Wednesday, January 30, 2008

South Carolina Part 2 and Florida

Barack Obama easily won South Carolina by a margin of 55%-27% over Hillary Clinton. John Edwards placed third with 18% of the vote. The Democratic beauty contest (because no delegates were at stake) went to Clinton over Obama by a margin of 50%-33% and again Edwards was third with 14%.

In the Republican Florida primary Rudy Giuliani, much to his chagrin, proved the political experts right as his Florida strategy failed big time. John McCain led with 36%, followed by Mitt Romney with 31% and then Rudy with a paltry 15%. Mike Huckabee came in with 13%.

The immediate fallout is that John Edwards has announced his withdrawal from the race. Therefore, barring some unforeseen catastrophe of monumental proportions, the nominee for President of the United States from the Democratic Party in 2008 will either be a woman or a black man.

On the Republican side, the expectation is that Giuliani will withdraw and endorse John McCain, but that hasn’t happened as of this moment. As for Mike Huckabee, some of whose staff was reported as going without pay, no indication as yet as to his plans. Unlike Giuliani, for whom Florida was considered a make or break primary, Huckabee didn’t really expect to do that well there. However I do think his 2nd place finish in South Carolina was something of a disappointment to him.

So now it’s on to Super Tuesday where 21 states will choose Republican delegates and 22 states will choose Democratic delegates. Included will be such huge states as California, New York and Illinois.

I don’t think the make-up of the Super Tuesday states is very conducive to Huckabee doing well. I suspect that he’s going to get his clock cleaned in most of the states especially if Giuliani endorses McCain so I doubt his candidacy will survive the next round, but I’ve been wrong before so we’ll see.

With Edwards gone it becomes a two way race on the Democratic side. Hillary still has the inside track because she appears to hold a significant lead in the so-called Super Delegates (party leaders and elected officials) and I doubt that Obama has made a sufficient impact outside of the states that have already held primaries and that gives Clinton the advantage.

I get to vote Tuesday, for joy, for joy. I think I’m registered as an Independent but I’m not sure. In any event you can declare at the polling place in New Jersey so I think I’ll declare Democratic (it would be a cold day in hell before I ever voted Republican anyway) and I think I’ll pull the handle for Obama.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Is the Bible Human or Divine?

I tripped over an internet article entitled “The Bible: Human or Divine” by Hank Hanegraaff explaining what Christians should know in order to effectively defend the faith from skeptics. The author uses the mnemonic MAPS, which stands for Manuscripts, Archaeology, Prophecy and Statistics as a way to remember the recommended apologetic points.

The Manuscripts argument states “...the Bible has stronger manuscript support than any other work of classical literature-including Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, and Tacitus.”

I could argue with this statement because “quantity” is not necessarily “quality” and while I can’t imagine any conceivable reason for someone to purposely modify the contents of Tacitus or Homer while copying it, there were lots of reasons during the early Christian orthodoxy struggles why someone might “clarify” a manuscript to make it, to paraphrase Bart Ehrman, more obviously say what he already knew it meant.

However, even if I don't argue the point, textual accuracy does not necessarily mean textual truth. I’m pretty certain my copies of “Mein Kampf” and “Das Kapital” are textually accurate but I would hesitate to call them “true” other than they may reflect the actual opinions of the authors.

The M argument also states that “Secular historians--including Josephus (before A.D. 100), the Roman Tacitus (around A.D. 120), the Roman Suetonius ( A.D. 110), and the Roman governor Pliny the Younger ( A.D. 110)--confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in the New Testament.”

Wow, I’d have to say that is an EXTREME overstatement. These historians certainly confirm SOME of the fairly mundane events, people, places and customs but none of the critical ones. They certainly don’t confirm such key events in the Gospels as the census of Augustus that forced Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, the Virgin Birth, the Sermon on the Mount, the trial of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus nor even that Jesus did in fact actually exist (although one can argue that last point with respect to Josephus).

The Archaeology argument asserts that “Over and over again, comprehensive field work (archaeology) and careful biblical interpretation affirms the reliability of the Bible.”

Depending upon which part of the bible one is talking about, this is more or less a true statement. The problem with Archaeology is that it requires a lot of interpretation. The ancients didn’t leave detailed and complete records so one is often faced with the task of filling in the pieces and the filled in portions often seem to be in the majority.

Still, one can’t deny that most of the historical content of the bible from 1 Kings on is very likely to be about as reliable as any other ancient document and perhaps even more reliable because the text has been so carefully preserved. But so what? The novel “Gone with the Wind” is pretty historically accurate as well. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Or do you think there was a real Scarlet who lived on a real plantation called Tara?

