Tuesday, April 26, 2005


First, you may have noticed that, for the past few months, my blogroll has had 18 Skirts at the top. I didn't mention this earlier because Michele has had a bit of a slow start, but now that she has 5 posts, I think we can safely say that she is one of us. (Ignore the fact that her most recent post is about Weight Watchers. She isn't the soccer mom type. Trust me.)

Second, and what inspired this post, another friend evidently jumped into the blogosphere web log community at Inside the Box without my noticing. (My own fault for not checking my email all last week.) I have thought for a while that Paul would be a natural blogger web log stylist auteur writer, but didn't like to say so for reasons that will become obvious. His blog web log is, in his own words,

about Trying To Be Like Christ ... The Good, The True, and The Beautiful ... Reality's Integrity ... and Story. For now.
My guess is it will also turn out to be very much about paradox.

Welcome to the blogosphere community club.

UPDATE: It ocurrs to me that the title could be taken two ways. I didn't mean the prefix "para" to imply that these are not fully blogs, but just that there's a pair of them. Also, I was trying to make a lame reference to "paradox", which is rather obscured by the fact that it has nothing to with Michele's blog. This is why I hate puns and basketball. I am not good at either.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sphere Sovereignty

Blue Goldfish links to several posts about the concept of Sphere Sovereignty including this definition from Gideon Strauss:

We say that there are diverse spheres in human life, each with a creational design for which specified laws are given by God, and within which there are distinct responsibilities and authority relationships. These spheres need room to flourish in society, but must also not encroach on one another [...]
I think this concept is very useful in understanding the application of biblical principles to politics, provided the sovereignty indicated isn't taken too absolutely. The spheres should not be pictured as air-tight compartments which share no space with one another as in, say soap bubbles. Rather they should be envisioned as slightly overlapping spheres that share territories at the borders as in, say, the "spheres" of sound that are emitted by multiple loud-speakers. Most theorists that I have heard discuss the matter acknowledge this point, at least implicitly, but it is worthwhile to make it explicit to avoid confusion. Also, there should probably be a greater emphasis on hierarchy amongst the various spheres than I have heard most protestants make. Some loud-speakers, after all, have a greater range than others.

I think this concept will become crucial in the monarchy debate I am having with Andrew, and I alluded to it here:
But since I actually distrust paternalism in government, I am not sure I want to go in that direction.
But even apart from that specific debate, I think this concept of mutual restraint and limitation of power is a crucial insight of the reformers and a key to the liberty that God wills for his people.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habeunt Papam

Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name of Benedict XVI as the 265th pope.
Update: Sorry for the spelling error, my Latin isn't as good as it used to be.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Monarchy Debate

Andrew of Unpopular Opinions has challenged some of the points I made in this post. His post is merely an initial sortie in a much larger campaign which Andrew outlined in the 8 points of his initial post. Specifically relevant to our discussion are points 1 and 2:

1. Divine government is monarchical.
2. Human authority is derived from and patterned after the divine monarchy.
Since my original post was only tangentially related to these theses, I don't feel it would be profitable to make a point-by-point response to Andrew's critique, but there are a few points where he is misinterpreting my position and at least one where I feel his view of history is sufficiently mistaken that it would be misleading to let it go unchallenged. So I will limit myself to addressing those few points, then turn immediately to a positive statement of what I believe to be a biblical model of government.

First, Andrew makes the following claim about my contrast of Saddam's dictatorship with the rule of law:
Here Russ has set up the problematic that is common to all Enlightenment thinking: either rule by a person or rule by law. Either dictatorship or democracy. But I do not accept these alternatives.
But I was making no such dichotomy. I am ready to admit that monarchy is a valid form of government, just not that it is the valid form. And, of course, it is perfectly possible to have a constitutional monarchy in which the king is subject to the rule of law. I believe Andrew has been misled by my quotation of Paine into assuming that I would argue from an Enlightenment perspective. But the basis of my argument, as I will demonstrate below, is biblical not theoretical. As a general principal I reject the rationalistic or deductive model of argument that is characteristic of the Enlightenment in favor of a muddling-through, traditional, inductive approach that is more at home with Edmund Burke, F. A. Hayek and the Common Law tradition. (Incidentally, in his concluding remarks, Andrew says "I would more readily trust my case to one who viewed me in some sense as a son than I would to someone who regarded me a stranger." But surely this is just as much a false dichotomy as I am accused of making. Why cannot we hold judges to the same standard of fatherhood as we would for a monarch? But since I actually distrust paternalism in government, I am not sure I want to go in that direction.)

