By the Fires of Trial and Hardship

It doesn’t take a world-class social observer to gather that a good life is a happy life. Happiness is of such value that it has even become an economic indicator. But despite the exalted status of hedonic satisfaction, happiness isn’t the ultimate good that man has made it out to be.

Emily Esfahani Smith of the Atlantic writes,

For at least the last decade, the happiness craze has been building. In the last three months alone, over 1,000 books on happiness were released on Amazon, including Happy MoneyHappy-People-Pills For All, and, for those just starting out, Happiness for Beginners.

One of the consistent claims of books like these is that happiness is associated with all sorts of good life outcomes, including — most promisingly — good health. Many studies have noted the connection between a happy mind and a healthy body — the happier you are, the better health outcomes we seem to have. In a meta-analysis (overview) of 150 studies on this topic, researchers put it like this: “Inductions of well-being lead to healthy functioning, and inductions of ill-being lead to compromised health.”

But a new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) challenges the rosy picture. Happiness may not be as good for the body as researchers thought. It might even be bad.

Of course, it’s important to first define happiness. A few months ago, I wrote a piece called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” about a psychology study that dug into what happiness really means to people. It specifically explored the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.

It seems strange that there would be a difference at all. But the researchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors of the study wrote. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.” While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, “Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.”

The new PNAS study also sheds light on the difference between meaning and happiness, but on the biological level. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychological researcher who specializes in positive emotions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Steve Cole, a genetics and psychiatric researcher at UCLA, examined the self-reported levels of happiness and meaning in 80 research subjects[...]

Cole and Fredrickson found that people who are happy but have little to no sense of meaning in their lives — proverbially, simply here for the party — have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. That is, the bodies of these happy people are preparing them for bacterial threats by activating the pro-inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is, of course, associated with major illnesses like heart disease and various cancers.

“Empty positive emotions” — like the kind people experience during manic episodes or artificially induced euphoria from alcohol and drugs — ”are about as good for you for as adversity,” says Fredrickson.

It’s important to understand that for many people, a sense of meaning and happiness in life overlap; many people score jointly high (or jointly low) on the happiness and meaning measures in the study. But for many others, there is a dissonance — they feel that they are low on happiness and high on meaning or that their lives are very high in happiness, but low in meaning. This last group, which has the gene expression pattern associated with adversity, formed a whopping 75 percent of study participants. Only one quarter of the study participants had what the researchers call “eudaimonic predominance” — that is, their sense of meaning outpaced their feelings of happiness.

Happiness is to humanism as glorification is to Christianity, except that happiness doesn’t complete or restore man in any meaningful sense, as does God’s grace. In fact, the pursuit of happiness, in and of itself, brings one to a perfectly vacuous, unfulfilled, and immoral destination, according to the research of Roy Baumeister. Meanwhile, Cole and Fredrickson think such a monomaniacal pursuit of one’s happiness might even make one physically unhealthy.

Baumeister writes,

Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

People with such lives seem rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If they argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them. Interpersonally, they are takers rather than givers, and they give little thought to past and future. These patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.

Maybe this explains why we, as a nation, are always wanting something for nothing, oftentimes easy money, and prefer the cheap, tawdry thrills of celebrity gossip to meaningful discussion, let alone meaningful action. Thanks to sin, we love free lunches, apathy, and vapid, cowardly chit-chat.

However, God didn’t make man to pursue such hollow ends. The Westminster Divines, who assembled in London some 350 years ago to compile, arguably, the greatest of all the Christian confessions of faith—the Westminster Confession of Faith—described man’s “chief and highest end” as being “to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.” Psalm 73:24-28 probably provides the best expression of this principle:

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

It is God that we are designed to glorify and enjoy, not mankind, and it is upon God’s grace that true enjoyment rests. We can’t enjoy or love each other in a meaningful sense without knowing Christ, and we can’t enjoy or love anything without God’s common grace. Certainly, happiness can be wonderful and godly, but it is never more than a byproduct of God’s handiwork. It certainly isn’t the highest pursuit of life.

Ultimately, this research is difficult to reconcile with the humanistic mindset that hardship is to be avoided at all costs. Large-scale poverty and illness are almost unanimously viewed by the secular humanist culture as awful and destructive because the suffering they cause hinders man’s climb toward greatness and perfection. But such things are blessings for the Christian, though maybe not immediately seen as such. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul perfectly illustrates this Christian attitude toward the “thorns” of this life: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that it is by the fires of trial and hardship that God refines our faith “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). And just as a loving father is “diligent to discipline” (Prov. 13:24) his son, so also is God diligent to chastise his elect people in order to draw forth greater glory.

Hebrews 12:7-11 reads:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

It is through trials that the sufficiency of the Lord’s grace is made evident and we are brought into greater conformity with His will, realizing just how amazing His grace is. And while happiness may also seem amazing, by itself, it is remarkably lifeless. Without Jesus anchoring our delight, happiness is meaningless and little more than a dead end.

Pipe Down, Pat

For Pat Robertson to be viewed affectionately among the Left would require nothing short of a miracle, maybe even hell freezing over, but that’s exactly what has happened after some recent comments he made on the 700 Club about transgenderism and sex changes.

Cavan Sieczkowski of Huffington Post writes,

Pat Robertson has said a lot of shocking things, but his latest comment about the transgender community might be the most surprising yet.

The 83-year-old televangelist sat down on Sunday for the “Bring It Online” advice portion of his Christian Broadcasting Network show, “The 700 Club.” A viewer named David wrote in asking how he should refer to two transgender females who work in his office and have legally changed their genders. Instead of criticizing the trans individuals, Robertson approached the situation in a seemingly level-headed manner.

“I think there are men who are in a woman’s body,” he said. “It’s very rare. But it’s true — or women that are in men’s bodies — and that they want a sex change. That is a very permanent thing, believe me, when you have certain body parts amputated and when you have shot up with various kinds of hormones. It’s a radical procedure. I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that. I don’t condemn somebody for doing that.”

The only problem is that there is sin associated with transgenderism and “gender reassignment surgery.” One sin would be that transgenderism tampers with God’s created order by erasing His ordained boundaries between man and woman. This is partly why transvestitism was prohibited in ancient Israel (Deut. 22:5), the other part being that it had its roots in the cultic homosexuality of the surrounding pagan cultures. But in this day of evil, wearing the clothing of the opposite sex looks comparatively tame when gender reassignment surgery exists as an option. Choosing to mangle one’s “wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) body based upon a delusion, which exalts man’s aberrant sexual understanding and desires above that of God’s, is most certainly a sin—though, thankfully, a sin that can be forgiven (Acts 8:38).

A second sin implied in Robertson’s argument is that God is imperfect and capable of getting confused now and again, putting men in women’s bodies and vice versa. But God is incapable of error and to believe otherwise is dangerous. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4). Moreover, given that the “lesser” offense of transvestitism is a sin, then, surely, sex change operations are no less sinful. And since God doesn’t force anyone to commit a sin (James 1:13, 1 Cor. 10:13), then no one can treat transgenderism as if it were a morally innocuous birth defect, like spina bifida. God doesn’t screw up, nor does he require anyone to pursue sinful gender reassignment surgery in order to be content.

