The Hope for the Christian in the Life to Come

From Pope Benedict XVI:

“The first attitude [for Christians],” he said, “is the certainty that Jesus has risen, is with the Father, and because of that, is with us forever. […] Because of this, we are secure and free of fear. This was an essential effect of Christian preaching. Fear of spirits and gods was spread throughout the entire ancient world. And today as well, missionaries find — together with so many good elements in natural religions — the fear of spirits and the ill-fated powers that threaten us. Christ is alive; he has overcome death and has overcome all these powers. With this certainty, with this freedom, with this joy, we live. This is the first element of our living directed to the future.”

The second attitude for faith-filled Christians is the certainty that Christ “is with me,” the Pontiff continued.

“And that in Christ the future world has already begun — this also gives the certainty of hope,” he said. “The future is not a darkness in which no one gets one’s bearings. It is not like that. Without Christ, also for the world today, the future is dark; there is fear of the future — a lot of fear of the future. The Christian knows that the light of Christ is stronger and because of this, lives in a hope that is not vague, in a hope that gives certainty and courage to face the future.”

One Step Closer to British Leyland, American Style

Evidently someone out there is reading my musings on this subject, as evidenced by this:

A key House Democrat is writing legislation that would send $25 billion in emergency loans to the beleaguered auto industry in exchange for a government ownership stake in the Big Three car companies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are pressing for quick passage of an auto bailout during a postelection session of Congress that begins Tuesday.

But the order is wrong: first you combine them, then nationalise them, finally watch them go down the tube…

The key–but unstated issue–here is the position of the UAW, the trade union. Chapter 11 is a sensible solution to this problem, and an option that they don’t have on the other side of the pond.  There, bankruptcy is a direct road to liquidation, like Chapter 7 is here.

However, if one or more of the Big Three went the 11 route, their first move would be to unload some of the long-term obligations that they have to the trade union and its workers, past and present.  The UAW can’t stand the thought of having to fight that.  For them, Chapter 11 is a no-win situation.  If they lose the benefits, they lose standing with the workers.  If they hang tough, the companies go to Chapter 7 and it’s their fault.  So they’re using their clout with Congressional Democrats to dodge the bullet.

The problem we have today is that too few people understand trade unions.  But you won’t find that problem here at Positive Infinity.

The Link Between Roadside Crosses and Safety

The secularists will absolutely, positively, hate this, but…

A road-safety expert at the University of Calgary has released a study on how roadside memorials – the clusters of flowers, crosses, and photos that mark sudden tragic death in accidents – affect traffic.

Richard Tay set up fake memorials at four intersections with red-light cameras in Calgary, then monitored how the memorials affected traffic.

Prof. Tay, who holds the Alberta Motor Association Chair in Road Safety at the Schulich School of Engineering, found that about 17 per cent fewer drivers ran red lights at the target intersections over the six weeks of the test than in the previous six weeks.

“In terms of safety, these things have a positive benefit,” he said in an interview yesterday. “They give us a safety message to drive more cautiously.”

One of the big problems that churches face is the decreased sense that people have in their own mortality.  The church has tried to deal with this issue by emphasising the temporal benefits of faith and other devices, but people will behave differently if a) they really know they’re not going to be here forever and b) that knowledge is buttressed by the knowledge of the relationship between what goes on here and what happens on the other side.

Obviously the study only deals with (a), but that’s an improvement over the usual oblivion people have to the fact that earthly life is finite.

A Mutt Like Me, Let’s Bring Back British Leyland, and Obama’s Top/Bottom Coalition

At Barack Obama’s first “presidential” press conference, he said the following:

We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic.  On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.

Some have taken offence.  But consider this: in The Ten Weeks, the high school sophomore Terry Marlowe laments the impact of her own Sino-Italian heritage (and other things) to her father Dick:

“…And (at university) I’ll still be ‘the giraffe,’ ‘slanty-eyes,’ and ‘the Virgin Terry.’ Don’t you think that hurts? Don’t you care?”

