Sunday, March 31, 2013

Edith Schaeffer, RIP

(from Udo Middelmann)
Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer died on March 30, 2013 in her home in Gryon, Switzerland, where she had moved 13 years ago to be surrounded by memories, her music, her son’s paintings and the detailed care organized daily by her daughter Deborah Middelmann. She was born on November 3, 1914 as the third daughter of Dr. George Hugh and Jessie Maude Seville in Wenchau, China, where her parents ran a school for girls and taught the Bible in Mandarin.
Edith Schaeffer marked her life with the expression of rich ideas, often rebellious against the staid and superficial life she saw among Christians. The oldest sister became a communist in New York of the 30ies, the second eloped.  Edith Seville married Francis August Schaeffer in 1935 and in no way was she the typical pastor’s or missionary wife. She turned her active mind to work with her husband, teaching first seminary wives to think and to question, to create and make of life something of integrity, as her husband so wanted her to do.  
To put her husband through 3 years of seminary she tailored men’s suits, made ball room gowns and wedding dresses for private clients. From whole cow skins she made belts sold in New York stores. With very little money she prepared tasteful and varied meals. She painted a fresco on the ceiling of the vestibule in the little church her husband pastored in Grove City, while he attached a steeple to it with the elders’ help. They lectured together and encouraged many to use their minds to understand what they believed and how to respond to the intellectual and cultural ideas around them. Together they travelled and taught in churches and university halls from Finland to Portugal, helping people understand Christianity as the truth of the universe, not a personal faith, and pointing out the cultural and philosophical pitfalls in everyone’s way.
She lived her life as a work of art, an exhibition of true significance and a portrait of a generous, stunning and creative personality. She always sought ways to draw on life’s opportunities to show that human beings are made for the enrichment of everyone’s life, for the encouragement of people. This was a central part of the work she and her husband engaged in from the very start of their life together. She was in all things generous. When books provided royalties she used all of it to give her four children and their families annual reunions for the cousins to know each other.
When she left the work of L’Abri after her husband’s death she started the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation with Udo and Deborah Middelmann to safeguard his papers and the ideas that underline their life, to make them available for a wider audience. She found people interesting anywhere, engaged in conversation and so met the most amazing individuals. She talked, for instance, with the author Andre Aciman, standing in line for tickets to Carnegie Hall in NY and found out that he had had our village doctor, Dr. Gandur, as his pediatrician in Alexandria, Egypt. He was so grateful to be in touch through her with his old doctor.
She enjoyed people in the streets, in airplanes and over the phone, wherever she found them or when they could reach her. She stayed up nights to help someone out of their distress or need. With much imagination she served her meals with stunning decorations made from twigs and moss, field flowers and stones. Duncan from Kenya once remarked: “This is the first place where I see the beauty of the truth of the Bible consistently carried over into all areas of life.”
After the death of her husband in 1984 Edith Schaeffer added a whole new chapter to her life. She continued to write books, lectured widely and returned twice to her place of birth in China. She investigated the making the Baby Grand Piano she had received as a gift at the Steinway factory in New York and presented “Forever Music” in a concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York with the Guarneri Quartet. Through Franz Mohr, the chief piano voicer at Steinway she came to know musicians like Rostropovich, the pianists Horowitz and Rudoph Serkin, the Cellists YoYo Ma and Ya Ya Ling, and also the guitarist Christopher Parkening. She organized concerts and elaborate receptions for musicians and friends in her home in Rochester, MN. When she met B. B. King at the International Jazz Festival in Montreux he gave her his pass to the evening’s concert. Once on vacations on the island of Elba, Sonny Rollins noticed her beauty and rhythm in the audience as she danced during his concert, came off the stage and danced with her.
Today she “slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus”, her Lord, from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.
If you wish to honor Edith Schaeffer’s life you can support her intense commitment to the work of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, Jermintin 3, CH -1882 Gryon, Switzerland

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Non-religious Case Against Same Sex Marriage

