Thank God for Sperm Whales and Other Predators

As this year’s Thanksgiving celebration approaches here in the U.S., we are encouraged to consider all the things we have to be thankful for. Of course, the usual things tend to be family, jobs, food on the table, good friends, homes, cars, etc. Some of us go a little further, mentioning things like books, games, toys, our team in the playoffs, etc. Those of us of a religious persuasion will surely be thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s provision, His daily mercies and protection, sovereign grace, etc. (OK, some of that last bit was specifically Christian, but you get the gist.)

But, taking a cue from Dr. Hugh Ross of RTB, I would like to suggest that we include something a little more unusual. Think outside the box, as it were. Take sperm whale poop, for example….

“A team of biologists and oceanographers[1], led by Flinders University biologist Trish Lavery, discovered that sperm whales, in spite of respiring huge quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, are actually responsible for removing far greater quantities of this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The team found that credit for the sperm whales’ contribution to relieving the planet from its current global warming crisis goes to what it eats and what it defecates….

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Giant squid and colossal squid make up the bulk of the sperm whale diet. The squid diet is rich in iron. When feeding, a sperm whale undertakes dives lasting between 30 and 90 minutes, interspersed by eight minute rest periods. Lavery’s research team observed that, while resting on the water’s surface, sperm whales frequently will defecate. Between 85 to 90 percent of the iron ingested by sperm whales is expelled in their feces in the form of ferrous salts. Since most of these feces are liquid, nearly all of the iron is efficiently delivered to the photic zone of the ocean waters.

The photic zone comprises the upper ocean layer where photosynthetic plankton, or phytoplankton, thrive. Phytoplankton forms the base of the food chain for all oceanic life. The more phytoplankton, the greater the total biomass the oceans can support. Phytoplankton also is responsible for most of the oxygen pumped into the atmosphere and, of all life, accounts for most of the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. However, the availability of soluble iron limits the growth of phytoplankton, particularly in the southern oceans.

Lavery’s team discovered that sperm whales play a crucial role in delivering the necessary iron to the phytoplankton. The researchers calculated that the 12,000 sperm whales populating the Southern Ocean (the ocean surrounding Antarctica) deliver 55 tons (50 tonnes) of iron per year to the phytoplankton dwelling there. In turn, these phytoplankton exploit that iron to remove 440,000 tons (400,000 tonnes) of carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Subsequent to death, the phytoplankton deposit that carbon by sinking to the deep ocean…. In other words, sperm whales are doing their bit to resolve global warming.

Paradoxically enough, sperm whales stimulate the growth of giant and colossal squid populations. The 440,000 extra tons (400,000 tonnes) of carbon delivered to the deep Southern Ocean as a result of the sperm whales’ iron fertilization ultimately provide the squids with additional food. So, even though sperm whales prey upon these squids, the greater the population of sperm whales the greater the populations of giant and colossal squids and all the fish species they feed upon the deep oceans can support. (The same kind of positive feedback relationship occurs between baleen whales, krill, and all the sea life krill support.)”

It’s the ciiiiiirclllle of liiiiiiife….

Ross goes on to reveal that the paper’s publication helped to narrowly avert a tragedy. Thinking that whales actually contributed to the “greenhouse effect”, some leaders began considering a reduction in, or even elimination of, whale populations. Now that evidence points to the contrary, that option has apparently been taken off the table. In fact, the paper’s authors point out that it would be a worthwhile goal for nations to instead work toward returning the world’s whale populations to their pre-Industrial Revolution (pre-1750 AD) numbers. (IMHO, this is an example of why we should avoid taking drastic measures re this supposed “crisis”, at least not until a lot more reliable data is available and thoroughly analyzed.)

“The paper also inadvertently implies an answer as to why God created a sequence of whale species such that the habitat of all whales gradually increased from just fresh water locales to partly salty river estuaries to the seas adjoining continental landmasses to all the oceans of the world. With the Sun becoming progressively brighter as it continues to convert hydrogen into helium through nuclear fusion in its core (the increasing core density causes the Sun’s nuclear furnace to burn hotter), God stepped in to compensate for the increasing solar luminosity, in part, by progressively creating new species of whales so as to gradually increase the range and population of whales. As these changes took place, the fertilization of Earth’s photic zones increased, resulting in a progressively greater removal of greenhouse gases from the planet’s atmosphere. Thus, even as the Sun brightens, the progressive removal of greenhouse gases from Earth’s atmosphere keeps the surface temperature ideal for life.

In dramatic fashion Lavery’s team has shown us that sperm whales should not be taken for granted. They are a unique species, designed like no other to serve the planet’s life, and human beings in particular. Sperm whales also provide yet one more example of how, when we humans face a crisis or dilemma where it appears we must choose between ethics and economics, we can rest assured that God already designed Earth and its life so that both optimally ethical and optimally economic solutions exist.”

Sounds like quite the purposeful and intelligently-designed biosystem, if ya ask me. But, the benefits of carnivory aren’t limited to sperm whales, of course. Dr. Ross summarizes the findings of another study[2] and their implications:

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bear

“Three ecologists from Yale and Northeastern Universities, led by Oswald Schmitz, reviewed the current scientific literature that shows increasingly that predators deposit concentrated, nutrient-rich feces. These feces stimulate plant growth (especially angiosperms), which are the most food-productive plants on Earth. Consequently, predators benefit the entire food chain.

Schmitz’s team went on to demonstrate that most predator species, in their search for prey, are forced to forage over relatively large territories. Thanks to such behavior, predators translocate their nutrient deposits widely within and across ecosystem boundaries.

Predator hunting forces herbivores to translocate as well. Thus, herbivore feces, though not as nutrient rich as the predators, also gets deposited in ecosystems that otherwise would never benefit from such enrichment. For example, mountain goats are chased into near vertical landscapes by the threat of grizzlies. The fecal and urinary deposits of those goats support an entire ecosystem of plants and animals in an environment that would normally be deemed too harsh. To quote Schmitz’s team, ‘Depending on their behavioral ecology, predators can create heterogeneous or homogeneous nutrient distributions across natural landscapes.’

