Jan 16

Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, by John G. West ★★★★★

It’s been a while since I’ve read much about the various evolution/creation debates. I am solidly an intelligent design adherent, as I feel that it is most consistent with the text of Scripture, while not mandating the precise conditions and methods by which God formed the universe and all that is within it. Being a Ph.D. cell biologist myself, I find it incomprehensible that simple unguided random mutations could possibly generate the complex biological systems that we see. That is exactly the point of the intelligent design movement, which has a think tank out the Discovery Institute in Seattle. John West is one of the senior fellows of this institution. In this text, he tackles the issue of how certain political conservative commentators, like George Will or Charles Krauthammer, can claim that their defense of conservative morality and conservative principles could be consistent with a strict Darwinian evolutionary belief system. John West argues consistently otherwise. The chapters in turn cover arguments for traditional morality, the traditional family, free will/personal responsibility, limited non-utopian government, and religion, while also offering a chapter on the further defense of intelligent design when under attack by evolutionists. Dr. West mentions but doesn’t thoroughly develop the argument from the theistic evolutionists, but then, that is mostly another subject.

Darwin’s conservatives show that matters such as traditional morality have improved the survivability of the human species. Yet, as West argues, they are speaking contrary to the majority of evolution scientists, in that their stance suggests that morality would probably not have developed as we see it if morality had emerged from a totally random world. In all the topics that West deals with, it is quite clear that our conservative belief structures would very unlikely not have occurred. I’ll not reiterate the whole of West’s arguments, save to note that they are exceptionally well researched, well thought out, well-referenced, and well expressed in this small tome.

The book is structured well. Later chapters actually read easier than earlier chapters, drawing one into the book to its final conclusions. For any person that addresses the issue of evolution while in the public square, this book is quite helpful at helping one guide their arguments. The book not only refutes the Darwinian conservatives, but also leaves the question open to Darwinian liberals, as to how morality, religion, family, and a western form of government could have ever happened in a world formed by unguided random events. It is interesting to see that arguments against evolution address not only complex biological systems, but also the complexity of the sociological world of morality, religion, politics, economics, law, and family, which cannot be explained as simply random events occurring to products of the primordial slime. The book is very thought-provoking which deserves my highest recommendation.

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Jan 11

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★

This is a short text, easily read in 1-2 evenings, and addresses the issue of suffering from infectious or physical disasters as a Christian. Lutzer wisely doesn’t specifically delve into why we must experience so much suffering, but as a pastor, offers solace that our suffering is in God’s hands and for our best. He quotes frequently from Christians of the past and present that have commented on suffering, as well as offering comfort to the afflicted. It is a good book, and offers a wonderful example of the pastoral manner in which misfortune and grief might be dealt with on this side of glory.

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Jan 09

We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

We sat under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer for 7 years, between the years 1983 and 1990. Those years were wonderful years for us, with great preaching. Though Lutzer is dispensationalist in origin, rarely does he preach in a manner that demands a dispensational context. Lutzer is now retired, and as emeritus pastor, has continued to produce book after book with contemporary cultural relevance. The joy of reading his books is that he writes exactly as he preaches, and one is able to hear his voice as his books are being read. During our time at Moody Church with pastor Lutzer, not only did we hear great expository preaching, but noted that Lutzer was exceptionally skilled at taking critical contemporary issues and placing them in the lens of Scripture. This book is yet another example of that. The book references events that have happened within the last 6-12 months, and is relevant at trying to gain an interpretation to the insanity that is occurring in our government and society. The cover appeals that this book should be read by all Christians in America, and to that I heartily agree.

The book is only 263 pages long of large print type, meaning that it may be easily read in the space of 2-3 evenings for those who do not have television-trained short attention spans. At worst, a chapter an evening for 10 evenings should have the book easily finished off. Each chapter has the same format, with starting introductions to the topic, a full discussion, and then an analysis of a proper Christian response. Lutzer then ends each chapter with a suggested prayer that we should be offering. The chapter topics are, in order, 1) How did we get here?, i.e, what is the problem that this book needs to address? 2) How do we deal with the modern attempt to erase our historical past? 3) How do we approach the contemporary attempt to use diversity to divide and destroy the church. 4) The aggressive removal of freedom of speech, especially if it calls on Christian moral issues is addressed as well as our response. 5) How the propaganda of the left attempts to replace Christian values and morality by stating an even higher noble cause. 6) The attempt of progressives to destroy the youth through a highly sexualized environment. 7) The attempt of the radicals to condemn capitalism and provide socialism as its cure, all in the context of suggesting that it is Biblical to do so. 8) The movement of radical Islam in trying to destroy America. 9) Disagreements are no longer discussable issues, but the radical left uses shaming and ad hominem personal destruction to win an argument. 10) The church in Scripture is being warned to repent and clean up its own act as a best response to an increasingly decedent society.

Pastor Lutzer is most skilled at not only touching the reader’s mind, but also his heart in the issues discussed. This book draws the reader in, and is difficult to put down. Lutzer demonstrates his perceptive insights into what is going on in our society, as well as sensitive, Biblical advice as to how to lovingly challenge and confront the society that wishes to destroy Christianity. After reading the book, I can heartily advise others to read it, as well as to take it to heart.