You might recall the awful option faced by the title character in “Sophie’s Choice:” Pick one child or the other.  It’s not a choice any mother wants to make.  No matter what she chooses, her loss is unutterable.
Nor would any child want to make the same choice in reverse:  “Mommy or Daddy, Sally.  Pick one.”
But that is the ugly position into which same-sex marriage plunges children, except that the children themselves do not get to choose.  Someone else chooses for them.
No matter what you might think about same-sex marriage, we know this:  Any child raised under a same-sex union faces a tremendous loss -- either no Mommy or no Daddy.  In a union where two men or two women are involved, that’s always the outcome.  When Mommy picks a woman or Daddy picks a man as a life partner, the children always lose something enormously valuable and irreplaceable:  a mother or a father. 
That loss often has tragic consequences for a child.  If, for example, you are raised in a home with no father around, the odds that you will drop out of school, that you will take or sell drugs, that you will go to prison, that you will be poor, and that your children will suffer the same fate you did all skyrocket.  That same cycle of hopelessness and crime follows upon the absence of a mother.
When Mommy has sex with another woman, it doesn’t make that other woman a Daddy.  Having sex with Mommy doesn’t make you a Daddy any more than drinking milk makes you a calf.
The point here is not remotely homophobic.  The point here is not that Mommy and her lover, or Daddy and his, are to be shunned, much less hated.  The point here is that mothers and fathers are fundamentally important to the development of children, and therefore to the future of the nation, which depends upon the development and maturation of the next generation.  That works best when children have both a father and a mother.
         I say so because, according to a recent groundbreaking study by University of Texas scholar Mark Regnerus, we discover this (as summarized by The Family research Council):
         Compared to children who were raised in intact homes with both the biological father and mother present to raise them, the children of homosexual parents grow up to:
• Be Much more likely to receive welfare
• Have lower educational attainment
• Report more ongoing "negative impact" from their family of origin
• Be more likely to suffer from depression
• Have been arrested more often
• (If they are female) Have had more sexual partners--both male and female

         If they were the children of lesbian mothers, they are

• More likely to be currently cohabiting
• Almost 4 times more likely to be currently on public assistance
• Less likely to be currently employed full-time
• More than 3 times more likely to be unemployed
• Nearly 4 times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual
• Three times as likely to have had an affair while married or cohabiting
• An astonishing 10 times more likely to have been "touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver."
• Nearly 4 times as likely to have been "physically forced" to have sex against their will
• More likely to have "attachment" problems related to the ability to depend on others
• Use marijuana more frequently
• Smoke more frequently
• Have more often pled guilty to a non-minor offense

        None of these dire statistics seem to have much weight with the same sex marriage crowd.  Rather, they argue that marriage equality is rooted in human equality.  But that bogus argument does not work.  It moves illogically from one kind of equality to another.  The equality of all persons does not equal the equality of all lifestyles or all relationships.  For example, the mere fact that all persons are created equal does not mean that polygamy or incestual marriage ought therefore to be made legal.  You cannot move logically from the equality of persons to the equality of actions, choices, lifestyles, or relationships.  It simply does not follow.
        Same sex marriage advocates also argue that it is wrong to make value judgment about marriage.  Yet they allow themselves to make value judgments about who should get to marry.  Here again they fail logically.  By insisting that same sex unions ought to be considered marriages on a par with heterosexual marriages, they make a value judgment about marriages, both their own marriages and those of others.  If they are against making value judgments about marriage, then they have to stop saying what they say.  But of course they won't.  Rather, they press their judgments on others while, at the same time, refusing to permit others to make judgments.
        Let me clarify a point often misunderstood:  I am not saying that marriages without children are not marriages.  I never once said that or meant that.  I am saying that marriage and family go usually together.  I am talking about a common connection between marriage and family, not a necessary pre-condition for marriage.  Marriage and family are simply the usual mechanism of creating and nurturing the next generation.  But in the case of a homosexual union, that is naturally impossible.  And if you try to grant them by some other means the children nature denies them, then the children are statistically more likely to suffer bad consequences as a result, which is not the case with a heterosexual marriage.  Or, put differently, my wife and I have no children as yet.   I obviously do not argue that we have no marriage.  If we had children, it wouldn't as likely damage the children involved as would being raised by two men or two women, a situation that entails the significant loss of either mommy or daddy.  In short, wise governments and wise citizens do well always to remember that important and basic fact of life and to avoid making laws that undermine the traditional family and traditional family roles, which serve us and our offspring best. 
      The next time you consider the wisdom and propriety of same sex marriage, ask yourself this:  Which parent ought children do without, mommy or daddy?

