Saturday, September 30, 2006

On "Theocracy," 4: Why the venom?

Here, let us attempt the impossible -- for the answer to the question requires a broad-brush survey of global history over the past 2,600 years that is inevitably somewhat impressionistic and cartoonish. 

The justification for attempting the admittedly impossible, is that it is better to have such a sketchily skeletal but explicit survey in hand and then fill in nuances and corrective details as necessary, than to be the prisoner of an implicit unexamined world picture that keeps us in thrall to unstated, untested ignorance and prejudices. For, as the African National Congress' motto urges upon us, we should always seek to "understand the past, act in the present, build the future" -- a far better approach than Henry Ford's notorious dismissal: "history is bunk." 

The oddly prescient dream of Nebuchadnezzar of about 600 BC, as recorded in Daniel 2, is as good a jump-off point as any. Focusing on the geostrategically critical global cross-roads, the Middle East that bridges Asia, Europe and Africa, he was granted a view of four successive dominant kingdoms, culminating in what is unmistakably the Roman-Western power: an iron power that is infused with a strange iron-clay mix, and so is partly strong, partly weak, divided and irreconcilable yet dominant. 

And, in the days of these kings, a stone not cut out from human hands shatters the proud image, and represents the eternal kingdom of God that, from inauspicious beginnings, grows into a mountain filling the whole earth and standing forever. 

That brings us to a desperately compressed survey of forces, issues, themes, opportunities and challenges:
1] In AD 9, Roman forces suffered a decisive defeat in the Teutoburg Forest at the hands of Arminius and his German tribes, losing three legions led by Varus -- an irreplaceable loss at a critical point in history. Thus, the expansion of Roman civilisation into Germany was decisively stopped, and Rome was never able to shorten its vulnerable line on the Rhine, which would later become the invasion route of Germanic tribes that would destroy the Roman Empire in the West. [This also marks the point where German forces irreversibly injected the partly strong, partly weak, divided principle into the stream of Western culture.]
2] Into this unstable situation situation, at Athens, as recorded in Acts 17, there soon burst the prophetic, critical synthesis of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome led by Paul of Tarsus that would shape the way forward for Western culture. Before that, as Gibbons summed up acidly: the common peole thought that the stories of the gods were equally true; the philosophers, that they were equally false; the politicians, that they were equaly useful. Thus, we see the diverse, often conflicting streams of ideas that have marked the underlying fractiousness of Western culture ever since. [This is also a key point where the needs for freedom of inquiry and of conscience were underscored.]
3] Over several generations, in the face of opposition that ranged from criticism and scorn to outright bloody persecution, the Christian faith became the decisive influencing factor and hope for unity in an empire that was in fact fundamentally geostrategically unsound once we see the long defensive lines on the Rhine, the Danube and the Middle East, coupled to the weak economic and administrative foundation. By the turn of the 4th Century the empire reluctantly turned to the church as a way to find a unifying social fabric and made the decision to divide itself administratively into the Western and Eastern halves.
4] Over the nest several centuries, it often looked like all was lost: the romanisation and semi-paganisation of the church, the disintegration of the Western wing under the impact of German immigration and invasions, the rise of the second consciously global movement – Islam -- and the associated near conquest of the west, the disaster of the crusades as a series of counteroffensives, the dark night of learning under the impact of invasion, the Black Death plagues, and more.
5] So, circa 1400, if one looked at the three major civilisations poised for takeoff into the global era that would emerge in the next 100 years, we would have placed out bets on China, then Islamic civilisation, and only reluctantly on the late medieval Christendom. But after the passing of Cheng Ho's era, China turned inward. Islamic civilisation was at the world's cross roads, and though itself suffering overstretch, had no obvious interest in exploration as it controlled the key trade routes and profited from that handsomely.
6] But, at the turn of the C16, there was the decisive breakthrough to a truly global era. The emergent renaissance was sharply accelerated by the 1453 fall of Constantinople and the flight to the west of some of its leading scholars. The Iberians, having expelled their own Muslim invaders, voyaged out to the East and West, and stitched together the global world. The rise of printing and the troubled conscience of a German monk, Martin Luther, improbably combined to trigger the reformation, and through it the waves of liberation struggles that so materially contributed to the rise of modern liberty and democracy.
7] But also, we soon saw the inter-European struggles over religion, ideology, liberation and thrusts for power, plus colonialism and the western slave trade that so marked the next several centuries -- partly strong, partly weak, divided yet dominant. Also, the first truly global wave of Christian missions emerged over the next several centuries. 
8] Into this mix came the scientific revolution in the C17, and with it the rise of a successor to the Renaissance's humanism, the enlightenment. So, by the C19, the elites of Europe were largely fired by a post-Christian vision, though through the new experiment in self-Government, the United States, and its mother country, Britain, were especially restrained by the success of the English translations of the Bible, the liberation struggles inspired by largely biblical visions, and the waves of evangelical awakening that dominated the popular culture in the C18 and 19.
9] Across the C20, we see more of the same, but also the emergence of new patterns: four major global conflicts, the breakdown of the colonialist global pattern, the rise of a Southern Christian Reformation as the Christian Faith became increasingly owned by peoples of the emergent global South.
10] So, at the turn of C21, we see a West that is largely dominated by dechistianising forces, with the United States being a key battleground due to the lingering influence of forces unleashed by its own history and heritage from the reformation era. In the Middle East, Islam is resurgent, and the associated global subjugation ideology, Islamism, is on the march ever isnce about 1979. But, in the South, there is a surging new Southern Reformation, which is moving the centre of gravity of the Christian Faith south for the first time since the fall of North Africa to Islam in C7 - 8.
In that context, it is not hard to see why there is so much venom in the inner debates over the biblical heritage, and why there is a tendency on the part of the dechristianising forces in particular to be in denial over the threat posed by Islamism. It is therefore no surprise to see that the post-/hyper- modern progressivist secularists and their fellow travellers [the modernist apostates and the neopagans] are so focussed on the threat posed to their libertinism agenda by the resurgence of vibrant Christian faith in the United Statres, and the echoes from the ongoing Southern Christian reformation.

For, it is notorious that civil wars -- whether of ideas or shooting wars -- are the most vcicious. Further to this, the strange inability to see the threat posed by the Islamists is equally easily explained: in the dechristianisers' minds, they have bigger fish -- and more familiar fish -- to fry. 

But like the France of the 1930s that was so taken up by its inner struggles and issues that it failed to notice or act decisively on the mortal danger posed by Hitler, there is a plain need to recognise the seriousness of the external threat from the East. And, they also need to examine carefully the critical cracks in the foundation of their vaunted "scientific" evolutionary materialism; which is actually a self-contradictory philosophical worldview. END

Thursday, September 28, 2006

On "Theocracy," 3: What is Christian "Fundamentalism"?

