Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Fitting, Respectful Tribute to the Departed Christopher Hitchens

In his December 17 eulogy in the pages of the New York Times, guest columnist and blogger Ross Douthat states:
"At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly apolitical romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find."
Read on: The Believer's Atheist

Rest in peace, Mr. Hitchens. Intellectual discourse is now diminished in your absence. And I speak as a believer who sincerely misses all that you added to the discussion.

What Planet Is Paul Krugman From?

I cannot believe, after so much negative evidence has piled up, that there is still a serious Keynesian left in the public square. Yet, here is Paul Krugman, insisting that,
"Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011, politicians and policy makers in much of the Western world believed that they knew better, that we should focus on deficits, not jobs, even though our economies had barely begun to recover from the slump that followed the financial crisis. And by acting on that anti-Keynesian belief, they ended up proving Keynes right all over again."
Keynes Was Right

Read for yourself and judge how deeply Mr. Krugman is addicted to the "blue pill."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Movie Attendance Crashes

Is it symptomatic of mediocre movie-making, or of bad economic times, or... maybe both? Here's an AP story describing this grave Hollywood crisis.

Movie audiences shrink below post-Sept. 11 level

Friday, December 23, 2011

Conscience vs. Justice?

About a week ago I spied a quote from Mohandas K. Gandhi (whom everyone has taken to calling "Mahatma," meaning "great soul," since the time he was still living) that a Facebook friend had posted. It went like this:
"There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts."
This got me thinking. If I were to be at the mercy of "conscience" or "justice," which would I prefer? If it were God's conscience or justice, well, let me just say that I am thankful that my sins are covered by Christ's sacrifice. But Gandhi was a practicing Hindu his entire life, and his view of "justice" and "conscience" do not match mine, nor any view bred in Western religious or philosophical thought.

So, my assumption, based on Gandhi's chosen philosophy of Hinduism, is that when he claims that "conscience" is a higher court than "justice," he is referring to man's conscience and justice. What happens when we as mere humans submit ourselves to conscience over justice?

Conscience, it seems to me, is subjective. It has indeed been shown that in every culture there are moral standards that are dominant and common, such as proscriptions to murder or theft or adultery. These can indeed be manifest in an individual in the form of conscience, which the dictionary defines as "an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior."

What if, however, an individual's, or a society's, conscience is damaged?

The first question to ask is, "can a conscience be damaged?" For one answer I will turn to a work that has been a source for moral, philosophical and theological teaching for Western civilization for the last two millennia, the Bible—specifically, the writings assembled as the New Testament.

In the apostle Paul's first letter to his young protege, Timothy, Paul encourages him thus, "This charge I entrust to youTimothymy childin accordance with the prophecies previously made about youthat by them you may wage the good warfareholding faith and good conscience." (1 Tim. 1:18-19; emphasis mine.)

Similarly, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encourages them thus: "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22; again, emphasis mine.)

Does this mean that there can be "good consciences" and "evil consciences"? And how would an "evil conscience" originate?

Again, Paul to Timothy: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demonsthrough the insincerity of liars whose consciences are searedwho forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." (1 Timothy 4:1-3; emphasis mine.) So, a conscience can be "seared" (some translations add an extra descriptor: "as with a hot iron"). And the letter seems to indicate that a "seared" conscience belongs to "liars" (and some translations describe them as "hypocrites").

Paul's letter to the Roman believers states "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18; emphasis mine.) So "unrighteousness" supresses "truth," and it seems to me leads to a substitution of truth by falsehood or, at the very least, error.

This says one thing pretty plainly to me: if you lie to yourself and others long enough and consistently enough, you sear your conscience.

If you are submitting to the "court of conscience," how can you be sure your are not submitting to a seared (evil) conscience?

There are many who contend there is such a thing as a "collective conscience," but it seems to me that that would be comprised of a bunch of potentially very broken consciences all reaching a consensus on right and wrong. What happens in that case is that a collection of people possessing these broken consciences pass very bad laws, leading to evil consequences, like the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of heretics and witches, and the genocide of Jews, Armenians, Romani, the infirm, homosexuals and those differing ideologically and politically from those in power.

"Justice" is such a more transcendent term than "conscience." It has universal implications. When we think of the ultimate disposition of evil men like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, and butchers on a smaller scale like John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson, the word "justice" is foremost in our minds. It speaks of a higher law wherein truth is laid bare and impartial scales employed to determine the ultimate fate of those we regard as the most heinous of offenders.

Hinduism does not have that concept of ultimate justice, only the very subjective and individually-activated karma. The gods of the Hindus are capricious, moody and changeable. It's no wonder Gandhi considered conscience to be more powerful than justice, since he could have personal experience with his own conscience. His own gods don't play by any sort of ultimate standard.

He should have known better, however. Being educated as a lawyer in the British system he would have been exposed to concepts based on the unchanging nature of God Almighty, including His ultimate justice. Those concepts are what Western jurisprudence has been based on for at least a thousand years, and is the foundation for a most of Western thought and philosophy.

Justice, founded on the unchanging moral character of God, is a far more firm foundation to rest on than the conscience of any one human being. Since conscience can be corrupted, relying on a "court of conscience" can lead to massive perversions of justice. Just ask the Jews who faced the "courts" of Nazi "conscience."

