Friday, December 18, 2009

President Obama and the Just War Argument

Though President Obama's decision to "surge" in Afghanistan should not have been unexpected by the American public, I was grieved to finally hear the announcement. I was surprised -- and happily -- that he enunciated a defense of the military efforts there in terms of the classic "just war" theory because it seems to me that we Americans always assume our wars to be "just" simply because they always seem to be defending "our freedoms" or "our way of life." In other words, we rarely question our nation, and we do so only on the most selfish level. Even protests against the Viet Nam war for the most part only dwelt on the issue of whether or not America had some kind of national interest at stake, so that if we did NOT have a vested national interest, then we should NOT be fighting in Viet Nam.

Such an explanation flies in the face of classic "just war" arguments. One of the primary qualifications for "just war" in those arguments is that the war CANNOT be fought for selfish purposes.

So, again, it was good to hear our President articulate a logical defense of his decision to surge. In part, it was good to hear because it may become clearer to all of us that this war and the one we are fighting in Iraq are indeed NOT "just." We are invaders in foreign countries; we are attempting to spread our empire; we are not fighting by just means. Thus our wars are not just, according to "just war" theory.

For an insightful analysis of President Obama's speech on the surge, see this short piece by Professor Stanley Hauerwas:

"Peace on earth." (unidentified angels)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Death Panels

Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, yada yada yada -- people claiming that the proposed health care reforms include "death panels" have gotten some folks pretty upset, including some people pretty close and dear to me. They cannot understand how I could support the reform of our health care system when it includes death panels = the plan to kill of the elderly because their health care would cost the system too much.

Now, I have to admit I'm insulted that someone would think I was in favor of such a proposal, since I do love my parents and want them to live as long as possible, so long as THEY are happy with their quality of life!!!! To be honest, I want them to live longer than that, but they've talked to me over the years about not wanting to live out the end of their days hooked to machines in a hospital room. It's hard for me to talk to them about it, but they have "no heroic measures" clauses in their living will statements. I will be very hard to convince that we should "pull the plug" (even writing that makes me shudder) at any time when there is still breath in them. But they have already made some decisions, far ahead of time, about their desired quality of life. And they've forced me to think about those issues for my own life as well. And though I love my parents, my siblings and I may at some point have to make some very, very difficult decisions. But we will do that with full consideration of my parents' wishes.

That being said: it is insulting to me for someone to claim that I -- or in general people who favor the reform of the American health care system -- want to kill off our parents because we don't think their lives are worth paying to preserve. But that is how some of the hate-mongers in our country have portrayed this effort, including Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. They are lying and they need to repent.

Is it even logical to think that the people who are promoting this reform all want to kill off their parents? I mean -- they're not teenagers! It just makes no sense to think that they want to do that. And they don't.

On the other hand, maybe they just don't know what's in there! Maybe the wicked writers of the bill have hidden the "death panel" provision somewhere in there, and since the bill is so long (so they criticize), people who are promoting it haven't even read it! They're just ignorant, and the wicked Obama-wizard wants to keep them that way so he can kill old people.

Ok -- really? The bill is out there for public viewing. But it's so nice and easy to assume Palin and Beck are right (because, after all, they're conservatives, and they are Christians!!!), and to attribute horrid, horrible motives to the "liberals," so, well, it MUST be true.

So I decided to check into it myself. Here's what I found.

The bill that was passed by the house ("America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009," available at has a provision in Section 1236 (pp. 438-443) for a "DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM ON USE OF PATIENT DECISIONS AIDS." This is the provision that has been construed as the attempt to establish "death panels."

A "patient decision aid" is defined as:

an educational tool (such as the Internet, a video, or a pamphlet) that helps patients (or, if appropriate, the family caregiver of the patient) understand and communicate their beliefs and preferences related to their treatment options, and to decide with their health care provider what treatments are best for them based on their treatment options, scientific evidence, circumstances, beliefs, and preferences.

