Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Invictus: Lessons from Mandela

I enjoyed the new movie Invictus. Morgan Freeman did a stellar job of portraying the early years of Nelson Mandela's leadership in post-apartheid South Africa. Mandela's willingness to forgive the past and embrace a rugby team that had been a symbol of the oppression for so many is inspiring.

Mandea's leadership provides some clues to a better future for our nation. I am not a fan of our current president, but I do pray for him to have wisdom and to be a man of integrity. When I hear echoes of the street fighter from Chicago ("You lost. Get over it.") and the leftist organizer (the recent apology tour in the presence of foreign monarchs), I become alarmed. This is not the politics of inclusion and embrace, of forging a way past partisanship. Recent arm-twisting and payola in the Senate only confirms that nothing has changed.

Mandela risked his safety and alienated the Communist elements of the ANC when he chose the pathways of forgiveness and reconciliation, of accountability and integrity (contra Mugabe in Zimbabwe to the north). He lost his marriage, upset those who wanted payback for suffering and chose the long-term course of systemic change instead of the immediate gratifications of newly-held power.

My Christmas prayer for President Obama is that he would rise above the radical imprinting of his college years and the reactionary policies of current leaders, especially his Chief of Staff. His Nobel speech was decent, but it still contained too many inflammatory implications of global governance to reassure conservatives. Mandela understood that wealth had to be created privately even while better services were delivered to the long-neglected Black public. Mandela understood that a budget still mattered and the opinions of his opponents were heard. President Obama, will you listen - not to the shrill personalities - but to the concerned citizens and leaders who represent the people who actually create wealth, contribute a higher percentage of income to charity and pay most of the taxes?

Two groups have profited from the terrible spending policies of the last 40 years: those at the top of the ladder and those connected with the government. This includes some of the academic and entertainment elites who support certain policies and the lobbyists who represent global interests. Two groups have lost ground: the middle class and the working poor.

The answer is not to overtax the productive, but create space for new business, decentralize the delivery of social services and apply the genius of the 21st century "Imagination Age" to corrupt, outmoded government systems. Where is the Steve Jobs for our government agencies?

When our elected officials get the same medical and pension benefits of private citizens, when government unions are compelled to be reasonable and business leaders held to the highest ethics, there is hope.

Mandela stood against his radical party members, reminding them that he was the leader of all South Africans.

My prayer is that President Obama will find the courage to do the same. We can do better on health care and balance a budget. We can bring our troops home and secure our safety. We can have real borders and have compassion for those working hard. The key is to not be the servant of any one interest, but the interests of all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peacemaking in an Age of Anger

I recently had the honor of spending some time with Dr. Peter Kusmic, one of the world's ecumenical leaders, a scholar and a man known for his peacemaking efforts in the Balkans. Peter is the brother-in-law of Dr. Miroslav Volf, a professor who anchors the Center for Religion and Culture at Yale. Both of these men take the words of Jesus seriously, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

As we spoke about ethics, politics, missions, business and other current world issues, we found much common ground, even while we approached issues a bit differently. It is hard for Americans to comprehend the ethnic hatreds and suffering in the Balkans, in the Sudan, in Zimbabwe and other regions. Peter is a Pentecostal Christian in a region torn by strife between Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Muslim, with other traditions on both sides of the ethnic divide!

Out of these conversations, I want to propose some ways forward on highly divisive issues. These thoughts will not please the hard-core Left or Right, but perhaps they can be a starting point for forging consensus that leads to practical help for the broken and vulnerable among us.

International cooperation is not an option. We live in an interconnected world and cannot retreat from reality. But international coercion and a one-world governing elite would be a disaster for freedom. My conservative friends, the UN does have a place - a place for debate and discussion, for moral outrage, humanitarian help, and for peacemaking. My liberal friends, surrender of national sovereignty is antithetical to democracy and economic development. The 20th century is proof that central planning does not engender liberty.

