I am a Christian, and that of course colors all my views of religion and politics. For 18 years I attended Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA, an independent evangelical congregation which concentrates on the important issues rather than the trivial which cause so many church splits and disputes. Nobody's perfect, but I think they do a pretty good job. They are pretty big, however; if you're in the area and looking for a smaller church, try Carlisle Congregational Church near the center of Carlisle. I've been there since early 1998.
Wait a minute, I hear some of you say, hasn't science disproved all that stuff? How can a science-oriented person really believe in religion? Well, there are some people who claim that the Bible contradicts modern theories of geology and biology, but unfortunately they don't have much of a grasp of either the Bible or science. Check out the American Scientific Affiliation, Ipswich, MA, for more information on science and Christianity. All Christians in science/engineering should consider joining, in my opinion.
As an evangelical, I am very concerned with missions, but not the kind of classical missionary who tries to convert everyone to Western ways and sometimes make them dependent on Western aid. Check out World Relief, which is a pioneer in the micro-loan business of giving third world individuals small loans (usually less than $100) to enable them to start a business to support themselves and their families. Organized into groups with joint loan responsibility, the default rate is lower than over here. Wherever there is trouble in the world, World Relief is there; check out the news section of their page. A smaller outfit of note doing great work in the micro-loan area is Hope International.
Another great mission organization that we support is Mission Aviation Fellowship. Not only do they provide the aviation infrastructure to support lots of different mission work, they are now pioneers in information technology as well. These guys have invented radio-based internet access to hook up missionaries with the rest of the world. It can get pretty lonely out there; missionaries are people too. We have been supporting MAF for years, but I read about their Net efforts in Wired magazine. Check out their web page for details about MAFlink.
A small organization ministering in a small, poor country is Hope for the Children of Haiti founded by Marion Austin, a Grace Chapel member. The orphans they minister to are the poorest of the poor, whose only hope for the future is the orphanage and school work in which Hope for the Children is involved.
What about local ministries? What about the homeless?
Boston Rescue Mission,
Boston, Massachusetts does a great work in the inner city.
A Christian shouldn't just support overseas ministry when we have these
Along those lines I just have to mention Chuck Colson's
Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Despite conventional conservative political wisdom,
prison inmates aren't morally inferior to the rest of us.
They, and their families, need a lot of support and help, and Christ.
What are the important political issues facing us today? I'm glad you asked. Of course, the answer to that depends on where you are coming from. I have already revealed that I have a Christian perspective, but that of course means different things to different Christians. In political circles the label of liberal or conservative has been found to be useful. As a Christian who uses the Bible as their primary authority, I see no justification for adopting either the liberal or conservative positions, in toto.
We just went through a divisive election, with stories of the blue states and the red states, personal attacks and lies everywhere, and brutal commercials by non-affiliated partisan organizations not bound by any qualms that the major parties might have. I consider the major issues that determined the election to be the Iraq war/terrorism, the economy, gay marriage, and abortion. So I thought I'd alienate most of my readers by saying a few things about my take on them!
We know that some of the intelligence was cooked to make it look more probable that Saddam was actively building WMDs in the 21st century, even though they weren't there. It's definitely a problem for our country when the integrity of the intelligence process is compromised like it was, and I'm not happy about it. It's one thing to march into Iraq when most of the world does not support it, and then prove that we were right; it's another to do it and then show that we were wrong.
Bush pretty much fooled me with the cooked intelligence. I wasn't really against the invasion, once we had committed the troops to such forward positioning, Tony Blair was with us, and Saddam was apparently still stonewalling the arms inspectors. What did cause me to jump up and down screaming quite a bit was after the ``end of major combat operations'' when the UN was ready to take over the Iraq political headache and we said, no thanks. That was so obviously the biggest missed opportunity of Bush's short career that I can't begin to explain it. Now we're gradually backtracking on that, but at the loss of how many soldiers? Plus, we might have defused some of the insurgents and terrorists if we'd gotten out of the cities and handed things over to the UN fast enough.
What's going on in Iraq now? Well, Osama hated the secular dictator Saddam, despite what Bush says. The Iraqi police state kept the terrorists pretty much out of Iraq. Now that there is chaos, plus plentiful infidel targets walking around (us), it's a super location for terrorist recruiting and activities, which is what we've got. We're going to be in there for a long time; this while we should be working harder with Pakistan to find the Taliban/Al Qaeda groups near the Afghanistan border, and while Iran is heating up their nuclear weapon campaign, and headed toward abrogating their participation in the whole arms inspection process. I could mention North Korea, also.
