John Piper distinguishes between the verses that call for helping poor Christians and those that call for doing good to all of the poor, which people often mix up (Matthew 25 being the most obvious). Both are important, he writes, but it’s important to interpret the passages properly in order to have the best biblical support.
At Musings on Iraq, Joel Wing writes that Saddam did not plan the post-invasion insurgency, as some thought at the time, because he didn’t think that his government was going to fall. It’s strange that despite the talk of “regime change” here, he completely discounted the possibility:
The project found that Saddam and his top officials’ worldview was shaped by Iraqi history, and was quite different from what Americans were thinking. First, Saddam did not believe that the United States had the will to invade Iraq. He looked at Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and even the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and interpreted them all as examples that the Americans could not take casualties, and preferred to use air rather than ground power. Saddam also looked at Iraq’s past intransigence with the United Nations weapons inspectors and its 1993 attempt on former President Bush’s life in Kuwait where the U.S. just launched air and missile strikes as other examples to bolster his opinion. A few senior military officials believed that the Americans would actually invade, but they thought it would be like the 1991 Gulf War where the U.S. would carry out a massive air campaign, and then invade the south, but never head towards Baghdad. For example, the former commander of the Iraqi Air Force and Air Defense told interrogators after the war that, “We thought that the war would be like the last one in 1991. We figured that the United States would conduct some operations in the south and then go home.” The Director General of the Republican Guard’s General Staff told his captors, “We thought the Coalition would go to Basra, may be to Amarah, and then the war would end.” In 2002, when Washington and London were stepping up international pressure upon Baghdad, Saddam thought that France and Russia would stop any United Nations’ resolutions that authorized the use of force. That was because Iraq had created strong economic ties with both since the 1990s in an attempt to undermine U.N. sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. Even if the U.S. were to invade, Saddam thought that Iraqi troops were better fighters, and would cause such heavy casualties, that President Bush would stop. As Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said, Saddam “Thought that this war would not lead to his ending.”
When the invasion came in March 2003, Saddam was obsessed with the military details and giving orders, but because his staff had been conditioned to hide bad news from him out of fear that he would have them killed, he never knew how serious the threat was, and how fast the American troops were moving towards Baghdad. Instead he thought the Iraqi forces were actually winning. General Abed Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam’s secretary for example, later told the U.S. that Saddam ordered the Foreign Ministry on March 30 to tell the French and Germans that Iraq wanted an unconditional surrender from the U.S. Even in the last days of his regime in April, Saddam was still coming up with plans on how to defend the capital, and ordering units that had been destroyed into new positions. To the very end, Saddam was focused upon the invasion, and not what would happen afterward. That’s why no documents or official was found that said that he ever thought about forming an insurgency. Before the war, he thought it wouldn’t happen, and then when it did, he believed the U.S. would never head towards Baghdad, and that his army could stop the Americans in their tracks. The idea that he might be deposed, never seemed to enter his mind until the night he fled, and his regime collapsed.
A Breakpoint commentary from January linked to a couple of New York Times articles about abortion in its home city. The abortion rate in New York is 41%, and it’s 60% for unborn black babies according to this William McGurn column in the Wall Street Journal. In the Times, Ariel Kaminer describes the ease of getting abortions in New York: few if any restrictions and many options for procedures. Kaminer also contrasts the casual availability of abortions before the 13th week of pregnancy (88% of abortions in New York) with the heartache that accompanies late-term abortions. Both Breakpoint and Kaminer link to this Times article that describes the response of some Christian and Jewish clergy to the report. This second article also cites the 60% statistic for black babies and links to this report from the city (it is a report about 2009 released in December 2010).
A while back, Douglas at Embracing the Risk linked to this 2005 article by Ryan Lizza that gives a history of abortion laws in New York. Lizza argues that New York has been the abortion capital of America in three periods: much of the 1800s, the early 1970s, and the 21st century.
I’m always struck by the arguments of those who portray abortion as a positive thing, especially since most defenders of abortion rights in the public square describe it as something of a necessary evil (I noted this earlier this year here):
Despite the state’s overwhelming support for legalization, New Yorkers, like Americans generally, start to get queasy when confronted with the best weapons in the pro-life movement’s arsenal: graphic descriptions of rarely used late-term-abortion methods, and the fact that thousands of New York women return each year to clinics for a third or fourth abortion. When we nod our heads at Bill Clinton’s famous formulation that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” or Hillary Clinton’s more recent proclamation that abortion is “a sad, even tragic choice,” we admit some discomfort with the procedure.
