Trump’s Gas Tax Hike Is a Bad Idea

“I’d hate to see a new tax siphon off 20 percent of the $1,000 tax reform bonuses back to the swamp this year.”  — Adam Brandon, President of FreedomWorks

If we needed another reminder that President Trump is, shall we say, inconsistent in his newly-adopted conservatism, we got tariffs imposed on solar panels and washing machines. (This may have some positive results in the short-term, but overall it’s damaging to the economy and free trade.) And then there was the “budget deal”. (Of course, this is as much Congress’ fault as Trump’s, if not more so.) And now… he is pushing for a huge hike in the gasoline tax, in order to help pay for his infrastructure mandate.

The proposal was not part of the administration’s recently-revealed infrastructure plan. As summarized by Erin Coates at The Western Journal,

“The $1.5 trillion dollar infrastructure plan calls for $200 billion [supposedly offset by budget cuts] to be spent by the federal government on infrastructure over the next 10 years. The rest of the money would come through partnerships with state and local governments, as well as private entities. One-quarter of the federal money — $50 billion — will be devoted to rural infrastructure projects. The bulk of that money will be allocated to state governors to direct where it is most needed.”

The gas tax hike idea came out of a subsequent meeting with legislators. OK, maybe the idea didn’t originate with Trump, but he has “promised to provide leadership” in support of it. Of course, several Democrats are all for it, including Obama’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Fortunately, many conservatives are less than pleased with the idea, and House Speaker Ryan is reportedly “not interested”. On the other hand, some Republicans like House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) are already on record as being in favor of such a move.

Personally, I like the idea advocated by Phil Kerpen and the American Commitment organization, which is to fund infrastructure improvements out of monies recovered by cutting waste, fraud, and other “abusive” government expenditures. That would seem to be good incentive for finally addressing the government waste/fraud/abuse issue, which Trump has already begun doing in some areas. But, raising gas taxes is probably just easier to implement and a more assured method of obtaining a measurable amount.

As per a Politico article,

“[T]he A 25-cent hike [per gallon of gasoline and diesel] phased in over five years would generate an additional $375 billion over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backs the idea….

Raising the gas tax would only go so far by itself, because Highway Trust Fund money cannot go to waterways, broadband service, airports, veterans hospitals or any of the other broad array of project types that Trump’s infrastructure plan seeks to fund. But it could achieve more than many infrastructure supporters had expected of Trump’s plan — offering a sustainable funding source instead of a short-term shot in the arm.”

Now, I’m tax-averse to begin with, as I’m sure many of you are. That’s one reason why the recent tax reform legislation, imperfect though it is, has gone over so well with so many. Why would the President want to take part of that money and goodwill away? When one factors in already increasing gasoline prices, it makes even less sense. (See above chart from Strategas Research’s Dan Clifton for potential consumer impact. Also, this.) Rising gas prices never help a president’s approval rating or his party in midterm elections.

Boston traffic (Southeast Expressway looking northbound), by Matt Stone

Stephen Moore, distinguished visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, lays out several pertinent facts on the matter:

“Almost everyone agrees that the current financing structure for good roads and highways is flawed and inefficient. But a federal gas tax hike would contradict the goal of the Trump infrastructure plan, which is to rely more heavily on states, localities and private investment to pay for modernizing our roads and bridges.

Yes, there are some local roads that badly need repair, but sending more money to the feds is a guaranteed way to get that money squandered….

[T]raffic gridlock costs the typical American rush-hour commuter an estimated 42 hours of lost time each year. This is nearly the equivalent of a lost week each year.

But this isn’t because of a lack of road funding or a so-called “highway trust fund shortfall.” It is primarily because according to a Heritage Foundation report, at least 25% of fuel tax funding is used for non-highway projects such as mass transit, bike paths and bus service.”

I need to pause here to say that I’m guessing Moore’s “42 hours = nearly a week” is referring to a 40+-hour workweek.

He continues…

“This hijacking of gas tax dollars helps explain why we have so many potholes the size of a beach ball — and why the problem will get worse if the gas tax is raised.

Congress typically raids about $10 billion a year from the highway trust fund to pay for mass transit projects…. Public transit has a minuscule impact on traffic gridlock — except for a few high-density cities like Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and San Francisco…. [Plus,] in a generation, many experts say that mass transit is going to be as obsolete as the rotary phone, and we will be ripping up the tracks, not laying them down….

The gas tax is also an outdated tax because of huge gains in fuel efficiency and the increased use of electric cars that don’t use gasoline…. Every car will have an EZ pass that will charge drivers for the roads they use and only for the roads they use. Time-consuming toll booths, already on the decline, will be no more. This will allow the private sector to own, operate and maintain our roads with minimal government involvement.

This improved transportation network could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the American GDP. And all this can be done with lower, not higher, gas taxes paid at the pump.”

Are the President and Congress aware of all this? ‘Cuz, if they truly want to do what is best for the American people rather than just build a pile of cash, it sounds like they need to seriously rethink this whole infrastructure plan and in particular the wisdom of raising the consumer taxes on gas and diesel.

P.S.  Some of you may find this 2015 article of interest: “Highway Trust Fund Basics: A Primer on Federal Surface Transportation Spending”.

P.P.S.  Also, here is a 2015 article from Stephen Moore (“Washington’s gas tax guzzlers”), in which he looks at the hypocrisy of Obama and the Democrats on the subject. He also said, among other things, “Rather than raise the federal gas tax, a better policy would be to repeal the federal tax and let states pay for their own road projects. The interstate highway system was completed 30 years ago and there is no more need for a national tax at 18.4 cents a gallon to fund bridges and high-speed rail projects to nowhere. Devolving transportation projects back to the states will ensure that gas tax money is used for the highest value-added projects.” Makes sense to me.

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Feminist Nonsense Attacks on God and the Bible

“[S]tupid. Asinine. Ridiculous. Ludicrous. Imbecilic. Witless. Obtuse. Fatuous. Harebrained. Doltish. Preposterous.”  — Ben Shapiro, commenting on Rabbi Kolton’s claims

Originally, I was going to blog on something more politically-oriented this week, like infamous memos & dossiers, or maybe the budget deal. But, I came across something else that piqued my interest much more, so…

The idea of “the divine feminine” and related concepts are not just found in New Age / Eastern and other pagan writings but also in modern feminist theology invading certain groups in liberal Christianity and Judaism alike. (Incidentally, they seem to work hand-in-hand with the LGBT community in this, ignoring how their two agendas ultimately work against each other.) One of the more subtle ways this small minority exercises its influence is by urging (if not demanding) increasing gender neutralization of the Bible and liturgical texts in ways that effectively emasculate God. We’ll highlight an example of this in the first part of this post. In the second part, we’ll look at a radical, female rabbi’s unorthodox (and baseless) re-interpretation of an early biblical passage to make it a social commentary on recent headlines.

