [more]
Trying to be stylish is usually unwise. One consequence is that you will almost immediately [within a few years] be out of style. Someone who dresses like President Obama, though, would have been as acceptable in 1960 as probably in 2020.

Clothing Tips for Ministers

Sabbath Recorder, September 2009

The September, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

The issue contains articles and pictures about the sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference held this July in Pennsylvania, the theme of which was "Pray!"

Other contents include a remembrance of the contributions of 19th century SDB, Alexander Campbell, by Don Sanford.

New Conference President, Rev. Paul Andries of the Washington, D.C. church, announced his Conference theme to be "Servants Together in God's Ministry." The Recorder this month provides memory verses related to that theme.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Theocracy looms once more...

Jay Nordlinger:
President Obama is not shy about using religious language and religious imagery. He has said that he hopes to be “an instrument of God.” (Shouldn’t we all.) And, the other day, I saw a photo of him next to a neon cross (pretty garish). I also read what he said about critics of his health-care plans: They were “bearing false witness.” And I thought, “Oh, if George W. Bush had used such language, and if he had been photographed next to crosses . . .”

Oh, if George W. Bush had done that — they’d have called him a dangerous theocrat. Oh, wait, they did anyway . . . Remember when certain commentators delighted in calling Bush vs. al-Qaeda a clash of “fundamentalisms”? ....

Kind of a funny country we’re living in. A beauty-pageant contestant says that she is opposed to gay marriage, believing that marriage is between a man and a woman — and she is pilloried as some kind of modern-day witch. But when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Bill Clinton — pretty much all major Democrats — express the same opinion: Everyone’s cool.

I know the standard answer: The Left (broadly speaking) realizes those Democrats don’t mean it; and they’re pretty sure that Miss California does. So, can we say the same thing about religion? But to question the sincerity of anyone else’s convictions, professions, or displays is to engage in a kind of McCarthyism. Can’t have that. (And it’s true: You can’t. Although some honest curiosity, or wondering, is legit.)
And I, for one, don't question President Obama's sincerity about his faith — or George W. Bush's. But I do wonder about the consistency of those who once worried about the entanglement of politics with religion but do so no longer.

Who can wave the Bible? &c. by Jay Nordlinger on National Review Online

Hearing and doing

Kevin DeYoung on the guilty feeling that we aren't doing enough in "On Mission, Changing the World, and Not Being Able to Do It All." From the end of a post, all of which is worth reading:
.... I’m not for a minute advocating a cheap grace or an easy-believeism. But the yoke still is easy, right? And the burden still is light, is it not? ....

No doubt some Christians need to be shaken out of their lethargy. I try to do that every Sunday morning and evening. But there are also a whole bunch of Christians who need to be set free from their performance-minded, law-keeping, world-changing, participate-with-God-in-recreating-the-cosmos shackles. I promise you, some of the best people in your churches are getting tired. They don’t need another rah-rah pep talk. They don’t need to hear more statistics and more stories Sunday after Sunday about how bad everything is in the world. They need to hear about Christ’s death and resurrection. They need to hear how we are justified by faith apart from works of the law. They need to hear the old, old story once more. Because the secret of the gospel is that we actually do more when we hear less about all we need to do for God and hear more about all that God has already done for us. [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: On Mission, Changing the World, and Not Being Able to Do It All

Peace

R.R. Reno has been posting some "August Aphorisms." Here is #10:
The postmodern vision of peace: If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight.
First Thoughts — August Aphorisms #10

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just A-OK

Mollie Hemingway has a problem with the journalistic use of "gay-friendly" as descriptive of the recent decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and explains why:
“Gay-friendly” is the term I want to look at. What does that mean?

The ELCA adopted a “social statement” that, among other things, endorses “chaste, monogamous and lifelong” same-sex relationships. To the media, I’m sure that sounds quite friendly. Now, let’s look at that statement in the context of what the Christian church has confessed for thousands of years on the basis of Scripture. What the church has taught about sexual relations is that God created man and woman to live together as man and wife in a chaste, monogamous and life-long relationship. This is for our own good, for the procreation of children, for the intimacy of man and wife, etc. The church has taught that sex outside of this arrangement is sinful and that deviation from this natural order is a consequence of the fall into sin. And the church proclaims the forgiveness of sins to all of us who sin sexually.

