Don’t Steal…the Government Hates Competition

“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” the Authorized Version says in Matthew 7.  We’ve all heard this saying at some time or other.  I’ve usually heard it when someone is criticizing someone else’s lifestyle choices–usually referring to moral issues.  Oftentimes this is a function of judgmental moralists on the right being pitted (or pitting themselves) against more libertine individuals often on the left.  This is not always the case but this is the context I’ve most often seen this verse used.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney released his tax returns for the past few years.  In 2010 and 2011, Romney earned approximately $42 million, virtually all from capital gains (obviously long term not short term, a distinction that is important) and not wages.  In other words, his income came from investments.  Nothing in the returns suggests Romney has done or is doing anything illegal or “cooking the books.”  ABC News calculates that Romney’s income puts him in the top 0.006%, not just the top 1% (an obvious stir of the class warfare pot).  Interestingly, his income compares more favorably to professional athletes and Hollywood’s elite than it does to Wall Street CEO’s (read: the former is paid far more than the latter).

In all of the hoopla, the biggest complaint has been that Romney doesn’t pay enough in taxes.  He averaged about 14.5% over ’10-’11 in federal taxes.  This along with Warren Buffett’s assertion that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does has made the topic of tax rates a contentious one, especially among the class warriors who use socioeconomic differences to divide people for their political benefit.  The advantages of lower long-term capital gains rates extend to anyone who has money in a retirement fund or investments, not just the very wealthy and these rates encourage long-term (duh) investment instead of short-term speculation (which some people still do but pay a higher rate for it).  This is not to mention that capital gains have already been taxed at the corporate level (at about 40%, the highest rate among industrialized nations).

But I’m not writing to defend investment returns or wealthy people or even capitalism (all of which I would defend).  I’m going a different direction.  Joe Biden famously (or infamously) said that paying taxes is patriotic.  Now you can interpret that how you want, but the assumption is that the middle class need help (we need to “take money and put it back in the pockets of middle class people.”)  The fundamental flaw is that this is the very definition of theft.  If we’re supposed to be paying more in taxes to help those who need help, maybe we should encourage people to give more to charities that actually meet people at their point of need. Unfortunately for Biden, this is apparently a foreign concept.  For tax years 1998-2007 the Bidens gave $3,690 to charity.  That’s ten years at about $370 per year (and that’s after the Biden’s upped their charitable giving from $120 in 1999 to $995 in 2007) out of an average adjusted income of about $250,000 per year.  That comes to about 0.15%.  Romney gave approximately $7 million to charity, over half of which went to his church.

“Whoa, now!” you may say.  “Weren’t you just talking about Matthew 7 and not judging and all that?”  Yes, I was.  I suggest we go back to Matthew 7 when we begin to talk about people and their money.  The problem with “Judge not lest ye be judged” is that half of the saying is missing.  The rest of the passage in the TNIV says “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  In other words, when you pronounce judgment on others, the standard you use against them is the standard that’s going to be used on you.

The narrative the class warriors want to tell is that the wealthy don’t care and don’t give to help anyone because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.  But digging deeper shows, at least in this instance, that Romney is far more generous than Biden.  However, even that comparison is not my point.  My point is that it’s none of your of my business how much money Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates has or how each one made his money (so long as it was legally gained, obviously) or what they do with their money.  It’s their money.  Not the government’s.  We’d all be a lot better off if we learned to  respect all of the property rights of others.

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No News is Certainly Better Than This “News”

Last night (23 January) ABC News aired a story on the tornadoes that hit the South (particularly Alabama) early that morning.  In the lead-in, anchor Diane Sawyer described the storms as “[taking] the South by surprise” as the storms hit with “no warning.”  This particularly egregious lie has been exposed by several professional weather watchers, including one meteorologist challenging Sawyer to debate the facts, so you can read their objections to Sawyer and ABC News at the links. (As I’m finishing this post up, I just saw a tweet from James Spann that ABC will be interviewing him this afternoon.)

