November 2011

Here’s your feel-good post of the day: evidently some scientists in the Netherlands have been reading some of the same novels as me, and decided to try to re-create the conditions that led to the events in the books. According to the London Daily Mail:

A group of scientists is pushing to publish research about how they created a man-made flu virus that could potentially wipe out civilisation.

The deadly virus is a genetically tweaked version of the H5N1 bird flu strain, but is far more infectious and could pass easily between millions of people at a time.

The current strain of H5N1 has only killed 500 people and is not contagious enough to cause a global pandemic.

But their are fears the modified virus is so dangerous it could be used for bio-warfare, if it falls into the wrong hands.

Virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands lead a team of scientists who discovered that a mere five mutations to the avian virus was sufficient to make it spread far more easily.

The research done was part of an international drive to understand H5N1 more fully.

Fouchier admitted the strain is ‘one of the most dangerous viruses you can make’ but is still adamant he wants to publish a paper describing how it was done.

By all means. Heck, maybe he should mail a copy of it to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and North Korea, just to make sure they don’t miss it among their usual reading material of People and Vanity Fair.

Paul Keim, chairman of [the U.S National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity], said: ‘I can’t think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. I don’t think anthrax is scary at all compared to this.’

You know, an idea this good should have a rockin’ soundtrack. I have just the thing:


As I noted in my last post on Occupy Wall Street and the religious left, there are some folks who seem to have a serious problem coming to grips with reality. Two article today on a different subject continue that theme.  One is from the World Council of Churches, and is entitled, “Religious voices advocate for climate justice at Durban.” The other is from Jim Lacey, writing at National Review Online, and is entitled, “Scientists Behaving Badly.”

The latter is a scathing summary of the latest release of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. In what has already been dubbed “Climategate 2,” the emails paint a devastating picture of venality, duplicity, and political calculation on the part of the most prominent international advocates of the theory of anthropogenic climate change (ACC). A few highlights:

Anyone still desiring to contest the assertion that only a few persons controlled the entire warmist agenda will be brought up short by this note from one warmist protesting that his opinions were not getting the hearing they deserved: “It seems that a few people have a very strong say, and no matter how much talking goes on beforehand, the big decisions are made at the eleventh hour by a select core group.” Over the years this core group, led by Phil Jones at East Anglia and Michael Mann at Penn State, became so close that even those inclined toward more honest appraisals of the state of climate science were hesitant to rock the boat. As one warm-monger states: “I am not convinced that the ‘truth’ is always worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships.”…

Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the core group at the heart of Climategate had no interest in “scientific truth.” As one states: “The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guide what’s included and what is left out.” In other words, let’s decide on a conclusion and then use only evidence that proves that point, discarding everything else. One scientist who seems to have been slightly troubled by these methods wrote: “I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it, which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”…

At one point, Jones admits that the “basic problem is that all of the models are wrong.” Of course, there is a simple reason for this. When the models do not show what the warmists want them to show, they simply apply “some tuning.” One scientist was worried enough about this “tuning” to write that he “doubt[ed] the modeling world will be able to get away with this much longer.” In this case, “tuning” means changing the model until it tells you what you want it to.

Lacey goes on to show that both the global press and governments were also in on the act, neither of which is a surprise. The London Daily Mail had a shocking article yesterday, for instance, that shows how completely in bed with the climate change hysterics the BBC has been. And American politicians, from President Obama to Al Gore to various members of Congress, have been pushing climate change for almost two decades as an excuse to get the government’s hands on ever more of the private economy, despite the increasing evidence that 1) warming has stopped over the last fifteen years, and 2) that much if not all of the increase in global temperature prior to that was a natural phenomenon.

Over at the WCC, on the other hand, climate change has been used as the bogus basis for a nonsensical campaign for “climate justice,” a faith-based movement that sounds an awful like like pretty much every other WCC political campaign of the last half century:

“This is the only home we have,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu referring to the crucial significance of our planet and its survival. He was speaking in an inter-faith rally in Durban, urging the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP17) to deliver a Fair, Ambitious and Binding (FAB) treaty to address climate change effectively.

The COP17 stars today, 28 November, in Durban, South Africa.

The inter-faith rally, held at the Kings Park Stadium on 27 November was the first event for faith communities in Durban, who have been preparing for COP17 since one year ago.