Among New York’s pro-choice leaders, reaction to this message is divided. Political groups like NARAL say they understand the need for conceding to public opinion. But to providers, the Clintonian reframing of the issue capitulates to pro-lifers. “Hillary can say anything she wants about whether an abortion is a tragedy,” says Dr. Paul. “What I know when I perform an abortion for a patient is that the overwhelming feeling is one of relief. Because the abortion has solved a huge problem in her life, whether it’s because she couldn’t afford another child, couldn’t afford to be a good mother to another child, or doesn’t have the money to raise a child.” She becomes increasingly passionate as she speaks. “Every time I do an abortion I save a woman’s life. If you want to call that a tragedy”—she pauses and exhales a sharp sigh—“I don’t consider it a tragedy, I’m sorry.” Dr. Anne Davis of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center thinks that even as New York retains its status as a restrictionless oasis, the larger war over normalizing abortion is being lost. “We would like to keep abortion part of regular medical care,” she says. “Our view is, abortion is nothing special. Abortion is right up there with having a baby or getting the care for whatever other medical needs you have.”
Of course, these views are predicated on completely ignoring the baby, who has no rights that could possibly outweigh the “problem” he or she would cause.
Douglas also suggests that the use of contraceptives also may lead to more, not less, abortions, contrary to the conventional wisdom. Check out his whole post for more.
In two recent posts, Peter Leithart considered how we evaluate actions, asking whether adulterous sex and marital sex are the same action in different contexts, whether Moses killing the Egyptian was just his own version of what the Egyptian was inflicting on the Hebrew slave, or whether God’s judgment is just another form of violence.
In answering the marital/adulterous sex question in the first post, he writes that we can only say that they are the same if we believe that matter and/or the individual, independent of “relationality” and anything else, determine what actions are: “We can reach that conclusion only if we have stripped each participant down to his/her individual body.”
He concludes in the second, which focuses on criticisms of the Bible’s depiction of God’s judgment, that God is not violent but rather defeats violence with his judgment. He concludes:
Put into a more philosophical idiom, the biblical writers imply that intentions, aims, contexts, and results are not extraneous additives to our actions, but constitutive of actions. Our actions are more than their physical components, just as we are more than the matter that makes us. Change the intention, and you change the act. In many cases, if you change the actor, you change the act. A sniper on a battlefield is not a murderer; a sniper in Brooklyn is. Enslavement and exodus are not two forms of violence, one perpetrated by Pharaoh the other by Yahweh, any more than marital sex and adultery are simply variations on the generic physical act of “having sex.”
Dawkins to the contrary, the “ogre” of Israel never acts violently, nor does Jesus. The Judge of the earth does right, and if Jesus carries a rod, it is as the Good Shepherd who strikes the earth to deliver the afflicted and bring justice to the wretched.
I can’t reproduce Leithart’s entire train of argument here. Neither post is too long and they’re both worth your time if you’re trying to think through these issues.
In a perceptive essay, Mead discusses the rise of urban “flash mobs” and the racial tensions that they point to. While he believes (and I agree) that race relations are better now than in the past, he argues that both white and black people have a reduced connection with and trust in the elites. He points to three potential problems that our society is facing:
- “The unaffordable nature of the entitlement structure that has emerged from the Great Society and been much added to (and don’t forget the GOP role in the prescription drug benefit) is at the bottom of the bitter budget battles we’ve seen.”
- An unpopular immigration policy that will increasingly attract anger: “Our current immigration policy is a prescription for social change of vast proportions. Since the 1960s, the US has tried an unprecedented and little discussed experiment in social engineering. In stages over the last fifty years we have combined three bold policies. First, a race-blind immigration policy with a visa lottery as a kind of affirmative action — so to speak — for people from countries which historically had not sent many immigrants to the US has dramatically changed the mix of people coming to the US as immigrants and over time will shift the ethnic and cultural composition of the population. Second, the “immigration holiday” under the tight quota system from 1923 (when public concern over unrestricted immigration led to a sharp decrease) through the 1960s was ended, and the number of legal immigrants increased. Today the US has levels of legal immigration not seen since the World War One era. Third, for many years immigration laws have been laxly or irregularly enforced leading to the presence of something like 11 million illegal workers and residents in the country.”
