Post-Apocalyptic Musings

I penned my ponderous essay, “Why I Won’t Be Voting,” last week, in hopes that, having lobbed it into cyberspace, I could then quietly retreat again from all things election-related.  Sure, I was planning to get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch election returns, but that was for mere entertainment value…like watching the Olympics, which also only comes around every four years. I had intended to strictly steer clear of Facebook on the day of and the day after the election, to avoid being swamped in hysteria.  Unfortunately, my family was out of town, and, feeling socially isolated, I couldn’t resist puttering about and listening in.  I beheld many strange and wonderful things, from the comical—people seriously contemplating emigrating to Canada (why only now, not in 2008? They’ve survived the last four years alright, haven’t they?  And how exactly do they expect to find Canada less “socialist” than Obamerica?)—to the disturbing—people suggesting that Obama supporters might warrant church discipline.  Mixed in, usually in linked articles rather than on Facebook itself, were a number of profound and thoughtful observations.

Having wallowed about for a day or two now in the reactions, and the reactions to the reactions, and the reactions to the reactions to the reactions, I find myself, despite my best intentions, ready to weigh in with my own two cents.  The first cent is political, the second theological.

 

1. What took me the most by surprise about the election was the surprise at the result.  I mean, sure I knew that people on the Right seemed mostly optimistic, and unrealistically so.  But I had figured that it was the understandable brave face that everyone puts on when they go into battle, or when their team has a big game.  Everyone wants to think that their side has a legitimate shot even when outgunned, and even when they have their doubts, they don’t share them with others—that just dampens the team spirit.  But when defeat comes, you bow your head, say, “I knew it was an uphill battle,” shake hands, and move on.  Right?  Not the Right.  

The reactions witnessed on the blogosphere, the media, and in social media yesterday were those of stunned incomprehension.  It became clear that all the brash boasting had not been mere posturing, but sincere belief—sincere belief that despite the weakness, sliminess, and general dislikeableness of their candidate, that despite all the polls, the math, the expert predictions, their candidate was really going to win.  Indeed, not only win, but many believed, trounce.  In the end, it really wasn’t even that close, and it matched up almost perfectly to what the polls were predicting. Hard facts won.  Delusions lost.

 

This reaction disturbed me, because it confirmed the Right’s steady journey away from reality that we have witnessed over the past few years.  Somewhere along the way—I’m not sure when it happened—conservatives in America reached the conclusion that “the mainstream media” was not to be trusted.  It was hopelessly tainted by liberal bias.  Once this idea sunk in, the normal means of testing claims and forming judgments became useless.  Anything that any respectable source of information or opinion said could be automatically discounted; indeed, not only could we legitimately doubt these claims, but we could generally assume that the opposite was the case.  Around the same time, the Right reached the conclusion that scientists as a whole were gained by the same liberal bias.  They were probably part of some conspiracy seeking for one world government.  Anything they said could also be discounted, and indeed, the opposite assumed to be the case.  So engrained have these habits become that the Right has begun to think of these biases as accepted facts.  “Everyone knows” global warming is a hoax.  “Everyone knows” the media is biased.  These are just facts of life, right?  Now, once you have determined that both expert scientific opinion and nearly all respected forms of journalism are unreliable and even openly deceptive, what are you to conclude?  That truth is elusive and we can’t really know anything?  No, that truth is certain and unchangeable and is what you want it to be.  Personal impressions begin to trump all other considerations.  I recall a revealing moment a couple years ago when a Republican congressman ranted to Ben Bernanke about how inflation was spiraling out of control.  Bernanke calmly pointed out that according to all relevant data, the inflation rate was actually at its lowest in years, less than 2 percent.  The congressman responded that he and his constituents, given their impressions, would beg to differ.  The same attitude was manifest in the bizarrely exaggerated claims throughout the campaign about how bad the economy was, how Obama had wrecked America, and how he was the worst president ever.  Sure, there were things to complain about, but it was hard to see how a sober evaluation of the data bore out any of these conclusions.  And yet the odd thing was that they were presented not as opinions—”Well, from where we’re standing, Obama seems like the worst president we’ve ever had”—but as simple facts, which any rational person ought to accept.  

“Any rational person”—ay, there’s the rub.  Of course, in any partisan conflict, it is common for people to begin to think of their opponents as somehow stupid or irrational.  But the Right has made this way of thinking its trademark.  In the “War on Terror” this attitude allowed conservatives to convince themselves that Muslims were filled with an irrational and implacable hatred of America.  Any discussion with them was useless, because they were incapable of rational discourse or human sympathy…they were, in essence, sub-human.  Once such a conclusion had been reached, any argument they made, however reasonable, could be dismissed as a mere ploy. 

Tuesday night revealed that now, conservatives have reached the same conclusion about their fellow Americans who disagree with them.  Obama’s slap-in-the-face victory should have served as a wake-up call, a reminder that there was a real world out there beyond their fantasies, and ignoring it wasn’t going to get them anywhere.  It was time for conservatives to take a good hard look in the mirror and say, “Gosh, we’re not very attractive anymore.  I wonder why?”  It was time for them to recognize that the majority of the country felt differently than them about Obama and its policies, and if they wanted to continue to claim to love America, they’d better find a way to accept this fact, and recognize that living in a society means accepting policies you don’t always like.  Some, to their credit, have done so, and hopefully more will in the weeks and months ahead. For many leading conservatives however, confronted with the awful truth that they’ve been living in the Matrix, and there’s a real world out there to face up to, the response has been to retreat into the comfort of fantasy land, only now with a more militant edge.