“God with breasts”

Michael F. Haverluck’s recent article at One News Now begins,

“Continuing its freefall to the theological left, the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Washington, D.C., voted last week to pass a resolution that puts an end to the use of masculine pronouns for God as it prepares to update its Book of Common Prayer.”

Haverluck quotes the diocese’s resolution,

“Resolved … that the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, if revision of the Book of Common Prayer is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.”

The resolution’s drafters also stated,

“Over the centuries, our language and our understanding of God has continued to change and adapt…. [Referring to God using masculine pronouns is to] limit our understanding of God. By expanding our language for God, we will expand our image of God and the nature of God.”

As Haverluck points out, this is another example of liberal — and, in this case, feminist-oriented — theologians being more concerned with preaching their social gospel than with sound hermeneutic from the unchanging Word of God. But, if neutering divine pronouns weren’t enough, here’s the kicker. Referring to Genesis 17:1, where God tells Abraham, “I am El Shaddai”, Rev. Linda R. Calkins of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church says,

“[If Episcopalians] are going to be true to what El Shaddai means, it means God with breasts. Having studied much feminist theology in my masters’ degrees, I wrote a thesis on liberation and freedom and non-equality in feminist theology and existential counseling.”

Linda R. Calkins

[As an aside, I might note that Calkins “married” her “wife”, Susan, in 2013, though she does have two grown children.]

Haverluck quotes a couple different people’s objections in his article, but I want to cite Dr. Michael Brown from the article he wrote in response to this move. In regards to the pronouns thing,

“[N]one of us think that God has biological sex or that His image is not found in women as well as men.

At the same time, He revealed Himself to us as Father, He inspired the human authors of Scripture to refer to Him with male pronouns, and He is called Lord (not Lady) multiplied hundreds of times in the Scriptures. Not only so, but when He took on flesh, He did so in the person of His Son (another male image!), as a man named Yeshua (Jesus). And should I mention that He’s also described in the Bible as a Man of War?

In short, you have to rewrite the Bible in order to remove “gendered language for God.” And there is a difference between praying to the Heavenly Mother rather than the Heavenly Father. (In other words, gender differences are important and intentional.) And if a non-gendered God wanted us to pray to it (?) as the Heavenly Parent, then it (or, they?) would have said so.”

Exactly!

As for the “God with breasts” idea:

“To be honest, Calkins is not the first to make this claim, and I’ve even heard it in some evangelical circles, where it was taught that God as the “many breasted one” spoke of God as Provider.

But there’s not a stitch of scholarly evidence to support this, and I can state that with authority. Not only is my Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University, but I specialized in comparative Semitic lexicography (meaning, understanding dictionary definitions of words in light of the comparative ancient languages).

My doctoral dissertation focused on one Hebrew word (in light of its ancient Near Eastern background), and I own every major Hebrew lexicon and theological encyclopedia. Every single one of them rejects the idea that El Shaddai means “God of (many) breasts.”

It is true that we don’t know have a clear etymology for “shaddai”, but it appears to be akin to an ancient Akkadian word for ‘mountain’. Also, “the ancient biblical translators commonly rendered Shaddai with ‘Almighty,’ and they likely had a good reason for it.”

“Eve says #MeToo”

OK, now we’ll take some of this feminist thinking and wrap it around some current events. Inspired and emboldened by the many women now telling their stories of being victims of sexual assault, rabbi / psychologist Tamara Kolton (soon-to-be author of Oranges for Eve: Walking The Way of the Divine Feminine) recently wrote:

“It’s time we all acknowledge an overwhelmingly powerful source of shame and silence — in the bible.

The story that begins the bible… is actually the story of the first sexual assault of a woman. The woman’s name is Eve. And the perpetrator? God.”

What the…?!! Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, responds with the words listed at the top of this post, followed by,

“The story of Adam and Eve has literally nothing to do with sexual assault. It has to do with Eve refusing to obey a Godly command not to eat from a certain tree at the behest of the snake, then telling Adam to do so as well, then lying to God about it. End of story.”

Tamara Kolton

Kolton, the first rabbi ordained in Humanistic Judaism at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, proceeds to paint a picture…

“I want you to think about this. Here is a young, beautiful, intelligent, naked woman living in a state of Grace. She’s hungry, so she does the most natural thing in the world and eats a piece of fruit. For following her instincts, trusting herself, and nourishing her body, she is punished. Her punishment? She will never again feel safe in her nakedness. She will never again love her body. She will never again know her body as a place of sacred sovereignty.

“What have you done?” [] God thunders. Eve wants to defend herself, but she is too ashamed to speak. Eve, our first mother whose name means the “mother of all living things,” is silenced, much the way the “patients” of Dr. Nassar were.”

First, notice how Kolton makes Eve an innocent victim, rather than someone in rebellion to God. Second, she makes God a big meanie. Third, she emphasizes Eve’s nakedness and loss of love for her body. She refers to the “sacred sovereignty” of Eve’s body, while ignoring the true Sovereignty of Creator God. Fourth, this somehow translates into sexual assault by God, because she then draws a parallel between God’s treatment of Eve to Dr. Nassar’s molestation of the female athletes under his care. Her “interpretation” is disgusting on so many levels and not the ones she claims. Of course, the Bible is all just fairytales to her, anyway.

Shapiro’s comment?

“There is simply no way to read the story of Adam and Eve and come away with the notion that Eve wanted to raid the fridge. The snake explicitly discusses with her the consequences for eating the fruit, and tempts her to do so by stating that she will become like God.”

After quoting from Genesis 3, Shapiro also points out that the forbidden tree was not the only one in the Garden. Adam and Eve had plenty more to eat from. He also points out that Eve was not silenced, was not “too ashamed to speak”. She tried to blame the serpent, but God held her responsible for her own actions.

Kolton continues…

“The founding myth of Judeo-Christian religion, the story of Eve, granted generations of men permission to violate women. It teaches us that women are liars and sinners. Even if “She” is telling the truth, she deserved it. God told her not to eat that apple, or wear that skirt, or go out after dark, or be pretty, or desirous, or in that bar or on that street or in that car or born a girl.”

Oh, fer cryin’ out loud! What balderdash! Hard to believe this “creative” garbage is accepted as serious scholarship in today’s academic circles. On the other hand, given the Left’s — particularly, the secular Left’s — hold on so much of academia, I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising after all. Shapiro had more to say on this, too, and I’ll direct you to his op ed. But, he ended with this:

“Eve wasn’t sexually harassed or assaulted by God. She wasn’t a #MeToo victim. The only victims in this piece are Kolton’s readers, who all lost IQ points simply by sticking around to read it.”

Indeed, though I would add that Kolton’s Bible was twisted beyond all recognition, figuratively speaking.

One more quote from Kolton:

“This God, this man-made figurehead of the patriarchy, is not my God…. The God I believe in is all loving. God is a Divine source of life and healing, not shame and abandonment.”

[Side Note: If she’s a secular humanist (and, thus, non-theist), why would she even bother to have her own, preferred concept of a deity? She’s really just trading one (patriarchal) imaginary being for another (matriarchal?) imaginary being.]