A key term used the thought, writings and speech of those who denigrate contemporary biblical Christian Faith as a dangerous enemy of civil liberty, is what I have called the smear-word, "fundamentalism."

To clear the air on the term and its proper and improper use, let us first follow up with another citation of the term by Rev Dr Hewitt, in a Jan. 1st 2003 Gleaner article:

The USA and its local allies [in Jamaica in the 1970s to 80s up tt he then current time] . . . sought to empower the younger churches that have been planted by missionaries from the USA conservative 'Bible Belt' region. [sic] The high number of new denominations that were incorporated in Jamaica during the 1980s speaks volume to this perspective.
Some of these younger churches . . . were empowered . . . to counter the influence of liberation theology [NB: link to 1984 Vatical Encyclical added] with a traditional fundamentalist theology . . . . many of the younger churches saw their fight/struggle with the older churches as saving the true church from 'a serious heresy/error' in which leaders were making too many concessions to the secular world and its godless ideology of socialism and the rationalising influences . . . They unleashed the religious version of capitalism with its emphasis on rampant individualism, innovative worship and being prosperous at all cost.
The phenomenal rise in charismatic and newer forms of evangelical churches saw some church leaders functioning like TV stars . . . Salvation became totally privatised. Christ came to change individuals without similar emphasis being invested in salvation of the community.

In short, it is not just in the lands of the North that here is a deep-seated hositlity to expressions of Christianity that take the Bible seriously as the Word of God -- i.e., as I noted in 2003, "the younger –- so-called “fundamentalist” –- churches in Jamaica are those that by and large appear on Rev. Devon Dick’s recent list of recently incorporated churches [many of which are native or so-called Mission churches that were operating in Jamaica for decades but simply raised their organisational profile to incorporated status in recent years], especially those that view the Bible as the Word of God, which thus reveals His unlimited love, power, purity, knowledge and truth."

In Dr Hewitt's view, and that of a lot of people of like ilk, many of these “younger churches” are accused of betraying Jamaica by allying themselves to US political interests and associated Government agendas – perilously close to a charge of treason. They are further accused of blocking nation-building by emphasizing the individual rather than the community, and by accusing the leaders of the “older churches” of drifting into rationalistic heresy and socialist ideologies."

But are such accusations accurate, well-warranted or fair?

Plainly, not, for, first, given the large number of educated people of the highest integrity and discernment that are members of these “younger churches” Mr Espeut’s related “ignoramus” claims -- “a sensible person could not honestly continue with Fundamentalism” and: “religious fundamentalism is an obstacle to solving several of Jamaica's social problems” -- simply fail the common sense test. For, the required conspiracy to conceal the truth about the Bible if it were utterly self-contradictory would immediately fall apart due to multitudes of whistleblowers.

Similarly, while some church leaders have clearly uncritically embraced individualism, material prosperity and associated political agendas -- and have often been strongly rebuked by other local Evangelical leaders and international spokesmen such as Chuck Colson in his epochal 1992 book, The Body, for this -- there is a vast gulf between having conservative theological views and treasonously betraying Jamaica or being a violent fanatic.

Moreover, in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the Socialist Bloc of countries led by the former USSR disintegrated at the turn of the 1990’s. It then became all too evident that in a high-tech world driven by innovation, sustainable economic development and the material upliftment of the masses are critically dependent on market-based economic mechanisms. Thus, even officially Communist countries such as China and Cuba now emphasise the vital role of markets and innovative entrepreneurs in economic growth.

So, it is fair comment to call for an immediate toning down of over-heated, uncharitable rhetoric.

An excellent place to start such toning down would be with Chuck COlson's famous 1992 work, the Body, in which we can easily enough read:

'Fundamentalism' [in the Christian context] is really akin to [C. S.] Lewis's 'mere Christianity' . . . or the rules of faith in the early church; it means adherence to the fundamental facts - in this case, the fundamental facts of Christianity. It is a term that was once a badge of honour, and we should reclaim it.
At the end of the nineteenth century, evolution and the new higher biblical criticism began to challenge biblical authority. This assault affected even great theological institutions such as Princeton Seminary, which, though once orthodox, began questioning fundamental doctrines such as the Virgin Birth and inerrancy of Scripture. Meanwhile, a lively social gospel was also surfacing. Strong in good intentions, it was weak in biblical doctrine and orthodoxy.
So a group of theologians, pastors and laypeople published a series of volumes titled "The Fundamentals". Published between 1910 and 1915, these booklets defined what had been the non-negotiables of the faith since the Apostles' Creed:
1. the infallibility of Scripture
2. the deity of Christ
3. the Virgin Birth and miracles of Christ
4. Christ's substitutionary death
5. Christ's physical resurrection and eventual return.
These were then, as they are today, the backbone of orthodox Christianity. If a fundamentalist is a person who affirms these truths, then there are fundamentalists in every denomination - Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Brethren, Methodist, Episcopal [i.e. Anglican] .... Everyone who believes in the orthodox truths about Jesus Christ - in short, every Christian - is a fundamentalist. And we should not shrink from the term nor allow the secular world to distort its meaning. [pp. 185 – 6.]

So, can we begin dialogue by first deciding to act with basic respect and old fashioned good manners? END

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On "Theocracy," 2: The Accusation

Within a few weeks of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Jamaican theologian and regular contributor to the Gleaner Newspaper, Rev Dr Roderick Hewitt, wrote:

The human tragedy in USA has also served to bring into sharp focus the use of terror by religious fanatics/fundamentalists. Fundamentalism or fundamentalists are terms that are applicable to every extreme conservative in every religious system . . . . During the twentieth century in particular we have seen the rise of militant expression of these faiths by extreme conservatives who have sought to respond to what they identify as 'liberal' revisions that have weakened the fundamentals of their faith . . . They opt for a belligerent, militant and separatist posture in their public discourse that can easily employ violence to achieve their goals. [Gleaner, Sept. 26, 2001, emphases added.]

This resort to the rhetoric of [im]moral equivalency is awful -- and worse, his remarks were well received by many among the "educated," articulate elites of Jamaica. A few voices of protest were raised then and in subsequent years as the pattern of such verbal attacks -- which echo all-too-common themes in the international media and among the secularised so-called progressive educated elites of the Western World, continued. (One would have hoped that the correctives, which appeal to a sense of fairness, respect and truthfulness, would have been taken.)

But now, less than a fortnight ago, and in the same newspaper, Mr Ian Boyne, a leading Jamaican journalist and leader of the Armstrong-derived Church of God International,

The world is a much safer place today because the totalitarian ideology of the Christian Crusaders and the Roman Church was decisively routed by the secular state. Do not believe that militant Islam is necessarily more vicious and more violent than a militant Fundamentalist or resurgent Middle Ages Catholicism would be. The Christian fanatics and theonomists can find enough texts in the Old and even New testaments to butcher us unbelievers (in their particular sectarian doctrine), just as the radical Islamists can find Quranic justification for terrorism. There is something pernicious and scary about the Fundamentalist mindset.

