The older I get, religion for me becomes less about the assurance that God will protect and provide and more about the realization that there is nothing in this world worth holding onto anyways.
I recently read the 2020 book Jesus Politics by Phil Robertson. I like Phil. I’ve seen his various shows a little bit. He has really made something out of himself by hard work. He remains connected to nature. He speaks firmly the truth about sin and redemption, but does it in love. He is not afraid to take on the leftist activists who are always stirring up trouble. I saw through the lies people told about him years ago. That is why I found his book so disappointing. It seems like he is falling into some of the stereotypes.
Before I bought it, I somehow thought the book’s message was going to be one of giving up on looking to politicians to solve our problems and instead putting our energy into spreading the gospel. Instead, it is the opposite. Phil apparently thinks we haven’t been putting enough energy into getting the right people elected, and through negligence have allowed Godless politicians to take over.
There is much we agree on. We are both pro-life. We understand that the root of violence is not guns, but hate, and that broken families feed into this. We do not elevate nature over human needs. We are both skeptical of government-run health care. We are both sick and tired of the hateful attacks on public figures when some minor mistake they made twenty years ago is brought to light. We agree that we need to act with more mercy and teach truth gently. He rightly sees that in order to better society and spread the love of God, Christians must be free to speak about their faith and free to spend their own money to help others. By extension, we both believe in free speech and capitalism.
Where I have trouble is the sloppy thinking around what he thinks are the solutions. I am fully against any government-created obstacles that would hamper the advancement of the Kingdom, but I see an important difference between a government that allows advancement, and one that would attempt to aid such an advancement. You can’t legislate morality. Threatening people with state punishment for sins will not make them better people inside, even if they act better on the outside. It will also create resentment, which can lead to retaliation and even more sin. Depending on just what it is we are talking about, it might create an underground black market for sin. Finally, giving the government so much power to regulate our lives creates the risk that it will be used to encourage sin and punish righteousness when the sinners win in the next election cycle. Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.
Throughout the book, it is never clear whether he is talking about a government that allows advancement, or one that aids. He cites some examples of leftist overreach, where government was used against the Kingdom, such as the time a Christian baker was forced to make gay wedding cakes or lose his business, the time a Christian foster care organization was forced to recommend gay couples, and the time that a school was forced to remove from display a copy of the Ten Commandments that a previous graduating class had gifted to the school. On these, I am with him totally that we must put a stop to such injustice, but then he goes on to say stuff like this:
Speaking of Jesus, he says, “he asked us to bring the Kingdom into the world around us through every means possible, including, if possible, political means.” Do we bring forth the Kingdom or does God do it, drawing all men unto himself when we show Jesus? Are we to bring forth the Kingdom by sinful means? What does it mean to “render unto Caesar”?
He says that Godless politicians removed God from public schools. In some cases, they tried, but in most cases, they merely stopped inappropriately bringing him into it. Just as you would never go to a dentist to buy flower seeds, you wouldn’t go to a school to learn about God. That’s what churches are for. Schools are for math, science, and geography. The real problem is that there is no way that we could bring God into the schools that would be acceptable by Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and everyone else in the community. We shouldn’t be so arrogant to think we have the only correct model.
He says we should vote for politicians that will “promote policies designed to strengthen families.” Strengthen families? Or get out of the way and stop breaking families up? Families should never be allowed to become dependent on the government.
He says, “through politics the government liberalized sexuality, removing it from the confines of marriage.” Did government do that? Or did individual sinners do that while government did nothing to stop it? There is a big difference. He talks a lot about how no-fault divorce made our culture worse, but which is worse? A modern divorce? Or a spouse who commits abuse or adultery first in order to have grounds for a divorce they wanted anyways? Keeping people trapped in marriages does not make them better people. Only Jesus can make them better people.
I bought the book hoping for JESUS politics; what I got was Jesus POLITICS.
We should all know our purpose, yes. But for many of us, we will not know our whole life’s purpose until it is over. For now, living through to the next day is purpose enough. We would not expect a fetus to know of any greater purpose, why expect more of an adult?
I recently read The Sun Is Still Rising (2018) by Scott W. Rasmussen. The basic premise is that voting will not fix our problems, but community can.
Politics doesn’t work. Politicians are too spineless to act when there is a divided electorate and the regulatory bureaucrats that actually run things are unelected. This is a driving force in the rise of partisan conflict, as a quote from page 66 makes clear:
“Partisanship doesn’t matter so much when the formal government is a distant abstraction and we are generally free to live our lives as we see fit. It matters a lot when the change of government from one party to the other impacts our day-to-day life. It matters even more when nothing can be done to prevent the bureaucrats from imposing their own hand-book for redemption. The more that government assumes sole responsibility for governing, the more polarization will increase.”
The lessons of the book are that the public sector can be just as greedy as the private sector and that the private sector also regulates (governs) society through a network of clubs, businesses, and informal relationships. Rasmussen believes that the culture of America is basically good and that politics flows from culture. He has great hope that the politicians will eventually follow the changing attitudes of the people, but in the meantime we must solve our problems without government aid.
What are these problems and what are the solutions? It is never fully spelled out. Rasmussen hints that the poor can find food, shelter, and jobs through the actions of businesses, charities, new technology, and simply by being more connected and fostering community. He also mentions that the increased ability to move our home address creates competition between states for our business. Beyond this, there are only platitudes and vague assurances.
Of all the problems I care about and that make the news, ninety percent of them necessarily involve the government because the problem is that government won’t allow the private sector to do what needs to be done. Unless we get the government fixed first, there will never be any community solutions.
Furthermore, I don’t have the faith in the citizenry that Rasmussen has. I agree that politics flows from culture. That’s why I think our problems are only going to get worse. There are millions of people that demand it.