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Jan 06

Jazz: A film by Ken Burns ★★★

Betsy and I have just finished watching the Ken Burns series on Jazz. I had listened to a Teaching Company series on the history of Jazz, but that was a few years ago. I have only recently developed an affection for the Jazz genre. I remember my first exposure to jazz was in 1st grade Clinton School in South Elgin, Illinois. Our class was moved to the school gymnasium, along with other classes, for a special event. They were introducing the school to jazz, and had some jazz music playing over loud speakers. As a six year old kid, it seemed like rather unstructured, chaotic music to me. I wasn’t used to it. I never heard anything like it before. Then, many of the students were jumping and wiggling around in a very unusual manner; which didn’t make sense to me. Growing up in an Amish-Mennonite community, dancing was unheard of to me. In high school, I listened to easy-to-grasp classical music and the newly emerging rock and roll. The Beatles were ok, but the Rolling Stones really seemed to say more to the soul. Louis Armstrong always stood out to me as music that I had a strong attraction to; I remember well playing many times over his St. James Infirmary, and being spell-bound by his trumpet playing. Since then, my main interest drifted to more serious classical music, and Bach stood as first and foremost. Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, and many other 19th & 20th century composers left me spell-bound. I decided to take up trumpet lessons early this last Spring, and ended up with a teacher whose trumpet career oriented around jazz performance. Though I dearly love to listen to music, and enjoy performing it, I do not possess an intrinsic talent for music. Why my instructor is so patient with me is a total mystery. I am sure he gets a good laugh with his family and friends whenever my pitiful lesson performance is brought up. Still, I find working on lessons to be something of great value and joy to me, even though I may never perform in public. Jim, my teacher, is totally awesome. He is slowly introducing me to jazz, and I am loving every minute of it. Assignments include listening to great trumpet players, and my listening has expanded from Maurice Andre and other classical trumpet players to the jazz genre. I looked on Amazon and YouTube for anything that included trumpet, and I was most pleased with what I found and heard. Jazz, like more complex classical music, takes time to appreciate. This film on jazz finally helped bring things together.

The series on jazz starts with New Orleans musicians like King Oliver, quickly shifts to Louis Armstrong, and then marches through the history of jazz up to the present day. Focus was placed on Armstrong’s career, the evolution of jazz in Chicago and then New York, and later Hollywood. Early New Orleans and blues gave way to big bands and swing, to music of WWII, to later Louis Armstrong and new evolutions of jazz; be bop, then Avant Garde, then fusion jazz. Note was placed on periods of time when it seemed as though jazz would go extinct. Special emphasis in this series was placed on Louis Armstrong. It seemed as though they were claiming that jazz was born with Satchmo and died with Satchmo. Other emphasis was placed on Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday. Mentioned just in briefest passing were the host of other great bands of the pre-war era: Stan Kenton, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. What was disappointing was two things. First was the total absence of a real jazz history. One cannot talk of jazz history without mentioning ragtime, tin-pan alley, minstrel singers, and other precursors to New Orleans jazz. In this series, Wynton Marsalis and his associates become the last dying hope of jazz. Contrary to the series, I don’t believe that jazz is on its dying breath. It is not as “experimental” as 20-40 years ago. It is more colorblind, including not only black performers, but white, hispanic and other races. There is virtually no mention of Mexicans, such as Raphael Mendez, or Cuban, such as Arturio Sandoval, or the Canadian Maynard Ferguson or the Oregonian Doc Severinson. Or Al Hirt. Or Allen Vizzutti. Or Bobby Shew. If one takes a serious look at the jazz scene today, it is more acceptable to the general public than ever, it is technically masterful, and it has been able to draw in many other influences, such as classical, to the jazz genre. I am surprised that Wynton Marsalis, “the last great hope to jazz”, was never mentioned in this film as having spent a number of years of his life playing mostly in the classical genre before migrating solely to jazz. Surely he has also brought a classical influence with him? Is it that jazz by necessity must come from the NY night club scene with primarily African-American performers?

Deficits aside, I learned much through the series, and would hope that others watch this series. It is hard to dislike any of the Ken Burns series. This is no exception to that rule.

Jan 06

Mortal wound

Today I suffered a horrible accident that nearly left me dead. Not really, but I’m trying to sound dramatic. I was on my virtual reality trainer, riding through Gascony. I had traveled over an hour, had gone 16+ miles, and was a seething mass of sweat, drenched from head to toe. I had traveled only half the distance needed to complete this journey, when I suddenly found my body flying in reverse, hitting my head on the structures behind me, and then observing blood all over the floor.

Let me explain. I use the Tacx Neo2T trainer. I have my first bicycle that I purchased from REI 13 years ago mounted on the trainer. This gives me a close representation of actually riding in the outside world. The bicycle was an REI built bike, that I’ve had apart many times over. On the road, I now use a very fancy Trek Madone, the bike that Lance Armstrong used to win the Tour de France 7 times over. Instead of throwing away the REI Novara Trionfo, I repurposed it as my trainer bike, and have it set up during wintertime in my office. It’s there in the office, since I need a good internet connection to run the Tacx program, and was able to hard wire it to my home intranet which is based in the office closet.

Pressure was quickly applied to the wound. Moments later, my dear loving wife came running into the room thinking that I had a heart attack. After retrieving an ice pack and maintaining wound pressure for about 20 minutes, I hopped into the shower to clean the wound (and myself), then had Betsy superglue the wound back together. ER? Absolutely NOT! I detest hospitals. I’m a surgeon. I’ve removed massive sections of scalp from my dear patients, and actually had them survive me. I don’t need no stinking bloody ER doc to tell me that it’s just a flesh wound. I KNOW that it’s just a flesh wound.

Glued back together. Still messy, but it’s just a flesh wound.

