Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bush and Obama - Iraq and GM

I've been a bit struck lately with some similarities in the American polled attitudes about Iraq during the late Bush years, and the GM bailout now in the early Obama years. While the two are not totally symmetrical, it's getting harder and harder to keep them apart. Consider:

1) The amount of money being thrown at both never seems to come to an end. Nobody seems to have a good handle on how much the taxpayers will have to spend in order for both efforts to ultimately prove 'successful'. Certainly in the case of Iraq, it was legitimate to ask whether the decision to invade and its fallout was well thought through or not, especially given what appeared to be a complete inability to correctly forecast the extent of our commitment in personnel, expense and time. It appears many people are now asking the same question about the decision to bail out GM.

2) The poll numbers are trending somewhat consistently on both issues. The public, while not unanimous, initially supported the Iraq war, at least in plurality. That support held up for a while, but began to tank in Bush's second term, despite some legitimate successes on the ground in Bush's last year in office. Similarly, while not unanimous, a plurality of the public seemed to initially favor a government bailout of GM. In theory, this support was based on the idea that it was very important to the health of the nation that the US auto industry, and all the jobs associated with it, survive. But this support now seems to be flagging, as more money is spent keeping GM afloat despite significant job losses resulting from dealership closings, factory suspensions, and discontinuation of known brands like Pontiac.

3) The rationales offered by the proponents of both issues is eerily similar. When the going got tough in Iraq, Bush and his supporters said we needed to stay the course and that now that we were in there, we needed to finish the job. Iraq war proponents have consistently said that they want to get out of Iraq as soon as Iraq can stand on its own. Yet, all attempts at a timetable were heavily resisted by the former administration. The same thing is happening now with GM. I heard Debbie Stabenow, a senator from Michigan with an obvious interest in saving GM, tell exactly the same story about government intervention in GM that Bush was giving on government intervention in Iraq. She told a sycophantic interviewer on MSNBC that she didn't want the government running GM any longer than necessary, but that government involvement is nonetheless necessary for the forseeable future until GM gets its mess straightened out. She talked about the downside of getting out of GM too quickly (sound familiar? - this is her version of the 'premature withdrawal' argument of the Bush people on Iraq). And like the Iraq war proponents, she heavily downplayed the financial cost to the taxpayer of the decision to bail out GM.

As I said at the beginning, I am not suggesting that these two things are exactly the same, or that their respective support and opposition are based on exactly the same reasons. But there are some curious similarities at work here, and one wonders if the Obama people can see the irony of adopting a number of Bush stump speech justifications on Iraq in defense of their decisions about GM.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Article Published by 3Mil

Back in May, I submitted an article to ThirdMill titled "Did the Author of the Fourth Gospel Intend to Write History?" The editor of 3Mil's online magazine has graciously agreed to publish the article, and it is now available online. For those interested in reading it, follow the 'My Published Papers So Far' link on the right side of this blog page.

In this article, I interact with the common scholarly contention of the last 40 years that the FG is more or less an allegory about a late 1st century community of believers, rather than a historical narrative about the historical Jesus. I attempt to introduce the issue of literary genre into this discussion, and to pull from a diverse pool of data (topography, historiography, etc) to assess whether this view holds water on the evidence. I argue that it doesn't.

Monday, June 01, 2009

George Tiller, Abortion, and the Imago Dei

I am pro-life. I think George Tiller's medical practice of aborting viable babies in the third trimester was unconscionable. And I think his assassination is equally unconscionable.

This is a difficult issue for me. Tiller wasn't just someone who performed late-term abortions. He was an all-out advocate for such a practice - a culture warrior in his own right. Prior to his killing, Tiller had suffered other physical harm, legal challenges, protests, and harassment. None of this deterred Tiller from continuing his terrible practice. Clearly, Tiller was a man who was completely committed to doing what he was doing. A lot like his killer, I suspect. Which is why I can equally condemn the actions of both of them.

I agree with those who say that the country's gradual shift toward a more pro-life posture has nothing to do with violent acts like this. It has everything to do with the compelling peaceful arguments that have been made by those of us who see God's image in every person, including the unborn. Scientific advances that increasingly demonstrate the viability of pre-born life, coupled with many post-1973 individuals rightly seeing themselves as 'survivors' of a sanitized and sanctioned practice of death, have gradually reshaped the ethos of the abortion issue in far more effective ways than judges, politicians, and laws have done. Tiller's killing may or may not stem this tide. But it clearly violated the basic principles that have given rise to this tide.

Tragedies like this killing always highlight a brutal dynamic of humanity when left unchecked. Everybody has 'reasons' why they do what they do. Nothing that has ever been said or done is purely 'thoughtless' in the sense of having no reasons behind them. Judging the propriety of words and deeds isn't about determining whether there were 'reasons' behind them. No. Parents have 'reasons' for cursing at their children. Children have 'reasons' for throwing their food at the table. Madoff had 'reasons' for ruining the lives of so many. Having a 'reason' for doing something doesn't make it right.

The propriety of our conduct is about whether our reasons are good or not. But this leaves us in another dilemma. How exactly are we to determine whether our reasoning is good? In my view, an ethic of word and deed that is not based, either explicitly or implicitly, on the doctrine of imago Dei is one that leaves us in chaos. It is the Christian doctrine of humanity made in God's image that gives us common cause, mutual respect, a real ability to bridge differences, and most importantly, a fundamental dignity that cannot be revoked by any man or woman. The practice of abortion, and the killing of abortionists, are both rooted in a denial of imago Dei. Both practices, in the end, embrace the antithesis of imago Dei, for they betray the belief that one person gets to decide whether another person has intrinsic value or not - or in the case of abortion, one person gets to decide whether another person is really a person or not.

The breakdown of the imago Dei ethic doesn't just show up on the issue of abortion. I'm convinced it is the primary reason why America is disintegrating into all-out individualism and factionalism. The isolation, mistrust, and even hatred it has spawned is, in my view, irreversible absent a return to the only ethic that ascribes permanent value to humanity as a whole. All of us, especially those of us who are Christians and claim to embrace biblical ethics, need to take a hard look in the mirror. If we really believed in the imago Dei, would we really be treating others the way we are? Considering that Tiller was apparently a churchgoer, his abdication of imago Dei is only an acutely grotesque example of less newsworthy but far more common abdications that many of us, including me, silently exhibit in our attitudes and 'reasons' for treating people the way we do.

The danger of an increasingly post-Christian America isn't just about the waning influence of the Gospel, Jesus, and the need for salvation in our current zeitgeist. It is also about a deterioration in the ethic that binds us together and instills mutual respect and responsibility to each other as fellow image-bearers. The loss of this ethic results in the basis for Tiller's grisly practice, as well as his grisly execution. One would hope that both would cause us all to take a step back and do some serious assessing of where we are and where we're headed. But civilization has paved over over an abundance of such moments throughout time without barely missing a beat. The dangers of this are numerous, obvious, and imminent.