Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Race, slavery, and the Bible

Over the years, religion has been used to justify slavery and segregation as well as racial reconciliation. Pastors and congregations have used Bible verses to support arguments on both sides of the racial and political spectrums. What does the Bible really tell us?

Slavery has probably existed almost as long as human societies have. The earliest mention of slavery in the Bible is in Genesis 9:25 in which Noah curses Canaan, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah, to live in slavery because Ham ridiculed Noah while he was drunk in the days after the Great Flood. By the end of Genesis, the entire Hebrew clan was enslaved in Egypt. The Bible repeatedly reminds the Jews that they were rescued from slavery by God (Exodus 2:23, 6:6, 20:2, Leviticus 26:13, Deuteronomy 5:6, 5:15, 16:12).

Slavery was not condemned by the Bible, but, beginning with Moses, God set down rules for the treatment of slaves. An early rule regarding slaves is found in Exodus 20:21 which stipulates that a slave owner must be punished if a slave dies after being beaten. Beating slaves was not forbidden in itself.

Slavery as we know it, based on race, was forbidden [1]. Slaves were typically taken as captives in wars, or in some cases sold themselves into slavery to pay their debts or provide for themselves. The Bible did forbid the type of slavery in which slavers raided African villages and sold the inhabitants into slavery. In Exodus 21:16, God, through Moses, forbade the kidnapping of people to sell into slavery.

The law books of the Bible also address the treatment of slaves. Leviticus 19:20 regulates sexual relations with slaves. Leviticus 22:11 concerns the possession of slaves by priests. Leviticus 25:42-44 forbids the sale of fellow Hebrews as slaves and stipulates that Jews had to buy slaves from the surrounding gentile nations. In Deuteronomy 15:12-15, the Bible specifies that if a Jew sells himself into slavery, he must be offered freedom after six years. If he elects to go free, the owner had to supply him with food and livestock.

The New Testament also addresses slavery. The book of Philemon is a letter from Paul to the owner of an escaped slave, Onesimus. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, asking that he be treated not as a slave, but as a brother (v. 16). Similarly, in Ephesians 6:9, Paul instructed slave owners not to threaten or harm their slaves, since both slave and master had the same Master in Heaven. A similar statement in Colossians 4:1, instructs slave owners to give to their slaves what is “right and fair.”

Paul did provide a condemnation of the slave trade, if not slavery itself. In 1 Timothy 1:8-10, Paul listed slave traders in a list of sinners and lawbreakers, along with murders, adulterers, perverts, liars, and perjurers.

To this point, the Bible has condemned the slave trade and instructed slave owners to treat their slaves humanely and fairly. Paul went a step further, however. In several passages, Paul implicitly states that slaves and owners, as well as Jews and gentiles, are equal in the eyes of God. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says that both slaves and freemen have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Deuteronomy 32:36, Revelation 13:16, and Revelation 19:18 all point to the fact that God judges free and slave equally.

In case there is any doubt, Paul goes even further. He states what for his time must have been a radical thought. In both Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11, Paul states explicitly that there is no slave or free. Paul also points out that Jews and Greeks are equal as well, a notion that the leaders of God’s Chosen People would not have liked. In God’s eyes, all people are equal. None are superior and none are inferior. In God’s eyes all people are sinners and are in need of the freedom from sin that Jesus offers (2 Peter 2:19).

These statements provide the basis for the eventual abolition of slavery. Even though some nominal Christians taught that blacks were inferior descendents of Ham, there is no basis for this. To the contrary, a close reading of the Bible shows just the opposite: that people should be treated as equal, regardless of race, creed, color, or nationality.

It would take hundreds of years, but Paul’s words would finally give birth to movement for the abolition of slavery. The abolition movement began in colonial America [2]. The first resisters to slavery were members of the Society of Friends, a Christian sect also known as Quakers. After the American Revolution, many free whites began to equate the plight of slaves with that of the former colonists.

The ratification of the US Constitution in 1788 set the stage for the eventual abolition of slavery. The constitution gave the federal government the power to ban the importation of slaves in 1808, which it did. The 3/5 compromise, contrary to claims that it valued slaves and only 3/5 of a person, limited the political power of the slave states. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also made slavery illegal in the Northwest Territory [3]. During this period, Northern states began to enact state laws banning slavery.

Probably no man was as instrumental in the abolition of western slavery as William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian and a prominent member of the British parliament who, influenced by slave trader turned evangelist John Newton, began a campaign to end the slave trade in 1798. The campaign resulted in the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and the end of all slavery in England in 1833 [4].

