Sunday, November 07, 2010

Caveat Emptor

Because I am an unabashed Liberal – capital letter and all – some might be surprised to learn that I am a charter subscriber to The Weekly Standard, the formerly neo-conservative political journal.

In its first numbers The Weekly Standard was an interesting center-right counter balance to center-left The New Republic. The reputed father of neo-conservatism is the late Irving Kristol, the actual father of William Kristol, founding editor of The Weekly Standard. It was Kristol the Elder who defined a neo-conservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." The Standard's executive editor, Fred Barnes, was formerly an editor for The New Republic. Charles Krauthammer remains a contributing editor of The New Republic, while also holding that title for The Weekly Standard, though by my recollection it has been years since anything by Mr. Krauthammer has appeared in The New Republic.

I have read The New Republic since high school. Much later, I came to admire the work of Mr. Barnes and Mr. Krauthammer. It was from reading them in The New Republic that I came to be a subscriber to The Weekly Standard. I cannot boast to be a charter subscriber to The New Republic, for the simple reason that it is ninety-six years old today.

For years, The Weekly Standard was a reasonable conservative response to what one read in The New Republic. There have been several editorial changes and several journalistic scandals at The New Republic over the years. There have been times that I found myself preferring The Weekly Standard over The New Republic. If memory serves, in the early numbers The Weekly Standard even ventured to criticize the anti-government philosophy of Ronald Reagan.

That all changed with the election of Barack Obama. Since Mr. Obama's election The Weekly Standard has turned sharply to the right, unwilling to criticize any extremism from the Tea Party movement, blindly endorsing the nonsense that comes from Sarah Palin, and giving a wink to the radical capitalism of Ayn Rand.

The Weekly Standard is neo-conservative no longer. Perhaps there no longer is any neo-conservatism. From the little I know, it does not seem possible that the urbane Kristol the Elder would find anything amusing in the vitriol that currently spews on the pages of Kristol the Younger's magazine. It seems questionable that the liberals who had been mugged by reality would endorse the radical unregulated capitalism of Randism.

These, however, are larger issues that require research.

However, the proposition that free-market capitalism cannot be left completely free, that some government oversight is needed for the protection of consumers, can be defended easily, and from nothing less than the pages of the formerly neo-conservative Weekly Standard.

For the last few months, many times opposite an article that staunchly defends free-market capitalism, The Weekly Standard has run a full-page color advertisement for "The Holy Bible In Its Original Order." This new edition of the Bible is unique for two reasons: the order of the books and the "new translation."

The first claim is the most important.

This advertisement claims this Bible to be "the only complete Bible ever published … that accurately follows the original canonical or manuscript order as recognized by most scholars." Furthermore, it is claimed, "With this restoration to the 1st century 'manuscript' order, a purposeful design, symmetry and story flow order of the Bible become more readily apparent."

How is it that after two millennia of the Christian faith this is the first and only Bible of its kind?

"It is a little known historical fact that the original manuscript order of both the Old and New Testament books was altered by early church fathers," the publisher claims.

The history of what has come to be the Christian Bible is complicated. This history runs from the second century B.C. until the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Council of Trent – at the very least. The "little known historical fact" promoted by this advertisement is pure rubbish. No "early church fathers" altered the order of any "1st century 'manuscript' order" because there never was a first-century manuscript order.

Consider first the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament. The late Jaroslav Pelikan, theologian and former professor of History at Yale University, wrote, "The Holy Scripture for Jesus and the early Christians was the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish community, but no list of books it included exists" (The Melody of Theology, p. 28). Pelikan goes on to explain that from all the books competing to be part of what came to be the Old Testament for Christians, there have come to be "…three canons, one each for Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy" (p. 31).

If this appears complicated, it is. Any standard Bible encyclopedia will introduce the interested reader to the subject. What can be said for certain, however, is that there was no single first-century canon of the Old Testament.

The Bible publisher's claim as it pertains to the New Testament is even more glaringly false. Every first-year seminary student knows that there was no first-century manuscript order or canon because the New Testament was written in the first century. The first canon, or list of New Testament books, extant is the second-century Marcion canon. The problem with this is that Marcion was a heretic and his canon, although interesting from an historical perspective, is deficient for current orthodox Christians.

