Category Archives: Uncategorized

Theonomy

I recently finished reading a book, “No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics” and have been thinking about it ever since. Theonomy is the belief, among some Christian theologians, that Moaic law, indeed all the laws in the Bible, should be followed to the letter. There is no room for interpretation or for believing that certain laws are outdated and can no longer be followed in a modern society. There are think tanks, seminaries, churches, and many individuals committed to this idea. One of the best known organizations is the Chalcedon Foundation.

This group is focused on “rebuilding the theological foundations of Christian civilization.” This foundation believes that humanism and secularism have ruined the world and if only the whole world would accept what they believe, then we would have a great civilization.

When I first started reading the book, I was looking for some logical inconsistency, some reason for why theonomy didn’t make sense, some way to demolish the arguments. I couldn’t. Every question I had, every objection I could make was answered.

Does this mean I was converted to the theonomic worldview? No. The reason is simple. You have to accept a few basic premises. Once you accept those premises, then I think you must accept theonomy. The premises are as follows:

  1. The Bible is the inerrant word of God.
  2. Human reason can be used to interpret and understand God’s word, but not to question it.
  3. The Old Testament laws must be followed, unless they are specifically rescinded in the New Testament.

If you accept these premises, then you must accept the conclusion. I do not accept the premises, therefore I cannot accept the premise.

  1. While the Bible may be divinely inspired, this is the most that I am willing to grant. The Bible is a flawed document, written by men and women who were trying to express their stories and their ideas as best they could. But, I have trouble believing that the Bible is absolutely without fault and is the direct word from God.
  2. Human reason, whether it’s a gift from God or a byproduct of evolution, is a wonderful tool, flawed and limited, but always capable of pushing the limits further and further. We should use our reasons to fully understand and even question our faith and the faith of others. We cannot simply accept that a divine being has provided us all the answers, but must investigate it for ourselves.
  3. This only makes sense in the context of premise 1. Otherwise, if you look at the Old Testament in a historical context, some of the laws make sense for that time period but simply do not apply to our modern times. I simply cannot abide by the idea that homosexuals should be killed, among other laws.

I may be wrong and the Bible may be the inerrant word of God, in which case I would have to accept theonomy. But, I don’t think I am.

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Abolish the Electoral College

There’s been a lot of talk lately about abolishing the electoral college after Clinton’s loss last week. Most people who are asking for this are merely upset by Clinton’s loss and are embittered by the fact that she has lost the electoral college and won the popular vote. I think the electoral college should be abolished for the simple reason that politicians only focus on a few states that are considered swing states.

People in California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, etc. don’t get their voices heard. When politicians say, “Every vote matters” and “We’re going to wait until every vote is counted”, they really mean those votes in Florida and Ohio.

Campaigns would change entirely. You wouldn’t just get to hope for 1 more vote than your opponent in a state to win the entire state. You would want to turn out tens or hundreds of thousands of more people than your opponent. People who live in a deep red or deep blue state wouldn’t feel so despondent. They would begin to see that their vote actually does matter.

I don’t think the electoral college is terrible. I think it helps prevent the tyranny of the majority. Smaller states have a greater voice in the electoral college than they would otherwise. The rule of California could overcome most of the West and Midwest by sheer population. I want to protect minorities, all minorities, including those who disagree with me politically.

That being said, I still think there is room to eliminate the electoral college and protect minority views. Maybe we can even move to a proportional electoral college system. All of California’s electoral college votes don’t go to Clinton. 60% go to Clinton and 33% to Trump (or whatever the exact proportion comes out to be). But, disregarding moving to a proportional system, the electoral college should be abolished, so that every vote matters more than it does today.

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Time to Govern, Republicans

The Republican party now controls the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Presidency, and almost total legislative control of 25 states. Very soon after Inauguration Day, there will be more conservatives on the Supreme Court and possibly a few more conservative justices over the next few years.

This is all to say that the Republican agenda has very few roadblocks to implement their agenda, after being in the position of the minority (nationally, even if not at the state level) for the past few years. Now, there is no Obama to blame, and no significant push-back from Democrats legislatively.

So, time to govern. There is no reason why all the ideas that Republicans have been saying for the past few years cannot be implemented. They’ve been telling the American people, “If only Obama wasn’t in the White House, we would bring back all your jobs, lower taxes, eliminate the national debt, provide health care, unleash the free market to rebuild this country, protect your religious freedom, your guns, and all your other freedoms.” Ok, sounds great. So, do it.

I think there are some valid conservative ideas around economic policy and immigration, even though I wish they were a little more compassionate. So, I’m not dismissing all Republican ideas out of hand. I’m perfectly willing to listen to ideas and be convinced. And, I also am willing to listen to results. So, let’s see some results.