American abolitionists too, were often inspired by their religious beliefs. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, framed his arguments against slavery in religious terms, pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians owning slaves [5]. Sojourner Truth, a former slave born in New York, used the Bible to effectively argue for both women’s rights and the abolition of slavery [6]. Many other abolitionists opposed slavery on moral grounds derived from a Christian worldview. Many put their beliefs into practice as conductors or station keepers on the Underground Railroad.

One of the most infamous Christian abolitionists of the nineteenth century was John Brown. Brown worked on the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania before moving his family to Kansas, where he became known for his savage attacks on pro-slavery settlers [7]. Brown eventually was captured by US Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee and sentenced to hang. Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. His last words, in a note given to his jailer, foretold the wrath of God that was soon to be visited upon the United States for the evil of slavery:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that, without very much bloodshed, it might be done [8].

Elected on the heels of John Brown’s hanging, Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, also framed his opposition to slavery in moralistic terms: “Now I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil... [9]” The Republican Party was created in 1854 specifically to oppose slavery [10].

There is dispute over Lincoln’s religious beliefs. Many believe that he was not a Christian because he never joined a church. Nevertheless, he did often attend church and read the Bible regularly. In his speeches and letters, he quotes from the Bible regularly and is said to have large portions of it committed to memory. He also grew up in a Baptist family [11]. Lincoln himself said, “That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular [9].” Whatever his personal spiritual beliefs, Lincoln’s Christian background likely shaped his beliefs on the immorality of slavery.

After the abolition of slavery, the struggle started anew to gain full legal equality for all Americans regardless of race. In the years after the Civil War, a system of “separate-but-equal” was established and black suffrage was discouraged in many areas. Again, activists steeped in a Christian worldview led the movement for equality and civil rights. As with slavery, however, people also used the Bible, mostly out of context, to support segregation as well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the symbol of the civil rights movement. King, his father and his grandfather were all Baptist preachers [12]. The Bible taught King that blacks were equal to whites and his faith in God gave him the strength to stand strong. Alluding to Moses, King said, “I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land [13].”

Another famous figure of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks, was also a committed Christian. Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to move to the back of the bus, but the quiet dignity that her faith instilled made her a sympathetic face for the Montgomery bus boycott and the civil rights movement as a whole [14].

Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball, was also a Christian. Robinson was given his chance by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, Branch Rickey, also a Christian [14]. Many other rank-and-file Christians pushed for equality on the basis that no race was superior since all races were created by God and descended from Adam [15].

In other countries, a Christian worldview has also helped to bring about equality and freedom. After years of apartheid, South Africa is now integrated. In the aftermath of apartheid, many wanted to try the former leaders of the country for human rights abuses. Instead, South Africa established a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that walks the line between mercy and justice [18]. Bishop Desmond Tutu was instrumental in establishing the process that is helping black and white South Africans to reconcile and face the future in peace.

It might have taken thousands of years, but we are as close to the full equality of the races, what was most likely God’s original intent, in modern America as anywhere in history. There will always be racist fringe groups, but in modern America they are ostracized and not part of mainstream society. We are very near to Martin Luther King’s colorblind society, but the next step is a difficult one to take.

The next step on the road to equality is to attack what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations [16].” Preferential treatment for any race needs to be phased out. Programs such as these had their place in the days of integration, but our society is fully integrated now. People of all races have equal opportunity, as evidenced by the election of President Barack Obama, and there are laws to prevent discrimination (with the exception of discriminatory government programs and laws).

To believe that any one race needs special government help to succeed is an inherently racist notion. It is time to remove race-based programs. If the government feels that it is necessary to provide entitlement programs (which it increasingly cannot afford to do anyway), then they should be administered on the basis of need, rather than race.

According to Joel Kotkin in his book The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, the population of the United States will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming decades. Many new Americans will be immigrants and many will be born here. True to the tradition of the American melting pot, they will come in a variety of races, creeds, and colors. It is in our best interest to welcome them into our society and to help them assimilate.

As different races assimilate into our society, there will more intermarriage. The races will blend. This is a good thing. I look forward to a day when the color of someone’s skin makes no more difference than the color of their hair or eyes. When my children grow up, I will be far more concerned with the character and culture of their spouses than the color of their skin.

If this was God’s intent from the beginning, then why does the Bible not prohibit slavery? Why didn’t Moses tell the Jews in the wilderness that since they had known the evils of slavery in Egypt they were now forbidden from owning slaves themselves?

I believe that the answer can be found in Matthew 19:8. In this passage, Jesus is asked about divorce by a group of Pharisees. Jesus answered, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Similarly, I believe that if we could talk to Jesus face-to-face and ask him why God did not prohibit slavery, He would say, “Moses permitted slavery because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

The races may coexist peacefully and equally in the modern United States, but this is not the case for all parts of the world. Harassment, persecution, and even genocide of people who look, speak, or think differently still happens all too often. Likewise, slavery still exists in many parts of the world. We should use our national influence to encourage equality and reconciliation around the world, while fighting to end slavery everywhere.