As for the earlier books such as Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges and 1& 2 Samuel, the consensus of scholarly opinion seems to be that these are more mythology, folklore and, in the case of Joshua, concerted political spin doctoring to justify territorial ambitions than history.

The fact is that even the term “Biblical Archaeology” has, in many circles, been dropped in favor of the term “Syro-Palestinian Archaeology” because so much of the bible is now considered generally unreliable.

As for the New Testament, again, clearly the Gospels and Epistles often depict real places, real people and real events but that doesn’t mean that ALL of the places, people and events depicted are real. Remember “Gone with the Wind.”

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Do you know of any physical virgins that have conceived and given birth? Is there any evidence that the stories of a virgin birth described in Matthew and Luke, and totally ignored in Mark, John, the Epistles and the later chapters of Matthew and Luke, actually happened beyond the claims of Matthew and Luke? Why should one accept it as historical then?

That bring us to Prophecy and Statistics. The Statistics argument is simply that “It is statistically preposterous that any or all of the Bible's specific, detailed prophecies could have been fulfilled through chance, good guessing, or deliberate deceit.”

So it really depends upon the Prophecy argument. If there are a large number of “specific detailed prophecies” then the Statistics argument is very strong. But are there? Let’s look at the Prophecy argument then shall we?

The article states that “Predictive prophecy is a principle of Bible reliability that often reaches even the hard-boiled skeptic!”

It would have been more accurate to include an “IF” somewhere in that sentence. I don’t know of any “hard-boiled skeptic” that thinks the bible has ANY predictive prophecies. All of the so-called prophecies are relegated to either misinterpretation (Isaiah 53), mistranslation (Isaiah 7:14 ) heroic interpretation (Psalm 22) or adaptation after the fact (the nativity in Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt).

Let’s see what I mean shall we.

The article states “Since Christ is the culminating theme of the Old Testament and the Living Word of the New Testament, it should not surprise us that prophecies regarding Him outnumber all others.”

While Jews would debate that “Christ is the culminating theme” of the Hebrew Bible and I’m not certain such prophesies outnumber all the others, but they certainly would be considered, by Christians at least, to be the most critical. Therefore I’m perfectly happy to consider those prophecies the article says “would have been impossible for Jesus to deliberately conspire to fulfill.”

Perhaps, but not impossible for Christians to misinterpret, mistranslate or heroically interpret. Let’s go though the article’s list shall we.

His descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:3 17:19);

In Genesis 12 God is telling Abram to "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.”

As a reward for following his instructions, God makes two promises.

Genesis 12:2 - I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

Genesis 12:3 - I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Note that in Genesis 12:3 God is talking about Abram and not Jesus. Even if one wanted to claim that this described Jesus and therefore was a prophecy of Jesus, this would only be true if one accepts that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through” Jesus. This may be a part of Christian dogma but it’s also sort of begging the question. Only if I already accept Christianity as TRUE would I recognize this as a prophecy. But if Christianity is TRUE then by definition the bible is divine. In other words I have to accept the conclusion as a given in order to prove the conclusion. This is the familiar circular argument fallacy that makes so many skeptics dizzy when they talk to an Apologist.

Genesis 17 is about the covenant of circumcision between God and Abraham. In verse 19 God tells Abraham “your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

Abraham then goes on to circumcise himself (at age 99) his family and all his slaves. I’m sort of at a loss as to why one would list this as a prophecy of Jesus especially considering Paul’s insistence that the covenant of circumcision no longer applied, at least not for Gentiles. About the only thing I can imagine is that the last sentence, taken out of context, is claimed as a prophecy of the so-called New Testament.

Even if you ignore the heroic interpretation only made possible by taking the sentence completely out of context, this is only a prophecy, even by those far fetched standards, if you already believe that God established a New Covenant through Jesus. In other words, you have to accept Christianity, which means by definition the bible is divine and so on and so forth. In other words, it’s another circular argument.

The piercing of His hands and feet on the cross (Psalm 22:16);
The soldiers’ gambling for His clothes (Psalm 22:18);

I don’t consider a phrase pulled out of context a prophecy simply because that phrase resembles some other person or event. Psalm 22 is a lament where, ostensibly King David, is asking why, despite being faithful, he has seemingly been abandoned by God.

Verses 12 through 18 are a litany of woes that have befallen the singer. Verses 16 and 18 are simply a part of that litany.

Psalm 22:16 - Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced (tore at) my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22:18 - They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

Taken out of context the verses are certainly suggestive, but in context they’re just two more of the laments. There is nothing to suggest prophecy here other than the resemblance to similar events that supposedly happened to Jesus. Even then, there’s no mention of dogs surrounding the cross in the gospels nor is it likely that crucifixion was done by nails through the hand. The bones in the hand aren’t strong enough to support the weight. Far more likely is that the victims were tied to the cross or that the nails were driven through the wrist bones.