Now, I know that many (all?) of the mainstream media believe with their heart, mind and soul in the inherent goodness of homosexuality and badness of the church’s teaching that homosexuality is not what God wants for us. But let’s just go with a thought experiment.

Pick something else that Scriptures teach is a deviation from God’s will. Anything will do, really, but let’s take an easy one from the Ten Commandments — “lying.” .... [L]et’s imagine that one church body endorses lying. And now let’s imagine that another church body takes the position that lying falls short of how God wants us to behave. This second church body has a doctrine against lying, its pastors preach against it and its publishing house has devotionals on lying. This second church body also has a doctrine on the forgiveness of sins — including lying. This second church body has pastors that absolve parishioners who confess that they are liars. Its pastors preach that sin is forgiven in Jesus Christ and it administers the sacrament of Holy Communion that, among other things, offers forgiveness of sins to liars.

Now which church body is liar-friendly? Some (be they liars or not) would much rather have a church in which lying is condemned — and forgiven — then one where they are told lying is A-OK and nothing to feel guilty about. Some would believe the second church to be infinitely more friendly. What’s more, some would feel that the church that embraced lying didn’t have liars’ best interests at heart. Some would feel that a church that embraced lying wasn’t friendly to liars at all and that what liars need is to have their sin clearly identified and forgiven.

So is it the job of the mainstream reporter to decide that one of the above churches is friendly and the other not? Or is that a theological issue that is too complex to be trivialized? Should it be any different if the churches are discussing sexual morality? [more]
Why can’t we be friends? » GetReligion

"It is simply wrong"

This morning I came across this interview with Tim Keller given last year in connection with the publication of his The Reason for God — which I recommend highly. Keller's responses to the interviewer are a fair representation of how he goes about making a case, but, of course, only a taste. For instance:
Jesus lived in a time when slavery existed. I don’t think the Bible reads as a major abolitionist tract, right?....Did Jesus ever explicitly condemn the practice of slavery? My point here is that people’s values are inherently influenced by the times in which they live, right?

The ‘slavery’ mentioned in the Old Testament was really indentured servant hood and was a very different kind of institution than the New World slavery that developed in modern times. For example, Exodus 21:27 says that if you knock a slave’s tooth out, the slave has to go free. That doesn’t sound like the same institution you are thinking of, does it? Slavery in the Greco-Roman world was harsher than the indentured servant hood of Israel, but it was almost never for life (average 10-15 years in length) and slaves were paid and lived about the same as other working people. So be careful when you equate the African slave trade to the forms of slavery and servant hood you hear about in the Bible. ....

There are no absolutes. My view of values is that they emerge from lessons widely drawn from human experience and around which consensus has emerged. Human rights as a language and as a normative construct came out of the horror of WWII. Such ideas emerge through consensus-building and eventually take on axiomatic existence for most people. Slavery IS bad. Torture IS wrong. Racism IS repugnant. These ideas emerged socially and became axiomatic socially.

…. There are a lot of problems with this view.

First, you seem to be saying that slavery wasn’t wrong until there was a consensus that it was wrong. Or that torture wasn’t wrong until we came to a consensus that it was wrong. Do you really want to say that—that slavery and torture wasn’t wrong in 1750, because then the consensus was that both were OK? If you fall back on saying that slavery was wrong in 1750 even though most people didn’t feel that way—then you do believe in absolutes, I think.

Second, what if you saw the consensus about slavery and torture eroding? What if you saw that half the world was moving toward a new consensus that slavery and torture were OK in many circumstances? (There are a surprising number of people who do think torture is OK if it might stop a nuclear attack, etc. It could easily happen.) On what basis, then, could you argue that the emerging new consensus is wrong, since, in your view, something is only wrong if there is a consensus that it is wrong? It seems that the only way you could say “reverse the new consensus” would be if you grant that torture is wrong even if the consensus changes.

Third, this is an elitist argument, because the fact is that there are plenty of cultures and places in the world that don’t agree with your ‘consensus.’ You are saying, then, that the part of the world that believes in human rights is the enlightened, correct part. When you say these beliefs take on axiomatic existence for ‘most people’ you mean ‘most people I know, the ones who are thinking properly.’

Fourth, if you don’t believe in absolutes, you can only offer at best a pragmatic argument against these evils. If you were living in 1750 and you came to believe slavery was wrong when few others did, you could not argue from consensus. You would have to argue that slavery is impractical for us, that it makes for a society in which we are all unhappy. You could only appeal to people’s self-interest. Only if you agree that there are moral absolutes could you say that “Slavery is wrong regardless of whether you feel it benefits you and society or not. It is simply wrong to treat people that way. Period.” [more]

Monergism Interview with Dr. Tim Keller

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bound to what?