February 23, 2010
Charleston SC

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alternatives to America

It seems like an eternity ago now. It was the 2004 presidential campaign. George W. Bush was running for re-election against Senator John Kerry in a bitter campaign. Many prominent liberals, upset at the prospect of a Bush victory, threatened to move abroad if President Bush was re-elected. Of course, President Bush was re-elected and none of the celebrities made good on their promises to relocate. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed those sentiments recently when she was asked about the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming president. Clinton said that she would “not be emigrating,” but would visit Canada “as often as I can” [1].

In the current political climate, there are looming taxes and regulation that would hamper economic freedom, as well as the possibility of new restrictions on the freedoms of speech, religion, and gun ownership. The explosive growth of the national debt and the threat of Islamic nuclear and biological terror attacks on American cities make it conceivable that the United States will not survive in its present form beyond our lifetimes. Some suggest that, as with the Pilgrims and countless immigrants from around the world, it might one day be necessary for American conservatives to flee to a new homeland where they can live in freedom and security.

The thought of becoming an American refugee made me wonder where a conservative, freedom loving American could emigrate to in the event that America ceases to be a conservative, free country. There is no shortage of viable alternatives to which Clinton and the Hollywood leftists to flee, but there are precious few beacons of liberty and economic freedom left in the world.

There are several things that an expatriated American conservative would need to look for in a host country. The ideal country would have broad economic freedom. This would include low tax rates and a small, unobtrusive government. It would value and protect the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. The ideal candidate would also be founded upon ideals similar to those of our Founding Fathers.

A good homeland would also have to guarantee security. It would have to be large and powerful enough to deter attacks from terrorists as well as other nations. A strong economic system could be a tempting target. Security would also include the right to self-protection and safety from crime. Constitutional provisions should guarantee security and protection from the government itself.

A good place to start looking might be the Index of Economic Freedom [2]. This list ranks 179 world countries on the basis of how free their economic systems are. The United States now ranks as “mostly free” instead of “free” and is at the number eight position on the list… just behind Canada (Clinton’s choice!). Hong Kong and Singapore are the top two countries in the world with respect to having free economies. They are followed by Australia and New Zealand at three and four. Two European countries, Ireland and Switzerland placed fifth and sixth. Behind the US, Denmark and Chile round out the top ten. Of the top ten, only Switzerland and New Zealand became more free last year. The US became less free by the largest margin of the top ten countries.

It is important to note that this list includes only economic freedoms. Additionally, both Hong Kong and Singapore are rated only “partly free” by Freedom House [8].

Additionally, Australia and Canada have very restrictive gun control laws [3, 4]. Although some states and cities in the US all but ban guns, after the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, the trend here is toward more freedom. Both countries also have politically correct laws that restrict freedom of speech [5]. It might be illegal, or at least a tort, to write a blog condemning Islamic terrorism or to speak out against gay marriage. The US has some laws against hate crimes that chill free speech and leftist special interest groups have been known to harass and intimidate people that they don’t agree with, but by and large, speech is still free in the US.

I would rule out Hong Kong because of its proximity to the People’s Republic of (Red) China. It is actually now a part of China, although it remains politically separate. Similarly, Singapore is too small to defend itself without outside help (which would presumably come from the US or Australia). Likewise, Ireland and New Zealand would be dependent upon other nations in an emergency.

Switzerland is an interesting option. Nestled in the Alps, the Swiss have a long tradition of independence and financial freedom. Throughout both world wars, the Swiss maintained an armed neutrality while other nations were gobbled up around them. Swiss independence is largely due to its well-trained civilian militia (as well as its utility as a money launderer for despotic regimes such as the Nazis). Nevertheless, Switzerland could not withstand a determined foe indefinitely and gun ownership for citizens not in the militia is heavily restricted [6]. Plus, an American moving to Switzerland would most likely have to learn German.

What about other countries not in the top ten? Macedonia (56) and Montenegro (68) both made dramatic gains, but were still far enough down the list to be listed as only moderately free. The Caribbean has beautiful scenery and a laid-back lifestyle, but none of these island nations even crack the top twenty on the freedom index. The Middle East, Asia and Africa hold very few countries that could be considered free and prosperous.

Mexico is not far from home and Mexican food is popular in the US. It might not take a lot of dollars to live very well there, but they only rank moderately free at number 41. Most of the factors in the rankings are improving in Mexico, but there are other factors to consider as well. Even though Spanish is easy to learn, Mexico is undergoing on a crisis with drug cartels and corruption. This is seen through its dismal 89th place finish on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index [7].