The story of Job feels appropriate here. At the end of the book of Job, in chapter 38, God launches into a withering series of questions aimed at Job, meant to display the vast gulf that exists between the awesome Creator and His lowly image-bearing creature.

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

This scathing admonition carries on for another seventy verses or so until God concludes by asking Job a rhetorical question: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Job responded appropriately—by acknowledging his limitations and shutting up. Robertson’s understanding here, too, is limited and it would best if he took a page from Job and did as he did, beginning by laying his hand across his mouth (Job 40:4), proceeding no further (Job 40:5), and then repenting (Job 42:6) for his unrighteous counsel. But will he follow in those godly footsteps? I’m not so sure.

Doubling Down on Death

Though the War on Terror is most assuredly going to last another ten to twenty years, the outcomes after a decade in the trenches have been a bit of a disappointment. In particular, a new RAND Corporation study has found that Al Qaeda, far from the threshold of defeat, is actually growing—both in terms of the number of affiliates and their geographical scope.

Ann Mulrine of the Christian Science Monitor writes,

Al Qaeda not only remains a threat to the United States, but its capabilities and scope are expanding, a new analysis from a respected think tank has concluded.

‘There has been a net expansion in the number and geographic scope of Al Qaeda affiliates and allies over the past decade, indicating that Al Qaeda and its brand are far from defeated,’ argues Seth Jones, an analyst at the RAND Corporation and the study’s author.

Why, after a decade of wars – the longest in America’s history – is the terrorist organization that the US military set out to defeat still active and growing? And does it really have an impact on the everyday safety of most Americans?

There are a few reasons for the growth of the terrorist group, Mr. Jones argues. ‘One is the Arab uprisings, which have weakened regimes across North Africa and the Middle East, creating an opportunity for Al Qaeda affiliates and allies to secure a foothold.’

This expansion – coupled with the weakness of central Al Qaeda in Pakistan – ‘has created a more diffuse and decentralized movement,’ Jones added in little-noted testimony last week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the topic of ‘Re-examining the Al Qaeda Threat to the United States.’

I hope Lindsay Graham and John McCain are paying attention. Thanks to their inveterate hawkishness, we’ve sown greatly in this War on Terror but have reaped remarkably little. In 2011, a prestigious panel of experts hailing from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimated that the first ten years of the War on Terror have cost the United States roughly $4 trillion. Mind you, this doesn’t even include the future medical and disability costs for veterans or the future interest payments on the money we’ve borrowed to wage such a gargantuan war. In their estimation, total interest payments could reach $1 trillion by 2023.  Moreover, these are just the quantifiable economic costs. Some 330,000 lives have been lost as a direct consequence of this war.

And despite trillions being spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and disheartening results, we press on. Why? Because we are Americans, the greatest of all nations and, therefore, the only nation qualified to police the globe! And if we do not do this policing, then the forces of darkness will surely prevail. But should Christians be defined by such an inflated sense of self-worth and humanistic hand-wringing about our exaggerated enemy?  I’ll let the Psalmist answer the latter:

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. (Ps. 118:6-13)

We should be seeking God for help, not more manpower, international surveillance, and weaponry; trust in such as these is faithless and foolish (Deut. 17:16). The vainglorious and bellicose demagogues in Washington see military might as the true ends to peace. For such folks, it is ultimately up to man to grab the reins and to stop the proliferation of evil no matter what it costs, even in direct violation with God’s Word. Still, that approach is never wise, even if the intentions of the rebellious appear good on the surface. As it says in Prov. 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” In no situation—no matter how trying—is it righteous for man to disobey God and do “what seems right” to him.  As it says in Deut. 4:2, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Yet this flagrant disobedience is normative in our government. Our leaders, by and large, repeatedly choose death over life and, despite the disheartening outcome highlighted in this report, I’m sure many will only double down on death.

Ultimately, it isn’t the United States, with its rebellious bent toward superficial ease, affluence, and peace, that is charged with patrolling the globe and smoking out evil in order to devote it to destruction, but God and His angels (Zech. 1:9-11). Unless we are invaded by a national army, which Al Qaeda is not, then we have no business fighting these aggressive, unjust wars (Deut. 20:10-11) as if we are the national embodiment of God’s “outstretched hand and arm strong” (Jer. 21:5)  If we refuse to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), including every political thought, then we should come to expect this cursed futility to continue to plague our unholy warmongering.

The Pope’s Twitter Discount

It reads like something out of the Onion. The Catholic church is granting indulgences to Pope Francis’s Twitter followers.

Tom Kington of the Guardian writes,

In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis’ tweets.

The church’s granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins[...]

Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.

‘That includes following Twitter,’ said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. ‘But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.’

So, maybe it’s not quite so laughably easy to reduce one’s time in purgatory. The Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli explicitly warns against such lazy, perfunctory faith: “You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine.” Instead, according to the counsel of the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, one must pray with “requisite devotion” while following the events in Rio live and being “truly penitent and contrite” to reap the benefits that would otherwise not come from merely following the Pope on Twitter. I guess many of the same safeguards that pertain to the Twitter purgatory discount likely apply to the stair-climbing purgatory discount, as well. There’s a set of twenty-eight steps in Rome, the Scala Sancta, and if you climb those suckers with the right disposition you can, apparently, expect seven years to be shaved off your stay in purgatory.

Kington explains,

Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory.

On second thought, this story is just that laughable. Read the Pope’s tweets with the right reverent disposition as some sacred rites are taking place in Brazil, and Boom! Years that could have been tediously spent in purgatory have evaporated within the blink of an eye! What convenience! Now, that’s plenty absurd in its own right, but such absurdity arises from a rotten foundation: the intertwined doctrines of purgatory and indulgences. These are what I want to focus on today.

There is no remotely Biblical warrant for either of the two doctrines, unless you care to consider a minuscule apocryphal passage in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45:

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

“…he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” However clear this passage might be, it stands in conflict with the rest of Scripture. Upon death, all souls of the elect enter God’s Kingdom immediately without any pitstops in purgatory. That’s why the crucified thief, having come to believe in Jesus only moments before his death, was told by Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today—not tomorrow, not in some indefinite stretch of time spent in purgatory. Today. The same is said of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-22, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table…The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” Immediately after death, poor, sore-ridden Lazarus was whisked off by angels to Abraham’s side in Heaven. Likewise, the prophet Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11) in God’s very own chariot, no less. In 2 Cor. 5:8, Paul acknowledges that all Christians “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” but that we should take courage until that blessed day of homecoming. Heaven is always the first, and only, destination for God’s elect, whether they be newly converted thieves, sore-ridden beggars, or holy prophets. There is no purgatory.