If these verses are prophecy, then why not the other five verses as well? How about this one?

Psalm 22:13 - Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

You see any mention in the gospels about lions enjoying a meal during the crucifixion? Nope, I don’t recall that either, or how about the one right in between?

Psalm 22:17 - I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.

You recall anything about Jesus not eating all that well for an extended period of time so that he could count all his bones? Nope, me neither.

If you’re going to claim that Psalm 22:16, 18 are prophecies of Jesus, why not also claim that Psalm 22:13 is a prophecy that Christians will be martyred by being thrown to the lions and that Psalm 22: 17 is a prophecy of any of the numerous famines that have occurred around the world. It makes just as much sense.

The piercing of His side and the fact that His bones were not broken at His death (Zechariah 12:10; Psalm 34:20);

Calling Psalm 34:20 a prophecy is even more absurd than calling Psalm 22 a prophecy.

Psalm 34:20 - he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

It’s not even a complete thought. You need the previous verse to even make sense of it.

Psalm 34:19 - A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

Psalm 34 is simply a list of the benefits that God bestows on the righteous and the faithful and this is just one more benefit. If protecting a man’s bones from being broken sounds like an odd thing to include, consider two things. First, in that climate at that level of medical knowledge, broken bones could easily be a death sentence and second, Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem. The verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet so form might have been more important than content.

Now let’s consider Zechariah 12:10 which says:

Zechariah 12:10 -"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son."

Notice the “And.” The first part says:

Zechariah 12: 9 - On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.

At least Zechariah 12 is indeed a prophecy. It’s a prophecy promising that God will protect Judah and Jerusalem when “all the nations of the earth are gathered against her.”

The bottom line is that God will come to aid of Jerusalem and Judah in their darkest hour, when destruction seems unavoidable, and then they’ll repent and feel sorry that they were unfaithful to their God.

When the Romans besieged Jerusalem in 70 CE it would probably have been a good time to make good on this promise unless the forces stacked against the city just weren’t overwhelming enough. Not likely it’s going to happen in the future either since as a part of this God is going “to strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness.”

Anyone ever again expect to see an army marching against Jerusalem with a contingent of horse cavalry? I know, I know, it’s figurative. The cavalry will actually be tanks and the “riders” will actually be the tank drivers. In any event, I don’t see this as a very convincing prophecy of Jesus simply because the word “pierce” is used. After all, that could also be figurative like in “you pierced my heart.” Have you ever noticed how literalists fall back upon text being "figurative" as soon as someone points out that it's in error?

His birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2);

This is one of the more interesting so-called prophecies.

Micah 5:2 - But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

Two things are certain. The first is that the name “Bethlehem” is used and the second is that the word “ruler’ is used. Apparently this is enough for the faithful to declare this verse a prophecy of the Messiah, claim that he will be born in Bethlehem and, since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he must be the Messiah and therefore this is a prophecy of him.

My reaction is whoa Nelly, slow down. That’s a leap of faith that deserves to have all of its letters capitalized.

For the moment, let’s accept that this is a prophecy of the Messiah and that it declares he will be born in Bethlehem. How do we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem?

Other than the nativity stories presented by Matthew and Luke there is no evidence that he was. There is even some evidence that he wasn’t. Outside of the nativity stories, which are completely ignored in the gospels of Mark and John, Bethlehem as a birthplace for Jesus is never mentioned. He is always identified as a Galilean from Nazareth.

In John 7, as the people are arguing over who Jesus is, the nay sayers make the argument "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?"

If Jesus really was born in Bethlehem, this wouldn’t have been much of an argument but neither John, nor Jesus nor anyone else ever take the time to correct the error. Nor can one argue that this is a literary device wherein the reader recognizes the fallacy even though the characters in the story are left ignorant because John NEVER identifies Jesus’ place of birth.

Now let’s look a bit closer at what Micah 5:2 actually says and also place it in context. Is the verse even talking about the town of Bethlehem and is it really talking about a leader that will emerge some 700 years in the future?

Notice the word “clans.” Some folks argue that “Bethlehem Ephrathah” actually refers to a clan of Judah and not a place. In 1 Chronicles 2 one can find a list of the early descendents of Judah including Caleb, descended through Perez the son of Judah and Tamar, who married Ephrathah. Her eldest was named Hur and one of his sons was Salma who was the father of Bethlehem (1 Chronicles 2:50,51).