So, what this program intends to do is to make sure patients fully understand their treatment options and have thought through them based on their OWN BELIEFS AND PREFERENCES. Now, having been a cancer patient over the last year, let me assure you of how important this is! I'm grateful for the treatment I received, but I admit I have been surprised a time or two during the process because I did NOT understand all the implications. I wish I had had better information, information I could understand, and had been able to think through it all better. But I was so overwhelmed by the thought of having cancer, and the treatment options were of a wide variety, and I just couldn't get my head around it -- and in part I didn't want to. I just wanted to get it over with. Thankfully my wife had her wits about her throughout the process, so I had good guidance even when I didn't have a clue what was going on. But I've wished I'd understood better, and this provision is trying to accomplish just that sort of thing.

And it wants to do so by establishing "a shared decision making demonstration program . . . under the Medicare program using patient decision aids to meet the objective of improving the understanding by Medicare beneficiaries of their medical treatment options."

The section says: "An eligible provider participating in the program shall routinely schedule Medicare beneficiaries for a counseling visit after the viewing of such a patient decision aid to answer any questions the beneficiary may have with respect to the medical care of the condition involved and to assist the beneficiary in thinking through how their preferences and concerns relate to their medical care." Death panel? Get real.

Now, I can see how the phrase "shared decision making" could spook someone. But here's how the bill defines it:

The term ‘‘shared decision making’’ means a collaborative process between patient and clinician that engages the patient in decision making, provides patients with information about trade-offs among treatment options, and facilitates the incorporation of patient preferences and values into the medical plan.
If the test program is established (i.e., if the bill is signed into law), it is ordered to create a final report within a year of its end. That report must "include an evaluation of the impact of the use of the program on health quality, utilization of health care services, and on improving the quality of life of such beneficiaries." In other words, the intent of the program is to make sure people understand their treatment options, make sure their own beliefs and wishes become part of the treatment plan (so that the doctors can't just push for their own preferred treatment), and in general to try to improve the quality of life of the patients.

It is NOT A DEATH PANEL. Its intent is not to counsel someone to end their life, or to tell someone that their life has become too expensive for the system to maintain. Anyone who tells you different either has not read the bill or is lying.

Some folks have insisted that this provision will result in the government sending out "little blue pills" (i.e., "suicide pills") with instructions to old folks that they have to take it because the government will no longer pay for their health care. People who make such outrageous claims are using scare tactics and lies to manipulate the elderly and the already "anti-liberal" into protesting against this reform effort. That's just plain wrong.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Observations on the Health Care Argument

I posted a link on Facebook for people to petition the Democratic Congressional leaders on behalf of the Public Option as part of health care reform. (Yes, some are afraid they're going to abandon it.) So, though I just post these things for people who would want to follow up if they want or to ignore if they don't (I even said that in the post!), some people can't resist commenting/arguing. And the comments seemed to go on and on, and all while I wasn't looking. So, here's a few observations that are specific to comments already posted there on my Facebook wall. Feel free to read. Or ignore.

