Tuesday, November 3, 2015

David Ray Griffin's Reptilian Grin

I. Confession & Retraction

While they have been deleted by this point, a clever soul with the aid of the Wayback Machine could find a few delusional articles on this blog by me, and more than a few similarly insane blog comments, "questioning 9/11" and otherwise engaging in juvenile and paranoid conspiracism. (See also here where the madness went to audio.) The basic point of this post is to declare that I have, of late, disabused myself of any and all notions of a grand conspiracy to destroy the Twin Towers, launch a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, promote an American empire, steal oil and other natural resources and create a police state here at home.

Like many Americans, I turned against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration around 2005, 2006. Being an extreme sort, I could not stop there, being merely against the current president, and then signing up for Obama's campaign or Ron Paul's campaign. No, I had to be more radically "against the system" than anyone else. It didn't help that I had a young man's hatred for authority and accountability, with all the arrogance and postmodern angst implied thereby.

As Saint Paul may have put it, I now count it all dung. And when it comes to false accusations, overheated rhetoric, leaps of logic, delusional thinking, fallacious reasoning and self-serving introspection--I am the chief of sinners. Bar none.

I honestly wonder now what the whole point of this blog is. I haven't settled on a firm decision as to whether I should keep it, or whether I should simply be silent and spend a few years reading, reflecting, studying, serving and getting busy raising the gift from God my wife now carries in her womb. 

Regardless, I want to spend the next few posts trying to take apart conspiracy theories and conspiracist thinking in general, in the hope of providing some sort of helpful service here for inquiring minds. This post is the first of a series. It is tagged "conspiracism."

II. Conspiracism: Defining and Bounding It

The root of conspiracism is ultimately sin. Scripture teaches us that a man who falsely accuses his brother should have what he intended to be done to the accused done to him (Deut. 19:18-19). Conspiratorial thinking brings with it an inevitable spirit of accusation. It does no good to believe in an impossibly powerful, all-encompassing Hidden Hand of Evil directing everything if you can't point to at least a few likely culprits. In the case of 9/11 Truthers, the culprits are likely to be some combination of Dick Cheney, Neo-Cons, Bankers, Globalists, and the perennial conspiracy favorite, JEEEWWWS.

The trouble is, while the accusations are necessarily weighty, they are also non-falsifiable. No matter what evidence you present a conspiracy theorist with, no matter how devastating your argument, he will always find a way to continue to believe in his chosen delusion. He is a fanatic who can change neither his mind nor the subject. This fanaticism is where I draw the line between "conspiracism" and the legitimate investigation of real conspiracies. Abuse does not negate proper use. The existence of conspiracists doesn't mean that there are no real conspiracies; it means we all need to use wisdom, discernment, real evidence and relevant testimony. In short, we all need to live in the real world, which is another way of saying God's world.

The fanaticism with which a conspiracist holds his theories is the thing that holds his worldview together. Otherwise, if he submitted his theories to the light of reason, eyewitness testimony, physical evidence and rational investigation, as Scripture requires when accusations are made, he would have to admit his accusations are false. To admit this would crush his cherished worldview, so the conspiracist clings to his chosen apocalyptic dogma the way some people cling to revered religious texts or relics. This is an imperfect analogy of course, since there is probably more proof for your stomach flu being healed by touching a Fragment of the True Cross than for most wild conspiracy theories about the events of 9/11...

III. What Moves the Conspiracist?

What keeps conspiracism, as a movement, going? I am most familiar with 9/11 Trutherism, so I will try to address that brand of insanity particularly. A few folks are in it for the dollars. 

David Ray Griffin has sold a lot of books peddling various lies and distortions about what happened on 9/11. If you look closely at his publicity photos, you can detect the faint signs of a Reptilian grin. 

Just look at his fangs and menacing eyes. The better to eat your sanity with...


Richard Gage's conspiracism came out of his midlife crisis. His career in architecture has been ruined, his wife and family have left him, and so giving talks and rewriting the laws of physics are his only source of income. He's in it for the rent money and a meal ticket. 

Alex Jones makes good money fomenting outrage and paranoia across the fruitcake plain. 

This man wants you to gently stroke his bullhorn...

Most of the people who join the conspiracist cult don't make any money. Rather, they fade further into obscurity and social isolation. What's in it for them?

David Veitch, a former British 9/11 Truth activist, explained it this way once he came back to reality. He said that conspiracy theorists were often "bullied people. People who maybe didn’t get the girls at school… So they see a lot of rugger bugger types and they’re against anything to do with them. They will side with the devil, as long as the devil is against the West." ["Rugger bugger" is a Brit slang term for wealthy prep school kid.]

"There's a professional victimhood in conspiracy theorists. There's a hatred of high achievers," added Veitch.

The conspiracy theorist's resentment of others, his social awkwardness, his difficulties with fitting in and success, suddenly become assets to him once he delves deep into the conspiracist swamp. He now possesses "special knowledge" that makes him smarter and more enlightened that everybody else. The affirmation he always sought and was denied is suddenly granted to him. 

There's more to it than this, though. I briefly shared my own experience at the top of this post, and for me I think young man's angst had a lot to with it. That seems to be the case for Dylan Avery, the man who gave us the documentary Loose Change

Voactiv.com  quotes Avery in a feature piece: "In my truly angry times, in 2005 or 2006, if you asked if the Bush administration planned the attacks, I would have said, ‘Fuck yeah.'"

Asked what he would say now, Avery says, "I don’t think Bush could plan a bowl of cereal."

Seeking to further distance himself from his old 9/11 claims and his movie, Avery says, "It’s a dark, dangerous world, the world of conspiracy. You make a commitment and either stick with it to the very end, or you don’t. It’s easy to get sucked in, and really hard to get sucked back out."