On examining why this happened, I realized that the bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post broke in two. Since I perform all of my own bicycle repairs, I know that this was not a fault of an over-tightened bolt. It was simply a bolt that broke due to use fatigue. I suppose other things will break with time on the bike. I had the bottom bracket decompose on a training ride a few years ago, and this threw me off the bike, but no harm was experienced. Much of that bike has been rebuilt or replaced, the bottom bracket and gears/derailleurs being of no exception. Hopefully, I can get a replacement seat bolt at a local bike shop and be riding again in a few days. Here’s a photo of the bike and the broken bolt…

Bicycle mounted on trainer. You can see the seat post without a seat, which is lying on the ground.
The above bolt is fractured, causing the seat to fall off the bike. The lower two brackets sit on top and on bottom of the rails on the seat, and are secured to the seat post by the above bolt.

I now sit here about 1.5 hours after the incident. I still have a pulse, beating at my usual of about 55/minute. There have been no mental status changes. I do not have blown pupils. I imagine that if something like this would have happened on the road, tragic circumstances could have occurred. I never thought of an indoor trainer being a source of trauma, but it is. Unless you do nothing in life, you run a risk.

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Jan 05

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser ★★

This book was given to be by a friend from church, and highly recommended by him and another friend at church. My oldest brother had also referred me to the writings and webpage of the author. It was a fairly easy book to read, and the book was heavily referenced. Appreciated was that the references ran on the same page as the text, thus encouraging review of his referenced material.

Heiser has the main theme and then a few minor themes in this book. The main theme is Heiser’s raison d’être. Psalm 82 introduces the idea of the divine counsel, and Heiser runs from there, first building up the idea of the divine counsel, and then working from Genesis to Revelation to build his case how the divine counsel seems to be the main operative system that drives this world. Sub-themes include the identity of the Nephelim and their instances throughout Scripture, and discussion of the nature of God. There is a moderate amount to be learned from this book, and my low rating of the book doesn’t mean that it is devoid of value. Au contraire. I think that Heiser frequently tends toward imaginative theology. He has an idea, and then explores how he could explore that idea with Scripture. I will mostly discuss a few major criticisms of this book.

Heiser begins by declaring that he will be introducing truths that mainstream Christians had previously totally missed in the reading of Scripture. Based on Psalm 82, the divine council is developed as a missed truth of Scripture. Heiser then proceeds to read the council of God into the entirety of Scripture. Any mention of God on His throne, or a coming judgment, is obviously referring to the Psalm 82 divine council. God (Yahweh) operates mostly via the agency of His divine council; whenever He declares in Scripture “Let us…”, Heiser notes that God is clearly speaking to the other gods of the divine council of an action that He (Yahweh) would like carried out. The heavenly conversation in Job 1 is obviously an official proceeding of the divine council. God in the garden of Eden was a divine council event. God meeting Moses and the elders at Mt. Sinai was a divine council function. Isaiah’s vision of God on his throne was an invasion into proceedings of the divine council. The divine council, according to Heiser, has a strong and prevailing status throughout Scripture which explains many passages of Scripture that are not clear. Yet, to do so is to do injustice to other Scripture.

Heiser has problems with his theology, and these problems evolve in two areas. One is that his thesis demands a strict Arminian theology. Calvin and Reformed folk are excluded. Yahweh is just one of many participants in the drama of life. Yahweh, as seen in Scofield-like thinking, demands that Yahweh correct His course once in a while based on the unanticipated actions of man or lesser gods. Throughout the text, his Arminian theology is forced out. Free-will is vital to grasping Heiser’s thesis. A truly providential god is out. Heiser, in the process of developing his free-will thinking, makes a total mess of theodicy, the question of why there is evil in this world. Oddly, Heiser also seems to be an adherent to dispensational premillennialism, an eschatology that has been excluded from serious thought, though taught with zeal by Hal Lindsey and others.

A second theological tragedy in this text is confusion over the nature of God. Heiser desperately wishes to be seen as orthodox, yet he is anything but that. He NEVER mentions a triune God. He will speak of Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God and doesn’t lapse into modalism, yet his thinking is muddled. He will frequently speak of two-Jahwehs, one Jahweh with the capability of physical manifestations. His zeal to discuss the Elohim, or other gods, forces confusion regarding him being a polytheist versus a monotheist. Part of his confusion possibly stems from his free use of the word “divine” without clarifying exactly what it means. He will even suggest that saved humans eventually become “divine”, or part of the Elohim. He will mention (based on Psalm 82) that some Elohim will die. Such confusion is more fitting a fantasy or science fiction novel than it is a serious reading of Scripture.

Heiser is not being careful as to where his theology might lead. It should strike the reader how close Heiser’s theology is to that of contemporary Mormon thinking. The reader that is familiar with Mormon doctrine will be quite amused at the polytheistic nature that is shared between Mormonism and Heiserism. The Catholic notion of “holy places”, such as the birthplace of Christ, is quite consistent with Heiserism and thinking regarding the evil abodes of Bashan and the mountains of Sinai and Zion. Heiser does not present a worshipful theology that brings honor to God. His is a theology that provides a feast for budding novelists and creative thinking theologians. One area of creative thinking is that of UFO theories, which are easily the product of Heiser’s thinking. I am not writing to make an opinion on UFOs—that is not my intention with these comments. On Heiser’s website, he will deny a belief in aliens and UFOs. Yet, he is noted to be among the top 100 people who are UFO authorities, and people have used his writings frequently in defense of UFOs as being a part of his unseen realm. Such thinking has its own dangers.