Interestingly enough, many of the top finishers on the Index of Economic Freedom also did well on the Corruption Perceptions Index. New Zealand placed first on the CPI. Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada were also in the top ten for both lists. The United States placed 18th.

Another country that many conservatives are drawn to is Israel. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is listed as “free” on the Freedom House Map of Freedom [8] even though liberal activists do not consider it as such. In reality, Arab Israelis have almost exactly the same rights as Jewish Israelis and freedom of religion is respected in spite of the fact that many of them may not be loyal to the country. Israel ranked 32 on the CPI and 44 on the economic freedom index. Israel’s gun laws are restrictive [9] , perhaps out of necessity due to the proximity of millions of people who want to kill as many Jews and Israelis as possible. According to George Gilder’s The Israel Test [10], Israel is moving to an even freer capitalist economy, which will hopefully lead to increased transparency and freedom. Nevertheless, Israel is remarkably free and prosperous for a nation that is under almost constant attack.

Israel is also relatively secure. Suicide bombings and terror attacks have declined since the construction of a defensive wall. The combined forces of its Arab neighbors have been unable to conquer it since 1948. The next test will likely come soon as Iran grows closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

With respect to religious freedom, most nations that score well on the economic freedom index and the CPI also seem to do well with religion. According to Voice of the Martyrs [11], most religiously restrictive nations are found in the Muslim world and communist nations such as Cuba, China, and Vietnam. The United States is still one of the most Christian nations in the world however, since many of the other Christian nations have forsaken their religious heritage.

When religion is thrown into the mix, a surprise contender becomes South Korea. Approximately one quarter to one third of South Koreans are Christian and constitute the largest religious demographic in the country [12, 13]. South Korea also rates as “free” by Freedom House, 31st in economic freedom, and 39th in corruption perceptions. On the down side, their closest neighbor is North Korea. North Korea, of course, is a starving communist state run by a madman who has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. And as for the gun laws, don’t even ask.

A fine point that is often missed is that many or most of the countries rated as free, do not have the constitutional protections that we enjoy in the United States. Their freedoms are deemed to be granted by the government as opposed to our belief that we all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. What the government grants, the government can take away.

We are left with the conclusion that the United States is a unique blend of freedom and security. The precise mixture has not been replicated anywhere else on earth. Perhaps this explains why novelist Ayn Rand was forced to have the capitalists of Atlas Shrugged create Galt’s Gulch as a secret refuge for freedom as opposed to fleeing abroad.

We also must realize that if we lose American freedom there is no other place on earth where we can find the unique mix of American freedom. As Abraham Lincoln wrote, “we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth” [14]. With a return to the principles of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution, we can survive this crisis and, as Ronald Reagan said, “With our eyes fixed on the future, but recognizing the realities of today...we will achieve our destiny to be as a shining city on a hill for all mankind to see” [15].


Chicago IL
February 16, 2009

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Voting Absentee in Georgia

If you are a citizen of Georgia who may not be able to visit a polling place on Election Day, you can vote with an absentee ballot. In my full-time job I travel frequently and so I commonly vote with an absentee ballot. I actually prefer to vote absentee because it helps me to avoid long lines at polling places.

You don’t have to be out of town to vote absentee. You can also get an absentee ballot if you are sick or if you are simply unable to find time to reach your poll. In fact, you do not have to list a reason why you are voting absentee.

To obtain an absentee ballot, contact your county registrar and request an application. You may do this within 180 days of an election. Military and overseas voters are an exception to the 180 day rule. They may request an application at any time. You may also download an absentee ballot application from the website of the Secretary of State here:

After you have received your absentee ballot, return it to your county registrar. Both faxed and mail copies are accepted. The link to the Secretary of State’s website above also provides contact information for county registrars. The registrar must receive your application no later than the Friday prior to the election. As an alternative, you may also visit the office of the registrar to vote absentee in person before Election Day.

When your application is received and approved, the registrar will mail your absentee ballot to you. You simply complete the form that affirms your identity, fill out the ballot, and return it through the mail. If you are unable to fill out the ballot yourself, it is legal to have someone assist you.

There are several pros and cons to voting absentee. The pros include not having to schedule a visit to the polling place on Election Day and not having to deal with long lines (except at the post office). Also, ballots can often be long and complicated with some of the races and ballot initiatives being very obscure. With an absentee ballot, you can research these little known races and initiatives rather than having to make a split second decision in a voting booth. Finally, if you submit an absentee ballot application, you are exempted from Georgia’s voter ID law.

There are a few problems with absentee voting as well. One problem is the relative inefficiency of the mail. I always am a little concerned over the possibility of my ballot getting lost or arriving too late to be counted. The bigger issue is that if you submit your ballot early, you lose the ability to change your mind about a candidate if new information comes out just before the election. After your ballot is mailed, you have voted and you cannot retract that vote.