- A sharp divide in the way that whites and blacks evaluate the impact of racial policies: “The races are very far apart today; many whites believe that by electing a Black president the country has demonstrated its commitment to post racial politics and they expect Blacks to stop complaining about the past and start thriving in the glorious, racism-free paradise of America today. Many whites look at this Black success, and they think it is time to take down the affirmative action scaffolding that assisted the Black rise. Why, they ask, should the children of presidents and cabinet officers — to say nothing of celebrity offspring — benefit from racial preference in hiring and admissions?
“For Blacks, especially those who haven’t made it into the elite, unemployment and the staggering losses in Black wealth during the Great Recession are far more consequential than the success of the Black upper crust. Much of White America thinks it has done all anyone could reasonably expect by opening the White House doors to a Black politician; much of Black America thinks little has changed. Many whites think Blacks have effectively used politics to win themselves jobs and preferences; many Blacks think that Black poverty in the age of Obama reveals how pitiful the results of political action really are.”
In two earlier posts (here and here), I wrote about some questions that I have about the viability of a Palestinian state. In the first, I mentioned George Gilder’s article on settlements. I finally did get a chance to read it, and it’s quite thought-provoking. Like Efraim Karsh (who I wrote about before), Gilder contends that Palestinian Arabs benefited from the Zionist project before Israel was founded in 1948. He uses the words of an American observer, an expert in agricultural techniques, to support his case. Here is one excerpt:
AS LOWDERMILK recounted in his book, in the 21 years between 1921 and 1942, the Jews increased the number of enterprises four-fold, the number of jobs more than ten-fold, and total invested capital from a few hundred thousand dollars to the equivalent of $70 million in 1942 dollars. Particularly significant in Lowdermilk’s view were the purchases of large expanses of unused Arab land by Jewish settlers, many of whom had earned the necessary funds by their own hard work on the arid soils. On most occasions, the settlers bought only a small proportion of an individual Arab’s holding and paid three or four times what similar plots sold for in Syria (and far more even than in Southern California). Thus the Jewish purchases provided capital for Arab farms, allowing a dramatic expansion of their production. “In cases where the land belongs to absentee owners and tenants are forced to move…I found that the Jewish purchasers had provided compensation to enable the tenants to lease other property.”
He also writes that Arabs living in Israel are better off than Arabs in other countries, and that Israeli policies have benefited the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Here’s one example:
Israelis now purify and recycle some 95 percent of the nation’s sewage, including imports of sewage from the West Bank and Gaza — “They sell us sewage and we give them potable water,” said one Israeli official. Israel is pioneering ever more efficient forms of drip irrigation and gains some 50 percent of its water from world-leading desalinization plants. With an array of new hydrological innovations, Israel provides the crucial answers to the acute water crisis that afflicts the Middle East and much of the rest of the world. Just as the Israeli settlers enabled the emergence of an economy in Palestine, so they offer the prospect of saving the entire region from water exhaustion and poverty after the oil boom ends.
Gilder’s arguments would be vigorously disputed by many, but they’re not based on fantasy. The hardest thing to know is how much reality looks like what Gilder describes vs. how much it looks like what Palestinian advocates describe. One thing that gives me pause about adopting Gilder’s narrative wholesale is an editorial that he recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed that, in contrast to supporting Palestinian statehood,
At a time of acute recession, debt overhang, suicidal energy policy and venture capitalists who hope to sustain the U.S. economy and defense with Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, U.S. defense and prosperity increasingly depend on the ever-growing economic and technological power of Israel.
If we stand together we can deter or defeat any foe. Failure, however, will doom the U.S. and its allies to a long war against ascendant jihadist barbarians, with demographics and nuclear weapons on their side, and no assurance of victory. We need Israel as much as it needs us.