Reading into the text of Scripture—We all have wondered about the Nephelim, debating whether real gods came down and mated with humans. This remains debatable among top scholars who have pondered over this, so I highly doubt that Heiser will provide us an answer with no level of uncertainty. Yet, that is what he does. He then ties the pre-flood Nephelim with all Scripture giants, past, present, and future. Goliath was such a person, a product of mating of humans and gods, since Goliath was an Anakim—one of the Nephelim. If gods and men mated before and after the flood, surely they must still be mating? Are basketball players descendants of the Nephelim? Heiser also attacks the region of Bashan. He repeatedly associates the city of Dan and tribe of Dan with Bashan, which geographically, they are not. The illustration of the bulls of Bashan are interpreted to denote the evil gods that reside in this perpetually evil region of Israel. After visiting Bashan, I’ve realized that it is very hilly country with rocky soil, not conducive to farming, but excellent for cattle grazing. And, that is what has occurred in Bashan in the past, and up to today, where one can visit large fields of cattle, the bulls of Bashan. Heiser seems to be reading way too much into Scripture.

Heiser claims an in-depth knowledge as to what the ancients were thinking. He frequently remarks on the ability to know how an ancient person might have read into the text of Scripture things that we would otherwise have not seen. There is truth to that, but that can be carried too far. He has a heavy reliance on ANE texts and 1 Enoch, which for various reasons were not incorporated into Scripture even during the time of Christ. That Peter and Jude happen to quote one verse from 1 Enoch is not sufficient to hold 1 Enoch as inspired text. If we were to think like one of the ancients, Heiser’s reading on Scripture sounds more like Greek mythology than a serious attempt at understanding the Spiritual realm.

My biggest problem with Dr. Heiser is his arrogance. Though it doesn’t come out strongly in his texts, it is easily noted on his webpage. Disagreement with Heiser’s thesis is akin to careless thinking, intentional deception as to the text, or stupidity. He speaks with a condescending tone that doesn’t tolerate variant interpretations. Worst, he just can’t admit that there are some things he just doesn’t know or understand. I’m not the only person that picked this up, but others that have reviewed his book made this note.

Heiser presents sloppy theology. I presume that Heiser would certainly disagree. Did Heiser actually recover the supernatural view of Scripture, as is noted in the title of this book? Is what he is saying revolutionary in its approach to the unseen realm? Or, is what he says a mixture of what mainstream Biblical scholars have always believed regarding the Spiritual world, combined with erroneous doctrine? I believe that he has confused the supernatural view, and muddied the view of traditional theologians.

This book has value, but also has the potential for seriously misleading unguarded readers. A Mormon devotee would probably read this book with eagerness, as it confirms much of their doctrine. For those who write fantasy fiction, this book would provide a goldmine of ideas, so long as they also include Conan in the story. The potential for error negates much of the value and worth of this text. Thus, I give it 2 stars.

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Nov 28

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, by Saul D. Alinsky (★)

Saul Alinsky became well known as a “community organizer” in Chicago, Illinois. He was responsible for helping form the political ideology of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This book is still being quoted heavily, and instrumental in directing a new generation of “progressives” in government. To best understand the movement, it is of value to have read the book. It is difficult to offer it any sort of rating since it is written in a world to which I am alien, but to which many of our youth are living in without a sense of angst or discomfort.

Alinsky begins the book by delighting in the fact that he follows in a long line of rebels, the first of which was Satan himself. Yes, he actually proudly says that! A lengthy prologue sets the stage for his thinking. He is not promoting violent radicalism and disowns the Weathermen and like groups. Rather, he considers the best option for Radicals is to infiltrate the system. In discussing his purpose, he wishes to make clear that there are only three groups in society, the Haves, the Have-nots, and the Have-a-little;-want-mores. The Have-nots are obviously the poor, and the Have-a-littles are the middle few, which Alinsky notes there are relatively few of, yet even fewer of the Haves. Alinsky disclaims any dogmatic approach to revolution. He is correct in noting that the Christian “revolutionaries” have been inconsistent in their ideology, though Alinsky seems to be a poor judge of ideology and morality. Alinsky does not label himself a Marxist, yet his argument and desire to level the playing field between the Haves and Have-nots seems to be written straight out of the Marxist playbook. Perhaps Alinsky is slightly disoriented? Later, Alinsky shows how he plays semantic games, and when a word triggers bad connotations, a different word is used. The most used example is the label of “community organizer”, which actually means “communist revolutionary”. Read that into any time Alinsky (or Obama or Hillary Clinton) speaks and you will understand what they truly mean.

Alinsky spends a chapter on clarifying the purpose of his mission. Actually, he’s not sure as to his purpose, except to generate unrest and anger with the Have-nots. He then spends a chapter telling us the means of achieving his purpose, but spends most of the time justifying the ethics of his means. Most his justification comes from historical examples when prevailing ethical standards were violated for the so-called common good. For Alinsky, that justifies the ability to act without the sense of defined morality, as the ends always justify the means. His eleven rules of ethics summates in the tenth rule, which is to do whatever you want, and then engulf your actions in a moral cloak. (…really! That’s essentially what he said!). To help, the eleventh rule is to label your ethics with a general but appealing term such as “For the Common Good” or “for Liberty”. Yup. Sure.