An additional alternative to absentee voting is early voting. Now in Georgia, polls are open for several days prior to the actual Election Day. Early voting combines many of the aspects of absentee voting while eliminating the trips to the post office. Typically, early voters go to the registrar’s office and vote on an actual voting machine rather than a paper ballot. To find out when and where to vote early, contact your county registrar.

Absentee and early voting provide a great alternative to going out of your way to stand in a long line on Election Day. If you are interested in voting early or absentee, start by registering now. Then be sure to request your absentee ballot within 180 days of the election. Do your research and mail your ballot back in plenty of time. Congratulations on becoming an informed and active citizen!


Two Looming Crises Grow Larger

Over the past week, largely ignored by the mainstream media, two simmering crises bubbled a step closer to finally growing too large to be ignored. Both issues have been slowly deteriorating over multiple presidencies and been neglected by both parties. Nevertheless, it is very ironic that both problems, one foreign and one domestic, moved up to the next level within days of each other.

The more dangerous of the two is the domestic issue. The Social Security Administration announced that in 2010 Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes [1]. Social Security has was predicted to begin losing money by 2017 as Baby Boomers begin to retire en masse, but layoffs and forced retirements from the Great Recession accelerated the losses as tax revenues fell. It is believed that that as the economy recovers, receipts will rise and push the program back into the black for a few years. As the program slips again into the red, it is forecast to go totally bankrupt by 2037 (long before I retire!).

This is not the first time that Social Security has lost money. The program had to be overhauled in 1983 to prevent it from going bankrupt years earlier. The bipartisan agreement that delayed the inevitable raised the retirement age to 67, increased payroll taxes, and made benefits taxable. The changes were supposed to keep the program solvent until 2058, but that estimate has now decreased by 20 years [1].

Social Security’s budget problems are symbolic of the larger financial problems facing the federal government (and most of the states) as a whole. Medicare began paying out more than it took in last year and is forecast to become insolvent by 2017 [2]. The federal government has long been taking in less than it spends, but in 2009 the federal budget deficit rose to more than 10% of the national GDP [3]. Even President Obama’s own budget director, Peter Orszag, admits that this is not sustainable, yet President Obama’s proposed budget calls for spending increases. Orszag and Obama are relying on primarily on tax increases and economic growth to bring the deficit down. In reality, Obama’s unchecked spending and anti-business policies are likely to push the deficit even higher.

The current deficits are the worst that the US has experienced since WWII. What makes this situation worse is that in the 1940s we had a plan to eliminate the deficit and pay off the national debt. We would win the war and shift our economy back to making profitable consumer goods. Back then, we also got something tangible for our money: ships, tanks, and airplanes. Today we not only have no plan to do anything other than run increasingly large deficits, much of the money that we have spent has been totally wasted.

In contrast to the USA’s 10% of GDP deficit, the European Union has a limit of 3% of GDP for member states. When Greece’s deficit came in at 13% for 2009, it sparked a crisis which may lead to a financial rescue of the Greeks by Germany and other European nations to prevent a default [4].

If the US trend continues, the government might find it hard to find buyers for our debt. Essentially other nations and investors would stop loaning us money to fund our excesses. Another possibility is that the US government might print more money, which leads to inflation, or default on its debts, ruining our national credit rating. Already bond rating agency, Moody’s, has warned that the US is in danger of losing its AAA credit rating, which would make it more expensive for the government to borrow money [5]. The worst case scenario is a creditor nation could call in our debts, which we could not pay, and collapse our economy.

The second threat is equally dangerous and could have just as big an impact as a US national bankruptcy. This week Iran announced that they had begun further enriching uranium. While Iran does not admit to having enriched to weapons grade uranium yet, this announcement is a further step in that direction [6].

Iran’s refusal to negotiate in good faith indicates a commitment to developing nuclear weapons regardless of the consequences. President Obama’s campaign promise to negotiate with leaders like Ahmadinejad has not borne fruit in Iran or anywhere else. It has been impossible to achieve agreement on meaningful sanctions because of interference from Russia and China. Russia is providing the Iranians with their nuclear reactor and stands to lose commercially if the Iranian nuclear program is dismantled [7]. China is a large purchaser of Iranian oil.

Many believe that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon is not a threat to the world. They point to their belief that Iran has not initiated wars of conquest in the years since the Iranian Revolution, but neglect the fact that one of Iran’s chief exports since then has been terror and hatred. Likewise, some believe that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would be defensive in nature. Others point to the fact that the US and USSR coexisted throughout the cold war without a nuclear exchange and believe that a nuclear Iran could be similarly constrained through the certainty of their own destruction if they ever used their weapons. These arguments ignore several crucial facts.