Well, the God she describes isn’t my God, either. My God is real. My God is the uncreated Creator found in the inspired biblical texts. He is a Holy God, both loving and just; He demands justice, yet offers mercy. He spotlights our sin(s) (i.e., moral crimes), which are deserving of shame and punishment and separate us from God the Father. But, He also provides the one and only way to restore that broken relationship with Him, via the sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Someday, I hope that Calkins and Kolton recognize the empty falseness of their worldview(s). And I pray that they find their way into the arms of their loving Heavenly Father. Same for Shapiro, of course, who at least hasn’t gone off into Left field in his Bible reading.

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Difference Between Samson and a Suicide Bomber

“He pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the leaders and all the people in it. And the dead he killed at his death were more than those he had killed in his life.”  — Judges 16:30b (HCSB)

It wasn’t all that long ago — certainly within my lifetime — that instances of suicide bombers were few and far between and not exactly a regular topic in the news, let alone in conversation among average citizens. At least, not in “the West”. But, with the rise of radical Islam and its jihadist ideals, such methods of inflicting death, destruction, and terror on their perceived enemies has become common — certainly in the Middle East, but also on occasion even in the United States and Europe.

Aftermath of suicide bombing in Kabul

Now, where does the biblical character of Samson come in? Well, as God often uses very flawed characters to carry out His will, He used Samson to wipe out a large number of Philistines. The supernaturally strong Samson had on previous occasions wreaked havoc (though not without provocation) on the Philistines, who dominated the region at the time. But, once they managed to capture, mutilate, and make a spectacle of him, Samson was still able to commit one final, suicidal act that literally brought the house — well, a pagan temple — down on thousands of Philistine leaders and nobles. (Judges 16:21-30) Doesn’t this sound like what today’s Muslim suicide bombers would do? We call them evil. Why is Samson any better?

I listened to a Stand to Reason podcast with Greg Koukl a few weeks ago that addressed this very question. An American soldier who had been previously stationed in Iraq called in and spoke of a situation where his unit had to respond to the aftermath of a suicide bomber attack in a nearby city. One of his buddies challenged him with the question, “What’s the difference between a suicide bomber and Samson in the Old Testament?”. The caller didn’t tell what he said at the time, but he did say that he was never able to come up with an answer that even he found satisfying. I probably would’ve been unsure, too.

Koukl admitted up front that this is the sort of question that is a bit more difficult to answer, since the circumstances are “somewhat obscure” and explanations can be “messy” or incomplete. When the caller pointed out that the manner of God’s judgment (via Samson) seemed similar to what a suicide bomber does, Koukl pointed out that the manner of judgment is somewhat irrelevant; the important thing is the nature of the action.

Before proceeding, he backed up a bit and asked the following:

Q: Why do suicide bombers bomb innocent civilians? What is their theological rationale?
A: Among the final commands that Muhammad gave (Surah 9 of the Qur’an) are instructions to fight (even kill) the infidel. These abrogate (i.e., cancel out or have priority over) earlier revelations about some sort of peaceful coexistence.

Koukl continues:

“In the case of the Muslim terrorist, he is following a command left by his leader to bring destruction upon those who don’t believe in virtue of their unbelief. That is, if they would conform and become [Muslim] believers, then they would be spared this kind of judgment.

But, you see, that kind of thing actually never happened in the Bible. That is, people are not being destroyed in virtue of their unbelief. There are lots of people God brought no judgment on, yet they were not believers [in Him]. What God brought judgment on, like in the case of the Canaanites [of which Philistines are a subset], is for grotesque immorality that they lived in for centuries.

In the case here in the Book of Judges, we have an individual, Samson (who, by the way, is not the godliest character around), and we have no command that Samson has been given to kill unbelievers in virtue of their unbelief. But, he is dealing with Philistines, who are a pretty gross group. These are amongst the people who were supposed to be destroyed by the armies of Israel. They were under the judgment of God but were not completely eradicated….”

Despite his flaws, Samson (last of the “judges”, aka “leaders” or “chieftains”, during this period of Israel’s history) was an agent of God, fighting back against the local oppressors of God’s chosen people. Oppressors who were already under God’s judgment. In Samson’s particular case, the Philistines finally captured him, gouged out his eyes, forced him to hard labor, and occasionally used for their “entertainment”. (Years earlier, they had also burned his wife and father-in-law to death in retaliation for Samson’s actions, because the Philistines held them partially to blame.) When brought out to “entertain” the drunken leaders at a celebratory sacrifice to their god Dagon, he saw (pardon the pun) an opportunity, and

“He called out to the Lord: ‘Lord God, please remember me. Strengthen me, God, just once more. With one act of vengeance, let me pay back the Philistines for my two eyes…. Let me die with the Philistines.'”  — Judges 16:28,30a (HCSB)

God returned Samson’s great strength to him, so that he was able to topple the supporting pillars of the Temple of Dagon, killing the Philistine leaders and everyone else in it.

Koukl notes that there are really only three similarities here to the Muslim suicide bomber: 1) people die, 2) there’s a religious element to it, and 3) the killers knowingly give their own lives in the process of taking the lives of others. Also, though Koukl didn’t point this out, in both cases the individual’s motives are a mix of self-interest and (in their eyes) “greater good”. (That’s tied to the “religious element”, of course.) But, the circumstances are very different, and as Koukl reminds us, it is the differences that matter. There are morally relevant distinctions.

Even the fact that Samson knew he would die in the act is not the same. He wasn’t even seeking a “suicide mission” (which are not in themselves wrong, given a just cause). But, he knew that, in striking this blow against the evil and oppressive regime, he would most likely perish, as well. (Btw, Koukl says that Samson was chained to the pillars themselves, but that isn’t clear from the text. What is clear is that about 3000 men & women were reveling and observing from the roof section, which came crashing down.) It would be like if an Iraqi tribal leader was captured by ISIS and taken to their headquarters or maybe a huge mosque, and before being executed he saw a way to blow up the place with their own explosives. He knows that, whether he succeeds or fails, he won’t survive. But he seizes the moment to take as many of the enemy as he can with him. (That was my analogy, not Koukl’s.)

Bottom line, Samson sacrificed his life in taking down the enemies of God, who were already under His judgment. Again, God is not allowing the Philistines to be destroyed just because they wouldn’t convert to Judaism. They were incredibly evil, as they had been for many generations, and He had already ordered their destruction decades earlier. There were no “innocent civilians” among the casualties, as there often are with the victims of suicide bombers.

P.S.  And I’ll bet you thought I was gonna write on the SOTU address or the FISA memo this week. Hah!

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Reassessing Trump’s Progress in Health Reform

Most of us — well, those of us on the political Right, anyway — are frustrated with the fact that Obamacare (ACA) has not been completely done away with. When the Senate failed to pass the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), which would have been at least a partial repeal, the President received at least as much flak for it. In general, the topic is a sore one, and people (along with the MSM) are more than happy to blame Trump for this failure.