Alinsky pauses for a chapter to define certain words such as power, self-interest, compromise, ego, and conflict. What he means to say is that you play the system to best accomplish your momentum of the moment—there is no accomplishing of an “end” since the revolutionary leader (community organizer) isn’t usually sure as to the end for the revolution. One needs to educate budding young educators, and Alinsky will spend a chapter discussing how to train a young rebel (without a clue). The virtues necessary for a revolutionary include curiosity, irreverence, imagination, humor, a very blurred vision of the perfect world, an organized mind, a strong ego, political schizophrenia that is not set on a single political ideology. Communication is the prime virtue according to Saul. Saul even gives an example from the Bible how Moses told God to “cool it”, and get control of himself, shaming God for always wanting to be #1. So Moses (according to Alinsky) won an argument with God through effective communication. Saul gives abundant examples of how he used communication to get his way with people. Among his clientele were a host of religious types, especially Catholic priests, who didn’t seem to realize exactly who they were speaking to.

The “community organizer” needs to start a movement when the organizer sees a perceived need. Often, the so-called oppressed person doesn’t see that need, and so agitation and anger must be generated. Oftentimes the solution is simple by just asking an authority to correct a problem, but that is not the best way to manage the situation according to Alinsky. A group needs to show outright anger with persistence before accepting resolution of the problem. Sometimes, criminality needs to be rationalized away, such as when Alinsky led multiple efforts at voting fraud in Chicago, justified since it accomplished its end (I’m surprised Alinsky even discussed this issue!). Often, Alinsky’s tactic includes displaying “power”, another euphemism for bullying a subject to the point of exhaustion. Starting a crisis by creating a problem is Saul’s first issue of necessity. After that, tactics to maintain an air of crisis and tension must occur.

The longest chapter is on tactics, the techniques that the Have-nots can use to take power from the Haves. Many of these techniques are quite obvious and need not be listed, such as appearing bigger or stronger than you really are, shaming your opponent by their own rules (especially if they are religious), use lots of ridicule, persist, divide your opponent whenever possible, and, know your opponent so that you can make their life as miserable as possible. Forcing your opponent to live by their personal moral code while you conduct yourself without a moral code is a standard tactic. Time in jail, if short, helps create a martyr syndrome. Then, mutter epithets such as “The right to a job transcends the right of private property” to further shame your opponent. Alinsky gives multiple examples of how he exercised the above tactics to win cases, and most of the time, others with more sense would consider those tactics as quite immoral, though perhaps not illegal. Though not said by Alinsky, many of these tactics could kick back and actually lead to worse consequences to the revolutionary.

Alinsky offers a short summary. Actually, Alinsky really doesn’t know what his goals are. Often, he describes material envy with the Have-nots, such as gaining possession of cars, tvs, and other convenience items of life. Never does he suggest legitimate means of acquiring “stuff”. Alinsky proposes stirring additional unrest in lower middle class people in order to agitate for revolution. Class envy, class discontent, status anger, are all necessary for Alinsky to get his ends.

Alinsky is left with a dilemma. His entire thesis is based on pitting the Have-nots against the Haves. Social status (in Alinsky’s mind) necessarily must be fixed. The Have-nots cannot become the Haves. The lower middle-class cannot become the upper middle-class. If that were possible, it would leave Saul with a dilemma: as soon as his revolution sees success, the Have-nots become the Haves, and thus become the object for revolution. Alinsky doesn’t want that to happen. So many of Alinsky’s pupils are now filthy-rich, and yet must be defined as remaining Have-nots.

Alinsky is totally devoid of any social or personal ethic. Alinsky comments on this boldly and proudly. His is not the revolution of a Biblical sort, even though he frequently quotes (and always misquotes) Scripture. It is a revolution straight from the pit of hell. Which ultimately leads me to a most relevant and vital question to be asked. Many Christians are quite aware that Obama, H. Clinton, and others in politics are disciples of Alinsky. Alinsky offers them the rule book to play by. Hillary Clinton wrote a thesis on Alinsky, idolizing concepts that he expounds. Obama worked with Alinsky’s community, personally naming himself a community organizer. Their association and affection to Alinsky are NOT a secret. Yet, somehow many Christians (and many never-Trumpers like the Bush clan) are persuaded that these are people worth supporting or voting for. They argue the need to opt for the lesser of two evils, or that Alinsky (in some very strange way) really stands for “Biblical” social justice. The intentional naiveté of these “Christians” is most damning—I can only pray that God have mercy on them. If you don’t believe me, please read this book. With multiple examples more that I could have quoted, the book is far more damning than I made it out to be.

When Patton was asked early in WWII how he was able, as an immature tank commander, to overcome the superior tactics of Rommel, Patton’s reply was simply that he had read Rommel’s book on tank warfare. Alinsky provides us a look at the playbook of the left, including the progressives in congress (and possible president/vice-president), the deep state, the BLM and Antifa movement, and many other revolutionary groups. Know that they intentionally deceive, they intentionally seek to create unrest and strife. More importantly, know for certain that they secretly have no clue as to where they are going, and exactly how they wish to end up. Alinsky had no clue as to his ultimate destination and states that fact repeatedly. If they accomplish their “goals”, they have no idea what to do with their accomplishments. Ultimately their greatest desire would be to see the fall of the whole of society. Whereas now there is a small group of Have-nots, they will not be happy until everybody is a Have-not. Please realize that Have-nots actually have a lot, certainly vastly more than those that you would call poor in third-world countries. Alinsky’s vision would eventually lower the Have-not’s status to a third-world condition. To those with more sense than Alinsky, be aware, and don’t be afraid to challenge the revolutionaries. Truth will win in the end.

