Saturday, July 31, 2004

LT # 9 Current Interest Commentary:

On Tickling Ears vs. Sound Instruction

GEM 04:07:25

In his final letter, written shortly before he was unjustly put to death by Nero Caesar in ~ AD 67 [Christians were falsely accused of setting the fire that burned Rome in AD 64], the Apostle Paul warned Timothy -- and through him, us:

". . . the time will come when men will not put up with sound [instruction]. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." [2 Ti 4:3 – 4]

In short, there has always been a temptation to turn away from spiritual and practical truth and instead follow sweet-sounding talk that tickles our itching ears with myths and lies that tell us what we want to hear. But scripture warns: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way are the ways of death.” [Prov. 14:12]

So, if Montserrat is to be successfully rebuilt, we must learn the vital difference between ear-tickling rhetoric and sound thinking under God: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” [Ps 127:1a] And that is what Let’s Talk is all about. Therefore, let us note Aristotle’s telling remarks in his The Rhetoric: “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”

That is, as a rule, persuasion – and rhetoric is the art of persuasion; not proof – uses the ear-tickling words of a clever speaker, to appeal to sin-prone emotions (especially pride, greed, lusts, fear and anger). Only rarely does a public debate instead focus on actual proof: laying out the true facts and then correctly reasoning from those facts to sound conclusions and associated duties. For, the latter requires: (1) knowledge of the background context; (2) fearlessly facing the material facts -- those that make a difference to the conclusion; and, (3) patiently following a step by step chain of careful reasoning. That’s often quite hard, and can take a lot of time. But, if instead we base our decisions on sinful sweet-talk, we are headed for shipwreck – as literally happened to the people who rejected Paul’s advice on his first journey to Rome. [Cf. Acts 27.]

A few examples from last week’s somewhat boisterous call-in segment will make the point clear:

--> You are only talking about gambling.

Not so: over the past eight sessions, we have focused on the Official Montserrat SDP Vision Statement and so have highlighted issues ranging from (a) the need to develop our new Community College and foster business incubation as a foundation for re-development; to (b) the need for God-fearing just governance in our various social institutions; to (c) the vast potential for agriculture. Also, sadly, this false accusation can easily distract us from the vitally important ethical issues and facts raised by the crisis with the Attorney General!

--> You are speaking normatively, not interpretively.

Now, the key issue in view last week was the need to recognise a Civil Servant’s right and duty to act in light of conscience, as guided by sound reason under the SDP’s long-standing policy commitment to wholesome re-development; and the material fact that the gambling proposal seeks to legalise making money through promoting an addictive, personally and socially destructive habit. That is, the issues on the table were about what OUGHT to be [i.e. the normative/ETHICAL], rather than what IS so just now. In short, if we are to correct injustice and reject unsound policy proposals, we must deal with the normative/ethical!

--> You hypocrite!

The follow up meeting with this caller revealed a key fact that he did not state during his call last week: I had been called over to respond to several questions raised by his wife, and did so until I became late for a meeting; thus, there was no deliberate refusal to address questions that he had asked. On the broader question, as we discussed earlier tonight, we apologise for our clumsy handling of calls last week, and are reworking the call-in component to give people and issues a fair hearing while keeping the programme on track.

--> You are Fundamentalists!

This word, in the 1920’s, originally meant people that were concerned to stand up for -- and live by -- the authentic, historically sound core teachings of the Gospel. But it has now become little more than a prejudice-driven accusation that means something like: “you Christians are ignorant, hypocritical, backward, violent religious bigots who want to impose a Taliban-like religious dictatorship.” Now, the Let’s Talk Hosts stand by the central fact that God vindicated Jesus and his teachings by triumphantly raising him from the dead; with over 500 eyewitnesses. So, unless we rebuild our nation under the Lordship and wisdom of the risen Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom” [Col 2:3], our efforts will simply be in vain. We are also just as committed to the God-given right of all of our people to responsibly exercise their democratic freedoms. So, we invite you to speak to the issues and facts, on whatever side you happen to hold; but, let us all respect the facts and avoid abusive words that stir up heat rather than give forth the light we need to guide us to safe harbour. [Cf. Ac 27.]

So, now, let’s talk . . .


