Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump and King Pyrrhus of the 3rd Century BCE

Ever heard of Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus in Greece?  He is best known for having fought against the Romans (about 275-280 BCE)—and winning!  However, winning against the Romans cost him dearly.  So now his name has come down to us in a phrase: a “Pyrrhic Victory.”  And it is not good.

You see, a Pyrrhic victory is an empty one.  It means that you paid more to win a war than the war was worth.  It means that you won your battle at excessive cost, to the point of negating any or all expected or hoped for benefits that took you to war in the first place.  It means you lost everything in order to essentially win nothing—except to say that you’ve defeated the enemy in battle.

That makes me think of President Trump and his big talk against the North Koreans.  Trump seems to be willing to pay an excessively heavy price, in order to be a “winner” in the face-off against the North Koreans.

I’ve heard that Trump is not shy about taking financial risks when doing business dealings.  But I’ve also heard that he never risks his own money; it’s always somebody else’s money he puts at risk—in his mind that’s nothing more than being a smart and shrewd businessman—being a winner!

So, when Trump makes big threats against North Korea, and talks about his willingness to take us down the war path against the North Koreans (including the possibility of nuclear war), who does he think will pay the cost—South Korea, Japan, Guam, the Philippines?

Of course we will win a war against North Korea, but what if China and Russia get involved (one has to be quite naïve to think that they wouldn’t)?  Who will then pay the cost?  What will be the total cost to the US economy and its allies?  In the end, will it not be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory—extremely costly, totally empty, and losing everything of true value and significance while gaining nothing as an end result?

Fact is, Trump has a mindset that essentially says: “Be tough, talk big, and push-back twice or three times as hard as your opponent, to get what you want—but always ensure that someone else’s assets are at risk, never my own!”  As long as someone else pays the price, he is willing to pay any price, willing to “go-at-it” at any cost, to win a fight.  That is the way he did business as a businessman and that is the way he is doing the business of international politics as the President of the United States.

Trump supporters, as of yet, still fail to see why Trump is a dangerous man in office.  Someday, they will wake-up to reality (hopefully sooner than later) and realize that Trump is NOT good for America.  Rather than making America great again, Trump is most certainly on the way to bankrupting America—in more ways than one.  And this kind of talk, implying a nuclear strike against North Korea, for example, is just one obvious example of this.

Sure, it may sound good to the Hawkish types among us, but it is a far cry from being a reasoned and seasoned savvy diplomat in modern day international politics.  I know, that’s what Trump supporters like about Trump.  But I wonder how many Trump supporters have heard of King Pyrrhus and what it means to have a Pyrrhic victory.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Home & Family: Rights?

As a society we are now arguing over what constitutes marriage and family; for example, we have social disagreement over gay marriage and the right for gay couples to “have” children.  But notice how we are not arguing about the idea of, or truth of “Marriage & family” itself.

Marriage and family constitutes the core or foundation of culture and society.  Cultural Anthropologists study social cultural norms and values and behaviors all based on kinship identity and family networks, identifiable ties and connections based on family relationships.

The family core is ground zero of cultural learnings and teachings and behavior.  One’s personal, social, cultural, lingual identity grows out from there.  Who I am, who you are, and who we believe ourselves to be, is rooted in our core familial heritage.

Family provides us our personal history and our origin.  Family shapes our self-image, and bends the trajectory of our future.  Family gives us our fundamental values and truths.  It is where we first understand what it means to BE: to be one’s self, to be human, to be social, to be good or bad, to be right or wrong, faithful and true (or faithless and traitorous), and to be purposeful and meaningful in our living.  Family is the fundamental context of our way of being.

This is why “the family” is considered sacred.  For example, the Bible speaks of the requirement to honor marriage.  That is to say that a married couple’s relationship is to be held as sacred and inviolable (Hebrews 13:4).  There is to be no “fooling around.”  The marriage commitment is to be respected and honored.

If what is said above about marriage and family is true, then it follows that all social/governing policies that effectively result in hindering, ruining, and/or damaging healthy family life must be considered bad policy.  Ergo: If a government social policy is bad for family it is bad for the nation; it is simply bad policy.

