July 30, 2012

Why Are You Defending The Rich?

"Why are you defending the rich?" Provocative question isn't it? There are so many little assumptions that are built into that one sentence.

As a conservative, I get asked this question occasionally. Ironically, it is not because I am saying the rich are great, and it is not because I am defending some of the immoral behavior of some CEOs and corporations. It is simply because I disagreeing with liberal economic policy. So why ask this particular question?

So, let us consider some of the assumptions lying behind this, and maybe then we can consider some appropriate answers.

A Matter of Motivation

The first assumption is that what I am doing is defending the rich. People have a very difficult time accepting that the thought process of someone else can be radically different from their own. As such, we often assume that someone's reasons for opposing our beliefs are along the same lines as our reasons for holding them. For instance, many Pro-life people believe that Pro-choice people actually don't mind killing children. Meanwhile many Pro-choice people assume that Pro-life people are sexist. Neither one of these assumptions are accurate, but both are based off of us having trouble separating out our motivations from the motivations of others.

In this case, I do not hold to conservative economic principles because I have any love for the rich. To be frank, I don't care about the rich one way or the other, at least not as a category. It is irrelevant to me. I don't see economic policy as a means of rewarding or punishing people for behavior. I see it as a means of maintaining economic stability for our civilization. That's all I care about.

The reason why someone would accuse me of defending the rich is because they view themselves as assaulting the rich. They may not use or like that terminology, but clearly that is the way they view things. Why else would my opposing their beliefs be considered to be defending a different group?

It's OK To Have A Little Class

Assumption two, of course, is that the rich need to be assaulted and shouldn't be defended. The poor are seen as victims of society, while the rich are seen as hoarders, preventing the poor from being delivered from their economic woes. I am speaking in hyperbole here, since I know no one that would express it this way. Every liberal I've ever met will acknowledge that there are good rich people in existence. But you can tell by the way that some of them talk, specifically the kind who would ask the titular question of this post, that they see these as exceptions.

So, do I disagree with this view? Yes, though not because I think the rich are great mind you. It is because I don't think the rich are monolithic. Some are good, and some are bad. Some of the poor are good, and some are bad. Economic status has nothing to do with moral integrity in my opinion, and I don't target a group simply because of their class. I believe this to be bigotry.

I think we can all agree that those who view the poor as universally lazy are bigoted. I think we can also agree that those who view the rich as the epitome of what it means to be an American to be equally bigoted. Where we disagree is that I believe the opposite to be bigoted as well. And I don't abide by bigotry.

Economic Justice

The last assumption is that the purpose of economic policy is to bring justice to the world by evening out the classes. I've hinted at this before of course, it is good to address it directly.

I believe in justice and fairness, but I don't think that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. I believe everyone should get the same chances. The law is to treat everyone equal. That is not the same thing as making everyone equal. Whether we like it or not, we are not all equal in this society. I believe we were created equal, but as we live our lives, we go in different directions. Some of us succeed, and some of us don't. While it is tragic to be unsuccessful, it is not unjust or unfair.

Directly controlling the economic flow simply won't work. People are too selfish, and those in charge of directing that flow will be a higher class than those who aren't. Those who desire to eradicate the classes will merely recast them, and will cause that upper class to have considerably more control over the lower class than the system we have now. Instead of it being the rich vs the poor, it would be the government vs. the people. It isn't an improvement.

Classes are OK. They're not perfect, and it would be better if we didn't need them, but it is a natural result of living in a fallen world. It is the kind of problem that if you try and fix it, you end up breaking the whole system. What is wrong is when we think that being of one class makes you a more valuable human than someone else. That is bigotry as I said before. To some degree there will always be bigotry, and even if we managed to create a society without economic classes, we will still find ways to categorize each other and prejudge one another. We are very creative.

As a Christian, I believe that we are a fallen race. Sin and wickedness are inevitable. I am not going to look to a human system to try and fix the problem because I know it will fail. Instead, I will fight for justice within my own context, proclaim the gospel, and look forward to the return of the Son. That is the lot of the Christian, wherever we find ourselves.

July 23, 2012

Obama's Big Blunder

By this point everyone knows about Obama's blunder regarding telling entrepreneurs that they aren't really responsible (or merely partially responsible) for their businesses. Now, I get what the president meant, so please do not try to correct me on that. His point was that businesses are reliant on public services in order to build their business, and are, to some degree, dependant on the government.

However, even with the necessary qualifications, I still am in stark disagreement with the president's point. Not only do businesses and the wealthy already pay more in taxes than other groups in this country (something that Obama consistently ignores in his rhetoric), and not only to non-entrepreneurs have access to the same public services (of the same class of course), but I don't believe that there would be no success for entrepreneurs either without infrastructure.

It is not as if there were no businesses or leadership before the invention of infrastructure. It was of a much different form, but so was success. Infrastructure makes communities larger, and thus adds layers of success, but there was still success. Individuals in nomadic societies still could succeed, and create new positions and ways of doing things. So while the entrepreneurial spirit may use infrastructure, and while infrastructure can encourage it, it does not require the infrastructure.

At least, that's my opinion

July 16, 2012

Billy Birch Is Back

Billy Birch is a guy whose blog I've been following for some time, and someone who used to be a member of SEA. For those of us on the theological blogsphere, he is very well known. It is also well known that he committed a terrible sin a few months ago, shortly after he had left SEA in fact.

Well now he has a new blog: White Picket Fences. On it he talks about what he had done and why. I think it best if you read his own account. Personally, I find it very encouraging how much forgiveness he has recieved, even the one he hurt.