“I do care,” Dick said. “And it does hurt. I’ve had to deal with prejudice ever since I’ve lived here. I had to work hard to overcome it. It’s not easy, we both know that…You’ve got a great life ahead of you, but you’ve got to go through some tough times first. Everybody does. Look at me,” he stopped. She looked up at him almost blankly. “You’re the product of two great civilisations. It’s written on your face. You’ve got what it takes for success, whatever path you choose to get there.”

I wonder: did anyone ever tell Barack Obama that?  Certainly not his father; he spent his life (and one book) dreaming about him.  Chances are, he mother didn’t either.  Obviously he got past that, but what will be the result?  Barack Obama, for all of the adulation, remains an enigma, and the results of his tumultuous background have both fuelled his rise to the top and will direct the way he deals with the success.  And we will unltimately be either the beneficiaries or the victims of that.

Anglophone societies–particularly ours–don’t deal with mixed-race people very gracefully, unless everybody’s forgotten how the racial mixture took place to start with.  As I’ve said before, the ability of people to procreate cross-racially is a sign of the fact that we are one human family, which in turn is IMHO a sign of divine intent.  We need to look at it in this way.

Since many of us have discovered Obama’s socialist appeal, let’s start things off right by proposing that he test drive such an idea on an industry that is in desperate straits:  the auto industry.  He could start by replicating the British solution to the problem: consolidating the American auto companies into one conglomerate, like the UK did with British Leyland back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

British Leyland was put together in 1968 by putting Britain’s two largest auto conglomerates together, an act encouraged by the government and that left-wing stalwart, Tony Benn.  This put marques such as Austin, Morris, MG, Jaguar, Rover and Wolseley into one company, resulting in what one rag referred to as a “rickety chandelier.”  The light fixture was partially nationalised in 1975, but ultimately was dismembered as one division after another (especially Austin and Morris) fell to either foreign or domestic competition.

Car enthusiasts of the era will remember BL cars of the era frequently finding themselves “on the side of the road, bonnets up.”  That led me to compare the Episcopal Church to the old British car: when it runs, it’s great, but when you need it the most, it breaks down.  So, for that matter, did British Leyland.

This rather “tongue in cheek” exhortation would be funny except that a) there are probably people in the Obama transition team considering it and b) the American auto industry is probably headed for the same fate as its British counterpart.  In addition to producing cars that people either don’t want and/or can’t afford, the trade unions–the scourge of both UK and US car industries–have saddled their companies with long-term obligations to pensioned employees they can’t afford.  It’s true that it’s the result of an era when it was easier to give into the trade unions rather than fight them, but an administration that is (on paper at least) committed to “card check” is in no position to gracefully reverse these obligations.  The inevitable result is that we are about to enter an exercise in futility whose result is all too predictable.

Back in the 1970’s, UK Ford advertised itself as “the bright spot in the British car industry.”  Today Toyota can claim that place in the US, while Ford watches as its own fortunes are sinking.

Finally, Michael Barone makes an interesting observation about the coalition that brought Obama victory:

Obama led among those with incomes under $50,000 (big) and those above $200,000 (narrowly). Among the 56 percent with incomes in the middle, it was pretty much even. Similarly, Obama won 63 percent among those with no high school education and 58 percent among those with postgraduate degrees but led only very narrowly among those in between. That’s reflected in the finding that McCain did better with noncollege whites (58 percent-40 percent) than college whites (51 percent-47 percent). At the moment, this top-and-bottom coalition outnumbers the broad middle. But if the political balance tips, it could be the other way around.