Then you read about Avery's early life, leading up to the making of the film and its release in late 2005. He never knew his father. He was "withdrawn and lonely." He didn't participate in team sports or know how to talk to girls. He was missing a father's positive influence in his life. 

Then he meets Korey Rowe, who teaches him a form of masculinity and acts as a father to him. Rowe serves in the Army, returns angry and disillusioned, and together the two of them make a popular Internet film strongly suggesting that the U.S. government deliberately engineered the events of 9/11. 

Father hunger drives the hatred and distrust of authority rampant in our culture. For some like Mr. Avery, it drives them to conspiracism. When you don't know how to be a man, you find fatherhood to be elusive and mysterious. When your feminist mother, who only saw men abandon and use her over her entire life, informs you that men are worthless and manhood is a joke, you believe her. You strive to prove you are a man who will consciously not be like the other men. This looks to be the experience of Dylan Avery.

Thus, you define your manhood and your quest for meaning by being the Anti-Man, the Anti-Father. All institutions, government agencies and seats of authority in society become suspect to you. You accuse of them of devious plots concocted behind closed doors. You confuse manly authority and protection with brutality and malice. You especially loathe the military and the police. More than anything else, they symbolize the brute jocks who picked on you in high school. 

IV. Conclusion

The reader can see the diverse and complex factors that lead to someone jumping into the conspiracy ditch. For some it's money and reputation that are apparently the motivators, but for most it is simply a delusional, religious-like devotion to a certain narrative of the world, combined with father hunger, resentment of others' strength and success, the desire to be thought special or enlightened, and/or the drive to be thought brave for exposing the Truth and the Hidden Hand of Evil. Obviously there's much more that could be said about all these myriad factors, which is what the posts that will follow this one are for.

It is probably insane to try to understand insanity, but at some level it is necessary. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to live inside their own reality, their own truth, and then project their truth to the world. When large numbers of otherwise intelligent people abandon reason and sense, the survival of the body politic is at risk. 

Let us gaze at the conspiracy ditch. Let us take its dimensions. Let us note its depth and how far from the edge of the road it is. Then, let us take pains to avoid it and warn others away from it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why I Like the Bayly Blog

Among the hammers and chisels God used to convert me to the Reformed faith, one was the Bayly Blog. It's no secret to my friends that I've learned from David and Tim Bayly, recommend their writings a lot and recommend that people go to the Clearnote Conference in Bloomington, which I've attended now 2 years in a row.

These same friends often caution me on what they consider to be the caustic tone of the Brothers Bayly. Why are they so critical of Tim Keller? What's their beef with John MacArthur? Don't they know there are bigger fish to fry in the church today than how much money John MacArthur makes or how Tim Keller mumbles when someone asks him about homosexuality? Doesn't all that harping indicate jealousy and covetousness, or worse, cowardice, since it's easier to fight those on your own team than the people who are really dangerous? This post is an attempt to come up with an answer, and to encourage you to have a look at the Baylys' work if you haven't done so already.

The thing that has endeared me to the Bayly blog, and not just the blog but also to actual people in Bloomington who go to Tim Bayly's church and have sat under his teaching there, is that when the Baylys wield their sword, it pierces right to the heart. Reading them has often been painful for me. They seem to know exactly how to aim their arrows to inflict the maximum damage on my proud, pomo, Presbo heart. There have been many times when I've walked away from the computer angry at what they had written. 

I'll give you an example, one that will probably seem trivial but stay with me. I'm going to be hitting on this soon on this blog anyway. In the past, I was a HUGE fan of Congressman Ron Paul. And then I read this from the Baylys on Ron Paul. To be fair, they warned that if you like Ron Paul and their blog, don't click through. But of course, I clicked through. As you might imagine, I was outraged by what I read.

Understanding my outrage is vital to understanding why the Baylys do what they do and why we need them. Was I outraged because the Baylys were mean spirited? Was I outraged by their tone? Was I outraged by their leaps of logic, or their tarring of Ron Paul's character, as well as the character of his supporters (like me)? No No No

I was outraged because I knew they were right. They had my number. They had Ron Paul's number. The real reason Ron Paul appealed to me was that I was a coward, plain and simple. I liked to make fun of the boys on the proverbial baseball field, and feel morally superior to them for not playing baseball. 

So what am I saying here? The Baylys can be faulted for not always seasoning their criticisms with the appropriate amount of salt. I'm sure neither the Baylys nor their other writers would ever say they always get it right. The basic point I would make to their critics (like my friends) is this: in our postmodern world today, full of emasculated, cowardly men who wilt under any cross word or "micro-aggression," is there a greater danger in criticizing too much, or in softening the blow too much? If we see brothers sinning, out in public, with their teaching and preaching, what are we more tempted to do? Pull back or launch into them?

That single article on Ron Paul yielded all kinds of positive spiritual fruit in my own life. And that was just one article. Probably written on the fly, probably not all that seriously. But it contained enough truth that it was truly convicting for me. I knew I had to change some things.

There was not any other way to get at my cowardice than to expose it flagrantly, without remorse, without nuance, without concern for my feelings. If they had written a respectful article about their respectful differences with Dr. Paul, that wouldn't have dislodged the sin in my heart. The blunt, unsparing blog post broadside did. 

Do we have faith to take criticism today? Do we have the faith to fight like men today? Do we believe that God will use gentle words and harsh words for His good purposes in our sanctification? Do we believe God the Father loves those sons He disciplines? Do we have the faith to hear a harsh word from a pastor or friend, and take to heart what they say, rather than getting mad and running away?

Examine yourselves. Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

See also this article from Toby Sumpter explaining, more artfully, what I'm trying to explain here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fascinating Article About the Gay Rights Movement

This article on the gay rights movement is well written and helpful, from the perspective of a man saved out of sodomy.

