Saturday, November 17, 2012

Whose Founding Vision?

I wish the federal government would just build highways and protect us, then stay out of our business for the most part. C. Michael Patton. Parchment & Pen

I cannot help but get cynical when conservatives start invoking a “founding vision” as if it is something that is easily determined by reading a history book and easily applied to the world today. The Constitution does not represent a monolithic vision. It was a compromise reached among a diverse group of people with many very different visions for the future of the country. Jefferson, for example, envisioned the United States as a collection of citizen farmers producing their livelihoods from the land upon which they lived.

In a post titled Is This the End of America? C. Michael Patton asserts that "[p]eople need to understand where we have come from so they have a compass to guide future generations." However, it is hard to imagine that many (if any) of the founders would have approved of the kind of standing army that America maintains today and the role it plays in the world. Moreover, even something we take so for granted as the interstate highway system would have been highly controversial among the founders because many thought that such things should be left to the states. Proponents of federal involvement in public improvements didn’t gain the upper hand until the Civil War. It's not forgetting the past that's the problem. It's remembering a past that never was.

The problem isn't just that people forget the past.  It's that people remember a past that never was.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Most Liberal Ever? What Are Conservatives Smoking?

I keep seeing conservative bloggers claiming that the United States has just reelected the most liberal  president in its history.  This just seems silly to me.  While I think it is hard to put modern presidents on the same left/right scale as 19th century presidents, just going back a hundred years, I would judge Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson as being way more liberal than Barack Obama, and I would put Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter ahead of him, too.  I would judge Obama to be about as liberal as John Kennedy and Bill Clinton.  Not only is Obama not the most liberal ever, he may not be in the top third for the last century.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Are Republicans So Confused?

Mitt Romney’s message [was] “I am going to take away Medicare from everybody under fifty-five and I am going to cut Medicaid for everybody by about a third, and I’m going to do that to finance a giant tax cut for me and my friends, and the reason I’m going to do that is that half the country contribute nothing to our national endeavor.” 
David Frum on Morning Joe.

What I find most amazing is how utterly baffled so many Tea Party types are over the fact that a majority of Americans didn't want Mitt Romney to be their president. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Should We Expect God to Communicate with Us?

[S]ince we know beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists and that he has the characteristics we’ve listed above—characteristics that include design, purpose, justice, and love—then we should expect him to reveal more of himself and his purpose for our lives. This would require that he communicate with us.
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.200, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

I have been running across a number of Christians in the blogosphere recently who justify their belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible, in part at least, on the grounds that it is reasonable to think that God would want to explain what's going on to us directly.  I just can't see why this would be so.  Certainly God might choose to communicate with us (and I would be interested to know what he had to say if he did), but why in the world should I think it more likely than not that he would want to?

If an infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient God exists, he is so far above us that I don't see how we could ever have any reasonable expectation that he would want to explain himself to us.  We cannot have any expectation that we are even capable of understanding his purposes.  There is no reason to think that we are anything more to him than an ant farm or a tank of tropical fish, i.e., something that he finds interesting to observe from time to time, but nothing with which he desires to communicate.

It seems to me to be every bit as reasonable to think that God expects us to figure out things for ourselves. He gave us the world to live in and the capacity to reason and he is watching to see what we come up with. It might be that communicating with us directly would defeat his purposes completely.  I can't know this to be the case, but it is no less reasonable than thinking that communicating with us would achieve his purposes.

As far as I can tell, this idea that we should expect God to reveal himself to us is founded on nothing more than our capacity to reason, but that is like a dog thinking that he is the center of his owner's universe rather than her cat because his ability to respond to a few simple commands means that he is on her wavelength in some fundamental way that her cat is not.   It could just as well be that she views them equally as mere pets, or even that she responds to her cat in some important ways that are beyond the dog's ability to comprehend.

The significance of this for the belief in divine revelation is that unless we have good reason to think that God would want to communicate with us directly, it is really hard to see any justification for wasting much time to trying to figure out whether he did.