Julia Duin reports that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has voted to affirm homosexual relationships:
.... Here is the vote they just passed: 619 'yes' votes, or 60.63 percent, to 402 'no' votes. The resolution: "that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
Duin goes on to describe the use in the debate of the term "bound conscience," but perhaps not in the sense of Luther's statement at Worms:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand, may God help me.
Duin writes:
The ELCA's task force on sexuality put forth a number of controversial proposals built around the idea that people have committed positions to a particular opinion or interpretation of the Bible. The words "bound conscience" was used a lot. But what happens when peoples' "bound consciences" clash?

That is what is going on here involving people of passionate convictions that oppose each other. A female bishop just told us that bound conscience is not an excuse for personal desire but the whole system of using "bound conscience" as a guide for action seems to have broken down. Seems to me that consciences must be informed by something. Martin Luther said his conscience was captive to the Bible. One Chinese-American approached a mike to ask the same question. "Does this mean everyone would do what they want in the name of conscience?" she asked. "Our conscience changes depending on the environment." [more]
If a Protestant is not "bound by the Scriptures" with a "conscience...captive to the Word of God," then what can "bound conscience" possibly mean? One hopes it doesn't simply mean that they "do what is right in their own eyes."

And so ELCA goes the way of the Episcopalians and, one fears, the mainline generally.

Lutherans vote yes on gay 'relationships' - Belief Blog - Washington Times

Pastors

At Stand to Reason Blog, reflecting on another example of sexual scandal involving a pastor, a critique of "The Senior Pastor Model." The main points listed below are expanded upon in the full entry. Baptists as practitioners of congregational polity should be particularly wary of giving too much authority to one person. The potential liabilities of the "senior pastor model":
  1. The senior pastor is looked to primarily for leadership that reflects charisma rather than character.
  2. The body of believers is much more susceptible to the development of an unhealthy co-dependence on the senior pastor.
  3. The personality of the senior pastor begins to dominate church life.
    When there is so much dependence placed upon a single leader, his strengths and weaknesses tend to shape the body life of the church. His strengths become the emphasis of the church, no matter how unbalanced. In addition, his weaknesses, unable to be counter-balanced by other leaders, are likely to become the weaknesses of the church.
  4. The senior pastor model encourages the body of believers to become spectators.
  5. When a senior pastor falls, the damage is immense.
[more]
Every single person in authority, whether sacred or secular, should be under authority.

Stand to Reason Blog: The Senior Pastor Model

C.S. Lewis and worship

C.S. Lewis attended his local parish church faithfully from the time he became a theist — well before he was a Christian. He disliked hymns — bad poetry set to inferior music [and this when one of the editors of the hymnbook had been Ralph Vaughn Williams!]. He often found the sermons boring. And he tended to bolt the church as soon as the service ended. But he went to church.

Will Vaus, author of a couple of good books about Lewis, writes about Lewis's worship practice and attitude in "C.S. Lewis Sat Here".
When asked during a “One Man’s Brain Trust” in 1944, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?” Lewis answered:
My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit."
Jack did indeed face opposition to his church attendance on the home front. Mrs. Moore would often taunt him on his return home each Sunday. “Back from the blood feast” she would say. Yet Jack did indeed continue on with church attendance, Mrs. Moore and boring sermons notwithstanding.

By 1940 Jack and Warnie even had their favorite pew at Holy Trinity. ....

In our own age in which “church shopping” is so prevalent we have much to learn from the unwavering discipline of C.S. Lewis in regard to church attendance. Despite the fact that Lewis seldom “got anything out of” the sermons in his parish church, he never went looking for another congregation. He believed in attending services at the church closest to his home and that was that. Lewis was determined to go to church, not for what he could get out of it, but for what he could put in, namely—worship. Lewis understood well the temptation of searching for a church that would “suit” him; he once delineated this temptation in another letter from Screwtape to Wormwood:
My dear Wormwood,
You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it. May I ask what you are about? Why have I no report on the causes of his fidelity to the parish church? Do you realise that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.
C.S. Lewis was determined not to become such a “connoisseur of churches”. As he wrote to Mary Van Deusen, “Is there not something especially good (and even, in the end, joyful) about mere obedience (in lawful things) to him who bears our Master’s authority, however unworthy he be—perhaps all the more, if he is unworthy?”.... [more]
C.S. Lewis Blog: C.S. Lewis Sat Here