But, in a recent opinion piece for Fox News, Newt Gingrich pointed out the following:

“What the media have missed is an administration-wide health reform effort, enhanced by congressional action that will lower costs, increase access and improve health outcomes. Because this new strategy doesn’t fit the news media’s focus, it has been routinely ignored. The diverse nature of the many small steps underway has made it hard for analysts and reporters to understand how important they are.

It has always been a mistake to think the health system can be fixed in one giant step. Health costs are about 18 percent of the U.S. economy, which is the largest economy in the world. Health care is also the most deeply dependent on science and technology of any field of human endeavor. No one is smart enough to fix a system that big and that complex in one giant reform.”

So, absent the likelihood of a sweeping reform bill to address everything, the Trump administration has adopted a many-small-steps approach. Gingrich discusses a few already done or in the works; here’s the short version:

o  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has introduced significant steps to speed the approval of generic drugs, “mov[ing] away from a “first come-first serve” model…to prioritize the applications of generics that would serve as alternatives to brand-name drugs with fewer than three generic competitors. The FDA is also prioritizing approval for generic alternatives to complex and expensive drugs, as well as streamlining the overall generic drug approval process.”

o  “At the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Administrator Seema Verma has taken additional steps to save consumers money on their co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. Over the objection of the hospital lobby, CMS announced badly needed reforms to the 340B drug discount program…. [S]tudies have shown that in many of the participating hospitals very little of the savings reach poor patients. CMS’s announcement that it would cut the reimbursement rate for those drugs will save taxpayers money, and it will also reduce co-pays for Medicare patients who usually pay a percentage of the price Medicare pays.”

o  “The administration has also taken steps to prevent future price gouging scandals like the infamous Martin Shkreli price hike of an AIDS drug from $13.50 a pill to $750, by identifying the drugs most vulnerable to pricing abuse.”

I have to admit, while I despise such price gouging, I am “nervous” about government intervention even for this sort of thing. I’d like to know more details.

o  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta “issued proposed rules that would dramatically expand the availability of Association Health Plans. These plans could be national and regional, allowing for the sale of insurance across state lines, but critically still maintain state autonomy in regulating insurance – which will help police against fraud.”

o  “The Trump administration has also allowed insurers to continue offering “grandmothered” plans created prior to ObamaCare, maintaining these lower cost plans for long-time customers. This saved many small businesses and self-employed people a lot of money and anxiety….”

o  “[T]he Trump administration fixed a number of loopholes in the ObamaCare enrollment rules,” which had allowed the ethically-challenged to game the system and drive up prices.

o  “President Trump also made it easier for people to shop for health insurance without using the Healthcare.gov website.”

I have a dream that one day this website will only be used to explain the market-based, decentralized healthcare system in and across all states and territories of the USA….

o  The continuing resolution that Congress just passed included a nice health reform, too. “[It] suspended the health insurance tax for one year, the device tax for two years, and delayed the Cadillac tax until 2022, all of which were part of ObamaCare. All of these taxes were simply passed on to patients in the form of higher premiums, so each of these steps will save patients money.”

o  Congressional Republicans are working toward bipartisan approval of “additional market stabilization measures [that] could lead to a 15 percent reduction in premiums for 2019 – another big win for the consumer and taxpayer.”

Certainly, there is a lot more to do, and there is more on the way. The all-in-one-fell-swoop idea sounds great, but as Gingrich pointed out, it isn’t always feasible, especially with something this huge, complex, and impactful in so many areas and on multiple levels.

Gingrich concludes:

“The practical reality of developing new and better approaches to health and health care is a key to the general success of the Trump administration. In the long run, the 1,000-step approach of practical reform will prove vastly more effective than either ObamaCare or SandersCare with their focus on sweeping giant government bureaucracies. This progress in health care is one more example of the impressive results of the Trump administration’s first year.”

I was encouraged by reading this summary, and I remain hopeful that the Trump administration, working with a GOP-majority Congress, can eventually get the patient-friendly, market-driven model that we need implemented.

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Unusually High Criminality among Arizona’s “DREAMers”

“Unfortunately, if the goal of DACA is to give citizenship to a particularly law-abiding group of undocumented immigrants, it is accomplishing the opposite of what was intended.”  — John R. Lott

John R. Lott

Economists tend to be very good at number-crunching and statistics. John Lott, who holds a PhD in economics from UCLA, has worked for various renowned academic institutions, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. In 2013 he founded the non-profit Crime Prevention Research Center, and he is best known for his books, studies, and op-eds on crime and gun rights. Earlier this month, he published a new paper titled “Undocumented Immigrants, U.S. Citizens, and Convicted Criminals in Arizona”.

The abstract for the study begins by explaining the source of the data:

“Using newly released detailed data on all prisoners who entered the Arizona state prison from January 1985 through June 2017, we are able to separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents. Unlike other studies, these data do not rely on self-reporting of criminal backgrounds.”

The abstract continues by comparing undocumented immigrants in general with “other Arizonans.”:

“Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens. Yet, there are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. There are dramatic differences between in [sic] the criminal histories of convicts who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.” [Italics are mine.]

Will Racke expands on this a bit in his article for The Daily Caller News Foundation:

“Lott’s [use of] criminal convictions as a proxy for criminality… may actually understate the propensity for criminal behavior among illegal immigrants, because their victims, often undocumented immigrants themselves, are less likely to report crime.

‘Our reliance on conviction data means that there is a greater confidence in the accuracy of whether these individuals have committed crime,’ the report stated. ‘But it also means that we are underestimating the number of crimes and social costs of criminal activity by undocumented immigrants.'”

The next significant piece from the study abstract talks specifically about those that fit the definition of “DREAMers”:

“Young convicts are especially likely to be undocumented immigrants. While undocumented immigrants from 15 to 35 years of age make up slightly over two percent of the Arizona population, they make up about eight percent of the prison population. Even after adjusting for the fact that young people commit crime at higher rates, young undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young U.S. citizens. These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes.”

Racke points out that the aforementioned “142% more likely to be convicted of a crime” goes up to 250% for the “18-35 age cohort.” (I don’t know why Racke consistently uses “18” as the lower end of the age range, when Lott seems to use “15”. But, then I barely skimmed the full report, so I may have missed something.)

Finally, here are a few more significant findings from the report’s summary:

“Undocumented immigrants are 163% more likely to be convicted of 1st degree murder than are U.S. citizens, 168% more likely to be convicted of 2nd degree murder, and 189.6% more likely to be convicted of manslaughter. Those three categories and negligent homicide add up to 987 convictions. Undocumented immigrants are also much more likely to commit sexual offenses against minors, sexual assault, DUI, and armed robbery….

If undocumented immigrants committed crime nationally as they do in Arizona, in 2016 they would have been responsible for over 1,000 more murders, 5,200 rapes, 8,900 robberies, 25,300 aggravated assaults, and 26,900 burglaries.”

