Sunday, March 25, 2012

Labor Unions and the Mythical Free Riders

Labor unions make constant, even habitual, reference to someone they call the “free rider,” by which they mean a person who enjoys the benefits of union activity but who does not pay for them.  But the free rider, at least as he or she is understood and depicted by the unions, does not exist.
Here’s what I mean:  Men and women who, for various reasons, refused to consent to the Communist party and its tactics in the old Soviet Union were not free riders on the train to the peoples’ socialist utopia, even if they were able to keep their jobs in the process.  Those jobs were not free.  Indeed, they came at an extremely high price, the price of freedom.  Those dissident workers were convinced that the destination was a delusion and that the journey to it was an exercise in oppressive compulsion, of which they wanted no part, even if the Soviet Union allegedly paid for the ticket. 
Labor unions, much like the Soviet Union, do not want individual workers to have the choice to go their own way to their own destinations.  Labor unions wish to eliminate free workers and their free choices.  Therefore unions do their best to get the legislators they pay for with political donations drawn from union dues to pass laws forbidding the existence of the dissenters, the so-called free riders.  Because they wish to stay in office, the bought-and-paid-for legislators do as they are told, constricting or prohibiting the right to work.
Yet, despite the political and personal opposition arrayed against them, dissenters prefer to go their own direction by their own means.  They do so for many reasons:  Perhaps they are lazy and selfish freeloaders, as unions depict them.  Or, perhaps they have examined the union, its leadership, its goals, and its methods and cannot consent.  Perhaps they have had a long, fruitful, enjoyable, and mutually respectful and beneficial relationship with their employer and do not wish to see that relationship suspended or distorted as it must be if the union intrudes.  Perhaps they think unionism itself is inimical to personal ambition, to incentive, and to freedom.  Perhaps they simply haven’t made up their minds on the issue of unions, whether for or against.  For whatever reason(s), they are not onboard.
To label such independents “free riders” and not also “innocent victims” is to tell but half their story, as if they were merely the beneficiaries of the union and not also its casualties, as if independent workers did not get caught up in strikes and other job actions that they do not condone but cannot evade.  Whenever the union so decides, independents are involuntarily deprived of their living even though those strikes and job actions are built upon principles to which they do not consent and are called for reasons and purposes they might personally denounce.  Nevertheless, the independent workers must endure these shut downs and job actions without the benefit of union strike funds, and must do so despite their disagreements and disapproval.
Take, for example, the great American steel strike of 1959, which lasted so long and cost steel workers, both union and non-union, so much in lost wages that it would have taken more than 120 years of their union-won wage increases to balance the gain/loss scales.  I say “would have” because it never happened and never will.  That strike opened the door for foreign steel makers and their cheaper steel to enter American markets, which caused nearly a quarter million -- more than 200,000 -- American steel workers to lose their jobs permanently, including the so-called free riders, who never consented to the strike or to the economic disaster it produced for them.
Not to mention the threats to their family, their property, and themselves, sometimes fatal, that independents have had to face from union goons in order to maintain their occupational autonomy.
Independent workers are being taken along for a ride by  the unions, that’s for sure.  But the ride is not free. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Who's to blame for Obama's failures, according to Obama:


President Obama has passed the buck to others – mainly George W. Bush – for no less than 13 problems that characterize his presidency, suggesting time and again that his own policies are not to blame for his difficulties and he is simply doing the best that can be done with the cards he was dealt.
Even so, Obama is aggressively staking a claim for successes for which Bush shares significant or nearly all responsibility, including increased drilling for oil and natural gas, the end of the Iraq War, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
What follows is a roster of Obama’s efforts to assign blame for 13 problems that prevail or have faced him during his presidency. In several cases, the quotes here are just one or two of many that show Obama passing the buck on a particular issue.

Oil Prices
“The key thing that is driving higher gas prices is actually the world’s oil markets and uncertainty about what’s going on in Iran and the Middle East, and that’s adding a $20 or $30 premium to oil prices.”
March 23, 2012

“Obviously, we wish Solyndra hadn’t gone bankrupt. Part of the reason they did was because the Chinese were subsidizing their solar industry and flooding the market in ways that Solyndra couldn’t compete. But understand, this was not our program per se. Congress–Democrats and Republicans–put together a loan guarantee program.”
- March 22, 2012