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Nov 25

Pilgrimage, with Simon Reeve ★

I had discussed doing the Camino de Santiago with Betsy in the next few years and identified a doctor that I knew well who had done the Camino several times with and without his wife, who has strongly encouraged me to watch this video to help in deciding and planning our pilgrimage. Reeve does not discuss just the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela across northern Spain, but also discusses various pilgrimages in England, especially to Canterbury, as well as the pilgrimage across St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland to Rome, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Reeve emphasizes most emphatically that though he grew up a Methodist, he was no longer a person of faith. Yet, while on these pilgrim trails and meeting up with various real pilgrims on the trail, he seemed to have some sort of transcendental experience, whatever that might have been. Pilgrims on the trail were quite split between those doing the walk as a true “religious” experience, and those who were doing it simply to be doing it, or, for the love of getting away and alone with one’s self. All seemed to attest to a transcendental experience. Though Reeve did a modest amount of walking on these pilgrim routes, at no point in time did he seem to seriously attempt a full pilgrim walk of any of these routes, and actually walked only small fractions of the pilgrim treks.

In all, Simon Reeve seemed disingenuous. He was terribly unpersuasive about actually performing a pilgrimage. In pilgrim outposts along the way, the “pilgrims” seemed to be more in tune with a social type pilgrim experience. The final destinations were treated as idols. I have spoken previously about idols of place, and those being locations such as where so-called saints died or labored, the Vatican where St. Peter died, Santiago de Compostela where some of the bones (allegedly) of St. James were housed, and Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified and buried. All of these sites are treated like idols to many worshipers, which is why I presume God made the actual locations of many Christian events, as well as the remains of those events, remain forever lost. It is shameful to treat any location or object as a thing worthy of veneration; pilgrimage to this end would contribute to that idolatry.

Reeve has persuaded me inadvertently to NOT do the Camino de Santiago. I am sure he tried otherwise to glorify the experience of walking where so many others have walked in the past, seeking a blessing or divine religious experience. I would find such an undertaking as being counter to the plain gospel, and nowhere in Scripture is the act of Pilgrimage given as a deed warranting special merit. True, my trail name is Pilgrim. Yet, any and all true Christians are pilgrims. Our journey through life will be as varied as any other. There is no single path in life though there is a single rule to guide us all in that walk. I will do more long walks in life, but will definitely abstain from the pretense of a Pilgrimage to gain merit with the Almighty.

Nov 12

The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, by Donald Hickey ★★★★★

If anybody has been following the recent books that I’ve been reading and reviewing, many of them are centered around history, and recently, of early United States history. The war of 1812 has not been well taught in school, and so I decided to fill in a few of the gaps in my education. Hickey’s text has been well reviewed on Amazon, and, not wishing to read all the books available on this war, settled with this book. It is quite condensed, without wasted words, but very complete and detailed. Hickey especially points out the conflict of Americans regarding this war, which was not strongly supported by the nation as a whole.

Hickey outlines the events that led up to the war. It was mostly complaints about British control of the seas, and their interference with American merchant vessels. Britain was fighting a war with France and needed as many sailors as possible, yet many of their sailors were “jumping ship” and working on American merchant vessels since life was safer and the pay was much higher. Britain would confront American ships, and make off with any sailor that was British, leaving some merchant vessels devoid of sufficient sailors. Britain also imposed highly restrictive areas to which American vessels could sail and thus limit American trade to Britain’s enemies, while America wished to maintain neutrality with both Britain and France. This was not a new problem but had been an issue since the end of the Revolutionary War.

The nation was quite split on whether or not war should be declared. The northern Federalists were very opposed to war, while the southern Republicans were more than eager to engage in battle. (Please note, the Republican Party of 1812 was NOT the Republican Party that we know of today). Madison, being a Republican, was eager for war. There were just three problems. 1) Half the nation was dead set against war, 2) The USA at that time had essentially no army or navy, nor constitutional means of building an army or navy, and 3) nobody, Federalist or Republican, showed interest in financing the war. Such issues needed to be addressed before declaring war, but not to either Madison or the Southern Republicans. War it will be and war it was.

The war was really broken down into three years of battle, 1812, 1813, and 1814, though the last year extended into 1815, the peace treaty was signed by the Brits on Christmas eve of 1814. The year 1812 began with high hopes, with plans for the invasion of Canada on three fronts, as well as assertion of control of the high seas. The invasion of Canada went poorly, and in the end, more land was lost than gained. Fort Dearborn (Chicago), Detroit, Mackinac Island, Niagara, Queenston Heights all fell, owing mostly to inept generalship, but also to the extensive British use of Indians throughout the war. It is no wonder that further Indian problems persisted in America; the Indians were definitely not the peace-loving innocent natives that popular imagery paints them to be. On the seas, the tide went the other way for the US, with victories from the US Constitution, as well as other smaller ship battles. This was unexpected, being that the British were considered an impregnable force on the seas. Additionally used were privateers (pirates), small quick ships with a few guns which acted independent of the US government, and which raided British merchant ships. This was a significant cause of grief for the British. In all though, 1812 was a bad year for the USA. New taxes were needed since outgoing trade was no longer taxed, and embargos (especially to Canada and Britain) only led to massive smuggling operations, free of taxation. The British were quite humored to note that American loyalty to their country quickly disappeared when a good financial deal could be offered.