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bible and Church Authority: Tracing the Circle

            I think that the Roman Catholic Church's (RCC's) claims regarding its authority and the Bible are circular.  Here's what I mean:  The RCC asserts that its authority is based in Scripture and in things said and done by Christ and the apostles in Scripture, in places like Matthew 16 for instance, which Catholics often quote in this regard.  The RCC also says that the Bible itself, and a proper interpretation and application of the Bible, are rooted in, and dependent upon, the church's authority.  Without the church, it says, we'd have no Bible and no authoritative interpretation of it.  But if the church's authority is rooted in the Bible, and if both the Bible's very existence and a reliable interpretation of the Bible are rooted in the church's authority, then we are arguing in a circle.  We are arguing that the church's authority arises from the church's authority.  To say that A comes from B, and at the same time to insist that B comes from A, is a failed explanation -- especially if A and B turn out to be identical.
             Circularity also undermines the assertion that the RCC's authority comes from the Holy Spirit, a claim that depends for its authentication, at least according to common Catholic argument, upon the Bible, which, because we supposedly owe the Bible to the church, is to base the church's authority on the church's authority.  In other words, we are still arguing in a circle.  If the RCC wants to invoke the Holy Spirit as the Guarantor of its authority, it cannot base that invocation, as it does, upon the Bible and upon the church's own allegedly authoritative interpretation and application of the Bible because that would be to base the church's authority upon itself and then to label the entire circular enterprise the work of the Spirit.
            The RCC's claim to apostolic succession and, therefore, to apostolic teaching authority and reliability fares no better because the church rests the authentication of its claim to apostolic teaching authority and reliability upon the Bible in places like Matthew 16, John 16, and 1 Timothy 3.  The church also asserts that the Bible, to which it appeals here in order to authenticate the church's authority, arises from the church's authority.   By rooting its claim to apostolic authority and reliability in things said and done in the Bible, and by employing its own alleged authority to interpret and apply those passages reliably and authoritatively, the church is already assuming and employing what it seeks to prove.  By arguing this way, the church is already employing its alleged apostolic authority to teach reliably on the issue of its alleged apostolic authority to teach reliably.  In other words, the church is presuming to teach reliably and authoritatively before it has proved that it has the apostolic authority and reliability by which to teach reliably and authoritatively on apostolic authority and reliability.  By the same token, when the RCC insists that the very promise given to the apostles to be led into "all truth," devolves upon the RCC, it is already employing the church's alleged authority to establish the Bible and to interpret and apply the Bible authoritatively and reliably in order to establish the church's authority to teach the Bible authoritatively and reliably, all of which it then calls "apostolic."  If they say that one does not require the church's authority in order to read the Bible correctly, then the church is arguing that the Protestant principle of interpretation and the Protestant principle of the perspicuity of Scripture are correct.  (I shall argue in the next chapter that the RCC's interpretation of the passages at issue here is incorrect, not simply an example of circular reasoning.)
            If the RCC wishes to escape this conundrum by appealing to a tradition outside the Bible in order to establish the church's authority, it cannot establish the authority, the existence, the boundaries, the theological content, or the truthfulness of that tradition by any means other than its own self-referral, or self-authentication.  According to the RCC, we can know what constitutes that authoritative extra-biblical tradition, how to weigh the various parts of that tradition against each other and against things outside it, and whether or not the tradition thus identified and thus interpreted were authoritative, only if we assumed the RCC's authority to identify, preserve, and interpret that tradition for us -- an authoritative tradition the RCC claims authoritatively to say establishes its authority. 
            If, to try a completely different tack (as some Catholics do), one were to argue that we could go to, say, the gospel of Matthew, in which the relevant words of Jesus and Peter are found, and establish the authenticity, historical reliability, and proper meaning of that book without recourse to ecclesiastical authority, that argument would fail because it would show that indeed we do not need an authoritative RCC in order to establish a reliable, believable, and properly understood Biblical text, a proposition which the RCC strongly denies -- but a proposition which, as a Protestant, I myself strongly support, and which Protestants have asserted for centuries.  We can, indeed, determine such things, and we do not require the pronouncements of Rome in order to determine them.
            Notice that I am making an argument from reason, not from my own alleged authority.  To refute it, therefore, requires not an argument against me myself, or against my alleged authority -- I have none -- but rather a better, and non-circular, argument for RCC authority, an argument based upon something other than that authority.
            Each of the arguments cited above comes from one or more Catholic apologists.  Interestingly, however, I have heard from other Catholic apologists that these arguments are not really what the church teaches -- which brings us back to the issue of the elusive monolith, mentioned earlier.
            To approach this issue from a completely different angle:  The entire argument proffered here by the RCC goes astray because it is wrongly conceived, wrongly based.  The point is not whether the Bible gives rise to the church or the church gives rise to the Bible.  The point is that the gospel gives rise to the church, and that the church is, and always must be, subject to the gospel, never vice versa.  If ever the gospel is subjected to the church, then the church must be changed, reformed, in order to preserve the gospel.  In that light the Reformation was not about repudiating the church but about preserving the gospel and calling the church back to it, back to the message of grace that had given the church its very life and which the church was intended to preserve and to propagate, but which, instead, it had suppressed for centuries.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Government Goes to College -- and Makes it Worse