 

The new rallying-cry of the Right is Romney’s appalling and much-maligned “Forty-seven percent” remarks.  Conservatives are preparing to raise that as their banner (even while having the gall to accuse Obama of inciting “class warfare”!), adjusting the number slightly upward to 51%.  It doesn’t matter that most people considered the moral sensibilities behind Romney’s remarks reprehensible.  Nor does it matter that it was pointed out on all sides that they bore no relationship to the facts.  It was simply not true that anything like 51% or 47% of the American people were freeloading off the largesse of Obama, nor that those who were freeloading were generally Obama supporters.  But that didn’t matter.  Because this fantasy provided an explanation to help rationalize what had happened.  The reason the Right didn’t win was because it couldn’t win.  It was hopeless.  Why?  Because a majority of the American people were now in the pay of the enemy.  They were bribed.  They didn’t give a hoot about the Constitution or the future of their country, so long as they received a never-ending supply of free stuff without ever having to work for it.  Rush Limbaugh declared that it was hard to win when you were running against Santa Claus.  Of course, this is pure fantasy from a statistical standpoint.  Over half of Obama’s votes came from people earning more than $50,000 a year, a demographic that did side with Romney, but by a narrow margin (53%-45%).  Not only that, but the group most likely to vote for Romney (by a 55%-44% margin) were retirees.  Freeloaders, feeding from the public trough of Medicare and Social Security, right?  

But the purpose of the narrative was not to describe facts.  It was to help make sense of what otherwise seemed inexplicable.  For so thoroughly had the Right equated their vision of the world with truth that the revelation that most did not share their vision could only be explained by positing that these voters were evil or irrational.  Even better, such an explanation provided an excuse.  Republicans need not blame themselves for their failures, when scapegoats were so near at hand.  If 52% of the population were lazy and greedy and cared nothing about the direction of the country, then there was nothing the Right could’ve done.  

A chasm of mutual incomprehension, in short, has opened up in American society.  I had hoped that the election would provide an opportunity for self-examination, for taking stock, for righting this sinking ship of a decadent society.  But on the contrary, it has seemed to only confirm the determination of conservatives to live in a separate parallel world, one in which they represent the true American and can write off a majority of their fellow citizens.  Needless to say, if conservatives want to put forward a vision for America, it will have to be a vision for all Americans, a vision that can include them, their hopes, fears, and aspirations.  By seemingly resigning themselves to the fact that they are and will be a minority, arrayed against a morally decadent majority incapable of judgment, the Right seems to be preparing for an age of factional strife in which a victorious minority can impose its will on the people.  And even for those of us who think that many conservative values would, on the whole, be good for America, that is a frightful prospect.  

 

We are at a crossroads, with three paths before us.  1) Conservatives can accept that they are a minority, and retreat, yielding the field of American public policy to the victors, and go into hiding as the prophesied doom approaches. 2) Conservatives can turn militant, harden their platform into one of racial and class warfare and hope their chance comes to impose it upon an unwilling majority.  3) Conservatives can recognize that they live in a divided country, with different values, different understandings of the good, and different views about how to reach it, and then try to figure out how to negotiate these differences, sticking to their principles while accepting the need to make compromises in practice, as the price of continued life together.   

I hope and pray there are enough now willing to take the third option, and if so, I would try and console them with the thought that the divisions are not half so great as they imagine.  Obama is not a raving socialist, nor are American liberals particularly liberal.  They are a tad to the left on a political spectrum that is, by global and historical standards, quite narrow indeed.  If we cannot figure out how to talk to people who share, in fact, most of our basic cultural and political assumptions, then we have lost the power of speech altogether.  Such a call to learn to live life together is not a call to compromise with evil.  First of all, I do not think it self-evidently obvious that the 51% who voted for Obama are evil—they had many good reasons, not least of which was the atrociously insincere candidate the Republicans put forward.  But even if they were (and to be sure, some elements of the Democratic agenda, particularly among the most fervent pro-choice advocates, are evil), we mustn’t forget that we can only combat evil if we attempt to understand it. Just as we get nowhere by refusing to plumb the reasons why a Muslim suicide bomber would want to kill American civilians, we get nowhere by refusing to plumb the reasons why many Americans would want four more years of Obama.  Comforting ourselves with the fairy tale that they just want Santa Claus will not get us anywhere. 

 

 

2. Now, some theology. 

I was troubled yesterday by the inundation of my Facebook feed with Christian brothers and sisters seeking solace and comfort in God in a time of trial.  Let’s remember, they said, that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  Let’s remember that Jesus is the King, and no earthly election can change that.  Let’s remember that God is in control, and he is working his purposes out, mysterious though they may seem.  