Why did Bush do it? I really think that Saddam trying to kill his father right after the first Gulf War had a lot to do with it. Also, when you elect a governor president with no real foreign policy expertise or claims to brilliance, you are pretty much at the mercy of whomever he picks as advisors. Outside of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, he picked an ultra-conservative group who have made some bad decisions and I'm afraid we're all paying the price for that. Of course they're a little more conservative since the U.S. Election.
The Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal is pretty much the logical extension of the erosion of civil liberties following September 11th. Anything goes, even though many of these prisoners were just guys whose neighbors turned them in over a grudge. The neighbors may have been the terrorists, in some cases! I'm afraid that the loss of the moral high ground here internationally is going to be hard to recover from. I'd hate to be an American POW in any future conflict, after this news of how Iraqis were treated.
Actually, I'm pretty hard pressed to come up with a president who has bungled foreign policy worse than Bush with Iraq. I haven't been a big supporter of a lot of presidential policies, but I have to go back to Nixon, I think, to find someone whose policies bothered me more.
So what's the future of the Iraq conflict? I asked myself that just prior to the election, and unfortunately it looks a lot like Vietnam to me. We're hitting hard at insurgents who are close to the populace, killing uninvolved individuals and making more insurgents. Plus in Iraq we have well-armed insurgents hitting oil pipelines and taking out power lines, etc so that the economy suffers. Despite the Iraqi election, it seems that a small number of insurgents (but still tens of thousands) may be able to inflict enough damage to prevent an economic recovery. I hope I'm wrong, or we can just declare victory and leave, but if radical Islamists affiliated with Osama or the Iranians take over Iraq we'll look pretty foolish. The best-case scenario seems to involve the Shiites (who are closely affiliated with Iran) taking most of the power.
So why did Bush win re-election if things are so bad? Well, he had some domestic issues on his side! See below.
The recession wasn't Bush's fault, but the tax cuts coupled with the war fighting have caused tremendous deficits. I think it's a bit of a strategy by conservatives to keep spending at bay; if there's a big deficit, you can't increase social programs. And of course it's always hard to raise taxes. Again, although Bush's record in Texas and his campaign rhetoric didn't suggest he was an ultra conservative on tax cuts, the advisors he picked have been of that ilk. It's a situation kind of similar to his choice of foreign policy advisors.
I think one of the big problems facing our country (and the Western world) is the growing disparity between the rich and the poor/lower middle class. In many places (such as the Boston area) it is impossible for a lower income person to afford housing. I agree with Warren Buffet, who said on Nightline not too long ago that tax cuts for the rich weren't going to be much of a stimulus for the economy. He said he was just going to invest his windfall, since he doesn't need anything. Tax cuts for the poor get spent right away!
I really feel that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had more to do with Bush's reelection than any other organization or individual. Creating gay marriage in Mass was not a popular thing anywhere in the country. Even here in Mass it's fairly dubious.
Now of course if being gay is like being black, and there's no choice, so it's a civil rights thing, then don't we have to do it? Maybe so, but those premises are all wrong. Most of the gay community is actually bisexual, so choice is right in the adjective! I recommend you read the book review elsewhere in the site for a brief summary of some research.
It's politically correct to avoid the appearance of supporting gay bashers by forbidding anything which could be construed as criticism of gays, but scientific reality shouldn't be hostage to political correctness. Some problems, like hospitals which are uncooperative with individuals that the patient may have personally designated, are easily dealt with by specific legislation. (And I'm all for forcing hospitals to do what the patients want! No, I do not believe that they know better than the patient.) But we need to understand what homosexuality is to do the right thing legislatively in all areas.
Abortion is another social issue that has no apparent middle ground. The Clinton desire to keep abortion safe, legal, and rare only intersects with the right-to-life lobby where "rare" meets "practically nonexistent." It is insane that we would have as many abortions as we do by any standard, since it's a dangerous medical procedure which is totally preventable. Of course, the Catholic Church is one of the biggest boosters of the right-to-life movement, and their stance against birth control ironically makes abortion reduction harder.
Certainly a fetus is at least a potential human being if not fully human yet, and is in some sense in the image of the person that it can become after a matter of weeks. It is logical that abortion, as well as euthanasia, tends to reduce the reverence for human life. Theologically, the argument is that the "soul" enters the fetus very early on, so that abortion is the same as murder.