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A hellhound on their trail

Ted Gioia reviews Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation, a book I very much enjoyed [and noted once before]:
.... For Nichols, these musicians were posing fundamental questions about our fallen state, an original bluesiness which dates back to Adam and Eve's departure from Eden. Sometimes their personal responses to these questions were whiskey, women, and other vices, but to the acute ear their music evokes timeless biblical themes of exodus and exile, fall and redemption. Yet even Nichols admits that the redemption angle is underplayed. In considering the spiritual significance of the old blues songs, I am reminded of Martin Scorsese's conversation with a parish priest who told the filmmaker that his movies contained too much "Good Friday and not enough Easter Sunday."

Nichols may find that readers today no longer condemn the blues as sinful, but he will run into critics who have tried to present a purely secular view of this music. Experts such as Elijah Wald, Barry Lee Pearson, and Bill McCulloch have worked hard in recent years to construct a modern, streamlined vision of blues music in which stories of the crossroads and damnation are excised as unnecessary mythologies. Nichols, for his part, respects the resonance of these tormented tales of blues artists, who felt either a literal or metaphorical hellhound on their trail. .... [more]
First Things - Article

Trade offs, difficult decisions, and "Mum"

Mike McNally, a Brit, on "Britain Dragged into ObamaCare Fight." My mother is elderly, suffers dementia, and is in assisted living — and her face still lights up when my brother or I appear, so I found his description of his mother's treatment by the NHS particularly interesting.
The simple fact is that while neither system is as terrible as their detractors claim, both have undeniable flaws. And while we can trade facts, figures, and anecdotes all day, a couple of things are clear. The first is that the poor enjoy a generally better standard of care in the UK than in the U.S. The second is that Americans with decent insurance enjoy a better standard of care than most Brits — survival rates for all the major cancers are considerably better than in the UK, and screening and treatment for heart disease and other chronic conditions is more widely available.

The most emotive areas of the U.S.-UK debate — and the issues seized on in Republican attacks on the NHS — concern rationing of care and “end of life” provisions. There’s no disputing the fact that care is rationed in Britain — mostly for the chronically-ill elderly, but increasingly too for smokers, the obese, and others whose lifestyles are deemed “unhealthy.” It’s going too far to call the entire NHS “Orwellian,” as some U.S. critics have, but the acronym for the NHS body which decides whether particular treatments are cost-effective — and thus how long certain patients can live — certainly has an Orwellian ring to it: NICE. ....

...More insidious than any group of experts are the statist mindset and the institutional heartlessness that pervade any large publicly funded body. As I discovered over the last few years while dealing with the system on behalf of my dying mother, there’s no need for anyone to “pull the plug on granny” when the system as a whole takes a dim view of providing care for those deemed not to be sufficiently productive members of society.

Mum suffered from dementia and spent the last few years of her life in nursing homes. During her illness she had several stays in the hospital, and every so often some doctor would take my brother and I aside and whisper to us about “quality of life” and “letting her go.” We politely declined the invitation, on that grounds that as long as mum wasn’t in pain, and as long as her face lit up when we arrived to visit her, then by our quaint standards she had “quality of life.”

Mum didn’t require any expensive drugs or other treatment, but the “experts” had decided that she was a burden on the system. What she did need, in addition to basic medication for various ailments, was help to make sure she got enough to eat and drink, and time after time we had to ask doctors and nurses to please, if it wasn’t too much trouble, make sure she didn’t die from dehydration.

It’s important to add that on many occasions doctors and nurses showed great skill in taking care of mum. They also showed great kindness, both to her and to my brother and me. But even with the best of intentions, staff shortages and simple incompetence meant that if we hadn’t visited mum every day, and often twice a day, to make sure she was eating and drinking enough, she would certainly have died two or three years sooner that she did.

So yes, U.S. health care needs to be reformed to reduce costs, and there must be better provision for the poorest. I’m not qualified to say how it should be done, but I do know that Americans should keep the role of the government to an absolute minimum and rely instead on solutions based on the principles of freedom of choice and personal responsibility. There will be an element of rationing under any system — the free market is itself a form of rationing — but difficult decisions should be taken by patients and their families in consultation with health providers who are responsive to the demands of their customers, rather than by government bean-counters. [emphasis added].... [more]
The picture is of Mary Elizabeth Bond Skaggs, 98, my mother.

Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

Pajamas Media » Britain Dragged into ObamaCare Fight: NHS Under Fire

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gathering to worship

Michael Spencer continues his consideration of "The Evangelical Liturgy" with the purpose of the gathered believers, the congregation:
.... The congregation is not an audience. They are not consumers. They are not a market. A congregation is a gathering of God’s people, and their participation is defined by that identity and not any other. If a gathering is treated as anything other than a congregation of God’s people, it is difficult to call what happens a worship service. It may be a legitimate gathering for outreach, entertainment or communication, but it is not a gathering of the church. (I am completely comfortable with gatherings that are not intended to be the worship of the gathered church, but we should be honest about the congregation’s role.)

Every opportunity for participation by the congregation should be utilized. Singing. Praying. Responsive reading. Active listening. Adding the Amen. Ministering to one another. Serving and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Reading/listening the proclamation of the Word.

The design of worship should be with the congregation’s worshiping response to God as the foremost human goal. The congregation should not be rendered passive or irrelevant.

Much that is done in evangelical worship treats the congregation with less than the respect due the people of God. Leaders are not celebrities to be adored. Responses that are human responses to human actions are of little interest in worship, but congregational responses to God are of great value.

It is the congregation that is the great worshiping instrument in the evangelical liturgy. Leaders are worship prompters by reminding the congregation of God and the Gospel. God the Spirit is present in the Gospel and the sacraments. The response of the congregation to God — and nothing else — defines the purpose of a gathering of the people of God for worship. [emphasis added] .... [more]

The Evangelical Liturgy 4: The Congregation | internetmonk.com

Someone who will care

The recent attention given to end of life issues has been related to the controversy about the President's health care reforms. My own concern long predates that argument. Back in the seventies when euthanasia was being debated in Britain [it could never happen here], I read arguments that convinced me, first, that healthy people are in no condition to know how they will feel about death when very ill or very old, and, second, that vulnerable people can easily be made to feel guilty about being alive. At about the same time I became aware of hospice as a humane, non-coercive, and caring alternative to both euthanasia and pointless, prolonged medical treatment.

Today Jim Towey, founder of Aging with Dignity and creator of a model advance care planning document that has been widely accepted, describes how things can go very badly wrong — and this in the VA, an institution often touted by those who favor a government run health system.
Last year, bureaucrats at the VA's National Center for Ethics in Health Care advocated a 52-page end-of-life planning document, "Your Life, Your Choices." ....

"Your Life, Your Choices" presents end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions, much like a political "push poll." For example, a worksheet on page 21 lists various scenarios and asks users to then decide whether their own life would be "not worth living."

The circumstances listed include ones common among the elderly and disabled: living in a nursing home, being in a wheelchair and not being able to "shake the blues." There is a section which provocatively asks, "Have you ever heard anyone say, 'If I'm a vegetable, pull the plug'?" There also are guilt-inducing scenarios such as "I can no longer contribute to my family's well being," "I am a severe financial burden on my family" and that the vet's situation "causes severe emotional burden for my family." ....

I was not surprised to learn that the VA panel of experts that sought to update "Your Life, Your Choices" between 2007-2008 did not include any representatives of faith groups or disability rights advocates. And as you might guess, only one organization was listed in the new version as a resource on advance directives: the Hemlock Society (now euphemistically known as "Compassion and Choices"). ....

After a decade of observing end-of-life discussions, I can attest to the great fear that many patients have, particularly those with few family members and financial resources. I lived and worked in an AIDS home in the mid-1980s and saw first-hand how the dying wanted more than health care—they wanted someone to care. .... [more]

Jim Towey: The Death Book for Veterans - WSJ.com

The alternative to the supernatural is the unnatural

Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy by William Oddie is a new biography of G.K. Chesterton, one of the most interesting Christain apologists of the Twentieth Century. John Chalberg reviews it in the current Weekly Standard.
.... In its broadest outline, Chesterton's conversion story was quite ordinary. Born into a Victorian family of much affection and minimal belief, he went through a stretch of teenage atheism before dabbling with the late Victorian version of liberal Christianity. It might have ended there had Chesterton's brain actually been the "lump of white fat" that one of his frustrated teachers dismissed it as being, and had the 1890s not been what they were.