Why should this trouble me?  Why would I be bothered at such fine and Scriptural sentiments?  Well, two reasons.  First is the “methinks the lady doth protest too much” consideration.  To clasp your hands to your chest, hyperventilate, and repeat over and over, “I’m fine.  I’m fine.  I know it’s all going to be all right.  It’s going to be all right” is generally a sign that you are not fine, and you don’t really think it’s going to be all right.  Many folks yesterday seemed to speak as if they’d just lost a close relative and needed to find comfort in God in a time of such bewilderment and distress.  I would rather them seek comfort in God than elsewhere, but if such comfort was needed, it suggests that many had a rather mixed up set of priorities (not to mention a tenuous grip on reality, since, as I said above, an Obama victory was almost a foregone conclusion).  Second, and related, was the fact that only a Romney loss seemed to call for meditation on the discontinuity between God’s kingdom and our politics.  In the lead up to the election, we heard little enough from Christians on the right about the need to keep things in perspective and remember that the result of the election is a fairly small thing in God’s eyes, and will not obstruct the progress of his kingdom.  On the contrary, we were repeatedly told how much hinged upon it.  A Romney victory, it seems, would have been taken as visible proof that God was at work—here was God’s grace and his government made manifest.  Only a Romney defeat called for the sentiment that God moves in mysterious ways—his hand was now hidden, and we must simply trust.  

Again, I’m glad that many Christians came to that conclusion, but I would ask them to remember that God’s hand is always more or less hidden, that he always moves in mysterious ways, and that whichever of these two candidates had won, it would not have been the visible manifestation of his gracious rule.  If it takes a Democratic victory to keep Christians from immanentizing the eschaton, and remind them that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, then let’s have a few more such victories.  

 

Perhaps more troubling, though, was the determination of some to persist nonetheless in discerning God’s hand of eschatological judgment made visible in the election.  For these, Obama’s victory was not to be met with a humble acknowledgment “God moves in mysterious ways, and we’ll trust him, although we don’t know what he’s up to.”  They did know what he was up to—judgment.  Doug Wilson, after offering the standard reassurances that Jesus was Lord, and was in control even if we didn’t know why, immediately contradicted this agnosticism, declaring, “Given the wickedness of key elements in Obama’s agenda . . . we know that whatever the Lord is doing, it is for judgment and not for blessing.”  We can know the will of the Lord in this case, and it was his will to judge this nation.  Of course, Scripture gives us conflicting guidance when it comes to such attempts at prophetic discernment.  We have cases like Job and the Tower of Siloam where we are taught clearly that we must not attempt to divine the Lord’s will in the vicissitudes of history—in particularly, we must not equate particular tragedies with acts of divine wrath and judgment.  On the other hand, in the prophets, we find countless examples of just such equations—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, the whole lot of them, have little hesitation in saying, “This Assyrian invasion is the Lord’s punishment.  This pestilence is the Lord’s punishment.”  How do we reconcile this?  I would tentatively suggest that the reconciliation is found in the fact that these are precisely prophets doing this.  The ability to discern God’s hand in history is the definition of the gift of prophecy, and it is a gift that has, I would argue, ceased (although we can certainly debate that).  This doesn’t mean we can make no attempts at discernment, but they must usually be highly tentative (there are times, of course, when discernment is important and possible—e.g., Germany in 1933—but they are rare), and they do not carry prescriptive weight. 

This last point is key.  If we know exactly what God is doing in particular events in history, then we can know exactly whose side we should be on.  We can know what actions are for cursing and which are for blessing.  And we can, on this basis, tell Christians exactly how they should respond to these circumstances.  We are no longer left with the murky compass of prudence, but should be able to perceive all things clearly in the light of God’s judgment.  The implication of remarks like Wilson’s, it would seem, is that we can know that those who voted for Obama were helping call down God’s curse upon us.  

And in fact, Wilson draws precisely this conclusion—”Professing Christians who voted for Obama were either confusedly or rebelliously heaping up judgment for all of us.”  Every “principled vote,” he says, offered in faith before the Lord, should be respected, “even if the vote cast differed from our own.”  But he apparently has in mind votes for a third party vs. votes for Romney, since he goes on to classify all votes for Obama under the heading of unprincipled votes.  Now, if I can know that a professing Christian is heaping up judgment for the rest of us, how should I be expected to treat that Christian?  Will I want to live together with him in love and seek to understand him, or will I try to distance myself from him?  It is hard to see how this kind of rhetoric can square with the doctrine of Christian liberty, or how it can be expected to have any effect other than intensifying divisions among Christians and rendering mutual understanding increasingly impossible.  It is the theological equivalent of what the commentators at Fox News are doing—consigning all Obama voters to the realm of wickedness and irrationality, instead of trying to understand them.   

Many Christians are clearly of the opinion that if pastors were doing their job right (including a more vigorous use of church discipline), there would not be many Obama supporters in the church.  One friend wrote

“we need to be serious about our Christianity.  It’s not hard to see why President Obama was reelected.  He won 43% of the Protestant vote, and 50% of the Catholic vote.  I’ve got to ask – how can you be a Christian and vote for a blood-thirsty, baby-killing, free sex-loving agenda?  How can you?  I’ll tell you how – because our pastors and our churches have failed.  They’ve not only failed to boldly proclaim the Gospel (which condemns both murder and free sex, as well as a host of other immoralities), but because they’ve failed to hold their congregations accountable.  This is where a free and open membership has destroyed the church.  Pastors must be serious about their obligation to Christ and His Church.  What are the keys for, after all?  If your members are in sin and are unwilling to repent, then they must be excommunicated. I’m not saying our churches can’t be full of sinners.  They are, they must be, and they always will be.  But our churches should be full of repentant sinners. 

Faithfulness to Christ’s kingdom, this suggests, requires a particular affiliation in the earthly kingdom, and this needs to be policed by the ministers of Christ’s kingdom.  You couldn’t find a much better example of why Protestant two-kingdoms doctrine is necessary.  