His view of biblical authority, as a conservative Roman Catholic, is sadly wanting, and he takes a few jabs at Protestantism and Sola Scriptura. 

I like best his metaphor of the gay rights movement: the gay book store Lobo's in Austin, TX. From the outside, from the sidewalk, it looks like an ordinary book store. You walk in and you see shelves of books about gay pyschology, gay politics, gay art and even gay theology. It seems like an ordinary, dusty bookstore. You walk further in and you see the porn section. You notice that all the customers are in the porn section. 

Eventually, you realize that the porn section is the reason this bookstore exists, and how it makes its money. The whole respectable bookstore front section is a ruse, a facade, to deceive the gullible passers-by that gay people are like everyone else, normal. The gay rights movement, and the gay mirage movement, work best by deception, concealing their true aims and their true nature--which is a completely laissez faire attitude to sex, a complete giving over of society to the most bizarre lusts, and the destruction of bourgeois, normal, Christian and biblical sexual ethics. 

Marriage was never what they were after. Normalcy and monogamy was never the end game. That was a cleverly packaged lie. What they wanted was respectability. What they want, ultimately, is the affirmation and exaltation of their perverse behavior. 

Homosexuals tend to be, overwhelmingly, emotionally disturbed people. On one level, the inability to form relationships with the opposite sex is a mark of immaturity, a mark of being unable to relate to others in a healthy way. They try to fill the void with temporary sexual excitement that ultimately leads to more abandonment, self loathing and depression. They seek fulfillment from their own sex that they did not receive as children from their same-sex parent. Loneliness, despair, a desperate craving for attention and a strong need for affirmation and approval characterize their lives.

It's no accident that many homosexuals are artists. It's no accident that they are often some of the best artists. Creative types create because they seek to glorify reality and be glorified by others for it. They are sensitive to criticism. They crave affirmation, adulation, critical praise, awards and fanfare. The more desperate the artist is for this affirmation, the harder he will work to satisfy his inner need. Hence the inner struggle of many homosexual artists leads them to not only to be artists, but to create, in many cases, exceptionally good art.

Given the pyschological makeup and the perverse sexual activity and partying that are used to "fill the void," it's no wonder many homosexuals are driven to suicide as they spiral further into their sin. They bear in themselves the due penalty of their error, as Saint Paul put it. It was clever of the gay rights movement to blame Christians for gay suicides, for the gullible public wanted to believe it. The unregenerate mind, in its blind, irrational rage and hatred against God, will seek to blame Him and His people for all and sundry evils under the Sun.

Read this article and learn the truth. Read your Bible and learn the truth. Know that real love and respect for sodomites is in correcting and rebuking their sin, and seeking their deliverance from it. Those who put rainbow flags on their FB profiles show themselves to be fools and co-conspirators in the destruction of their gay friends.

The normalization of sodomy and the legalization of sodomite mirage will have devastating cultural consequences, not least on the sodomites themselves. Terrible destruction of souls will result. Since I believe that Love will ultimately Win, I must believe that the reign of sodomy in the West will come to an end. Let's pray and work for that day.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Effectual Call Must Be Effectual

I've tagged this post "Carmack is a bonehead." It's a short-hand for me taking things back, correcting myself, and/or repenting of a previous statement or position. In time, I expect the number of posts with this tag to grow as numerous as the sands of the seashore, but I hope God uses them for His good purposes.

A few years ago, I posted some remarks about an article Doug Wilson had written on regeneration. I took a decidedly Lutheran "sacramentalist" position over and against Doug's.  I have since come to believe (and have believed for some time) that Doug is right and his critics (including the deluded me of a two or three years ago) are wrong.

As a committed Reformed man, I believe what the Scriptures and our confessions teach on the efficacy and importance of the sacraments. I would not call sacraments empty signs or pointless rituals for sport, although I acknowledge that in Scripture they are often described this way to make a point and to convict complacent souls. Our sacramental language should be as broad as the Bible's, which means we need to be flexible enough to apply our doctrine of the sacraments to particular people with particular problems.

The "regeneration" problem is as follows. If Christ died to secure the salvation of His elect, as all Reformed people believe and confess, and if Christ offers real, objective grace in the sacraments, as all Reformed people who know their confessions should believe and confess, then if we define regeneration as the people who've gotten wet and receive the Supper, this means that Christ has both secured salvation and not secured salvation for the  same class of people. The difference between the groups is their "wrestling" with the Holy Spirit, put another way, their ongoing sanctification.

Emphasizing the "wrestling" of the Holy Spirit with the Baptized ultimately begs the question. How does the Holy Spirit know who to wrestle with longer? Is there some quality that differentiates the man who perseveres with the man who doesn't? If we posit that there is no qualitative difference between the two, then at best we have affirmed a kind of Arminianism, wherein my final salvation and perseverance is maintained by my wrestling. God voted for me, the Devil voted against me, and I cast the deciding vote. At worst, we have affirmed a kind of semi-Pelagianism.

As long as the semi-Pelagianism is kept at bay, the difference in views here between various teachers in the "Federal Vision" camp are not matters of heresy, anymore than the differences between Calvinists and Lutherans (since the anti-heart change, pro-wrestling sort of teaching is basically Lutheran) are matters of heresy. As a matter of integrity, since Reformed churches are confessional, it seems to me that those who want to redefine regeneration to mean something other than the "effectual call" regeneration spoken of in the Westminster Standards should take an exception to the confession on this point and hash things out from there. It's possible the confession could be mistaken, but the confession does say what it says. 