“We have faith!” proclaimed bishop Geoff Davies, director of the Southern Africa Faith Communities Environmental Institute, one of the key organizers of the rally. “Africa is a continent of faith, and we have come here together from different faith traditions to voice our moral and spiritual call for a paradigm shift. We call for climate justice now,” said Davies.

Among other faith leaders, the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, conveyed greetings on behalf of the churches, and sent a strong message to Durban, saying, “It is time for climate justice”.

And what is “climate justice”? I went to the web site of a WCC-connected “movement” called “Time for Climate Justice,” and was unable to find a definition of the term. There was this sweeping statement on the home page for which I was unable to find any connecting evidence anywhere else on the site:

Poor people in developing countries are suffering first and worst from the consequences of climate change, yet they have done least to cause the problem. This is an injustice.

The only real hint I was able to find regarding what would constitute “climate justice” was a short paper on “The Political Economy of Climate Finance,” written for something called Christian Aid, which essentially advocated massive financial transfers from developed to developing nations, financed by punishing taxes on corporations–the same thing that the WCC has advocated in response to virtually any economic, social, or political problem of the last fifty years.

So there you have it: an essentially socialist financial program justified by empty-headed but fervent faith in a scientific fraud. Yep, that sure sounds like the World Council of Churches to me.

UPDATE: Reader Dave Van is a cartoonist with a wicked wit. He drew this back in 2009 for COP-15, but it is just as relevant here:

We are experiencing a slow-motion version of being occupiers ousted from their camps.  You’ve heard the familiar lament about buildings being albatrosses.  At this convention you’re dealing with the challenge of affording health insurance for everyone who works for pay in the church.  As long as we understand our primary mission as preserving buildings, maybe we ought to welcome being tossed out.  The shelters in which we gather to worship are meant to be aid stations, like those tents here in Kiener Plaza.  We come together here to be fed for service in the world, to share a meal and be healed and remember the great dream of God, and then go out into the city or the countryside and do the same for others.  And all across this Church we’re beginning to learn new ways of gathering and of serving.

–Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori, speaking to the Missouri diocesan convention, comparing the Occupy Wall Street protesters being dispossessed of their (mostly illegal) camps with Episcopalians being tossed out of their churches, despite the fact that the denomination and its dioceses are spending millions of dollars a year on lawsuits designed to snatch property away from parishes that decide to leave the denomination

(Via Chris Johnson, whose full write-up is worth your perusal. Oh, and speaking of property, the Georgia Supreme Court issued two rulings this week, one of which involved the EPC congregation Timberridge Presbyterian Church, that are absolutely outrageous. Check out the analysis by lawyer A.S. Haley at the Anglican Curmudgeon for the details.)

In response to the post of my World commentary, reader Kyle Smith has offered a very insightful comment, which I urge you to take a look at before proceeding. His observations deserve a measured reply, and so I’ve put a bit more thought into this post than my usual fare.

First, let’s agree that Occupy Wall Street and its religious left cheerleaders are irrelevant. As Charles Cooke has observed, OWS is more about performance art than actually getting anything accomplished. The religious left, meanwhile, is hopelessly stuck in the 1960s, their only answer to America’s current economic and social problems being, “more of the same!” More Great Society, more government intervention, more regulation, more imposition of values that have been firmly and repeatedly rejected by most Americans, as well as most American Christians. That way lies madness.

But that is not to say that OWS and the religious left are entirely wrong. They have glimpsed the truth, but failed to understand it because of their Manichaen, us-against-them approach. You see, what ails America is not that it’s the 1% against the 99%. Instead, it’s the 100% against reality.

The reality is that every human being in his or her unredeemed state is selfish (in fact, even the redeemed continue to struggle with it their entire lives). Selfishness is a universal characteristic that none of us, no matter how idealistic or politically correct, can escape. Businesspeople, politicians, community organizers, college students, pastors, government bureaucrats, religious social justice activists, conservatives, liberals, moderates–all of us deal with the same problem.