Even if you accept that Bethlehem refers to the town and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, is Micah 5:2 really a prophecy about something that won’t happen for 700 years or is it a bit more contemporary?

To put things in perspective, Micah is writing in turbulent times. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon has split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Make no mistake which was the upper dog in this pair, it was clearly the Northern Kingdom of Israel which rose to prominence under the Omride Dynasty.

You remember the Omrides don’t you? The most famous king of that dynasty was Ahab who married the Canaanite Jezebel. The Kingdom of Israel was polytheistic, supporting alters to Baal and Asherah and probably many others. Its prosperity would undoubtedly have driven the Prophets crazy.

But then, suddenly it all becomes clear as God’s wrath descends upon Israel in the form of the Assyrians. Samaria is destroyed, Israel ceases to exist as a nation and its people are driven into exile or slavery while the, relatively, faithful Judah still stands.

Refugees from the more cosmopolitan Northern Kingdom stream into Judah, and especially Jerusalem, most likely bringing with them their polytheistic practices. To make matters worse, the Assyrians have marched south and are knocking at the doors of Jerusalem.

Micah expresses the belief that the Northern Kingdom got what it deserved, Jerusalem is about to get what it deserves, but if the common people of the countryside of Judah will just stay true, God will protect them against the Assyrians. A leader will arise from the least of the clans and shepherds will defend Judah because all things are possible with the help of God. Ultimately this leader would reestablish the Kingdom of Israel.

The timeframe in which Micah expects all of this to happen is a little unclear, at least in the English version.

Even if you ignore the questions of does this really relate to a place, where was Jesus actually born and what’s the anticipated timeframe, this verse still fails as a prophecy of Jesus because Jesus never became “ruler over Israel” and I’m not about to buy a spin which says with the new covenant this now means Christianity and Jesus is clearly ruler nor the spin that this will happen in the second coming.

His burial among the rich (Isaiah 53:9);
His crucifixion with criminals (Isaiah 53:12);

I saved these two for last because they are part of the “Suffering Servant” description which runs from Isaiah 52:13 through the end of Isaiah 53.

Now here’s a strange thing, even my left eyebrow goes up when I read the Suffering Servant. I’m not sure why the MAPS author isolates these two verses as the entire body of the Suffering Servant is claimed, by Christians, to be a prophecy of Jesus.

Clearly Jews disagree. Their current position is that this isn’t a prophecy of the Messiah at all but rather a description of the sufferings of Israel. The Suffering Servant is claimed to be the Nation of Israel. Christians claim that this interpretation is a relatively recent change and they point to ancient Jewish texts which argue that this is in fact a Messianic Prophecy.

As far as past disagreements among Jews themselves as to whether this is a Messianic Prophecy or not, I sort of find this irrelevant. In the past there were significant disagreements within Christianity as well. Would any Christian apologist accept as a counter argument to the divinity of Jesus the fact that some early Christian sects viewed him as purely human? I doubt it, so I don’t see how past conflicts among Jews with respect to the Suffering Servant are meaningful either. The current orthodox thinking among Jews with respect to Isaiah 52 & 53 is that it describes the nation of Israel and they have two very strong arguments to back that position up.

The first is that in Isaiah God consistently refers to the Patriarch Jacob and the people of Israel as his servants. Examples include:

Isaiah 44:21 - "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you.”

Isaiah 49:3 - He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."

The second is that much of the text of the Suffering Servant is in the Hebrew past tense. Why would a prophecy of something that won’t occur for 700 years be in the past tense? More likely Isaiah is describing the past trials of the nation of Israel than the future trials of the Messiah.

However, even with all that being said, if the Suffering Servant passage was being proposed as the sole prophecy of Jesus, I might give it more credence. Some of the verses are VERY reminiscent of the story of Jesus as savior. Consider Isaiah 53:5 and 53:6

Isaiah 53:5 - But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:6 - We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

What weakens the argument is the silly overkill claim by Christians that there are hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Bible about Jesus. If all the other claimed prophecies are nonsense, then it’s very likely that this one is as well.

How about we try this one on for size? Since the gospels were written 700 years after the book of Isaiah, maybe the story of Jesus was written based upon the Suffering Servant and simply overlaid onto the political realities of the 1st century?

You can argue this stuff for ages with little or no movement on either side. I’ve had true believers try to sell me on the accuracy of biblical prophecy and, at least so far, they’ve had no success. But on the other hand, I haven’t had much success convincing them that all these so-called prophecies are nonsense either.

Over the years I’ve noticed a fundamental difference in the mental outlook of believers and skeptics. It’s been my experience that believers are satisfied with a possible explanation as long at that explanation supports their beliefs. Skeptics tend to look for probable explanations.