I still haven't addressed the logical problem of all of this. If Jesus died on the Cross to secure the salvation of His elect, and the number of these people cannot be diminished or added to by any effort of the Elect themselves, then it is a flat contradiction to assert that regeneration, and all the benefits of Christ, are given to all the baptized, because we all know that some of the baptized won't end up in Heaven. It follows from this contradiction that there must be some qualitative difference between those who are really really Christ's Elect, in the going-to-heaven-no-doubt-about-it way, and those who, by virtue of an infinite number of circumstances, find their way into God's covenant people, taste of the heavenly gift, receive real objective grace and favor, believe for a time, but ultimately fall away.

This qualitative difference is called regeneration, and it is a work of the Spirit, hidden from our sight, that produces new people. 

Some of the men in the Federal Vision movement/conversation oppose talking about regeneration this way. I think they face problems concerning confessional integrity, and problems concerning their Calvinism. They aren't heretics, but they may not be Calvinists in the way Calvinists have usually been designated in the American church world. They are Calvinists broadly, in an Anglican sort of way, but maybe not in the narrower Dordt sort of way.

Those Presbyterians opposing the Federal Vision face problems of their own, however. If any and all talk of objective covenant membership with certain graces and benefits attached to it (that don't necessarily result in eternal salvation) is strictly verboten, then what's up with all the infant baptism then? Why have church courts? What about church discipline and the authority of the local session? If God uses means and history to convert His people, the disobedient covenant member may need the action of the Session to become part of Christ's Elect, even though he is "elect" to covenant membership. But if he is not elect in any sense, then the Session has no binding authority on him. No practical need for church courts then exists at all. 

Back to baptism. The New Testament frequently speaks of baptism in glowing terms. It is often connected to covenant membership, faith and repentance, new life and salvation. If we apply this sign to infants, why are we doing this? If we have no category for an objective, visible covenant that includes non-regenerate people who are nonetheless called to submit to Jesus through His Church, then infant baptism becomes an incredibly presumptuous and dangerous act. A more or less credobaptist approach to the sacraments and the covenants appears to be in order, so where's Steve Wellum's number?

Both ends of the discussion have their problems. A semi-Lutheran Federal Visionist who doesn't want to hear about effectual call regeneration is on the edge of dropping his Presbyterianism and a semi-Baptist anti-FV guy is also on the edge of dropping his Presbyterianism. In both cases, the destination being aimed for, Lutheranism/Anglicanism in the first case and the Southern Baptist Convention in the second case, are not heretical destinations. There have been many good orthodox Lutherans and Baptists, glory to God. 

The reason I was attracted to the FV in the first place is that I was becoming Reformed. I want to stay Reformed. The FV is useful to me if it keeps me Reformed and helps me appreciate the rich heritage of that branch of Christ's Church. I want to stay in Geneva, thank you very much, and I don't want to go anywhere else.

Nonetheless, this problem of regeneration, the evangelical doctrine of the New Birth, the necessity of Heart Religion vs. Going Through the Motions Religion, or Circumcised Hearts vs. Circumsised Foreskins--whatever you choose to call it--is a big problem, a breach in the wall. If we abandon the New Birth, I think we are abandoning an important part of what makes the Reformed Faith vigorous and distinctive, as opposed to the Anglican and Lutheran branches of the Church. The consequences of doing so will not be immediately obvious to us, but they will be obvious a few generations down the line, assuming the children accept and continue their fathers' doctrine.

As a Presbyterian, there are many doctrinal questions where I and the evangelical movement in the U.S. part ways, but the necessity of the New Birth should not be one of those. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The End of Civil Government?

About ten years ago, when Terri Schiavo was being starved to death at the insistence of her adulterous husband against the wishes of her family, I remember my friend Robert Heid saying to me, "If they let this woman die, that is the end of civil government in the United States."

For those who remember the story, Terri eventually did starve to death several days after her feeding tube was removed. All the King's horses and all the King's men could not give Terri justice. Rogue judges made their decision, and President George W. Bush, the Republican Congress, the Republican Florida legislature and Florida Governor Jeb Bush all accepted it in the name of "state's rights" and the "rule of law."

I thought of Robert's words about the Terri Schiavo case in connection to the Supreme Court's same-sex mirage decree. The highest court in the land has declared an absurdity to be a legal fact. Two men can be "married." It's the ultimate "legal fiction." I eagerly await their confident declaration that Pi is 3.0 in the name of "numbers equality" and that triangles can have four sides in the name of "geometric equality."

Once again, the same Republicans urge us to accept the Supreme Court's inane pronouncements as the "rule of law." If you're a county clerk who refuses to license absurdity, you will be punished. 

Once again, are we at the "end of civil government" in these United States? Someone who thinks we are has my sympathy, but I don't think we're quite there yet. 

The outrage I feel over the Obergefell decision is tempered somewhat when I remember what happened to Terri Schiavo, and what happened with Roe vs. Wade just over 40 years ago. The Supreme Court made child murder the law of the land, and no one blinked at that. We Christians have continued to go about our political organizing in a land where the murder of small children is perfectly legal. We have done this by learning from our forefathers: patient reformation is the way to go, not violent revolution and rebellion.

In spite of my anger, I think we should continue to involve ourselves in the political process to the extent we can. At the very least, it will buy us some time. Republicans appear to be open to discussion on the matter of religious liberty. No such discussion is possible with liberal Democrats, who have repeatedly shown themselves to be neither liberal nor democratic. 

There is little doubt that the Supreme Court's decree of gay mirage everywhere will be nearly impossible to reverse, as Roe has proven to be. For years, Christians conservatives have stood by the Republican Party because we believed they would work for our two big issues: abortion and marriage. Concerning abortion, meaningful progress is happening in some state legislatures, thanks to Republicans. Young people are coming around. The marriage battle looks to be lost, at least for a generation or two.