Selfishness, in turn, manifests itself in a variety of ways. For some, it’s the mindless accumulation of wealth. For some, it’s running a company or a government without any regard for how one’s actions effect anyone. For some, it’s demanding that those who produce wealth subsidize those who don’t (this is what the OWS demand for universal free college tuition is about). For some, it’s about exercising power over others without regard to their well-being. For some, it’s the demand for the freedom to do whatever they want unless it immediately and physically harms another (this is what some forms of libertarianism are about). In all of these instances, and many more that could be adduced, selfishness is at the core of what’s going on.

At their heart, the problems of the American economy come down to this universal characteristic. Capitalism is founded on the notion that human selfishness can be used to bring benefits to an entire population, a theologically counter-intuitive idea that only works inasmuch as the economic system is not isolated for all the other functions and institutions of society as a whole.

In fact, capitalism is the one system that instead of trying to change our innate selfishness (because neither economic systems nor political ones can change human nature), seeks to harness it in such a way as to maximize the benefits of human labor for those participating in the system. This is the reason why capitalism works better than any other system of economic organization in the modern world–because it works with human nature, rather than against it.

But that hardly means capitalism is perfect. Because it relies for its energy on a trait that is sinful, it requires constant fine-tuning in order to mitigate the worst effects of that sin. Hence the need for at least some forms of state regulation, regulation that needs to change as circumstances change. Why state regulation? Because there is no other mechanism through which the values of the population as a whole can be expressed, at least in democratic societies.

Capitalism has earned the scorn of the religious left because the ethics and goals of capitalism are not those of the Kingdom of God. That’s inane, because most people are not Christians–they do not live according to the ethics of the Kingdom because they are not part of it, and to expect them to live by those ethics is an expression of what amounts to a kind of economic Pelagianism (which is to say that people can, if they simply choose to, organize production, labor, markets, and consumers in a way that reflects the Kingdom, even though they reject the One who has given us those standards). In other words, the religious left wants the economy to function as if only saints ran it, and when it doesn’t, they insist that the government–which last time I checked wasn’t run by saints either–should step in and bring the Kingdom of God about. Needless to say, that isn’t going to happen.

At the same time, the religious left, like OWS, is not entirely wrong. The poor do need to be cared for, the powerful do need to be restrained, and the forces of human selfishness do need to be prevented from doing harm where possible. But here’s the thing: I don’t claim to have all the answers to how to do that, and I feel reasonably sure that Jim Wallis, the National Council of Churches, and the social justice bureaucracies of the mainline churches don’t have all the answers, either. What I do have that the latter worthies seem to have lost, however, is a healthy understanding of human sin, its pervasiveness in all areas of human life, and its annoying tendency to muck up pretty much any plans that we have for bringing about the Kingdom of God on our own.

Sin–expressed in selfish attitudes, actions, and ideologies–is the reason why corporations do things that hurt others. Sin is why politicians do things that betray their offices. Sin is why protesters make stupid demands and do things that are seemingly designed to undercut their message. Sin is what we are up against, and sin is not something that we can legislate away, nor is it something that the market can fix, nor is it something that we can defeat with enough activism. So what should the churches be doing?

They should be faithfully carrying out the mission God has given them, and bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of human existence, including the economy, the government, politics, etc. But that means bringing the gospel into the lives of those who live and work in all of those realms. The gospel and its ethics cannot be imposed on people who don’t share them. As has been demonstrated repeatedly, however, by Christian businesspeople, Christian politicians, Christian social workers, Christian teachers, Christian accountants, Christian stockbrokers and money managers, Christian union leaders–in fact by Christians in every walk of life–when the people of God live as such within their innumerable contexts, the effect on society as a whole can be electrifying.

I’ve got another post that I’m working on, but I just ran across this at Hot Air, and had to pass it along. Seems that Planned Parenthood of New York City wants you to be able to spread the gospel of baby-killing even at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but recognizes that “I’m thankful for the right to kill children before they become a burden!” probably doesn’t have the right ring to it. So they offer these tips for a more propagandistic Turkey Day feast:

The holidays are upon us! Going home or getting together with relatives for the holidays is always a stressful time, but if your family members are the type who regularly protest outside the local Planned Parenthood, you know that this holiday is going to be a doozy.

Luckily, we have some tips for surviving those awkward conversations. So read on, and bring some diplomacy and understanding to the table along with that pumpkin pie.

1. Avoid bumper speak talk. A slogan might work for a poster or a button, but in a conversation it just leads to a heated back and forth. Try to steer clear of catchall phrases—they very rarely lead to common ground or change anyone’s mind.