In Jamaica you encounter some mindless Christian fundamentalists who, if they had their way, would ban certain television programmes, certain movies and certain books and would even seek to impose dress-length standards on our women to fight the scourge of dancehall fashions. Don't think it's just the Taliban who has this kind of mentality. Talk to your fundamentalist, Bible-thumping neighbour and see how open-minded he or she really is.

This persistent pattern of ill-warranted and inflammatory, accusatory rhetoric similar to That which is all too common among the secularised elites of the wider Western world reveals a consistent, insistent bias and even acceptance of what is obviously slander, through an attitude which effectively equates Bible-believing Christians and Islamist terrorists, by making handy use of what is now little more than a smear-word, namely "fundamentalism."

Some years ago, I took this issue up, and in my more recent briefing note on Government under God, in the section on the roots of modern liberty and democracy, I laid out the relevant facts and exposed the basic fallacy in the underlying claims and beliefs.

For instance, responding to Mr Hewitt :

In fact, this [claim] is grossly (even inexcusably) unjust, for the difference between Evangelical Christians and Al Qaeda's plane-hijacking suicide bombers is obvious and vast; but the underlying misperceptions and hostility reflect what we have not learned about the roots of modern democratic self government and the idea-sources and motivations of the liberation struggles that we benefit from today. To correct that potentially dangerous misunderstanding, we need to first go back to the first major Reformation work on liberation struggles, the 1579 anonymous book, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, by Junius Brutus [i.e. Phillipe Duplessis-Mornay, a Huguenot French soldier and Diplomat], the subsequent and derivative 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence, and the stream of further thought and state documents that flowed from that well-spring, including most notably Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, John Locke's 2nd Treatise of Civil Government, and the US founding documents, especially the 1776 American Declaration of Independence . . .

In short, and as we will elaborate over the next few days -- exactly opposite to the accusation being made -- biblical Christian Faith and those who were deeply influenced by it [some being Christians, some being influenced though a Christianity-shaped culture then known as Christendom], have made a decisively important contribution to the rise of the modern liberty- , justice- and rights- based Democratic state and other associated major liberating reforms.

So, when we see a persistent distortion and suppression of the material, and relatively easily accessible facts on the matter on the part of otherwise highly informed and highly educated people, one joined to the sort of highly hostile judgements we just excerpted, we should take pause and take warning.

Then, we should vigorously correct and if necessary protest at the distortion of the record.

For, as very horrible recent history shows, demonisation of easily stereotyped unpopular minority groups is not only beyond the pale of civility, it is too often the prelude to discrimination and worse, far worse. END

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On the "Theocracy" Question, 1

Some little while ago Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost reposted a post on theocracy. A lively exchange ensued in the comments threads.

I found that the names North and Rushdoony came up as "theocrats" so I decided to take a look. This was also influenced by the frequency with which the names and their claimed views come up for mention and short-shrift dismissal.

Maybe they deserve it, but I am curious, so I took a look.

I found the following and commented as follows:

--> I took some time to look up Mr North, whom I vaguely recalled as a conservative thinker with a bit of a thing for the gold standard, in a version of a Calvinist frame with I think it was some libertarianish leanings.

--> His web site opens up on -- surprise: a financial advice page, with a lot of stress on money and real estate.

--> In the links column, I found some articels on theological stuff, mostly in the genre: When you hear the words Social Gospel, immediately think "Pastors' justification of armed government agents acting on behalf of certain special-interest voting blocs to take wealth away from other groups of citizens in order to benefit these special interests." This is exactly what the Social Gospel has always been. The central moral, judicial, and political issue of the Social Gospel is compulsion.

--> To that, my quiet observation is that the text of Rom 13:1 - 7 points out:

RO 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

RO 13:6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

RO 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

--> In short, within the limits of confiscation, which is indeed thievery and tyranny, Government has a justification for reasonable taxes and acting for the welfare of the community, especially in the matter of justice.

--> So Mr North has a point but is overboard on the benefis of unfettered capitalism: he needs to re-read Acts 27, to see how capitalists and technocrats can manipulate a public to its detriment.

Rev Rushdoony:

--> Here my memory was of someone who came out of the more or less Orthodox position and has a rather calvinist stance on a lot of issues. A flavour, from a 1971 article -- I think he has passed on:

This morning I stopped at the office of an “underground” leftist newspaper to pick up a back issue I needed for my work and writing. Inside the lobby, two long-haired revolutionaries, both staff members, were busy with a problem. Their coin-operated newspaper racks were regularly being robbed of all their papers . . . . I was amused as I listened because their paper is vitriolic in its attacks on and contempt for Biblical faith and morality. They openly express contempt for God’s law, for property rights, for sexual morality, for everything the Bible teaches. But now their property was being robbed, and they were upset.

I was reminded of the boy I went to high school with who thought it was great fun to steal melons, and said that the best tasting melons were stolen ones. A few years ago, back home, a friend told me that this same person, now a farmer, was busy damning the young punks who were stealing his melons!

The Communists, both before and in the early years after the Russian Revolution, were busy destroying morality and religion. Now they have a problem in that a generation reared by their standards will not work, will steal anything they can get away with, and has no real standards except self-interest. The Communists are now trying to tell their youth that laziness, theft, and promiscuity are bourgeois, capitalistic sins! . . . .

No society can exist without moral law, and no man-made moral law has ever commanded man’s obedience. Men who work to overthrow moral order are in the end very unhappy when they themselves are robbed by lawless men.

We have been trying to operate without God and His law. Our schools have reared a generation of lawless youth, and our apostate churches have given men dry sawdust instead of the Word of God. The results should surprise no one.

God promises another result if we turn to Him: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

--> In short here he is advocating the principle that we see in Rom 2:14 and in 13:8 - 10, the universality of the moral law and the incoherence of those who would subvert it -- i.e. all that stuff about "self-evident truths":

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) . . . .

RO 13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

--> On these points, it seems Mr Rushdoony is dead right, and so we must be careful against throwing out the baby with the bathwater, on whatever points he -- like all of us fallible thinkers -- is wrong.

--> I think here, if memory serves, he may be a bit more towards applyig the Israelite Levitical civil code to our situation than I think is sound. But in fact that code is a source in Roman Law as critically pruned by Justinian, and the Common Law of Britain. [Cf my observations on the case of the woman taken in adultery and thrown down before Jesus to trap him.]