 

Now, my beef with this is of course not that faithfulness to Christ’s kingdom never has anything to do with worldly politics.  Obviously, I think it has a great deal to do with it, and there are times when a Christian’s duties should be clear.  But even when they are clear (e.g., end the slave trade, protect the needy, resist abortion), the means to those ends are not always clear.  In the present case, we have not been given a candidate who makes any plausible claim to stand for Christian principles.  What we are left with is a prudential decision between two candidates who are likely to do a good deal of harm, in which we try to decide which will do the least harm.  We should not consider it remotely obvious, in this circumstance, that one was the Christian choice, and that everyone who voted otherwise was a servant of wickedness or incapable of discernment.  After all, as Steve Holmes has pointed out in a helpful essay, the large majority of Christians outside the US hoped for an Obama victory.  Is that because all of them, too, are waiting for Santa Claus, or are heaping up God’s judgment on us?  Really?  It’s time for us to stop hiding in the ghetto, man up, and face the arduous task of persuasion and debate in a world where our own perspective is not the only plausible one, where we will meet disagreement at every turn, and no doubt find ourselves surprised to discover that it is, from time to time, intelligent disagreement.

 

(In addition to Holmes’s essay just linked, I recommend, for further reading, Matthew Tuininga’s reflectionsa piece published by the Atlantic yesterday, and Peter Leithart’s butt-kicking prognosis at First Things.)

(UPDATE: See also this astonishingly trenchant analysis by Alastair Roberts of the differences between the way British Christians and American Christians approach politics, which resonates with a great deal of my own observations after more than three years here in the UK.)

24 thoughts on “Post-Apocalyptic Musings

  1. Matthew N. Petersen

    Though, for a little perspective, I was in DC in 2004, and the liberal response then was very similar to the Conservative response now. Things then looked as drear for the tattered, incoherent Democrats as they look now for the tattered incoherent Republicans.

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  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Yes, I wondered if someone would say that. Perhaps it is so—I wasn't paying that much attention at the time. Certainly, it did not seem to me at that time that the liberals were quite so out of touch with reality—as in, really shocked that Bush ended up winning. They were disappointed, to be sure, but the knew it was going to be iffy. That was my sense, at least. Perhaps not, though; in which case, all of this needs to be a lesson for the Left, that they not lapse into the same mode next time they're the opposition party. And for the Right, "the Left did it too" is not a sufficient excuse.Nor would I accept the idea that this is just how politics is, and I shouldn't make a mountain out of a molehill. That's not how politics is here in the UK, for instance. People have strong opinions, but they have little difficulty accepting that when they've lost, they've lost, and little difficulty grasping the fact that their perfectly rational neighbor voted differently.

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  3. Thanks for this, Brad. I was also reminded of 2004, when both Democrats and people outside the U.S. seemed utterly shocked that the American electorate had reelected a man who, it seemed to them, was obviously a terrible President (and this time with the popular vote, even!).Both your political and theological analysis perfectly sum up how I've felt about this entire election cycle. Both my faith tradition and my political party need to figure out a way to shape up, gain some perspective, and start having legitimate conversations with and about the world in which they live — and to which, supposedly, they witness.

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  4. Amen and amen. Very helpful, Brad."the group most likely to vote for Romney (by a 55%-44% margin) were retirees"Interestingly, Caucasians voted for Romney by a 20 point margin. And Caucasian males by 25 points. Retiree Caucasian males, I don't know, but I'm guessing by something close to 100 points…

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  5. I remember the incomprehension of the Democrats at Bush's re-election, and it was nothing like this. It's one thing to be shocked that America would re-elect someone with whom you profoundly disagree, and maybe that's the same, but we all knew that Kerry was no prize. And we didn't have anything like the preponderance of statistical evidence built up beforehand to suggest that the election was already lost going into election day. 2004 was actually up in the air, and it came down the way it came down, and we didn't like it. But we also didn't hole up in our incomprehension and pretend that it wasn't our fault as a party for not fielding a candidate and a campaign that could pass muster in competition with the obviously popular incumbent. And we didn't blame the media, and we didn't resort to race- and class-stereotypes. And we didn't refuse to accept the math. And above all, we didn't treat it as a theological apocalypse! We buggered on.

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  6. Ben Miller

    Brad, I appreciated these reflections very much. A question about your second section: while there might be various issues on which a Christian could have seen Obama as the preferable candidate, given his strong pro-abortion stance, isn't it the case that a vote for him was clearly a vote for abortion? I'm not saying that everyone who voted for him was consciously pro-abortion, but it's an unmistakably prominent part of what he stands for. I don't see how a Christian can support a leader who's a vocal proponent of holocaust.

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  7. Ben,I (for one) sympathize with your point, even as a Canadian outsider. I'm not sure how I would have participated in the last election, but I feel the strength of your argument. However, I can see how a reasonable person might conclude that, in the last analysis, Romney would not have done much of anything to stop abortion. If you happen to think that on the issue of abortion it's a decision between someone who eagerly wants to protect it as a "right" vs. someone who will passively let it happen, but on other issues (like social welfare) Obama is dramatically better, I can see how someone could come to the conclusion that all things considered Obama will be better for the common good. I'm not sure I agree with that calculation, but I can see how one could get there reasonably.

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  8. "I don't see how a Christian can support a leader who's a vocal proponent of holocaust."Brad addressed this at some length in an earlier post.The consequences of Romney's denial of climate change very likely mean tens or hundreds of millions of premature deaths, and billions of lives significantly worsened, with most of these falling in groups who are innocent of any or much blame. I don't see how a Christian can support a leader who's a vocal proponent of holocaust.The point is that there are no morally unobjectionable options. See Brad's earlier post.