And while it may not matter to those reading to hear that 2 Maccabees isn’t canonical for Protestants, it may come as a surprise that it wasn’t even canonical for Roman Catholics until the mid-16th century and was long disputed by some prominent Early Church Fathers, Jerome and Athanasius being the most notable examples. More troubling than that is the fact that the very epilogue found in 2 Maccabees 15 evinces uncertainty as to whether the preceding narrative is even reliable:

So I too will here end my story. If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do. For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end.

Yes, the doctrines of purgatory and indulgences are hung on a story told by a man who seems to be uncertain of his story’s accuracy and reliability. Not only is he uncertain, but he even seems to hint that he knows his story is neither purely water nor wine. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I take that to mean it is neither soberly inerrant and infallible nor drunkenly fantastic, but something in between. It’s a story that should “delight the ears” of the listener in its blend of truth and fantasy, but that shouldn’t be good enough for canonicity. Sadly, it is good enough for Roman Catholics.

Already, purgatory seems a bit thin. As I mentioned, the Bible is clear about all of God’s children immediately entering the Kingdom upon death. And then there’s that verse or two in that apocryphal book of disputed reliability, even by the writer’s very own admission, which isn’t exactly convincing either. But this flimsy foundation is made feebler when one considers the purpose of purgatory. Purgatory is “is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” There’s no Biblical warrant for differentiating between mortal and venial sins. Mortal sin is defined as “something said, done or desired contrary to the eternal law, or a thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law.” It is said that, “the first effect of mortal sin in man is to avert him from his true last end, and deprive his soul of sanctifying grace…until satisfaction [penance] is made.”

Venial sin, on the other hand is “a voluntary act and its disorder are of the essence of sin, venial sin as it is a voluntary act may be defined as a thought, word or deed at variance with the law of God.” Venial sin “is pardonable; in itself meriting, not eternal, but temporal punishment.”

Therefore, according to the esteemed Catholic Encyclopedia, mortal sins are contrary to the Law of God; venial sins are at variance with the Law of God. That is what I call an arbitrary and unbiblical definition. Any thought, word, or deed that is “at variance” with the Law of God, necessarily results in eternal death and separation from God, assuming one is not grafted onto the vine of life through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, because, as it says in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Elsewhere, Paul reminds us that “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” “Sin is lawlessness” according to John in 1 John 3:4. In sum, unrepentant sinners are lawless and accursed slaves to sin, destined for eternal death and separation, absent of regeneration. In which case, one is perfectly justified before God, no longer subject to his wrath and curse. One’s legal status before God is completely changed. There is no probationary period where man has to be further refined before entering Heaven, as Roman Catholics like to pretend. But, pretend they do.

And how do they justify their manufactured distinction between mortal and venial sin? By relying on two tortured verses. Personally, one strikes me as more sophisticated than the other, so I’ll begin with the less convincing of the two, first. Catholics believe that 1 Cor. 3:8-15 provides the necessary evidence. Here’s how the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, “The classic text for the distinction of mortal and venial sin is that of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:8-15), where he explains in detail the distinction between mortal and venial sin.” In this passage, Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about having laid for them a foundation “according to the grace of God” upon which they must build. Paul writes, beginning in verse 12, “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

According to Roman Catholicism, the “wood, hay, and straw” that Paul refers to here unquestionably allude to venial sins. The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, “By wood, hay, and stubble are signified venial sins (St. Thomas, I-II:89:2) which, built on the foundation of a living faith in Christ, do not destroy charity, and from their very nature do not merit eternal but temporal punishment.” That’s a colorful and creative interpretation, but where in the world does one find any of that in the passage?

Matthew Henry reveals the folly of this hoary old papist doctrine,

On this passage of scripture the papists found their doctrine of purgatory, which is certainly hay and stubble: a doctrine never originally fetched from scripture, but invented in barbarous ages, to feed the avarice and ambition of the clergy, at the cost of those who would rather part with their money than their lusts, for the salvation of their souls. It can have no countenance from this text, (1.) Because this is plainly meant of a figurative fire, not of a real one: for what real fire can consume religious rites or doctrines? (2.) Because this fire is to try men’s works, of what sort they are; but purgatory-fire is not for trial, not to bring men’s actions to the test, but to punish for them. They are supposed to be venial sins, not satisfied for in this life, for which satisfaction must be made by suffering the fire of purgatory. (3.) Because this fire is to try every man’s works, those of Paul and Apollos, as well as those of others. Now, no papists will have the front to say apostles must have passed through purgatory fires.

Ironically, this passage not only fails to exhibit any clear support for the Romanist categories for sin, but it effectively destroys the possibility that God will rescind the sanctifying grace extended to Christians in cases of certain transgressions. “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” In other words, mortal sins cannot be committed by true Christians, though, not that all self-described Christians are “true” Christians (Matt. 7:21-23).

But there’s a trickier justification for this differentiation between mortal and venial sin that is employed by Roman Catholics and that’s 1 John 5:16-17:

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”

This certainly seems airtight on the surface, doesn’t it? “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” Some sins must not lead to eternal death, or so it would seem, but is that really what is being suggested by John here? Absolutely not. All sins, however minor, lead to death (Rom. 6:23). But true Christians, possessing a renewed heart and God’s indwelling Spirit, are repentant, albeit imperfectly. Even though Jesus atoned for all the sins of his elect—past, present, and future—Christians never entirely cease being sinners (Rom. 7:21-25). Such sins committed by those of contrite heart generally result in pangs of remorse and lead to repentance. These sins do not lead to eternal death, thanks to Jesus paying the full price of our sins. We are loved in spite of our continued disobedience. However, the unrepentant child of wrath is “greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:19) and such behavior does tend toward death, short of Jesus’s saving grace.

Dr. Joseph Morecraft III eviscerates this specious Romanist contention.

‘Sin leading to death’ does not refer to specific acts as such, but of acts and behavior that have a certain character. Impenitent and unconfessed sinning separates from Christ and therefore tends toward death, for ‘all unrighteousness is sin’ (vs. 17a), and the wages of all sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Such sinning is a settled state of practicing sin and delighting in it. It manifests itself in: hatred for the brethren (3:15), refusal to walk in the light, i.e., in repentance and obedience to God (1:7–9), unfaithfulness that denies the gospel of Christ (2:22, 4:2), idolatrous love for the seductions of this evil world (2:15–16, 5:21), impenitent disregard for living in obedience to the Law of God (2:4).

So, again, the absurd notion that one can reduce one’s sentence in purgatory by following the Pope’s rites on Twitter is just a silly consequence from some silly and unfounded theological premises, with purgatory and indulgences being two of but a multitude of heretical Romanist doctrines. If only fanciful, unbiblical interpretations aided by over-developed imaginations were enough to secure one’s salvation, then Heaven would resemble something like a sardine tin, with Roman Catholic souls crammed shoulder-to-shoulder and wall-to-wall, monopolizing every place prepared within the Kingdom for all eternity. But such is the stuff of legends, dreamt up by wicked, papist dreamers with imaginations so lurid and vivid they twist their rebellious villainy into righteousness. This, no doubt, is a sin that, short of God’s special grace, will surely will lead to death.