What I find fascinating on this is that here we see the tendency to label and dismiss people instead of addressing issues seriously. For, these men may indeed have foolish things to say on many issues, but they have in fact raised significant points that are well worth thinking about and taking up seriously.

So, I am thinking we need to take the time to think about a key question, in addressing news, views, educational presentations, entertainment, etc:
Is the presented information: (1) accurate, (2) fair, (3) kind and (4) balanced?
For, we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

Next time let us follow up on this issue a bit more -- is biblical Christianity properly to be feared as a likely source of tyranny; or should it be viewed instead, historically, as a fountainhead of liberation?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Evangelicals: Violence Against Women an Integral Part of Prostitution

BARBADOS, Sept 21, 2006 -- The Evangelical community across the Caribbean is deeply concerned about the proposal to license sex workers in the region for the Cricket World Cup. We are unalterably opposed to such a move. Our position is taken on these grounds:

  1. Prostitution exploits women and reinforces the male dominance of the woman in a manner that is unacceptable in the twenty-first century.
  1. Decriminalisation dignifies pimps, brothels, and sex clubs – something that is abhorrent to every Christian.
  1. Decriminalisation actually aids the trafficking of women and children for sex purposes and as these exploited persons remain outside the legal framework, they are further marginalised and not in any way assisted by decriminalisation.
  1. Decriminalisation does not in fact control prostitution, but expands it. There is an immediate and long-term increase in hidden, illegal and street prostitution completely outside the “legal” framework.
  1. Violence against women is an integral part of prostitution. Decriminalisation does not address this aspect of the “trade” and in fact increases the violence against those women who are forced into the “profession.”
  1. Women’s health is not in fact protected.
  1. At least one study has demonstrated that women in prostitution do not want legalisation and have no desire for their own daughters to embrace the “profession.”
  1. The Holy Bible is explicit in its opposition to prostitution.

The Evangelical Association of the Caribbean urges that:

  1. Prostitution not be decriminalised in the Caribbean for the Cricket World Cup or at any time.
  1. Legislation throughout the region dealing with violence against women be strengthened to include prostitution as violence against women and criminalise the men who seek to abuse and exploit women in this degrading manner.
  1. All Caribbean governments commit to practical steps that would alleviate the economic pressures on women who are forced to degrade themselves through this violent, unhealthy, and spiritually destructive “trade.”
  1. Legislation be enacted swiftly to ensure the coming into being of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy will not provide aid and comfort to those who traffic in women and children for sexual or any other purposes.

The Barbados Evangelical Association not long ago produced a document entitled Faith, Hope, Love and Human Sexuality that deals with this and related issues. It is a well researched and documented paper which clearly elucidates the concerns of the Evangelical community. The full document is accessible on-line at (pages 14-19 are relevant to this issue).

The Evangelical community throughout the region is deeply grateful for the principled stand taken by the Governments of Barbados , St. Kitts/Nevis, Guyana and Antigua/Barbuda. We note with appreciation the commitment of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis to engage a national discussion on these issues. We urge Evangelicals in the twin-island state to fully engage in this national discussion mindful of the sometimes emotive nature of the issues to be discussed.

May God guide our political directorate as they grapple with this controversial issue.

Conservatively, there are at least seven million Evangelical Christians throughout the Caribbean. END


Rev. Gerry A. Seale, DD, General Secretary and CEO, Evangelical Association of the Caribbean , Web Site: Empowering the Church to transform society

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reflections on the questionable executions of Christian dhimmis as murderous rebels in Indonesia

On Thursday, three Christian men in Indonesia, Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus Dasilva and Marinus Riwu, were shot to death by firing squad in Indonesia, on the charge that they were leaders of a violent attack on a Muslim school during a mini civil war provoked by Islamist extremists seeking to drive out, forcibly convert or subjugate Christians in Indonesia several years ago. Subsequent to the executions, a wave of violent and evidently lawless protests occurred on Sulawesi island.

Now, immediately, this sad situation brings to mind a warning and counsel in the writings of the Apostle Peter:

1PE 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? . . . .

1PE 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Under normal circumstances, that would be enough to address the matter, apart from underscoring the lessons to be learned from a bad example. Sadly, and despite say the BBC's continual reference to “CHRISTIAN-Muslim violence” in Sulawesi over the years, there is reason to believe that it is seriously to be doubted that the above is all there is to the story.

For, as WorldNetDaily documents, there is serious reason to believe that the trials in question were unfair, were in the teeth of a one-sided amnesty for Muslims involved in the violence, and may well have constituted a gross miscarriage of justice in the teeth of exculpating evidence:

"Justice has once again been denied Indonesia's Christians," said Jeremy Sewall, a policy analyst for ICC. [International Christian Concern] "I am deeply saddened at this news and ask all concerned Christians to pray for the families of these men. This is a tragedy. This is not justice."

The men were sentenced to death during the conflict in Poso in 2000. As WorldNetDaily reported in 2001, more than 2,000 people died in three years of clashes in Central Sulawesi province before a peace agreement was reached between Muslim and Christian leaders . . . .

The execution was stayed last month [to facilitate a judicial review that should have taken up to a year] by the attorney general for Central Sulawesi, Mohammad Yahya Sibe, but the official suddenly was replaced, and the order was given to proceed.

The chief of police also suddenly was replaced and sent to another department . . . . Tibo, Riwu, and Da Silva were the only men charged in the Poso conflict.

"This is a glaring injustice and hints of massive cover-up by the Indonesian government," the group said in a statement, noting it has done its own investigation of the conflict.

"Entire Christian villages were attacked with government munitions and burned down using Indonesian government fuel trucks," ICC said. "Christian adults and children were beheaded. The Muslim community initiated the attacks and there was every indication that local Muslim government leaders were involved. Why were no Muslims ever charged in any of the attacks?"

ICC's president, Jeff King, said there are "so many Muslims in the Poso area with blood on their hands that the governor of Central Sulawesi, where Poso is located, recently conveyed to the community that in order to attain peace it was necessary to implement a 'general amnesty' for those implicated in the Poso case." . . . .

The three men claimed their convictions resulted from irregularities during their trial. They contended, for example, the judge in the case neglected to consider the testimony of 13 different witnesses – including the defendants themselves – that would have exonerated them. [Emphasis added. Read the rest of the account]

The telling part of the account is the just highlighted, as it reveals the underlying problem in the trial. Even though Indonesia is officially secular, in a province with the sort of current history we have just seen, the influence of Islamic thought and the history of dhimmitude and the assumption that the testimony of non-Muslims is inherently suspect are highly material:

"An Islamic state is essentially an ideological state, and is thus radically different from a national state." This statement made by Mawdudi lays the basic foundation for the political, economical, social, and religious system of all Islamic countries which impose the Islamic law. This ideological system intentionally discriminates between people according to their religious affiliations . . . . Zimmis cannot testify against Muslims. They can only testify against other ZimmisMusta'min. Their oaths are not considered valid in an Islamic court. According to the Shari`a, a Zimmi is not even qualified to be under oath. Muraghi states bluntly, "The testimony of a Zimmi is not accepted because Allah - may He be exalted - said: `God will not let the infidels (kafir) have an upper hand over the believers'." [Emphases in original.]