Obviously, no one is saying that all illegal immigrants are violent criminals — not even a majority. But, statistically speaking, the propensity for such criminal acts is significantly higher among them. That isn’t racist or otherwise unfairly discriminatory. It just is. Cold, hard numbers and simple extrapolation.

Now, does it really seem wise to issue a blanket amnesty to DREAMers when we have this sort of data staring us in the face? I don’t think so.

P.S.  See my “Dream On…” and “A Few Ideas Re DACA Replacement” posts for more info and thoughts on the DACA/DREAMer issue.

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Does Time Act Differently In God’s Presence?

“Christians want to be under rather than over Scripture, yet we do not want to be anti-science. So what do we do with this apparent antinomy* between the book of Scripture and the book of nature?”  — Jud Davis

Believe it or not, I don’t always have a science/faith book in progress. But, prior to the Defeating Darwinism book I mentioned a few weeks ago, I worked my way through Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation. I found it a bit challenging — partially because I didn’t fully agree with any of the essay contributors –, but I think it stretched my mind in good ways.

The essays in question resulted from a Fall 2011 symposium organized and hosted by the Bryan Institute for Critical Thought & Practice in Tennessee. The primary contributors were not from Bryan College (named after William Jennings Bryan of Scopes Trial fame), but the book ended with two essays by Bryan College faculty, Kenneth J. Turner and Jud Davis. I was not familiar with Dr. Davis, but he is Professor of Greek and a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). In his chapter, “Unresolved Major Questions: Evangelicals and Genesis 1-2”, Davis writes a lot about antinomies* — both within Scripture and between interpretations of Scripture and nature — and our attempts to resolve them. In particular, when looking at the issue of time and the age of the Earth/Universe, Davis makes an interesting supposition that I had never heard/read from a YEC (though that doesn’t mean others haven’t done so, since I admittedly don’t read much YEC literature these days).

“[A]ny number of scriptural texts suggest that time and/or the effects of time do strange things in the presence of God. The Bible affirms, for example, that for God a thousand years are as a day, and a day is as a thousand years (Ps 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8). In other words, God does not experience time the same way we experience it. Luther has an interesting comment in this regard:

‘Now since before God there is no reckoning of time, before Him a thousand years must be as one day. Therefore Adam, the first man, is just as close to Him as the man who will be born last before the Last Day…. Beginning with Adam, we must count one year after the other until the Last Day. But in God’s sight everything is in one heap. What is long for us is short for Him and vice versa. Here there is neither measure nor number.’

This strange teaching about God and time is furthered when the biblical text teaches that the lamb of God was slain “before” the foundation of the world. This was an event millennia in the future at the creation of the world, but it is described as already having taken place in Scripture (Rev 13:8). The text and Jesus say similar things about the judgment of the world and the salvation of sinners. Isaac Watts said it well:

‘It is in this sense that our Lord Jesus Christ is said to be “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”;… even “before God laid the foundation of the world”; Eph. i.4,5. He appeared as the Lamb slain… in the eye of God, who sees all things in one single view, whether they be things past, present, or to come.

Similarly, Aaron’s rod, a dead stick, when placed in the unmediated presence of God, not only came alive (i.e., the effects of time apparently reversed) but then grew branches and leaves and bore almonds (Num 17:2-8). That is, what should have taken months or even years was accomplished in but one night in the presence of God. From an observer’s vantage point, a few hours passed. How much time, according to science, would have passed for this growth and these nuts?

Replicas of Aaron’s rod, the stone tablets, and manna

Moses spent forty days in the presence of God, yet the effect of the forty days seems very short in terms of the effect on his body (he was able to pass forty days without food, water, or apparently sleep [Exod 24:18; 34:28]). This strange effect of God on the passage of time happens in Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). We are told that the miracle happened in an instant, but from the water-turned-wine’s perspective months seemed to have passed. How much time would today’s vintner say had passed for the water/wine to have become good wine?

Ephrem the Syrian raised this question long ago in terms of the original creation. When God made the trees of creation, we are told that it happened in an instant. If cameras had been present, what would they have seen? Would the normal growth process be collapsed to an instant or an hour or a day? Was this process from sprout to fruit? If this happened in a short period of time, how old would a woodsman say the tree was if he cut down the tree and counted its rings? Would not both the woodman’s estimate and the short actual time be, in some measure, a true description of what happened to the tree in the presence of a timeless God? Would not the tree bear some marks of a long passage of time because of its interaction with a timeless God?

I am happy to know geologists with secular, terminal degrees who believe it is possible to reconcile the traditional view with the geological record. Some of these have made fortunes in geology, so I am inclined to believe that they have some expertise in the subject. I have other friends in geology, also evangelical Christians, who tell me that the world looks old as in “the long ages of science old.” I, as a biblical studies student, am in little position to judge, but if there are marks of long time in creation, this is what I think: God knew of the antinomy which would face twentieth- and twenty-first-century Christians in regard to the Bible’s data and that of science. I believe that God means this antinomy to teach something very precise about himself: when his timeless presence interacts with material creation, that creation does strange things bearing the marks of age though the actual time is short. God means the immensity of those marks to be testimony to his timeless and infinite greatness.”

This is an intriguing and (I think) novel way of understanding what is said and what occurred in these biblical events. But, I see no reason to jump to Davis’ hypothesis for explanation. Even the quotes from Luther and Watts don’t point to it. The way I have always understood these passages, even when I was a YEC, is that God acted “in real time” (i.e., within the time dimension that he created and placed us in) to temporarily affect the relevant natural processes in a miraculous way.

Regarding the thousand-years-as-a-day and vice-versa thing, Davis summed it up well enough: God does not experience time the same way we experience it. But, taken in context, not only is 1000 years an immeasurably short period to an eternal God, He is patient, and we can be assured that He will work out His plan come what may, according to His sovereign decree. Speaking of His decree, if “the biblical text teaches that the lamb of God was slain ‘before’ the foundation of the world,” this may very well be a reference to the fact that those things God intends to happen via His eternal decree are as good as done. However, while some Bible translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NIV) have this reading, many others (e.g., NASB, ESV, (H)CSB, NET) recognize that the phrase “from/since/before the foundation of the world” more likely modifies the verb “written”, which jibes with the unambiguous Rev. 17:8.

In regards to the other examples, He revivified Aaron’s rod and briefly stimulated accelerated growth, presumably including the provision of necessary nutrients. He sustained Moses’ body either through supernaturally infusing it with the requisite nutrients, or perhaps he was quite literally energized from being in God’s presence. (Scripture says his face shone as a result of it.) Incidentally, Davis says that Moses also “apparently” went without sleep for those 40 days and nights, but there is nothing “apparent” about it from the scriptural text. This is just a possible inference. As for the water-turned-to-wine, no amount of time will turn mere water into wine. This reads like a true transformation miracle, so Davis’ hypothesis does not apply.

White Oak tree

Finally, the assertion that God created the first trees “in an instant” is a YEC assumption and not something clear from the biblical text. In fact, investigation into that passage about Creation Day 3 brings up questions about what sort of “vegetation”/”plant-life” was actually being described, though I won’t get into that here. Perhaps even more importantly, the wording does not allow us to be certain of how much time took place or how much natural-vs-supernatural activity was involved.