Is it possible that all the Christian Apologists are right about everything? Sure it is, but the probability of that being so is so low that’s it’s about as close to zero as it can be. Same thing with the bible prophecy thing, I’ve yet to see one for which a compelling case can be made. To claim an event was prophesized hundreds of years before it occurred is an extraordinary claim and, as we all know, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence or at least compelling evidence.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The NFL Conference Championship Games

Gee, I was never so happy to be wrong in a prediction as I was with the Giants and Packers. Too bad I lost the lottery for Super Bowl tickets as I think I would have gone. After all, this will probably be my last chance.

In the AFC, no real surprise as the Patriots moved to 18-0 and positioned themselves for the perfect 19-0 season. The Las Vegas odds makers have them as a 14 point favorite.

If the world was ruled by the result with the greatest drama, the Patriots would fall to the Giants in Glendale. Unfortunately the world is ruled by cold reality and there is no way I can see the Pats losing.

Although I’ll be rooting against them all the way, the Patriots win Super Bowl XLII to cap off a perfect 19-0 season. I just hope the Giants keep it close.

Speaking of cold reality, I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like watching the Giants and Packers in -4 degree whether. That must have been nuts. I don't blame Tynes for running off the field as soon as he saw that his kick was good.

Nevada and South Carolina Part 1

In Nevada it was Hillary Clinton with 51% of the vote leading Barack Obama with 41% of the vote (although Obama got 13 delegates to Clintons 12) and Mitt Romney swamping the Republican field with 51% of the vote, well ahead of the surprising 2nd place Ron Paul with 14% and the third place John McCain with 13%. Mike Huckabee and Fred Thomson were way behind Romney each with around 8% of the vote.

In South Carolina, John McCain squeaked out a victory with 33% of the vote. Huckabee was second with 30%, followed by Thompson with 16% and Romney with 15%.

So who’s winning? I have no idea. On the Republican side Romney looks like he could encounter problems in any state with a fair percentage of Evangelical Christian voters. Now let’s face facts shall we; a Republican candidate without the support of Evangelical Christians is probably doomed.

McCain’s win in South Carolina indicates to me that he is the most viable candidate capable of appealing to all segments of the Republican base and some moderate Independents.

I think Florida will tell the tale. If McCain wins Florida he’ll be hard to head off. If somehow Giuliani manages to win, that will put things back into a jumble again.

For the Democrats, I don’t have a clue. It could still go either way and I don’t see things clearing up until after Super Tuesday if even then.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Michigan Primary

Well Mitt finally won one. Actually that’s not really true since he also came out on top in the Wyoming caucuses which everyone sort of ignored. The win gives Romney the current lead in delegates, for whatever that means, with 42, Huckabee is second with 32 followed by McCain with 13.

The next biggie for the Republicans is South Carolina where folks go to the polls on Saturday January 19th. The current polls show John McCain with a slight lead over Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney is third with Fred Thompson not far behind. If McCain or Romney win South Carolina I think the Republican campaign will have a legitimate front runner, but if either Huckabee or Thompson win, things will remain muddled until Florida on January 29th.

On the Democrat side, the Michigan Primary was basically a no contest due to the Party’s discipline of Michigan for moving up its primary. For what it’s worth, Hillary got the majority of the votes there.

The next biggies for the Democrats are Nevada, also on January 19th, and then South Carolina on January 26th.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Plea to Evangelicals – from an Evangelical

No, that’s not me obviously. The title is that of an Op-ed piece written by David P. Gushee, a Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights.

I’ll resist the temptation of calling “Christian Ethics” an oxymoron and consider the article itself.

To be honest, the message of the article isn’t all that clear because the author seems to be struggling with himself about exactly what he wants to say. I think he’s warning conservative evangelicals to be careful about how they present “values.” At the same time Gushee appears to be pleased that Christian “values” have considerable influence but appears concerned about a possible backlash if the conservative position comes across as too extreme. Some quotes from the op-ed with commentary.

“Evangelical politics matter to the general public, which is affected by what conservative evangelicals believe and "value." In the past seven years, we have seen that laws are written based on these values. Supreme Court justices are named based on these values. Executive-branch appointments are made based on these values. And presidential campaigns now seem to advance or collapse based on these values.”

I can’t really argue with this statement as it’s pretty much accurate. Certainly the current administration tends to make its appointments based upon an appointee’s position on issues such as abortion and gay rights and some states have passed laws related to the same topics.

As to whether presidential campaigns “advance or collapse” based upon these “values” remains to be seen as well as whether candidates towing the conservative evangelical line benefit or get hurt from doing so.