Climate change, global warming, a coming ice age, limited resources and a burgeoning population - what do we believe and what do we do?

My conservative friends, shouting, "free markets and less regulation!" is not enough. Ethical constraints and environmental limits on capitalism are vital if we are going to prosper and have a planet for our grandchildren to enjoy. My colleagues on the Left, your foundation dollars and government salaries have to come from somewhere - it is called for-profit business! We do not need to "de-develop" the USA - we need to foster wealth creation within reasonable environmental limits, with as little government control as possible.

Government regulation is NOT the same as government administration, control and even ownership. I urge all socialists to take a look at the environmental consequences of 70 years of Soviet planning in Eastern Europe and the USSR. At the same time, the rapacious policies of several multinationals in Latin America continue to keep that vibrant continent from real prosperity.

Will we permit real, open public debate on the climate? What do we have to fear? At the same time, will all climate-change advocates who have been raking in millions in grants and profits please stand up and be counted and allow their lifestyles to be examined? Meanwhile, global corporations must be held to account for how they treat the environment. Such accountability can take place without an one-world government, if nations will negotiate in good faith.

My business friends, we must think about sustainable enterprises that bring reward for risk and return good to the world.

For over 40 years both political parties have failed to restrain spending. My Republican friends, I join you in opposing much of the new spending proposed by the current administration. However, conservatives must be willing to have every part of government spending scrutinized - including the military and the subcontracting of security to private firms. I have family members and friends that were and are part of the defense industry and all of them, in honest moments, admit that there is much waste. George Will years ago said that conservatives like to rail about less government while taking full advantage of all her benefits. Let's get honest and understand that smarter thinking and streamlined processes will not be easy.

I challenge all elected, appointed and career federal officials to get off their special gravy trains and be part of the same medical and retirement programs the rest of us have. While scores of my friends look for work, the federal salaries are rising and the bureaucracy is growing - not a good sign.

We must be honest about history. FDR's policies did create temporary jobs and build infrastructure. But the real turnaround came as private and public agencies geared for war and the new technologies it spawned fueled the prosperity of the post-WWII generation. So we may need some government help to stimulate some sectors - but not permanent control of large portions of the economy.

Let's decide to balance the budget over the next three to five years. "It is not that simple," many say. Why not? Where is the courage to take on ALL the special interests, from arts to education to subsidies for agriculture, to military programs and pet projects in particular districts. (I read that the recent spending proposed in Congress has over 5000 earmarks. We are waiting for your pencil, Mr. President!)

Wall Street avarice created the current crisis. But government policies encouraged "flexible" lending practices and the people we entrust our hard-earned tax dollars to refuse to change their habits. Several governors are leading the way in budgeting - let's learn from them.

Peacemaking is our theme. Howard Dean, capitalism is not the enemy and socialism is no solution. Sean Hannity, repeating conservative mantras will not move us forward either. Wealth creation moderated by sound ethics and governmental policies is the way forward. Private initiative must be primary - in business and charity, with governmental help when needed.

Now to the two social issues that raise voices before anyone is heard.

Abortion ends the life of a human being, whether she is defined as actual or potential, a fetus or a baby. Let's stop the verbal nonsense and once and for all expose the real issue: many folks do not want to live with the consequences of their decisions. If the sexual intimacy was consensual, then the unborn child deserves our protection. "A woman's right to choose" includes the choice to have consensual sex with her partner. My liberal friends are already screaming, "it is not that simple. Some impoverished women really do not have choices and some scared teenager deserves her life back. You are so insensitive!" My conservative friends are already angry because i used the word consensual as a qualifier.

Apart form rape or incest - and we need to create a climate where these can be exposed while protecting the victims - abortion is rarely a medical necessity, physically or psychologically. The small percentage of cases where a mother's life is in danger deserve compassion and perhaps the permission of a tragic moral choice; however, this is not a large number of the more than 40 million dead since Roe v. Wade. The victims of non-consensual sex who courageously carry to term and either raise the child or release to adoptive parents deserve all our support. For those who have had abortions, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation is the order of the day.