Youthful atheist or no, his schoolboy friends remembered him as "looking for God." Such a search was not an easy one to undertake, much less complete, in a turn-of-the-century London given over to secularism, relativism, modernism, skepticism, Impressionism, and hyper-rationalism. It was, in Oddie's phrase, a time "much more like our own than we imagine." And yet, paradoxically, it was a perfect time for someone of Chesterton's cast of mind.

His starting point was not what he dubbed the "supernormal world" but the material world that seemed to point to the existence of a spiritual world, which in turn seemed to imply a creator. At the same time, those who denied the existence of a creator played an inadvertent role in his thinking as well: As the "isms" of the 1890s began to take hold, Chesterton began to observe that unbelievers were ceasing to believe even in "normal things." Without the supernatural, he concluded, man was left with the "unnatural." To put matters a bit differently, "We are all agnostics until we discover that agnosticism doesn't work." And for G. K. Chesterton, unbelief ultimately failed to work, both as a theological system and as a recipe for daily life.

In the end...Chesterton's "real transgression" was not so much believing that Christianity was true but believing that anything could be true. .... [more]

PREVIEW: On Becoming G.K.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If you memorize scripture...

Quickly and easily print your memory verses with the Verse Card Maker. It is free, uses the ESV, and, although I haven't tried it yet, appears to be very easy to use. Michael Scott, who created it, describes it thus:
The Verse Card Maker is a simple and efficient way to create customized verse cards for scripture memory. The only thing required of the user is a list of references, and then the Verse Card Maker does the rest by fetching the text and returning a fully formatted PDF ready for front and back printing.
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference.

Verse Card Maker - Home

Fault lines

Terry Mattingly, like the others at GetReligion, writes about the quality of religious news reporting. Today, at the end of a commentary, he reminds us of a test he thinks useful for any reporter writing about the controversies among Christians.
For several years now, I have argued that if mainstream reporters want to find the fault lines in Christian churches and denominations, all they need to do is ask these questions and then listen carefully to the answers:
  1. Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
  2. Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?
  3. Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?
These questions remain relevant. Ask the Anglicans. Ask the Lutherans. Ask just about anyone, in fact.
Today, in the United States, the answers to those questions would pretty accurately sort the orthodox from the "mushy" and the theologically liberal.

As ELCA Lutherans meet. it would be interesting to know whether the opposing sides in their debate about gay clergy divide neatly on all three questions.

News flash! Mushy faith on the rise » GetReligion

The New Testament documents

Justin Taylor provides a link to "How Did We Get Our Bible and Has It Been Changed?" by Dr. Matthew S. Harmon of Grace College and Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana. Taylor calls it "a good introductory answer" to the question of the origin of the biblical documents and he would know much better than I, although based on my limited knowledge, I very much agree. The pdf is twelve pages [although page nine is blank in my copy] and deals exclusively with the New Testament documents.

Dr. Harmon states his purpose in the introduction:
.... Assaults on the Bible are nothing new, but there seems to be a new twist over the past decade. Two objections against the Bible have become more prominent. The first charge is that the various books in our Bible were chosen hundreds of years after they were written, and the choice was made by shady church leaders with ulterior motives. The second charge is that we cannot trust our Bibles because what we have is not really what the authors actually wrote.

In the brief time I have today I want to provide the beginnings of an answer to these two objections. .... [more]

"How Did We Get Our Bible and Has It Been Changed?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Guided by doctors, scientists and ethicists"

John Podhoretz explains why end of life issues will remain important in the debates about the expense and delivery of health care, and why accusing those who raise the concern of "lying" and "scaring the elderly" won't suffice to make the issue go away:
.... Anyone who has been paying attention to the medical-ethics discussions of the past quarter century is very familiar with the reason for the focus on end-of-life matters: the expenses that the medical profession has been required, ethically, to incur in the preservation of life among those who are inevitably going to die has seemed to many to be money wasted on health care that could be better spent elsewhere. As the one-time governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, notoriously said in 1984, “We have a duty to die”—by which he meant, to die more quickly so that it wouldn’t cost his state too much in Medicare. What Lamm said was shocking, but only because he said it so crudely. The view that the American way of dying has become needlessly prolonged is at the heart of the professional medical-ethics ideology, an instrumentalist ideology whose implicit purpose is to raise moral questions and congratulate itself for raising moral questions before dismissing them in favor of the notion that moral decision-making has no place in medical matters.