What I want to focus on is the end of the piece.  Asking reporter Steve Osunsami about how residents could have been notified (in the middle of the night) of the coming storms, Osunsami suggests people could “go to websites like fema.com” to register their phone numbers so that FEMA could call with alerts.  “That’s fema.com,” reiterated Sawyer. [Update: FEMA states that ABC News was wrong to point their viewers there.  FEMA states that “FEMA does not send out alerts as this is a local responsibility. When natural disasters strike, it is important to follow the advice of state and local officials.”  Good for FEMA.  Bad form, ABC.]

As the links above will attest, the warnings that severe weather (including tornadoes) were probable Sunday night/Monday morning were out as early as Saturday and Sunday during the day.  In addition, local stations in the Birmingham area have a standing policy that they go to long-form weather coverage if a tornado warning is issued for a county in their viewing area.  Also, weather radios are designed to sound an alarm when a warning is issued in the area…they even wake me up, and that’s saying something.  There are relatively inexpensive apps for smart phones that will alert their user of weather warnings.  On top of all of the advance warning, there is still an antiquated siren system in place to warn people who refuse to pay attention to any other source.  Of all of these warning mechanisms, which does ABC News suggest? FEMA.  That’s right…FEMA.

I expect partisanship in reporting political/economic news.  Reporting such patent falsehoods in a story such as this is bad enough for professional journalists but using the report to plug an agency like FEMA when other, more reliable sources of information are available is beyond the pale and shatters any notion that ABC News is in any way an objective source of news and information.  You can send your thoughts to ABC News here (and it only takes a minute or two).

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Tea Party, Thy Name is Ichabod (or Soon Will Be)

I don’t think I have ever been as disappointed in an election result as I was in the GOP primary result in South Carolina Saturday night.  If you’ve seen any of my previous posts you know I’m a Ron Paul supporter, but it wasn’t his finish that disgusted me about the race.  It was the fact that South Carolina Republicans chose Newt Gingrich as their prime choice for President.

Frankly, I didn’t expect Paul to do very well in South Carolina (or in the South as a whole).  Conservatives here in the Bible Belt don’t really seem to care much about the economy or civil liberties or freedom in general, for that matter.  Bible Belt Conservatives (BBC’s) like war.  No doubt this is a carryover from when the South was dominated by Democrats being that for almost 100 years (from McKinley to Bush [41])  they were the warmongering party.  BBC’s like Jesus but they don’t like freedom of religion.  Apparently too much Puritanism made it’s way South over the years.  I’m pretty sure most BBC’s would feel pretty good about burning unrepentant Muslims or Hindus or atheists at the stake, but not Jews.  They need the Jews around because they’re the key to the entire unfolding of the apocalypse.  Well, Jewish Democrats can burn…others are ok.  BBC’s would also rather focus on issues like abortion and drugs, both issues about which they simply can’t comprehend the straightforward position Paul has that these are state issues…not federal issues.  Oh, and marriage.  That one’s pretty important, too.  Well, not so much marriage as an institution but just keeping marriage between a man and a woman (I guess I should add burning homosexuals to the list above).  On this issue, BBC’s are obviously quite tortured, because the man who won the South Carolina primary has no respect for the institution of marriage, having divorced two wives after they were diagnosed with debilitating conditions–cancer and MS (so much for sickness and health, huh?)–and marrying his third wife after he had cheated on his second wife with her.  So, no, the fact that Ron Paul was fourth didn’t really surprise me and I was pleased that he drew several times more votes this year than in ’08.  At least some South Carolinians are paying attention.

No, my disappointment stems from the fact that BBC’s (and perhaps other “conservatives”) are so blatantly inconsistent that it means they’re either ignorant (not stupid, ignorant in that they don’t know much), gullible (and fall for Newt’s manipulation of the media, the debates and the issues), or are patently not conservative and should give up the moniker.