The Unpalatable Truth About Standing One’s Ground

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is racist, or so we are told. Stevie Wonder won’t set foot in the state until it is repealed. Attorney General Holder recently railed against it at an NAACP convention. Naomi Ahsan, writing for the Next New Deal, recently intoned, “There is a growing realization that Stand Your Ground serves to promote anti-black racism — both in who is perceived as threatening and whose claims of feeling threatened are legitimized.” But the irony is that this much-loathed Florida law has disproportionately helped blacks within the state. Given the outcomes, one might even go so far as to say the law is racist, but racist against whites.

Patrick Howley of the Daily Caller writes,

African Americans benefit from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing “Stand Your Ground” would help African Americans.

Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites[...]

One hundred thirty three people in the state of Florida have used a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Of these claims, 73 were considered “justified” (55 percent), while 39 resulted in criminal convictions and 21 cases are still pending.

Forty four African Americans in the state of Florida have claimed a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Of these claims, 24 were considered “justified” (55 percent), while 11 resulted in convictions and nine cases are still pending.

Of the 76 white people who have used the defense, 40 were considered “justified” (less than 53 percent), while 25 were convicted and 11 cases are still pending.

Ten Hispanics have used the defense, seven of them successfully, according to the database, which included George Zimmerman as a “Stand Your Ground” defendant.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” cases have resulted in 78 white victims against 40 black victims, including Martin, and 10 Hispanic victims.

Liberals look at the plethora of black victims and certain extraordinary cases (e.g., Michael David Dunn) and see overt racism, but what they fail to consider is that in Stand Your Ground cases, blacks are overwhelmingly responsible for black deaths and disproportionately utilizing the law in their defense and with better success than whites.

If whites have this purported penchant for racism, whether overt or latent, one would imagine that whites would be responsible for a greater proportion of black killings than they actually are and that they would likely seek refuge in this allegedly racist law. However, that’s not the case. Blacks have used the “Stand Your Ground” defense in 44 of the 133 fatal cases with 26 blacks dying at the hands of those 44. Conversely, whites have used that defense in 76 of the 133 fatal cases, with only eleven black deaths being ascribed to those accused.

This becomes more interesting when one considers the ethnic demography of Florida. According to 2012 Census data, only 16.6 percent of Florida’s population is black, though blacks account for 33 percent of these fatal “Stand Your Ground” cases. On the other hand, whites account for 78.1 percent of the Florida population, but only 57 percent of fatal “Stand Your Ground” cases. For those forty-four blacks seeking refuge under this law, fifty-nine percent of their victims were black, compared to the just 14.4 percent that were killed by whites. This percentage is even smaller when one considers that “white” is a rather large racial umbrella: one of the eleven white people who killed a black victim is an Indian convenience store owner, Anup Patel, another is a light-skinned Hispanic drug dealer, Emanuel Rivera, while another, still, is of Middle-Eastern descent, Nadim Yaqubie. I know liberal sociology majors like to tout the mythology that is “white privilege,” but you know the idea has really “jumped the shark” when Indian convenience store owners, Latino drug dealers, and a kid of Middle Eastern descent are fashioned into white bogeymen. But then again, Zimmerman was made into a racist white man, though he’s Hispanic with African ancestry.

But there were nonfatal cases, too. Of the 114 nonfatal cases, sixty-five were committed by whites and only thirty-eight by blacks. That works out to 57 percent and 33 percent, respectively, with blacks still overrepresented compared to the general population and whites underrepresented. There were 27 cases of blacks perpetrating violence against blacks as opposed to the mere 11 cases of whites perpetrating violence against blacks. There have been only 11 cases of blacks perpetrating violence against whites, as well.

And as Howley notes, even the conviction rate is lower for blacks than it is for whites. Twenty-five of the 76 white people (32.9 percent) who have utilized the “Stand Your Ground”  defense in fatal cases have found themselves convicted, compared to the 11 convictions of the 44 black people (25 percent) using the Stand Your Ground defense.

In other words, no matter how one spins this, the hullabaloo about how white people are exploiting this law to the detriment of black people is patently absurd. If anyone is responsible for exploiting anything, it’s the disingenuous or—if I’m to be charitable—naive reporting from the liberal media that has exploited the profound ignorance of its readers and viewers. They think it’s white people with their unmerited privileges who have benefitted from this so-called senseless law, but the facts tell an entirely different story, as evidenced by Howley’s research. It’s not racist, white vigilantes who are exploiting this law to quench their racist bloodlust, rather, in these cases, it’s black people who are overwhelmingly responsible for killing black people, not whites; it’s black people who are disproportionately seeking umbrage under this allegedly racist law, not whites; and it’s black people who employ the Stand Your Ground defense with greater success, not white people. This is the unvarnished truth, which means you can go back to playing shows in Florida, Stevie, and enjoying your morning glass of orange juice, Martin Luther King III, because it seems that, all in all, black people are doing just fine.

Chickens Before Eggs

I love it when I learn something new. I had a one such serendipitous moment late last night when I was reading volume one of Joe Morecraft’s mammoth five-volume series on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Authentic Christianity. As a quick side note, I heartily recommend it. It may sound like a laborious read but it’s not—it’s utterly brilliant.

So, anyway, there I was, reading about the six-day creation when I came to this passage:

To say that the earth was created out of nothing is to say that the earth was created with the appearance of age. God created the universe suddenly and instantaneously out of nothing; and when He created it, it had the appearance of maturity, of having existed for a long period of time. That is the logical implication of creating something from nothing. It was not there; then it was there, as if it had always been there! When God created Adam, He created him with maturity. He appeared fully mature immediately upon his creation. The trees God created existed from their very beginning as trees with fruit and with seeds in the fruit (Gen. 1:12). When God created the universe, including the earth, the universe and earth appeared suddenly out of nothing with the appearance of age. The implications of this truth of a ‘young earth’ are devastating for evolutionism, because it means that the age of the earth cannot be determined by looking at the earth, and that the age of the earth must be calculated in terms of thousands of years, not of millions or billions of years (Luke 3:23–38).

This fascinated me because I’d never really thought about God creating man and vegetation as fully matured. This would have implications, it would seem, for why secular scientists misdate the age of the universe. God didn’t create saplings and young babes ex nihilo, only fruit-bearing trees and adults. When Adam was but a day old, he looked decades older. The universe is no different.

Upon telling my wife about this, she cleverly remarked, “So, the chicken came before the egg!” I suppose she’s right.

One Verdict

Humanism, that roseate “faith in humanity,” took an awful drubbing this past Saturday when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin.

Man isn’t innately good, nor is he, by his own power, lurching toward some future day of excellence.

Still, some humanists of the liberal persuasion—like Roxane Gay—though utterly lost in the fog, press onward toward that brighter day.

She writes,

On my Twitter feed, many people have expressed shock and outrage. They seem genuinely surprised. Having followed the trial, I am not so much surprised as I am numb. I don’t quite feel anger, though I am, in my way, outraged. This verdict speaks for itself. This verdict tells us everything we need to know about our laws, whom they are designed to protect, and why. It tells us about the power of the gun lobby, the power of stereotypes, and the value of a black person’s life.