“Genesis 1:1 says that God caused dry land to abound with vegetation, not that all forms of land vegetation appeared at this early date. The Hebrew verb used in this passage (dasha) means “to bring forth” or “produce.” Some interpreters take this verse to mean that plants arose through natural processes. An equally accurate reading of the text says that plants arose by supernatural intervention. Any combination of divine intervention and natural processes would be an acceptable interpretation, from a linguistic point of view. In other words, this particular text makes no definitive statement about the extent to which God may or may not have allowed natural processes to produce plant life. The answer remains open to scientific determination.”  — Dr. Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis

Getting back to Davis’ questions, if the first trees were indeed created fully grown in an instant, or even accelerated to “adult” status in a matter of minutes or hours, what would the hypothetical woodsman have seen? I do not believe he would have seen tree rings or any other indicators of normal aging, because that would be a deceptive record of a false history, and God does not lie. Davis ends by asking, “Would not the tree bear some marks of a long passage of time because of its interaction with a timeless God?” Answer: Why would I assume that?

The point is, in all of these cases, it would have happened under otherwise normal conditions. No need to appeal to time acting all wibbly-wobbly. (My Whovian readers will get the reference.) Maybe I’m wrong. Davis may in fact be onto something. God certainly has the power to manipulate time or make it particularly sensitive to His presence. But, the standard way of understanding these events seems somehow simpler and more satisfying than introducing the concept of the time dimension acting oddly — even differently in its effects from event to event — in God’s presence.

Davis’ hypothesis also doesn’t explain why there is no biblical record of any other temporal anomalies in other instances of God’s presence (however muted) on Earth, such as during the rest of the 40 years that He led the Hebrews through the wilderness, appearing alternately as a pillar of cloud and of fire, or inhabited the Holy of Holies. I suppose Davis might argue that God simply chose not to let time do anything strange the rest of the, um, time. But, that introduces the idea that God actively did something rather than time just naturally(?) (re-)acting strangely in His presence. If God is directly acting, why not stick with the usual explanations?

* “antinomy” is a term used in logic and epistemology to refer to a real or apparent mutual incompatibility of two laws or truths; in Christian theology, it refers to an apparent contradiction in Scripture or theological doctrines/concepts

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More Alaskan and Offshore Drilling? Yesss!

“America’s central position in the global energy system as a leading producer, consumer, and innovator ensures that markets are free and U.S. infrastructure is resilient and secure.”  — NSS Report, Dec. 2017

Ryan Zinke and Donald Trump

The idea of U.S. energy independence — or even dominance — and its role in our national security strategy is not new — certainly not for the Trump administration. Candidate Trump campaigned on it. Back in June 2017, President Trump announced a rollback of regulations on energy production and development. The tax-cut legislation passed by Congress last month includes — don’t ask me where — verbiage directing the Interior Dept. to finally open up up to 2000 acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling. (This could bring in as much as $2.2 billion in lease sales over the next 10 years for just a relatively “little slice of tundra”.) And just last week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced “the new draft offshore oil and gas plan – next step public comment period.”

Right now, 94% of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is off-limits. The new proposal will make “over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.”

“The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s 5-year lease schedule….

Inclusion of an area in the DPP is not a final indication that it will be included in the approved Program or offered in a lease sale, because many decision points still remain. By proposing to open these areas for consideration, the Secretary ensures that he will receive public input and analysis on all of the available OCS to better inform future decisions on the National OCS Program. Prior to any individual lease sale in the future, BOEM will continue to incorporate new scientific information and stakeholder feedback in its reviews to further refine the geographic scope of the lease areas.”

Zinke added a note to try to allay the fears of certain parties…

“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

Acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank reminds readers that:

“American energy production can be competitive while remaining safe and environmentally sound. Public input is a crucial part of this process, and we hope to hear from industry groups, elected officials, other government agencies, concerned citizens and others as we move forward with developing the 2019-2024 National OCS Program.”

Environmentalists are not convinced, of course, and they use terms like “beyond reckless” and “radical…free-for-all”. That sort of alarmist hyperbole is expected from them, and it’s what their followers want to hear. But, a few Republicans are pushing back in part, as well. In particular, my own state’s Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio have expressed concern over the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and those areas closest to Florida. (I don’t know the specific issues, but I’m hoping that bipartisan efforts can determine a reasonable solution.)

This greatly expanded drilling into our natural oil and gas reserves can and will be quite a boon to local, state, and national economies. Plus, of course, there is the benefit of increased energy independence/dominance, as we will be increasingly less reliant upon, shall we say, less than desirable trade partners. For example, let’s look back to the ANWR drilling I mentioned earlier. As per Paul Driessen’s recent Townhall.com article,

“The U.S. Geological Survey and Congressional Research Service say it’s 95% likely that there are 15.6 billion barrels of oil beneath ANWR. With today’s exploration, drilling, fracking and other technology, up to 60% of that may ultimately be recoverable.

At $50 a barrel, that represents $460 billion that the USA would not have to send overseas; tens of billions in Alaskan and United States royalty and tax revenues; and thousands of jobs in oilfield, manufacturing and many other sectors.

After the IRS, oil company oil and gas royalty payments represent the single largest contribution to the U.S. treasury. Companies that produce from federal onshore and offshore leases pay royalties of up to 18% of wellhead prices, and then pay corporate taxes on profits and sales taxes at the pump. Workers pay income taxes, instead of receiving unemployment and welfare checks.”

I won’t attempt to summarize it here, but Driessen also explains why environmental activists’ predictions of dire consequences from opening up ANWR for drilling are inaccurate, inconsistent, and “absurd”. (Lots of good stuff in that article.)

If that isn’t enough, last month Heritage’s Nicolas Loris wrote an article for The Daily Signal in which, based on part of the administration’s recent NSS report, he briefly explained “five ways for the U.S. to improve its energy standing in the world.”

Reduce barriers: Use recent reports from the EPA and the Depts. of Energy and the Interior as “a useful road map to rolling back costly, ineffective regulations and expanding opportunities for new resource development and energy infrastructure.”

Promote exports: “Providing more energy choices to both producers and consumers will generate jobs and grow the economy. Expediting the permitting process for liquefied natural gas exports is a commonsense reform….”

Ensure energy security: “Government planning, quotas, subsidies, tariffs, and other market-distorting policies have promoted favoritism, not energy dominance. Competition and diversification can improve energy security….”

Attain universal energy access: The U.S. can and should use its full energy resources to not only “enhance the well-being of families and businesses across the country” but “be a major supplier to meeting energy needs in the developing world.”

Further America’s technological edge: Government favoritism (e.g., via tax codes or bailouts) stifles the type of technological innovation that “unlocks new resources, supplies affordable power, and generates new employment opportunities.” Such favoritism needs to end, so that a “variety of energy sources and technologies [can] provide Americans with dependable electricity and transportation fuels.”

