The new ‘freedom’

If you read only one online essay this week, I recommend this article by Anna Mussmann at The Federalist: “How Our New Definition of Freedom Causes Cruelty.” Here’s the crux:

In the past, freedom meant the ability to obey one’s beliefs. Now, freedom is the ability to require others to obey one’s own beliefs about oneself.

Exactly.

Yes, I understand…

In my writing there’s a certain amount of juggling that results from the tension between my being a citizen of the United States and a subject in the Kingdom of God. Of course I know which one has priority, but in practice I haven’t figured out all the details.

I don’t think I’m the first one. The New Testament is full of guidance to help Christians faithfully serve God while continuing to uphold our duties to both government and family. See, for example, Mark 12:14-17, Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Cor. 7, and 1 Tim. 5:8.

A little light in D.C.

For the most part I’ve given up on hearing any truth out of Washington, D.C., or holding onto any real hope for the future of the Republic. But once again Trey Gowdy has shown that there is still someone in Congress who knows the difference, at least sometimes, between politics and truth. This video of Rep. Gowdy’s opening comments in today’s Benghazi hearings is 13 minutes long. But if you want a refreshing dose of truth from D.C., it is is worth looking at even if, like me, you don’t generally take time to watch Internet videos. If you don’t have 13 minutes to spare, I recommend tuning in at 7:30 and watching to the end. It’s dymanite. For me, at least, it offers hope that America may not be doomed after all.

A note on anonymity

The post immediately before this one has gotten me thinking about writing under a pen name and whether or not I’m falling victim to the Internet pitfall of behaving badly behind online anonymity. I’ve thought about it, and I don’t think so.

First, there’s no such thing as actual anonymity online. For example, in my case, some of my friends have already figured out who I really am, hackers could make a pretty good case with minimal effort, police types could find out even more quickly through my ISP, and the NSA essentially knows already. So I’m under no illusions that my nom de plume makes what I write here truly anonymous.

What it is, as I explain on the about page, is plausible deniability for my employer if any of the ‘net’s hoardes of the Perpetually Aggrieved take issue with what I write and want to pressure my employer to give me the axe. It’s not that my management doesn’t know my position on pretty much everything I write here. They do. But, speaking of being under no illusions, I’m also under no illusion that my employer values my contributions enough to keep me on the payroll in the exceedingly unlikely case that my writing ever generates serious negative publicity for them. Thus the nom de plume.

Second, writing anonymously is showing me who I really am when no one is looking, as it were. I’m less likely to be quite so conscious of my reputation as I was when I blogged under my own name. Sure, I may brag a little bit. But I can’t see myself engaging in the types of cruel, scatological, unkind vomitus that sometimes turns up from anonymous writers and commenters. I like to think that I’m a man of integrity who holds to essentially the same standard of conduct whether I get credit for it or not. We’ll see.

If I do say so. . .

Reading over my post from July on “God, Man, and Biblical Authority,” I’m quite frankly surprised that I wrote something so clear and insightful. If you haven’t read it, I do recommend clicking over.

NB: Yes, of course I know one is not supposed to brag on oneself like that. Maybe it’s the nom-de-plume thing–except that those who really know me well can tell you I do that kind of thing from time to time anyway. It’s part of the peculiar internal count.

NB2: Yes, I know the post may not be nearly as clear and insightful as I think it is. But I call ’em like I see ’em.

Six distinctives of American Civil Religion

If you’re not familiar with Dan Edelen’s writing, I highly recommend his work at Cerulean Sanctum. His recent post on the dangers of American Civil Religion is especially worthwhile. Here’s a sample:

The narrative of our country and the narrative of the Kingdom of God have syncretized so profoundly that the religion far too many self-proclaimed Christians in America practice isn’t true Christianity at all but something I like to call American Civil Religion. . . . Part of that confusion is due to the syncretism that spawned ACR. Because some elements of true Christianity are sprinkled throughout ACR, it looks like a twin, but to people who are discerning, the differences are stark.

Dan lists six qualities that distinquish ACR from real Christianity. It’s worth knowing the difference, and I recommend reading Dan’s whole essay.

A weblog worth reading

Please don’t let the fact that it’s hosted on a politically conservative web site distract you from the outstanding content on Rob Dreher’s weblog. Mr. Dreher writes from a deeply Christian perspective and is perhaps best known for his work on the benefits of the so-called Benedict Option in the face of the ongoing, slow-motion collapse of Western civilization. I highly recommend his site.

The best way to remember 9-11

Today I’m writing simply as an American, and I’ll cut right to the point. The idea of lowering the American flag to half-staff on 9-11 may be well intentioned, but it is profoundly ignorant and wrong.

In fact, every school, city hall, federal building, fire station, business, or other public establishment flying the flag at half-staff today is sending the 180-degree wrong message not only to our fellow Americans, but to our enemies as well. We are, of course, remembering the 3,000 Americans who died fourteen years ago today at the hands of 19 Moslem terrorists. But the best way to remember our dead is not to turn ourselves into the United States of Thoughts and Prayers, lowering our flags and our heads and mourning our losses. That just encourages us to become weak and indecisive and tells our enemies that we already are.