Good government social policy should strengthen and enhance family life, not tear it down or destroy it.  And so, healthcare policy should be measured by that same principle.  Whatever healthcare policy is adopted in the future, we have to ask as a society, does this healthcare policy strengthen families and family life or defeat families?

But that’s not all, what about criminal justice policies or income and homeless family welfare policies?  Even when economic downturns are at their worse, should a society adopt policies that effectively exploit, oppress, or marginalize poor families?  That is, do our social and economic policies actively and structurally support family life for all families, or do they only buttress the family life of the rich and well-to-do?

Let us learn the lesson from the Prophet Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:1-13):

“Some time later many of the people, both men and women, began to complain against their fellow Jews.  Some said, ‘We have large families, we need grain to keep us alive.’

Others said, ‘We have had to mortgage our fields and vineyards and houses to get enough grain to keep us from starving.’

Still others said, ‘We had to borrow money to pay the royal tax on our fields and vineyards.  We are of the same race as our fellow Jews.  Aren’t our children just as good as theirs?  But we have to make slaves of our children.  Some of our daughters have already been sold as slaves.  We are helpless because our fields and vineyards have been taken away from us.’

When I heard their complaints, I grew angry and decided to act.  I denounced the leaders and officials of the people and told them, ‘You are oppressing your brothers!’
I called a public assembly to deal with the problem and said, ‘As far as we have been able, we have been buying back our Jewish brothers who  had to sell themselves to foreigners.  Now you are forcing your own brothers to sell themselves to you, their fellow Jews!’  The leaders were silent and could find nothing to say.

Then I said, ‘What you are doing is wrong!  You ought to obey God and do what’s right.  Then you would not give our enemies, the Gentiles, any reason to ridicule us.  I have let the people borrow money and grain from me, and so have my companions and the men who work for me.  Now let’s give up all our claims to repayment.  Cancel all the debts they owe you—money or grain or wine or olive oil.  And give them back their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses right now!’

They replied, ‘We’ll do as you say.  We’ll give the property back and not try to collect the debts.’

I called in the priests and made the leaders swear in front of them to keep the promise they had just made.  Then I took off the sash I was wearing around my waist and shook it out.  ‘This is how God will shake any of you who don’t keep your promise,’ I said.  ‘God will take away your houses and everything you own, and will leave you with nothing.’

Everyone who was present said, ‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord.  And the leaders kept their promise.”

Monday, July 31, 2017

From Where Do Our Rights Come?

What are your rights?  Can you list them?  And, whatever rights you may list, where do these rights come from?  Who gave them to you?  That is, by what authority or power or fundamental truth are you guaranteed these rights?

Our Constitution speaks of “inalienable” rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for example).  How are these rights inalienable and what does “inalienable” even mean?

When the word inalienable is used with reference to human rights, it is to say that such rights have preeminence over all local and/or national governing powers.    That is, it is assumed that certain human rights are not given to people by their governments; rather, such rights are inherent to the people simply because they are human.  They are the universal rights of humanity.

An inalienable right is a right that cannot be derived from other laws or rights or external powers.  Inalienable rights are therefore irreducible givens, essential rights that apply to all persons by virtue of their humanity—the irreducible, non-deductible and essential rights of Being Human.  Thus, all good laws are built on the essential nature of what it means to be human; and so all good laws are built on the foundational inalienable rights of humanity.

In short, we humans do not bestow upon ourselves our own inalienable rights.  If that were true, than these rights could also be taken away from us just as easily, by the whim and will or fancy of any particular government that happens to be in power at any given time or place—which is exactly how some governments around the world (past, present, and future) wish to rule and actually attempt to govern—as if the inalienable rights of humanity are nonexistent and do not apply.

So, it is insufficient to simply say that our inalienable rights stem from our humanity, the fact that human beings are Human Beings.  For, it begs the question—why do or why should human beings have these “inalienable” rights in the first place.