Governing is different than complaining. It’s one thing to vote to take away healthcare from 20 million people when you know the President will veto the bill. It’s another to actually take away healthcare from 20 million people (unless you actually replace it with something better).

Good luck, Republicans. I wish for our country to succeed and for our world to be safer and more prosperous tomorrow than it is today.

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How to Argue

I’m currently reading a slim book, “A Rulebook for Arguments” by Anthony Weston and have found the advice in it to be fascinating and uniquely suited to this election season.

Some people love to argue, even if they don’t know how. Other people hate to argue, no matter what. Then there’s others who genuinely want to know the truth and engaging in arguments with people is the way to go about it. I’d like to think I’m on of these people, but I know my own prejudices get in my way sometimes. It’s human nature to want to be right and to feel defensive whenever someone approaches you with a different opinion.

But arguments are not necessarily bad and do not have to be painful. One piece of advice from the book is to “consider counterfactuals”. Many of us argue by using examples and generalizations. We think that when we’ve found a few examples that prove our point, we must be right, but we refuse to consider any examples that oppose our conclusions. Your argument will be stronger if you consider all the ways in which your argument may be wrong and can find an alternative explanation for those examples that contradict your own. Or, you may even (gasp!) change your mind!

Human knowledge and reasoning is limited, but you can get closer to truth and be more sure of your beliefs by arguing effectively.

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The Principle of Charity

On the eve of the presidential election, I am reminded of something I learned in philosophy class; the principle of charity. Essentially, the principle states that you should be charitable in your reading of an opponent’s ideas, that is, you should assume that they are intelligent, truthful, and have good intentions. This way, you can respond to the argument and not to the person making the argument. You respond to the best possible interpretation of the argument another person is making, so that you come up with the strongest counter-argument.

The principle of charity is one of the more powerful ideas I learned during my time as a college student. It enabled me to think deeply about ideas that I may not have otherwise considered. It opened my mind to new ideas and new perspectives. It even allowed me to change my mind at certain points.

I say all this because it seems that in politics (and increasingly in every sphere of human knowledge) we are neglecting the principle of charity at our own peril. By assuming that our opponents are all idiots, we do ourselves a disservice. We merely increase the noise within our echo chamber when we only listen to people who agree with us and believe that everybody else is just so dumb for believing what they do.

Social media seems to make this worse. When we don’t like something on facebook, those comments increasingly disappear from view. You can actively disengage from people who disagree with you by ensuring their posts never show in your feed, by defriending them, and by only liking or commenting on posts that you actively agree with. The algorithm learns what you like and gives you more of the same.

Whether Trump or Clinton gets elected tomorrow, we should all learn to practice the principle of charity. Let’s assume that Republicans are not merely concerned with obstructing any progress and are not all racists and sexists. Let’s assume that Democrats are not merely concerned with micro-aggressions and want to slaughter babies by keeping abortion legal. Let’s assume that we all want the same thing, a better country tomorrow than we have today. A good way to start is by practicing the principle of charity.

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A reply to Archbishop Naumann

I recently read Archbishop Naumann’s on theleaven.org. In it, he criticizes Tim Kaine for holding a personal opposition to abortion even as he legislates as a pro-choice candidate and senator. I think the abortion debate in this country is generally pretty ugly and dominated by religious reasoning. I am pro-choice for a few reasons, one of which is that even if abortion was criminalized, abortions would still happen. However, they would be much more dangerous, hidden, and committed without any regard for the life of the mother. I also take issue with some of the typical arguments used by pro-life advocates, namely that every human life is sacred and must be protected at all costs. And, no, this does not make me “pro-abortion”, a terrible slander that is used to portray pro-choice advocates as heartless murderers. Believing abortion should be legal, and hoping that abortion would never be needed are not contradictory.

If you are religious and you are pro-life because you believe that is what God wants, then you may as well stop reading. How can human reason compare with God’s? I don’t have an argument against religious reasons for opposition to abortion, because nothing can be said to overcome a sincerely held religious belief. I do not have religious reasons for being pro-choice, and so I am fully committed to weighing arguments on both sides and deciding what I think best. Thus far, I have decided that the pro-choice argument makes more sense to me, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Anyway, to Archbishop Naumann. He states that Senator Kaine stated all the usual “made-for-modern-media sound bites” and then listed two sentences that are perfectly reasonable and another one that has only come up because Donald Trump made an ill-advised comment.

  1. “It is not proper to impose his religious beliefs upon all Americans.”
    • Since when is this a sound-bite? This has been a fundamental principle since our founding.
  2. “He trusts women to make good reproductive choices.”
    • Should we not trust people to make their own reproductive choices? Again, if you are a strict Catholic (or other strict Christian), then you believe that there is no option other than procreative sex and nothing else, but that is a choice that each individual makes. When, how, and with whom to have sex are personal questions that each person has to answer. This statement again, does not seem unreasonable.
  3. “Do we really want to criminalize and fill our jails with post-abortive women?”
    • Donald Trump said that there should be some type of punishment for women who seek an abortion. He later walked it back and I think that he simply thought it was in keeping with what pro-life people wanted to hear, but the vast majority of pro-life people have never wanted to jail women who seek an abortion, so this is being used as a scare tactic by Democrats to whip up votes.

