Archive for June, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Oops!  Wrong Tale…

While it was nice to have a long vacation, in some ways, it is always nice to be back home.  Another nice thing about taking a break is that it tends to recharge your batteries and help you see some new and old things in different lights.  And speaking of lights…

yep- it's VegasMy son Jordan and I were in Vegas last Saturday night, at the end of our 19-day journey, and we had the evening to do a walkabout up the LV Strip, just for the sheer spectacle (and to have a couple more conversations, along the lines of lesson at Caesarea Philippi).  So, with the temperature in the triple-digits and the humidity nonexistent (with the sun going down), we headed up the strip.

Early on, we passed a line of young latino men and women wearing signs advertising “LIVE GIRLS TO YOUR ROOM IN 20 MINUTES OR LESS”, clicking business cards together, trying to hand them out to all the folks passing them.  [We'd already discussed the importance of using the "Suzi rule" - my wife's long-time advice to me that when you walk around in a big city, you avoid making eye contact or answering folks on the sidewalk who are trying to get your attention.]

Just past these peddlers, there was a man, probably in his mid-40’s, with a T-shirt that said (in big letters) “JESUS LOVES YOU”, and beneath it, in smaller print “and I do too…”  He also had a small stack of paper in his hands, though they were booklets which had on the cover “You don’t have to live like this“, along with a smaller logo and print identifying them as being from the Central Christian Church of Las Vegas.  I smiled at him, and gave him a small nod and wink, which he returned to me.  He actually stood out, somewhat, because he wasn’t trying to push his fliers into peoples’ hands, but he handed one to people who stopped by him and at least seemed to be paying attention.

child abuseA couple blocks later, we crossed the street to take a look at the fountains in front of the Bellagio.  Unfortunately, much of the corner was clogged, with people spilling out into the street, because there was a small entourage of street preachers with megaphones, hollering at folks (who did their best to walk around them, since they were blocking the way through what was probably the busiest intersection on the strip).  In addition to the bullhorn guys, they had four or five little kids with them, with “repent or perish” shirts on, shoving tracts into folks’ hands as they walked by (not all that differently from the guys in the “LIVE GIRLS” shirts).  The guys with the megaphones were doing a great job shouting the Roman Road at folks, along with all of the great $10 words like “propitiation”, “substitutionary atonement”, “salvation” and every other Christianese phrase that would do a Dutch Reformed heart proud.

I later thought it was funny that my son chose the caption for our photo (above) in Flickr: “Sometimes you wish folks would stop being on your side…”  It was sad, but true – and it didn’t require an 18-year-old to notice the stark difference between a Christlike witness and those just being “Jerks for Jesus”.

About four hours later on the way back down the strip, I noticed that the gentleman with the “You don’t have to live like this” fliers was having a discussion with two of the “LIVE GIRLS” guys, and none of them paid attention to us as we walked by (they were speaking in Spanish, so I don’t know what was being said).  In some way, I wondered if the “LIVE GIRLS” folks weren’t the actual audience to which the older gentleman was wanting to speak to, in the first place.

Teller Like it Is

And it’s not just Christians who notice this.

Penn & Teller, a comedy/magic duo somewhat famous for their dark humor (their Vegas ads proclaim “fewer audience injuries than last year…”) are also famous for being atheists, as well – and fairly vocal ones at that.  Even so, I recently read an interview (language warning) with the talking half of their act, Penn Gillette, who also narrates a Showtime program that “debunks” various religions and charlatans (except for Scientology, because the network won’t let them, and Islam, because they value their lives):

You do go after Christians, though … Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good ****ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

And what’s funny is that he’s pretty much spot on when evaluating the Christian blogosphere, as well. Many are incredibly kind, and it’s just sad that there are a (very vocal) few of them who live in garages, and give themselves important-sounding titles (like “Pastor-Teacher”) and lie and speak eternal death threats against those who won’t follow the narrowly legalistic, eisegeted systematic theology they claim to follow. Which is probably where the saying comes from that it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.

And it’s not just Vegas.

When I got home this weekend, I saw this story which pretty much mirrored what I saw out in Las Vegas – again a tale of two witnessing Christians, but in a different city.

Apparently, there was a “gay pride” event (let’s just call it a mini-Vegas) at which a guy was simply planning on handing out Bibles and talking to folks who were interested in speaking to him.  The organizers of the event sued him to prevent him from showing up, but the court threw out their suit.

So, this guy, his wife and son showed up

wearing yellow T-shirts printed with the words “Free Bibles.” They pulled rolling suitcases full of Bibles and attracted little attention, stopping only to hand out Bibles or to engage in conversation when asked. They encountered a few challengers and bemused glances from festival attendees familiar with the court case, but attracted little attention until a gaggle of television cameras began to follow them.

“We’re not interested in preaching, and we never were,” Johnson said. “We’re not here for all that stuff in the news. We’re the ones that meet and have honest conversations with people, and we have our own rules that we go by as far as conduct is concerned.”

Johnson said he believes that homosexuality is a sin, but he insisted that he is not forceful about his message.

Meanwhile, a Jerk for Jesus decided to show up, as well.