Gingrich supported bailouts (TARP).  Newt supported an individual mandate in healthcare.  Newt “earned” almost $2,000,000 from Freddie Mac, the eye of the real estate bubble hurricane, as a “consultant.” On top of these issues, the ignorance of BBC’s is compounded by the fact that Newt has said that FDR was “probably the greatest president of the twentieth century.”  That’s right…this self-proclaimed “Reagan Republican” credits FDR as being the greatest president of the twentieth century.  (Not to mention that Gingrich also sees himself as a Wilsonian, which would be bad enough.)  And this is the man that self-proclaimed Tea Party supporters (64% of the SC voters) chose by a wide margin (45% for Gingrich).  On top of this, Newt used revelations of his sordid past in wanting an “open marriage” to his advantage.  John King (stupidly) opened the debate Thursday night with a question to Gingrich about it and Gingrich (rightly or wrongly) used the opportunity to pitch a fit.  Gullible voters would easily interpret the scene as a left-wing media attack on Gingrich, making him a hero in their eyes and possibly winning their votes if they hadn’t already been duped by him.  It would be laughable if it weren’t so shameful.

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Can You Help Jesus? Call or Click Today.

I recently saw a church sign that simply said “Jesus Needs You.”  Being the delightfully (if I do say so myself) sarcastic person I am, I immediately began to wonder what Jesus needed.  Is he going out of town and needs someone to watch his pets?  Does he need to borrow twenty bucks for gas?  Does he need to borrow a cup of sugar? Does he need help changing a tire or fixing a leaky faucet?

Why on earth does Jesus need me?  In Luke 19, as Jesus is entering the city and the people are shouting praises, the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke the people.  He refuses, telling them that “if they keep quiet, the stones will keep quiet.” (v. 40, TNIV)  Jesus can make the stones cry out if the people don’t.  Sure Jesus wants the people to praise but what does Jesus need from us if he can just as easily replace us with stones?

I grew up Baptist (but am Episcopal now…how’s that for a change of pace?), and what Jesus really needed from Baptists, it seemed, was their money.  Well, money and prayers.  Money because there were missionaries all over the world doing stuff to help people know God (which is a good thing, I would add).  Prayers because, well, God needed to keep tabs on people somehow and prayer seems like the perfect means to do so.  (And if you’ve been in one of those prayer gatherings that turns into a gossip session when it’s time for “prayer requests” you know what I’m talking about.)  Anyway, that’s about it.  God needed prayers and money.

Now we left it to the liberals to do the feeding and clothing and all.  They seemed to like helping people since they didn’t really believe in God anyway and it would take their work to get those people fed and clothed and all since God wouldn’t (couldn’t?) do it.

And so there was this dichotomy between the two.  On the one hand, we Baptists were running around trying to get people saved (which is what really mattered…after all, “once saved, always saved,” right?) while the rest, well, it was up to God to take care of.  On the other hand, those liberals (which apparently I’m not a part of) weren’t so much interested in getting people saved but they wanted to help people because they believed the Bible told them to do so.

You know what?  Both had a point.  If the analogy of the Church as the body of Christ is remotely accurate then there is certainly a need for believers to be mouths to share God’s message of reconciliation with the world.  There is also a need for believers to be the hands and feet for God since he is not physically present in the world.  God’s presence is accomplished by the Holy Spirit working in and through believers to care for “the least of these.”

So I guess Jesus does need us, not because there is some kind of deficiency with Jesus that I can help remedy but because we, you and I, were designed to be needed, designed to cooperate with God in bringing about reconciliation between God and all of Creation.

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Music to My Ears

I’m about to do the blogging equivalent of throwing a car from fifth gear to first without letting off the gas or touching the clutch…so hang on.

I thought I’d share a few songs that have come to be recent favorites of mine.  They’re in no particular order…and I like them for similar but different reasons.  I hope you enjoy them half as much as I do.