Now I am not an expert in the subject by any means, but the question of what constitutes the soul is interesting. I understand that it came out of the ancient Greeks, which was basically a pre-Christian and pre-scientific era. The materialistic modern view is that all is the brain. Now to adopt that would mean to throw away all those theology books, which is anathema to many, but really doesn't bother me. I tend to think that they go way too far, beyond what we can reasonably expect to know. The fact that so many of them disagree is supporting evidence for that.
Now I'm not sure exactly what I think, but if one did say that God created the soul as part of the brain I would personally have no problem with that. It would not be difficult for God to liberate that structure from the brain and duplicate it elsewhere. Ironically enough, even many agnostic or atheistic thinkers would agree that duplicating the structure of the brain would capture your essence. Some of them talk of pursuing immortality this way!
I guess this kind of logic could imply that a fetus might not have a soul as early as some say. But regardless of that issue, I consider crimes like the genocide in Darfur, where 300,000 have likely died in the last year and many more have been raped to be much worse than a like number of abortions. If there are souls in those fetuses, I am confident that they are going straight to Heaven. (It would follow that if they are born their chances are less, which certainly doesn't imply that abortion is a good idea, unless you agree with the gangster who said he didn't judge his enemies, he just killed them and let God be their judge.)
One of the major domestic issues is the problem of guns in America. The number of victims of the prevalence of guns is staggering. Most of the proponents of guns (and opponents of gun control) fall into one of several categories. Some come from an extreme rightist John Birch type of background. They think that an international conspiracy involving Jews, the UN, the Trilateral Commission, etc. are poised to take over the country the second they give up their guns. There is so much wrong with this idea that this web page lacks the space to begin to rebut it.
Another important group are the gun manufacturers and the organization they bankroll, the National Rifle Association. Limiting gun sales in any way is not really in their interest financially, so they raise all kinds of objections to gun control. Incidentally, the so called "right to bear arms" in the Constitution involves the right of states to have their own independently-armed militias, and has nothing whatever to do with individuals owning guns. The NRA knows this, and has been tiptoeing around asking the Supreme Court to rule on it straight up. They'd hate to lose that one.
Since John Ashcroft lost his Senate race and became Attorney General, he's been supporting the NRA theory that the 2nd Amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms. He's the first official in the executive branch of government to say this in history, as far as I know. The NRA currently has the most sympathetic administration to their aims ever, as evidenced by Ashcroft's refusal to keep gun records more than a few days even to identify terrorists. Pretty much all of our other freedoms may have to be sacrificed in the war on terror, but not the right to anonymously bear arms. It's a little scary.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and their non-profit educational cousin the The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are great organizations which can tell you much more than I can about this issue. They are about the only non-Christian organizations that I financially support. If someone is shot dead, they will never become a Christian, so it's a form of missions!
What should we do ideally about guns? Well, right now it's much easier to own a gun than a car. The licensing of a car is extremely well-regulated, while guns aren't licensed at all in most states. I think that all guns should need a license just like all cars which are to be driven on the roads. I'm not prepared to unilaterally disarm everybody and let the criminals keep their guns, but we should prevent individuals who are career criminals or who have restraining orders out on them from owning guns. It wouldn't hurt to keep records on the serial numbers of all guns, or even ballistics test them. Transferring guns to someone else should be illegal unless the appropriate licensing is transferred (just like selling a car).
Exciting new technology which prevents accidental firing of guns has been developed by the gun manufacturers. For example, a ring can be worn which is necessary for a gun to fire; this prevents a criminal from taking a cop's gun and killing him with it. The gun just won't fire without the ring's proximity. I would take a look at making this type of safety mechanism mandatory in new gun designs.
Even with the Columbine High School shootings, we just saw that the Congress couldn't pass anything to limit gun access to children, criminals, and the insane. Expect more shootings in the future. This may be an issue that could play at the polls; in 1998 and 2000 more pro-gun control candidates were successful. Unfortunately, it seems that as long as the Republicans control the House, not much will be done. The Senate seems to be a more reasonable body.
Of course it's a pipe dream to get much done in gun control as long as the gun lobby can contribute as much money as they do to politicians. Extreme finance reform is needed, limiting contributions to small change so that we can have more of a British campaign season of months rather than years, and thousands rather than millions spent on elections. Most people I know are pretty disgusted about this situation, but neither the Democrats or the Republicans appear willing to do anything significant about it.