This strikes me as protesting too much. Israeli achievements are indeed impressive, but making that case is a bit much. There was also a paragraph that had some pretty glaring historical errors. Allow me to fisk it, but with the acknowledgement that Mr. Gilder is much more knowledgeable and accomplish than I am:
Actions have consequences. When the Palestinian Liberation Organization launched two murderous Intifadas [the PLO didn't launch the first one; they were surprised by it and their leadership was headquartered in Tunisia] within a little over a decade, responded to withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza by launching thousands of rockets on Israeli towns [Hezbollah, which is not a Palestinian group but a Lebanese Shia group, launched them from Lebanon; Hamas, launched them from Gaza], spurned every sacrificial offer of “Land for Peace” from Oslo through Camp David, and reversed the huge economic gains fostered in the Palestinian territories between 1967 and 1990, the die was cast.
It’s time to move on.
The point of the paragraph is defensible, though, that perhaps the Palestinians have forfeited their right to a state. I can’t make that call. But this brings me to my last point.
If I read the situation right, there are three justifications offered for Palestinian statehood:
- The most prominent is based on Palestinian nationalism: the Palestinians are a people and deserve a state. But there’s no way to settle all of the various nationalist claims in the world because they overlap with each other. Plus, nations (at least in the modern sense) aren’t as eternal as nationalists want them to be. People living in certain areas change their national allegiance over time. Even the idea of a nation, as nationalism defines nations, is a modern phenomenon.
- Secondly, there’s anger that Israel occupies land once ruled by Muslims. There can be a sense among some Muslims (I don’t know the percentages) that the House of Islam is always supposed to expand. Osama bin Laden was upset that Spain was no longer under Muslim rule. Obviously, this standard can’t be accommodated.
- Third, there’s a sense that humans are divided into different peoples and cultures, but not necessarily “nations” in the modern sense. This is very old and you can find language like this in the Bible and Greek and Roman sources (and countless other places, I assume). But how is this older sense different from modern nationalism? I imagine that part of the difference is that the modern nation is often seen as the object of supreme importance to nationalists (“self-love” is a word sometimes used to describe it), and there’s not necessarily the expectation that every people has to define itself as a nation-state or by the standards of nineteenth-century European nationalism. This older sense might be more natural. And it can also explain why Palestinians might not want to be ruled by Israelis, even if the economy improves. On the other hand, I read something the other day that suggested that some Palestinians have said that they ought to give up the quest for a state and just apply for Israeli citizenship. It seems that Gilder would recommend this path. But it would also create a problem for Israel, a country founded on Jewish nationalism as a Jewish state: could they absorb millions of non-Jews and remain a Jewish state?
That’s kind of a muddled last paragraph, so I need your help. Is there a difference between the nations, peoples, and cultures familiar to ancient people (and especially as discussed in the Bible) and the modern sense of nationalism? Is that distinction helpful in thinking about Israelis and Palestinians?
I recently ran across two stories that press the question even further:
- The New York Times reported on the dire condition of the Palestinian Authority here.
- Nathan Brown, in an article quoted in the story, writes a critical but sympathetic evaluation of Salaam Fayyad, many Westerners’ best hope for creating a viable Palestinian state. Brown writs that Fayyad could at best stave off the decline of Palestinian governance, but built no new institutions.
Walter Russell Mead writes that the French model of secularism is crashing in the Middle East in places like Turkey and Syria (and already has in other parts of the Arab world). In Turkey, he believes, it succeeded long enough to create a stable society.
He lays out four models of Western secularism:
In England (the situation in Scotland is a little different) the Church of England is the official religion, supported by taxpayers, and by law the Queen is the head of the church and no Roman Catholic can wear the English crown. On the other hand, other religions are fully free and in Parliament, where the real power lies, Catholics, atheists, Muslims, Jews and anybody else can serve. Much of Nordic Europe has similar arrangements and much of the English speaking world is linked to this system through the position of the Queen as the Head of State in countries like Canada and New Zealand.
- In Germany, there is no single established religion, but the state acts as a tax collector for the major churches, funneling the equivalent of dues from members to religious bodies through the tax system.
In the United States, the government takes no religious position and endorses no faith, but exercises a benign neutrality toward any faith whose tenets support American democracy and the rule of the existing legal order. The tax system provides an indirect subsidy for both religious and philanthropic activity; charitable contributions reduce the basis of income counted for tax purposes.