The team points out that predators deserve human protection and care, not so much because they are cute or because they make endearing and loyal pets, but because they do so much to support all the rest of Earth’s life. I would add one more observation: carnivores appear to be optimally designed to maximally benefit the health and population levels of the herbivores they prey upon by selectively weeding out the sick and the dying. In fact, carnivores appear to be optimally designed to benefit all life-forms, including human beings. Such ubiquitous optimal designs displayed across all species of predators are clear evidence of the handiwork of [a] supernatural, super-intelligent, super-beneficent Creator. As the psalmist declares, ‘How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’ [Psalm 104:24]“

So, as we contemplate our many, God-given blessings this Thanksgiving season, perhaps we should expand on the usual range of things we are thankful for to include carnivores… and feces. (Just try to find a “delicate” way to mention it so as not to gross people out, especially before dinner.)

1. Trish J. Lavery et al., “Iron Defecation by Sperm Whales Stimulates Carbon Export in the Southern Ocean,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, published electronically June 16, 2010, doi:10.1096/rspb.2010.0863.

2. Oswald J. Schmitz, Dror Hawlena, and Geoffrey C. Trussell, “Predator Control of Ecosystem Nutrient Dynamics,” Ecology Letters 13 (October 2010): 1199–209.


Why the Left Should Be Pro-Life

“Secularists, for various reasons, have a notoriously low birth rate by comparison to their more religious neighbors. And, according to Darwinistic expectations, strong populations will inevitably multiply, dominating smaller, weaker ones. By failing to produce offspring, Secular society will eventually be judged and found wanting by its own dogmatics.”  — Wes Walker, writer

426721224_babies_answer_1_xlargeWith my somewhat sardonic tongue planted firmly in cheek,…

It occurred to me the other day that we pro-lifers on the political Right may be going about this whole battle in the wrong way. We appeal to scientific facts. Common moral intuitions. Logical, philosophical conclusions. But, even when our opponents on the Left (and some in the mushy Middle) admit that abortion amounts to the murder of human babies, they manage to rationalize why it’s still OK. But, maybe a pragmatic approach — one that appeals to the liberal quest for ever-bigger government — is the better way to go….

More babies means:

1) more people dependent on government welfare,

2) more workers & voters (eventually),

3) more taxes paid to government coffers (eventually)

But, it’s the parenthetical “eventually” that may be a problem. After all, as Jerry Bowyer explains from an economic point of view,

“[T]he best formula for growth is to add more people to the economy and to have each of them become more productive…. [But,] in the short run, new people tend to lower economic output per person, because new people tend to be babies. You need babies for long-term economic prosperity, but in the short turn, they lessen that economic prosperity….”

So, a lot of these benefits will take several years to come to fruition, and we all know that the Left is much more enamored with quick-n-easy “solutions”, damn the (unintended?) consequences. So, they will continue to kill helpless, unborn, human boys and girls — over a million each year just in the U.S. — for matters of (in)convenience, lauding the “blessings” of having such a choice. Is it any wonder that so many of the children we don’t abort have so little respect for life?

The political Left is predominantly secularist/atheist, which is why it is so much easier for them to rationalize the slaughter of the unborn. But, as the quote at the top points out, they are shooting themselves in the foot (feet?). From a purely practical perspective, then, “religious” people, who continue to reproduce at higher rates, will win out.

Bowyer concludes,

“All of this means that fetus-phobic countries face economic irrelevance, and when they add the additional toxin of socialism, the path to oblivion becomes even steeper and more slippery.”


Debate-Watch Reality Check

Republican Primary Debate #4 is done.

John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Rand PaulThis time, I watched them (i.e., the “undercard” and the “main event”) when they aired… but, I missed a few minutes here & there. And, since I didn’t feel like watching ALL of it on Youtube, I can’t really give a comprehensive, firsthand review. (Here are a couple decent opinion pieces on the main event, though: “Cruz And Rubio Win Debate And Foreshadow A Coming Clash” and Allen West’s “Here’s my candidate ranking for last night’s debate (and one BIG missing thing)”.) However, I will say that I was impressed with the professionalism of the moderators and the questions stayed on-point. Largely substantive policy discussions ensued.

Still, I wanted to post something relevant. I actually put this together following a previous debate and was going to post it on Facebook. As you can see, I opted to (finally) post it here, instead. Nothing profound. Just a friendly reminder, as we listen to the various contenders explain all the wonderful things they’re going to do once sworn in as President….

Let’s be clear. No matter what the presidential candidates say or promise they will do, the President’s authority is limited. As long as one is following the Constitution, the President cannot (and should not try to) legislate from the Oval Office. Sure, there is a certain amount that can be done via executive orders and the like, mostly in terms of how the government departments & agencies that fall under executive purview operate and what their priorities are. Beyond that, the President can put anything s/he wants to on the presidential agenda of issues they want to address during their administration. But, any reforms of healthcare, taxes, corporate regulation, government funding (at least, at the higher levels), etc., must make it through Congress first.

For example, if a candidate says, “I will cut personal and corporate taxes to a flat 15%,” what this really means to the taxpayer is that, as President, this candidate would encourage Congress to pass such a plan — perhaps even introducing it to the House him/herself — and would sign the bill, should it be approved by both chambers. So, assuming such a promise is not empty, it is *great* to know said candidate wants to do that, but we need to remember that — despite attempts to prove otherwise by the current administration — the Presidency is not a kingship or dictatorship, and the resident of the Oval Office cannot do whatever s/he would like.

<<replaces mic, steps off stage>>


Future Science: Redefining the Impossible

“Shields up! Ahead warp factor three, Mr. Sulu.”

“Aye, sir. Ahead Warp 3…”

If you are a science fiction buff like me, no doubt you enjoy all of the fantastic weapons, tools, and other gizmos at our heroes’ disposal. (Unless, of course, the story is about some sort of apocalypse or dystopia where such things are rare or non-existent.) I don’t know about you, but I would love to be able to teleport, time travel, or take a starship through hyperspace! But, we call these stories and the futuristic technologies used in them “science fiction” (or, “speculative fiction”, to use the old term) for a reason: it can’t be done. Or, at least, not yet.