Civil disobedience, while honorable and called for, won't stem the tide permanently. A few county clerks can be shuffled off stage easily. President Obama literally has all the guns. 

Because of the reverence lawyers and judges have for "precedent," it is highly unlikely that I will ever see the gay mirage ruling overturned in my lifetime. It may take the collapse of the federal government in its current form before any kind of reversal of gay mirage will take place.

When it comes to the "social issue" of marriage, the argument is over. No further discussion or debate will be had. If you dissent from the joke called "gay marriage" you are now a hater equal to George Wallace. 

While I would still advise conservative Christians to keep aligning ourselves generally with conservative and Republican politicians, I would also advise caution here. When the day comes that our Republican friends show their true colors, and tell us that the "social issues" no longer matter, that their real god all along has been Mammon, and we've got to make the world safe for Crony Capitalism, human life and real marriage be damned, that will be the day we withdraw our support from them. We aren't there yet, but we're getting there. Give it about ten minutes.

We should keep in mind that apart from the so-called "social issues," nothing else matters. Everything is a matter of culture because a people's cultus is at the center of everything they do. Marginal tax rates or Medicare reform do not matter if the culture is crooked. If human life is trash and I can self-identify as a land-dwelling gender non-conforming manatee, then nothing else really matters. That's why the people who tell us the "social issues" don't matter themselves don't matter. They're just run-of-the-mill greedy bastards.

So let them keep their dirty, rapidly inflating greenbacks, their sodomy and their millions of dead babies. We Christians will hold fast to the faithful Word, and we'll be around to clean it all up when they go the way of all flesh. Let the countdown to the Second Christendom begin...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Oil Price Nosedive: A Case for Tariffs?

In recent days, the price of oil has been plummeting. The stock market has taken a dive, and workers in the once propserous oil fields of North Dakota are now being laid off. The cost of extracting new oil from shale and from fracking is too high to permit oil below $50 a barrel. Some say OPEC is trying to get an edge in the market and crowd out the up-and-comers in the U.S.

With American drivers now excitedly re-entering an era of low low fuel prices, many suggest that this will benefit our economy, yet it seems clear to me that the benefit is solely for consumers, while the many good paying jobs done by many hard working Americans generated by the oil boom are beginning to disappear. 

This sudden change in prices doesn't feel like a free market invisible hand move, it feels more like a power play by the very visible hand of the Middle East oil cartel, who wants the innovations and hard work done by American companies to be stifled so that their dominance can reassert itself. In other words, a price war has been declared against us by unfriendly foreign powers.

Americans disagree on many things, but we all seem to agree that being dependent on foreign oil from the Middle East is a thing we want to avoid. This price war has been declared to tip our free market "free trade" decisions back over to Middle East oil. 

Everything in politics, it is said, happens for a reason. The price war is taking Russia's economy down as well. As global demand has surged and prices increased, Russia too has developed an oil and natural gas industry of her own, but she too cannot sustain a profitable oil industry at such low prices. It is no accident that this is happening. The powers that be in powerful capitals want Russia punished for her indiscretions...it would not surprise me at all to learn that OPEC's actions were actively encouraged behind the scenes by Western operatives.

Oil is essential to a growing economy. In a time of energy scarcity, Americans and Canadians rolled up their sleeves and went to work, opening up new resources and adding value to a sluggish economy. I don't think it too extreme to say that we owe them our gratitude and part of that gratitude should include shielding them from this blatant attempt to put them out of business and keep America dependent on foreign energy sources.

That means a tariff. Show OPEC who's boss by imposing a floating tariff that will make their oil equal to North Dakota's in price. Stabilize the industry, look out for the producers, protect their jobs and keep prices stable. Keep the energy boom going. Look out for America's economic interests.

Instead of proposing this sort of tax, Larry Summers proposes instead that falling energy prices give us the perfect opportunity to stabilize those falling prices with a carbon tax on fossil fuel consumption, taxing the American people for merely using fuel, not OPEC for the privilege of doing business in American markets. Taxes for the benefit of ill-defined, unproven environmental concerns and goals is mainstream and good; taxes for the benefit of American companies and American jobs are not. That's "Protectionism" and no good. Better to be "addicted" (as George W. Bush once said) to foreign oil.

I think the case is clear. President Obama and John Boehner should give Pat Buchanan a call and get this ball rolling. The Republicans could galvanize their support for further domestic oil production in states like North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania--heck, they might even be able to improve their chances of winning a few more states in the presidential election of 2016. But they won't do it. Because the Market must be allowed to be free, but never free enough to actually benefit American workers, nor the companies who risk all to do business here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Immigration Question: A Modest Biblical and Conservative Inquiry

This is long. If you don't want to read it all, take a look at the synopsis at the end. Thanks.

We have all been hearing about immigration lately. The sudden arrival of youths from Central and South America has brought the issue to the forefront. Conservative radio personalities have been pushing against "amnesty" and for "border security" with great fervor.

The Boundaries of the Debate

The debate over immigration is often framed as a debate between those who "believe in borders" and those who don't. It is often framed as a debate between those who believe in "enforcing our laws" and those who don't. Some say it is a debate between a welcoming America and a closed America, or between a kinder America and an angrier, meaner sort of America.

I want to propose that the "borders" of the immigration debate are not what was suggested in the previous paragraph, nor is the debate between "liberals" and "conservatives." Immigration is an intra-conservative debate. Conservatives are the ones who need to decide what they want to do on immigration reform.

I say this because the political interest of liberals is clearly in favor of keeping the status quo. Moderates/independents can be won either way, depending on what conservatives decide to do on immigration.