The year 1813 showed a bit more promise to the USA, though it was quite mixed. Canada invaded US soil, taking Detroit. In return, the US sought to control Lake Erie, and had successful sea battles to that end. William Harrison was successful in re-taking Detroit, followed by the victorious battle of the Thames, where the Indian chief Tecumseh was killed. Lake Ontario battles were a mixed success, with the greatest defeats being from the weather. The battle of York was a success for the US, though the Canadian town was thoroughly looted and then burned. In return, Fort Niagara was captured by the British, and Buffalo burned to the ground. Attempts to take Montreal were failures owing to the greater defenses in that town. Southern battles also took place, which were mostly against the Indians. The Indians in conjunction with the British led to the massacre of Fort Mims. Andrew Jackson took command of the southern US army and multiple battle successes then ensued. The seas were quieter. The British now traveled in convoys, avoiding battle. They formed a blockade of the Atlantic coast, blocking most heavily the south since the Brits knew that it was the South and not the New England states that produced the war. The Brits commenced raids in the Chesapeake bay area. The only real US navy accomplishments were from the continued harassment on the high seas from privateers. Meanwhile, an unacceptable peace treaty was offered by Britain. The US enforced a more strenuous trade embargo, which was impossible to enforce, and violated by both the Federalists and Republicans. The US approached bankruptcy, and a national bank was unsuccessfully proposed.

The year 1814 was also a mix of losses and successes in battle. In Europe, the French were defeated at the battle of Leipzig, and though Britain still needed troops in Europe, was able to free up more ships and troops for the American campaign. Successes for the Brits in overrunning Prairie du Chien (in Wisconsin), as well as gaining control of lake Erie and Mackinac Island were countered by the Americans re-occupying Detroit. Multiple battles around Niagara were indecisive, some being quite bloody. Attacks from the British on and along Lake Champlain eventually resulted in American victories, with battles both on the lake and at Plattsburgh pushing the Canadians back into Canada. In return, the British extended their sea blockade into the New England waters. Eastern Maine was occupied by British forces. Chesapeake raids led to the burning of Washington DC, though the battle for Baltimore was a small victory for the US. It was at this time that the bombing of Fort McHenry was unsuccessful for the Brits, leading Francis Scott Keys to pen the Star Spangled Anthem. This battle was not necessarily a victory for the US. Meanwhile down south, Andrew Jackson was successful in his campaigns, including battles for Mobile and Pensacola (then officially owned by Spain), as well as the major battle of New Orleans. US sea losses included the US President and US Constitution.

Though the year 1814 had a mix of losses and successes, it was going horribly on the home front. Recruitment for the military was largely unsuccessful, and desertions frequent. Though illegal, there was massive trade occurring with the enemy. Congress was recalled to emergency session, but splits between the Federalists and Republicans made any compromise impossible. Tax increases to pay for the war with a failing economy was futile at best. The New England Federalists held a convention titled the Hartford Convention to solidify Federalist opposition to the war. Recommendations were presented to Congress. Though well-meant, the Hartford Convention was quickly spun as a traitorous movement.

A peace treaty was becoming increasingly important, since this war was hard on both the economies of Britain and the US. In addition, other nations were affected such as Russia, who depended on US shipping and thus eager to see an end to the war. Initial British propositions were found completely unacceptable to the US. The book’s author Donald Hickey notes that of all US successes, that of diplomacy to end the war was the U.S.’s greatest success. The ultimate decision was to return to status quo ante bellum, i.e., simple return to all conditions before the war started, including lands occupied by one or the other nation, and by return to all of the high seas policies which triggered the war in the first place. Interestingly enough, those high sea policies quickly became irrelevant following the war, since war also ceased in Europe, and so impressment (the British forcing return of sailors) and trade restrictions were no longer relevant. In my estimation, if the US would have waited, those problems would have solved themselves earlier.

Quickly after the war, the US spin doctors were able to frame the war as a victory to the US. The Republicans sold the war as a second and affirmative Revolutionary War against Britain. In reality, the war accomplished nothing but greater division in the US. Both political parties (the Federalists and Republicans) were on their last gasps. The US was plunged into deep debt. The Indian problem was probably made worse (for the Indians) through it all. Good did come from the war. The US realized the futility of trying to bring Canada into the fold of these United States. The US realized the necessity of having a standing army and strong defense system. Several US presidents were victorious generals of the war— William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson. Thankfully, the death toll was more from disease than from combat fatalities.

We were taught in grade school that before the Viet Nam war, the USA had never lost a war. Yet, the war of 1812 was a war that was essentially lost, since it accomplished nothing but lost lives and lost property. The issues at stake before the war were not resolved. It was a futile effort of the young USA attempting to assert themselves in a crazy world. Yet, it leaves one wondering about all the wars that the US has engaged in. The war of 1812 was a war that never should have been fought. What about the other wars? The civil war essentially started at the birth of our Republic in 1789, and continues to this day. Massive lives were lost both on the side of the North and the South, yet we are rapidly retreating into another form of slavery at this time, and race relationships have never been worse than now. The Spanish-American war was a strange animal that didn’t serve many purposes except to change the hands of several islands. The first world war should never have been fought, yet WWII was the expected child of WWI. We created more misery than good in those two wars. The USA did achieve world hegemony, though it is uncertain (in my mind) whether that was really a good thing. The Korean and Viet Nam wars were either the result of the outcome of WWII or a consequence of European colonization of the world. Others view American history as showing a particular proclivity of Americans to go to war, yet that simply isn’t true, as every nation has a tendency to war, especially when they gain (or desire) military hegemony. It is intrinsic to fallen human nature to fight. Even the most outspoken anti-war Pacifists ultimately find excuses to defend themselves or their honor when challenged. There is only one Prince of Peace to whom we should all be bowing, and, outside of Him, we will know no peace.

This book is a wonderfully written book, hard to put down, chronicling of a very stupid and unnecessary war. It is no wonder that it is a forgotten war, or, when remembered, remembered in such a fashion as to distort history into saying something contrary to the truth. Reality does sometimes hurt, but it is a better alternative than living in a fantasy world.