Physics_of_the_impossible_Kaku_2008A book I have been perusing lately is Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel (2008) by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. (You may have seen Kaku on one of his many appearances on science-related TV shows.) It’s an enjoyable read, and his references to pop-culture are fun, though he sometimes gets things slightly wrong. (For example, he states that Star Trek IV involves time travel back to the 1960s, when it was actually the 1980s. Typo? He also misunderstands how the universal translator device in Star Trek is supposed to work.)

As you might gather from the sub-title, Kaku looks at many different science-fictional technologies found in our favorite books, TV series, and movies, and uses current scientific knowledge and speculation to determine the likelihood of that tech ever becoming a reality.

“[I]t seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established…. An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
– Albert A. Michelson (1894), first American to receive a Nobel Prize in the sciences (specifically in Physics)

As brilliant as he was, Dr. Michelson was a bit overconfident about what there was to know and short-sighted when it came to anticipating scientific progress. He wasn’t the only one in history to make such mistakes, though. (If you’re curious, look up infamous quotes by U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker and IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson.)

In the preface to the book, Kaku speaks of his own childhood fascination with science-fiction, which inspired him to study advanced mathematics and theoretical physics. He also notes that, even in his relatively short lifetime, “I have seen the seemingly impossible become established scientific fact over and over again. So is it impossible to think we might one day be able to teleport ourselves from one place to another, or build a spaceship that will one day take us light-years away to the stars?”

Later, he continues enthusiastically…

“Time and again we see that the study of the impossible has opened up entirely new vistas, pushing the boundaries of physics and chemistry and forcing scientists to redefine what they mean by ‘impossible.’…

It is always a bit dangerous to make predictions, especially ones set centuries to thousands of years in the future. The physicist Niels Bohr was fond of saying ‘Prediction is very hard to do. Especially about the future.’ But there is a fundamental difference between the time of Jules Verne and the present. Today the fundamental laws of physics are basically understood. Physicists today understand the basic laws extending over a staggering forty-three orders of magnitude, from the interior of the proton out to the expanding universe. As a result, physicists can state, with reasonable confidence, what the broad outlines of future technology might look like, and better differentiate between those technologies that are merely improbable and those that are truly impossible.

In this book, therefore, I divide the things that are ‘impossible’ into three categories.

The first are what I call Class I impossibilities. These are technologies that are impossible today but that do not violate the known laws of physics. So they might be possible in this century, or perhaps the next, in modified form. They include teleportation, antimatter engines, certain forms of telepathy, psychokinesis, and invisibility.

The second category is what I term Class II impossibilities. These are technologies that sit at the very edge of our understanding of the physical world. If they are possible at all, they might be realized on a scale of millennia to millions of years in the future. They include time machines, the possibility of hyperspace travel, and travel through wormholes.

The final category is what I call Class III impossibilities. These are technologies that violate the known laws of physics. Surprisingly, there are very few such impossible technologies. If they do turn out to be possible, they would represent a fundamental shift in our understanding of physics.

USS Enterprise (NCC 1701-D)

USS Enterprise (NCC 1701-D)

This classification is significant, I feel, because so many technologies in science fiction are dismissed by scientists as being totally impossible, when what they actually mean is that they are impossible for a primitive civilization like ours. Alien visitations, for example, are usually considered impossible because the distances between the stars are so vast. While interstellar travel for our civilization is clearly impossible, it may be possible for a civilization centuries to thousands or millions of years ahead of ours. So it is important to rank such ‘impossibilities.’ Technologies that are impossible for our current civilization are not necessarily impossible for other types of civilizations. Statements about what is possible and impossible have to take into account technologies that are millennia to millions of years ahead of ours.”

It is not surprising that Kaku’s materialist/reductionist perspective is reflected in his writing, in some of his presumptions, but it is not overbearing. While religious figures and the Bible are mentioned in a few places (e.g., the account of Philip’s “teleportation” in Acts 8:36-40), it is for historical purposes and without the condescension or derision that often accompanies such references in the writings of his peers. What is a bit surprising is that there is little discussion of ethical considerations in scientific research, considering that Kaku is known to be an anti-nuclear activist and concerned with the general misuse of science.

I may not be as optimistic as Kaku, but the possibilities are intriguing. Constantly theorizing and investigating the nature of Creation (ahem!) has proven to be a worthwhile endeavor on many levels. As long as we do so ethically, safely, and with financial responsibility, I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue exploring and pushing the bounds of our knowledge of what is possible. Eventually, if (God willing) civilization survives long enough, odds are we will break through into the Class I, maybe even Class II, realms of “impossibility”. It’s sure to be an exciting ride!

P.S.  I haven’t seen it, but apparently the Science Channel produced a 12-episode series called Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible, hosted by Kaku and based on the above book. I wonder if my library has a copy….


Luther’s 95 Theses

“As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”  — couplet attributed to Johann Tetzel

“Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor is better than he who receives a pardon. He who spends money on indulgences instead of relieving want receives not the indulgence of the pope but the indignation of God.”  — Martin Luther

Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

When Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote his “Ninety-five Theses”, he had no intention of launching a Protestant Reformation. He was a Catholic monk who was merely concerned about what he felt were serious corruptions of doctrine and practice by the Church. He was hoping and praying for a corrective action, to get the Catholic Church (back) in line with Scripture. So, according to his conscience, he presented his concerns — originally in Latin to his fellow academics (posted on the Wittenberg Door on Oct. 31, 1517), later translated into German for wide distribution.

His primary concern expressed within the 95 was for the abuse of indulgences, particularly as they were being sold by one Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany. The range of charges included nepotism, usury, simony, and pluralism. But, the eventual result was much larger in scope and effect than Luther ever dreamed.

There are a few translations of the “95 Theses” into English (and other languages, of course). The following text was obtained from Project Wittenberg:

Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

“Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

95 Theses in Latin

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.

Luther fixing theology76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”

85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”

86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”

88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.”

Here is a link to a summary of the three main points of the 95 theses (ostensibly in Luther’s own words), which you may find helpful.