The French system is the most aggressively secular Atlantic system. It grows out of the experience of the French Revolution, when the Republic and the Catholic Church were at daggers drawn. The hierarchical and highly organized nature of the Catholic church, its deep involvement with the monarchy and aristocracy, its wealth and land holdings, its extraterritorial connections with Rome and the intense loyalty to the church felt by many French people all made the Catholic Church a potentially hostile and powerful force.
- Despite the efforts of moderates in both camps to find common ground, the Revolution persecuted the Church and the Church resisted the Revolution. The rivalry and even hatred between republicanism and Catholicism was an important driving force in French life well into the twentieth century and still echoes in French politics today. French secularism sees religion as a dangerous force that must be excluded from the public square; if you give the priests an inch they will take a mile, and civic republicanism must be constantly on its guard to prevent religion from reconquering the state. (Modern French hostility to the burqa is not just about Islamophobia; it also represents the enduring power of the lay republican ideal in France — religion must remain a private matter and stay off the street.)
Hand in hand with this vision is the belief that religion is a backward-looking, anti-enlightenment, anti-modernizing force. The Republic must curb the Church in order to fulfill the task of economically and politically modernizing the country. If the Republic fails, the Church will drag the country back into economic and political backwardness. Religion from this point of view not only debauches human intelligence and suppresses human freedom; it condemns the fatherland to impotence. A backward, superstitious country will not be strong enough to overcome its international rivals. The Republican vanguard is the only force capable of enabling the country to stand up against its foreign foes: the fight against religion is a fight that patriots must embrace.
Peter Berger explains a bit about the German system here:
Also, the German churches have encountered financial problems, losing income from the “church tax” because of a loss in members. (Note: The term “church tax” is misleading. It is not a compulsory tax. Amounting to about 8% of an individual’s income tax, it is collected by the state on behalf of the various churches from those who voluntarily declare themselves to be members. An individual can save himself the “church tax” by simply declaring himself to be konfessionslos—without religious affiliation.)
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (watch or read the transcript here, extended interview with Jocelyn Cesari here) featured a report recently about French secularism. French education stresses religious violence as part of the need to keep religion private. One of the people interviewed was a French professor who is Catholic and wears a small cross that is mostly hidden under his shirt. At a meeting with senior French officials it came out and one official told him, “Be careful!” Here was his summary of the situation: “Our culture erases religion. We’re here, but we don’t show ourselves.” He continued:
Today it’s unimaginable to go against the state, against the public space, and to show a cross, a skullcap, a veil. It’s impossible. It’s wanting to destroy the state. That’s what the French feel. The majority of French people do not think it’s possible to be French and Muslim. Most French people think you can’t be a citizen and believe in God. We are the most atheist people in the world. Why? Because when you are a believer, in France people think you have lost your freedom, your reason, okay?
A couple of ways that religion continues in public do exist: the continuing Catholic pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres, 5% of the population regularly attending mass, religious schools that get state money (including Muslim schools where girls can where headscarves, which they can’t in public schools in line with other religious dress restrictions), the allowance for Muslim public prayer where their facilities are too small.
Doug Wilson has written provocatively about this, as is his wont. Here addresses the assumption that underlies French-style secularism:
This foundational myth — that secularism saved us from the death trap of sectarian, religious strife — is a myth that needs to be denied, root and branch, every chance we get….
We should not deny the secular myth because the myth is not ours, or because it is getting in the way of what we want to do. We do not deny it because it is inconvenient for us as Christians. We deny it because it isfalse. The Thirty Years War was fought by religious people, sure enough. It was fought by Protestants and Catholics, certainly. But there are some inconvenient and stubborn facts that are tangled up in this version of the myth. For example, did Protestants always fight Catholics throughout the course of the Thirty Years War? Did Protestants ever team up with some Catholics to fight with other Catholics? If that happened, what might the explanation for that be? Might it have been the fact that the conflict was actually being driven by the rise of incipient nation-states?
Might it have been that when the dragon came and captured us all, he told us a great story about how he was delivering us from dragons?
Filed under: Church and State, Modern Europe | Tagged: American religious culture, Britain, Douglas Wilson, France, Germany, Jocelyn Cesari, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, secularism, United States | 5 Comments »
Eli Lake gives some good background here. From these approaches, I would probably choose Romney’s, although he hasn’t really made himself clear on it yet.
Hat tip: Walter Russell Mead