First, they ignore the many threats that the Iranians have already made against the US and Israel. President Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust-denier who hosted a “World without Zionism” conference and demanded that Israel be “wiped off the map” [8]. He apparently believes that he is called to attack Israel to usher in a Muslim messiah called the “Mahdi” [9].

Second, many prominent officials in the Iranian government believe that the destruction of their entire nation would an acceptable cost for destroying Israel. Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, said the “application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world” [10]. In other words, Iran is merely a part of the Muslim world. If Iran is destroyed along with Israel, but other Muslim nations survive, the Iranian government would consider that a victory. The important thing to them is not that Iran survives, but that Israel does not.

The United States is also Iran’s mortal enemy. Iran has threatened the United States as well as Israel [11]. At the same time, Iran’s missile tests indicate that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) capability in which a single nuclear warhead, detonated high above the US, could paralyze the entire country and kill millions through starvation and exposure by destroying our electrical grids [12]. A report on the EMP threat was delivered to congress in 2004 [13], but so far little has been done. The Iranians could use a nuclear weapon to attempt to control oil exports from other countries in the region as well.

At this point, there is still time to deal with both problems, but time is slipping away. Our elected leaders of both parties seem to be uninterested in either issue. If our leaders won’t lead, then it is up to the people to take the initiative.

On the spending issue, we need to encourage our politicians to make hard choices. Government spending must be cut. The solution that seems to make the most sense is to impose an immediate freeze on all nondefense spending. While spending levels are frozen, a bipartisan committee should go over the federal budget, not with a scalpel, but with a chainsaw. Everything that is not absolutely necessary and constitutional should be cut. The committee’s recommendations would go to congress for an up or down vote with no amendments allowed. Entire federal departments could (and should) be eliminated.

Voters can contact their representatives to ask them to stop taking earmarks and to cut spending. If they don’t listen, vote for someone who will. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare together with interest on the federal debt make up almost half of the federal budget [15]. All of these categories will be growing in the future. To pay down the federal debt, entitlements must be cut, but this is politically difficult.

Growing the economy will help, but is not a solution in itself. Cutting federal spending will also help to grow the economy since the government won’t be competing with private firms for investment dollars. Keeping taxes low and regulations simple will also help the economy to grow.

With respect to Iran, we can also demand that our leaders pay attention to the problem and negotiate from a point of strength rather than weakness. A military strike should not be ruled out. If we choose not to strike, we should not limit the options of Israel. The US should also do as much as possible to support the Iranian dissidents who oppose their government’s vision of the world. President Obama has been noticeably quiet towards the new Iranian revolutionaries. They have even chanted on occasion “Obama, are you with us or against us? [16]” They should not have to ask.

In the meantime, we should pressure our representatives to take steps to defend against an EMP attack. Admittedly this is a time of national financial crisis, but national defense should be our number one priority. The very survival of our country could be at stake.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jesus vs. Robin Hood

Several years ago, there was a fad in which people wore bracelets, shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia emblazoned with the letters “WWJD.” The letters stood for the phrase “what would Jesus do?” and encouraged the wearer to think about how Jesus would react to a situation and follow His lead. But how would Jesus react to the public policy debates that are currently raging in our country?

Jesus cared for the poor. Much of His time on Earth was spent ministering to the poor. There is evidence that that Jesus and His disciples gave money to the poor. In Matthew 26:6-13, a woman pours oil on Jesus’ head and the disciples are aghast. They complain to Jesus that the oil could have been sold and proceeds given to the poor. Jesus answers that the poor will always be present, but that she had anointed Jesus for burial, since He knew that His death was coming soon.

Similarly, in Matthew 19:16-22, a rich young man comes to Jesus and asks how to have eternal life. Jesus replies that he should keep the commandments. Then, when pressed, Jesus tells him that he should sell he has and give it to the poor in order to store up treasures in heaven. After the young man sadly leaves, Jesus makes His famous statement that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). He goes on to say that while this is impossible with man, “with God all things are possible” (v. 26).

After the resurrection of Jesus and the spread of the new church throughout the Roman Empire, helping the poor remained a cornerstone of Christianity. There are numerous references to early churches helping the poor in the books of the New Testament. Several references in Acts speak of gifts to the poor (2:45, 9:36, 10:5, 10:31, 24:17). One passage in Acts (4:32), even contains a description of what some call an early form of communism in which the Christians pooled all of their possessions. In Romans 15:26, Paul writes in praise of Macedonian and Achaeans Christians who helped the poor of Jerusalem. In Galatians 2:10, Paul states that the early church leaders were all in agreement that Christians should remember and help the poor. James instructed us to not give preferential treatment to the rich (James 2:2-6).