“When I came into office there has been drift in the Afghanistan strategy, in part because we had spent a lot of time focusing on Iraq instead.  Over the last three years we have refocused attention on getting Afghanistan right.  Would my preference had been that we started some of that earlier?  Absolutely.  But that’s not the cards that were dealt.  We’re now in a position where, given our starting point, we’re making progress.”
- March 14, 2012

“When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters.  Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world.  In the region, Iran was ascendant.”
- March 4, 2012

The Economy
“We’ve made sure to do everything we can to dig ourselves out of this incredible hole that I inherited.”
- February 23, 2012

The Deficit: 
“We thought that it was entirely appropriate for our governments and our agencies to try to root out waste, large and small, in a systematic way. Obviously, this is even more important given the deficits that we’ve inherited and that have grown as a consequence of this recession.”
- November 9, 2011
“When I first walked through the door, the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion, with projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. If we had taken office during ordinary times, we would have started bringing down these deficits immediately.”
- February 1, 2010

The Debt:
“Look, we do have a serious problem in terms of debt and deficit, and much of it I inherited when I showed up.”
- August 8, 2011

“I inherited a big debt.”
- March 29, 2011

“We inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression, a banking system on the verge of meltdown.  We had lost 4 million jobs by the time I was sworn in and would then lose another 4 million in the few months right after I was sworn in before our economic policies had a chance to take root.”
- May 10, 2011

The BP Gulf Oil Spill 
“In this instance, the oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all. When Secretary Salazar took office, he found a Minerals and Management Service that had been plagued by corruption for years –- this was the agency charged with not only providing permits, but also enforcing laws governing oil drilling.”
- May 27, 2010

Decline of the nuclear stockpile
“Among the many challenges our administration inherited was the slow but steady decline in support for our nuclear stockpile and infrastructure, and for our highly trained nuclear work force.” (This one was offered up on Obama’s behalf by Vice President Biden).
- January 29, 2010

The Election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
“The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”
- January 20, 2010

“I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust.  Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country.  Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.  And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction.”
- September 23, 2009

The Financial Crisis
“We inherited a financial crisis unlike any that we’ve seen in our time.  This crisis crippled private capital markets and forced us to take steps in our financial system — and with our auto companies — that we would not have otherwise even considered.”
- June 1, 2009

We Serve a Talkative God

We serve a talkative God.
From before the beginning of time, He has carried on an intimate, personal, and unending conversation within Himself -- Father, Son, and Spirit.  That eternal trialogue is the overflowing mutuality and love among the Persons of the Trinity.
Eternal and three-sided as it is, that conversation is not internal only.  It carries on outside God as well.  By it, He speaks worlds into existence.  His mighty Word is the powerful and creative force that made the world and that made us:  “Let us make man in our image,” He said (Gen. 1: 26).  By His creative external Word arose all things -- light, animals, fish, oceans, dry land, day -- everything (John 1: 3)
From the creation account in Genesis, we learn that God is a communal, articulate maker, and that we are to be like Him.  We are to be creative word users who live in community.
As Genesis 1 makes clear, God created us not only by his Word, but for his Word. We were made to receive God’s Word. We were made to hear Him, to contemplate Him, to respond to Him, to accompany Him, to love him, and to reflect Him. We were made sometimes even to speak for Him, as Adam did when he named all the animals (Gen. 2:19). We were intended for dialogue with God. We are able to respond to God, and He to us. We become fully the persons God intends us to be only when we receive and reflect something from God, namely his Word, whether you think of God's Word as his Son or as his message. We are to receive and respond to both. We are properly and fully human only so far as God’s Word echoes in our hearts and renews and reforms our minds, only to the extent that we resemble his Son, the Word, into whose likeness we are being transformed.
            We serve a talkative God.
Does Aristotle?  Not so much.
But sometimes I do wish Aristotle more fully reflected his silent god.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Knowing God . . . for People Like Us

“ Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel:  for the Lord hat a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God.”
Hosea 4: 1, 2

“I am savagely attacked . . . because I do not adore Aristotle, but there is another one whom I adore, who promises not vain and frivolous conjectures about treacherous things which are good for nothing and have no solid foundation, but a knowledge of Himself.”
Lorenzo Valla, The Profession of the Religious

“Of all the writings of Cicero those from which I often received the most powerful inspiration are the three books . . . On the Nature of the Gods . . . When I read these passages I often have compassion on his fate and grieve in silent sorrow that this man did not know the true God . . . The ancients, and particularly Cicero, may pardon me if I say:  this great man devoted much energy to compiling what, it seems to me, ought not to have been written and, as I think, ought not to be read either. . . If I have said all this of my Cicero, whom I admire in many ways, what do you expect me to say of others?”
            Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance

“The Word became flesh,” and when He did, His own people dragged Him to the slaughter.  To our great humiliation, we ourselves are made from the same stuff as were His killers.
Epistemologically speaking, that changes everything.  It takes away the self-congratulatory delusion that we are objective, reliable, honorable seekers after Truth, that we are full of teachable good will and clear thinking.   We are not.  Even Nietzsche understood this about us:  The will to power is stronger than the will to reason or truth.  When Truth showed up, we killed Him.  God deigned to walk among us, to reveal Himself in human flesh, in human history, and in human terms.  In response, we deigned to annihilate Him.  That today He lives among us at all is no thanks to us.  We meant it to stop.  He meant it to reconcile his death-dealing enemies to Himself.  His plan worked.  Ours did not.  Graciously, He overwhelmed it and overturned it.
Without the revelation of our personal hatred for God and His ways that surfaced in our response to His incarnation, we might have gone on forever thinking that we are well-suited to knowing the world both properly and well, and through it, by means of our own ratiocenation, knowing the God Who made it.  Be deceived no longer.  The Truth Himself finds no welcome here other than what He makes.  Apart from that Divine making, He finds only enemies and death.
But whenever He wills, we cease to be our murderous and truth-suppressing selves.  By His grace, He makes us His friends, the recipients of redemptive and renewing mercy, which alone makes knowing Him possible.  Knowledge of God is mediated by saving grace because to know Him as God is to know Him as Redeemer.  If you do not know Him as Redeemer, you do not know Him. 
The redemptive Word of God had to come to us.  We could not, and would not, go to Him.  When He did come, He came as a human Person in history, as a Storyteller, as the chief and pivotal Character in the narrative drama of redemption -- not as a metaphysician, much less a metaphysical disquisition, something for which He seems to have precious little tolerance and of which to He seems to make precious little use.
Or, if Polanyi suits you better, if there is no subject who knows, there is no knowing.  The fundamental fact about the subjects who think they know God is their decisive rejection of Him and His revelation, which they suppress and exchange for lies and for gods of their own making.  The fallen, human subject who knows (or thinks he does) is very far from objective.  Indeed, there exist no such persons, especially when what they claim to know is nothing less than God.
It seems not to have occurred to those who adopt the philosophical path to knowing God that truth results in freedom.  Freedom does not result in truth.  You don't free yourself and then find truth.  The Truth must free you or in bondage you must remain.  Truth, you will recall, is a He, not an it (John 14: 6).  Truth Himself must liberate you from you.  Until He does, you are hopelessly lost and locked away in an error you cannot escape, no matter which philosopher’s path you walk.  The Biblical understanding of truth is not the allegedly timeless truths of nature or of metaphysics, but the narrative of God’s historical actions, the gospel.  Natural theology has its creed, but it is not the creed of Biblical Christianity, the creed of God’s grace.   

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Petrarch vs. Aristotle on Natural Theology

Before proceeding to talk about God on the basis of his own reason, unaided as it was by Scripture, by Christ, or by regeneration, Aristotle should have said what Petrarch said:
“But what can I know or say about all these things, unhappy sinner that I am, dragging about with me the ball and chain of my iniquities? . . . I profess that I am not fit for it, and as much as it is greater, so much narrower, indeed, is my mind, filled with vices.  [Although] nothing is impossible to God; in me there is total impossibility of rising, buried as I am in such a great heap of vices.”  (Trinkaus, The Poet as Philosopher, pp. 76, 87).
Petrarch asked, not playfully, “can there be a wider field, a vaster ground for talking, than a treatise on ignorance and especially on mine?” (Petrarch, “On His Own Ignorance,” p. 47).
When it comes to knowing God, Aristotle should have asked such a question, not playfully, and found in the answer good reason not to write what he did about God.  But he was too ignorant of his own ignorance to notice his shortcoming and its attendant impossibilities.  “Reason advises me to keep silent,” Petrarch said (Petrarch, “On his Own Ignorance,” p. 49).  It would have said so to Aristotle too, had he listened.
To Charles Williams’ poetic question, “Over all altars and all roods/What solitary spirit broods?” the philosophers have no answer.  Or, if they do, that answer is wrong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Theology and Bureaucracy (2): Dr. Faust Goes to Washington