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Nov 04

Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition, by Glenn S. Sunshine ★★★★

This recently published book provides a survey of political philosophy throughout the modern era in reference to the Christian church. This book is a very brief survey of what could have been volumes of material, succinctly stated in a manner to allow for reading the entirety of the book within 1-2 evenings. It was a delightful read, and I gained some new insights and perspectives from the thinking of Glenn.

Each chapter encompasses a time period. The early patristic period entails Christians as the enemy of the state until the time of Constantine becoming a Christian and allowing tolerance to Christians within the Roman Empire. The Augustinian era was influenced heavily by the writings of St. Augustine, who allowed the state to impose discipline on the church, notably during the episode of the Donatist controversy. Subsequent chapters delineate how the thinking of Augustine, amalgamated with the writings of Aristotle, provided a basis for interaction of church and state. The Magna Carta in England drafted limits to the power of the King within his kingdom, and defined him as a not-so-powerful ruler, subject to the will of the princes. I find this period in history to be the most fascinating and one of my favorites, in that the interaction of Kings with the church (pope) details some fascinating tales, with the Holy Roman Empire and France attempting to define the limits of the church, which in turn pushed for maximal authority over the state. Sadly, this episode in history was skimmed through but is most instructive when examined in detail.

Sunshine then begins a discussion of the intrinsic philosophy of politics, grappling with definitions of justice and liberty. Inside the church, the Franciscans brought new concepts as to property rights, while the scholastics countermanded with a further definition of how property rights fit into the schema of natural law. Interestingly, in the settlement of America, taking away (?) land from the Indians would have been a delightful discussion at this point. The Reformation forced further definition of how a Christian should interact with government. The Reformers continued the concept of the Augustinian two cities, that of God and that of man, but redefined the church itself within the city of man, and the invisible church of true believers within the city of God. Calvin pictured the relationship between the church and the state as a covenantal relationship, both being separate, but both interacting for each other’s good. The Anabaptists were somewhat disparagingly mentioned without a good development of Anabaptist thinking regarding interaction with the state. Further development of Luther’s reaction to the Knight’s revolt and Peasant’s revolt resulting in clarity on Luther’s part as to keeping the church and the state separate and independent. It took the French Huguenots to clarify the occasional need to stand up to the state. I felt that Glenn was a bit unkind, or perhaps engaged too extreme of brevity to build the Huguenot case for resistance to the state. A separate chapter details church resistance to the state in Great Britain. The attacks on the Protestant church by the two Marys, and then the two Charles, were responded to by various Puritans, as well as Samuel Rutherford in his book, Lex Rex. Rather than viewing the Kings as there by divine right, Rutherford suggested that when kings act contrary to the law of God, the subjects have the right (and responsibility?) to remove them. In this general period is found the writings of Thomas Hobbes, who suggested the relationship of the rulers and the subjects was a social contract, entirely secular, which did not need or use a god. Hobbes was not well accepted for his political propositions.

It is in the aftermath of this setting that gave rise to the thinking of John Locke. The religious wars in France had come to an end through the Edict of Nantes, with its erosion leading to Huguenots fleeing France during the reign of the Sun King. In England, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary led to peace among Protestants. Reason is used to develop the “natural” rights of man, and religion only provides a gloss to the enlightenment thinking of the Lockean propositions. Utilizing Rutherford’s ideas from a secular frame of thinking, Locke defines rights, property rights, and the right to rebel when those rights are infringed upon. Locke is given much attention because it is to Locke that the framers of our US constitution relied heavily upon. The founding fathers in the USA were divided, the northern states having a Puritan heritage, while the southern states having a greater affinity to the enlightenment principles. Sunshine suggests that the constitution was written as a “Christian” document, though that simply is not true. The main writer of the constitution was James Madison, a thoroughly enlightened thinker with deep admiration (along with Thomas Jefferson) for the soon to be French revolution. I agree that the US constitution does not exclude God as strongly as the ensuing French constitution but still was drawn from mostly entirely secular sources, such as John Locke and Classical thinkers like Aristotle and various Romans. True, writers such as Os Guinness suggest the difference between the French revolution and the American revolution is best stated in terms of how they regard the church and the state, yet that difference is simply a matter of degree.

Sunshine’s final chapter offers a summary as well as reflections on current events in the USA today, with its degeneration of morals, and loss of meaning to the constitution through the courts reading the constitution as a “living” document. Though he speaks highly of the US constitution when applied within the context of a “moral” public, he does not develop a Scriptural approach to government. In fact, no Scripture is even quoted by him. In VanTil’s thinking, the enlightenment influence on the US constitution, even with its Christian gloss, should be greeted with horror. I have read Christian attempts to honestly define what a Christian government should look like. They range from the reconstructionist/theonomist Mark Ludwig’s True Christian Government to the Anabaptist John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. Both books are excellent (essential) reads for the curious Christian engaging in politics. What I have been persuaded of is that nobody has yet gotten it totally right, including Augustine, the Scholastics, Luther or Calvin, Hobbes, Locke, the founding fathers of the US constitution, or current thinkers. I include myself, though I tend to favor Augustine as the best thought out writer on church and state. Sunshine should have mentioned the likes of Martin Luther King, or Mother Theresa, Lech Wałęsa, and many others who have stood true to the faith in resistance to the state. Earlier history of the world includes so many others, from Gottschalk to Savaranola, Huss, Tyndale, and others that will be greatly remembered in eternity but forgotten in the current moment, brave men that stood tall in resistance against the faith. Psalm 2 remains persistently true, even in the face of a “Christian” nation…

Psalms 2:1-6 (ESV) Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

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