Many liberals and progressives through the years have taken these exhortations to heart. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society were attempts to help the poor by utilizing the machinery of government. One problem with these type of governmental programs is that they are notoriously inefficient, which makes us poor stewards of the resources that we have been given (Matthew 25:14-30). Similarly, the government approach too often finds money going to corrupt organizations like ACORN instead of groups that can provide real help such as the Salvation Army, CARE, and the Red Cross, to name a few.

Another problem with the governmental approach is that there is no Christian precedent for involuntarily taking from one person to give to another. All of the gifts to the poor that have been described here were voluntary. None were compulsory. Even if we look to the tithe of the Old Testament law, it was not taken by force even though it was claimed directly by God.

In contrast, when the government takes over the role of charities, it does so by using the “WWRHD” method. What would Robin Hood do? Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor. Modern day governmental income redistribution programs do the same thing. Money is taxed from those in the upper income brackets and redistributed through government programs to those in lower income brackets. Along the way the government takes a cut for administrative costs and overhead.

A key difference between the days of Robin Hood and modern times, however, is that the rich of Robin Hood’s day were pretenders. Prince John has assumed the throne the absence of his brother, Richard the Lion Hearted, who was the rightful king. John and his friends were essentially looting the kingdom and living off of the rightful belongings of others.

In contrast, the rich of our society are primarily entrepreneurs and businessmen who have earned their wealth legally and constructively. The wealthy of our day do not live off the backs of the lower classes; they drive the economy and provide jobs and wealth for the rest of society… whether they intend to or not!

The wealthy drive the economy in two ways, both of which are beneficial. First, they provide investment capital either through direct investments or through lending. This enables businesses to start or expand. Growing businesses hire new workers, which helps to lift more people out of poverty. Second, the wealthy consume goods and services. This consumption obviously drives businesses that provide these goods and services, enabling them to expand and hire more workers. As jobs are created and more people work their way out of poverty, there is more consumption driving more businesses to hire more workers in a repetitive cycle.

This does not mean that the rich (or the rest of us) should not give to charity. When Jesus instructed us to help the poor, it was as much for our sake as theirs. Learning to give helps the giver as much as the recipient of the gift (and I don’t mean through tax deductions!). Giving helps us break the cycle of materialism and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Giving also makes us feel better about ourselves. When we take time out of our busy lives to aid those who need help, we grow spiritually. We miss out on these gifts of our giving when our money is taken from us and channeled through government.

While taxes take a specified percentage of our income, each individual knows better what he can afford to give. Many people have needs that are not are not reflected in tax laws. For example, some people spend a portion of their income to help support elderly relatives, put siblings through school, or some similar cause that is worthy, yet not tax deductible. Some people might not have money to spare, but can still make donations of their time and effort. These people are short-changed when we consider taxes as the way to support charitable work.

Well meant (but not-so-well thought out) government policies sometimes hurt the very people they were intended to help through the Law of Unintended Consequences. By removing financial barriers to raising children with only one parent, the government contributed to the decline of the family. By essentially paying people not to work, the government keeps countless people from assuming rewarding and fulfilling roles in society.

Finally, when the government assumes the role of charity, it takes away support from real charities. Both Christian and secular charities have much less overhead than the government and can be very effective because they can target their support to people who really need it. Nevertheless, when government takes and increased share of incomes for its redistribution schemes, it takes away from the resources available to these groups. If people take home less money, they have less to give to charity.

Jesus does want us to support the poor, but he was more concerned about the spiritual welfare of both the rich and the poor than the physical condition of any of us (Mark 9:47). His primary concern was that we become aware of our sinfulness and accept the salvation that He offers. Charitable giving is one of the ways that we can spread the gospel message, while helping ourselves and others at the same time. When Robin Hood politicians usurp the role of charities, we all become both spiritually and financially poorer.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Registering to Vote in Georgia

If you intend to vote in an election in Georgia, you should register as soon as possible. While most elections are still several months away, there are deadlines to register for each election. It is important to remember that you cannot register and vote on the same day.

Georgia law requires prospective voters to be at least 18 years of age and to be a citizen of the United States and the county in which they intend to vote. People serving a sentence for a felony or judged by a court to be mentally incompetent are not eligible to vote. It is illegal to register and vote in more than one location. For example, if you have a home in Georgia and vacation home in Florida, you must choose only one state in which to vote.

There are several ways to register to vote in Georgia. Voter registration forms can be found in many public buildings such as city halls, libraries, fire stations, and public assistance offices. The form can also be downloaded from the website of the Georgia Secretary of State. The form is postage-paid for return to the Secretary of State or can be returned to your county Board of Elections. When the registration form is processed, you will receive a precinct card showing the location of your polling place.

You must register to vote at least thirty days prior to any election in which you want to vote. This means that to vote in the 2010 primary election on July 20, you must register by June 21. If you do not register for the primary and wish to vote in the general election on November 2, the deadline is October 4. Once you are registered to vote, you remain registered as long as you keep voting.