Paul Ryan’s Conditions for Speakership

“I believe that the ideas and principles of results-driven, common-sense conservatism are the keys to a better tomorrow.”  — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Rep. Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan

The GOP’s scramble to find a “unifying” figure to nominate for Speaker of the House might be coming to a close, though certainly not everyone is on board. The very smart, influential, and (mostly) respected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has reluctantly agreed to run for the post, despite his earlier, multiple statements that he would not run, because he just wasn’t interested. Whether or not that was a ploy, a strategy of playing hard-to-get until such time as the desperate(?) House GOP would give in to his demands, is hard to tell. But, that is in effect what seems to have happened (see below). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has bowed out of the race and given Ryan his support, but Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) is remaining in it.

Though I am tempted to get into the issue of the potential pros & cons of a Ryan speakership, I wanted to focus on the conditions he set forth. When Ryan agreed to run last Tuesday (10/20), he said it was contingent upon his fellow Republicans agreeing to a list of requirements, which they had until Friday (10/23) to decide on. Ryan explained:

“What I told the members is, if you can agree to these requests, and I can truly be a unifying figure, then I will gladly serve. And, if I am not unifying, that is fine as well. I will be happy to stay where I am, at the Ways and Means Committee.”

Whether you consider them mere requests, conditions, or demands, here is what they entail:

Vision: “[W]e need to move from being an opposition party to a proposition party. Because we think the nation is on the wrong path, we have a duty to show the right one. Our next speaker needs to be a visionary one.”

I don’t think anyone on the Right has a problem with this. Opposition is often necessary, but the perception of many is that the Republicans are the “party of ‘No’”. A positive vision, communicated and carried out with proposals of well-constructed, conservative solutions, will not only change that public perception but help put the nation back on the right path.

Unity: “[W]e, as a conference, should unify now, and not after a divisive speaker election.”

A unified Republican conference must include buy-in not only from the very conservative House Freedom Caucus and the generally conservative Republican Study Committee, but also from the moderate Tuesday Group. When it comes to supporting Ryan’s bid, it was the first one that caused the most concern. Indeed, some members indicated that the caucus was sticking with Daniel Webster. However, after meeting with Ryan earlier, the HFC voted Wednesday night (10/21) and a supermajority (roughly 70%) gave him the thumbs-up. (Not enough for an official endorsement, mind you. Those who did not approve will not have to vote for him on 10/28; in fact, even those who gave their approval may change their mind(s).) This should be more than enough to give him the requisite 218 votes to become Speaker.

“While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan’s preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved in time.”

I have more so say on this, but it is integrally linked to the next “demand”, so I’ll wait to address it below.

Rule Changes: “[W]e need to update our House rules so that everyone can be a more effective representative. This is, after all, the people’s house. But we need to do it as a team. And it needs to include fixes that ensure we don’t experience constant leadership challenges and crisis.”

obamacongressAt first glance, this sounds eminently reasonable. But, the details behind it are causing a lot of concern, especially among some in the Freedom Caucus, their supporters, and anyone concerned with checks & balances to prevent abuse of power. The key issue is changes Ryan wants to the 200-year-old procedural rule known as a “motion to vacate the chair”, which allows any House member to move to have an out-of-control Speaker removed. Freedom Caucus members had used it to threaten Boehner, and Ryan doesn’t want to have that threat hanging over him every time he does something a certain faction might disagree with. I can understand this, but when he crafted the rule, Thomas Jefferson clearly intended it as a way to keep the Speaker accountable.

According to Guy Benson at,

“Ryan’s position on this matter is a bit murky; some HFC members say he’s called for the rule to be eliminated, whereas a Ryan spokesman says the Ways and Means Chairman is open to an approach that would prevent its abuse. Perhaps there’s a compromise in the offing that would preserve the dramatic check on a leader’s authority while limiting its over-use by a chronically dissatisfied minority.”

Frankly, I am rather surprised that so many Freedom Caucus members threw their support behind Ryan, given his infamous backing of such things as TARP, No Child Left Behind, Obamatrade, amnesty bills, etc. Plus, there’s that whole “motion to vacate the chair” thing. On the other hand, according to Breitbart, Ryan did promise a return to “regular order”, changes to the steering committee that decides committee assignments centralizing power in the Speaker’s office, more “regional representation” rather than representation centralized in the Speaker’s office, and an end to retaliation against Republican members who vote their conscience, among other things, so many of their own concerns were addressed. However, many remain very skeptical. As with any politician, we won’t know how well Ryan keeps those promises unless & until he gets into office.

Family Time: “I cannot and will not give up my family time. I may not be able to be on the road as much as previous speakers, but I pledged to make up for it with more time communicating our message.”

Apparently, when not doing his regular Speaker-ly duties in D.C., Boehner spent a lot of time traveling and fundraising for the party. Ryan has three young children and does not want to sacrifice any more time away from them than he already does, since he only gets to see them on weekends and recesses. This request seems reasonable, and much of that can be delegated to other party members. It it notable that he recognizes the GOP’s communication problem and will dedicate more time to improving on it, which is at least as important a contribution. I also agree that, in most situations, family commitments and concerns should come first.

However, some are not quite so ready to grant him this request. Lt. Col. Allen West, for example, had this to say:

“Paul, let me advise you about the foolishness of that statement. Can you look into the eyes of any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman and say that to them? Leadership is about service, sacrifice, and commitment. Those of us through the history of this great Constitutional Republic have had to sacrifice our family time for something greater: the commitment to freedom and liberty for our fellow Americans. The position of Speaker of the House is second in line after the President, the Commander-in-Chief. I just have to ask you a simple question: would you forego a Thanksgiving with your family to serve a Thanksgiving meal to our deployed Warriors? I humbly ask you to apologize to the men and women who have their family lives interrupted so politicians can make such inane statements.”

As I have stated before, I was hoping for someone with a more consistently conservative record to be Speaker of the House. However, even the Freedom Caucus was ready to back a semi-moderate like Daniel Webster, because of his success at the state level and his complete agreement with their list of needed changes to House rules & procedures. Ryan is pretty solid and admirable in many areas, but not so much in others. He may indeed be the only viable candidate to bring some measure of unity to the GOP, so that it can be an effective force for pulling this nation back from the “progressive” brink. I just hope that the rest of the party doesn’t cede too much control and opportunity for reform, because they feel pressured to fill the Speaker’s chair, only to regret it later.