Andrew continues:
But let's be perfectly clear, the true import of this thinking is that there should be no king.
It is not at all clear to me that this is the import of my assertion. I was speaking historically, not prescriptively and was contrasting a pagan with a Christian worldview. I do happen to believe that the bible portrays monarchy as a punishment inflicted on a people who reject God's rule and are, therefore, incapable of ruling themselves. But I was making no such argument in the post that Andrew cites.

There is much that can be said in response to this rebel's rant, but I shall restrict my comments to address the possibility of rule by law alone.
But even Paine was not arguing for quite so radical a thing as "rule by law alone". The actual government which his generation produced was fully grounded in the notion that some will rule and others obey. It was a representative republic not an oligarchy of judges that actually existed in America at the time and was later officially adopted in the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

As illustrated in the Schiavo debacle, judges are very powerful in this country.
I don't agree that this is quite the lesson to be learned from the Schiavo case, but I fully agree that judges are indeed powerful. But their power derives largely from the self-same lack of accountability that would occur in a monarchy except that it is somewhat more diffuse in the case of judges. Andrew is largely making my own case here.

Tommy Paine's ideal that law replace the king has been actualized in the real world as government run by lawyers.
I disagree. Call it a flaw in the original design of the Constitution, but it is not the rule of law but the unrestricted power of the judiciary that is implicated here. And Paine's argument specifically notes that "But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is." It is not quite clear what he means by "ill use" in this context but it is at least conceivable that he anticipated Andrew's criticism (and mine) and suggested a solution for what we now call judicial activism: democratic oversight. It is a pity this theme was not translated into the actual governing documents of our nation, but that is a topic for another day.

This leads me to the final point, which I characterized earlier as a misunderstanding of history. He doesn't say so in this post, but permeating Andrew's discourse is the idea that the American Revolution was an inevitable product of the Enlightenment rejection of Christendom. This is consistent with his 5th principle:
5. Enlightenment revolutionism (whether American, French, or Bolshevik) is the political expression of anti-Christ.
I remember hearing this trope (sans the bit about anti-Christ, which wouldn't have flown) when I went to public school, too, but it is simply false. The Left -- who are the true heirs of the Enlightenment -- would like us to believe that the American Revolution is morally and ideologically consistent with the French and Bolshevik varieties, but they differ in both their motivations and their results. The American Revolution is more in line with the Glorious Revolution of 1668 in England in that it aimed at restoring ancient liberties which had been abused than with either of the other two which attempted to create entirely new societies that had never existed outside of humanist theorizing. I don't have time to defend this assertion here, but let me note that such a defense would draw heavily on the writings of Russell Kirk's Roots of American Order as well as Burke's various letters in support of American grievances in contrast to his criticism of the French Revolution. One might also point to the distinction between the two made by both Hayek (in Constitution of Liberty) and Horowitz (Politics of Bad Faith) for support of my general thesis. If this particular point is a matter of interest, I would be happy to comment on it in future posts (and probably will anyway, whether or not anyone is interested).

I am mindful that there were indeed strong Enlightenment influences on both the war of independence and the founding of the country and that, indeed, Thomas Paine's later writings are a particularly egregious example of this influence. I am also aware of the serious criticisms of the American Revolution from a biblical perspective, and indeed am sympathetic to some of those criticisms. But whatever the moral status of the war, the actual nation that resulted from it is thoroughly steeped in the biblical traditions of the rule of law and limited government. To be sure, I did not originally adduce Paine's work as the ground of my argument but merely as independent corroboration that the Bible favors democracy. Dismissing his points on the grounds that he is no "illustrious biblical scholar" commits both the fallacies of ad hominem argument and an appeal (negatively) to authority.

But let me move on to a brief outline of what I believe the Bible presents as a pattern for human government. First, as a sort of preview, I note the wisdom of Jethro when he speaks to Moses in Exodus 18:
And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Ex 18:14-21)
This is clearly an indication that, at very least, government should not be autocratic and is too big a task for a single individual. Also note that the solution to Moses' dilemma begins with the rule of law. However, this is still a monarchial form of government (albeit ameliorated by a hierarchy of representatives), so it may seem that this point goes to Andrew. But note that in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy, the men appointed by Moses were already leaders that the people had chosen for themselves:
And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. (Dt 1:9-15)
The pattern I think we see here is that the people are being trained for self-rule under God's ultimate authority in accordance with his law. And remember that the audience in Deuteronomy is the next generation, the people that are about to leave Moses behind and enter the Promised Land. I would infer (although this is certainly debatable) that the people needed a single authority figure, having spent generations under the tyrannical rule of the Pharaohs, but God's ultimate purpose was that they should be free and self-ruled. For support of that thesis I turn to the preamble to the law that is given in Exodus which is echoed, in the Christian era in both 1 Peter and Revelation:
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Ex 19:6)

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev 5:10)
Taken together I think this shows a trajectory of increasing self-government on earth under God's heavenly rule. This is also supported by the following eschatalogical passage in Jeremiah
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
So, if, as we both agree, earthly government should reflect heavenly principles, I would make a strong case that self-rule and not monarchy is the true ideal. To be sure, democracy is not self-rule any more than monarchy. Both are compromises with the sinful state that we currently find ourselves in. But as a people grows in grace my understanding of the biblical model predicts that they should also outgrow the need for external coercion.