“So the general public has come to understand that what conservative evangelicals believe and do matter an awful lot to everyone in this country. Many people are furious about it. But these beliefs and values also matter to other Christians, especially other evangelicals like me. Our reputation is at stake, our voice in the culture, and the health of our religious communities. If the most vocal evangelicals get this wrong, it damages all evangelicals — all religious believers, really.”

Am I missing something here? Are you saying that they have it wrong or not? I assume that the “most vocal evangelicals” accurately represent Christianity as a whole because I never hear any Christians contradicting their positions. Are you saying this ain’t necessarily so?

“If there are people who reject God or the church, Christianity or religiously inspired moral values because of what conservative evangelical political activists do, this is disastrous from a Christian point of view. There are many such people. Here we are at the very heart of our religious mission, and it is getting fouled up by our politics.”

Let’s see, I think he means if the politics of conservative evangelicals drive people away from Jesus, then those politics are counter productive. That’s a real hoot ain’t it? How many of us flaming liberals do you think would suddenly decide to accept Jesus as our savior and buy into all that silly Christian nonsense if only conservative evangelicals didn’t oppose gay marriage?

Yeah sure, the Virgin Birth, The Trinity and miracles would automatically become more rational if we didn’t have all these political disagreements.

“Specifically for Christians, we (should) know that the mission of the church is to be Christ's faithful people, and to do its core work of preaching, teaching and serving our neighbors.”

Teach? What is it that you think you’re going to teach me? And try preaching to me and you’ll more than likely get a laugh in the face. Christian preaching only works with the stupid, the ignorant or the desperate and I’m none of the above.

“As one aspect of our God-inspired love for our neighbor, we can ask the state and its leaders to do justice, protect life and advance the common good.”

Of course that’s your opinion of justice and the common good isn’t it? I assume when you speak of justice you’re talking about justice which “makes sense biblically,” a term which you use when referring to voting. Just what does “makes sense biblically” mean when we’re talking about “justice?” I’ve read the bible and there are lots of rules and laws that the educated among us find downright barbaric. In addition to calling for the execution of homosexuals, your bible commands believers to kill all non-believers and stone to death women raped in a city that don’t call out for help. You will excuse me if I doubt that your bible is much of a blueprint for a just society or the common good.

Oh yeah, by the way, please don’t love me. I’d be much happier if you hated me.

“But we dare not identify the work of any state, any political party or any politician with the work of God or the task of the church.”

Since when? Religion has been focusing on getting a stranglehold on the state in order to be able to “teach” its doctrines through physical force and coercion since man first invented it. Seems to me that’s a major goal of the Christian Right and if you’re looking for an issue that makes people “furious” as you put it, this is probably the one. If you’re making a pitch for the separation of church and state, rather than the form of Christian Theocracy being pushed by your co-religionists, why don’t you just say so?

If you want to know what infuriates me, it’s not conservative evangelicals trying to push their values. This is a democracy and they are entitled to do so. What infuriates me is someone trying to force their religion on me and Christians who think they need to “teach” me. Trust me, I know as much as I need to about Christianity and, like I said before, I’m neither stupid, ignorant nor desperate so its absurdity doesn’t appeal to me.

Conservative evangelicals will continue to be considered the yardstick by which all evangelicals, and possibly all Christians, will be judged as long as those of you who are uncomfortable with their presentation of “values” are silent about that discomfort. Most people interpret silence as agreement.

You can’t continue to try and have your cake and eat it too. You can’t remain silent in the hope that conservative evangelicals will manage to get their “values” codified yet stand ready to say “hey, not all evangelicals agreed with them” when the inevitable backlash occurs which is what I get the feeling you’re trying to do. Christian ethics indeed.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Crow is Good

Actually when you cover it with breadcrumbs and lightly brown it using a non-fat cooking oil it’s excellent. I should know, I get to eat enough of it after making any kind of NFL or political prediction.

I got one out of four of the NFL playoff games right last weekend. A goat choosing randomly by stomping on placards would be expected (68% probability) to get at least two right!

Ok, I was being a wise guy picking Jacksonville over New England but I honestly thought the Colts would take the Chargers and, as much as I love them, didn’t give my Giants much of a chance against a rested and healthy Cowboys team. I guess in this situation it wasn’t as much rested as it was rusty.

So now we move on to the Championship games and, as I still have some crow left over, I thought I would take this opportunity to embarrass myself again.

Tom Brady has made me a believer. An offense led by Brady can afford a shaky defense simply by putting more points on the board than the defense can give up. What’s the old saying? Oh yeah, the best defense is a good offense.