The truth is, if there is no God/Creator, there is no inherent reason to assume that Human Beings are to have or presume to have “inalienable” rights.  Without a God, what is…IS!  And that is that.  And if any single human or group of humans assert or demand that they have inalienable rights, it is nothing more than humans bestowing upon themselves these rights.  And then we are only left with a foundation of drifting sand: what humans give, humans can just as easily take away; all depending upon who is in power in any given age or place.

At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus went to synagogue service in his home town, Nazareth, as was his custom, and stood up to read from Isaiah (see Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-2): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”

Why do the poor matter?  Why be concerned about the blind, the lame, or the meek?  Why worry about the oppressed and those who are held captive?  Why do humans have any value at all?  Why do we humans aspire to live in peace and prosperity where justice and goodness prevail?

Because, God is our Creator and we humans are made in His Image.  Because, Eternity is in our hearts and deep down inside we know there is a greater Truth to the meaning of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness than how we have narrowly defined it.  Because our basic human rights are not bestowed to us by our fellow humans but by the Creator, God’s Self.

Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep.  All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate.  Whoever comes in by me will be saved; he will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.”  John 10:7-10.  In short, only God through Christ will ever guarantee to us, both in principle and in practice, the Inalienable Rights of humanity; for God is its very source.

Monday, July 24, 2017

And what does your conscience say?

When was the last time you paid attention to your conscience?

Do you believe that you have one?  If so, do you respect it and give it consideration, actually follow its lead?  Or, do you more often than not squelch it and ignore it and treat it as a kind of nuisance that is more bothersome than helpful?

What is a conscience?  You know.  It’s that small inner voice that warns you: “Don’t do this,” or “You better take care of that.”  It monitors your conduct, evaluates your intentions, and directs you toward making good and right choices, while blaming you for the bad choices you make.

Speaking of a conscience presumes the following realities:

It presumes that there is a right and wrong and that you know the difference between them.  That is, it presumes the knowledge of good and bad by means of a rationale and reasonable mind.

It presumes that, at the core of your innermost being, you’d really rather do what is right and good; you prefer goodness over evil.

It presumes free-choice, that it is a matter of the will—freewill.

And it presumes that there is a higher law of moral consequence and just-desserts.  That is that, ultimately one cannot get away with continually doing wrong; sooner or later one’s bad deeds will catch up.  That there is a Judgment Day, and goodness will finally prevail over evil.

Christian theology tells us as much: God created Human Beings as intelligent and moral beings.

Proverbs 20:27 says that “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching every innermost part.”  Given that point, we could say that God’s voice plays a role in the voice of our conscience, which is probably a good reason why we should give it some careful attention.  In more stark terms, we are told that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  (Hebrews 4:13.)

Responding to our conscience: Fight or flight?

To fight is to rebel, to stubbornly ignore, squelch, or squash one’s conscience.  The Bible speaks of those who seem to have no conscience at all and couldn’t care less, those whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2).  These are those who may have had a conscience at one time in their life but no longer.  They have seared them; squashed, squelched, and smothered the conscience so often that it can no longer speak or be heard.  “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”   (Ephesians 4:18)

To flee is to admit that one has a guilty conscience with the fear that there is no way of escaping its verdict.  One feels doomed and thus one flees.  Think of the story of Adam and Eve when they ran from God and hid in the garden for fear of being exposed.  They knew they were guilty of committing a wrong.  Humanity has been fleeing from God ever since.

Stop running.  Jesus tells us that he came into the world for this very reason.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  (John 3:17)

This world, beautiful as it is, is also a very hard and painful place to live in.  There is much evil in this world, and many people do many bad things.  No one is without guilt of doing some wrong to others.

So, we have a choice.  Sear our consciences as with a hot iron and do what we want, as we want—good bad or indifferent.  Or, we can begin paying more careful attention to what it is that our conscience is really trying to tell us.  When we feel guilty, rather than run, the best thing to do is to seek God and His righteousness.  Seek the Savior, find forgiveness and redemption, and be given a whole new promise of hope and salvation in the face of a cruel, unjust, and evil world, not to mention our own wrongdoing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Freedom and Equality! Are You Equal to Me?

Are we equal?

This is not meant to be a trick question, but a simple yes or no answer won’t do.