  1. Jesus died in a political execution. To claim he had no interaction with the political systems of his day is not only to miss that fact, but also to miss the fact that he borrows not only the words but the program of the OT prophets. See his statements in the synagogue in Luke 4, for instance. A thorough study of the concept of the “kingdom of God” will also lead to the prophets and to concepts of justice and mercy.
  2. “The poor you always have with you” was not a social program but an observation about the continual injustice of political (and perhaps economic) systems.
  3. To observe that the present system can be abused, and to argue that a reformed system might or will also be abused, is not an argument against reform.
  4. To argue that we can’t get a perfect system is also not an argument against reform, but better understood as a warning that the process will likely take a long time and go through several stages.
  5. Since capitalism is a conscious effort to eliminate ethical input into the economic system, and Marxism is an effort to put ethics INTO the economic system, it can be argued that Marxism could (if truly employed – which it has never been) is more ethical than capitalism. So, to label a reformed system as “neo-marxist” isn’t an argument against reform of the health care system to make it more ethical. It plays well in Oklahoma as a scare tactic, of course.
  6. As James pointed out, we’re already paying for health care of people who don’t have insurance. But putting some insurance regulations in place has the intention of keeping the costs down for everyone. It will not be free to anyone, except those who are verifiably unable to contribute. The intent of the program is to have everyone contribute and everyone benefit. Certainly good stewardship is important, but from a Biblical perspective no stewardship that excludes justice for the poor would be called “good.”
  7. If we exclude WWJD from the argument, then, yes, we end in moral relativism. I think Harold is right about that. If we don’t have divine input into our ethics, then we’re just making it all up, and then the strong get their way and Mao was right: “truth is found at the end of a gun.” Oh – but that’s pretty close to what we have going right now!
  8. Speaking of stewardship: Jesus statement about giving to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s needs to be understood as the best gag Jesus ever pulled, since Jesus knew, and his opponents there SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, that in reality none of this stuff belongs to Caesar, but it all belongs to God. So Jesus walks away unscathed -- no doubt scratching his head and wondering how his good Jewish opponents could have missed that one. Now, since it all belongs to God, we have to think pretty carefully about what we do with it. I don’t expect our government to be Christian in any way, shape or form, but I do want it to be more just.
  9. Final comment on justice: while we tend to define it as “getting what one deserves,” in the OT prophets (and even in the Psalms) “justice” is equated with taking care of the helpless: the widows, the orphans, the aliens. So, in essence “justice” in the OT means “acts of mercy.” See Isaiah 1:17, for instance, or Psalm 71:1-4.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beating up Jesus

Pat Boone has recently written about several statements made by President Obama. (You should read his column on the website [] before reading my comments.) At the top of Boone’s column you’ll find the following statements from Mr. Obama:
"We're no longer a Christian nation." - President Barack Obama, June 2007

"America has been arrogant." - President Barack Obama

"After 9/11, America didn't always live up to her ideals."- President Barack Obama

"You might say that America is a Muslim nation."- President Barack Obama, Egypt 2009

Boone then states: “I keep wondering what country be believes he’s president of.”

Now, a political column by a 1950s pop star would not normally be worthy of comment, except that I have seen it passed around with great approval by Christians, and by some that might be considered prominent. Unfortunately, there are some real problems with Boone’s comments – both logical and historical.

First of all, Mr. Boone needs to pay attention to the context of President Obama’s comments. Meaning is derived from context, and Boone has excerpted these remarks out of their original context and placed them alone at the head of his column. If I were to do the same to Boone’s column, I might comment quite truly that Boone wrote, "Damn the United States ! I wish I might never hear of the United States again!"

Or further, it could be truly stated that Boone makes a case for the US being a Jewish nation. Yes, read his column and you’ll see it.

Boone also refers to the story by Edward Everett Hale, “A Man Without a Country,” but tells it as if it were really true. He begins by saying it is one of his favorite stories, but then recounts the movie version in which the main character, Philip Nolan, damns America. Boone remarks: “The stunned silence in the courtroom is palpable, pulsing. After a long pause, the judge soberly says to the angry lieutenant: ‘You have just pronounced your own sentence.’”

Um, Pat – it’s fiction! I’m glad it moves you to tears, but it has no bearing whatsoever on reality. And people who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality . . . . Oh, nevermind.

But the fiction continues as Boone asks President Obama: “Just what country do you think you’re president of?” And this because, according to Pat, “America is emphatically a Christian nation, and has been from its inception!”

Uh, really? You mean the nation that arrogantly committed genocide on the original residents of “our country,” many of whom continue to live in poverty on “reservations”? And the history of the “reservations” in my state of Oklahoma is more than enough to make you want a dictionary definition of the word “reservation,” or at least wonder if it has any concrete meaning at all!

Do you mean the nation that imported and enslaved Africans for a couple of centuries, and in which civil rights were only for white people until the 1960s, and in which those civil rights for black people had to be won through long and difficult battles? And the nation in which bigotry is still rampant?