Even if my position is not the majority opinion culturally or legally, doctors and nurses who refuse to perform elective abortions should not be ostracized or penalized. This is intolerance from the other side of the debate.

I recently heard one male point of view in a coffee shop: "Abortion is OK. If I want to have a one-night stand I should not have to pay for it the rest of my life, and oh, yeah, neither should she." What a sad window into the hedonism of our day.

Gay marriage is the other hot potato. Most world religions affirm the sanctity of monogamous heterosexual marriage. The Judeo-Christian marriage ethic has been the core of our Western Culture for centuries. In the last 40 years gay activists have been crying our for full equality. How do we reconcile these two very divergent perspectives?

A little anthropology, biology, history, psychology and sociology helps. Clans and communities, nations and empires throughout history have honored heterosexual marriage as a social contract, a religious sacrament and an essential foundation for the future. My GLBT friends, your call for civility and tolerance of your private adult sexual activity is one thing, overthrowing the sacred traditions of world faiths is another. In fact, the GLBT agenda continues to morph from toleration of private activity in the 1970s to benefits for domestic partners in the 1980s and 1990s to the strident call to redefine marriage in the 2000s.

Here is a way forward: Other forms of domestic partnership can have legal status without the title marriage. Adult partners can still have benefits, create ceremonies and legally bind themselves to each other; however, marriage is reserved for monogamous heterosexual unions that have proven to be the key to health and stability and remain the ideal for billions all over the world.

There is no place for intolerance or violence toward any person, regardless of orientation. But toleration does not mean a person must agree with another person's choices. Clergy must never be forced to marry or unite people against their faith. If a particular group dissents from the rest of their particular religion or sect, they are free to create their own community - but they should not hijack or subvert the faith of others in the process.

Traditionalists must live at peace with non-traditionalists without being forced to agree with them. This is the genius of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. My neighbors live together as an unmarried couple. I would love them to marry and come to faith; however, they are great folks and I am happy to know them. We help each other and have fun discussing all types of topics. They are smart enough to know we disagree about the (what we view as) incomplete nature of their union; we know that they are made in God's image and bring good to the world and deserve our love and respect.

Defending traditional marriage will be on better ground if those who claim faith and fidelity practice it. Hypocrisy and scandal are grist for the subversive mill.

Public education must not replace one form of perceived intolerance with another. Religious children should not be forced to listen to "education" that is a mask for moral relativism, promiscuity and sexual experimentation outside of an adult relationship. At the same time, no student should be afraid if they are "different." Wherever possible, Christians should be the best friends they can be with the people they disagree with most.

Emperor Julian (called "the Apostate" in the 360s because he sought to revive paganism against the growing influence of Christianity) lamented that the Christians far surpassed their pagan neighbors in sacrificial service to poor, whether Christian or not. If only this was the testimony of the non-religious today.

Peacemaking is arduous, halting and takes time. It cannot fit a 20 second sound bite and it will rarely be understood in its early stages. But it is worth the effort. We can have Zimbabwe or South Africa; we can have the Balkans or Ireland. In the USA we can shout, "Foul" to all the ideas of our opponents, or start with the values we share and build from there.

As we honor the Prince of Peace, let's resolve to be people of peace.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Euphemisms for Totalitarianism

Finally, EU and UN officials are coming clean and speaking of "global management" and "global governance" as the aims of the Copenhagen climate summit.

I am not against voluntary international cooperation.

I am deeply worried about a new elite "managing" our lives down to our electric meters.

China, India and Russia are already, "Nay" on any serious controls over their economies.

The EU leaders are outright hypocrites on energy policy, since a large portion of their electrical power in nuclear. (The USA has not built a new plant in more than two decades.)

The only guarantee of real liberty is decentralized governance, with maximum personal freedom and affirmation of regional uniqueness.

Does anyone notice that almost none of the 57 Muslim nations are saying anything about "climate change"?