LT # 8 International Current Interest item:
On En-LIE-tenment
GEM 04:07:20

The Apostle Paul long ago counselled:

“Live as children of light . . . have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them . . . everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible . . . Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” [Eph 5:11 – 17]

In short, as the Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” [Ps 119:105]

But, ever since the great triumphs of Sir Isaac Newton in the late 1600’s, who discovered the laws of motion and gravitation, we have increasingly sought “enlightenment” through Science, education, and philosophy. Then in the 1800’s, the triumph of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution seemed to hammer home the last nail in God’s coffin. Even the leading Theologians began to explain the Bible in terms of man’s evolving religious ideas, rather than any so-called revelation from God. So, as Richard Dawkins sums up, it often seems that it is only the ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked who reject the modern “enlightened” view of the world.

Q: Why, then, are there still educated people – such as us – who take God, the Bible and biblical morality seriously?

A: Because there is a big gap between how things may seem and how they actually are. That is, there is true en-LIGHT-enment, but there is also a deceptive (but ever so popular) en-LIE-tenment:

--> “Science” at most gives us provisional knowledge of the external natural and human world, based on experiments, observation and educated guesses as to the underlying laws. But, as “provisional” points out, science is open-ended; science is always subject to correction based on further research and analysis. For instance, over the past few decades -- as it has become ever more clear how finely and exactly tuned the laws and constants of physics have to be for life to be possible, and as the irreducible complexity of the mechanisms of life have been recognised – a growing number of scientists and philosophers have now seen that the most reasonable conclusion is that the universe and life have come from the hands of an awesomely Intelligent Designer, AKA God.

--> Also, the famous secular humanist Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World, grandson of “Darwin’s Bulldog, Thomas H., and brother of the first leader of UNESCO, Sir Julian H.) gives away the game on philosophy, science and morality. For, in a famous quote, he confessed: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none . . . Those who detect no meaning in the world [e.g., that the complexity of life just discussed strongly points to God] generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless . . . For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” [Ends and Means, Chatto & Windus, pp. 270 – 273, parenthesis added.]

--> Finally, the decisive fact regarding the truth of the Bible and the Gospel is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for which there were over 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom were alive when the record was made. As Paul said to the Governor of Judaea when he was on trial for his life because of his testimony to the resurrection: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king [Agrippa] is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” [Ac 26:25 – 26.] The king’s evasive reply, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” and the silence of his accusers speaks volumes. So have the testimonies, transformed lives and impact of the many millions who have met God personally through faith in the risen Christ in the twenty centuries since.

So, then, we must choose in our day. Which will it be: Godly En-LIGHT-enment, or persuasive but ever so deceitful humanistic en-LIE-tenment?


LT # 7 International Current Interest item:

On Legislating Morality

GEM 04:07:12a

“The Glory and the Shame.”

That’s how Roman Catholic Priest and Scholar Peter Hocken summed up a basic human puzzle: for all our vast potential to do good, we ever so often fall short of the glorious image of God that is in us; because of the shockingly deep roots of sin in our hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9.]

So, injustice, oppression and corruption all too easily and rapidly spread across state, church, families and the wider community, damaging or even destroying a society. Government, therefore, always has to address justice and morality as issues that are of first importance. As David said in his last words: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” [2 Sam 23:3, KJV, cf. Rom 13:1 - 7.]

“But, you cannot legislate morality!”

This is a popular saying nowadays, but it is simply wrong. For, our rights are moral claims we make on one another: in defense of our life, liberty, property, reputation, family etc. So, if Government is to protect our God-given rights – i.e. if it is to be just – it MUST address morality: in its Laws, its Courts, Parliament and the Cabinet, as well as the Civil Service, Police and Schools. Otherwise, the state becomes tyrannical, and the people will either be utterly crushed or else they must rise up together to reform or if necessary replace such a corrupt and devilish Government. That is what our history of liberation from slavery and from share-cropping – not to mention the right to vote -- are all about!

So, since our region is so strongly influenced by trends in America, let us look with deep concern and prayer as we see the current debate in the United States Senate, over protecting what is now called “traditional marriage.”