This verdict is a reminder that we all need to do far more, though I am not entirely sure what doing more should look like. How do we create change in a country where George Zimmerman can be acquitted? We can wear hoodies. We can protest. We can sign petitions. We can write our elected leaders. We can work to elect better lawmakers in 2014 and 2016 and beyond. We can donate money to and volunteer for organizations that fight racism and gun violence like the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and many others. We can also confront the instances of casual racism in our everyday lives, whether they come from ourselves or the people around us. We can stop hysterically shouting “political correctness” or “censorship” when people suggest that everyone, regardless of race or gender or any manner of “difference,” deserves to live with dignity. I’m not sure any of these efforts will accomplish much, but what else can we do? We have to do something.

I am numb but I will not allow myself to feel hopeless. No one should allow themselves the luxury and impotence of despair right now. If we despair, we are surrendering to injustice. We may feel powerless. We may be powerless. But we cannot give up hope. We cannot be silent.

But not all at Salon are that chipper. Even Roxane’s hopefulness—as deluded and empty as it may be—gives way somewhat to reveal a deeper faithlessness in her dear humanity. The gun lobby, those who stereotype, and our racist criminal justice system are predictable culprits, but this hopeful humanism seems almost entirely absent in the writing of her peers at Salon.

For example, Rich Benjamin writes,

How does an armed adult defy the policy[sic], chase down a youth, kill him, and then turn around and call it self defense? Defense from what? A fleeing kid? Was Trayvon Martin seen for his humanity? Or as a “f****** punk”? Are black men seen for our humanity or as three-fifths of a f****** punk? This verdict will have devastating consequences. It is an implicit green light for every paranoid, sub-intelligent, vigilante racist to go on victimizing black youth. Trayvon Martin is dead for no reason other than being black.

Why do Zimmerman and some Americans feel entitled to police black and brown people like vigilantes? Why did the Sanford Police Department test a dead boy’s body for drugs in “standard operating procedure,” yet failed to test a live man’s body for alcohol or drugs? Why did the Sanford Police Department fail so miserably during the critical immediate hours after arriving on the scene?

Since our juridical Establishment often turns its head – or even winks – at the prevalence of racial profiling and police brutality against black and brown people, why should anyone be surprised by Zimmerman’s chase? Or by his acquittal? Implicitly and explicitly, the law condones his racial paranoia. The so-called rationales used to design and peddle “Stand Your Ground” laws and “Stop and Frisk” laws, and immigrant policing laws, fuel a vigilante mentality allowing some Americans to feel entitled to self-police others[...]

From the highest levels of power designing our drone policy to the inept local trenches of Florida policing, we remain a gunfighter nation. From Trayvon to the kids in Newton, young people are vulnerable to mentally ill or paranoid or racist adults with guns. The acquittal is yet another frank reminder of who writes our laws, who enforces our laws, and the very presumptions guiding our laws.

In an even more jaded and vitriolic Salon article than Benjamin’s, provocatively entitled, “Our real problem is white rage,” Edward Wyckoff Williams fumes,

The day before a jury delivered an acquittal in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger and Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith gave a national press conference to appeal for a peaceful reaction to the verdict — regardless of its outcome.

Eslinger, who is white, said, “We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law.”

The veiled threat of an aggressive police response to imaginary civil unrest belies the very logic that led to Trayvon Martin’s death to begin with. For, you see, African-Americans are never protected or served by the law enforcement apparatus — yet they are always subject to its military might.

Sanford police coyly “tolerated” the actual killing of an unarmed black child, but yet refuse to “tolerate” any anger expressed for the acquittal of his murderer[...]

This arrogant call to remain calm in the face of such fatal injustice reveals a basic disregard for the humanity of black people. It is this fundamental disconnect — an unwillingness or inability to see African-Americans as fully realized human beings — that allows whites to blindly ignore the need for equal treatment and equal justice.

It is this warped mentality that led George Zimmerman to murder an unarmed child, feel no remorse and say it was “God’s plan.”

Human beings are allowed to be angry. They are allowed to emote fear, love, joy, relief, pride and pain. Perhaps if the white women on this jury could see a murdered child — as opposed to a “black” child — they would instinctively know that Trayvon was afraid of Zimmerman, confused by this man following him in the dark, and perhaps they could intuit Trayvon screaming for his life. There is, after all, no other way to see the facts of this case — beyond a reasonable doubt or otherwise[...]

Then, finally, there’s David Sirota, who finds Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon and his subsequent acquittal to be a microcosm of a broader problem with humanity: we presume the innocent to be guilty. Sirota sees this principle in our government’s behavior, especially in the NSA’s snooping and its drone strike policy.

Sirota writes,

A child is dead and his extrajudicial executioner is free. But can’t we take pride in the supposed persistence of a foundational legal principle — one that in aggregate is supposed to create a more just and humane society? Can’t we at least have that?

The blunt answer, unfortunately, is no, because Zimmerman’s exoneration is the latest — and perhaps most powerful — state-sanctioned societal rejection of the presumption of innocence, with the killer a microcosmic embodiment of such a rejection[...]

In consequently exonerating him for such a murder, the Sanford court effectively added its government stamp of approval to Zimmerman presuming Martin guilty. Put another way, the Florida judiciary went on record declaring that armed citizens like Zimmerman have no obligation to presume unarmed black teenagers innocent, but instead have a right to presume them guilty — and, in turn, worthy of extrajudicial capital punishment. Call it the Zimmerman Principle.

Terrifying and grotesque as that principle is, it is sadly neither nothing new nor anything we can write off as isolated. On the contrary, Zimmerman’s presumption of guilt and his subsequent actions mimic those of his own government, and therefore reflect a larger attitudinal shift in the nation at large[...]

It is, of course, no coincidence that, whether African-Americans like Martin or Arabs like the Awlakis, those most affected by the Zimmerman Principle’s presumption of guilt tend to be people of color.

As has been the case throughout this country’s history, being racially, ethnically or religiously classified as non-white or “other” by America still means being presumed guilty (and certainly more guilty than others). Indeed, despite all the vapid paeans to our allegedly “post-racial” or “colorblind” ethos, we see that truth everywhere.

We see it in the disproportionate targeting of minorities through programs like “stop and frisk.” We see it in a CIA-directed police department targeting Muslim communities for surveillance. We see it in Arizona’s racial profiling law that aimed to weaken the requirement for probable cause. We see it in the proliferation of “stand your ground” laws that disproportionately protect white folk whose presumption of black guilt leads them to gun down African-Americans. And we see it in a drug war whose deployment of resources presumes that communities of color are more guilty than other communities.