It’s complicated this question of equality.  For, we are certainly not equal when it comes to natural talent and skills.  For example: I can’t sing.  That is, I can’t wow people with my singing.  I certainly can’t bring in the crowds when I sing, unlike an Elvis Presley or a Frank Sinatra did back in their heyday.

Nor are we equal when it comes to income and lifestyle.  Some are born with the so-called silver-spoon in their mouths, while others are born barely able to survive their first year of life for want of nutrition and other health care needs.

We are not equal in size, mental capacity, strength, natural abilities, beauty, health, or success potential and so-on.  So when our U. S. Constitution speaks of equality, what does it mean and how is it to be applied in our American social construct?

This is where the Christian influence and backdrop to the birth of our nation comes in to play: It is a Christian assertion that all people are created in the image of God.

Practically speaking, despite our differences in talents and abilities and/or our economic status or mental capacity, the life of every human being is sacred and shares the same responsibility to give and receive mutual and reciprocated respect for one another as a fellow human being.

Take that particular premise away—that we are all created in the image of God—and you have a ready argument to begin to justify categorizing humans as more valuable or less valuable, as more worthy or less worthy of respect and dignity—based on varies metrics, such as natural strength & power or skills and abilities, etc.

It’s a question of what makes a human being valuable.  If value is simply based on performance, that is, on what one can do, than those who have little capacity to do anything have less value—may even be seen as totally worthless, having no value at all.

Or, to make the question of human value even more complicated, some will say that value is based on one’s goodness: The more bad a person is, the less value that person has as a person; that is, good people are more valuable than bad people are.  But then we get into the question of how to define “goodness” over “badness” and the difference between “being” a bad person versus “doing” a bad thing—they’re not one and the same.

So, the premise that we are created in God’s image gives us the necessary foundation for the building block of human equality.

Thus, rich or poor, all humans are to be given the dignity of respect and honor as a human being.  That is, one’s dignity is not based on one’s wealth or monetary value.

Thus, all humans are equal before the law and are to have the right to just treatment and with respect, regardless of physical stature or social status or mental capacity.

Thus, all humans, regardless of ethnic identity, language, culture, and or regional origin, are to be honored as deserving of dignity and respect.

And thus, the most pointed Christian message of human equality is this: though all humans are guilty of wrongdoing and are therefore deemed sinful in the eyes of God (for example: as liars and cheats, as unfaithful and/or unkind and hateful toward others, or as having hearts of greed, pride and arrogance, etc.) we humans are all offered the same means of salvation—redemption and forgiveness by means of Christ the Savior.

The further we move away from the premise that all humans are created in the image of God, the closer we move toward unjust laws, oppressive government, and the devaluing of human beings that we deem as unworthy of our honor and respect simply because they are not like us.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Kushner, Trump, the Russians, Why it Matters?

So, did Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, have a clandestine meeting with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, as well as a Russian Banker?  Why does it matter if he did?

Here’s a good reason: It matters because truth matters, integrity matters, morality matters, justice matters, trust matters, loyalty matters—especially in the exercise of POWER.

Question: Is there a moral backdrop to life?  Is there a higher authority to which we must answer to?

Who or what governs one’s heart?  Who or what rules one’s life?  To whom should one give answer to, respecting one’s actions and motives?  What is the measure of one’s integrity, morality, or ethics?

News Reporters are determined to get to the bottom of this Russian Thing.  Why?  Because, it is assumed that truth matters; and so do loyalty, integrity, and trust matter.  Note that these are moral issues.

Yet, we have apparently elected a president for which truth and reality, along with morality and integrity, does not seem to matter as much—or only so in a relative sense; which is quite fitting for a culture within which moral assertions are now, more often than not, said to be a matter of opinion and therefore merely private and personal.

On the other hand, for you relativists out there, if truth is relative (including ethics and morality), then President Trump need not answer to his actions—to anyone, not even us.  For, if morality is a matter of personal and private opinion, there is no place for giving account and Trump need not justify his words or deeds, personal or public—which he often does not bother to do anyway.