For, Judges in Massachusetts have recently twisted the long-settled law on marriage; to promote so-called “same sex marriage” – never mind: (1) what God has to say on the sin of sodomy [e.g. Rom 1:16 – 32], (2) the known personally and socially destructive consequences of such homosexuality, (3) the absence of credible scientific evidence that this perversion is rooted in one’s genetic make-up and (4) the demonstrated importance of sound marriages and families to the survival of the community. Sadly, the proposed Constitutional Amendment is likely to fail; as most Democratic Senators (including Candidates Kerry and Edwards) and several Republican Senators are unwilling to confront the powerful Gay Lobby, now a major force in American politics. And, given the pressure from Amnesty International on Jamaica to legalise sodomy and buggery, and the similar pressure on the Netherlands Antilles to accept homosexual marriages from Holland, ill winds from the North are already blowing across our region.

But, while we look with shock to the North, we face a similar – but subtler -- dilemma at home. For, our own Montserratian legislature last week again considered the question of introducing Gambling as a fund-raising measure, and it was only with great difficulty that the public petition against the proposed act was finally read in the House. Thankfully, the bill had to be postponed again, due to the courage of concerned members. However, it is increasingly clear that Christians and others of similar moral convictions who hold responsible positions in Montserrat are under terrific pressure to accept gambling; regardless of well-founded and widespread concerns that such a policy promotes a greed-driven, addictive, selfish, corrupting and socially destructive practice. In short, Montserrat, too, is at the point of decision, and the issue is in doubt.

Are we really determined to be “a healthy, wholesome . . . truly democratic, God-fearing society” as our SDP vision statements have said – since at least 1997? Don’t these words actually acknowledge that we have a national covenant under, and with, God – a covenant that we break at our peril?

Let us therefore reflect soberly, let us pray, and let us talk these things over. After that, let us come together as a people, to act with courage to build a healthy, wholesome, truly democratic, just and God-fearing future.

LT # 6 International current interest item:

On the Significance of July 4th

GEM 04:07:06

On Sunday, July 4, we celebrated the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramos, which brought CARICOM into being. It was also the 228th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States.

The first, laid the basis for the Single Market and Economy and Caribbean Court of Justice that are now on the table as the next steps in regional integration. The second marks the first modern example of sustained, successful self-government by a free people. It also lays out the biblically rooted basis for that success. So, let us reflect briefly on the words of Thomas Jefferson, that conscience-lashed, hopelessly indebted slave owner who said he “trembled” as he reflected on the sins of America in light of the thought that “God is just”:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. [2nd Paragraph, US DOI, 1776]

These few words say a lot, and it is worth a pause to look at several points that highlight some of the challenges that face us as the people of the ever more closely integrated Caribbean region:

q Self-evident truths: If you reject them, you end up in foolishness. For instance, Psalm 14 points out that it is fools who say to themselves “there is no God” – for they thus become morally and intellectually bankrupt. Current events in North America and Europe provide abundant proof – e.g. contrast the rhetoric and the reality of counterfeit, so-called “same sex marriage.” [Cf. Rom 1:16 – 32, 1 Cor 6:9 – 11, Eph 4:17 – 24.] Equally sadly, many of our brightest people in the region have also lost sight of the fear of God; which Prov. 1:7 highlights as the first point of wisdom.
q God-endowed rights: A right is a binding moral claim we have on other persons – your right to your life, liberty, reputation and property (etc) means I have a duty to respect your life, liberty, reputation and property (etc). We have such rights because God has made us in his image, so those who turn their backs on God turn their backs on the only sound and sustainable basis for defending our lives, and our liberty! (Especially, if we begin to think that rights are merely entitlements granted by the state: what the state giveth, it taketh away too; when the balance of political power shifts.)
q Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: Without life, all else is lost; and, as Orlando Patterson said, slavery is social death. Third, we are only truly happy when we fulfill our diverse talents and callings in God – that is how we can flourish in a wholesome, healthy, friendly, truly democratic and God-fearing society.
q Government is there to protect our rights: rulers fulfill their duty when they are just, and rule in the fear of God [2 Sam 23:3].
q The Right of Reformation: Whenever a government turns its back on its duty to be just, it is our right as the people to demand that the government mend its ways, or to change the Government. (Thank God, we have the privilege of the ballot box for that!)

So, as CARICOM sets about “the next step” in regional integration, let us insist that the CSME and the CCJ be accountable to the people, under God, for justice. That in turn requires that there be transparency provisions to hold these regional rulers and administrators to account, with effective mechanisms to reform -- and if necessary change or remove -- them. Last, but not least, let us always remember the warning of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power [– i.e. power without accountability –] corrupts absolutely; great men are bad men.”