That said, the Zimmerman Principle is also now becoming more indiscriminate and expanding beyond race, ethnicity and religion. For instance, with its “collect it all” mentality, the National Security Agency presumes all Americans guilty — or at least potentially guilty enough for the government to have probable cause for 24/7 surveillance. Likewise, the Justice Department presumes whistle-blowers guilty and prosecution-worthy, and the Washington establishment presumes the same about journalists who report news that embarrasses the government. Meanwhile, as McClatchy reports, the White House is now encouraging federal employees to presume their co-workers guilty based on “lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “humanism” as “an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.” Liberalism is necessarily humanistic in its worldview, but if the liberal writers at Salon have faith in the value and goodness of mankind, it certainly is truncated and heavily qualified. It’s as if they know differently in their hearts.

Rather than trusting in humanity’s extraordinary potential for goodness, these Salon writers highlight the exact opposite—that man is depraved. It’s like they’re closeted Calvinists but aren’t aware of it. They blame a lot of people, especially “racist” white people, some of whom aren’t being racist at all. For example, the Seminole Country Sheriff, fearing the potential turmoil that could come with Zimmerman’s acquittal, advised people to remain peaceful. But Edward Wyckoff Williams saw through his peacemaking ploy, peered directly into his heart like almighty God, and saw something quite different. “This arrogant call to remain calm in the face of such fatal injustice reveals a basic disregard for the humanity of black people.” Did you know it was racist and arrogant to promote peace? I sure didn’t.

But white people aren’t the only ones being blamed. Local law enforcement, the Florida state legislature, the female jurors, the gun lobby, the federal government, and the criminal justice system, apparently, are all worthy of liberal condemnation, though they are, admittedly, all pretty white. Even the mentally ill, the sub-intelligent, and the paranoid are dinged by Rich Benjamin, even though Zimmerman doesn’t suffer from paranoia or mental illness, nor is he sub-intelligent. I suppose it felt good to get that off his chest, regardless of its blatant irrelevance. Only so many aspersions can be heaped upon George Zimmerman or linked to this one verdict. Therefore, a more thorough list of those worthy of liberal ire would surely include the likes of climate change “deniers,” “vulture” capitalists, Wall Street, corporations, the wealthy, gun owners, conservatives, libertarians, and evangelical Christians. That’s a lot of people who can’t help but hinder the triumph of man. It’s a wonder anything good ever gets done at all.

What’s maybe most curious about these articles, though, is the self-defeating assault on that historically venerated institution—the State. Government is pilloried at all levels: local, state, and federal. I’m not even entirely sure if that incongruity was noted by any of them. That got me to thinking. If racism, police corruption, and the surveillance state are, at least in Sirota’s mind, telltale signs of America’s waywardness, then the same criticism could be leveled against every nation. In fact, Transparency International just released its Global Corruption Barometer 2013 report and found that of the 114,000 respondents surveyed, 27 percent had bribed a public official within the last 12 months. That’s a lot. Moreover, that means that both the briber and the public official are of questionable moral character, too. Worse still is the fact that respondents from eighty-four of the 107 countries surveyed believe government corruption to be worsening, with the only nations claiming modest improvement being those of the third-world who have never known government not to be corrupt.

Of course, the third-world knows government corruption and human depravity well, but what about more “enlightened” nations in Western Europe, like Sweden and France? They, too, struggle with racism, with Sweden having only recently recovered from its devastating week of racially charged riots, spurred by racist law enforcement, and led by marginalized Middle Eastern immigrants. France has its own racism woes, and even has a “vast electronic surveillance operation, intercepting and stocking data from citizens’ phone and internet activity,” similar to the NSA’s Prism program. In regards to the latter, President Hollande—a proud socialist, no less—had no qualms feigning indignation when he learned that Obama had spied on France, until it was revealed that he was just as much the treacherous spymaster as Obama. Hollande ultimately proved himself to be a disingenuous, hypocritical aggrandizer, a label that does no favors for humanism’s reputation. But if Sweden and France still toil in the muck and mire of racism and corruption, then what hope is there elsewhere? And if local, state, and federal government within the United States is hopelessly unjust or incompetent because of latent and corrosive prejudices and moral failings, then where does this leave the cherished liberal tradition of worshipping the messianic State? Do people like Gay, Benjamin, Sirota, and Williams even realize that, in their anguish over Zimmerman’s acquittal, they have unceremoniously strangled most of the life out of their beloved conception of enlightened governance? After all, if our public servants have such a penchant for racism and injustice, how then can they ever be trusted to administer a “benevolent” welfare system?

Ultimately, I’m inclined to liken a liberal’s relationship with humanity to an abusive marriage. A liberal is like a wife who adoringly make excuses for her tyrannical husband, who represents humanity. He drinks heavily, beats her often, and has been known to sleep around. In spite of all that, the wife is wont to believe that he still loves her and that she still loves him. She bends over backwards for him because he isn’t always an unfaithful brute. Sometimes, by the grace of God, he’s charming and even seems glad to help around the house. But, regardless of those occasional bright spots, the odd day comes every now and again when some proverbial straw—in this case, the Zimmerman verdict—breaks the camel’s back, and the wife begins doubting her love and even goes so far as to rehearse exactly how she’ll deliver the devastating news. “I want a divorce,” she repeats to herself and within increasing confidence, too. That is, until the husband returns home from work, at which point she immediately loses her gumption and suddenly sees her brave idea as rash and foolish. Besides, who else will ever love her as well as her husband, she thinks to herself. And so she stays with him, regardless of his faults.

Only the fool, darkened in his understanding (Eph.4:17-19), would make excuses for and even celebrate such a brute. However, there is one man who comes to mind—and only one man—who will love despondent liberals better than mankind ever will: Jesus Christ.

The Nicest House

Do women make better senators than men? This is the question posed in a recent article by Jill Lawrence of the National Journal.

She writes,

Five women are gathered around the dining-room table from Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s childhood home. It’s the centerpiece of her hideaway, an unmarked retreat in the U.S. Capitol, and, like the hideaway itself, it’s a symbol of the distance all of them have traveled. The shelves and walls display testaments to Mikulski’s long career: photographs, clippings, replicas of the space shuttle. One highlight is a picture of “Buckboard Barb” Mikulski in a cowboy hat and colorful Mexican-style vest, standing with former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison during a visit to Texas. Another is a series of photos that starts with two women and ends with 20, a visual display that is striking less for its drama than for its incrementalism. The modern history of women in the Senate is one of slow, hard-fought gains across three decades that have at last given them real clout—or perhaps we should say the potential for real clout, since they serve in a Congress famous for gridlock, not accomplishments[...]

Five senators in any small room will set the atmosphere crackling with authority and power, and that was true here despite the conspicuous absence of testosterone. You don’t get to become or stay a senator without sharp political-survival skills, and the cool self-assurance that you belong in one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. Most of the women also believe they make special contributions to the Senate—in the issues they highlight, in their collegial style, and in the close-knit network they have formed, despite their differences.

The group’s most arguable contention is that women have a particular talent for working with others. If you ask them what they bring to the Senate, almost all of them say things like this: more collaboration, less confrontation; more problem-solving, less ego; more consensus-building, less partisanship. Those are fixed perceptions, not just among the senators but, research shows, among voters as well. And there is plenty of evidence, in the form of deals made and bills passed, that women know how to get things done. That’s especially true now that women chair eight full committees and many subcommittees. But are they really better at this than men? Historians and researchers say there are too few of them, and their arrival on the scene has been too recent, to draw any conclusions.