ADDENDUM (10/26/2015): Here are a couple relevant quotes from a new article at “The Daily Signal”

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, “You were going to demand all kinds of assurances from Ryan about changing House rules, almost none of which you got, so I guess the question is, why are you supporting Paul Ryan?”

“We do have a commitment from Paul to work on changing the rules, and we may get some of those changed before the vote this coming Wednesday and Thursday,” Jordan said. “So we think that’s a good step.”


Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) called Ryan’s request to change a House procedure known as “the motion to vacate the chair” a “non-starter.”

“I don’t see us changing that except to perhaps make it a more open process within our conference, so there are no surprises,” Meadows said. “Chairman Ryan is working with us to see how we can address that particular issue.”

“There’s more that we agree on than divides us,” Meadows added.

All I can say is that I hope their faith in Ryan is well-placed.


What’s in a Meme?

You know what a meme is, right? If you are thinking of those captioned photos that seemingly everyone shares on Facebook these days (e.g., see pic below), you would be wrong. Or, at least, that wasn’t the “meme” I was asking about. I’m not sure if the social-media type meme came about as an effort to spread existing memes of the other sort or to create new (though largely humorous or otherwise superficial) ones. Eh, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

So, what is this other, original type of meme? If you are familiar with the writings of atheist/Darwinist apologist Richard Dawkins, you probably have an idea. I cite the following from Ron Londen’s The God Abduction, which explains and briefly assesses the concept:

richard-dawkins-funny-meme-96“Dawkins came up with the idea in The Selfish Gene (1979) to propose a ‘cultural replicator’ that behaves in the self-perpetuating way he claimed genes operate. In fact, he chose the term meme (rhymes with cream) because it calls to mind a derivation Greek word for ‘imitation’ (mimesis) — and it sounds a lot like gene. As genes reproduce by passing from body to body through sexual reproduction, memes reproduce by passing from brain to brain…. A meme operates just like a ‘virus’ — a term Dawkins has actually used.”

In fact, as soon as he introduced the concept of the meme on page 192, he suggested that the concept of God must be one of these viral memes — and a particularly dangerous and powerful one, at that. But, while Dawkins and fellow “New Atheist” Daniel Dennett continue to use the idea in their books, the idea in general hasn’t done so well. Many scientists (along with theologians) have a hard time taking it seriously. For example, Simon Conway Morris calls it, “Trivial… hopelessly, if not hilariously, simplistic.”

Londen continues…

“Despite Dawkins’ intentional associations, the contrast between memes and genes is quite stark. Genes actually exist, physically. They are stretches of DNA that can be identified, studied and messed around with. A gene is a real thing. A meme, instead, is a metaphor, an idea once removed — an idea about what ideas are about. If memes are supposed to be real in the sense genes are real, then the concept has no foundation in fact. If not, then it is nothing more than a truism: that some ideas tend to stick. So the whole concept of a meme is — take your pick — either completely unproven, completely irrelevant, or completely obvious. In the end, the problem with the meme may not be it is wrong so much as it is pointless.”

I should clarify something here. Londen is not denying the existence of non-physical things; to do so would be contrary to Christian theism. Rather he is emphasizing the inability of the meme/gene analogy to work for Dawkins. It is also a touch odd, even ironic, that an empiricist/materialist like Dawkins would come up with such a thing.

“Still, the subject demands three further brief considerations, each almost too obvious to mention. But we should, if only to keep the memes rolling.

First, the whole conceptual structure that surrounds the meme idea says absolutely nothing about whether a particular meme is true, important or even useful. Democracy is a powerful meme that took hold and spread between people over time. But so, apparently, is “that’s what she said” — the punchline to what seems like half the jokes in the English language. Are those two ideas equally valuable? If not, labeling something as a meme may not be an enlightening exercise.

Second, the concept of a meme is itself a meme. So if calling something a meme is an attempt to discount the underlying idea — and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s exactly what it is — then why pay any attention to this meme business in the first place?

Finally, of course, atheism is a meme. It is not a new concept. It is not a recent discovery. It is not scientifically proven. It is an emotionally appealing idea that has taken hold and spread like a virus. So if memes are to be viewed with suspicion, then knock yourself out.

Reading the breezy self-confidence with which Dawkins enthusiastically endorses his own idea of memes — ironically, without sustaining evidence — one wonders whether unannounced motives might be in play.”



How Do the House Speaker Candidates Stack Up?

“We’re public servants. I have always put this Conference and Country ahead of myself. We need to unite behind one leader and get to work.”  — Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)


Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL)

As you all know by now, the House Republican Conference’s plans for last Thursday (10/8) had some last-minute changes. They were supposed to have their closed-door, secret ballot to nominate one of their own for the soon-to-be-vacant Speaker of the House seat. The three official candidates were Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). But, much to the surprise of just about everyone, frontrunner McCarthy announced over lunch that he was pulling out of the race.

McCarthy purportedly saw the writing on the wall after 80% of the ~40-member House Freedom Caucus agreed to endorse Webster. (Note 1: To ensure that the Democratic nominee does not win, the Republican nominee cannot lose more than 28 Republican votes — assuming everyone is present and chooses to vote. Note 2: The FC’s members are not bound to vote as a bloc in Oct. 29th’s public vote by the entire House. ) Certainly, McCarthy’s ill-advised, recent comment that the Benghazi select committee’s investigations were merely a political attack on Hillary Clinton did not help his campaign, and it was a “final straw” for some FC members.

McCarthy stated that he didn’t want to be a divisive figure and that Republicans need to find “a new face” to unite around, but there have also been rumors of possible skeletons in his closet that would be subject to exposure should he continue in the race. Regardless of whether McCarthy bowed out due to potential scandal or something much less salacious, John Boehner’s heir-apparent is out of the running. So, now what?