NOTE: On a weekly basis, I intend to post "steering word" commentaries from the Let's Talk Radio show, ZJB, Montserrat.

Here is the first in the series:

LT # 5 International current interest item:

Iraq Sovereignty Hand-over
GEM 04:06:29

On Monday June 28, TV news reports showed Mr Bush at a NATO conference in Turkey – glancing at his watch; then smiling and shaking hands with an equally beaming Mr Blair. Thus, two days ahead of schedule, Sovereignty was handed over to the new Iraqi government.

With this fresh start, the long-suffering, but now liberated people of Iraq have an opportunity to become a shining city of hope in the Middle East. For this, we should pray; as a stable, free and prosperous Iraq can go a long way towards building peace, liberty and stability in that long troubled region. Especially, we should pray for the Assyrian and Chaldean Christian minorities who are very worried that they will be oppressed and persecuted by the Muslim majority (under the dhimmi code in Islamic sharia law). Second, current reports on Christian media networks are that some churches in Iraq are “doubling and trebling” their numbers, so we need to pray for even more showers of heaven-sent revival. Third, let us pray that the new Iraq contributes to the peace of Jerusalem; Psalm 122:6 strongly encourages us to pray for the peace of that city.

But also, the Iraq crisis shows the three great global forces that we mentioned last week at work:

1. The De-christianisers – While there is obviously much room for debate on the pro/cons of the renewed heavy fighting in Iraq in March 2003 that overthrew Mr Hussein, one of the major reasons that Mr Bush and Mr Blair were so harshly attacked over the past year in the media and international forums is their evangelical Christian faith. (For instance, in a recent BBC interview Mr Blair had to DEFEND himself from the accusation that he prayed with Mr Bush! Similarly, one of the main reasons Mr Bush – who qualified as a Fighter Pilot and holds a Harvard MBA -- is often accused of being “stupid” is that he is a Christian: after all, in many an atheist’s opinion, Christian faith is merely a discredited, damaging superstition and only the weak-minded cling to it. There is another word for such prejudiced, arrogant contempt: BIGOTRY. For, in fact God has shown that he will judge all men with perfect justice, by raising Jesus from the dead: with over 500 eyewitnesses -- there is convincing proof of the truth of the gospel, if only we would humbly listen. Moreover, if one is honest, s/he will also have to admit that all of us are a strange mixture of the glory and the shame; the wise and the stupid; the good and the bad – this simply shows that while God made us in his glorious image, we are ALL fallen sinners who need to repent and be reformed. So, through Jesus let us all confess our sin and folly and seek God’s forgiveness, empowering and wisdom to do better. Let us therefore pray for Messrs. Bush and Blair [and for the many other world leaders; cf. 1 Tim 2:1 – 2] that they -- through God’s grace -- will be wise and godly statesmen: building justice, liberty, enduring and sound peace and God-blessed prosperity.)

2. Militant Islamism – Most Iraqis are Muslim, and the overwhelming majority support the rise of a truly just, peaceful and democratic government. However, as we see day by day in our headlines, a few local and foreign jihadists are using terrorist tactics to try to destabilise the new Government and create a base for spreading Taliban-like radical regimes across the ME and wider world. Let us pray that they fail, for if they get their hands on Iraq’s WMD-building capacity (and perhaps stocks left behind by Mr Hussein as well), the resulting surge in terrorism, mass-murder and war in the ME and beyond would be far beyond our worst nightmares.

3. Christian Revival and Reformation – Last week, bro Kim of S Korea was murdered – it seems, martyred -- in Iraq by Islamist militants. (Now, “martyr” is actually the Greek word for “witness.” But, 2,000 years ago, Christians who were faithful to Christ rewrote its meaning with their blood: for, as Tertullian the great C2 Christian leader from North Africa said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.) Let us pray that in Iraq and across the ME, as in Ancient Rome, revival will continue to spread as consciences and minds will be stirred to listen to the good news of the Prince of Peace; so that the sacrifice of bro Kim -- who spent his spare time witnessing to Jesus even in Iraq -- will not be in vain.

Here in Montserrat, the same three global forces are at work, and so let us be wise as we listen to news and as we think about how best to rebuild Montserrat under our SDP vision as a healthy, wholesome, prosperous, democratic and God-fearing nation.