Sixteen Democrats and four Republicans make up the Senate women’s caucus. They span the ideological spectrum from San Francisco-area liberals Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to tea-party favorites Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. The age spectrum runs from Feinstein, 80, to Ayotte, 45. Mikulski, elected in 1986, is the longest-serving woman in Senate history. The most measurable aspect of the ever-increasing presence of women, and so far the most significant, is their impact on national policy—from making sure federal researchers included women in clinical trials, to the current show of force on sexual assaults in the military. Onetime “women’s issues” such as health, education, child care, abortion, and pay equity are now prominent on the congressional docket. “If you made a list and flipped back a couple of decades, that list would be an agenda for outside advocacy groups,” says Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. “Those issues are now inside. And they’re inside because there are women inside[...]

The new generation is epitomized by two mothers of young children: Ayotte, who says, “It’s kind of absurd that it took women coming to Congress” to force the inclusion of women in clinical trials, and Gillibrand, who is cooking up a women’s economic-empowerment agenda that combines her own ideas and those of others into a marketable, promotable package. The chief elements are a minimum-wage increase, paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable day care, and universal prekindergarten.

Are women preternaturally gifted leaders? Women have certainly risen to positions of political prominence that were once unobtainable to them, due in no small part to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, but are making deals, passing bills, and consensus-building the hallmarks of great leadership?

It depends on your worldview, I suppose. According to my own—the biblical one—good leadership is inextricably linked to faithful, godly leadership, which, in the civil sphere, is generally done by men, though Deborah, the greatest of all of Israel’s judges (Judges 4-5), provides one obvious exception. On Deborah, John Calvin said it best:

Extraordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government, by which he intended that we should be bound. Accordingly, if women at one time held the office of prophets and teachers, and that too when they were supernaturally called to it by the Spirit of God, He who is above all law might do this; but, being a peculiar case, this is not opposed to the constant and ordinary system of government.

Deborah was, indeed, extraordinarily equipped to lead according to the Holy Spirit, but her exemplar does not subvert the ideal order that God desires. In fact, in Isaiah 3, Judah and Jerusalem are warned that the Lord God of hosts would one day take from them “the mighty man and the soldier, the judge and the prophet” and replace them with men so ineffectual that their leadership would resemble that of children and women (Isa. 3:12). That’s not the most resounding of compliments. You see, men were expected to rule as a general principle. Male leadership is normative within the family (Eph. 5:22-24), the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12), and the civil sphere (Deut. 17:14-20, Ex. 18:21). Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, once instructed Moses as what God is looking for in civil leadership. Moses was to “look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe” and he was to “place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”

But our culture has outgrown this silly need for Bible-thumping, has it not? Good leadership has long been divorced from these puritanical norms for some time and we are all the richer for it. Aren’t we?

I don’t believe we are.

Only the fools would suggest supplanting God’s leadership criteria for morally generic criteria like passing bills, making deals, and building consensus. After all, Satan beguiled his way into the hearts of Adam and Eve to build his consensus, did he not? Frankly, this preoccupation with the generic aim of “doing something” in Washington encourages our legislators to vote on bills that they haven’t even had the pleasure of reading. Call me old-fashioned, but doing what is good and right trumps plain-old “doing something.” Doing something to give the impression of busyness is how children, pretending to be wise and mature, rule. It takes an adult to abstain from ungodly legislative indulgence. This idea is lost on most people, including those ladies in Congress, it would seem.

Now, if Proverbs 31 is true, and, in particular, that “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,” then where does that leave Washington realpolitik, for women or men? Cloying charm to win the affections or votes of others is deceitful and unworthy of praise, but Jill Lawrence seems to think that going along just to get along is the real gift of our female senators and that this might even make them superior leaders. In a hypothetical world of feminine political leadership, I can certainly envision less needless warmongering, which would be grand, but tyranny would in no way wither. It would simply be redirected to smother the people in the name of those gentler secular ideals of fairness and equality. In other words, the pendulum would swing closer toward communism and away from fascism—not that there’s much of a difference between the two.

In closing, it’s not busyness detached from moral purpose or the degree to which one compromises to please the rest that makes one a great leader. Having a passion for equal pay for equal work or universal prekindergarten isn’t a telltale sign of shrewd leadership, either. Rather, good political leadership rests upon God and seeks to honor His will as it is revealed in Scripture; Scripture tells us that for women to seek parity with men is to seek an ungodly station in life, one the Proverbs 31 woman, with all her pious attributes, would have known not to strive for.

So, coming full circle now, do women make better senators than men? As a rule, I’d say no, though I’m sure some of them are better equipped than the likes of, say, Sen. Lindsey Graham. But having the nicest house in a dilapidated neighborhood doesn’t say much, now does it?

A Way That Seems Right

It appears that Edward Snowden has done more than just reveal classified documents—he’s also unveiled the wicked motivations of those within the Obama administration.

When man seeks to exalt himself and not God, he seeks to imitate God’s powers and oust Him from the throne. Seeking to become a god is, after all, the root of all sins (Gen. 3:4–6) and the price one must pay to dabble in this diabolical role-playing has steadily dropped over time. It really took considerable money and legwork to be a megalomaniacal despot in the olden days. Now, with technology being as advanced as it is, a superior facsimile of omniscience or omnipotence can be gained with comparative ease and at a fraction of the price than some centuries ago.

When someone like Obama is crossed by, say, Edward Snowden, the “almighty” wrath of Obama is stirred. Obama and those like him, being the humanists that they are, are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Our hard-hearted president has been so embarrassed and wounded by the likes of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning that he is pulling out all the stops to ensure that no such humiliation ever occurs again. How might he accomplish this? By putting all federal employees under his microscope and exhorting them to spy on one another, regardless of whether they handle classified material or not. The first one to blink is flagged or something like that. This is more or less what the foolish humanists in power pretend is a just and appropriate response. It goes by the name of the Insider Threat Program.

Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor of McClatchy write,

In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents.

The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.

Obama mandated the program in an October 2011 executive order after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents from a classified computer network and gave them to WikiLeaks, the anti-government secrecy group. The order covers virtually every federal department and agency, including the Peace Corps, the Department of Education and others not directly involved in national security.

Under the program, which is being implemented with little public attention, security investigations can be launched when government employees showing “indicators of insider threat behavior” are reported by co-workers, according to previously undisclosed administration documents obtained by McClatchy. Investigations also can be triggered when “suspicious user behavior” is detected by computer network monitoring and reported to “insider threat personnel.”

Federal employees and contractors are asked to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors – like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel – of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do “harm to the United States.” Managers of special insider threat offices will have “regular, timely, and, if possible, electronic, access” to employees’ personnel, payroll, disciplinary and “personal contact” files, as well as records of their use of classified and unclassified computer networks, polygraph results, travel reports and financial disclosure forms. 