One important thing is that he idenifies the fundamental reason why he sinned: he kept his temptations a secret. This is incredibly powerful. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster identifies confession is one of the fundamental disciplines of Christian life. God designed the Christian walk to function as a community where we hold each other up, and defend each other. This includes defending each other from our own sins.

If you are struggling with a sin in your life, don't make Billy's mistake: confess it. Have your brothers and sisters in the Lord hold you accountable for what you do, and what you think. It is the most powerful way to stave off sin.

July 2, 2012

Or "The Obscenity of Obdurate Obnubilating Obfuscation"

What I mean by Jargon

If we equate any philosophical debate to battle I would argue that our basic weapons are our ideas and arguments, and our rhetoric is our technique in wielding those weapons. But the battlefield, the terrain of the battle is the vocabulary we use. Therefore, he who controls the vocabulary of the debate holds the high ground.

It is little wonder then that so much of Calvinist rhetoric revolves around controlling the vocabulary of the discussion. It is incredibly common for them to create terms, adjust terms, or redefine terms for the purposes of making their point. To be honest, we should do more of this. Part of being clear is being conscience of the words that you are using, and why you are using them.

With Calvinists, however, they manipulate language so much that they have a language completely unto themselves. This is called jargon: a specialized vocabulary for a particular group, class, or discipline. Jargon is a necessary part of language. It is to make communication easier within that group. However, it also makes communication between that group and those outside of it more difficult. Calvinism has a tendency to become very tribal, and part of that is the key words that they use to distinguish themselves from other Christian groups. I think a lot of times people first get wrapped up in Calvinist vocabulary, and then fall in line with the doctrine.

Jargon in Action

Word Ownership

We are a book-bound faith. A foundational principle of Christian epistemology (the study/understanding of knowledge) is the necessity of revelation from God, and that a specific revelation of God has come to us through the Bible. Therefore everything which the Bible says we need to affirm.

It is important to note that the Bible has a vocabulary. There are certain words (like faith, grace, love, atonement, election, sovereignty, etc...) that all Christians need to affirm. Both Arminians and Calvinists use these terms. However, we understand these terms very differently.

Word ownership is essentially laying claim on a particular word. For instance, Calvinists do this with the term 'grace'. They call their doctrine "The Doctrines of Grace". This is an attempt to own the term. Since all Christians must believe in grace, and Calvinism embodies grace (supposedly), then Calvinism must be the epitome of Christianity, or so the implied logic goes.

This doesn't work very well with the term 'grace' though, at least not when it comes to converting people. This is because grace is a commonly used word, and people can tell that Calvinists are using it in a nuanced way (highly nuanced...). They've done a much better job with the term 'elect'.

Growing up in Arminian circles, I often heard the word 'chosen'. We are God's chosen people, and God would choose us for particular purposes. I didn't hear about the term 'elect' until I ran into Calvinism. 'Elect' and 'election' were political words, and not ones I ran into within church settings. Now 'elect' means the same thing as 'chosen', but certain translations specifically use 'elect'. So when a Calvinist comes along and starts using a "biblical term", people start thinking his theology is more biblical as well. In reality, he's just using a synonym that was more popular in 1611.*

Sinister Synonyms

This was somewhat implied within the last section, but another way that jargon shows up is in particular words which are consistently used in lieu of other synonyms. An excellent example of this is 'sovereignty'.

Again, growing up, I often heard pastors preach about God's authority. Sometimes they would preach about God's majesty. However when I overheard someone discuss 'sovereignty', it generally had to do with local church sovereignty (I was raised Baptist).**

Again, 'sovereignty' means the same thing as 'authority' or 'majesty' (or more a combination of the two). The basic concepts were still there. However, by introducing a distinct new term, a Calvinist can make it sound as if they are introducing a neglected concept. The Calvinist can then hide certain theological ideas, such as meticulous predestination, behind such concepts.

When I am listening to someone explain a belief or idea that they just had, I usually repeat it back to them while rewording it to be sure that I understand it. I used to have a friend, I'll call him Jason; who this would never work with. He would always quibble about the wording, and insist on the wording that he used. Eventually I did an experiment where I didn't understand something that he was saying, but I repeated it back to him using his words. For the first time he thought I understood him.

It is hard to explain how this really works, but one can couch ideas in careful distinctions and often make it sound like there is more to the idea than there really is. Indeed, the distinctions can be so careful as to even fool the person making them. In general, one should be leery of this kind of particular parlance, because it usually indicates a glossy rhetorical veneer over very shabby ideas.

The End Result

Jargon, as a rhetorical technique, generally does at least one of two things. First it can give a false impression of competence, either in the speaker or in the idea. Using unknown words makes people sound smart, and often naming an idea makes it sound more official or accepted.

Second, it can rule out other ideas. By limiting the vocabulary of the conversation to words which they have taken the time to theologically load, they can gain an upper hand. They can make it sound like we are nuancing their idea, which, in reality, we are both nuancing things for the sake of being clear. The more words they own, the more their definitions sound like the "plain and ordinary meaning".

As Arminians we should deal with this using two basic methods. A) Don't be afraid to use "their terms" in Arminian ways. Talk about God predestining things. Talk about election. There is nothing wrong with it considering that they are in fact compatible ideas with Arminianism. B) Use jargon in concert with other synonyms. Interchange 'sovereignty' with 'majesty' or 'kingship' within the same paragraph. Expose that they belong to word families, and the synonyms are just as apt, without being as mysterious.

There are other effects that particular jargonal techniques can have. I intend on going over one of these in my next installment (not necessarily my next post. We'll see).

*There are, of course, Arminian circles which use the term elect. I do myself now. My point was merely that they didn't in the circles in which I grew up.

** Again, there are plenty of Arminian circles which use the term sovereignty, and, again, I use the term myself now.