One wing of the conservative movement I will label the Populist Wing. This wing is well represented on talk radio. These conservatives tend to be men and women of modest means who rarely give a lot of money to political campaigns but are often engaged as activists. They may homeschool their children, protest outside abortion clinics, call in to radio shows or show up at Tea Party rallies. The Populist Wing tends to take a hard line on immigration. "Enforce the border," they say. They are instinctively against any kind of "amnesty" and detest RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who try to work for "comprehensive immigration reform."

The other wing is smaller in terms of numbers of people, but more than makes up for it by their wealth. This is the Chamber of Commerce Wing. The Chamber men give a lot of money to political campaigns and often serve or advise at high levels in the Republican Party. They influence which candidates rise or fall, which are acceptable and which are not. In general, CoCs don't favor "sealing the border" because it would jeopardize their business interests. Mass immigration, both legal and illegal, drives down labor costs and increases profit margins. 

Since the Republican Party emerged from the Whigs in 1854, there has always been a form of those two wings, but the Chamber wing, the Money wing if you will, has always had the upper hand. At times, the relationship between the Populists and the Money men has gotten strained, but they've managed to get along.

The power dynamics of the relationship allow the Populists to force the hand of Daddy Warbucks if there is a real electoral threat. Daddy Warbucks would rather keep his influence than lose his influence for the sake of business. He can negotiate. 

The Chamber wing knows that without the Populist wing, there isn't much of a Republican Party left. The Populist wing knows that without money from the Chamber wing, they have no shot at getting their message through.

Neither side is "good" or "bad." They exist. There is quite a bit of overlap between them. Many Populists admire Chamber types for their business success. Many Chamber types use their money to fund Populist causes. 

The Political Reality

There are fundamental differences in outlook and sociology between the two groups that are often difficult for die-hards in either camp to recognize. The path to conservative political success is to find a way to harmonize these two groups and get them to work together. Ronald Reagan was a wealthy man, but he had blue collar roots. Richard Nixon wasn't known so much as a man of wealth, but his moderate positions appealed to the Chamber of Commerce, and he knew how to court Populist support as well. Mitt Romney is a good example of a solid Chamber of Commerce man who was not very good at reaching out to the Populist wing, or even blue collar folk in general, to his peril.

I bring up these two groups because it appears to me that the immigration hard-liners on talk radio are largely unaware that this division exists and always has existed in the Republican Party. Since they are unaware, they generally assume that the "conservative" position on immigration is theirs and theirs alone. The blunt reality is that neither side of this divide within conservatism is going to get everything that they want, but if they are willing to negotiate with one another, there's probably a path to a politically coherent "conservative" solution to the immigration issue.

More importantly, not only is there a division of mere opinion between the Populist and Chamber wings, but both wings are working against each other. The illegal immigrants coming across the border are being employed by Chamber of Commerce men. If the jobs weren't being offered, the immigrants would not come. In a sense, the entire problem of illegal immigration and "breaking our laws" is the fault of Chamber of Commerce conservatives, not multicultural liberals who have no idea how to run businesses.

The irony here is that the anti-immigration, talk radio, Populist conservatives don't seem to be aware of any of this. If they were, I think we would see more fracture within the conservative Republican coalition than we've seen thus far. Perhaps being aware that conservatives don't agree with each other on immigration in deep and fundamental ways is a job that conservative Americans won't do (if you'll pardon the humor).

What do we do to solve or remedy this impasse? Do we kick the Chamber of Commerce types out and start a True Blue Conservative party? Should we be the Tea Partiers of the True Flame? Maybe we should cast protest votes for libertarians, and really rub in the irony?

Liberals are more or less united in their desire for more immigration. Conservatives are divided. Those who are against immigration are in the minority. If they want to advance their agenda, they will have to compromise. I don't see most Americans or most of Congress adopting a Minuteman stance on immigration. I think this will remain the political reality whether we like it or not.

Searching the Scriptures: Does God ordain borders? 

Populists are correct that doing away with borders entirely, and allowing any and all to come en masse is a bad idea. America is a distinct nation with a distinct culture that should be preserved and passed on because it is worth conserving. I believe that because I am a conservative, and I want to conserve the best of America. 

Borders are not simply useless "fictions" that hamper our global development into an international schmoozefest. Borders are legal fictions. They exist "on paper" just like the Constitution exists "on paper." Borders represent important covenantal obligations and distinctions. 

Borders between countries establish on the macro level the principle of private property. "Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary landmark." (Deut. 27:17). God created a world blessed with distinctions. This, not that. Your land, my land. Your culture, my culture. My family, your family. God detests adultery in part because it involves a man stealing another's man family, invading the sacred covenantal space, as it were.

Deuteronomy 32:7-8 reads:

Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel.

At the Tower of Babel, men desired to create an international schmoozefest of sorts, and God confused their languages, sending them all abroad (Gen. 11:1-9), indicating his desire that men separate to form distinct cultures and ethnic groups.

Saint Paul repeats this teaching on the God-ordained distinctions of nation and culture in his speech before the Athenians: 

He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope from Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us.

Any discussion of immigration should proceed from the presupposition that the Word of God is authoritative and true, and serves as the Standard by which we make our decisions. I wish to make it plain that with Scripture as my Standard, I believe in borders.

Having said that I believe in borders, and that God's Word requires that nations have those legal fictions, what should be the nature of those borders? 

This would be a good time to bring in an analogy. I believe, with St. Paul and Romans 13, that civil government is necessary and ordained by God. Likewise, I believe in the necessity of taxation to support said government. Having said this, the next question would be what nature of taxation and government is best? 

Good Bible Christians should acknowledge that believing in the Godly institution of a thing is not a blank check to push the limits of said thing to the ends of Earth. The difference between a man who believes taxes should consume 98% of our income and the man who would prefer they only consume 10% is not the difference between a Bible believing citizen and an anarchist.