And Pat – aren’t you a citizen of the nation that also invaded Viet Nam and fought an unjust war there? And secretly bombed Cambodia? And . . . . And . . . the list could go on for pages. Sorry, Pat, but I cannot accept your arrogant claim that America has not been arrogant. BTW: “imperialism” probably equals “arrogance.” For the record.

For which of these actions do we get to be called “Christian”? If I understand the Bible much at all, it seems clear that the nation of Israel was condemned by its God because of its injustices, especially toward the weakest members of its society (the orphans, widows and the foreigners). Can we hope that we have done better? I think not.

But Boone goes on to claim that 70% of Americans claim to be Christian. I suppose that could be true. It will, of course, depend greatly on which poll numbers you accept. At any rate, it’s interesting to note that Boone was once a member of the Churches of Christ but was essentially run out because of his beliefs in spiritual gifts. He can now be seen on some of the Christian cable channels from time to time. You might think he would be a little sensitive about Christians who refuse to accept the faith of others who call themselves Christians. Hmmmph. Nope – he questions the Christianity of Obama’s home church in Chicago, the Trinity United Church of Christ, and asked if that’s where he got the idea that America has been arrogant. So, let me get this straight: Boone is arrogantly asking if Obama’s church, which Boone (arrogantly?) has a difficult time calling “Christian,” is the place where Obama learned that America is arrogant. Got it.

So, does that mean that any church that believes that America has been arrogant is no longer really Christian? If so, Pat, you probably just severely cut into your percentage of Christians in America, since many American Christians are black. Given the American history of racism – and isn’t racism inherently arrogant? – and since most American political leaders in our 200 plus year history have been white – seems to me almost impossible to make the claim that America has NOT been arrogant! But in Pat’s view, that would make me not a Christian, so my view will no longer count.

I’m also pretty sure Boone would not accept the “Christianity” of Thomas Jefferson, nor of most of the other “founding fathers,” most of whom had Deist beliefs. Jefferson even published a version of the Christian Gospels that edited out everything that was in any way miraculous, believing all that to be mere superstition. So, for Jefferson, there was no virgin birth, no resurrection, no miracle of any kind. Jesus was just a really nice guy and pretty good moralist. Mr. Boone, would you call him and his Deist friends “Christian”? Highly doubtful.

Of course, those who want to claim that America has always been a Christian nation will tend to overlook the Deist doctrines of the Founding Fathers and point to their alleged “Christian morality” and the idea that the basic ideas of our republic are Christian ideas. An interesting concept, but not demonstrable. Tell me: where in the Bible do you find any talk of “rights”? There is only one passage – 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul the Apostle speaks of the rights he could claim based on his status as apostle, and then clearly states that he has given them up! So, if we Christians are to follow the Biblical pattern concerning rights, not only can we not fight for them, we must give them up! There is no talk anywhere in the Bible about “basic human rights,” or about any “rights” that are “unalienable.” So, while I would argue that Christians should indeed value human lives God has created, to think about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as “rights” is to go outside of Biblical language and concepts. Further, if you believe that “life” is a right, then you cannot justify killing someone to gain that right. To do so would be a self-contradiction. But that is precisely what our Founding Fathers did in the Revolutionary War. So, apparently “life” is only a “right” if you are not standing in the way of my pursuit of happiness. Can the concept of setting aside “life” in favor of “pursuit of happiness” be found anywhere in Christian scripture? No. So, the “Christian principles” of the Founders only guided them so far – to the extent that such “rights” might interfere with their economic pursuits. Not very Christian, I’d say.

Moving on: it is almost laughable – ok, it is COMPLETELY laughable – that Mr. Boone attempts to educate the former law professor about American legal precedent. Talk about arrogance.