“Old Alabama” by Brad Paisley

“Southern Voice” by Tim McGraw

“As She’s Walking Away” by Zac Brown Band (feat. Alan Jackson)

“People are Crazy” by Billy Currington

“Sweet Southern Comfort” by Buddy Jewell

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Omni-this and Omni-that

I haven’t theologized much lately.  Not that I don’t care to but rarely do I come across something that strikes my fancy.  A friend posted a link on her facebook page that struck me though.  At the link, the blog author included a short piece (not written by her) entitled “Omnipotence:  A Compliment Jesus Wants You to Take Back.”  The gist seems to be that God is best described as “all-loving,” as revealed in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  If God is all-loving then he must not be omnipotent because an all-loving God wouldn’t allow the atrocities that we humans face and have faced for millennia.  If God were all-powerful he would intervene because he is all-loving.

This pits all-loving over against omnipotent.  God must be one or the other.  An omnipotent God who does not act is in fact willing the evils and atrocities that ravage humankind, which obviously renders God not to be all-loving.  The alternative is that God is all-loving but is not able to act because he is not omnipotent.  In other words, God is naturally limited and incapable of acting but instead responds with sympathy and love (to the point of sending Jesus).  This dichotomy seems to be the only set of explanations available to tackle the problem.

This dichotomous view is where the authors (and process theology as a whole) runs amok.  Like in many areas of like (e.g. politics), people want nice, neat black/white answers to make things relatively easy but there are virtually always shades of grey that color the world.  The same is true here.  The first part of this I would take issue with is the author’s own admission that previous experience in Calvinism helped influence his thinking.  The idea that God has determined the fates of every person ever created (including their eternal destination of heaven or hell) certainly seems to conflict with the picture of God as all-loving.  But the notion process theology, where God is struggling along like the rest of creation, and a denial of God’s omnipotence only swings the pendulum the other direction.  Instead of a God who determines every single thing that happens, we end up with a God who, although he loves you and wants you to be happy, he just can’t do anything about it.  But he loves you…that’s the important part.  Neither of those options seems to be a very good description of the God revealed in the Scriptures.

Let’s assume Jesus is the standard here.  Jesus was compassionate, sure.  But let’s talk about his power. I’ll skim through a couple of examples, referenced from Matthew but they can be found in other places in the Gospels as well (all from the TNIV, emphasis added):

Matthew 4.23 – “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” No problems there.

In Matthew 8.1-4 a man with leprosy approaches Jesus and says “‘Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!'”  If nothing else, Jesus’ act of healing is volitional, which implies there is a choice involved.

Matthew 8.5-13 is the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant.  The man comes to Jesus and simply states the problem, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”  Jesus then responds to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”  It’s like Jesus is saying, “Do you want me to come heal him?  I can do that, you know.  I have the power and ability.  Just give me the word and – Wham! – he’ll be healed.”  Seriously, if Jesus was the all-loving reflection of God, why ask? Just heal the guy, right?  Everyone would be amazed, astounded and so forth. But no, Jesus restrains and asks the centurion if he wants Jesus to come to heal him.  The centurion recognizes Jesus power and says that it’s not even necessary for Jesus to come to him, he can just say the word and the centurion’s servant will be healed.  And that’s exactly what Jesus does.

While these anecdotal passages do not necessarily disprove the idea that God is not omnipotent they do offer an alternative understanding to that point of view using Christ’s own life as an example, viz. God is omnipotent but chooses not to exercise his power at times.  In fact, this makes the relationship between omnipotent God and limited humankind (a relationship Shipp and Sanders say is impossible) possible.  God allows humanity, creatures with free will, to both enjoy and suffer the consequences of it’s own decisions.  It’s free will that makes relationship possible, not God’s lack of omnipotence.  God restrains his omnipotence in the interest of creating genuinely loving (i.e. give and take) relationships with the human race he created.