It is also important to note that you must bring a valid photo identification card when you vote. A Georgia driver’s license is the most commonly used form of identification. If you do not have a Georgia driver’s license (even if expired) or one of the other valid forms of ID, then the state will provide a free voter ID card. To obtain this free voter ID card, contact your county registrar or the office of the Secretary of State.

Remember that voting is not only a right; it is a civic duty. In exercising your right to vote, it is also your duty to become educated about the issues at stake.

Important Links:,2086,4802_4973_11785786,00.html

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Do Voters Not Act in Their Self-Interest?

Since Scott Brown’s senatorial victory last week, there have been many questions from the left about why people don’t vote in their economic self-interest? In this case, the reasoning goes, the vote for the Republican makes it all the more difficult for President Obama and the Democrats to pass their version of health care reform, which some believe will help most voters. Such questions often arise after the Democrats lose important elections.

The author of one study wrote that the voters “do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best” [BBC]. This statement makes sense and is true to a point. The problem is that it doesn’t go far enough.

The bottom line is that voters and liberal politicians don’t always see eye-to-eye on what the self-interest of the voters actually is. Is it always in the self-interest of the voters to receive a government handout? The answer is a resounding “NO!”

In the most obvious sense, a government handout is not in the self-interest of voters when the voters must give up some of their freedoms to receive it. And this is often the case. Government money frequently comes with strings attached. In the case of the health care reform, the handout comes in the form of a loss of the freedom to choose your own insurance. It would eliminate the right to not have insurance and add numerous government mandates on what insurance policies would be required to cover.

If this legislation is only the first step toward a national single-payer health care system, as many Democrats hope, then ultimately we would all lose some of our freedom. We would lose the freedom to choose our own health insurance to a mandatory plan run by government bureaucrats. We would also lose economic freedom through the value of our time and money lost to higher taxes needed to pay for our “free” health care.

Under our current system, if you don’t like your health insurance company you can fire them and hire a new one. You can shop around for the best price, tailor coverage to suit your needs, or even choose to self-insure and not buy a policy at all. President Obama’s health care reform would place many of these rights at risk.

Voters also know that government policy is often a victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Rules and regulations designed to fix one problem often create a whole new set of other problems. A recent example was the ethanol mandate.

In 2007, high oil prices pushed congress to pass a renewable fuels standard that required more ethanol to be produced for biofuels in the United States. As more corn was diverted to ethanol production, the price of food increased sharply and there were food riots in poor countries around the world. At the same time, the price of oil remained high until the demand dropped [Heritage]. The only winners from the renewable fuel standard were corn farmers.

Voters, particularly those in Massachusetts, were probably aware of the unintended consequences of the Massachusetts experiment in government health reform as well. Massachusetts law, which is similar in many ways to President Obama’s proposed legislation, has not solved Massachusetts’ health care problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, even though the number of uninsureds fell by about half (which may be overstated), “costs have exploded.” Unsubsidized coverage fell as total coverage increased and health costs in Massachusetts have climbed faster than the rest of the US. Additionally, there have been reports of shortages of doctors as previously uninsured people rush to make appointments [NPR].

Voters probably also sense that much of what they have been told about the health cannot be true. They have been promised that coverage will be expanded to the whole country with adding to the deficit. They have been told that they can keep their current plans if they want, even as economic incentives are created for employers to dump their plans in favor of fines that are cheaper than coverage or a federally funded “public option.” They have been told to trust their health care to a government that just spent over $700 billion on a worthless stimulus package; a government that chose to carry out the negotiations for the proposed health care plan in secret, violating President Obama’s campaign promise to carry out government business in the open. Many of these statements were made by representatives who had not read the bill and did not know what was in it. The BS-detectors of many voters have probably been pegged for some time!

Finally, many voters likely realize that the dramatic increases in government spending cannot be paid for. They realize that the ballooning federal debt is a real danger to the future of our country. We are mortgaging the future of our children to pay for our doctor visits and prescriptions (not to mention worthless light rail projects, tattoo removal, and other boondoggles).

The voters implicitly realize, many from their own experience, that when you run up the balance on your credit card, the bills eventually come due. At this point, our national debt is at the highest peacetime level in our history. Much of the debt is owed to countries, such as China, that are not necessarily our friends. To owe a large portion of the value of your national economy to an unfriendly power is a frightening prospect.

Voters are not necessarily ignoring their self-interest in voting to stymie President Obama’s health care reform. In contrast, they are looking past the immediate handout. Voters are weighing what they are being told with what they believe to be true. They are voting in their long-term self-interest and in the interest of their country.

Villa Rica GA
February 2, 2010