This of course sets the basis for massive discrimination and injustice, which is exactly what ICC complains of as a routine problem in Indonesia. Yet, despite the seriousness of this Apartheid-like status and the easy access to credible documentation [e.g. the well-researched works of Bat Ye'or], we simply hear little or nothing on this in the international media we usually access in our region, such as BBC, in its reporting on this and other similar cases and incidents. Again, we here see a now routine anti-Christian media bias at work.

But that is not all, for we must address the issue of the ethics of protest and the right to reformation and if necessary revolution in light of the rich Christian heritage on the matter.

For that, the first obvious point is to compare the repeated slave uprisings in the Caribbean, in which [especially in the late C18 and early C19] Christian slaves were involved. Often there was violence, including against innocent persons, which probably implicated Christians. Plainly, given the obviousness of Peter's notes above, Christians should not become criminals or even busybodies, so we cannot justify or excuse such plainly wrongful behaviour.

Howbeit, we must nor allow disgust over Christians who give in to the temptations of rage provoked by injustice, and miss the more basic point -- i.e. the other side of the story. For, by direct implication of Romans 13:4, when it calls the civil authority God's servant to do us good, who bears the sword to restrain or oppose evildoers, it immediately follows that such an authority oversteps his proper bounds if he establishes systematic injustice. As the US Declaration of Independence, 1776, eloquently summarises in light of a history of thought and events tracing back to the 1579 Calvinist work Vindicae Contra Tyrannos, and other major Christian and Christian-influenced works on the subject:

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

In short, tyranny by usurpation, corruption or invasion [or however otherwise occasioned] plainly delegitimises claims to civil authority. Thus, an oppressed people have an inherent right of protest and appropriate action to reform or if necessary replace such tyrannical government [which BTW is a major reason for the institution of peaceful elections]. Further to this, as proved to be the crucial element in the ending of slavery in the Caribbean, Christian action to inform the wider public of the facts of oppression and injustice, joined to calls for reform, are a critical strategy that can avert resort to violent revolution.

Unfortunately, history is also replete with cases where oppressive elites refused to listen to calls for reform, and precipitated revolutions or rebellions. Nor is resistance to armed attacks to be regarded as unjustified rebellion, but as self-defence. Also, in several key cases, armed rebellion in the face of insistent oppression has opened the door to liberation and reformation, e.g. the failed sit-down strike for pay that turned into the Baptist War slave rebellion in Jamaica in 1831/2, played a key role in precipitating the decision to end the institution, especially when it became public knowledge that the chapels of the dissenters had been burned by those acting for the colonial authorities, and when it was shown that the same authorities tried to hang the dissenter missionaries as fomenters of rebellion.

So, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater in this case. We who are free should now rise up to document the oppression and injustice in Indonesia [and elsewhere in that part of the world influenced by the same sort of thought and history], and call and act for reformation -- not just in Indonesia but in our media and the international institutions that were quick [and correct!] to oppose apartheid but have so far been too often silent in the face of dhimmitude. END

UPDATE: Edited the last sentence for clarity. [I realised, on looking back, that it could have been open to a very different interpretation than I intended!]

Friday, September 22, 2006

Reformation: moving on beyond darkened understandings and numbed consciences in the nations

Nationhood under God -- as we saw last time [apologies for a missed day!] -- should be characterised by right reason and living by the light of the candle of the Lord within. Too often however, it is marked instead by darkened understanding and benumbed consciences, leading to chaos and much harm, thus the urgent -- but too often suppressed -- need for repentance and reformation.

So, we need to address how we can move on beyond such a hard-hearted, foolish, self- and community- destructive state.

Paul, in Ephesians 4, addresses this, as he speaks to the young Christian movement in the Roman Empire through what is probably a circular letter to the churches:

EPH 4:17 . . . I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

EPH 4:20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Thus, each of us first of all needs to respond positively to God's strategy for personal reformation and transformation:

EPH 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Lying behind this is God's great strategy of fullness under Christ:

EPH 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

So, we come to the operational form of the church's mandate -- a culture-transformation [not a political or military!] strategy that is rooted in the peaceful but powerfully anointed witness to the nations of transformed lives, lives transformed through the mission of the church in the nations:

EPH 4:9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

EPH 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

One of the most aptly illustrative cases in point is the strategy of the first successful antislavery movement in the world. As Thomas Sowell notes:

A very readable and remarkable new book that has just been published -- "Bury the Chains" by Adam Hochschild -- traces the history of the world's first anti-slavery movement, which began with a meeting of 12 "deeply religious" men in London in 1787.
The book re-creates the very different world of that time, in which slavery was so much taken for granted that most people simply did not think about it, one way or the other. Nor did the leading intellectuals, political leaders, or religious leaders in Britain or anywhere else in the world.
The dozen men who formed the world's first anti-slavery movement saw their task as getting their fellow Englishmen to think about slavery -- about the brutal facts and about the moral implications of those facts.
Their conviction that this would be enough to turn the British public, and ultimately the British Empire, against slavery might seem naive, except that this is precisely what happened. It did not happen quickly and it did not happen without encountering bitter opposition, for the British were at the time the world's biggest slave traders and this created wealthy and politically powerful special interests defending slavery.
The anti-slavery movement nevertheless persisted through decades of struggles and defeats in Parliament until eventually they secured a ban on the international slave trade, and ultimately a ban on slavery itself throughout the British Empire.
Even more remarkable, Britain took it upon itself, as the leading naval power of the world, to police the ban on slave trading against other nations. Intercepting and boarding other countries' ships on the high seas to look for slaves, the British became and remained for more than a century the world's policeman when it came to stopping the slave trade . . . .
Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world . . . . As anti-slavery ideas eventually spread throughout Western civilization, a worldwide struggle pitted the West against Africans, Arabs, Asians and virtually the entire non-Western world, which still saw nothing wrong with slavery. But Western imperialists had gunpowder weapons first and that enabled the West to stamp out slavery in other societies as well as in its own.
The review of "Bury the Chains" in the New York Times tried to suggest that the ban against the international slave trade somehow served British self-interest. But John Stuart Mill, who lived in those times, said that the British "for the last half-century have spent annual sums equal to the revenue of a small kingdom in blockading the Africa coast, for a cause in which we not only had no interest, but which was contrary to our pecuniary interest."