So…I disagree with the conclusion that God is not omnipotent.  To me, Process Theology turns God into a being who is struggling along as much (if not more) than we are, and I have no reason to pray to, trust in or give worship to a being who is as lost in the universe as I am.

Where I do find myself in agreement with Tripp and Sanders is that God is omniscient so far as what is possible to be known.  As they put it, “God is omniscient in that God knows all there is to know – but the future is undetermined.”  It’s how God deals with that future that I disagree once again.  While I find the out of hand jettisoning of all things Hellenistic that characterizing both Process Theology and Open Theism to be a mistake and disingenuous to the social and religious milieu in which Christianity was born (that’s another blog for another day) I do find an idea from Open Theism useful here: omnicompetent.  God is omnicompetent in that, while he does not know the future, he is able to know all possible contingencies and respond to them in a way that violates neither his sovereignty nor human free will.  This, I believe, is the key to the tension between God’s omnipotence and the results of human free will.

I’m not really sure what Tripp and Sanders mean by “God is omnipresent in an even more radical way than traditionally thought.”  With God being omnipotent, omniscient and omnicompetent there is no need for omnipresence.  God’s power and knowledge extend to all points of Creation without requiring his “presence” as we think of the term.  Certainly the Holy Spirit is present with God’s Church but that does not require omnipresence.  This may or may not be what Tripp and Sanders have in mind but it’s where I am with the idea.

I guess in my final analysis, to boil down my own ramblings, I would assert the following:

  1. God is omnipotent.
  2. God is omniscient.
  3. God is omnicompetent.
  4. God is not omnipresent (as the word is typically understood).

In any event, I have to plead ignorance about the true essence of God’s being simply because the portion of God revealed in Scripture is meant to lead humankind to reconciliation with God, not give us an exhaustive inventory of the personality or character or God.

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Would You Support A Racist?

I wouldn’t support a racist and wouldn’t expect intelligent and thoughtful people to either.  However, lot’s of proverbial ink has been spilt over the alleged racism of Ron Paul.  No facts, only misguided opinion has indicted Paul as a racist.  The most recent drivel  I’ve come across is a CNN Political Ticker blog post (entitled “In early book, Rep. Ron Paul criticized AIDS patients, minority rights and sexual harassment victims”) I saw posted on Facebook.  I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed at the pervasiveness of ignorance regarding individual rights and collective “rights.” Also, I wonder if CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby got past the first chapter of Paul’s book since everything he quotes comes from the first section of the first chapter. Maybe it was a little to heavy for him to proceed any further into the book.  In any case, you can read the book itself for free here…and I suggest you do just that.  But don’t stop at the first section like Hamby, read (or at least skim closely) the whole thing.

Interestingly, anyone who understands the foundations of modern-day libertarianism will readily understand Dr. Paul’s stance as being consistent with supporting “liberty and justice for all” as the (socialist) pledge of allegiance states.  While there are racist groups that espouse some degree of libertarianism, their very racism belies their libertarian claims.  Liberals and neo-cons can cry “racist” all they want but their own support of affirmative action, quotas, and collective “rights” bestowed by the state only serve to foment further tensions among the races.  (In the event that someone produced actual evidence that Dr. Paul is a racist and not the circumstantial mumbo-jumbo that has “surfaced” thus far, I will be the first to renounce my support for Dr. Paul, not because he will have been proved a racist, which would be reprehensible, but because he will have betrayed the libertarian principles he espouses of individual liberty and freedom.)

To top it off, no direct statement of any kind (unless you count Hamby’s ridiculous assertions) implicates Dr. Paul as being racist in any degree whatsoever.  However, I did have a challenge for those holier-than-thou moralists who are more than willing to accuse Dr. Paul of racism based secondary and tertiary connections.  Would you support a politician for President if he said the following–from his own mouth?

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of [African Americans], nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.  I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Be careful how you answer.  You’re judging the words of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  And the official version of history would never accuse the “Great Emancipator” of ever being a racist.

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