[He] attracted far more attention than the [Bible Guy] as he stood on a box with a sign that read “You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked,” preaching to a jeering crowd. [He] attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, “Standing on the Side of Love.”

And, just to demonstrate the inherent legalism within both his preaching and his orthopraxy, the second man “brought a decibel meter to prove, he said, that he was acting within the law by not being disruptive.”  (… and they will know we are Christians by our decibel meters not pegging out loud enough to be called ‘disruptive’.)

As I thought of both cities and both types of Christians – the humble and the boorishly proud – I was reminded of one of Rich Mullins’ favorite quotes (paraphrased from Wilhelm Stekel)

An immature Christian wants to die nobly for a cause, but the mark of a mature Christian is that he wants to live humbly for one.

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I started reading Michael Spencer’s “Mere Churchianity” yesterday. Leave it to the iMonk to not even make it through one chapter without making me stop dead in my tracks. Although I love Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God“, Spencer has managed — in three paragraphs — to make me reconsider the entire parable of the prodigal son more than Keller did in an entire book. In examining the part of the story where the prodigal son realizes that he’s at the end of his rope, and so he creates the plan to return to his father’s house and ask to be a servant, Spencer writes:

… our boy decides that his dad could help him escape his pigpen lifestyle, but he doesn’t want to deal with the full implications of his stupidity. So he creates a plan for apologizing to his father, whom he (rightly) assumes will be angry. That plan includes negotiating the son’s new role in the family — that of servant. He will live out back and be useful, but he won’t be a son any longer.

His plan should sound familiar to all of us, since it is the religious answer to our problem as human beings. It seems like the perfect solution, since it’s our idea. But it’s never God’s idea, since he’s not into religion.

Religion is our negotiation with God to try to get his help in exchange for our good behavior. We promise to do what we’re told, and we expect God to reward us. This is a straightforward business arrangement, and we fully expect it to work. Meanwhile, we talk about being God’s child as if we’re family. But in our performance-for-reward arrangement, things don’t operate on grace. Under the rules of religion, God is kept at arm’s length and is expected to be involved only to the degree that he gives us what we think we deserve.

Um. Wow.

To be honest, until yesterday, I had always seen the prodigal’s plan as misguided (especially since I knew the ending of the story), but well-meaning. In retrospect, the latter is incredibly untrue.

In Yiddish, it’s chutzpah.

In the Old Testament, it’s filthy rags.

In the New Testament, it’s skubala.

In plain English, it’s pride, arrogance, stupidity, and pure crap.

When am I going to learn what grace is really about?

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Programming Note: June will likely be a very light month for new articles, as one writer is currently overseas and I will be tied up most of the month w/ my son’s graduation and a 19-day camping trip out west.

Over the past months, a number of the books/articles I’ve read have dovetailed into discussions of historical eugenics and/or abortion – or both.   Until this past year, I had not been very versed on the history of either, apart from 1) eugenics being discredited by Hitler’s application of it in searching for a “master race” of Aryans; and 2) abortion in the US, post- Roe v. Wade.  What I’ve found has been eye-opening (though probably not for those with a better grasp on early 20th Century history).


For those of you unfamiliar with eugenics, it is basically the selective and intentional breeding of humans – whether overtly (as with German race laws, selective sterilization, euthanasia) or passively (via social norming and marketing) – in order to improve the biological makeup of a community.

While overt support of eugenics is now considered anathema in polite society, it was the rage of the American progressive movement in the early 1900’s, along with many European countries in the same time period.   During this period of time, the progressive movement was enamored with the idea of nations being managed (for their own good) by scientific experts and gifted technocrats.  Diseases and social problems, they believed, could be “engineered out” of society within a couple of generations through biological means.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a progressive US Supreme Court justice, was a key proponent of eugenics, which he made clear in numerous writings, including the infamous Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld state-instituted, forced sterilization of the institutionalized and mentally disabled.  At the time, he wrote to a friend ” I … delivered an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a state law for sterilizing imbeciles the other day – and felt that I was getting near the first principle of real reform.”

Other key progressive figures in America and Europe – John Maynard Keynes (the founding stone of progressive economics), H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson – were also vocal public supporters of eugenics.  Wilson, the year before becoming the President of the US, as governor of New Jersey supported and signed into law legislation to create in his state, the Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives, whose purpose was to determine for whom procreation would not be advisable.  A number of progressive church leaders, including Harry Emerson Fosdick, John A Ryan, and John Haynes Holmeswere also involved in selling eugenics to the public.  [It should be noted, though, that one of the most prominently outspoken critic of eugenics was the abashedly apolitical theologican G. K. Chesterton.  In fact, he endured a great deal of public scorn from progressive Christians and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for his writings against the practice of eugenics.]

During this time, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune helped to fund a program which informed some of Josef Mengele’s work, and led to the forced sterilization of 60,000 American children who were classified as “feebleminded” – poor whites, blacks, Eastern European Jews, Native Americans, and other “genetically inferior” individuals.  It should be noted that some of this work happened after the Nuremberg Trials, post-WWII. (For a full discussion on this, read War Against the Weak by historian Edwin Black.)