Likewise, the difference between a man who favors limited and appropriate immigration and a man who supports a moratorium on all immigration is not the difference between an Open Borders man and a Rule of Law man. The difference is on the application of a principle both men hold in common.

What is a Nation?

Having established that there is room for Christians to disagree on this issue of borders and immigration, I think it's useful to ponder what Scripture means when it uses the term "nation." A clue is given in St. John's Gospel in the final chapter. Jesus tells Peter and the disciples to catch some fish and they caught exactly 153, "and although there were so many, the net was not torn." (John 21:11). 

Why would the Holy Spirit record for us the exact number of the fish? In the ancient world, it was commonly believed that there were 153 distinct ethnic groups. This story, included at the end of a Gospel which is full of typology, allusions and symbolic language, could be thought of as a sort of "Great Commission" ending. The other three Gospels conclude with a Great Commission, though each account is different in subtle ways. Immediately after this story Jesus asks Peter to feed his sheep, reinstates him as an apostle and commands Peter to follow Him, even unto death.

Biblically speaking, a "nation" is more or less what would we would now call an "ethnic group." It is a group of people who are genetically similar, who have lived in a particular part of the world, who share a common language, etc. 

Today, we tend to blend "nation" with "nation-state." The nations are the people who happen to live under a particular jurisdiction. Those who live in China are Chinese. Those who are under the Mexican nation-state are Mexicans. Those who live under the American nation-state are Americans. The individual ethnic makeup or heritage of the person in question doesn't matter very much to us, only to whom he pays taxes.

"Nations" in the biblical sense continue to exist, and often exist across and within nation-states. Kurds are their own nation (biblical sense) but live in two different nations (modern sense), Iraq and Turkey. Yugoslavia used to be a nation (modern sense) but has split up into many nations (biblical sense). 

Within "nations" (biblical sense) regional differences and loyalties often exist. This is certainly true of border regions. 

I live in a border region between Indiana and Kentucky. It can be hard to tell, as you get to the edges of something, whether you are in one thing or in another. The culture of the people usually doesn't conform to the neat legal fictions of borders. Culture crescendos in and out gradually. 

Consider the Kentucky/Indiana border region. There are people in Indiana who work or have family and friends in Kentucky. The same is true of many Kentuckians. Many people in Indiana root for sports teams from Kentucky, and likewise with Kentuckians. Many people from Southern Indiana have southern accents like Kentuckians do, and even fly Confederate flags (even though Indiana was never part of the Confederacy). Northern Kentuckians often show many Midwestern tendencies that would surprise people looking for a "Southern" culture. The landscape and geography of Southern Indiana is very similar to that of Kentucky.

Of course the further you get from the border, the more Indiana becomes Indiana and Kentucky becomes Kentucky. When distance between people grows, cultures become more independent from one another and they diverge. 

The same is true of border regions between nation-states. Someone who parachuted into Eagle Pass, Texas would wonder if he was in Mexico or the United States. Someone who parachuted into a small village in extreme northern Maine would wonder if he was in Canada or the United States. 

In the biblical sense, however, the cultures of these areas are understandable. God has set the habitations of the nations. Particular groups have lived in the Southwestern United States/Northern Mexico region for many centuries. 

Many people who live in the United States in places like Eagle Pass, TX, have friends or family on the other side in Mexico. It is conceivable that some folks from Mexico work on the other side in Texas. Due to the vast stretches of dry ranchland, it is also conceivable that "working in the United States" would mean "working in a place deep inside the United States," so deep it might mean temporarily relocating to the United States several months a year to pick tomatoes, for example.

The local realities of employment and relationships that go across borders should give us pause whenever we hear that the proper "solution" to the "border crisis" is to "seal the border." If the border were sealed, we would upset many local relationships that presently exist (as they always do) in the border regions. It would be a case of the universal intruding upon the local and particular. It would be a classic case of federal overreach, of trying to plan everybody's life from Washington, DC.

If we look at the Southwest United States with a biblical conception of what a "nation" is, a few historical facts become significant: 

1) The original inhabitants of the land were the various Indian tribes. In the case of Pueblos (or Anasazi) these Indians were often quite sophisticated in their construction techniques, building permanent dwellings in desert canyons and making a living there

2) In the 16th century, armies from the Spanish nation arrived and took over the area, claiming it as part of the Spanish nation-state even though the people there were not ethnic Spaniards and didn't speak Spanish.

3) Over time, the Indians and the Spanish speakers mixed, creating their own culture. In the 19th century, the Mexican nation-state was formed when the various ethnic groups across the Southwest and into Central America rebelled against the Spanish nation-state and declared independence. 

4) American immigrants began arriving in large numbers in the largely uninhabited area known as Texas. The habitation of this area became majority American, and they rebelled against the Mexican nation-state and established a new nation, Texas.

5) In 1845, Texas joined the American nation-state. In 1846, a border dispute between Texas and Mexico led to the Mexican War, in which the American nation-state defeated the Mexican nation-state and took possession of the Southwest, a huge increase in territory, in 1848.

6) Besides Texas, ethnically much of the Southwest was largely still Indian or Mexican. The biblical sense of nation and habitation was overridden by the modern sense of nation as the governmental body which holds military control over a certain geographic region, regardless of the ethnic makeup of that region.

7) Over time, after the war, Americans began to settle the Southwest. The 1849 Gold Rush led to a population boom in California. Other states took much longer to come into the Union. New Mexico and Arizona did not become states until 1912.

8) The ethnic makeup of the Southwest has changed over time, but remnants of the Spanish, Indian and Mexican cultures have remained. Cities and geographic features retain their Spanish and Indian names. Ethnic Indians and Mexicans still live there. Several of them, no doubt, have family and friends across the border.