The best shot for a letdown was the first playoff game. The chances dive bomb from there. New England sends San Diego home and moves on to the bowl.

That brings me to the Giants and Packers. Every piece of logic says that Brett Favre and the Packers should easily brush aside the Giants and head for a showdown with New England. Favre must be licking his chops over the chance to play against the battered and bruised Giant secondary. Hell, they had a practice squad guy named Geoffrey Pope, who had been cut by the 1-15 Miami Dolphins for Pete’s sake, playing during the 4th quarter in Dallas. They’re also expecting temperatures to be in the single digits and Manning is not at his best in the cold (which could a problem playing in Northern New Jersey). Then again is anybody at his best is near zero temperatures? That kind of cold can be a great leveler. Add to those worries the fact that Green Bay, as opposed to a Dallas team which didn’t look sharp at the end of the season, looked like razor blades against the Seahawks. Anything can happen in the cold, but there are too many factors against them for the Giant’s road show to continue, I have to go with Favre and the Packers.

That would mean a Packers vs. Patriots Super Bowl headlining possibly the two best quarterbacks in NFL history. That would be a game for the ages. I’ll take the Packers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Let’s Talk Some Football

Given my limited time to play with my blog, I didn’t bother with the NFL this season. That doesn’t mean I stopped being a fan. I dutifully was at all the Giants home game including the final barn burner against New England. If only we could have recovered that onside kick…

But now we’re into the second round of the playoffs and I feel absolutely obligated to embarrass myself once again by trying to predict the winners and losers.

In the NFC, Dallas ends the season for my Giants and Brett Favre and the Packers send the Seahawks home as well.

In the AFC, the Colts handle the Chargers and, here it comes folks, Jacksonville upsets the Patriots.

Why do I say that you ask? I watched the Pats from the stands which is very different from watching their on TV. Their offense is an unbelievable machine but their defense is soft. It’s their Achilles Heal. They also put a lot into beating the Giants. I think they left a lot of it on the floor of the Meadowlands making it 16-0 and their going to come out flat against Jacksonville.

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships, the Jaguars surprise everyone and beat the Pats.

In the Championship games, the Cowboys end Brett Favre’s Cinderella season and the Colts beat the Jaguars. Jacksonville can’t beat the two best quarterbacks in football on consecutive weekends.

In the Super Bowl, it’s the Cowboys.

What do you figure the odds are I got all four of the first games wrong? Three of the four? Half of them? Excuse me while I go put in a stock of crow just in case.

The New Hampshire Primary

Roll up your sleeves and settle in because we’ve got ourselves a horse race, two of them in fact.

Despite the media’s quick jump to conclusions that Hillary Clinton was a dead duck, she won New Hampshire so now who’s the front runner?

On the Republican side McCain big win emphasizes Huckabee’s limited appeal and Romney’s inability to convince folks that he’s the right man for the job. I wouldn’t write off Mitt yet though. Let’s remember that he came in second to two different opponents in two very different contests with two very different electorates. He also ran away with the Wyoming caucuses which no one seems to want to mention.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Republicans are capable of producing a majority candidate before the convention. The Democrats may not be able to either if John Edwards can manage to hang in there although this is looking more and more doubtful.

Next is Michigan which should be Romney friendly country although neither McCain nor Huckabee appear to be conceding the state.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thoughts on Mike Huckabee's Win in Iowa

Let’s talk about the Republican winner, Mike Huckabee. I like Mike Huckabee, I really do. He strikes me as an honest guy that couldn’t help but be true to his beliefs. Unfortunately I don’t share a lot of his beliefs. There’s also such a thing as being too nice a guy. I think a good leader needs a healthy dose of evil, deviousness and larceny in his soul to be successful.

I also have doubts about the way Huckabee arrives at decisions.

How about we try to learn from our mistakes? The single biggest problem with the Bush Administration has been its refusal to accept facts which clashed with its pre-conceived notions or wishful thinking.

I have this fear that this may be a characteristic that Bush and Huckabee share. I’m having a hard time accepting as a candidate for President someone who hasn’t figured out that the science of evolution is a lot more likely to represent reality than the metaphor of Genesis.

As a side note, I might also point out that the political organizing done in Iowa by Christian pastors on behalf of Huckabee comes perilously close to violating the rules which allow churches to maintain their tax exempt status. Pastors and their Christian congregations can do anything they want as individuals but when tax exempt pulpits are used to endorse political candidates (as has been reported as occurring in Iowa recently on behalf of Huckabee) then the separation of church and state is undermined. If these reports are true, since clearly Huckabee went along with these activities, what does that say about his commitment to the separation of church and state?