I’ll agree with this one. That makes it all the more important for those who care about life to know what they’re talking about when they engage those who are not so minded.
2. Remember the big picture. Debating when life begins or whether or not abortion is federally funded may get you nowhere. Instead focus on your shared values and the big picture—for instance, talk about how you believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the doctor, or how the decision about when and whether to become a parent is a personal one. You never know, you just may find yourself actually agreeing with your relatives.
The “big picture” is apparently not about whether a human life is being snuffed out, so that it will never be able to join the family around the Thanksgiving Day table. No, it’s actually about health insurance, or radical individualism.
3. Know your facts, but keep the conversation more global. It’s good to clarify misinformation—for example, the misconception that emergency contraception ends a pregnancy—but staying there can cause a fight. Instead, try to clarify, and then transition back to the underlying value of why you believe what you do.
By all means, know your facts, especially the ones Planned Parenthood would rather you didn’t know. (For instance, that a fertilized egg, even before implantation, fits the definition of life, and that it’s genetic code makes it human.) But by all means, get to values, such as the value of allowing a person to be born even if that person’s existence will be an inconvenience or burden to his or her parents.
4. Create a space for the listener. Ambivalence is normal. Reproductive health is not a black and white issue, and there is no one right or wrong way to feel. Be open and accepting of other people’s personal views, and instead focus on the distinction between your personal beliefs, and what should or shouldn’t be imposed on others. For example, “I might not personally choose to get an abortion, but I could never decide for another woman whether or not she was ready to become a parent.”
Create a space, but don’t ever concede that a view that says abortion is wrong is valid. Take note of the false tolerance here: “I would never impose my views on another woman, but if that other woman believes that abortion destroys a human life, she had better not act on it in a way that effects anyone else. Only I can do that.”

5. Learn to diffuse. There are some debates you’re just never going to win, and not all questions are created equal—in fact many are designed to start a fight. Instead of getting caught in the weeds, try to recognize when a question isn’t a real question, and transition back to what you feel is the bigger picture:

Question: “I don’t want my tax dollars going toward abortions.”

Response: “Actually, because of the Hyde Amendment, tax dollars can’t go toward supporting abortion. But I do believe that everyone deserves access to basic, preventive reproductive care, and that it’s important we support those services. No one should ever have to choose between paying rent and buying birth control.”

In other words, learn to obfuscate, part of which is learning to use language in an Orwellian fashion that will misdirect your interlocutor into thinking that you are talking about something entirely different.

6. It’s all in how you frame it. In so many of these political disagreements, when things get heated we revert back to bumper sticker slogans instead of really talking about an issue. Instead, take a few deep breaths and try personalizing the issue, or evoking empathy.

Oftentimes it’s easier to dismiss abortion or other health care procedures as “bad” when it’s framed as a political issue. But when you’re talking about an individual woman making a personal decision, it’s harder to just write off. Also keep in mind that everyone doesn’t have to feel the same way about an issue to find something to agree on. For example:

  • A woman may have an abortion for any number of reasons. Some of these reasons may not seem right to us, but even if we disagree, it is better that each person be able to make her own decision.
  • I can accept someone’s decision to end a pregnancy, even if I wouldn’t make the same decision myself.
  • There’s just something about pregnancy—everybody has feelings about it. Each circumstance is different, so we should respect and support women and families who must make life-altering decisions about whether or not to have a child.
  • We can try to imagine the heartbreak of a family when they get the news that a test has shown there is something wrong with their baby.
  • Ultimately, we all want healthy, thriving families and that is why we need policies that respect our ability to make thoughtful decisions and support us in our roles as caregivers and breadwinners.
In other words, it’s all about how you spin it so as to deflect attention away from the one being killed to the one who is “exercising her rights.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.
7. Know where you stand. It’s easier to talk about what you believe in if you know what you believe in and why beforehand. Ask yourself why you believe that reproductive rights, or sex education, or health care, are important, and you might be surprised at how universal your reasons are. For example, you may believe that sex education is important because you feel it’s the best way to protect young people. Or you might believe abortion should be legal because you could never make the decision about when someone else was ready to become a parent.
I agree with this one as well. We should know where we stand, and why, and be able to articulate it in a winsome, convincing way that also exhibits integrity–something about which Planned Parenthood knows nothing.
I can imagine the table talk based on these “tips” now, but I finished dinner a short while ago, and am having a hard enough time keeping it down just reading this. So you’ll have to fill in your own blanks here.