In short, it is a matter of history, that repentant sinners fired by the vision of the gospel, can make a difference at global scale, all the frustrations, arguments, battles, compromises and mixed blessings and mixed motives that ultimately become a part of that process notwithstanding. That vision and effort profoundly influenced the history of the liberation struggle in the Caribbean, and opens the door to our own engagement of the global missionary challenge, especially in the lands from which so many of our ancestors came, the 10/40 window.

So, now, let us ask a pertinent question, as we look at the many sad cases of entrenched sin and deception in our day: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Democracy, right reason, and nationhood under God

The case we have been looking at in Acts 27 underscores just how important right reason and right motives are in the process of participative democratic self-government, if disaster is to be averted.

For, when agendas and interests are allowed to induce us to actions that are unwise given our environment, that is an invitation to disaster. So, in that regard, Luke's highlighting of the incident at Fair Havens is an excellent case study that we would well do to heed.

But this is not an issue that is in a vacuum, for as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent Regensburg address:

Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably [. . .] is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the [. . . .]. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, [. . . ], with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.

. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - [. . .], worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe . . . the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith . . . . [emphasis added]

Thus, let us now turn to the words of the man who pioneered that synthesis [and is thus the true -- but too often deeply resented and unacknowledged -- Father of Western Civilisation as we know it], in his first major encounter with the intellectual elites of Pagan Greece. Namely, the same Paul of Tarsus, at Mars Hill in 50 AD, i.e. about nine years before the shipwreck incident we have been reflecting on:

AC 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown [i.e. he has here scored a knockout in his opening: the proud guardians of the West's intellectual tradition have had to build and maintain, perhaps for centuries, a monument to their ignorance on the most important single point of knowledge] I am going to proclaim to you [thus, the importance of humbly listening to what God credibly has to say, in our reasoning].

AC 17:24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men [so much for racism and xenophobic jingoism], that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. [That is, God controls history through holding the reigns of the elements of geopolitics: people, place and times] 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us [that is, the chaos caused by our sinful folly should awaken us to cry out to God, who is right there willing to answer and help; however lacking in detailed knowledge we are]. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'

AC 17:29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." [That is, God has an offer of adequate proof that we should heed, on pain of self-referentially inconsistent - thus patently absurd -- selective hyperskepticism] [Parenthetical comments added]

Now, obviously, both the Pope and Paul have in mind dialogue across worldviews on the subject of the credibility of God. However, as Paul also points out, this worldviews level multi-sided evangelistic dialogue cannot be isolated from the issue of nationhood under God and the issue of wisdom in respect of community life and government under God, given the adequate proof God has given to us: the man Jesus, his salvific death and resurrection leading to not only 500+ witnesses and the church as an otherwise inexplicably successful movement.

In short, right reason, instructed by the candle of God within us leads to that core morality, prudence and good sense that should govern national life and citizenship, but so often fails to. As the Apostle picks up in his AD 57 letter to Rome:

Rom 2:14 . . . when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them . . . .

RO 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established . . . [The civil authority] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer . . . . RO 13:6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

RO 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Emphases added]

But then there is a modernist trend to try to improperly shorten the radius of reason, to exclude God from rational thought. This, the pope takes up very well:

[The typical secularised] modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. [I note, this is not at all the same as absolute truth] The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned . . . . if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective . . . This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

In short, to so constrict the radius of reason ends in foolishness, logical and moral.

No wonder, Paul, too, is so telling in his long-standing diagnosis of Western culture's intellectual currents in light of our proclivities to forget God and exclude him from our intellectual, civil and moral life:

RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . . RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

In short, the worldviews issues we have seen are hardly isolated from the practical challenges of Government, justice and civil liberty in a community worth having. So, whether the lawlessness of those who would snuff out the candle of God within us comes in the form of chaotic license rather than good citizenship, or that of tyranny, injustice and aggression to impose one's vision and views on others by force of arms, turning from him who is Reason Himself is a profoundly irrational and destructive thing to do.

No wonder, then, that in fact, it was the reformation that brought to the fore precisely these issues that played such a key -- but again often resented and unacknowledged -- role in the rise of modern liberty. [Here, it is to be underscored again that the consequences of putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man and encouraging him to read it and live by its light was a centuries-long wave-train of liberation struggles that have massively and positively helped shape the modern world. Not least, sadly, that struggle had to be fought against a sub-biblical understanding of the Christian faith that failed to reckon adequately with the whole counsel of God on the matter of liberty and justice in the community, as Rom 13:1 - 10 so aptly captures.]

Consequently, the ongoing, rising agenda that seeks to dechristianise the West, as well that of the Islamists -- NB: not to be confused with all, or even most, Muslims! -- who plainly wish to impose an arbitrary rule in the name of Allah, his prophet, his law and his warriors, are both plainly less-than-truly rational.

Furthermore, it is all to well warranted to conclude that these two fundamentally irrational movements, sadly, are in fact also indeed therefore major twin threats to true -- that is, god-fearing -- wisdom in Government, and to its proper object: liberty and justice for all. So now, let us turn to how we can renew and reform civil society in our time through a fresh reformation towards true liberty and justice for all. This is the challenge that now faces us in the Caribbean and across the whole world END

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A pause to correct Mr Ian Boyne, a Caribbean Commentator


My attention was just today drawn to an article by Mr Boyne of Jamaica in the Gleaner this Sunday past. The article is so outrageous, that I have corrected it in the Caribbean Kairos eGroup, where it was drawn to my attention. With slight modifications, that corrective post follows:


I found that in his commentary, Mr Boyne has stated much that is of deepest concern, starting with:

there are sincere Muslims outside of the Middle East who are visceral and reflexively defensive over criticisms about the totalitarian nature of Islamic fundamentalism.
These Chinese and Muslims, blinded by loyalty borne of ethnicity and ideology, are joined by leftists who, turned off by the failure of bourgeois democracy to meet the social and economic needs of the poor and oppressed, downplay Cuba's suppression of freedom of the press and expression, because of its impressive social achievements.
1] By using "Fundamentalism" Boyne and others of that ilk implicate the biblical Christian faith, as that is the origin of what has now become little more than a smear word. In short the in-group readily reads the implications, not that Islam -- unfortunately -- is unique among major religions in regards to being explicitly instructed in its sources and founding examples to be spread globally by the sword [cf Surah 9:5, 29 - 31 etc, which are so late that they, sadly, take precedence in light of the principle of abrogation], and the just past posts (here and here) on the Pope's remarks], but that the problem is "fundamentalism": so -- Biblical Christians are just as bad. [Here we see an alliance between secularists, neo-pagans and apostates to attack the biblical Christian faith as the “real” enemy, with Islam's track record and current misbehaviour just providing an occasion to get on to the “real” battle. THAT is why there is a refusal in so many quarters to face the fact that, counting the Cold War as no 3, we are in World War 4, the 4th in 100 years.]