The first politician that I’ve observed assemble a top-and-bottom coalition was Mayor John Lindsay of New York. He started off as a Republican, a very liberal one, and won the mayoralty in 1965 and 1969 with coalitions of affluent Manhattan whites on the one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. In both elections, he won with a plurality of the vote and was behind in the four outer boroughs taken together. Lindsay championed soft policies (in the sense of the word in my book Hard America, Soft America) on crime and welfare that produced disaster in New York and in other cities where such policies were followed. Those policies answered the demands of both sides of his top-and-bottom coalition: The top wanted generous policies toward the poor that made them feel good about themselves, the bottom wanted short-term money transfers and leniency toward criminals in their midst. The top paid a small price for the results of these policies; the bottom paid a very large one. Fortunately, soft policies on crime and welfare were abandoned after three decades, thanks to Republicans like Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York and the many other politicians (mostly Republicans, but including many Democrats) who followed their lead. I’ll leave to future speculation the consequences of policies Obama may follow to meet the demands of his top-and-bottom constituency.

If there’s something demographic about this election that Evangelicals need to pay attention to, it’s this.

US society and culture has been very middle class for many years, and Evangelical churches have taken advantage of this.  Unfortunately, that aspect of our society has been progressively nibbled away at by the growing income disparity between the top of the society and the rest of it.  It’s ironic that Barack Obama–who ran on a middle-class tax cut–was brought to power by a top/bottom coalition.

But the truth is that politicians know that you have to dance with the one(s) that brought you.  If Obama’s policies favour (or pander to, take your pick) his top/bottom coalition, the rest of us will be literally caught in the middle.  The trend towards the ends may accelerate, in which case Evangelical churches will find themselves ministering to what will be effectively a Third World country.

Isn’t change delightful?

Give Berlusconi a Break on the “Suntan” Remark: A Reminiscence from Kensington Temple

It seems that our media never stops on finding ways of griping about people:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, under fire at home for describing U.S. President-elect Barack Obama as “suntanned,” said on Friday he saw no need to apologize.

At a news conference, Berlusconi was brusque with an American journalist who suggested he should say sorry for the remark on Thursday. Visiting Moscow, he described the man elected to be the first black U.S. president as “handsome, young and also suntanned.”

His center-left opponents called the comment racist; Berlusconi responded by saying they were “imbeciles without any sense of humor.”

At Friday’s news conference after a European Union summit, the reporter asked: “Prime Minister, do you realize that your comment on Obama is offensive to the United States? Why don’t you apologize?”

Berlusconi responded: “Give me a break! You have just put yourself on that list of people (imbeciles) I mentioned yesterday!”

This incident reminds me of a more light-hearted incident that happened to me in London in the early 1990’s.

For many years the largest Full Gospel church in the British Isles was Kensington Temple in Notting Hill.  Under Pastor Wynne Lewis the church had grown spectacularly to a five (?) service Sunday (building bigger in London is next to impossible, unless it’s a mosque.)  For directions, they simply told me to get off the Underground at Notting Hill and follow the crowds.

Those crowds were overwhelmingly non-white, drawn from a hundred or so ethnic groups that had come to London.  That’s a reality that most Evangelical (and especially Pentecostal and Charismatic) churches in Europe live with.  It’s very difficult to induce a Caucasian European to come to such a church, let alone commit their life to Christ.

Lewis’ and the rest of the pastoral staff’s schedule was so crowded that they took their lunch at the church between the morning service and the afternoon one at 1430.  They invited me to join them for this.  It was quite an experience, with the staff and other members milling about.

One young lady from Ghana came in; she was a medical student at Johns Hopkins.  Evidently Lewis hadn’t seen her in some time; he said, “That’s a lovely tan you have.  Where did you go on holiday?”  She was amused at his remark.

The truth is that, for those of us who profess and call themselves Christians, the people with the “lovely tans” are the future.  Evidently the world has figured that out too.

Let’s Hope al-Qaeda Organises a Union, Too

Now that Barack Obama has won, the TSA airport screeners hope their desire for a trade union that can strike is realised:

Representatives of the American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union said that their top priority under the Obama administration will be to ensure collective bargaining rights for federal airport screeners. Both groups announced plans to immediately boost efforts to organize thousands of workers at the agency.