The Archbishop then proceeds to talk about how Senator Kaine has no problem imposing his religious beliefs with regard to “the church’s opposition to racism or our preferential treatment for the poor.” While it is true that the Church has recently embraced these things, it has not always been the case. The Church has embraced racism at various times (slavery, anti-Semitism, to name two instances) and their treatment of the poor has been uneven. Should the Church not do as Jesus commanded and sell all they have and give it to the poor? I imagine St. Peter’s Basilica could house, clothe and feed a lot of poor people. Or is the Archbishop advocating to remove the tax-free treatment that churches receive, so that those tax dollars can be used to better fund anti-poverty measures?

“He appears not to be conflicted with our public policies mirroring the Ten Commandments with regard to stealing, perjury or forms of murder, other than abortion.” You do not have to be religious to understand that stealing, perjury, and murder are  harmful to society. Does Archbishop Naumann really believe that people were constantly murdering, stealing, and lying before the Ten Commandments were revealed? Of course not, Adam and Even never would have made it out of Eden if this were so.

“Our founders actually believed that the right to life is given to us by our Creator, not the Supreme Court.” The founders also believed that you could be deprived of life, liberty, and property under our laws. So, the right to life is not an absolute right. Additionally, the founders also believed in slavery and that women were inferior, so perhaps we shouldn’t assume that just because the founders thought it, it must be right.

“[A]t the moment of fertilization a new human life has begun with his or her own distinct DNA.” While the biology of this is technically correct, why the emphasis on human life? What makes a fertilized human egg a life worth protecting? This gets into a fundamental philosophical question about what life is worth saving. Most people would agree that all human life is worth saving, until we get into the details. If we try to look at particular cases of horrible people, then we may not agree that all human life is worth saving, such as rapists, murderers, enemy combatants in war, etc. Now, you could try to make an innocence argument, that the humans in the womb are necessarily innocent. Depending on what Christian doctrine you subscribe to, you may believe that all humans are stained with sin from conception, tainted and therefore not innocent. Looked at in this way, babies in a womb are no more innocent than the rapist. I personally think this is ridiculous and would be a sign of a horribly unjust God.

“Does anyone really have the choice to end another human being’s life? Our choices end where another individual’s more fundamental rights begin.” This is a climax of the argument and meant to be a final blow to anyone who could disagree with the author. However, we can follow this down to its logical conclusion and end up in a pretty terrifying place. First, the state and the military clearly have the choice to end another human being’s life. Both of those groups do it all the time. Before we quibble about how those are organizations and not ‘people’, let’s be clear that people have to perform the action. An executioner has to perform the execution. The state did not kill someone, a person did. The military as an organization did not kill an opposing army’s soldier, our soldier did it with a gun (or drone).

If we follow the choices argument, then we need to think much more carefully about our choices. Do you have a smartphone? Then you took away someone’s fundamental rights as the enslavement and horrific working conditions of people manufacturing these smartphones has been well documented. Did you spend money eating out, when you could have donated that money to the poor and potentially prevented someone from starving to death? Did you invite a homeless person into your home to stay warm on a freezing winter night? If not, then you may very well have made a choice that killed someone. Nobody would ever hold you personally responsible for these deaths, but we cannot simply say that we cannot make a choice that ever infringes on someone else’s rights. We would be left unable to take any action.

“[G]uilt and unresolved grief that inevitably resolves from abortion.” I take issue with the qualifier “inevitably”. This is saying that every abortion results in grief and guilt and I am sure that is not the case. You can easily find stories of women who chose to have an abortion and do not regret it or feel grief.

There is a long paragraph about how Senator Kaine has imposed his beliefs on others by forcing religious institutions to provide contraception, which is false, put florists out of business if they don’t support gay marriage, which is partially true, and force every American to fund abortions. To all of these I say, you live in a society and part of the social contract is that you have to abide by certain rules. Religious institutions can simply say they don’t want to provide contraception and they don’t have to. Florists and other businesses cannot discriminate. If you want to discriminate, don’t start a business. Our tax dollars go to support a lot of things that you or I don’t agree with. But, this doesn’t mean that you get to stop paying taxes. Taxes are the price you pay for living in a society.