We could go on to discuss the heresy of Montanism, and the significance of Eusebius' categorization of books as either homologoumena or antilogomena, but the point has been made.

The first-century manuscript order Bible being peddled here is completely the invention of a twenty-first-century Bible publisher. The publisher's claims for this Bible are false and indefensible. The publisher claims the authority of "most scholars," but conveniently names no scholar.

No court of law will prosecute this publisher, but every penny that this publisher takes for the $119.50 Deluxe Lambskin edition, or the $99.50 Black Faux Calfskin edition, or the $99.50 Paper Edition with carrying case, is an act of theft. No court is going to adjudicate rival claims of ecclesial history. No court will defend the pious but ignorant consumers of this rubbish. Caveat emptor.

What we have here is the Bernie Madoff of Bible publishers.

Perhaps under a liberal free market society that allows the free flow of information, such creatures need to be tolerated. Perhaps we should allow Grandmother Schultz to be defrauded of a hundred bucks, or left to hope her pastor can defend her.

What about her retirement fund, or mortgage, or life insurance, or health insurance? There comes a point when the free market needs some regulation to protect it from its own excesses. There comes a point when the government needs to protect citizens from the fraudulent claims of the unscrupulous entrepreneur.

President Barack Obama is not a socialist. He is, when he is at his best, a Liberal. Like the Liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, he has tried to protect capitalism from its own excesses.

The editors of The Weekly Standard have failed to recognize this. They have also failed to scrutinize the advertisements they accept for publication.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Threat

The election of President Barack Obama aroused a truly un-American, anti-democratic, virulently un-Christian ideology in our country.

This ideology promotes vice as virtue, and evil as good. This ideology has long been in plain sight but, until recently, was never taken seriously. Powerful persons in the government have subscribed to this ideology. They have done real damage to our country and have not been held accountable. Elected officials have adopted this philosophy and have made plans accordingly for the future of the nation.

If this ideology succeeds in seducing the republic, it will not only radically change our government, it will subvert the Judeo-Christian ethos that guides our public discourse. This ideology, awakened by the election of Mr. Obama, threatens this country in much the same way as Nazism threatened the Weimar Republic.

Forget Mr. Obama portrayed with Hitler's mustache.

This threat is not from the Left.

It is from the Right.

The ideology is Randism – the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Ms. Rand preferred to call her philosophy Objectivism and opposed naming it after herself. We refuse to put lipstick on this pig. It is Randism – an ugly, vile ideology that nourishes everything that is ungodly in the fallen human soul. There is nothing "objective" about it.

When Rand declared selfishness a virtue there was no mitigating irony. Rand was Nietzsche without the humor. The freedoms she promoted are for the few, the elite, the producers, the creators. She held nothing but contempt for the masses – they were the looters, the parasites. The capitalism she promoted would result in cruel plutocracy where money is god. Your stock portfolio would be the measure of your moral worth. If you had a stock portfolio.

Rand's capitalism is capitalism with a demon's face.

Alan Greenspan, the Ronald Reagan-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, was an unabashed acolyte of Ayn Rand. Her ardent capitalism was his. His faith in the false god of self-correcting financial markets brought on the financial meltdown of 2008.

This was Randism at its best.

Unfortunately, it is not the last of this ungodly ideology.

Paul Ryan, Wisconsin representative to the U.S. House, is a Randian who reportedly gives copies of Atlas Shrugged to all staff members. He is one of the young guns promoted by the formerly neo-conservative Weekly Standard for his obtuse Roadmap for America. According to his Web page, Representative Ryan is a Roman Catholic.

Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican candidate for the Senate, is a Lutheran who espouses the views of Rand, according to the Weekly Standard. Johnson is running against maverick Democratic Senator Russ Feingold.

The list of Randians could go on. Rand Paul, Glenn Beck, Libertarians, Lutheran college professors, and more are all going Galt on the Obama administration.

A few concluding observations.