For those who may not be able to hear World magazine’s weekly radio broadcast “The World and Everything In It,” here’s the commentary I offered this past weekend, complete with links to the quotes:

The political movement called “Occupy Wall Street” has become well known for its radical economic and social agenda, the law-breaking behavior of many of the protestors, and the support it has received from many Washington politicians and big-city mayors. What is less known is the support OWS has been receiving from left-wing Christian organizations and leaders.

For example, Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, perhaps the best known spokesman for the American religious left, recently wrote in the Huffington Post that “When they [OWS] stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus. When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus. When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.” The president of the United Church of Christ, Geoffrey Black, compared OWS with Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, writing, “Jesus was expressing a spiritual yearning for economic justice and outrage at individuals and systems that exploit people.” Meanwhile, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church put out a statement saying “the growing movement of peaceful protests in public spaces in the United States and throughout the world in resistance to the exploitation of people for profit or power bears faithful witness in the tradition of Jesus to the sinful inequities in society.”

Piffle. What OWS mostly seems to stand for is the desire to get one’s hands on what other people have earned, using the power of the state to do so, with as little work involved as possible–the very antithesis of the self-giving, self-sacrificial love of Jesus. The misuse of the name of Jesus to baptize Occupy Wall Street is evidence that for much of the Christian left, the primary mission of the church is no longer the spread of the gospel of Christ. Instead, the political agenda of the far left has become a substitute gospel for those who, in the pursuit of an unbiblical fetish for “equality,” would impoverish us all, spiritually and morally as well as economically.

Remember, you can hear the whole program or selected segments of it here. Oh, and I’ll be doing these about once a month, so I’ll let you know in advance when the upcoming ones are ready for broadcast.

Washington attorney Anna Batler writes on “faith, feminism, spirituality, and religious identity” for two different Jewish web sites, and has a column today at the interfaith site Patheos that takes on the story of Noah and the flood. The title, “Toying with Genocide,” probably tells you all you need to know, but let’s go a little further:

My daughter is not even two, but she already has several books and toys bearing the Noah’s Ark motif. The books and toys are produced by “all American” brands such as Fisher Price, and they include everything from plastic animal pairs to a book about the acceptance of difference—that explains that there is even room for cockroaches on the ark.

The presence of these books and toys in my young daughter’s world is disturbing when considering the story of Noah’s Ark. It is not a story that resonates with contemporary values. The flood is a chilling narrative of Divine retribution for human imperfection. Except for nine people, and two of each land animal, the entire inhabitance of our earth perished in a hopeless flood. Reinventing this particular narrative feels wrong, like we’re condoning God’s actions. In particular, the contemporary value of inclusion is utterly at odds with this story of utter exclusion. There was no room for us on the ark. The image of a child playing with Noah’s Ark ought to be a jarring one. Why isn’t it?

Why are we so complacent with this story that we decorate our children’s nursery with images that recall the eradication of almost all life? Perhaps it simply the hundreds of years this toy has been with us?

I mourn for the drowned earth. [Emphasis added.]

Me, I mourn for a conception of God that insists that the One whom the Passover haggadah repeatedly calls “Creator” and “King of the universe” is bound by our “contemporary values” and subject to having to pass muster with Washington lawyers.

The story of Noah is, among other things, about the radical holiness and righteousness of God in the face of human sin. It is also about the grace of God, who would have been well within His rights to have destroyed all of humanity, but who saved Noah and his family for the purpose of bringing eternal blessing to His creation. To suggest that God is guilty of “genocide” is not only blasphemous, but insists that the One who gave us all life has, in the act of creation, somehow surrendered any right to dispose of it in accordance with His perfect standard of righteousness, and must now be bound by our  “contemporary values.” That would include, presumably, the “value” of “inclusion,” which is simply another way of saying, “include everyone of whom I approve, based on my politically correct standards rather than your Neanderthal ones.”

So by all means, Ms. Batler, don’t “condone” God’s actions–but when it turns that it’s you in the dock, rather than Him, don’t look for mercy to be given by the One from whom you demand justice.

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