Recent scandals in England and more than 31,000 scientists opposing the "conclusions" of other scientists should cause us to pause. Follow the grant money.

Al Gore's organization (he is about $100M richer since he left office to peddle his nonsense) is aware that they need a new crisis to further global control - and the choice is plastic waste.

Our Founders in 1789 understood that the role of government was to safeguard personal liberties and create peaceful space for human flourishing with minimal control.

The real planetary crises are structural poverty, AIDS and other preventable diseases and the violence that that accompanies petty tyrannies. The UN would do well to address these issues instead of feathering its anti-American nests with more exploitation of hard-working Americans.

America is cleaner now than in 1970. Both Democratic and Republican leaders have created private-public partnerships that enable enterprise to continue while making sure we do not deprive future generations of resources.

By the way, it was Governor Sarah Palin that took on Big Oil and the Republican machine in Alaska and forged balanced policies that enrich citizens while protecting wildlife. If an non-white Democrat had done the same in any state, the Left and the UN would lionize them with a Nobel Prize.

We must refuse to ratify anything that comes from Copenhagen or smells like Kyoto, Buenos Aires or any other global elite gathering.

Voluntary cooperation for the welfare of all is good; the compulsory transfer of wealth to corrupt nations reverses the tides of freedom and enslaves millions more.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Mr.. President, Please Define "Victory" in Afghanistan

Our President is sending 30,000 more soldiers to the same dangerous deserts that Persian, Greek, Mongol, British and Russian Empires could not completely subdue.

The small number, coupled with a timeline for withdrawal will not secure freedom for Afghans or safety for the West.

What should our policy be?

Victory and vigilance.

We must strike a decisive blow and destroy the forces of terror and then be prepared to intervene if they attempt any kind of comeback.

We do not need to be a long-term occupier nor do we need to impose our culture.

We need to defeat our foes decisively, with military success and a treaty of surrender. Then we need to have our forces ready to strike at the first sign of violation.

The major mistakes in Obama's policy are the proposed timeline ending our involvement and the passive language about our aims. "Impeding momentum" is not total victory. Al-Queda and the Taliban only understand one language: brute force.

I respect the President for attempting to gather international support. The problem is that there is no clear goal and no consensus on process shared by NATO allies or any of the 43 nations involved.

It is also disconcerting to see the blatant politics of the timing of the first troop withdrawals: just before the 2012 elections. Obama is trying to position himself as a pragmatic moderate while winking to his hard left supporters. He can blunt conservative attacks by appearing martial and presidential while "ending" a war before the next votes are cast.

Mr. President - send in the troops with a mandate to win and we will celebrate with you their rapid return.

Mr. President, stop bowing to foreign royalty and stop apologizing for American uniqueness.

Mr. President, respect the brave State of Israel and stop marginalizing her. She is the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East and as soon as Palestinian leaders guarantee her sovereignty, she will sign a real peace accord and welcome a second Palestinian State.

You can be an outdated ideologue or a statesman. i hope you choose the latter.

P.S. One more thing, Mr. President: End this health care fiasco and stop appropriating the resources of hard working Americans. Use your bully pulpit to empower municipalities, counties and states to find public-private partnership solutions to health care and other social challenges. Your legacy could really be amazing if your will unleash wealth creation and lessen federal control. Eschew your tired playbook from your university days, read some Tom Sowell columns on economics and watch our land flourish again.

P.P.S. Go to Copenhagen and tell the fear mongers and global governance folks to take their questionable science and go home.

Nothing to Fear

As a historian, my interest grows as I see commentary on the "New Atheism." The "Big Four" - Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens (sounds like British law firm) - have created a stir that stimulates skeptics to be more militant and religious apologists to fire up their debating skills.

There is absolutely NOTHING new about any of the ideas brought forward any of these or other atheists. They are part of a generational cycle of reaction against religion that characterizes the academic and chattering classes of the West. From the first "free thinkers" of the 17th century to today's militant atheists, hatred of religion will always have adherents and auditors, especially if there are a few juicy scandals among some religious groups.