I have to exempt John McCain and some of the Democrats from this tirade. McCain was kind of a longshot to be elected president as the election proved, but he may be back. The only real hope I had for finance reform was for McCain to win the Presidency, and the Democrats to take the Congress two years later, possibly permitting real legislation to emerge and be signed.
Even before the advent of the Internet, data was being gathered and sold far beyond most individuals' comfort zone. Now, given someone's social security number, and perhaps mother's maiden name, you can easily convince people that you are them. Then you can obtain authorization to sell their stocks, close their bank accounts, obtain credit cards, etc. This kind of identity theft is a major problem, and it is getting worse. To fight back, you should never use you social security number for anything such as your drivers license. I have a different number on my drivers license and as my HMO plan ID. Not all states will let you do that, but if you are fortunate enough to live in one that does, like Massachusetts, take advantage of it.
We really need legislation forbidding the use of the social security number by any organization that isn't paying you income which needs to be reported to the IRS. The medical arena is a prime problem area for loss of privacy; the managed care idea just makes things worse. Also, certain well-intentioned but privacy-reducing proposals such as one designed to locate deadbeat dads involve mandatory widespread use of social security numbers as identifiers. Write your congressman when this stuff comes up and tell them to stuff it.
This has been getting a little more attention lately. I understand that some provisions written into the massive budget bill passed in October 1998 make identity theft a federal crime. This sounds good; check out some web sites like the Electronic Privacy Information Center for more information.
I wrote the following several years ago: ``I see no reason not to put spam in the same category as junk faxes. Since they are unsolicited, and you pay for them, why not outlaw them the same way Congress outlawed junk faxes. Attention legitimate commercial interests: get my attention by buying an ad from Google or someone. Or just put an ad in the Boston Globe. Don't spam me; I am about to install an automatic spam filter on my mail machine which will consign your stuff to the junk heap, but I shouldn't have to even go to that trouble. And not everyone has the technical sophistication to do that.''
Well, since then things have gotten a lot worse and my spam filter doesn't stop as many spams as it once did. It's costing industry billions of dollars to deal with this, so hopefully our legislators will do something about it.
Environmental issues and population control are a real can of worms. First, and most important, we must face the science head on and get the best reading on things we can. I consider despicable recent Republican efforts to eliminate any scientific research which might produce results suggesting that big business needs some regulation.
Another point which cannot be stressed too much is the possibly non-linear nature of weather changes. We cannot just say that global warming might cause a gradual warming of say 5 deg over 50 years, and expect 1 deg per year. As the recent El Nino weather changes show, the weather can change drastically in local areas due to some small fluctuation which re-directs an ocean current, for example. The fossil record also shows a few apparent rapid changes in local temperature. It's no consolation that the overall global temperature may have only changed by a small amount.
On the other hand, prophets of doom never give the human race much credit for creativity when they predict imminent catastrophe if the population exceeds some threshold. In some sense, we haven't begun to address the problem of what to do with global overcrowding, since only a few places have really had to face it. In the third world, it is likely to cause problems; few people probably think that encouraging Rowanda to get its population density up to its former extremely high value would be the key to stability in the region. On the other hand, New York City has a pretty high population density, and it hasn't caused much of a drop in real estate values yet.
So what's the plan? Tread cautiously in legislation which would encourage the dumping of copious quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. A little prudent avoidance might be the best thing here. We should try to affect things as little as we can. But don't panic yet over the world population issue.
All politics is local, right? In Mass some criminals run the following scam, which I first read about in the Boston Globe and then experienced! First, crash into a passing motorist. Produce witnesses who tell the responding police that it was the fault of the motorist, so they get ticketed and blamed for the accident. Claim injury, and get treated by fraudulent chiropractors or doctors. Once your bill runs past $2000, you sue the motorist's insurance company for pain and suffering. If the insurance company disputes the claim and loses, then they have to pay triple damages and can't include that money in next year's rate setting calculations. If they just pay it, then they can include that money and recoup it in next year's rates. Of course we all pay much more for this.
If you want more details, read the story of my search for justice.
There are a few issues that I discussed which are not really very relevant any more. In the spirit of the web, I'm retaining some of them as links here. You can take a look, for example, on my remarks on the Clinton impeachment.