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  9. Brad Littlejohn

    Ben, good question, but I was going to point you to my earlier post as well—plus, in case you didn't read it, the discussion of this on TCI, particularly this bit:"But sometimes, far material cooperation in evil can be prudently justified without moral compromise. This occurs when the formal cooperation is in a good, although some evil will probably or even certainly result from the circumstances involving the good which is being formally cooperated in, and we have proportionate reasons to take the risk. And it is this circumstance which must most often be weighed by the Christian citizen in voting. An example of this would be paying taxes, even though the government will very probably, almost certainly, use some of those funds towards ends which you deem immoral. . . .In considering imperfect options, we must weigh many things very carefully. Is, for instance, Obama’s abortion policy so great an evil that it outweighs any other goods? Is Romney’s foreign policy so great an evil that it outweighs the possibility of his curtailing abortion? Would either choice be formal cooperation with evil? If so, that choice cannot be made. If not, would the material cooperation be near or far? If near, it would also be best not to support such a choice. But if the material cooperation is far, then you may. As you can see, this is quickly a difficult matter. While one can have personal moral certitude sufficient for action, there is still enough uncertainty involved that one must be very careful in judging others’ prudence."Does that help sufficiently, or do you want me to try to go into this further?

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  10. Ben Miller

    Brad, I did read your earlier post, and the TCI one, and found them very profitable. My point here is not that someone should have voted for Romney instead of Obama (I agree with Mr. Smith that there were "no morally unobjectionable options" in this election), but rather that a Christian ought to abstain from voting for *any* candidate who regards the direct taking of human life as a positive good to be promoted and preserved. I have a hard time seeing how a Christian could vote for such a candidate (how could this not be a case of "near" material cooperation?); and if other candidates who are better on the abortion issue are disastrous for other reasons, it seems to me the best way to bear Christian witness is simply to abstain. I guess what I'm saying is that, for a Christian, the direct sanctioning of murder should be a deal breaker. I think this applies in foreign policy as well, incidentally, not just on the issue of abortion.

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  11. Brad Littlejohn

    Hey Ben,Thanks, I thought you might've already read that stuff and wanted to hear further argumentation on the point—just wanted to make sure, before I took the time to write up an answer. This is a very good question you've posed, and as there's probably about 50 million other Americans with the same question, I think it warrants a full and careful answer—a separate post, in other words. So let me try to work up some thoughts on this for you by Monday.

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  12. Brad,As an American I find your post very confusing. But I also find it refreshing to read an outsiders perspective, especially a Christian one. I'm not sure if you are aware but Obama's support of abortion is so aggressive and reprehensible that to vote for him is most certainly in my mind a moral problem. In America many Christians see this as almost exactly like voting for Hitler or Stalin. I'm profoundly confused as to how any Christian could vote for Obama – so please let me know on that one. I've mentioned the same thing on my blog. I'm with Ben Miller. I appreciate your insights about the 47% and I had not seen the analysis regarding the split of retiree votes. However, one thing to remember with retirees is that they are not voluntarily involved in social security and medicare in the same way many welfare recipients are involved in the welfare system. Because retirees put so much money into a system, even though they oppose it, they feel it only makes sense to receive their money back. However welfare recipients are often voluntary recipients of aid who have no motivation to get off the dole and the money they are receiving bears no relation to what, if anything, they paid into the system.Regarding Global Warming, which has now morphed into Global Climate Change, and which may later morph into Global Freezing or Global You Name It. I find it surprising that your comments {Around the same time, the Right reached the conclusion that scientists as a whole were gained by the same liberal bias. They were probably part of some conspiracy seeking for one world government.] seem to assume a scientific consensus on this point? Could you please point me to a study or journal which confirms this? Also – any inept U.N. Agency or group would not be permitted as evidence. For more information regarding a truly scientific take on this issue please see http://www.cfact.org and http://www.cornwallalliance.org. Finally, your point about inflation was interesting. Are you aware that the U.S. Government has stopped reporting M3? See article here http://inflationdata.com/articles/2006/03/16/goodbye-m3-what-is-the-government-hiding/. It is a widely held belief by many reasonable Austrian school economists that the U.S. Government is manipulating inflation higher but hiding this fact by changing the numerator and denominator of various metrics or ceasing to report them altogether! Higher inflation makes the U.S. debt less onerous by decreasing the value of the dollar but at the same time the government tweaks the calculation to make inflation appear lower to lessen its obligation for welfare and other payments which are often linked to the level of inflation. It's something no corporation would ever get away with.Sorry for the inundation of questions and comments my friend! I hope that my comments are not just a stir fry of the various comments you've already seen on Facebook. I won't be offended if this doesn't make it to your blog if these points have already been raised and dealt with.

