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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Politics, Science, and Faith

First and foremost, I am a Christian. Everything else that I am or believe is derived from my faith, or at least it is supposed to be. The reason I am a “conservative” politically speaking is because of my Christian worldview. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing about politics—more than I should. However, as a Christian, I know well that politics alone is not going solve the world’s real problems.

Writing about the “great issues” of his day, my favorite Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, wrote in 1940, “Lord! How I loathe great issues…Could one start a Stagnation Party— which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?” Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, John G. West writes that “According to stepson David Gresham, Lewis was skeptical of politicians and not really interested in current events. His concern was not policy but principle; political problems of the day were interesting to him only insofar as they involved matters that endured.”

Nevertheless, West adds that Lewis did indeed have a “great deal” to say about politics, writing about such things as crime, obscenity, capital punishment, communism, fascism, socialism, war, the welfare state, and so on. West noted that, “It is precisely because Lewis was so uninterested in ordinary political affairs that he has so much to tell us about politics in the broad sense of the term. By avoiding the partisan strife of his own time, he was able to articulate enduring political standards for all time.”

Nowhere is this clearer, West states, than in Lewis’ writings on tyranny and morality. According to West, Lewis was particularly concerned with the tyranny that could result from the union of modern science and the modern state.

Lewis disputed the notion that we must rely on the counsel of scientists because only they have the answers to today's complicated problems. He did not dispute their knowledge, but concluded that most of it was irrelevant. In West’s words, “Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists.” Lewis added that, “I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value.”

Therefore, agreeing with Lewis, I believe we can conclude that neither science nor politics offers us every solution to all that troubles the world. One would think that most people would see this conclusion as obvious, but I’m not so sure. This is namely because it runs contrary to much of the rhetoric we’ve been hearing of late. I say this in light of President Obama’s recent statements, and those like-minded, concerning stem cells and science in general.

As most now know, on March 9, Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He also noted that he was furthermore issuing “a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making to ensure that in this new administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology.” The implication, of course, as Charles Krauthhammer pointed out, is that “while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.”

This dig was aimed not only at President Bush, I would add, but at all those who dare to allow their reasoning to be aided, or even led, by their faith (especially those of the Christian faith). Never mind that all reasoning is guided by certain governing presuppositions. In other words, either side of every issue that is debated ultimately has certain un-provable assumptions upon which they must eventually rely. As the late philosopher Dr. GregBahnsen put it, “At the most fundamental level of everyone's thinking and beliefs there are primary convictions about reality, man, the world, knowledge, truth, behavior, and such things. Convictions about which all other experience is organized, interpreted, and applied.”

Whether the discussion is about embryonic stem cells, evolution, Global Warming, taxes, et al, we must be careful not to let the devoted naturalist, atheist, liberal, or any who might deny or ignore God and the supernatural, to assume the mantle of the superior intellectual position. We all have the same information in these debates (assuming the information is reliable and accurate). What is different is the lens, what some call “worldview,” through which the information is interpreted.

A persons worldview is determined by his faith. In other words, as we live out our lives, we all place faith in someone or something. I submit that our faith is more important than politics or science when it comes to solving the world’s problems. The great question is, in what or in whom have you put your faith?

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How Do We Fix This Financial Mess?

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” said Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel after Obama won the election in November of last year. I think he had the right idea, but, of course, the wrong approach.

These hard economic times are indeed challenging and there are no easy and painless solutions. However, this period offers great opportunity as well. For us to become the people we were meant to be, occasionally we must endure some affliction.

I’m no economist; my education is in physics and mathematics. However, I do know a bit about personal finances and operating a working household budget. I also know that hard financial times weigh heavily on individuals and families alike. Financial stress is consistently one of the top reasons given for divorce. (A January 2008 Reuters report here listed it second behind abuse.)

Don’t be surprised if you see many of the marriages around you struggling during this global financial downturn. Sadly, I believe we are likely to see a significant increase in the U.S. divorce rate as this recession drags on. It is human nature to want to run from difficult times such as we currently face.

Of course, such behaviors offer no real solutions. I propose that a bit of American history offers some wise and interesting insight into how we as a nation should approach the financial problems that we face.

After the long and hard fought battle for independence with Great Britain, the thirteen states set about the business of truly uniting themselves. The Constitutional Convention of 1787, originally convened to strengthen the Articles of Confederation which had loosely knit the 13 states together, soon focused on drafting a whole new constitution. Amazingly, as Peter Marshall and David Manuel write in The Light and the Glory, “It was the first time in history that men had ever had the opportunity to freely write a new constitution for their own government.”

The task proved more difficult than our founders had imagined. There were many disputes between the states, and some ran deep. Unsurprisingly, some of these disputes were financial. During the war effort, Congress had to beg some of the states for financial support. After the war ended, some states refused to pay any of their share of the war debt.