Boone also asks President Obama: “Did you not ever read the statement of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and an author of the landmark ‘Federalist Papers’: ‘Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers - and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation - to select and prefer Christians for their rulers’?”
Fair enough. I’d bet my last dollar Obama has not only read, but dissected and taught about the Federalist papers. But we might ask of Mr. Boone: why does this particular opinion of one man continue to matter? If it does, we should do away with the Bill or Rights, because Federalist Paper no. 84 argues that we don’t need it. So, while the opinion of John Jay is important for constitutional law, it is indeed nothing but one man’s opinion. John Jay’s opinion that we are a Christian nation was his pipe dream, nothing more.

Further, since Mr. Boone is presumably speaking as a Christian, we might ask if he can provide any support for Mr. Jay’s statement from Christian scripture. For Christians scripture is supposed to matter more than any other document, even more than the Federalist Papers, so we ultimately have to ask whether Scripture supports the idea that we Christians have the duty to elect Christian rulers. Of course, the answer is no. The viewpoint of the authors of the New Testament, as a whole, is that governments are always pagan and evil, so Christians should have very little to do with them. Certainly the New Testament authors do not envision a “Christian government” or even a “Christian nation.” So, trying to tell us that Christians have a duty to elect Christians to public office, while perhaps now and then a good idea, is certainly an error.

Boone also quotes some statements from the Quran about killing infidels, jihad, etc. Mr. Boone, an opponent of Christianity could also point to passages in the Christian Bible that, for instance, tell the Jewish people to commit genocide on the inhabitants of Palestine (book of Joshua), and pronounce a blessing on those who slam babies of the Babylonians against rocks (Ps. 137). Of course, Mr. Boone might reply that those statements are in the Old Testament and are not directed to Christians. Fair enough. Consider, then, Galatians 5:12, where the Apostle Paul wishes that those who are trying to force Galatian Christian men to circumcise themselves would go a step further and emasculate themselves! So, wishing ill on one’s enemies is not just a Muslim concept.

Furthermore, historically Christians have been quite well treated in areas ruled by Muslims. Unfortunately, the reverse has not been true (does the word "Crusades" mean anything to you?). So, despite Boone’s citation of the Quran coupled with his reference to some contemporary nations which are ruled by “conservative” Muslims, his insinuation that all Muslims want to kill all Christians, or that Muslim nations always persecute their Christian citizens, cannot be upheld. It is simply more right-wing scare-tactics. I would be willing to bet that Boone has never consulted a contemporary Muslim scholar to hear how they interpret those passages in the Quran. I would advise him to do so before he starts throwing around charges of hate and violence.

It should also be noted that Boone’s citation of a Supreme Court decision of 1892 is a fabrication. It’s not Boone’s fabrication, but he has propagated an error that is commonly found in writings that seek to prove the United States is a Christian Nation. Information on the proper citation can be found by clicking on the following links:

As you’ll see, the statement quoted by Boone occurs in a State of Illinois Supreme Court case, so at best would only be binding in the State of Illinois. But, since it is making a statement about the nation as a whole, it is not really rendering a judgment even on Illinois. Again, it is just the opinion of some of the judges in Illinois in the year 1892. It is not binding on our nation as a whole, and is in fact irrelevant.

What Boone (and others) seem to want is something that never has really existed: a Christian United States. Mr. Boone, the America you imagine never existed. You are, therefore, a citizen of a non-nation. Please move back there immediately.

If you do wish to stay here in the real world, we would love to have you contribute to our conversation about how we can all get along in this nation and in this world – all of us, including the Dutch and the English, as well as the Native Americans, the Korean Americans, the Chinese Americans, the Japanese Americans, the African Americans, and the variety of our citizens and immigrants who happen to profess the Muslim faith. But Pat, if you wish to be part of the conversation, you will be required to do better research, think more logically, and speak more politely to other conversation partners. A “power play” by which you try to “take America back for Christians” not only has no historical foundation, it is simply one more episode of attempted coercion by Christians, one more example of hate by professed followers of the Son of the God of love, one more episode that gives Jesus a black eye. Jesus doesn't need to rely on Muslims to beat him up -- his own followers have done a pretty good job.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thursday, January 01, 2009