Some call the resulting uncertainty “chaos” or “disarray”. While that may be partly true, I think it makes things more interesting — like the current list of GOP presidential candidates — and indicates that a non-Establishment candidate might actually have a shot, which is precisely what a growing number of right-leaning citizens want. I just hope the Conference can work out their issues and rally behind someone reasonably quickly; otherwise, a) it will become very distracting from other issues and b) Boehner will stick around longer than his planned Oct. 30 exit date.

Lots of names are being thrown around with varying degrees of conservativeness — is that a word? — and possibility. A couple former Congressmen who are (again) being suggested are Newt Gingrich and Allen B. West. I’m not sure if these suggestions are being taken seriously by the House or the individuals in question, but I would be thrilled with either one. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, is another “outsider” mentioned that could be a great choice for Speaker.

Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL)

Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL)

In a piece for Newsmax, John Gizzi proposed “7 Potential Speakers of the House”: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Rep. Pete Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). Like Phil Burress, chairman of Citizens for Community Values, I have stated before that I think Jordan — current chair of the Freedom Caucus — would be an excellent choice. Ryan has said repeatedly he would not run, preferring to continue to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but he continues to be pressured (inc. by Boehner and Gowdy). From what I’ve read, most of the rest on that list are hoping for either the #2 (Majority Leader) or #3 (Majority Whip) post; but, with McCarthy presumably remaining as Majority Leader, those plans could change. Efforts to convince the popular Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to run have failed. I have also seen mentioned as possibilities Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Pete King (R-NY) (Lord, no!), and relative newcomer Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL).

To get some idea of how consistently the above Congressmen vote, I thought I would check out how they scored (i.e., lifetime or most current session available) with a few conservative thinktanks/organizations. (I threw in Boehner and McCarthy for comparison.)

HA = Heritage Action; lifetime, 2011-present
CfG = Club for Growth; lifetime, 2005-present
ACU = American Conservative Union; lifetime, 1971?-2014
FW = FreedomWorks; lifetime, 2005-present
AfP = American for Prosperity; lifetime, 2007-present
SBEC = Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council; 2013-2014
CSP = Center for Security Policy; 2013-2014
NUSA = NumbersUSA; 1989-present
CR = Conservative Review; Liberty Score is based on the top 50 votes over the past six years.

# All numeric scores based on possible 100. #

  Date Assumed Office HA CfG ACU FW AfP SBEC CSP NUSA CR
Boehner* 01/03/91 * 83 83.37 89 60 * 50 B F 37%
Chaffetz 01/03/09 81 90 92.17 88 89 100 88 A- B 82%
Clawson 06/25/14 88 98 N/a 90 100 100 100 A+ A 91%
Cole 01/03/03 46 68 84.67 68 84 95 96 A- F 46%
Gowdy 01/03/11 87 95 97 91 96 100 93 A- B 85%
Hensarling 01/03/03 84 95 97.64 91 93 100 93 A C 73%
Jordan 01/03/07 94 98 100 96 99 100 93 A- A 94%
King 01/03/93 39 50 71.55 55 69 100 92 C F 35%
Labrador 01/03/11 87 94 93.96 92 97 100 73 A- A 95%
McCarthy 01/03/07 53 73 88.63 71 86 100 93 B F 45%
McMorris Rodgers 01/03/05 53 72 87.3 72 83 100 89 B- F 48%
Price 01/03/05 79 92 96.4 90 93 100 93 A C 72%
Roskam 01/03/07 57 70 87 71 85 100 93 B+ F 58%
Ryan 01/03/99 63 83 90 81 84 100 93 B- F 58%
Scalise 05/03/08 72 89 97.71 89 96 100 89 B C 74%
Webster 01/03/11 66 67 78.83 64 80 100 96 A+ D 64%

*Note: The Speaker of the House doesn’t normally vote, so Boehner’s lifetime scores are as of 2010. Heritage doesn’t provide one, for example, but it couldn’t have been too high, since he has voted contrary to the Heritage position on almost all of the major bills since.

Besides the truly conservative bona fides that many want to see, there are various other personal and professional qualities that many are looking for in our new Speaker, as well. Much of the frustration with Boehner’s leadership was not so much on policy — though there was that, too, sometimes — but on matters of procedure and leadership style. The need for process reform, regular order, and rules changes comes up a lot. Rather than survey several politicians and pundits for quotes on this, I decided to end by quoting Allen West, who lays out a darn good list of preferred qualifications:

Lt. Col. Allen B. West (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Allen B. West (Ret.)

“The next Speaker of the House of Representatives must restore that body to be the premier legislative body the Founding Fathers intended it to be…. The next Speaker of the House must be a brilliant constitutional strategist and tactician and make the progressive socialists defend their failed ideology…. A new Speaker of the House of Representatives must be a principled, resolute leader who will truly be the ‘voice of the American Republic’ and a person who will restore the rule of law and the sovereignty of the individual. We need someone who can delineate between the policies that promote the opportunity society as opposed to the dependency society…. A new Speaker of the House of Representatives must come in with a clearly understood battle plan – a policy agenda — that can be articulated to the everyday American citizen…. The new Speaker of the House cannot be invisible but must be as known to the American people and clearly seen as the defender of the Republic and its honor. This new speaker must be fearless and willing to take on the political elite cabal of Washington DC along with the liberal progressive media elites. There is only one interest this new Speaker must have, and that is the American interest, the interest of our children and grandchildren…. The next Speaker of the House of Representatives need not be a politician but rather a defender of American principles, a servant leader.”  — Lt. Col. Allen B. West (Ret.), former U.S. Congressman (R-FL)


Personally, I would prefer someone with consistently strong conservative marks (e.g., Jordan). Realistically, though, if necessary to unite the party and get enough votes, we may have to be satisfied with someone who is somewhat more moderate (e.g., Ryan) but who hopefully does a decent job of meeting West’s requirements.

P.S.  The fact that Webster, Clawson, and West (until recently) all hail from my home state of Florida has nothing to do with my using their pics. Nope. Nothing at all. Promise.


Ideological Purity in the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division

This week we have my final post citing from Jay Sekulow’s Undemocratic. Yes, it involves more infuriating behavior from bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Justice. It will make you cringe, or at least shake your head in amazement. It will probably make you wonder how in the world we (as a nation) allowed this to kind of thing to become part of government culture. Regardless, it is good to be informed, so that we can make others aware and hopefully, possibly take steps — even if just by writing in and supporting corrective legislation — to reform that culture.