“We’re going to step up real hard on TSA,” said John Gage, president of AFGE, on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “Now with a real light at the end of the tunnel … we’re looking to step out and provide [collective bargaining] rights and deliver a true voice at work for [transportation security officers].”

Gage said AFGE has hired about 35 business agents who will be responsible for setting up union locals at major airport hubs across the country. AFGE also has positioned its members in other federal agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and the Defense Department, to help “get behind the rights of [TSA] workers.”

It’s worth noting that one of the reasons why the airport security personnel were nationalised in the first place was to facilitate union organisation.  It was that objective that sickened then Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) so much that he virtually walked on his party, addressing the Republican National Convention in 2004.  But now, there’s really no place to go.

The only thing that will make the collective bargaining rights of security personnel work is if they can succeed in organising the terrorists in a similar manner.  Having spent many years with labour relations as part of my portfolio, I’d love to watch Osama bin Laden’s reaction to seeing his jihadis names on petitions to organise (so much for card check!) or the first time his prospective martyrs filed a grievance.

The Party’s Over: A Post-Election Reflection

With Barack Obama’s victory and the Democrats’ concomitant advances in the Congress, some reflections and anticipations are in order.  I will concentrate on two aspects: the Republican Party and Evangelical Christianity.

Republican Party

It’s fair to say that the Republican Party is history as a national party in the U.S.

Oh, it’s true that it will continue to be an important regional party, and certainly the party of choice for Caucasian Evangelicals.  But as a national party, its continuance is impossible.  Although American history buffs may look to the Whig split over slavery before the Civil War as a fitting historical precedent, a more relevant analogy is the transition from Liberal to Labour Party in the UK as the predominant left wing party, a transition driven by social changes.

There are several reasons for this.

The most important ones are tied up in the generational and demographic shifts that are taking place.  I have elaborated on these at length elsewhere, but will repeat some of those observations:

It’s hard to see the future for true freedom (as understood by our society until now) in a country where so many are so used to so much supervision.  That bodes ill for religious and political minorities (such as the Evangelicals) who have been demonised by the “powers that be” for so long.  But that leads to another characteristic of this generation that Coursey brought up: they are diverse and tolerant.  They see a fulfilment of that in Obama’s election.

Tolerance is doubtless the most oversold virtue our society has today.  Looked at on a purely practical level, tolerance is the grease that allows a group of people who aren’t identical to mesh and get through life together.  Underneath the obsession with tolerance is the primal fear that some of the group will be trashed if they don’t go along with the standard agreed on by “everyone.”  That guarantees that the tolerance agenda will be self-defeating, because any time a standard is agreed on, some will always fall outside of it.  It’s another road to enforced groupthink.

The tricky part for…Barack Obama…is fulfilling the unrealistic expectations of the overconfident in the face of the current economic situation.  Will his followers stick with him like dutiful children to a parent?  Will they bolt and go somewhere else, like a different job?  Or will they just go to pieces, like the losers in Beijing?

Put another way, the Hegelian process of moving from thesis and antithesis to synthesis is simply too traumatic for a generation drilled in the tyranny of consensus.

Under these circumstances, Europeans may be satisfied with parties differentiated by nuance.  But over here, with our rigid “winner take all” system, single-party hegemony will be the preferred expression.  We have seen this before (remember the “Solid South?”)

Beyond that, the Republican Party’s “intelligentsia” has betrayed it by its implicit adoption of a “educational/credential” model of social advancement, as opposed to an “experiential” (or “educational/experiential”) model more in line with American traditions.  This was evidenced by their reaction to Sarah Palin.  The whole history of the conservative movement, from William F. Buckley to Ronald Reagan and beyond, is a marriage of the intellectual to the practical.  Such a union–essential to success–is impossible with attitudes such as this (it wasn’t easy the first time.)