I think I have babbled on long enough for now. I already know at least one objection that Andrew is going to make (involving Deuteronomy 17) but I will let him make it before attempting to respond.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Islam and Islamism

My friend Pastorius has been part of a fascinating discussion on whether "Islamism" is a weasel-word. Follow the links on his page. Here are my comments on the third post, but read the whole thing before contiuning:

The problem I have with the "crosswalk" theory is that in negotiation it is generally fatal to suggest a concession you would be willing to make before it is necessary. When Muslims are willing to admit the inherent violence of their religion, I would be willing to concede that not all Muslims are actually violent. But to lead with the latter proposition is to lower the standard without gaining anything in return. I ultimately agree with the "Islamists" that theirs is the proper interpretation of Islam, which is why I reject Islam -- or one of the reasons, anyway.

I respect Pastorius' compassion in seeking a peaceful engagement which allows Muslims to retain their dignity, but ultimately I don't think Islam can or should be reformed. It must be discredited. The Christian approach to all false religions has historically been to point to a better way. Being sinners we have often done this badly and there is much to be ashamed of in our own history (I am thinking especially of our treatment of Jews) but it remains the ideal. If we do succeed in defeating Islam, the remaining Muslims will certainly find a way to come to terms with the defeat as people inevitably do. But helping them do that without turning to the grace of Christ is ultimately more harmful to them in the long run.

Having said all this, I do frequently use the word "Islamist" in order to avoid the distracting explanations that simply saying "Islam" would entail. Count me as a weasel, I suppose.

Estate Tax: On Its Way Out?

According to this Washington Times report (registration required):

The House passed legislation yesterday that, beginning in 2010, would permanently repeal the estate tax, and with recent Republican gains in the Senate, some party members say it has a good chance to also pass that chamber.

The vote was 272-162, with 42 Democrats joining in support. Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa was the only Republican to vote no.


Under tax relief passed by Congress in 2001, the estate tax is gradually phased-out between now and 2010. This is accomplished by increasing the amounts exempt from the tax -- $1.5 million for individuals to $3 million for couples -- while simultaneously reducing the top rate imposed by the tax, which is 47 percent.

But the 2001 law allows the estate tax to come back in 2011. The bill passed by the House would prevent that from happening by getting rid of it permanently.
The talking points on both sides of the aisle are pretty predictable (although 42 Democrats did vote in favor of the bill):
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the House-passed Republican bill basically uses funds that working Americans are paying into Social Security.

"What Republicans are doing today is putting their hand into that pot and saying ,'We're taking that money and we're subsidizing the super wealthy,' " she said.

But Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican, saw it differently. "Cutting taxes does not cost the government money," he said. "It allows people who earn that money to keep more of it."
Actually, this won't affect me personally one way or the other, but I would like to see it passed precisely because it will take funds out of the hands of the government. Of course, for that to be really true, Republicans will have to commit to curbing deficit spending and I am not holding my breath.


I am listed as number 9 on the Yahoo search for: what clubs could i join to help me become a farmer?

The relevant key words are evidently "clubs", "become" and "could" from this archive page a year ago.

It's a weird, weird web.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Intelligent Design Blog

ID The Future is a relatively new blog run by some of the top names in Intelligent Design theory. William Dembski, Michael Behe and Guillermo Gonzalez are the scientists on board, with Steve Meyer, Paul Nelson, Jay Richards, Jonathan Wells and Jonathan Witt filling out the roster of philosophers. Jay Richards posts the inaugural message:

Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog. Its purpose is to explore the growing evidence for purpose and design in the universe. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education, public policy, or whatever.

The contributors represent different academic disciplines and often have different interests. So this blog will be eclectic. Expect posts from biology, astronomy, philosophy, cosmology, physics, the human sciences, and elsewhere. Most posts will be brief, providing editorial comment and links to relevant articles and discussions. We will alert readers to recent articles that bear on design in the universe. And we will speak directly on current events as they relate to intelligent design, materialism, reductionism, and other related intellectual issues.