The best way to mourn thousands of dead Americans is to create many, many thousands more dead Moslem terrorists. In other words, after fourteen years we don’t need so much to mourn our own as we need to kill our enemies–by the tens of thousands–mercilessly and relentlessly. That’s the language our enemies understand, and it’s the only way to win a war. What Mark Stein wrote about another recent terror attack is even more relevant for remembering the victims of 9-11: “We who did not know them cannot mourn them: That is for their friends and family. The nation’s duty is to avenge them – so that they did not die in vain.”Amen. Like it or not, the United States is at war with violent Islamists. And the way to win a war, especially against violent Islamists, is to obliterate the enemy’s will to fight.

So how does this sound? Next year rather than lowering our flags to half-mast on Sept. 11, let’s raise the flag to the top of the pole and send out our B-2s, B-52s, striker planes, attack helicopters, guided missles, artillery and naval guns, special operations forces, infantry, and everything else we have to remember the loss of 3,000 Americans by effecting the loss of 30,000 terrorists. And let’s do it over and over and over until our enemies lower their heads and get all sentimental about how sweet and innocent life was before their fellow terrorists made the foolish mistake of attacking the United States of America.

I sincerely hope that Americans have not lost our stomach for war, or–worse yet–that we have lost our minds when it comes to what is really required for keeping peace.

Update: My wife tells me this essay is not the kind of thing I ought to write as a Christian who cares about the souls even of the enemies of Christ. Maybe so.

Certainly citizens of the Kingdom have a much higher allegiance than to our earthly nation, however important the latter allegiance may be. You certainly don’t see the Apostles taking up issues of earthly politics, diplomacy, or warfare. Indeed, Paul urged Timothy to view Christian discipleship as akin to military allegiance, and cautioned that “No soldier entangles himself in civilian affairs, so that he please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim. 2:4).

Americans, however, are qualitatively different from Christians in the first century. We are neither slaves nor subjects but citizens, and in a much more profound way than, say, the Apostle Paul in the first century. Paul’s Roman citizenship granted him a number of privileges, but to the best of my knowledge those privileges did not include having a vote in electing members of the Roman senate, let alone the emperor himself. Whether or not we choose to exercise it, however, very adult U.S. citizen has a say in the governance of the nation in a way that the Roman citizen did not. In short, every American citizen is part of the ruling class–and is thus responsible in part for the direction of the country.

Like it or not, when it comes to a nation’s foreign affairs, every nation is forced to play in the arena that exists, not in the one we would like to see. To do otherwise is to place that nation in grave danger. The reality of the fallen world in which we live is that peace for any nation comes at the cost of military strength–not only in fact, but in perception. For this reason, to have peace in the world, the United States must not only possess military strength and resolve, but display that resolve to the world.

I sometimes wonder if it would be better if each American did not have the responsibilities that we do. But because we do, we must exercise them well.

God, Man, and Biblical Authority

Despite the logical limbs we love to levitate, the issue of biblical authority is breathtakingly simple. Either we trust God supremely, or we trust something else supremely. If we trust anything above God, then we practice idolatry.

Sometimes people accuse Christians of bibliolatry—idolatry of the Bible. But what many Christians do, I fear, is really worse than that. Putting our ultimate trust in the Bible really comes down to putting our trust in man, or anthropolatry. I realize that worshippers of the Bible believe their faith is really in God, just as worshippers of the golden calf believed their faith was really in JHVH. In both cases, however, the hand of man looms large between the worshippers and God. Consider where our trust must lie if we put supreme trust in the Bible:

  1. That the men who originally wrote the books did so without factual or other error;
  2. That men entrusted with transcribing the original manuscripts did so without error;
  3. That the men who selected which texts to translate chose precisely and only the infallible and inerrant manuscripts among the thousands of variations;
  4. That men translated the words in our English Bible infallibly and inerrantly from the original languages;
  5. That we can understand these translations infallibly and inerrantly.

Many biblical absolutists will not insist on the middle three of these points and will therefore assert inerrancy of the biblical text only in the “autographs.” These brethren are content to trust God to guide the scribes, guardians, and translators to do their work, if not infallibly, then adequately to preserve and deliver God’s Word to us today in a way that gives, in understandable form, all we need for salvation and godly living. In that trust our brethren do well.

Many brethren also concede that the final point is unattainable in an absolute sense but that human beings can neverthless understand the biblical words well enough to be saved and to obey God. In that belief, too, our brethren do well.

In other words, even biblical absolutists, when pressed, typically fall back on God’s love, mercy, and guidance in helping us to hear and heed God’s Word despite human shortcomings in the transmission process.

But why stop with those final four? If we truly trust God to love, guide, and protect us, despite the fallibility of man, then why not accept that even the apostles themselves may have written inspired Scripture that was not inerrant and infallible?

Many Christians will at this point quote 2 Timothy 3:16, that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” Well, yes, clearly and of course. Scripture itself makes this point. But nowhere does the Bible use the terms “inerrant” or “infallible” for itself.  Many Christians will here assert that if it is possible that the Bible contains errors, then no part of the Bible can be trusted to be that part without error and therefore the Bible is useless as an authoritative source. From a strictly logical standpoint that argument is correct.

Yet if we apply the same trust in God to the writing of the Scripture that we typically do to its transmission and translation, then we still have no problem. Again, if our trust is in the love, guidance, and protection of God, then human fallibility even in the writing of the Bible itself cannot separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. In fact, acknowledging and embracing the possibility of human error in the Bible as we have it frees us from a misplaced faith in our own efforts and understanding, and it forces us to face the reality that our hope can and must be in the Holy and Almighty God, and in him alone.

Copyright 2015, Elijah C. Penner