Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pushy Atheists and Weak Christians

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

       - G. K. Chesterton

What made me think of that Chesterton quote was an article, Atheists Debate How Pushy to Be, in the October 16 New York Times. The article reported on an early October Los Angeles Council for Secular Humanism conference of folks opposed to religion. Well-known heroes of the group are Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher. During the conference, such deep questions as, “How publicly scornful of religion should we be?” were dealt with. There was also discussion on “alternative ethical systems” that do not depend on any deity. There was tension and discord. Humanists interested in seeking common ground with religious people were accused of being “accomodationists” while the most militant atheists were tagged “confrontationalists.” It almost sounds like a meeting of a group of “religious” folks! (I think that is actually what they are.)

Of course skeptics get much of their energy and inspiration from religious folks such as Rev. Ronald Allen who, in an attack on homosexuality, offered us this challenge in a Letter to the Editor of The State Newspaper yesterday: “Think about it: If any word in the Bible is wrong, then every word in the Bible would be suspect, and the Bible would not be the word of God. But God cannot be wrong, and his word cannot be wrong, whether we like what it teaches or not.” I just can’t help wondering if persons who take such simplistic views of the Bible are reading it carefully and paying close attention to the words. I wonder if they are reading it looking for confirmation of what they already believe and completely missing or ignoring anything that challenges them because there are some deep, mysterious, apparently conflicting, and difficult-to-understand words in the Bible.  And such statements as Rev. Allen's make great fodder for the critics and encourage them to be even more pushy.

But back to the work of the LA anti-religion conference. Of course it is quite easy to have a system of ethics without any reference to God or religion. Any group of people can get together and decide what rules they will live by and what the consequences of breaking the rules will be. But, they, like many Christians, would be missing entirely the point that Christianity is not about rules and ethics. Christianity is about dying to oneself and giving up everything to be one with Jesus in loving service to others. If you missed that, go back and read the New Testament again and then join me in confession and penance. If all Christians really lived as Jesus calls us to live, it would take all the wind out of the sails of the atheists, humanists, and skeptics.  It would be a permanent fix for many of the world's problems. Shame on us for not doing just that.

I know this is a bit different from my normal political themes, but just blame it on The New York Times from whence the idea came.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Like Dick Cheney; We Have Some Things in Common

I like Dick Cheney and hope he can recover from his current health problems and continue as a patriotic public servant, loving father and husband, and generous benefactor. I am struck by some interesting parallels in our youths. He is about 20 months older than I but may have been a little less focused because he dropped out of Yale for a year as I was doggedly proceeding toward my degree at Vanderbilt in the standard four years.

We both got married in September, 1964, and have recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversaries. The Cheney's first daughter and our first son were both born in 1966, and we both just missed being drafted in the early days of the Vietnam War due to student deferments, automatic deferral of married men, and then with 3-A classifications which were available for men with dependent children or dependent parents. I didn’t go to college or get married or have a son in order to avoid the draft, and I doubt that Dick Cheney did either, though he has been accused of that. I think we both had much better reasons for what we did.

In those days, reaching age 26 put an end to eligibility for the draft. He got there in 1967 and I in 1968. By that time, the war was a big problem and had doomed the presidency of Lyndon Johnson who had insisted that the country could afford both “guns and butter” and who chose not to run for re-election in 1968. A lottery was instituted for the draft in 1969 and my brother born in 1950 along with a few million others of similar ages faced a much more serious problem and much greater likelihood of being drafted than Dick Cheney and I had. The draft ended in 1973, and the United States has operated with a volunteer force since then.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Only about 10% of all persons now living in the United States, men over 55 who would have reached age 18 before the draft ended, have ever faced the possibility of military draft. For those 300M or so who have never and hopefully will never see a Selective Service System Notice of Classification, here is what that scary little piece of paper looked like, front and back.

I’ve never regretted missing military service and think I would have made a terrible soldier in battle. But I would have done it if called. Dick Cheney would have done it if called also, and I bet he would have made a much better soldier than I. (I could segue here to making fun of his hunting accident, but I’m not going to. Lots of comedians and pundits and political enemies made hay with this near tragic accident, but I bet Dick Cheney lost a lot of sleep over it.) I recall a discussion with two good friends slightly older than I who had served in the military trying to tell me how great it was and what I had missed. I asked, tongue in cheek, what war they had fought in and of course they confessed that they hadn’t gone to war. I agree that the military can provide excellent discipline, mental, physical, skill, and job training, but as General Sherman said, “War is Hell.”

But back to Dick Cheney. He has a solid record of faithful and patriotic public service for most of his working years in Congress and under four presidents. He has loved and supported his family. He and his wife have apparently have been very generous with their incomes. In 2005 the Cheney’s had income of several million dollars due to exercise of stock options he had accumulated over time, but 78% of the money went to charity and an additional 6% to income tax. There’s no evidence that piling up personal wealth is a priority for the Cheney’s. I hope he stays healthy and happy for many years and tells us his own story in his own words. Publication of his autobiography was announced in June of 2009 and targeted for release in the spring of 2011.

Here are some links to supporting information for the above.

Book Announcement

Mrs. Cheney Interviews Mr. Cheney

2005 Tax Returns

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Inflation's Not the Problem (For Education and Health Care Costs)

The Key Club at Maryville High School in the late 1950’s was a service club with a goal of 100 service projects to be completed each year in order to be a candidate for awards at the Key Club International level. The pace had been established two years before my presidency by future Tennessee Governor and Senator, Lamar Alexander, and those of us who followed had no choice but to try to keep up the pace. It was a valuable leadership and management education experience.

Yes, that is yours truly, holding the Key Club Car Wash sign, probably in the fall of 1959.  Where are you going to get a good car wash for a dollar? And I think you can tell from the quality of that sign that we took the task seriously and were determined to do a super job. The local bus line owner had loaned us the high pressure spray machine and detergent he used to keep the buses clean. As I recall, the sign was painted on some cardboard from a refrigerator carton and had a wooden frame to keep it rigid and upright.

It is always interesting to see documentation like this of past prices. I don’t have the documentation, but, as I recall, tuition at Vanderbilt University where I enrolled a few months later was $450 per semester with total annual cost for tuition, books, room, and board around $2,000/yr. Now, in 2010, the total is about $57,000 a year. Well, that seems to have gone up a lot more than car washes, doesn’t it, because you can still get a pretty good car wash for less than $10?

The change in the Consumer Price Index  from 1959 to 2010 predicts prices 7.3 times as high now as then which would put student car washes at about $7.30, probably pretty close to reality, or Vandy costs at about $14,500/yr, a long way from $57,000. Something has clearly gone out of whack on the cost of higher education, and I bet it has something to do with tax money being pumped in for loans and grants and scholarships. I’ve blogged on this before, putting forth the quite reasonable opinion that money pumped in to a business by anybody other than the purchasers of the output artificially drives up prices. It’s happened in dramatic fashion in higher education, housing, and health care. We would have been better off if Congress had decided to subsidize car washes. We’d be paying $30 to get a bunch of kids to wash the car but would be able to send our grandkids to spend a year at Vandy for less than $15,000.