Immigration is Economic

Immigration is explosive because it is an economic issue, primarily, and secondarily an issue of clashing cultures. People fear that more immigrants means fewer jobs or lower wages. This is not a completely unfounded fear.

Since the Great Recession, immigration from Mexico has considerably waned. Many of the immigrants worked in the construction industry. When the housing bubble burst, the jobs dried up and the workers went home. See this informative article on the status of immigration vis a vis Mexico. Net immigration in the years after the recession was roughly zero or even negative.

Note that if immigration was roughly zero, then considerable numbers of Hispanic immigrants chose to leave the country when they could no longer work. They did not stay to collect welfare benefits, for instance. Perhaps that means that the reason for their coming was to work and better themselves?

During the years when Latino immigration was high, the economy was doing much better than it is today, aside from a mild recession that occurred from about 2001 to about 2003. Unemployment was often 6% or 5% among the legal, working population. That means that 94% of legal Americans already had jobs. The jobs that the Latino immigrants came to do were jobs that a prosperous economy created out of its abundance. 

When an economy is booming, the demand for labor often exceeds the supply. In times like these, immigration makes sense. The difficulty is that U.S. legal immigration is often complicated and lengthy, and doesn't respond to changing economic conditions very well. It's easier to come across illegally and take your chances than to apply for legal residency. 

When a recession hits, it makes sense for a country to restrict immigration, instead of continuing to allow corporations to import thousands of temporary workers from Asia to fill technical jobs, for instance. In a time of abundance, however, importing workers makes sense.

Immigration policy shouldn't be static because the market is not static, nor are human relationships static. Government policies should seek to harmonize as much as possible with what the market already encourages people to do. That leads to maximum liberty and optimum prosperity.

To accommodate those living in border regions, some kind of guest worker permit should be available, and should be relatively easy to get, so as to discourage illegal immigration. When times are good, legal immigration or temporary visas should be as streamlined and easy to obtain as possible, so as to discourage illegal immigration or over-staying one's visa.

When people settle in a new place and contribute to that community through work, relationships are formed and cultures are formed that benefit many people. Our economy, like it or not, has benefited from the labor of Hispanic illegal immigrants. Many of them have lived here for many years. To deport them or ignore them is simply unjust.

There is a valid economic argument that the presence of cheap illegal labor distorts the labor market against native Americans who have their papers in order. The blame for this ultimately does not rest with the Hispanic immigrants, who came for jobs and opportunity, but with those Chamber of Commerce conservatives who chose to hire them to save a few bucks. Remember: if there were no jobs, the immigrants would not come. When the jobs dry up, many of them go home.

Since the Chamber of Commerce conservatives are to blame, the ideal and efficient way to handle the problem is to level the labor playing field. Make the illegals legal. Give them the same labor protections and liabilities that native Americans have. Suddenly, the economic incentive for hiring an illegal over a native disappears. 

Reforming the immigration system is complicated of course and will require smart policymaking and compromise between all sides. Maybe the illegals should pay a fine (or better yet, their employers should pay a fine). Maybe they should pursue a path to citizenship of some kind that would be gradual, which would include learning English. All of these ideas are good ones and should be on the table. 

Ideally, these issues should be dealt with locally. God set the habitations of the nations (ethnic groups), and those habitations are in local places. Let most of the enforcement and handling of these things happen at the state and local levels.


To summarize my position, countries have a God-given authority to establish and maintain borders. God set the habitations of the nations, but did so with respect to ethnic, geographic, cultural and linguistic markers which are often papered over by modern nation-states. 

The border regions of the United States have and have had a distinctive culture that is partly American and partly Spanish or Mexican. Long standing relationships exist that would be upset by a rigid "seal the border" solution. Upsetting these relationships would also go against the biblical notion of nation-hood, favoring universal concerns over local concerns. 

A booming economy tends to produce excess demand for labor that is best met by increasing immigration in an orderly manner. Some labor is temporary. Other labor is more permanent. Immigration policy should be flexible and open enough to deal with these realities.

Illegal immigrants have contributed much to our country. Many of them have lived here for many years. They enjoy an unfair advantage over some native workers because their illegal status makes them cheaper and less of a hassle to their employers. To eliminate this unfair advantage, while also doing right by the immigrants for their contributions, it is best to pursue some kind of amnesty for those immigrants. Once they are legal, they will have no further advantages over native born Americans in the labor market. They will also begin to pay taxes and begin to assimilate into our society.

Legal immigration should be streamlined in a sensible manner, in order to discourage illegal immigration. When taxes are high and unreasonable, incentives are created to avoid the taxes. When immigration controls are unreasonable, incentives are created to break the law. While taxes are lawful and nations may lawfully control their borders, they must do so reasonably and fairly.


Immigration is obviously emotionally charged and complicated. There are no easy answers. The politics of it is also complicated. Hoping for a total solution that satisfies only Tea Party or Populist conservatives is naive. It isn't going to happen. Compromise will be the order of the day.

Some issues are black and white, and admit little opportunity for compromise. Marriage is one. Abortion is another. Others are more complicated and require sophisticated and nuanced political solutions. I believe immigration is one of those latter issues. We can compromise on immigration and not betray our fundamental principles.

Christians should remember in all of this that God's Providence sets the boundaries and habitations of nations, and that this Providence includes the Great Commission. Different cultures exist so that they may be reached with the Gospel and seek God, bowing before King Jesus, each glorifying God in a distinctive manner as nations. Recognizing the world-wide unity the Church shares across cultures, we are to show kindness and hospitality to the stranger and the sojourner, while also remaining loyal and submissive to our lawful governing authorities. Doing both is complicated and calls for judicial wisdom (I Cor. 6:1-4, Prov. 18:17). 

In wisdom and understanding be men...