In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama declared his intention to cut federal funding for colleges and universities where tuition rises too much.
His plan makes plain three things:  (1) He thinks rising tuition is caused by colleges; (2) He thinks government is the solution to the problem, not one of its chief causes; and (3) He thinks he knows how much tuition all colleges and universities ought to charge and, therefore, which ones are charging too much.
He is trebly wrong:
(1) As everyone who ever studied economics ought to know, all other things being equal, when the demand for a good or a service rises, its price rises as well.  By providing grants and low interest loans to millions of students, the government has driven up the demand for college enrollment dramatically, thereby driving up the price as well.  When colleges must educate more students, they must build new classrooms in which to teach them, new dormitories in which to house them, new dining halls in which to feed them, new health facilities in which to care for them, new athletic facilities in which to keep them fit and entertained, and new parking lots for their cars.
Colleges also must hire new admissions counselors to handle their applications, new campus police to keep them safe, and new maintenance crews to keep them comfortable.
They also must hire new faculty members.  Those faculty members require not only competitive salaries, but also health insurance, retirement funds, research sabbaticals, offices, parking lots, and secretarial staff.  The secretarial staff requires salaries, retirement funds, insurance, vacations, offices, and equipment.
Did I mention bigger libraries, more books, and more librarians?
What colleges cannot get from donors to cover these crushing new expenses, they must get from students.
Government intervention drives up college costs. 
Of course, government intervention and the rising costs it entails are not limited to the demands of expanding enrollment.  Government intervention also includes government regulations that tell colleges and universities whom to hire, whom to enroll, and what to teach.  If colleges do not comply, federal funds are cut off.  To avoid that cut off, institutions of higher learning must hire whole departments full of educational bureaucrats to implement, to assess, and to enforce government mandates.  Those departments of compliance must be housed and supplied.  The bureaucrats who administer them require salaries, retirement funds, insurance, and vacations.  If colleges opt out of hiring teams of bureaucratic overlords to manage compliance, they run the risk of falling afoul of the law, in which case they invite not only the loss of government funds but also possible lawsuits, the costs of which are rising along with everything else. 
The heavy expense associated with meeting the needs of more and more students -- and the heavy cost of government mandates on colleges and universities -- can exceed many millions of dollars per campus, depending upon the size of the school.  The aggregate costs to colleges and universities nationwide are perhaps incalculable.  In order to meet these rapidly expanding financial burdens, colleges must raise tuition, sometimes quite dramatically.
In other words, government itself has done things that drive college costs into the stratosphere.  And now that it has, the Obama administration wants to punish colleges for the soaring prices it helped produce.
I am not saying that by opening up access to college for millions of service men and women via the GI bill that the government did wrong.  I am saying that doing so costs colleges and universities enormous amounts of money.
(2) Expensive as those forms of government intervention are for colleges, they are not alone, and they are perhaps not the worst.  By printing many trillions of dollars in fiat money, and thereby shrinking the value of every American dollar on the planet as a result, the government makes it necessary for colleges and universities to charge ever greater amounts of money for the services they provide just to break even.  Because it takes more of the newly shrunken dollars to buy what old dollars used to, more dollars are needed.  Even if all colleges and universities decided against raising tuition in order to cover the costs involved in servicing more and more students, the government’s monetarist chicanery still drives up prices dramatically over time.
(3) Finally, I cannot imagine upon what possible basis Barack Obama thinks he knows how much tuition every college and university in America ought to be charging, or how much that tuition ought to go up each year.  But if he plans to punish colleges whose tuition rises too quickly or too much, then know it he must.
Suffice it to say that I am continually amazed at how much community organizers know, or think they do.
Finally, to ask the obvious question:  Where in the Constitution does the president have either the power or the responsibility to control college tuition?  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Doctor Detroit and Uncle Sam