2] So, we here have dodged the duty to investigate the key problem posed by Islam, and since Mr Bush is notoriously a biblical Christian [and imperfect as are all men], it is an easy swipe to reduce him to [im]moral equivalence, while failing to look at the plank sticking out of our own eyes first. Sad.

3] Cuba of course, is getting a pass on its many socio-economic failings [UPDATE: Cf this report on a current Cuban investigation, Oct 23], even as a token note on lack of freedom is noted. [Let's just note that in 1958 Cuba's standard of living was comparable to Italy's -- i.e., it should not be compared with the rest of the region at all, but with the very similar cultures of S Europe -- and its failure to take off like Italy or Spain is where its real failure shows itself.]

Next, this passage is -- sadly -- a sweeping piece of sophistry:
Unfortunately, because of the glaring hypocrisy of United States foreign policy, George Bush's rhetoric about liberty and democracy-promotion are given short shrift and the democratic ideal is not given the profound significance which it holds. Because democracy is being promoted in an unbalanced and class-driven way. But, despite the myriad examples of double-standards in the rhetoric of the West about democracy, human rights and freedom, the fact remains that its concept of freedom, though limited in practice, is philosophically superior to its competitors, past and present. The U.S. might have opposed Nazism and communism because of its own Great Power designs and hegemonic obsession, and even if it said that it opposes Islamic extremism for the same reasons, the truth is that American model of democracy is superior to that trinity. It must be acknowledged that right-wingers and defenders of western democracy have been one-sided and jaundiced in their approach to human rights. They make civil and political liberties sacrosanct, but largely ignore economic and social rights, which are equally enshrined in United Nations conventions.
1] Is US Foreign policy glaringly hypocritical in a way that makes it singularly disreputable, or is it that it faces and we face a world in which the possible trumps the ideal, in the here and now? [In short, are we judging the US by a conveniently selectively hyperskeptical standard? Cf say how we [in the Caribbean] have treated Cuba [which in part Mr Boyne notes], and Venezuela under Mr Chavez, here in the Caribbean, or how we treated Grenada and Haiti in Caricom when these island states each had a coup?]

2] It is simply an assertion that democracy is being promoted in an unbalanced, class driven way. In the relevant test cases, Iraq and Lebanon, has the US been acting in an unbalanced way or in a way driven by class interests -- whose, where? In short this is the rhetoric of dismissal not fair comment driven by substantial points.

3] That "might" relative to totalitarianism, is telling. For, in both cases, the US and other Western powers, imperfect as they are, were plainly the better alternative in an existential struggle against two totalitarian ideologies that were openly declared to be hell-bent on world conquest. [Here Boyne - who is very well-informed indeed -- is exploiting both our ignorance of history and our reflexive tendency to view western powers as bad.]

4] That dismissive, judgemental sweep again comes out in the remarks on rights. First the only stable foundation of rights is that we have an endowment from God which the state has a duty under God to defend. In that context, the secularist-socialist extensions from human rights to "social" and "economic" "rights" runs into the issue: are you confusing the BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY [cf preamble to the US Constitution] with the rights of persons? To wit: WHO specifically owes us these "rights" and on what moral basis? (Does anyone OWE us a living? Who owes us a solid family life etc, or is it that we need to live under godly principles to enjoy these in a prosperous and peaceful community? Nor is the UN any proper arbiter of what fundamental rights are -- they are objective and rooted in our nature as human beings made in God's image, so they cannot be either granted or taken away by words on paper either! And, if the UN is setting out to RECOGNISE rights, then we have the right to analyse its logic, as just outlined.]

The rhetoric goes on, and soon enough gets around to the real target:
In Saudi Arabia, Christians and Buddhists -and all non-Muslims-have no right to build places of worship or to propagate their religion. The Islamic rulers know what's best for the population and they know the mind of Allah. Too bad for you if you think that your God is directing you otherwise . . . .
The world is a much safer place today because the totalitarian ideology of the Christian Crusaders and the Roman Church was decisively routed by the secular state. Do not believe that militant Islam is necessarily more vicious and more violent than a militant Fundamentalist or resurgent Middle Ages Catholicism would be. The Christian fanatics and theonomists can find enough texts in the Old and even New testaments to butcher us unbelievers (in their particular sectarian doctrine), just as the radical Islamists can find Quranic justification for terrorism. There is something pernicious and scary about the Fundamentalist mindset.
In Jamaica you encounter some mindless Christian fundamentalists who, if they had their way, would ban certain television programmes, certain movies and certain books and would even seek to impose dress-length standards on our women to fight the scourge of dancehall fashions. Don't think it's just the Taliban who has this kind of mentality. Talk to your fundamentalist, Bible-thumping neighbour and see how open-minded he or she really is.
1] First did you see how biblical Christians in Jamaica are -AGAIN, in the Gleaner's columns -- being equated to the Taliban's tyranny, all courtesy that ever so easy smear-word, "fundamentalism"? Nor is he addressing the vast gap between the biblically illiterate, Christianity of the Middle Ages and the world that resulted from having the reformation sola scriptura principle joined to putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man: liberation. Not to mention, he speaks of tiny fringe movements [UPDATE: Cf remarks on Rich Lowry's Oct 17 article here] as if they represent the sentiment or substantial thought of the mainstream of biblical Christianity, including here in the Caribbean. [For that matter, there are excellent exegetical grounds that show just why Christians have no biblical basis for indulging in theological or state tyranny, starting with the most obvious text on the relationship of the Christian and the state, Rom 13:1 – 10, in which the legitimacy of even a pagan Caesar such as NERO (admittedly, before he dismissed Seneca and went utterly mad) is directly implied, as God's agent to do us good and to bear the sword to protect the community from injustice. Further to this, we see that the text immediately continues to summarise that the OT moral law as Jesus did – and NB the civil code and ceremonial code and examples therein are filtered through the principle of fulfillment in Christ -- leads to the principle of neighbour love thence the point that since love does no harm it is the fulfillment of the law. In what way can any alleged Bible-based tyranny pass the test of such a bulwark of justice?) This is utterly unfair and inexcusable. Has Mr Boyne -- who is certainly not a biblical illiterate -- no shame?]