It’s all tied together. There’s more, but you get the gist.

Seems to me that an expansion in ecologically-responsible drilling and free-market technological innovation in the energy industry are not only eminently possible but crucial elements for enhancing American lives, growing our economy, aiding our neighbors, and ensuring national security. This sounds like the beginning of another win for the Trump administration and for America.

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Another Year-End Top 10

In what has become something of a year-end tradition here at “A View from the Right”, my final post for 2017 is a “Top 10” of links (with associated excerpts) to posts from preceding years. (The first two even go back to 2010 and 2011, respectively.) The idea is to give readers — especially newer ones, but also those who have been following this blog for awhile — a sampling of past posts that I think are some of my better written and/or most timely (or timeless) topics. I also try to present a variety of science, religion, and socio-political topics. (I apologize in advance for my attempts at humor.) So, I hope you find something to read that strikes your fancy….

“Don’t Tax My Dew, Dude!”

“Some state & local governments want to take it upon themselves to, in effect, punish you for consuming something unhealthy by adding an extra tax onto things like soda, candy, and other sugary foods. Maybe even pizza! Cigarette smokers must be either crying or laughing their butts off. (Get it? Cigarettes… butts… Hah!) Of course, it’s pretty hard to convince people that soda & junk food are in the same league as cigarettes, as far as health risks go. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of these sorts of proposals, considering the First Lady’s efforts to bring attention to obesity in children. This is, in it’s own way, another form of Obamacare. (Though, in case you’re wondering, there is no such tax in the current Senate & House bills.) And, yes, it is mostly Democrats proposing these “sugar taxes”, but there are a few moderate Republicans, too.”

“Politically Incorrect Facts about the Mexican-American War”

“After winning its independence, Texas spent the next decade fending off attacks from Mexico, which refused to acknowledge [their] independence and abide by the terms of the treaty signed by President Santa Anna. Other nations recognized Texas’ sovereignty and advised Mexico not to try to take it back. Further, Mexico threatened to go to war with the United States, if the U.S. annexed Texas, which it did on Dec. 29, 1845. Between the annexation and other matters (including American presence in California and the Bear Flag Revolt), relations between the U.S. and Mexico continued to sour. After a more nationalistic administration came into power in Mexico City, things escalated and eventually led to a declaration of war in the Spring of 1846.”

“Aspartame: How Bad Is It, Really?”

“I remember reading or hearing something many years ago that said studies showed aspartame causes serious health issues, when consumed regularly. In fact, if you follow the various “alternative health experts” (online and offline) and the medical-industry conspiracy theorists, the FDA and the relevant corporations are in collusion to keep the truth from the general public, even though the product is blamed for anything from migraine headaches and obesity to various cancers and neurological disorders. I never really bought into the conspiracy theory, but the supposed health dangers were enough of an excuse not to drink diet soda with aspartame in it. Besides, it tastes nasty!”

“So, You Want to Learn about Old-Earth Creationism”

“Sometimes, I am asked to give reading recommendations (and sometimes I just volunteer them) about apologetics, often about Old-Earth Creationism (OEC) in particular. The individual might be someone relatively new to the OEC camp who needs a better handle on the various issues & positions, or s/he might be a non-OEC who earnestly wants to understand the view better. (As I have noted before, many people are unaware that a distinctly OEC school of thought exists. For others, it gets blurred with Theistic Evolution (TE) or the modern Intelligent Design (ID) Theory.) Either way, I first recommend that they access the free materials (i.e., articles and podcasts) at….”

“On the Ending(s) of Mark’s Gospel”

“In the post titled “Newsweek Tells Christians They Are Wrong”, I mentioned that one of the examples of biblical corruption brought up by Kurt Eichenwald in his anti-evangelical, anti-Bible screed was the so-called “long(er) ending of Mark” (16:9-20). Some have called the debate about this passage the most significant textual controversy in the New Testament. I pointed out that most modern Bible versions/translations have a footnote to the effect that those verses are not found in the earliest manuscripts. Of course, there are many other books about textual criticism and commentary that discuss the passage, too. This is an example of good scholarship and shows that conservative academics and Bible publishers are not only aware of this “corruption” but try their best to educate laypeople, as well. I have come across additional information on this topic, which I thought I’d relate here for the benefit of those interested in such things….”

“Unicorns in the Bible? Not a Problem…”

“This week, I decided to do a fun (but, it turned out, rather laborious) study on an issue that some Bible skeptics have used to mock or dismiss the reliability of God’s Word. You see, in nine different places in the Bible (Num. 23:22; 24:8; Deut. 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7), it refers to unicorns. One could assume that the author and his original audience knew they were mythical and merely used it/them for literary effect. But, many (most?) readers now tend to read those passages as if they are referring to real creatures. Of course, “everybody” knows unicorns are fictional, which would be further evidence that the Bible is a bunch of myths and fables, right? Well,… that’s exactly what I want to investigate here….”

“The Miller-Urey Experiment Is Irrelevant”

“From what I’ve heard, it takes years for new scientific discoveries and theoretical breakthroughs to make it into the textbooks, particularly when they disrupt the preferred “scientific” narrative…. Similarly, the popular-level science magazines and TV shows, while overhyping some discoveries, seem to forever repeat old theories, assumptions, and experiments, despite them having been disproven or, at least, cast into serious doubt by current research…. I’m not usually partial to conspiracy theories, and this may not even be a conscious effort on the part of many. But, it does occur to me that continuing to propagate old “knowledge” that supports metaphysical naturalism and/or evolution serves to keep the ignorant masses indoctrinated and intellectually invested in that idea, even once it has been discredited.

The iconic 1953 experiment by Miller and Urey is one such event that was invalidated decades ago, yet it is still taught as a significant discovery….”

“Sojourners Among the Hebrews vs. Illegal Immigrants in America”

“Joseph Presenting His Father and Brothers” – by François Boucher

“What is the compassionate thing to do, while still protecting U.S. citizens and making sure that our laws are respected and upheld? Should we deport millions of people? … Then there is the biblical angle. Christians want to do the right thing, according to God’s teaching. Loving our neighbor and all that…. Is there a parallel between the ancient Hebrew nation and present-day America? Even if so, is it appropriate to apply God’s covenant instructions for Israel to the current situation in the U.S.? Dr. James K. Hoffmeier, professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, weighs in….”

“Jesus Was NOT a Social Justice Warrior”

“Let us be clear. Jesus did not come to help us get along or teach us to take care of the poor or to restore ‘social justice’. To some, this assertion is a bold stroke, since they have been told just the opposite. This is because there are many noble people who are drawn to Jesus for his moral excellence (as they should be). However, often their admiration of his civic virtue has distracted them from a more important matter.

Their mistake is thinking that Jesus came principally to teach us how to live a better life. He did not….”

“Paglia on Democrats, Journalism, Islamist Terror, and LGBT”

“Liberal progressive. Atheist. Member of LGBT community. Pro-choice, feminist icon.