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  13. Brad Littlejohn

    Jesse,To your first point—I am working up an extended discussion of this point, which will hopefully help address your concern here. I'm hoping to put it up this evening, but tomorrow is probably more likely.To your second—it bears noting that less than 1.5% of Americans are on "welfare" strictly speaking (See here.), and the program has some controls in place that try to make sure that people are seeking work. If you're using the term more broadly, to include things like food stamps, etc., the # of course increases, but the force of your generalization decreases. We would have to do a lot of careful consideration of the different government programs, how many people are on them, and what kind of effects they have, to make accurate statements about how many people out there are just being lazy leeches. But it would never come out to anything like 47%. To your third—I advise you take some time to educate yourself on this issue. Skepticalscience.com is probably your best one-stop shop, although I also recommend the book Merchants of Doubt. As for scientific consensus—yes, I do mean to say that such a thing exists on that issue, inasmuch as there is ever scientific consensus. On almost any issue of ongoing scientific research, there will still be plenty of debate over details, and a very small minority who dissent on fundamental points, so "consensus" cannot be required to mean "perfect agreement by anyone." I find it very telling, and disturbing, that you would rule out of court anything by the UN as relevant evidence on the issue. This seems to be a textbook example of the kind of prima facie exclusion of testimony that I critique in the post as the reason the Right has detached from reality so totally.To your fourth—Yes, I am aware that M3 is no longer being reported. However, the rapid increase in M3 has been counteracted by a rapid contraction in private sector debt since 2007, so that, despite the expansion of the Fed's balance sheet and of government debt, total credit market debt outstanding (TCMD) has remained basically stagnant. According to Richard Duncan's excellent analysis in The New Depression, it is this measure that has the most decisive impact on inflation, and economic growth as well. In any case, the measure that counts for real, on-the-ground inflation is not M3 but CPI. I've heard all the conspiracy theories about how the Fed is manipulating the CPI numbers and so forth, and I used to buy into them. Then I became an investment advisor and had to work in the world of hard data and reliable expert opinion, and quickly decided that the officially-reported CPI remains the best measure we have for inflation, considerably superior to the alarmist predictions of Austrian economists, who have been saying for many years now that we were about to be swallowed in a tidal wave of inflation which has yet to materialize.

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  14. Matthew N. Petersen

    Jesse:If I could add a point: It's hard for me to see how the comparison to Hitler or Stalin could push through. Are you saying that if a leader of the Church were to attempt to assassinate Obama, but failed, and were hanged for his crime, he should be considered a Martyr? (Like Bonhoeffer is.) Are you saying that were China to attempt to conquer America to force him from power, China would be in the right? (As the United States and Britain did to Germany during the war.) Are you saying that you think Christians are going to be forced to go to Alaska and work in slave labor camps? (As Christians were under Stalin.) Or that the Church will be destroyed, and only allowed to remain inasmuch as it becomes an agent of the secret police? (As happened under Stalin.)Yes, the fact that Obama requires Catholics to pay for birth-control, and requires all Christian employers to pay for abortions is very bad. But I don't see how that's at all comparable to Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, this rhetorical comparison to Hitler and Stalin sounds to me like the same over-inflated rhetoric we encountered under Bush, when many on the Left compared Bush to Hitler, and everyone on the Right collectively rolled our eyes. Why do we not respond similarly when Obama is elected?

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  15. Brad, Thanks for your response. I appreciate that you have chosen to address me (like Erasmus to Luther – wait or are you Luther?) regarding the more important points that I've raised and not stoop to flashy one-liners, though it is clear you are capable of those as well. In any case on the second point regarding welfare I did not address the number of people on welfare or the magnitude of the voting bloc. I wanted to make the point that there is an important difference between those on "welfare" of social security and Medicare because they are not quite the same as those taking food stamps and other transfer payments. The 47% likely does include social security, Medicaid, Medicare and the other forms (about 27%) found here: http://www.census.gov/sipp/tables/quarterly-est/household-char/hsehld-char-11.html – Table 6 2nd Quarter. if you want to use the point regarding retirees voting for Romney making his claims regarding the 47% illogical (which is a great point!) it would make sense to link to the welfare totals that include retiree benefits such as social security and Medicare which will get you to the "much maligned" 47%. Again, those receiving those benefits often don't agree with the program. The 1.5% is not relevant to the conversation I think?Please grant me that the U.N. and the reports produced by it are not solid footing upon which to base policy decisions! Their reports are riddled with errors and have had many portions retracted. These are not slight errors or minor retractions as one would expect with scientific articles. These are egregious errors and serious retractions. Perhaps I am misinformed or is this accepted as fact?Thank you for the link to Skepticalscience.com. This will provide hours of interesting reading, and you can be sure I will read it. I would encourage everyone to check it out. One interesting thing to note, which you will understand as an investment advisor, is the following analogy. You would never recommend an investment based on the having looked at 5 minutes of trading data would you? You wouldn't expect a client to buy or sell an equity or debt position because the last 5 minutes of trading resulted in volatility up or down correct? Of course not. Well this is precisely the problem we have with current "scientific" approaches to climate studies today. Is the temperature of the earth one thousand years ago observable? No. You may mention earth core samples and other such non-observations as if I am not aware of them. But these are not observations. They are data points to be sure but they're often touted as conclusive when they are anything but. So how can we be sure that the data we've gotten in the last 5 minutes points to a trend in a 100 year position in stocks? We can't. But CPI is tweaked and twisted so many ways it is hardly a straightforward measure. Economists simply looking to get a good feel for M3 levels are left empty-handed. The CPI is small consolation with its hedonic adjustments and weightings. There are so many exclusions and caveats that many simply ignore the CPI and calculate their own measure. http://www.shadowstats.com/article/no-438-public-comment-on-inflation-measurement. And regarding alarmist Austrian economists: I agree. However, they are correct that fiat currency won't work in the long-run. TCMD will be of little consequence if and when the U.S. government threatens default on treasuries. I agree with your thesis that it is unwise to be hyper critical of authority and reasonable news outlets. But is it not also unwise to ignore and accept blatant deception? I would hope that you could at least agree that there is bias in news coverage and the scientific establishment exerts some undue influence on journals and scientists. The movie "Expelled" is a good example of this. Matthew – yes it is a silly comparison because Hitler and Stalin don't even look like Obama! And Obama doesn't wear the same shoes! He likes wingtips and Hitler and Stalin liked steel toe boots. Better to step on the opposition! You see then that the comparison is only a comparison we're not saying they are the same or that we'll end up in Alaska (though some of us would prefer there to New England)! I think it is more of a comparison to Hitler and Stalin being responsible for killing millions that cannot defend themselves. Once a person is determined to be sub-human they can be exterminated. This is a valid comparison and one I'm willing to defend.