________________ New Year!

I'm afraid to fill in that blank. Those of you who know me at all know I have a real tendency toward the morbid, or at least the cynical. But as I sat and watched the Rose Parade this morning -- go figure -- there I was greeted with a stark reminder that events like the Rose Parade are just the facade some of us use to cover up reality: watching the Sesame Street float waddle down the Pasadena Boulevard, while overhead a B2 bomber glided by and the crowd went wild with cheering at this "awesome sight," this awesome display of death-technology, empire and American military supremacy. The camera left the parade temporarily to focus on the plane, while the commentators praised our soldiers for their sacrifices in "defending our freedom."

Now, back to Sesame Street and Pasadena Boulevard.

I'd already been perusing the BBC headlines, noting that scores had died in a night-club fire in Thailand while celebrating the new year, that Israel had killed a Hamas leader in one of its airstrikes (along with several members of his family), that Israel was refusing to honor the French proposal for a cease fire that would allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, that Russia had shut off the natural gas pipeline into the Ukraine, that the Taleban killed 20 policemen in a raid in Afghanistan, and so on and so on.

I also remember an email I received just yesterday containing pictures gathered from soldiers serving in the fields of both Afghanistan and Iraq -- showing the conditions in which they're spending their "holidays" -- with a reminder that they're sacrificing to protect our freedoms.

How easily people forget that the wars we're fighting were based on lies (Iraq in particular), and that we are the invading, conquering force (well, "conquering" could be disputed) -- that we have disrupted and ended countless lives, many and perhaps most of them INNOCENT of enmity against us, and that in reality there were no real threats against our freedoms. Yes, Sadaam Hussein was an evil man, just as many other national leaders are throughout the world. Yes, Osama bin Laden struck at us and we lost about 5000 lives and two large buildings. The tragedy of those actions should not be minimized -- there were great personal losses; families were broken, lives were lost.

But at the same time, it takes a large and effective propaganda machine to turn those actions into "threats against our freedoms." I guess I could admit they were threats against our freedoms if we also classify mosquitoes as "threats against my blood supply." The American institution and economy are far too large to truly be threatened by those actions, tragic as they were. Our institution and economy, and indeed our freedom, were not really threatened by those actions. What those actions accomplished was this: we got ticked off. They triggered our revenge instinct, so we saddled up and headed out to (in the words of Wiley Miller) "shoot the gol-durned varmints." In other words, we felt that our collective manhood had been called into question, so we had to stand up tall, pound our national chest and launch the weapons. As the first president Bush had said: "As for the manhood question, I'll put mine up against his any day." (I have no idea what he really meant. :-o)

I do know that on an individual basis our soldiers really have given up a great deal to be where they are rather than being at home with their families, and that some of them end up sacrificing their lives. The tragedy there breaks my heart -- but more so because of the lies that underly these sacrifices. I grieve over those losses, just as I grieve over the losses in the Gaza strip this last week, and the losses suffered by both Iraqi and Afghan families. I pray for peace.

And I pray that truth and justice will prevail. Only through truth and justice will we ever approach peace. "Peace" without truth and justice isn't really peace -- it's just a temporary lull in the violence that will resurface at some point when the lies and injustice become too much for people to tolerate.

I also know that as a nation (generally speaking) we want peace. But we become convinced that war is necessary. We become convinced of that idea because we believe the lies, and because we become comfortable in our little corner of the world, and because we think that (generally speaking again) justice really does reign everywhere except for places so remote from us and our reality that they really don't count. In other words, part of the function of the propaganda machine is to convince us that we don't need to worry about those "odd places" where people feel oppressed -- or that we should worry about them only when our comfort seems to be directly threatened. Believing the lie is easier than going after the truth.

Truth is the first casualty of war -- so goes the adage. But further: war is the end result of lies. And one more: Satan is the father of lies.

May we seek truth. May we have a truthful New Year, and may it move us closer to peace.