         I want to talk about Detroit and about the federal government.  I do so because they share a disease.  It's called liberal politics.  It masquerades as "balance" and "compromise.”
         Suppose you were sick and needed a doctor desperately.
         Suppose your doctor prescribed a mixture of real curatives and of deadly poison, say a mixture of penicillin and curare.
        Suppose your doctor defended this approach to medicine as “balanced” and a “compromise.”
         From such a deadly and incompetent doctor you doubtless would flee for your life.  One does not “balance” penicillin with curare, or vice versa.  If you do, nothing is “compromised” but your survival. 
         As hideous, bizarre, or unimaginable as that medical scenario seems, its political equivalent works itself all out around us every day, on both the local and national level.  I am sorry to say that this deadly doctor’s political cousins live and work not only in Washington, but also in Detroit, where they have been in business for decades.  For anything that ails us, whether it has a political cure or not (and most human problems have no political cure), they prescribe poison and defend doing so as a “balanced” approach and a suitable “compromise.”  They want to “balance” the curative of deficit reduction with the double curare of higher taxes and greater spending.  They've tried it all, from the "Model Cities" program, to Head Start, to welfare, to state and federal subsidies.  It doesn't work.
             It will never do; it never has.  For Detroit in particular, nothing works.  After more than 60 straight years under a Democratic mayor, it's all been tried.  It's failed.  But Detroit voters keep voting the same pack of reckless, incompetent losers back into office regardless of their desperately dismal record, losers who think that "compromise" solutions work.  
        Electing them makes as much sense as hiring a football coach who calls a lot of plays sure to lose ground because he wants a “balanced” offense and wants to “compromise” with the other side.  You wouldn’t accept that nonsense from your football program.  Don’t accept it from your government.
         But intellectual times have gotten so bad that if you refuse to accept nonsense like this from your government, those who work in that government will denigrate you publicly and then banish you to Middle Earth, as if you, and not they, were the devotees of fiction, fable, and myth.  It never occurs to them to notice that the cities of Dresden and Hiroshima both are better off today after being completely destroyed by the Allies in WWII than is Detroit after 60 years of peace time rule under an unbroken sequence of Democratic regimes.
         Please do not miss my point:  As a city, you have a better future if you are destroyed by Allied forces in a time of war than if you are run for decades by Democratic mayors in a time of peace.
         It’s as if we've all gone mad.  Because wisdom is irreplaceable; and because stupidity has consequences, contemporary politicians need to be reminded that two opposite ideas cannot both be right at the same time and in the same way.  They might both be wrong, but they cannot both be right.  In such a situation, if you wish to find a balance between those opposite prescriptions, then you know for certain that you are mixing poison into your cure.  Why anyone would wish to prescribe political and economic poison is simply beyond the pale of prudence.
             For example, all but the most conceptually benighted (i.e., Harvard trained) among us understand that raising taxes in a time of severe economic hardship is a fool’s prescription.  It’s poison.  It kills.  It sucks away venture capital so that new businesses are not begun and old businesses are not expanded.  It creates a climate of uncertainty and economic oppression such that prudent investors either hold their money in reserve or else send it elsewhere, where policies are more sensible and predictable, where investment can actually pay off, and where the payoff won’t be confiscated to fund even more “balanced” poisoning.
            In other words, sucking blood from the successful by raising their taxes (1) drives up unemployment to ever higher and higher levels; (2) higher unemployment levels create more poor; whom our political witch doctors (3) try to help by sucking even more blood from the successful, which (4) keeps the poor coming back to the witch doctors again and again, generation after generation, which (5) keeps the witch doctors in business and in power.  You can't fix what's wrong by raising taxes.  And you can't do it with more casinos.  
         The political witch doctors and economic blood letters now in charge of the federal government, and in charge of Detroit, addicted as they are to their own pencillin/poison intravenous cocktails, cannot help themselves.  They cannot stop.  They habitually prescribe economic poison -- higher taxes -- and they relentlessly apply their leeches, both to the veins of the successful (via taxes) nationally, and the soon-to-be-unsuccessful (gamblers via casinos), locally.  In southeastern Michigan, it's the only prescription they know:  Suck blood from some; turn it into an addictive; give that addictive to others; and keep them coming back for more.  From Detroit, the wealthy have left.  Precious few remain.  They are tired of being clay pigeons in the local political skeet shoot.  
           In other words, imagine your horrid fate if your doctor were your pusher.
        My point is this:  Not all the political quacks and charlatans operate out of Washington.  We should be so lucky.  We are not.  The witch doctors, the quacks, and the charlatans live and work in Detroit too.  We’ve been going to them for more than 60 years in a row, and they have tried to "balance" every proposed curative with old poison.  The unbalanced devastation is everywhere to be seen.
         Call your doctor “Democrat,” and call yourself “Detroit.”
         The Flying Wallendas were a "balancing" act, too.  You might recall what happened to them -- in Detroit.