Finally, as I have said before, Barack Obama’s first task is to consolidate his power and that of his party, through such moves as:

  • Reinstitution of the “Fairness Doctrine”
  • Packing the judiciary with élite judges who look at the world through his idea
  • Hate crimes legislation, designed to silence opponents
  • Changes in voter registration requirements (although the expansion of the electorate wasn’t as big of a factor in Obama’s victory as many anticipated)
  • Show trials and congressional hearings of political opponents (Bush, Cheney, etc.)
  • Gerrymandering of House districts in the 2010 reapportionment
  • Patronage through social entitlements

With these, any attempt to overturn the results of this election will be a steep hill to climb, even in the worst of economic circumstances.  As many Third World countries will attest, it is easier to acquire a regime than to get rid of one.

Evangelical Christianity

There’s no doubt that things will be rough under an Obama Administration.

The Obama campaign has proven itself to be a vindictive scorekeeper, and there’s no reason to believe that things will be any different in the White House.  Evangelical Christians aren’t part of his constituency and can expect few favours.  In addition to the list above, one can throw in such things as expanded abortion rights, anti-discrimination laws applying to churches, revocation of tax-exempt status for churches not to the government’s taste (as Jimmy Carter’s administration did with Bob Jones University,) the imposition of same-sex civil marriage through national judicial fiat, use of child protection laws to prevent raising of children in the faith, Federal regulation of Christian and home schools (another stillborn Carter brainchild) and other impediments to the free exercise of religion.

Some have said that persecution is good for the church.  But American Evangelicals are unprepared legally and mentally for such an assault.  This is no China.

One thing that American Christians need to adopt in a hurry is a more transnational attitude.  If the Democrats can have a transnational group at its core and still win in this society, why not us?  If our real citizenship is in heaven, why can’t we act like it?  It won’t be easy, but, as the Anglicans have found it, it’s worth it.  In addition to forging needed foreign ties, it would also be a gateway to rectifying one of the more shameful acts of the Republican Party: it’s total failure to come up with a realistic solution for illegal immigrants.  The abandonment by Hispanic Protestants of John McCain was an unnecessary blow to both the unity of the Body of Christ and the expansion of the Republican Party.  At this point the party may be unfixable, but the Body of Christ is another matter altogether.

In some ways, the shift to a practical one-party system simplifies our job as Christians.  It means that we can respond to the state in ways that are more in line with the New Testament, because the early church did not have the option of changing the state through any kind of electoral process.

It’s not a happy situation, but it’s where we’re at.  As I like to say, it’s our move: we need to make it.  With God’s help, his Spirit and a basic commitment to do it his way, as the Obama people like to say, yes, we can.

Starbucks’ Free Election Day Coffee: It Was a Great Idea, But…

Starbucks is in trouble after their offer to furnish free coffee for voting on Election Day:

Prior to Monday afternoon, Starbucks was promoting an ad that said anyone who says enters a Starbucks on Election Day and says that they voted would get a free cup of tall coffee.

Election officials for the state of Washington told KIRO 7 that rewarding voters with free coffee is illegal.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Nick Handy, director of elections.

Handy said there is a federal statute that prohibits any reward for voting.

Looking at the candidates’ respective constituencies, personally I thought such a offer tilted towards the “latté liberals” that are at the core of Barack Obama’s campaign.  But I, after spending three hours poll greeting for McCain, took advantage of the offer.  As I told one of my fellow greeters, if they’re going to bring in socialism, we’re going to mooch.

That, BTW, is what Sarah Palin was probably thinking about when she told Greta van Susteren that Obama’s socialistic tax policies would drag down the incentive to work.  If U.S. voters are stupid enough to put this in power, Scotch-Irish worthies are smart enough to bankrupt the scheme.

Voting: The Two-Edged Sword

These pithy quotes, from Black Swan Trading:

  • “Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” ‐‐ Ambrose Bierce
  • “Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.” – Friedrich Hayek
  • “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams
  • “Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.” ‐‐ Will Rogers