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  16. Matthew N. Petersen

    Jesse:Would you be in favor of Russia or China invading the United States in order to end abortion? Or, if Germany had not been aggressive, but had carried out it's Radical Solution (The Holocaust), would you believe invading Germany in order to stop the Holocaust licit? (Similarly with the Soviet Union.) Perhaps you are the exception, but it seems to me that most of the people who compare Obama to Hitler would be appalled by the first, and supportive of the second.Second, given abortion is equivalent to the Holocaust, it wouldn't be accurate to compare Obama to Hitler, but the United States to Nazi Germany. (The notable thing about Hitler and Stalin is that they were dictators. But Obama is not a dictator. The evil of abortion is a society-wide evil.) The comparison between the United States and Nazi Germany may be defensible (though it is not the one you made), but again, I don't know of many people who would make that comparison–if the United States is like Nazi Germany, then having an American flag in the sanctuary is comparable to having a Nazi flag in the sanctuary, and singing the National Anthem (or other patriotic songs) in Church, comparable to singing this in Church: http://youtu.be/EZpCTliHHQU. If that is your opinion, I respect it. But, then I would caution you to be careful with your rhetoric, since many will use similar rhetoric to mean something significantly different from what you mean.

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  17. Bradley

    Jesse,Just one more response regarding Global Warming:I've been working in the oil industry for the past three years, and I've recently started my own oil company in Oklahoma. So I understand where you're coming from. I'm also willing to be a scientific skeptic (for example, I'm a young earth creationist). But on this issue unfortunately, yes, global warming is happening, and it's caused by human activity. I spent months painfully researching this, because I considered it highly relevant to my work. In the end, I had to admit it was true, and pretty obvious too in retrospect. Skepticalscience.com is a good website, and if I recall correctly the scientists who maintain the site are Christians, which is nice. For a succinct summary, I'd recommend these two pages: 10 indicators of warming, and 10 indicators of human fingerprints. Perusing the evidence with an open mind for a while should be enough to satisfy any doubts you might have. Oh, and it makes perfect sense to call it “climate change”, because that phrase more accurately denotes the wide-ranging effects of global warming (i.e., it's not just about higher temperatures, it's also about bigger storms like Hurricane Sandy, rising ocean levels, etc.)Perhaps you don't have the time or inclination to research it yourself. If so, that fine, because let's face it: we're all mortal. In that case, you can just take everybody else's word for it. The evidence is so overwhelming now that even the major oil companies have admitted it. You can read ConocoPhillips position on global warming here, and if you want you can Google statements from Exxon about global warming (basically Exxon says “yes it's real, and yes it's bad, but if we try really hard then we can adapt guys! Humans are really smart, so it's manageable!”). There was a time when it was scientifically legitimate to be skeptical about global warming, but that time has long passed. (As an aside, I think the SOLUTION to global warming is simple: sequester carbon by building topsoil on farms. It's a win-win-win solution, because (1) we fix the global climate, and (2) we enrich our farms and ecosystems dramatically by doubling the topsoil, and (3) it's easy to implement and inexpensive—often free. If we implemented it right now, it would take less than a decade to fix. So I'm much more optimistic about reversing climate change than most people are. I can give you more information on this if you're curious. Reforming agriculture is an urgent need worldwide, for many reasons.)