In response to the burgeoning growth of independent thinking in his day, Frederick the Great is reputed to have said, “Reason as much as you wish, but obey.”  In so speaking, Frederick laid the foundation of modern bureaucratic government.
The mechanics of bureaucratic rule must be obeyed.  If you are a bureaucrat, you are not permitted to reason, to create, or to feel.  You are not permitted to be authentically human.  You are permitted only do as the manual prescribes, or else be replaced by one who will.  Bureaucrats are functionaries and servants, not persons.
In response to the challenges they face daily, bureaucrats are not permitted to say, “Let me think about that.”  The may say only, “Let me look it up.”  If the manual is silent on the point, they say, “Let me ask my boss” (who will in turn ask his).
If you want a place in the bureaucracy, and especially if you want that place to rise, you have to pay a price:  a soulectomy or a conscienceotomy.  Take your pick.
Many there be who pay it.
Faustocracy flourishes.
Humanity withers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Religion of Jesus and the Religions about Jesus: Prepositions Matter

The endless internecine battle over which Christian church is the real church of Christ and which ones are not is ill-conceived and wrong–headed.  Every one of the combatants is wrong.
Jesus was not a Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Russian Orthodox, or Methodist.  The list could be expanded indefinitely so as to include every church on the planet.  He was, of course, a messianic Jew, something none of those churches is or will consent to be.  Naturally, they all acknowledge that He was the Messiah, and they should.  But that does not make them messianic Jews.  Indeed they are not Jews at all, messianic or otherwise.  It means only that they acknowledge a truth but do not conform to it.  They remain outside the Jewish fold inside of which He always remained.  They stand on the wrong side of the important difference noted by Adolph von Harnack:  the difference between the religion of Jesus and the religions about Jesus.
They have the latter; He had the former.
When this enormously important difference is pointed out to them, a difference that pits them and their churches against Christ Himself, they posture grotesquely and argue falsely to advance the stunning pretense that they really are Jewish after all -- as did the man who affirmed to me yesterday that, “Nothing is more Jewish than the Roman Catholic Eucharist.”
Really?  Nothing?
Once a man or a church says something so utterly preposterous, why need one pay any further attention to any theological statement he or it makes on any theological subject whatever?  Life is too short, and the stewardship of our personal time and resources is so important, that we simply have to move on.  The time comes to shake the dust from your feet (Matt 10: 14), to cease casting pearls before swine (Matt. 7: 6), and to stop answering fools according to their foolishness (Prov. 26: 4).
When such Christians and churches make their theological appeal to the Reformers, to the ancient church fathers, or to this or that council or tradition, they are telling you, without intending to, that they advance church-ianity rather than Christ-ianity.  Rather than making Him the touchstone of their faith, their doctrines, and their practices, they turn to later innovations and to the accretions that have built up around the faith of Christ over the centuries and separated it from their own.
Let me be clear:  To appeal to the reformers is better than to appeal to Rome because the reformers were at least partially successful in throwing off some of the multitude of errors and accretions piled on top the religion of Jesus over the centuries.  A move back to the Bible is better than a move back to Rome precisely because it gets you closer to Christ.  On that point, I stand closer to the reformers than to Rome on all counts.  I cannot think of one -- not one -- issue over which Protestants and Catholics disagree where I think Rome is correct, whether it be transubstantiation, purgatory, the apocrypha, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the immaculate conception, papal primacy, papal infallibility, apostolic succession, etc.  But to the degree that the reformers fall short of returning to the religion of Jesus, I am disappointed with them, heroic and insightful though they often were.
In other words, while they pose as theological conservatives, they are defenders of innovation and invention, which means they are not sufficiently wary of human nature and the way it habitually distorts religion whenever it can.  They do not see that the idolatrous innovations condemned by Paul at the end of Roman 1 are things that arise habitually and willfully from the fallenness we all share.  We cannot be trusted.  Jesus can.
I remember saying to a colleague some years ago, a staunchly conservative man who then was an Anglican, something that I think must have shocked him:  “You’re not conservative enough.  You keep going back to Cranmer.  I want you to go back to Christ.  I’m outflanking you from the right.”
It isn’t that Rome, Canterbury, Geneva, or Antioch shine light on Christ.  He shines light on them.  We see them better by means of Him, not we see Him better by means of them.  It’s downhill from Christ, not from, say, the Vatican, which is not the home of messianic Judaism either.
As long as you are pitted against Him, you lose.
As long as you fall afoul of the difference between the religion of Jesus and the religions about Jesus, you are fighting the way, the truth and life.
In short, prepositions matter.