Vindictive states began raising and lowering their tariffs and coining their own money. Some even sent their own ambassadors to other nations, seeking trade agreements. The states were anything but “united.”

George Washington began a letter-writing campaign urging those in position to get about the business of preserving the union. The result was the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Things did not begin well. The northern states wanted representation based on population; the less populous but agriculturally hardy southern states wanted representation based on land under cultivation. This debate grew so bitter that some delegates went home in disgust.

According to James Madison’s detailed records, about five weeks into the convention, the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin prevailed. In a powerful and moving address to Congress he stated, “In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding.”

He continued, “In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection. –Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.”

Franklin concluded, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” After Franklin’s speech, James Madison moved, and Roger Sherman seconded, that Dr. Franklin’s appeal for prayer be enacted. We all know the results.

There you have it. The answer to our current (and every) plight: humble prayer to the Creator of all things. Let it be noted that God Himself never let a crisis “go to waste.” What better opportunity to reveal Himself to so many who seem to have forgotten that He was ever there.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Obama's "Change" Doesn't Equal Progess

“Never confuse motion with action,” said Ben Franklin. So far, what we seem to be getting from the Obama administration is a lot of motion, with little real productive action. Or, to put it another way, we’re getting much “change” but no real progress. Obama’s administration looks like one of those spread-the-floor basketball teams that passes the ball well, sets good picks, runs the shot clock nearly all the way down and then shoots a brick—again, a lot of motion with no tangible results.

“Not simply change, but progress” should have been the conservative retort to Obama’s cries of “Change! Change! Change!” during the campaign season. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better.”

Alas, if you were unsure, now you can see what Obama’s “change” is all about: expanding government, spending massive amounts of taxpayer dollars (“spreading the wealth”), all the while furthering the liberal agenda. This government spending spree, which began in the last administration, seems to have “something for everyone.” (Sounds like some of our local politicians.) Corporations, homeowners, state governments, city governments…almost everyone with his or her hand out is getting money from the federal government.

Given the failings of corporations, banks, and individuals alike, many folks see the government as the way out of our financial mess. In other words, most people think that government should “do something.” A February 19 Fox News poll showed that 58 percent of Americans thought the stimulus legislation was necessary. Of those 58%, the top reason given (37%) for supporting the stimulus was because it was seen as the best option and we “have to do something.”

A February 24 Washington Post poll revealed that 63 percent of Americans thought additional federal action will be needed to improve the economy. What, $800 billion is not enough?! It’s time for another Ben Franklin quote: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money—that will herald the end of the republic.”

Financial expert and Atlanta radio talk-show host Clark Howard had an interesting take on Obama’s stimulus plan. Clark “does not do politics,” so speaking as non-partisan as possible, using “cold, hard economic facts,” he said that Obama’s plan “was not a good idea for the country.” He refers to the stimulus as a “Christmas Tree with ornaments,” with almost $2 in spending for every $1 in tax cuts.

We are where we are financially, he noted, because of a “speculative economic bubble.” We “over-stimulated the economy,” Clark said, and had “false economic growth based on borrowed money.” This was true of individuals, corporations, and the government.

Clark described this debt as a “disease that spread through the full financial arteries of this country.” Along with having a government that is too large, we over-extended ourselves in the private sector as well. Using easy credit, we built far too many homes, retail stores, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, apartments, and so on. This also led us to have too many banks. Thus, Clark notes, our recession is a “natural result of living too large,” and all sectors of American society must begin to work off our current level of debt.

Clark correctly states that the best thing that government can do is let this painful but necessary period of financial correction play out. Government can help soften the blow of this recession, he adds, by creating a temporary “social safety net” (for food, healthcare, etc.). This would come at a fraction (about 1/20th) of the cost of Obama’s $800 billion plan. This $800 billion will create growth, but it will be false growth, Clark says, and will likely be followed by a second recession. He concludes that, “You do not create long-term prosperity by crowding out capitalism with massive doses of federal spending.” (A link to Clark’s full comments is on my website.)

Contrary to the false economic growth, this immense level of federal spending will create all too real government growth. This is why several principled Governors have declined to accept part of the federal money. Tens of billions of these dollars are for health care, welfare, unemployment, and education programs. The federal money will expand these programs, and as Governor Rick Perry of Texas put it, “If this money expands entitlements, we will not accept it. This is exactly how addicts get hooked on drugs.”

As much as many people want to believe it is so, there is no magic wand that government can wave and bring us out of these hard economic times. Government spending at the federal, state, or local level that expands government programs, institutions, facilities, etc. will continue to increase the tax burden on Americans. Congress and the President cannot outlaw the natural financial consequences that must take place for our country to experience real economic progress and the return of financial growth and stability.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com