DoJ's Civil Rights Division seal“When I worked for the IRS [as a trial tax attorney for the Office of the Chief Counsel back in the Carter & Reagan administrations], politics rarely came up. In fact, I don’t think I remember a single explicitly political conversation while on the job. To this day I don’t know the political leanings of many of my former colleagues…. In such an environment, partisanship would have raised a red flag, and I have little doubt that a number of us would have immediately acted to stop any bias before it could do real harm. Things have changed with the agency today.

But what if the workplace in many agencies is now fundamentally different? What if the political leanings of your colleagues are not only well-known but almost universal? Would you feel like risking your own job to stop abuse?

What if that political bias was so open and notorious that dissenters either couldn’t get a job or found working conditions so intolerable that they had to leave? There would be no whistle-blowers, and abuses could rage on, unchecked, for years until — perhaps by chance — a reporter or member of the public could bring them to light.

In a key division of today’s Department of Justice, this intolerant ideological uniformity is quickly becoming a reality.

There are few divisions in the Department of Justice more important than the Civil Rights Division. While U.S. attorneys are on the front lines, prosecuting criminals and maintaining law and order, attorneys in the Civil Rights Division ideally make sure that all American citizens enjoy their most basic constitutional and statutory rights. And given our nation’s fraught and violent racial history, its key role is enforcing civil rights laws. The DOJ describes its mission like this:

The Division enforces the Civil Rights Acts; the Voting Rights Act; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the National Voter Registration Act; the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act; the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act; and additional civil rights provisions contained in other laws and regulations. These laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations and facilities, voting, and certain federally funded and conducted programs.

Given this key role, nonpartisanship — vital for every federal agency — is absolutely imperative. The politics of race and gender are among the most contentious and potentially explosive in the United States, and before the full weight of the federal government is brought to bear, citizens expect, and deserve, careful, neutral consideration of the merits of cases and the merits of any given legal position.

Unfortunately, however, key personnel in the Civil Rights Division are doing their absolute best to shred any last remnants of neutrality and fairness in division decision-making, even to the point of hounding and threatening conservative employees and hiring almost exclusively from organizations with a radical leftist bias.

In March 2013, in response to numerous congressional complaints, the Department of Justice inspector general released a lengthy report on the operations of the Civil Rights Division’s key Voting Section, the section charged with protecting the right to vote, obviously a key constitutional right and a foundation of our democracy.

The findings were startling.

Many of those individuals told the (Office of the Inspector General) OIG that they believed that the reason the voting rights laws were enacted was to protect historic victims of discrimination and therefore the Section should prioritize its resources accordingly. Additionally, some of these individuals, including one current manager, admitted to us that, while they believed that the text of the Voting Rights Act is race-neutral and applied to all races, they did not believe the Voting Section should pursue cases on behalf of White victims.

Moreover, the treatment of conservative employees was startling. The inspector general said it was ‘surprised and dismayed at the amount of blatantly partisan political commentary that we found in e-mails sent by some Voting Section employees on Department computers.’ The report went on to detail the abuses that were nothing short of astonishing:

Karen Lorrie, [not her real name] a non-attorney employee in the Voting Section, initially denied under oath to us that she had posted comments to websites concerning Voting Section personnel or matters. Later in her second OIG interview she admitted that she had posted such comments, identified several of the statements that she had posted, and acknowledged that she had lied under oath in her first OIG interview. She also told the OIG that she understood that the comments she had posted would remain on the Internet and follow the targets in the future. Lorrie told the OIG that she posted comments online as a way of ‘relieving the never-ending stress on the job.’

In other words, not only did a career bureaucrat attack colleagues online, but she lied under oath about those attacks. But that’s not all. Career employees kept using the Internet as a weapon against their own colleagues, resorting to language that was both unprofessional and “juvenile.” Again here’s the inspector general:

a-review-of-the-operations-of-the-voting-section-of-the-civil-rights-divisionDuring this period, at least three career Voting Section employees posted comments on widely read liberal websites concerning Voting Section work and personnel. The three employees who we were able to identify with certainty included three non-attorney employees. Many of the postings, which generally appeared in the Comments section following blog entries related to the Department, included a wide array of inappropriate remarks, ranging from petty and juvenile personal attacks to highly offensive and potentially threatening statements. The comments were directed at fellow career Voting Section employees because of their conservative political views, their willingness to carry out the policies of the CRT division leadership, or their views on the Voting Rights Act. The highly offensive comments included suggestions that the parents of one former career Section attorney were Nazis, [and] disparaging a career manager’s physical appearance… speculation that another career manager was watching pornography in her office, and references to ‘Yellow Fever,’ in connection with allusions to marital infidelity involving two career Voting Section employees, one of whom was described as ‘look[ing] Asian.’

It just keeps getting worse. Threats of physical violence were not out of bounds, with indications that the threats were backed up by actions, like monitoring individuals’ movements in the office — monitoring that was ‘disturbing’ in context:

We found other postings by career Voting Section employees that contained intimidating comments and statements that arguably raised the potential threat of physical violence. For instance, one of the employees wrote the following comment to an article concerning an internal Department investigation of potential misconduct by a Section manager: ‘Geez, reading this just makes me want to go out and choke somebody. At this point, I’d seriously consider going in tomorrow and hanging a noose in someone’s office to get myself fired, but they’d probably applaud the gesture and give me a promotion for doing it….’ Some postings by Section employees contained statements that could be viewed as disturbing, such as comments that monitored managers’ movements in the office and described their actions.

Keep in mind, the choking threat came from a “Section manager,” not a low-level intern or a temporary employee on a work-release program from prison.

Now back to the ‘sue and settle’ discussion…. There was evidence that DOJ attorneys cooperated with sympathetic liberal groups so completely that they would share confidential legal information:

We also found incidents in which Voting Section career staff shared confidential Section information with outside civil rights attorneys, some of whom were working on matters where they were adverse to the Department.