First, to Paul Ryan's priest and Ron Johnson's pastor – wake up. You have parishioners whose souls are in danger.

No one can be a Christian and subscribe to the vile teachings of Ayn Rand. Do not take my word for it. She abused William Buckley for his Catholic faith. Rand hated any form of "altruism," which was her code word for any form of faith, Christian most of all. She was ardently opposed to Christianity and there is nothing in the Gospels that squares with Randism.

Secondly, Randism is not conservatism. It is a perversion of conservatism. William Buckley would have nothing to do with Rand. Barry Goldwater shunned her. Whittaker Chambers eviscerated Atlas Shrugged in Buckley's National Review. The recent promotion of Randism in The Weekly Standard and National Review presents us with nothing less than the corruption of conservatism.

Lastly, the United States of America is not the Weimar Republic. We have a wonderful Bill of Rights appended to the Constitution. We have a longstanding tradition of making full use of the right to free speech. We know how to argue like no other republic on the face of the earth.

So God Bless America.

And God keep America.

We have much to fear from plutocracy, oligarchy, and the fallen nature of man. It is the latter that feeds all the rest. Randism preaches selfishness. The old fallen nature says Amen.

Lord help us.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Big Government

Elizabeth Henderson has a concise prescription for what ails the nation's health care system: Limit the federal government's role. "I want government out of my life. I can make my own decisions," Henderson, of Union Grove, said Saturday, as she and others gathered at a "tea party" to protest the health care legislation pending in Congress and other issues. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ms. Henderson probably rode or drove a car, or perhaps even an SUV to her "tea party." She traveled over paved streets from which the snow had been plowed. It was the government that regulated the company that made her vehicle so that it is safe to drive. It was the government that paved and plowed the roads that she drove on.

Yet, she wants the government out of her life.

Perhaps you would object that the subject is not the government, but the huge health care reform legislation that Ms. Henderson is speaking about. Look at Ms. Henderson's statement again. She did not say that she did not want health care reform. She said, "I want the government out of my life."

The boogeyman that the anti-health care reform, anti-tax, tea party crowd continually raises up for excoriation is "big government." At this point, let us dismiss Ms. Henderson. She might be more of a victim of the "tea party" movement than a proponent. Let us focus on the meaning of "big government."

The unquestioned evil of "big government" needs to be questioned.

In this big 21st-century world, just what is so evil about a "big government?"

Can a small government protect its commerce on the high seas from third-world pirates? Can you expect a small government to detect a solitary Nigerian terrorist plotting to board and bomb an international air flight?

The answer is obvious. We want the largest, most powerful government we can have to protect us from foreign threats.

Health care is not a foreign threat. It is a domestic issue. Perhaps we do not need "big government" interfering in domestic issues.

Even here, however, questions must be raised.

Was it "big government" that caused the 2009 financial meltdown? Did big government cause the savings and loan failures, the malfeasance of Enron, or invent no-down-payment mortgages and credit default swaps? Would Bernie Madoff have been caught in his nefarious schemes by a smaller government? Could a bigger government have prevented him from going as far as he did?

We need a big government because this is the largest, most powerful nation in a world with complex international political and economic relations. We need a big government to protect us from nefarious domestic and foreign powers that would rob us of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need a big government to uphold the Constitution, which is the greatest man-made guarantor of individual liberty the world has ever known.

This country has progressed far beyond the Jeffersonian agrarian republic envisioned by some of the founding fathers, due, paradoxically, to the wisdom of those same founding fathers. A succeeding generation built upon their legacy in a bloody civil war that enlarged the place of the federal government and brought the promise of liberty to a large portion of the populace that the founding fathers had ignored. That promise of liberty came to be more of a reality though the turmoil of reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Is big government really a threat? A big government, grounded in the rule of law, protects us from plutocracy, the rule of the very rich. A big government, elected by the people, protects us from oligarchy, the rule of a small number of interests groups.

A big government, which observes the rule of law, cannot protect us from demagoguery. We are protected from demagoguery only when free citizens denounce simplistic, manipulative, paranoid assertions – like the idea that big government is always and only evil.