2] Second, he has utterly failed to address the fact hat the Quran drastically contrasts with the Bible on the matter of liberty, so that in fact it was not secularism that brought us to modern liberty but in large and material measure the REFORMATION as it moved out into the issues of liberty, as can be seen in the line of thought from Duplesis-Mornay's Vindicae Contra Tyrannos through the Calvinist Dutch Declaration of Independence of 1581, to Rutherford's Lex Rex, and on into the US founding thence the rise of modern democracy. In short, some highly material balancing facts have been suppressed and the history of modern liberty is drastically distorted, to make the biblically rooted Christian faith [as opposed to some Christians and church movements that failed to live up to the standards of that faith], without good warrant, into a villain. Did he not even pause to read and reflect on Orlando Patterson's seminal work on Freedom, which would have taught him better? Even his fellow columnist at the Gleaner, Mr Martin Henry would have greatly helped:
ON THE fly leaf of Orlando Patterson's book, Freedom, appears the words of Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of bondage". Our slave-side ancestors at Emancipation would have deeply identified with these words of Paul's. The book, described as a "magisterial work" in the publishers blurb, traces the emergence and evolution of freedom to stand today "unchallenged as the supreme value of the Western world".
Most human languages did not even have a word for the concept of freedom before Western contact. Freedom is also, Patterson proposes, "the central value of Christianity: being redeemed, being freed by, and in, Christ, is the ultimate goal of all Christians"; Christianity being "the first and only world religion that placed freedom ­ spiritual freedom, redemption ­at the very center of its theology". Wherever this odd religion [I add, correctively, in its popularly circulated, biblically-based form] has become established, he says, it has made converts to both salvation in Christ and to the ideal of freedom . . . .
Patterson devotes a good chunk of his book to "Christianity and the Institutionalisation of Freedom" without, I think, adequate recognition of the rootedness of Christianity in Judaism and its continuity from Judaism. Surely the Exodus and the Old Testament's stringent legal regulation of bondage and protection of 'freedom' contain the very elements of freedom, which Patterson describes, long before Greek civilisation emerged.
Alongside Greek and Roman thought, Patterson assigns a central role to Christianity, and particularly the theology of Paul, in the emergence of the supreme Western value of freedom. His final paragraph on Paul is a gem, revealing a profound understanding of what Paul said and what Christians believe: "Till the final deliverance, then, upon the second coming, mankind must settle for the lesser freedom of the Galatians, using it both as a rallying flag in the continuing struggle against re-enslavement and as a spur to the obedience of a superior faith which is hope for the higher freedom that has been granted and that will bring, when it comes, not surrender but perfect union with God."
In an age of excess, when the supreme Western value of freedom has become a global value, too often taken to extremes, Orlando Patterson in his "Coda", or final passage, warns of the problems and perils of freedom. "Freedom is undeniably the source of Western intellectual mastery, the engine of its extraordinary creativity, and the open secret of the triumph of Western culture, in one form or another, over the cultures of mankind". But, "at its worst, no value has been more evil and socially corrosive in its consequences, inducing selfishness, alienation, the celebration of greed, and the dehumanising disregard for the 'losers', the little people who fail to make it. We have been unable to transcend the evils that come with the blessings of personal freedom".
3] In short Mr Boyne has suppressed what happened when the Bible was put into the hands of the ordinary man as a result of the reformation, and the resulting biblically motivated struggles for liberty that have brought to so many the blessings of liberty. Sure, there were other threads in the rope of liberty, but a lot of the heavy lifting was done by biblically motivated Christians in the relevant era. [Cf here]

4] Thus, it is no surprise to see his rhetoric of immoral equivalency in the conclusion he would have us draw:
An independent intellectual cadre must continue to push for a third path between the enemies of freedom on both sides.
Sad, but ever so predictable. And, where are the multitudes of well-informed Christians who should be rushing to correct him even as we speak?

In short, we see here a major gap in our ministry: in the teeth of 1 Pet 3:15, we have not been equipped to answer to the reason for the hope we have!
And, that is one challenge that this blog exists to help us address. END
UPDATE, Oct 25: As I noted in my later post, Oct 18, responding to Mr Boyne's further artice of Oct 15, I believe I was perhaps too sharp on tone in the above. I have therefore taken occasion to soften the tone a bit and clean up a few typos, while adding links. However, I consider that some very strong language is well warranted by Mr Boyne's tone and substance, as I have now further highlighted, and so also I have left much of my original language of pointed rebuttal intact. In particular, observers should note the obvious tone of immoral equivalency above [which Attorney at law Shirley Richards also commented on it seems], which Mr Boyne then tried to deny in his Oct 15 article, only to fall right back into making just such an invidious comparison, as is discussed in my further rebuttal, to that article. I note that he in his second article tried to make it out that I am an overzealous ignoramus speaking outside of what I know, but note how he never properly comes to grips with highly material evidence -- much of it from primary historical documents now just a web-click away -- that I have repeatedly linked and cited, then discussed, most notably here. [Cf also my excerpts from and discussion of Vindiciae here!] To date, the response I submitted on Oct 18, the day after learning of the article of Oct 15 -- which would be the first that Gleaner readers would be able to see the other side of the story from me, has not appeared in the Gleaner. On track record of an earlier exchange with Mr Espeut over his dismissal of the Gospels as hopelessly mutually contradictory on the accounts of the resurrection, in 2003, that is sadly not surprising. Let that track record speak for itself, alongside the pattern of dismissive and now even plainly abusive comments on Biblical Christianity that now it seems routinely appear in the Gleaner's pages.
FURTHER UPDATE, Oct 26: It is worth excerpting from my initial response, on Oct 17, to Mr Boyne's further column in which he tried to deny that he was indulging in improper assertions of immoral equivalency, attacking me by name as an ignoramus and zealot.
The "oops effect" I highlight in the excerpt is highly revealing in light of the above earlier response with excerpts. For, on any objective reading. Mr Boyne exactly does in fact try to push Bible-believing Christians in the Caribbean today into the same boat as Al Quaeda and the Taliban:
. . . I have just been informed that I have been strongly criricised by name, by Mr Ian Boyne, for pointing out that in fact the Christian faith, once the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man, made a major contribution to the rise of modern liberty. The core of his claim is:
. . . some Christians have also been offended by what they see as my lumping together Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists.
There is no moral equivalence between the two, they insist. And, of course, I never suggested that. But what I have maintained is that the Christians are also prone to bigotry, intolerance and the desire to impose their will on others just as the Islamic militants. The Christians have been more restrained in establishing their Kingdom of God on earth not because that desire has extinguished among them but because they live in secular states which have long disposed of the concept of the Divine Right of Kings and other theocratic notions.
Oops. As the highlighted reveals, he unfortunately evidently immediately inadvertently lets slip what he had just tried to deny.

I also find it highly interesting that, in a rather long article, the very well-read Mr Boyne utterly fails to address precisely how the absolutist notions were addressed in a biblical context, by Duplessis-Mornay, by the Dutch declarants of independence from Spanish rule and the Inquisition in 1581, or in the famous Lex Rex: namely, as shown in summary here, by using the Bible and concepts tracing to it, thus materially contributing to the rise of modern liberty.
It is high time for a frank and full apology and retraction on Mr Boyne's part, I would say.