I'm thankful that, through the sacrifice of Christ, that I do not have to face the justice that is my due. But I take comfort that ultimately all humanity will face God's Court, including Hitler and the rest of the vilest of history's monsters.

And His standards will be just.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis The Season…

It's a time of reflection for me.

Things are not all that great on the home front. The current economic situation still has my household on less than a ragged shoestring. Peter and Paul have both been robbed, paid and robbed again.

Christmas? What's that?

I've decided that in order to reacquaint myself with the proper answer to that question I need to silence a few sources of unnecessary noise and focus on my family, my close friends, and God. I don't even have any gigs scheduled (though I do have one rehearsal to go to two days after Christmas).

I've even shut off my Facebook account, with the plan to reopen it on New Years Day.

Writing is therapeutic, so with no Facebook to distract me I may have plenty of time to get some of the articles and entries written that I've been promising to do. I'll have less of the social background buzz to pull my attention away.

Regardless, I must silence it all to reflect how my Savior, who willingly laid down his rightful role as Sovereign God, humbled Himself and became human so that we, who have no recourse to enter the throne room of the Almighty, might become not only admitted into His household, but grafted right into His family.

That humbles me. That's what's important. Not all this other noise.

God will make a way for us in these tough times. He's never let us down. But I still have to pay attention and set priorities to make sure I'm being wise about what He's given us.

Some say 2012 will be the end of everything. If that's so, I know where I'm going. But I'd rather plan that 2012 will be a new beginning of opportunity for me and my wife, and a new chance to enter into new ventures, musically and artistically.

I need to plant seeds right now, let God water them, and see what comes up.

Merry Christmas, one and all! May you receive all the blessings of the season.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Voter's Guide To Republicans

Many who disagree with me will completely miss the sharpness of Bill Whittle's wit. However, facts are facts, and redirection is redirection. Enjoy (or get mad and throw things; it's up to you):

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why We Need Welfare Reform—From An Actual Witness

"Maine has some of the highest rates in the nation for food stamp enrollment, Medicaid, and TANF," writes Christine Rousselle. "Nearly 30% of the state is on some form of welfare. Maine is the only state in the nation to rank in the top two for all three categories. This is peculiar, as Maine’s poverty rate isn’t even close to being the highest in the nation."

My Time At Walmart: Why We Need Welfare Reform

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Villains? Or Heroes?

I had a feeling that there was more to the "Pepper Spray Cop" than was being revealed. Here is what actually happened...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's Time To Make It Public

Why am I doing this? Why blog now?

Blogging as a cultural artifact has been around for over a decade now, and relevant to popular culture for at least the last seven years. Why should I choose to engage in the practice at this time when it seems like everybody's aunt's canine has a blog and updates it with the most mundane items, from grocery lists to what they thought of the latest episode of Jersey Shore?

Simple. I want to keep my friends.

I am a man who has opinions. I am also a man with a Facebook page. Opinions can be very detrimental when one wants to keep casual friends—and casual friends are the essence of Facebook, even though my close and treasured friends are there, too.

From time to time my opinions have gotten me de-friended. (And frankly, some of those who did so did me a favor, and I'm grateful.) I would prefer to keep contact with as many friends as I can get, because I am a musician and artist, and the largest network I can build, the more people will come support me in my efforts. Therefore, I am making the conscious effort to be as neutral and friendly as possible to as large a range of people's beliefs and opinions as possible.

From this point on, most of my opinions, observations, links to topical material, and rants will be here, not on Facebook.

Many of you who have had discussions with me on Facebook are reading this very missive right now (for which I thank you!), and I want to request just a couple of things regarding this new means of expression. First, I ask that you not comment on any of the links to this blog I post on my Facebook page. If you must say something or engage in any way, please use the "comment" function here as liberally as you would like. I will answer as I am able. Sometimes I will not answer, allowing my post to speak my final word on the topic. Many of you will dialog with each other—that's great! It's what the "comments" area is for.

Any comments left on a Facebook link to this blog that directly comment on the subject of the post will be deleted. If you leave a "Thanks!" or a "Reading it now" comment, those are fine and I appreciate knowing that you are taking the time to read my posts. If you post a "you're full of it" or even "Troy, you are right on!" post on my Facebook link to this blog, it will be deleted. Use the comments on the blog itself for that.

Second, I ask that you exercise the art of civility and decorum. Please refrain from name-calling and ad-hominem attacks. We should all be above that kind of rhetoric and behavior. If you do it, I will call you on it and explain to you why what you said fits that criteria.

Third, in an effort to keep this discussion as civilized as possible, please watch your language. If you use profanity in your comments, they will be deleted. I have always held that the repeated use of profanity in everyday language is a sign of a small vocabulary and a lack of verbal imagination and skill. You all should be beyond that if you have any desire to be truly civilized.

I thank all of you readers for your time, indulgence and patience. I will attempt to post at least once per week, and more often if something comes up I feel the need to comment upon.

I seriously look forward to both expressing myself, engaging with you, and most of all, learning from you as I post to this, the Reason, Faith, Politics & Art Blog.