Personally I’m sick and tired of Evangelical Christianity constantly attempting to force its so-called morality (opposition to a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage), its opinions (teach creationism alongside evolution) and its artifacts (displays of the Ten Commandments) onto the country in general and me in particular. Evangelical Christians appear to believe this is a Christian country and should be brought into line with biblical principles (see Pew Forum survey on Religion & the Law) but the rest of us don’t.

The bottom line is I don’t trust Huckabee not to treat the Presidency as the First Pastorship. He’s too far on the right wing (just as Hillary Clinton is too far on the left wing) and would be a polarizing agent just as Clinton would be a polarizing agent.

Neither Huckabee nor Clinton can heal the damage of the last years. If either of those two is elected we’ll see the Blue States become more blue or the Red States become more red in reaction and that’s not going to solve anything.

The Iowa Caucuses

Ok, so I'm almost as bad at predicting political races as I am NFL football.

Huckabee's support in Iowa turned out to be more reality than illusion and he won the first round. At least I got the Democratic side right with Obama taking first place there.

Now it's on to New Hampshire and what will be a rockier road for Huckabee. If he does well in New Hampshire I may have to reconsider my prediction that Romney will ultimately take the nomination. I doubt Huckabee's Evangelical Christian tune will play as well in New Hampshire but the guy appears to be a straight shooter and that will go over well with New England voters.

For the Democrats, if Hillary can't reverse the results in New Hampshire her campaign might be in big trouble.

We shall see what we shall see.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy 2008 (I think)

2008 is here so let the games begin! Actually they began what seems like forever ago. Of course I’m complaining about the Presidential race.

Tomorrow, January 3rd, Iowa does its thing and the race will have officially begun. The first heat will identify the two top dogs and then we can get on to the main event which again promises to be something of a barn burner. I think it’s safe to say that the early hopes for a Democratic run away have all but evaporated because the damn Democrats can’t seem to identify the right dog for the race.

How anyone other than an Evangelical Christian could vote for another Right Wing fruitcake after experiencing Bush the Unhinged is beyond my comprehension. Yet two of the three front runners on the Republican side, Romney and Huckabee, appear to fall into that category. The problem is they’re both likable kind of guys, just like Bush came across as a likable guy, so both could do well.

On the Democratic side I don’t think Hillary is as assured of the nomination as folks once thought. Obama and Edwards are still very much alive.

So let’s talk predictions for Iowa and predictions and hopes for the long haul. As far as Iowa is concerned, I doubt a lot of Republicans there will finally decide what they’re going to do until they’re in the voting booth, but my money is still on Romney to win with McCain second and Huckabee a disappointing third. I think Huckabee’s surge is more illusion than substance. People will “support” him when it doesn’t cost anything but I suspect when it counts, that support will weaken and folks will go for Mitt or John.

I also think it’s going to be Romney and McCain fighting it out in the long haul. I don’t think Giuliani’s strategy of focusing on the later primaries is going to work. Momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire is too important especially if the same guy wins both.

In the end I believe that Mitt Romney will win the nomination. Ultimately McCain’s age is going to work against him.

For the Democrats I think Obama will squeak out a win over Hillary with Edwards coming in a close 3rd. In the long haul I think this three way horse race continues with Obama vs. Clinton continuing to be the focal point and Edwards staying in the game but a tad behind the two main actors. Realistically, Edward’s only real chance may be as a compromise candidate if no one establishes a majority prior to the convention.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure any of the three Democrats can win but I’m beginning to believe that Obama has the best chance. We could be looking at the John Kennedy of the early 21st century here. If he gets the nomination, his smarts and charisma might win the day if he can overcome the criticism of inexperience and the endemic racism which exists in this country.

As far as Edwards and Clinton are concerned, I’m concerned that too many people view the former as a lightweight and the latter as a disciple of Satan himself. Hillary won’t get the nomination because ultimately people will be concerned that she will be a polarizing influence and I think most people instinctively understand that the country needs a leader that will heal the disaster of the current administration. Obama can do that, Clinton can’t.

A race between Romney and Obama may well bring out the worst that this country has to offer but, in the final analysis, it might be an eye opening experience for a lot of folks. With any luck we might see the Radical Right Wing self destruct during the process because neither candidate is acceptable to it. This could allow the Republican Party to restore its Moderate Conservative roots.

In the Best Case scenario, the Radical Right breaks off and offers it’s own Conservative Christian candidate (not Huckabee though, Mike’s too smart for that) who gets hammered by both Romney and Obama but who siphons off enough votes in enough swing state for Barack to establish a solid electoral mandate.

Then we can establish Camelot II and begin to clean up the mess of the last eight years.