There are four basic tactics of the anti-religious elites. Some are presented with honorable intent, while others cynically exploit ignorance or use the tools of propaganda to influence their hearers.

Tactic Number One: Vilify the awful things done in the name of religion in order to distort the beliefs of that religion. It is amazing how the same historical events come up, with no attempt to read multiple accounts of the same events.

For example: The Crusades of 1095 to 1291. The standard atheist screed is, "Look what religion does! It promulgates violence and intolerance and it merely the tool of the political elite."

Response: The Crusades were a complex series of geopolitical events that involved Christians, Muslims, Jews and above all, the economic and political concerns of competing civilizations. The losers were the pious of all faiths and the winners were the rich and powerful. None of these events "proves" or "disproves" the Divine.

The fact is that the new atheists are really out to destroy Christianity and hope Islam will go down in flames someday. The creator of the recent movie 2012 was happy to destroy the holy sites of Judaism and Christianity because he hates religion; however he did not want an Islamofascist fatwa on his head, so the Dome on the Rock and Mecca were spared!

Tactic Number Two: Create a huge divide between religion and science and assert that science represents intellectual and moral progress while religion is regressive and intellectually infantile. All the radical atheists consider their perspective the only tenable one for "fully informed and sane people." Obviously, only these "brights" should be in charge!

Response: The vast majority of scientists before 1900 were not atheists and even today most scientists argue that these are separate domains. Science does not aim to destroy religion and most religious adherents respect the hard work of the scientific community. The problem arises when a scientific theory (Darwinian Evolution) becomes more than an explanation of natural processes. In the hands of the impious and unscrupulous, it becomes an excuse to exclude God from Nature or to justify ethnic supremacy or other totalitarian ideas.

Most religious folks can live with a world older than Bishop Ussher's chronology. They will not, however, yield the ground of meaning and morality to chaotic, impersonal, random and violent forces.

Tactic Number Three: Question the validity of key Christian beliefs, especially the resurrection of Jesus. If met with intelligent responses, question the historicity and veracity of the Bible. To add a bit of spice, attempt to reduce Christianity and Judaism to an amalgamation of beliefs culled from other faiths and philosophies, with no need for any supernatural intervention. In fact, go back to science and roundly affirm the impossibility of verifying any miracles.

Response: Yes, there is a measure of faith for any theist. Yes, Christianity (along with Islam and Judaism) shares some ideas and moral precepts with other systems. But this is not the same as declaring the resurrection impossible, Jesus barely a historical figure or the growth of Christianity merely a natural phenomenon.

Jesus of Nazareth is a historical figure verified by multiple accounts, sacred and secular. His followers were transformed and became zealous missionaries because they believed in Jesus' literal resurrection. The growth of Christianity, accompanied by its ethical, social and spiritual good, is not possible if it is only an amalgamation of other belief systems.

Tactic Number Four: When all else fails, hold God hostage for not intervening to prevent evil in all circumstances and/or his (apparent) failure to talk to us like any other person.

Response: The problem of evil is vexing for anyone, skeptic or theist. The most passionate believer can not explain fully why a "sneer was found across the universe"(G.K. Chesterton). In an of itself, though, evil is not a proof or disproof of the Divine - it is a problem that God and humankind must face. Once again, the atheists miss the point. By holding God accountable to humans, we are missing the very definition of God that is part of Monotheism.

Theists must clarify their thinking, speak boldly and humbly, and above all, live lives of exemplary love and service. There is nothing to fear from the new brand of atheism - it is the old ideas repackaged for a gullible, narcissistic consumer culture. Atheism is the preserve of cultural elites.

There is no room for smugness. Real faith and the communities it creates must be renewed continually. We must be alert to the forces that seek destruction of the Divine in humanity. All this said, we have nothing to fear is we "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God."