The irony is that this has always been considered one of the greatest responsibilities of a free press: to get to the truth of the matter.  But now, in an age of Relativism, certain sectors of the public are outraged when the Press constantly seeks to know.  Yes, the press operates on the assumption that there is indeed a moral backdrop to our universe, with moral absolutes—that is to say that our actions and words are expected to line up with that which is real and true, right and good.

So, for example, when News Reporters question Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, and/or questions other White House spokespersons, pressing for more info and clarification as to the Presidents words and actions, their line of questioning presumes that motive and purpose make a difference as to how an action is to be substantively interpreted—for good or for bad.

So, is there virtue?  Are there ethical norms by which we live?  And should we hold our elected leaders to these ethical standards?  In short, are there moral boundaries or ethical lines that must not be crossed?  If so, then it matters whether Kushner, Trump, and/or anyone else in the presidential office, had clandestine meetings with the Russians.  And so we must find out why, and to what end or purpose.

In other words, it is not enough to know what IS; we also need to know what IS, within a moral context of what should or OUGHT to be.  Thus, we need to know what IS as measured by motive, for we presume that there are good and that there are bad intentions.

This is why Trump’s administration’s refusal to give answer to the many mounting questions that are arising from the Russian Investigation, among other things, is or should be very disturbing.  In actuality, most of us, if not all of us, believe that there ARE lines that must not be crossed, boundaries that must be maintained, and rules that must be adhered to.  Thus, to evade accountability is tantamount to admitting that the boundaries have not been maintained with integrity—vis-à-vis, they’re hiding something!

And so, investigations and good solid news reporting matter.  We therefore must not so easily dismiss or disregard Presidential statements or actions that even only appear to sidestep the light of scrutiny let alone outright smack of actual deceit and/or falsehood—unless of course we actually do buy into a reality where truth, goodness, and trustworthiness, are in fact relative, and that these virtues are only a matter of personal and private opinion.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Trump Push

Trump’s attitude, tone, posturing, and verbiage often come across as arrogant, boastful, and self-gratulatory.

So, when Trump bullied his way to the front of NATO leaders by pushing aside Dusko Markovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, that said it all.

Did you see it?

Did you see Trump’s face?  Did you notice his posture and catch his dismissiveness of Mr. Markovic?

Some Americans liked what they saw; thinking that that was a great way for Trump to show his commitment to “Put America First!”

And that is so very, very sad.


Do you believe in “Karma” or do you believe in “What goes around comes around” or the idea that “For every action there is always an equal and opposing reaction”?

In other words, as you already know, anger breeds anger, hate breeds hate, and so-on and so-forth.  That is to say that Trump’s presumptuous attitude, coupled with his arrogant actions, will have its equal and opposing reactions—and it won’t be nice.

If you’re familiar with the Biblical book of Proverbs, two verses come to mind, Proverbs chapter 16 verse 5 and verse18.  Verse 5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  And verse 18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  (NIV)

“America First,” Trump says.  “Make America Great Again,” Trump asserts.  And many Americans with pride in the hearts, arrogance in their tone, and Triumphalism in their spirits, resound with a “Hoorah!  Make it so!!  Let’s do this!!”

So, we have elected a president who, acting in our behalf, acts proudly, arrogantly, and even insultingly toward others, as a way of representing us, the people of the United States of America.

Thus, if the Biblical statements of Proverbs chapter 16 verses 5 and 8 are true, I wonder: How can we say “God Bless America!” expecting God to do so, when God clearly condemns proud, haughty, and arrogant people?

Be kind, considerate, generous, and respectful, mind your manners, be polite, don’t shove and push, wait your turn; and don’t boast and brag or be conceited.  These were the social rules, the “how to behave yourself” rules, that previous generations of Americans were taught and were brought up with.  Whether you were old or young, high or low, rich or poor, these were the norms of expected behavior within our social interactions.  And we are losing them. 

And with their loss we are fast becoming a small self-inflated people, curt and contentious, belligerent and bellicose, pompous and petulant, pretentious and plebian in manner.  Indeed, in the person of President Trump, it seems that he is the best representative for us at this time, if this is truly the kind of people we are becoming.