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  18. Bradley -Thanks I am interested in more information. I have yet to be convinced that global warming is bad, has anything to do with increased hurricanes, is reasonably observable in order to form trends, is a higher priority than other issues, and is being dealt with from a purely scientific perspective. I have seen corporations admit to global warming for business reasons. At the risk of being hyper skeptical I would put less stock in a corporation's views given their obvious profit motives. The way I think about the issue would be similar to a scientist who published a paper with graphs back to 2000 BC showing that the earth is getting increasingly windy. Perhaps he'd measured the curvature of fossilized trees or measured the relative size of leaves or some other such specious method for obtaining data from thousands of years ago. And then over a period of 30 or so years it became trendy to say that the building of cities was harming the planet by causing stronger wind patterns and so forth. And soon you've got people studying it at university and an entire scientific industry builds up around this idea of increased wind. And yet when people start realizing that the science doesn't make sense there is no road back. There is no way to dismantle the infrastructure, working groups, grants for wind study, and intergovernmental panels that have formed to combat the issue. I think that is what we're dealing with with global warming. Is it getting windy or warm? Sure. Is it a problem? I can't see how. I do sunburn easily though as pale as I am.As for the various comprisons with who should or shouldn't invade the USA to end abortion; those are excellent and wonderfully cogent points. It may be that one day I die in a battle with a foreign nation in order to keep them from taking over (Romans 13) while at the same time thanking God we're going to end abortion. However, I would certainly be gutted to think that this is the way we'll stop abortion here. And yes, another good point is that Americans have a say in the government. And this is very helpful because we each need to look ourselves in the mirror and realize that to the extent we're not taking this issue seriously and working to preserve life, we're a bit like Hitler too. Because we just don't care enough about a certain class of people to be inconvenienced by their extermination. Good point. My understanding of a just war is limited at this time but would not include invading another country to stop the murder of its citizens. I'm not sure why this would be within the USA's perview more than any other country. That is a great question though. I do caution everyone to be careful with regard to our patriotism because our patriotism can become jingoism and rob our minds of the logical insight to realize what we may be supporting. However, without perfect authority to change policy we must obey God's word and submit to our Country even while praying for change. In the case of mass murder though, I think we do end up speaking in different categories than if our Country were involved in mass… slander. And I think that is where we can easily see that one ruler who supports murder of innocent masses by dehumanizing them is comparable to other rulers who do the same: Obama is like Hitler and Stalin in this limited way. But we certainly pray for Obama at least every month by name in our church and don't have an American flag or sing the national anthem. But I do love America and sing the national anthem because not all in America stand for this injustice and abortion is not the logical outflow of our constitution. I just told my wife I may need to take a day off of work to continue posting here but I need to get going. I may have (like Littlejohn) reached my blogging limit (or the limits of all of your patience?) and may be taking more time to respond. However, I intend to read Littlejohn's new post and comment over there. I am thoroughly enjoying learning with all of you.

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  19. Jesse:"I find it surprising that your comments […] seem to assume a scientific consensus on this point? Could you please point me to a study or journal which confirms this?"http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.abstractThat is a 2010 study that did the following: "we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers."Or, you can peruse the list of scientific institutions of national or international standing that have staked their most valuable asset (their credibility/reputation) on the central tenets of the mainstream position being true. It is a long list:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_changeAnd there are now zero such institutions that maintain dissenting positions. The UN IPCC reports do not perform any primary research; they are essentially a very detailed literature review summarising the work of thousands of scientists and tens of thousands of individual papers in reputable journals and reports from major institutions. As a summary, they have their flaws, but the biggest is that the size of the task, the length of time it takes to pull together all the material and the fact that so many stakeholders get a chance to review the process en route means that the published results remain about five years behind where the science is up to. And as someone who follows at least as much of the science as I can time for, things have certainly not any rosier in the last five years (quite the opposite).PS The main author of SkepticalScience.com is an evangelical Christian in Australia called John Cook, though the site has many contributors, including a few climate scientists.

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  20. Byron,Thanks for the information. I certainly stand corrected (and informed!) regarding the agreement within the scientific community. However, this only heightens the problem I outlined in my previous post regarding the build-up of this gargantuan scientific/research infrastructure which almost completely requires that global warming/climate change not be shown to be harmless. This has now become institutionalized alarmism and there is no reasonable way back unless we re-purpose people and train them with new skillsets. When the demand for climate alarmist research drops off where will these brilliant people go? I have no doubt they are brilliant – just headed down the wrong path. I'm still curious regarding the approach to using the spike in temperatures in recent history to assume a trend viz. my analogy with investing in stocks and using the final 5 minutes of a trading day to extrapolate a trend leading to buy or sell decisions?

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  21. "I have no doubt they are brilliant – just headed down the wrong path."So they are brilliant, but you have no doubt that they are fundamentally incorrect?Your stock market analogy falls down for a couple of reasons.First, we can take some pretty highly educated guesses about temperature record prior to the advent of accurate global recording 150 or so years ago. And this gives us very good reasons to think that the entire period during which human civilisation has developed has been remarkably stable from a global climate perspective, with little more than 1 degree C of variation. Yet when we look at longer timescales we can also learn that the earth is capable of very different climate regimes, leading to utterly different ecosystem distributions and productivity. For instance, during the previous glacial maximum, the world was roughly 5ºC colder than today and there was a mile of ice above where I am currently sitting. Or something like 55 million years ago when the world was roughly 5ºC warmer there were tropical plants growing in Antarctica and crocodiles on the north coast of Greenland.The thing about previous changes of this magnitude is that they have (a) not occurred on a planet with 9 billion people trying to maintain a complex industrial global civilisation and (b) they generally took thousands or millions or years to shift by as much as we are likely to see this century.Second, your stock market analogy uses a comparison with a system that is actually *less* predictable than global climate. While we might not be able to predict precisely what happens when or where, we can measure the global energy budget very precisely and have a pretty solid understanding of radiative physics, and so can be confident that CO2 molecules trap and re-emit longwave radiation reflected from the earth's surface. So we have very strong reasons to expect that adding more CO2 is going to turn up the heat. We might not be able to predict the weather in Edinburgh on 21st November 2020, but we know that the globe is almost certainly going to be hotter on average than today (barring nuclear war, geoengineering or major volcanic eruption)."This has now become institutionalized alarmism and there is no reasonable way back unless we re-purpose people and train them with new skillsets."The same could be said for the fossil fuel industry, which is the most profitable industry in the history of money, and which has every reason to do all it can to cast doubt on the mainstream science. Institutional inertia is indeed a powerful force, but the self-correcting mechanisms of the scientific community have a pretty good track record in the end. Anyone who managed to show that climate change is not a major global threat would win a Nobel prize and quickly become the most famous scientist in the 21stC (not to mention the various monetary prizes offered by fossil fuel companies for such evidence).

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