Given the above attributes, you wouldn’t think there was much for a politically- and religiously-conservative individual like me to agree on with Camille Paglia (silent ‘g’), writer of Sexual Personae and Free Men, Free Women. For the most part, that’s true. But, Ms. Paglia is one of those rarities on the Left — intellectually honest, iconoclastic, and willing to call out her own “side” for its inconsistencies, hypocrisy, and bad behavior. As such, her commentary is often quite critical and unexpected. Think of her as a politically-liberal cross between Tammy Bruce and Christopher Hitchens.

To demonstrate, allow me to share a few quotes from recent interviews Paglia did with Sean Hannity (on air) and with Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard (in print)….”

If anyone is interested, here are the previous “Top 10” list posts: “Celebrating 5 Years of AVftR (plus a Top 10)!”, “Top 10: The Sequel”, “Top 10: The Threequel”, “Top 10, Again”.

Have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see y’all in 2018!

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A Little-Known Fact About the Nativity Shepherds

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  — Micah 5:2 (ESV)

I was wondering what I might do for a Christmas-themed post this year and was struggling to find a good idea I could develop in time. Fortunately (providentially?), I was introduced to a video from a Christian ministry called Day of Discovery that has some information I wanted to share. Beginning almost 14 minutes in, co-host Jimmy DeYoung starts talking about his having done extensive study of biblical and extra-biblical Jewish writings and a fascinating discovery he made regarding the shepherds from the Nativity story.

It begins with the fact that, contrary to what some people have thought and taught, those shepherds were likely not mere “boys” but closer to 30 years old, trained as priests and given the special responsibility of caring for the sheep that are sacrificed at the Temple Mount. (You can skip the oddly-placed segment about the kibbutz house used for prepping movies and TV shows (~15:20-16:40).) DeYoung then talks about Migdal-Eder (aka “the Tower of the Flock”), a two-story, stone tower in the shepherds’ fields between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (Gen. 35:21). From the upper story, the shepherds — in particular, the chief shepherd — could look out over the flocks and spot any predators, etc. Along the outside of the lower story were mangers (i.e., food troughs) for the animals. Within the lower story was where the priestly shepherds would birth the newborn lambs. As DeYoung describes it:

“They would reach into the mother’s womb and pull this newborn lamb out. And then they would reach back and get some swaddling and [snugly] wrap that newborn lamb, because if it harmed its limbs in any way, it would be disqualified as a sacrifice. Once the lamb was wrapped, they would lay it up in a manger until it calmed down. Then they would take it, unwrap the swaddling, and let it run off to its mother for some food.”

Now, keep that in mind when reading Luke’s account of the Nativity shepherds:

“8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”  — Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

Baby Jesus in Manger (Jenedy Paige)

If DeYoung’s conclusions are accurate, then this truly is a fascinating discovery. It means that the shepherds understood very well the implication for the baby, this young “Savior”, to be “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” It was a sign that the child was the Lamb of God, Who would one day be sacrificed for His people at Passover. Imagine contemplating *that* revelation! (Since the Passover Lamb was also eaten after it was slaughtered, there is likely a connection here with the Eucharist (aka “Lord’s Supper”), as well.) It may seem shocking, but this was the goal all along for “the Word become flesh.”

“9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [i.e., atoning sacrifice] for our sins.”  — I John 4:9-10 (ESV)

We know from the Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed killed at Passover 30-some years later, but that isn’t all there is to the story. As I summarized elsewhere, “The Christ-Child grew into the God-Man, lived a morally perfect life, went about His Heavenly Father’s business — teaching, preaching, and healing — until He was betrayed, executed horribly and unjustly by the authorities, and raised Himself from the dead three days later, providing the only opportunity for spiritually fallen Men to be reconciled back to their Creator. And the world has never been the same since!”

Have a Joyous Christmas, as we remember the true Reason for the Season!

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A Concerned Plea to Scientists and Educators

“[Y]ou should not fool the laymen when you’re talking as a scientist…. I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is [more than] not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.”  — Richard Feynman, esteemed theoretical physicist, giving the commencement speech at CalTech (1974)

It has “only” been 20 years since it was published, but I finally got around to reading Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, one of Phillip E. Johnson’s follow-ups to his iconic Darwin on Trial. It’s a relatively short book, aimed at preparing young people to recognize and “protect themselves against the indoctrination in naturalism that so often accompanies education.” Johnson borrows from Carl Sagan when he exhorts “tuning up your baloney detector,… [having] a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure.” Light on philosophy and scientific detail (which were covered in his other books), Defeating Darwinism is for high-schoolers and college students, pastors and youth workers, parents, teachers, and “also scientists whose education didn’t encourage them to take a skeptical look at the claims of Darwinian theory.”

It is to these last two groups that the following excerpt is directed….

“When students ask intelligent questions like “Is this stuff really true?” teachers are encouraged or required not to take the questions seriously. Instead they put the students off with public-relations jargon about how the scientific enterprise is reliable and self-correcting…. When a teacher does try to take the objections seriously, the result is likely to be a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union or People for the American Way, plus bad publicity in the press. School administrators understandably capitulate and tell teachers and students to stop making trouble. In short, Bert Cates and Henry Drummond [i.e., a reference to the John T. Scopes and Clarence Darrow characters, respectively, from Inherit the Wind] have far surpassed their predecessors in using the tools of power to keep dissent from getting out of hand.

The situation is obviously unfair to the dissenters, but never mind that for now. I’m more concerned to point out to the scientific community how bad it is for science and for education.

Here is what I want to say to the scientists and educators: History has taught us that an established religion tends to fall into bad habits, and the same thing may be true when a scientific establishment starts to act like a governmental body with an official ideology to uphold. The price of having that kind of position is that you are tempted to protect your power and wealth by defending things you shouldn’t be defending, with methods (like doubletalk and intimidating threats of legal action) that you shouldn’t be using. These become bad habits, and they eventually lead you into massive hypocrisy and self-deception.

When you preach baloney detecting as the essential tool of science but make students turn their baloney detectors off when they get to the really important questions of origins, you convict yourselves every day of hypocrisy. You also lose the ability to think critically about your own beliefs, and eventually you set yourself up for the kind of embarrassment that destroyed Matthew Harrison Brady [i.e., the character in Inherit the Wind based on William Jennings Bryan].

There is only one cure. No matter how badly you want to bury the tough questions, you have to acknowledge that those questions really are too tough to be settled with misleading slogans like “Evolution is a fact” and “Science and religion are separate realms.” You have to admit that people have reasons for objecting to the materialist philosophy you are presenting in the name of science. If you are going to be educators instead of dogmatists, you are going to have to start dealing honestly with those objections.

You need to turn you baloney detectors on yourselves. It hurts a lot at first, but eventually you will learn to enjoy it. Trust me — I’ve tried it!”

This sounds like good advice for anyone, regardless of the subject, but especially for those tasked (and honored) with teaching and mentoring others. That is, assuming one thinks that truth and fair, honest representation of facts and ideas are important.

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