Given this record, and given the implicit notion that costs will be controlled by fiat under the new ObamaCare dispensation, it is well within reason to assume that rationed care for the elderly will be the place to look for savings; that determinations of which care and of what sort will be covered would eventually become the purview of a committee; and that the decisions that committee makes will play a role in the deaths of those who are refused coverage. To deny that the subject the president himself called a “very difficult democratic conversation” is the choice between life and death, and that under ObamaCare those decisions will not eventually be the sole purview of the patient and his family, is disingenuous. As the president said in an April interview with David Leonhardt of the New York Times:
I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.

LEONHARDT: So how do you — how do we deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think it has to be able to give you some guidance.
Given the president’s own admission back in April that the conversation is just so difficult in a democracy that it needs to be guided by experts is to travel part of the way down the road according to which experts not only guide a conversation but make the rules for the conversation as well. And that is why the matter is certainly worthy of a wide-ranging discussion, even when the discussion might turn into a very different kind of “very difficult democratic conversation”—one in which the conversation takes a course Obama and the supporters of ObamaCare do not wish it to take.
Update 7/18: Jonah Goldberg at NRO:
The more life expectancy improves, the more we will spend on health care. Despite his professed outrage over charges of “death panels” and whatnot, Obama admits this. In an interview with the New York Times last spring, he acknowledged that oldsters are a “huge driver of cost.” The “chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health-care bill out here,” Obama explained. Which is why he advocated an advisory panel of experts to offer “guidance” on end-of-life care and costs. But don’t you dare call it a “death panel.”

...[E]very nationalized health-care system to one degree or another rations care based on the quality of life and number of “life years” a procedure will yield. That’s perfectly reasonable. If you put me in charge of everyone’s health care, I would do that, too. That’s a really good argument for not giving me — or anyone else — that power.

When it comes to civil liberties, liberals are often distrustful of government power. But, for reasons that baffle me, they are quite comfortable with Uncle Sam getting into the business of deciding, or providing “guidance” on, which lives are more valuable than others. A government charged with extending life expectancy must meddle not just with our health care, but with what we eat, how we drive, how we live. A government determined to cut costs must meddle not just with how we live, but how we die. .... [more]

Commentary » Blog Archive » Obama and the “Death Panel” Issue, Testing Obamacare’s Meddle by Jonah Goldberg on National Review Online

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Making God central

Zach Nielsen likes the approach to worship music taken by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace:
.... Sovereign Grace ministries is so intentional about the content of the songs that they lead us with. They understand that if we are going to sing "in Spirit" we must first sing "in Truth". The majority of their songs do not focus on my response to God, but rather what God has done for me. This Sunday, if you attend church, try and observe what the majority of your singing consists of. Is it a declaration of what God has done, or is it mainly the congregation telling God how they feel about Him? ....

....[I]n our worship gatherings, our time of singing should start with reflection on who he has revealed himself to be in the scriptures and in Jesus and also what he has done through all of redemptive history. With this backdrop of his greatness, compassion, mercy and love in view, we can fix our minds upon these glorious truths. How could we keep from responding with joy, thanks, and heartfelt gratitude?

Don't just sing about your emotions. We need to make God central in our times of singing and if this is the case then our emotions will most certainly follow. .... [more]

Take Your Vitamin Z: Reflections on Worship God 09 - Part 1

On, Wisconsin

Once upon a time most doctors took an oath that included these words: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." The oath in that form has fallen into disuse, but assisting suicide is apparently something Wisconsin doctors still resist. According to Wesley J. Smith:
For the last few weeks a battle has been brewing in the ethics committee of the Wisconsin Medical Society, with a motion filed to have it go neutral on legalizing assisted suicide. I am happy to report that effort failed by a 13-5 vote. Medical ethics maintained in Wisconsin. Patients protected.
Secondhand Smoke — A First Things Blog

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Catholics and evangelicals

Russell D. Moore on what the author of a Time article about a famous conservative politician's conversion to Catholicism doesn't discuss:
...[W]hat Time misses is how evangelicals and Roman Catholics are increasingly conversant with one another, and not just at the level of Washington or Manhattan elites. What would make for a really fascinating story is how this is true among those (of both traditions) who are [more] likely to spontaneously combust than they are to convert. [emphasis added]
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Newt's Contract with the Vatican?