It should be noted that, while much of the Nazi eugenics movement was fueled by antisemitism and purely racist motives, not all of the American and European supporters of this progressive endeavor were driven by race.  Instead, race selection was more of a biproduct.  Many of the American eugenics supporters felt that it was for the public good that the poor, the weak, the “criminal class”, the disabled, and the “feeble minded” – all of which were disproportionately made up of minorities and poor southern whites – not be allowed to continue to breed.

Much of the progressive “public health movement” was grounded in eugenics and its infatuation with race, which was infamously on display with the Tuskegee Experiment, which was borne out of the best intentions (improvement of the health and well-being of African Americans), but implemented in reprehensible and underhanded fashion.

How does this carry on to today?

Jonah Goldberg, in Liberal Fascism, follows this eugenic thread and its ties to modern politics:

What is today called liberalism stands, domestically, on three legs: support for the welfare state, abortion, and identity politics.

Each of these three key “legs”, Goldberg traces from its roots in the eugenics movement.

The minimum wage laws, for example, were originally instituted in order to keep “unemployables” (the underclass targeted by eugenicists) from finding work.

It was [Sidney] Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination [...] Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a living wage.  Hence, if you raised the minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization.

The Davis-Bacon act, considered a bedrock law by modern unions, was established specifically to prevent poor blacks (who were not unionized) from “taking” jobs from whites (who tended to be unionized).  And on, and on.  He does note that even though these laws were established either partially or primarily for eugenic reasons, modern support for these laws does not necessarily come from the same source as the original motivation.

Obviously, the deliberate racist intent of many of these policies was not shared by subsequent generations of liberals.  But that didn’t erase the racial content of the policies themselves.  The Davis-Bacon Act still hurts low-wage blacks, for example.  FDR’s labor and agricultural policies threw millions of blacks out of work and off their land.  The great migration of African-Americans to northern cities was in no small part a result of the success of progressive policies.  Black leaders didn’t call the National Recovery Administration, or NRA, the “Negro Run Around” for nothing. [...]

Economically, as Thomas Sowell has cataloged, the biggest drop in black poverty took place during the two decades before the Great Society.  In the 1970’s, when the impact of the Great Society programs was fully realized, the trend of black economic improvement stopped almost entirely.

And then came Roe v. Wade.

From Eugenics to Abortion

As I noted above, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an early supporter of eugenics.  Even today, she is a highly-esteemed hero figure of the American left.  In reality, though, she was monstrously racist, and her primary support of abortion was for eugenic purposes – to eliminate blacks and other “undesirable” elements of society through their own self-selection.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities.

From early in her public life, Sanger was a supporter of forced-sterilization laws, bans on the “unfit” from reproduction, and licensing of reproduction for those deemed “fit” to reproduce.  She pursued these policies on a number of fronts – from creation of the American Birth Control League to the philosophies behind the Zero Population Growth movement late in her life.  Early on, she wrote:

It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit.

Since the government was not moving fast enough for her, she took action to make this philosophical desire a reality.  It is not an accident that Planned Parenthood’s clinics, from the beginning, were primarily targeted to poor, urban communities, and that one of the “benefits” of this arrangement was the purpose of reducing crime by reducing the minority and poor-white population.  In 1939, Sanger launched the “Negro Project“, whose goals were ostensibly to introduce “responsible birth control” into the southern black population, but whose goals were essentially to eventually eliminate it.

But what about the results of Sanger’s work?

Today in America, more than 30% of abortions are performed on African-American women, even though the African-Americans only make up 12% of the population.  More than half of the black babies conceived in America are aborted.  This is higher than any other demographic group.

Read that again.

I first became aware of this, along with the eugenic component of abortion in America, when reading Freakonomics last fall.  In it, the authors describe the nationwide precipitous drop in the crime rate in the mid-1990’s, and the array of explanations given for it by various experts.  Using the rich economic and statistical data available on crime and demographics, they were able to definitively tie the steep drop in the crime rate to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Once again, Sanger’s work has borne the results she intended it to, whether or not her modern supporters ever had such expectations or intentions.

So What?

The church I grew up in is part of the Restoration Movement, whose purpose was to try and “restore” the church as it had been founded by Christ and his disciples, stripped of all of the later creeds and codes and systematic theologies – the “theological drift” of the ages.  In it, I grew to have a great appreciation for going back to the roots of a movement – not just the church – to see where the original trees grew, and the original intents of the founders.

As such, I’ve spent much of the past decade in my personal “enjoyment” reading learning about Hebrew Roots, the roots of modern science, the roots of America, and now, the roots of political thought.  As such, I’ve come to appreciate that even if the members of a movement today do not hold the exact views of its founders, they are inexorably shaped by them.

Not only are they shaped by them, but it takes an incredibly amount of will and purposeful patience from them to rip a movement from its roots and move it somewhere else – for good or ill.  As such, as I have studied the early 1900’s and the political & ethical movements borne from these decades, I’ve found that many of their aims have succeeded – for good or ill – and that many of their followers have no clue what they’ve bought into, or – like in the case of abortion and other progressive sacred cows – that they’ve become energetic imbibers of the fruit of a poisoned tree.

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