Vengeance is Obama’s and not God’s, apparently. It’s incredibly ironic—and telling— that, in the name of security and trust, Obama profanes security and trust by pitting federal employees against one another, seemingly drawing inspiration from both Golding’s Lord of the Flies and the spy tactics of East Germany’s Stasi. What’s telling is that, in his willful ignorance of God and His expectations (Rom. 1:18-25), Obama doesn’t know how to promote authentic trust or ensure legitimate security. His sense of justice is equally corrupted because instead of accusing another based on the credible testimony of two or three witnesses, as the Bible requires (Deut. 19:15), he goads federal employees to accuse one another based upon thin circumstantial evidence. Do you sometimes work odd hours or suffer from some social anxiety? If so, then you might need to be reported for treason and raked over the coals. No federal employee is safe, and, it would seem, nothing is too minor or too sacred to protect one from the roving eyes of the Insider Threat Program.

This is exactly how justice looks when perverted by the darkened hearts of men. As it says in Proverbs, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The more we deviate from God and pursue what seems right to us, the more we favor unjust, dystopian quackery, like behavioral profiling, and the deeper we venture into diabolical, despotic darkness. This time it’s federal employees that are under the thumbscrews, but since evil likes neither rules nor confined spaces, soon we’ll be right there with them.

Honest Abe: The Grandfather of the NSA

Do you find the NSA’s overreach detestable? Well, according to professor David T. Z. Mindich, you should blame Abe Lincoln.

Writing for the New York Times, Mindich explains:

BY leaking details of the National Security Agency’s data-mining program, Edward J. Snowden revealed that the government’s surveillance efforts were far more extensive than previously understood. Many commentators have deemed the government’s activities alarming and unprecedented. The N.S.A.’s program is indeed alarming — but not, from a historical perspective, unprecedented. And history suggests that we should worry less about the surveillance itself and more about when the war in whose name the surveillance is being conducted will end.

In 1862, after President Abraham Lincoln appointed him secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton penned a letter to the president requesting sweeping powers, which would include total control of the telegraph lines. By rerouting those lines through his office, Stanton would keep tabs on vast amounts of communication, journalistic, governmental and personal. On the back of Stanton’s letter Lincoln scribbled his approval: “The Secretary of War has my authority to exercise his discretion in the matter within mentioned.”

I came across this letter in the 1990s in the Library of Congress while researching Stanton’s wartime efforts to control the press, which included censorship, intimidation and extrajudicial arrests of reporters. On the same day he received control of the telegraphs, Stanton put an assistant secretary in charge of two areas: press relations and the newly formed secret police. Stanton ultimately had dozens of newspapermen arrested on questionable charges. Within Stanton’s first month in office, a reporter for The New York Herald, who had insisted that he be given news ahead of other reporters, was arrested as a spy.[...]

But part of the reason this calculus was acceptable to me was that the trade-offs were not permanent. As the war ended, the emergency measures were rolled back. Information — telegraph and otherwise — began to flow freely again.

So it has been with many wars: a cycle of draconian measures followed by contraction. During the First World War, the Supreme Court found that Charles T. Schenck posed a “clear and present danger” for advocating opposition to the draft; later such speech became more permissible. During the Second World War, habeas corpus was suspended several times — most notably in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack — but afterward such suspensions became rare.

This is why, if you are a critic of the N.S.A.’s surveillance program, it is imperative that the war on terror reach its culmination. In May, President Obama declared that “this war, like all wars, must end.” If history is any guide, ending the seemingly endless state of war is the first step in returning our civil liberties.

Several points should be distilled from this.

Firstly, Abe Lincoln was a meddlesome, prying tyrant, which Mindich reluctantly admits but precious few others realize. Lincoln is also likely the most hated sitting president in American history, partly because of these legendary abuses of power. But will those who decry the NSA’s treachery also rightfully condemn Lincoln for his ignoble precedent? That’s unlikely.

Secondly, Mindich assures us that the loss of freedom was not permanent under Lincoln and that ending war is the key to reversing abuses of government power. This is true to some extent, but Robert Higgs’s “Ratchet Effect” comes to mind here, which suggests that government spending and power expand dramatically during times of crisis, and contract once the crisis has passed. However, the catch is that, even once the crisis has been averted, the federal government almost never “ratchets” back down to its pre-crisis size or spending levels. From what I understand, the Lincoln police-state was disassembled after the war, but spending levels never returned to 1860 levels. How that residual money was allocated, I’m not sure.

According to economists Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway,

It takes several good presidents to undo the damage caused by one bad one. The Higgs spending ratchet…is a very powerful force in American history[...] In 1860, spending was 1.59 percent of GDP, more than quintupling during the war (and our statistics understate the total, since Confederate spending is not included). In 1912—fifty-two years after the previous trough—spending had returned about 97 percent of the way back to that trough, 1.75 percent GDP. We never completely returned to the antebellum spending norm, and it took decades to even approach it.

Mindich is wrong to assert that things will return to normal if our warmongering could just be wrapped up. Interestingly enough, Mindich eviscerates his own argument and, consequently, proves Higgs right with his remarks about the Second World War when he writes, “During the Second World War, habeas corpus was suspended several times — most notably in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack — but afterward such suspensions became rare.” They became rare, but not as rare as they were in the years leading up to the war, I’m sure. We also have the Second World War to thank for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which metamorphosed into the CIA in 1947. The NSA was formed from the rubble of the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) just as the Cold War was in its infancy back in 1951. They are both alive and well.

While Mindich is wise to stress the need for the warmongering to end if citizens’ rights are to be reinstated, he must realize that the War on Terror has carried on longer than all previous wars in this nation. We’ve already spent more than a decade embroiled in conflict with an elusive, shadowy enemy and, given that Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May that we have another 10 to 20 years left in the War on Terror, I’d say this might be an unprecedented war—a permanent war—or something close to it.

Thirdly, the ends don’t justify the means, but they do according to Mindich’s worldview. Lincoln’s mendacity, bellicose provocations of the South, utilization of total war tactics, suspension of habeas corpus, and press censorship were justifiable given the comparative brevity of the war and what was secured by it: a unified republic and emancipated slaves. To relativists like Mindich, no amount of totalitarianism perpetrated against allies or raping and pillaging of enemy civilians could be deemed too reprehensible if the war were short enough and the reward were rich enough.

In closing, I think it’s safe to say that Abraham Lincoln was not the mythologized caricature that we now find in our grade-school textbooks. Lincoln was a dictator and can be rightly pegged as the original Spymaster-in-Chief, which I’m glad Mindich had the courage to admit, but he’s wrong to imagine that with the end of war comes the restoration of rights and a complete rollback of spending. That hasn’t been true in the past, nor will it likely be true in the future. However, no one knows when the War on Terror will actually end. Ten years from now? Twenty years? But given Lincoln’s grand transformation from scoundrel to hero just decades out from his measly four year war, there’s no telling the hagiographical glory that awaits the likes of Bush and Obama. If Mindich lives to see that hallowed day and the outcome suits his fancy, he might even make excuses for them, too.