Abuses in the Civil Rights Division were not unique to the Obama administration. Indeed, the inspector general found problems during the Bush administration as well, but that’s hardly a surprise. The problem of government is not a problem with a particular administration but rather systemic, where a lack of accountability combines with partisan rancor and pervasive incompetence to create a crisis of justice….

This approach to justice is intolerable. And yet until there’s meaningful civil service reform, it’s virtually unstoppable…. [I]t’s time to introduce private sector rationality to public sector employment, and nowhere is it more vital than in the Department of Justice, where entrenched corruption means that you can not only lose your rights, you can even lose your most basic liberties….

There will be no reform without accountability. There will be no justice without reform.”

It both angers and grieves me to think that such outright partisanship and just plain mean-spiritedness has become evident even in places like the U.S. Department of Justice. But, when attitudes of victimhood, entitlement-thinking, and an agenda of ideological purity are encouraged — particularly on the political left –, and those people become entrenched in the government bureaucracy, it should be expected that such ugliness would develop and eventually be discovered. Reform won’t happen overnight, but we can let our representatives in Washington, D.C., know that it is an important issue that they need to address.


Must We Interpret the Bible in a Vacuum?

I just started a new book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (2006) by Dr. David Snoke, a respected physicist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve been aware of Snoke and a few of his papers/essays for awhile, but I didn’t pick up his book until a few months ago, and I finally got around to reading it. (Or, at least, I will be reading it on my upcoming trip to Baltimore.) The first chapter — the only one I’ve read, as yet — is titled “Starting Assumptions”, in which he discusses the issue of “whether experience, including the expanded experience of science, may ever legitimately affect our interpretation of the Bible.” I liked the way he concluded the chapter, so I reproduce it here for you.

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth - book cover“All of these examples point to the legitimacy of allowing experience to affect our interpretation of the Bible. Why do we react against it, then? I have already mentioned two reasons. First, we rightly want to avoid any hint of concession to worldly views due to societal pressure. Second, we rightly want to avoid a ‘slippery slope’ that would allow us to ‘explain away’ any passage of Scripture.

In order to avoid the first pitfall, any argument for a new interpretation of Scripture should present a positive case; that is, it should not simply ‘explain away’ apparently obvious meanings of Scripture. It should show thematic consistency with all of Scripture, a truly biblical worldview. To avoid the second pitfall, a new interpretation should delineate boundaries, defining what is negotiable and what is not. I hope to accomplish both of these tasks in the following pages.

My goal is to help the church avoid the same errors in the debate over the age of the earth that have occurred in the above examples. In the case of the moving earth, forcing an interpretation that the world does not move makes God into a great deceiver who shows us false appearances of things that are not real. In the same way, some people’s views of the ‘apparent age’ of the earth make God into a great deceiver. In the case of modern apostles, demanding that there are people who can perform the miraculous works of apostles can lead us to succumb to gullibility as we latch on to any claim that supports our position, and to fail to apply rigid tests to those who claim to have supporting evidence. In the same way, demanding that there must be scientific evidence for a young earth can lead us to latch on to people with dubious credentials who tell us what we want to hear.

In the case of the early return of Christ, if we insist on a rigid rule of the ‘most obvious’ interpretation, we can cause people, including our children, to give up on the Bible, or reject Christianity outright as they lay what seems to be the most obvious interpretation alongside their experience. In the same way, every year the church loses children who go to college and find that the evidence does seem quite sound for an old earth, and who conclude that they must reject the Bible. In the case of the Babylonian king, rejecting new information about biblical times means that we force a modern (and uninformed) view on the Bible instead of listening to those who are most familiar with the context of the ancient world. In the same way, reading Genesis 1 and other passages only in the way that seems most natural to modern eyes may cause us to lose some of the deeper meaning in those passages. In this book I will present some very deep themes of Scripture that often are lost in modern discussion.

We would do well to remember that science was founded by Christians who insisted that God is not a great deceiver, that the natural world is ordered by a good God, and that we must reject superstition and hearsay; moreover, that we must subject all truth claims to rigorous examination, even claims of honored church leaders from generations past. They insisted that the general revelation of God in nature and the special revelation in Scripture are in agreement, not discord. It is no coincidence that the scientific revolution and the Reformation came at the same place and time in history — the Protestants supported Kepler and Copernicus in their revolutionary new interpretation of the Bible. One could almost say that the Copernican revolution was primarily a revolution of Bible interpretation: it revealed that the scholars of the church past were not always correct in their interpretation of Bible passages like Psalm 93:1 (which had been interpreted to mean that the sun goes around the earth), just as they were not always correct in interpreting passages dealing with moral and spiritual issues.”

I should point out here that, despite the above statements associating the Protestant Reformation with the Copernican Revolution, earlier in the chapter Snoke acknowledges that Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon all rejected the idea of a moving earth. They would be among those past church scholars who were not always correct, though we still hold them in high regard.

Copernicus & the solar system

Copernicus & the solar system

“As I said above, all scientific theories are provisional works of human beings, and therefore science does not ‘trump’ Scripture, which is unchanging and inerrant. At the same time, all theological systems are provisional works of human beings, too. By ‘provisional’, I do not mean ‘quickly changed’. The scientific method provides rules by which theories may be changed, and successful theories last for centuries. In the same way, there are rules of Bible interpretation that do not allow us to easily jettison elements of theology. Yet the Reformation was based on the belief that the traditional teaching of the church about the meaning of Scripture is not to be confused with Scripture itself. Even the Roman Catholic Church, though it rejects the Reformation, now affirms that the understanding of the church can evolve and grow in the light of new information.

My view of the ‘new’ interpretations of Scripture in the church is the same as for individuals — we should be able to grow in wisdom, not rushing to every new wind of doctrine, but carefully weighing new views and always able to learn. A wise person finds new things constantly in Scripture, even while holding to it as an unshakable foundation, and the church does well to do the same. While we must not take lightly the Bible interpretation of faithful scholars of the past, we can also hope that new generations have something to add as well.”

What do you think? Does he make sensible suggestions? Is his reasoning sound? I tend to think so, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well (or if) he accomplishes his goal(s) in the remainder of the book.

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