Lastly, the author gives an endorsement for Donald Trump without mentioning him by name. I can understand how Christian conservatives cannot vote for or support Hilary Clinton. I get it. But to endorse Donald Trump cedes any moral high ground that you may have had. I’ve been considering leaving the presidential ticket blank and simply voting for all of the down-ballot races. This seems perfectly legitimate. Trump and Clinton are both flawed, but Trump is much more flawed and dangerous than Clinton.

This was a long post and I’m sure some people will be angry and others may agree with me. Again, I want us to think rationally about abortion. It’s an issue worth talking about and I am willing to admit I may be wrong. However, if you want to say, “God says x, y and z”, then I don’t really have anything to say. God may indeed say all those things and maybe after we die, we’ll find out what the truth is.

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My Politics

Watching the Democrats and Republicans (and to a lesser extent, the Greens) fight over policies has made me think deeper about my own political views and where I fit. In general, I consider myself a moderate that leans liberal, especially when it comes to social issues. However, I’ve been wondering why I think this way. Two things have affected my thinking here:

1. A philosophy article detailing how it may not be possible to change your mind. Essentially the argument was that to be able to change your mind, you had to imagine the actual arguments that would be compelling enough to make you change your mind. And, if you can come up with the arguments compelling enough to change your mind, then you must change your mind. So, it seems to be difficult to ever change your mind, as long as you are familiar with all the arguments and know which one is most compelling to you.

2. The book, “Socrates Cafe”, which encourages us to think like Socrates and constantly examine our assumptions, question our most basic understanding of things, maintain an open mind to new thoughts and evidence, and know that which we do not know.

Both of these readings has led me to question my basic beliefs and where I stand on some political issues, especially as I consider who to vote for in the upcoming primaries. Instead of listing my precise stance on certain issues like the death penalty, taxes, healthcare, national security, immigration, etc., I prefer to stake out some larger principles and any specific policies should match those principles, whether the policies are put forth by Republicans, Democrats, or some other party. If more Americans did this, I think we could avoid some of the partisanship, where a person supports their political party, no matter what policies they put forth.

  1. Respect for all persons everywhere
    • Essentially, what I mean by this, is that we should treat all people with dignity and respect, and enact policies that reflect this. One important thing to note is that I don’t believe that respect and dignity end at our border or even with non-citizens within our borders. I’d also say, for clarity, that I am defining a person as a human that has been born, so unborn humans and animals are not included (not to say they don’t deserve any respect, but perhaps a different level than born humans). This includes respect for different races, religions, genders, etc.
  2. Rule of law
    •  This means that no person is above the law, and the justice system works for everyone, rich or poor. While I think that there are some laws that are immoral and need to be reformed, people must follow the laws and work to change them within the system. This doesn’t negate the legitimacy of non-violent protest, but it is preferable to change the laws through democratic processes.
  3. Economic opportunity
    • I think that people should have an equality of opportunity, that is, there should be opportunities for people to demonstrate talent and move up in companies. People should be able to live at some minimum level by working 40 hours a week.
  4. Personal freedom
    • People should have the freedom to do what they please, so long as they do not interfere with the freedom of other people. Basically, people should not be prevented from acting as they wish, nor should they be forced to act as they don’t wish (unless they are interfering with other people). People cannot have an unrestricted freedom to act (otherwise how do we prevent murder, etc.) but generally speaking people should have many of the freedoms we take for granted now, speech, assembly, worship, etc.
  5. Privacy
    • I think this is closely connected with freedom, that there is a certain level of privacy that we should all expect, but there is no right to unlimited privacy. There is always a certain amount of information that you would be required to give up, just to live in a society.
  6. Equal opportunity in politics
    • Wealth should not be a requirement to entry into politics. Additionally, admission to a particular party should not be a requirement to enter politics. While these probably apply already to most local politics, once you try to enter state or national politics, the barriers to entry are rather high. A true democracy is based on everyone having an equal voice.
  7. Education can solve many problems
    • A broad based education can be a cure to many societal ills, across the world. While not everyone needs or should necessarily attend a 4 year university, there is a basic level of education (and our K-12 education in America is very uneven) that everyone should have and will help ensure economic security, lower crime, better politics, etc.
  8. Military interventions
    • A military will always be necessary, but should really only be used in a just war (see just war theory). War is occasionally justified, but we tend to be too quick to go to a military option in some cases, while letting just opportunities to use the military (during cases of genocide for instance) go by.
  9. Respect for property
    • Property is the basis of society. Almost everyone has some property that they have earned or accrued and we should respect that they can use it how they wish, within reason. This is not an unrestricted right to keep all property, but property should not be taken away from people unnecessarily or without some form of due process. This may also apply to taxation, since that is essentially taking away monetary “property”, even if property is usually thought of as more tangible assets. A certain minimum amount of taxation is required to make a society function, but it need not be excessive.

I realize that this may not account for every situation and I can probably be challenged on any of these points, but these are the general things I look for when evaluating policies and candidates for elected office.

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