I also find it borderline comical how at his late stage in life he seems to have suddenly discovered what libertarians have known all along and he thinks it is something new. Of course the public sector is greedy! That’s why it was created. Of course the private sector regulates society! That’s called the invisible hand of the free market. The whole book reads like its author is an 18-year-old that has just discovered politics and thinks he knows everything. It’s not necessarily wrong, but there is no depth of insight. Even though women do it too, some would call it mansplaining.
Of all the chapters, chapter 11 was the most irksome, so I feel like I have to single it out for special criticism. It was a sloppy mess that only muddied the water around the conversation over states’ rights and the trouble with Trump. It was borderline dishonest.
Though I understand the terminology is problematic, there is a such thing as states’ rights and it has next to nothing to do with racism or slavery. The concept has been invoked in debates over gay marriage, abortion, immigration, the drawing of voting districts, the electoral college, prohibition, health insurance, taxes, and education. Just because at one point in history there were some that attempted to use the argument to protect slavery doesn’t mean we should do away with the term any more than we should ban cars worldwide because one guy once rode over a dog.
The idea that modern blacks distrust rolling back federal power because they think it means an increase in state power and they don’t trust the states not to revert to racism without federal checks is silly. The federal government is the sum of the people from all the states. They are no more trustworthy. Furthermore, the idea that blacks dislike Trump because he wanted to reign in federal power clashes both with the facts that blacks supported Trump more than any Republican since the sixties, and that Trump in some small ways wanted to increase federal power, even while shrinking it in other ways that would be beneficial to blacks (and everyone else).
The words in this book fed into the narrative the Democrats have been pushing that Trump is racist, without clearly saying it one way or the other. It’s irresponsible.
It’s not a bad book overall; it’s just disappointing.
I finally did it! I published another book. Here is the blurb:
Political rhetoric in America is getting scary. By now, most people have recognized the damage it does to relationships and seen how it can eventually culminate in riots. What is the cause of this? Is it the corrupt politicians? Is it the misleading news media? Is it faulty education? Is it miscommunication and misunderstanding? Is it the internet?
After conversing with a great number of people both online and offline over many years and thinking things through from every possible angle, I have come to the conclusion that most people actually like to argue. The problem is one of the heart. The real reason the civility movement in America failed is that Americans are not civil people.
This book is a continuation of the themes covered in my 2011 book, The Nutcase Across The Street, wherein I argued that by being too quick to give up on people we were allowing propagandists to divide us. Now I clearly see that no one is listening. There is no point in discussion. I might not have all the answers, but the first step to solving our problems is an honest assessment of what they are. That’s what this book is. It explains why civility failed.
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I recently read The Rational Optimist (2010) by Matt Ridley. What Ridley is so optimistic about is capitalism, while he still finds plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about other trends, such as overregulation by big government.
A quote from page twenty-one sums up the theme of the book:
“…ask how long you would have to work to earn an hour of reading light – say, the light of an 18-watt compact-fluorescent light bulb burning for an hour. Today it will have cost you less than half a second of your working time if you are on the average wage…in 1950…you would have had to work for eight seconds to get the same amount of light. Had you been using a kerosene lamp in the 1880s, you would have had to work for fifteen minutes to get the same amount of light. A tallow candle in the 1800s: over six hours’ work. And to get that much light from a sesame-oil lamp in Babylon in 1750 BC would have cost you more than fifty hours of work…”
The first half of the book is history from the time our lineage split off from the great apes. Apes might sometimes trade when taught, but only by giving away something they do not value for something they do, not by giving away something of value for something more valuable. Even our closest relatives, the now-extinct Neanderthals, appear to have traded very little and only used materials from nearby, whereas humans from the same time period were passing goods from tribe to tribe along trade routes hundreds of miles long.
According to Ricardo’s law of economics, so long as one can more efficiently trade one resource for another than make it oneself, trade will be advantageous, even if the ones harvesting the second resource cannot do so as efficiently. Thus, Portugal was happy to trade wine for English cloth, even though Portugal could make cloth more efficiently than England, because Portugal could make wine more efficiently still. Since trade that is free only occurs when all parties agree that they are better off after trading, free trade is always good.
Over the centuries, growing markets made reforms possible that bettered everyone’s lives. Repeat business on an everyday basis conditioned people to become fairer, eroded the advantage of theft and drove down crime, conditioned people to learn to risk trusting strangers (raising our oxytocin levels), provided the excess wealth and free time to make charities and advocacy possible, provided the incentive to invent and produce new technologies, and made cities and agriculture possible. Ridley briefly covers some rival theories about the origins of trade, cities, and agriculture before rejecting them in favor of his own.
Ridley also explains why for so many millennia progress was so slow. There were three enemies of progress: isolation, birthrates, and greed:
Some societies, such as those in Australia, became fragmented into small units with little contact with each other. Having to rely on their own experts to make the technologies they needed, there was a gradual loss of knowledge over time as masters sometimes died before they had taken an apprentice.
For most of human history, when there were surpluses of food and other resources, we simply made more humans. Family sizes increased until the land could no longer support the exploding population. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, this is no longer true. Instead, living standards are rising while family sizes are getting smaller. The world population is expected to peak at nine billion before plateauing.
Wherever there is wealth, there are thieves and con men. The most successful of thieves are governments which tax, rent-seek, and support monopolies. It is during times of centralized, unified government that living standards and technological progress stagnate. It is during times of geopolitical instability that these things flourish. Examples are given from Europe and China over the last thousand years.
The bottom line is that capitalism is good and will continue to be good into the foreseeable future. It has already ended slavery and animal labor as we have learned to make use of alternative energy sources. It has already lifted most societies out of poverty.
On the other hand, attempts to rein capitalism in over environmental concerns are misguided at best. The claim is made that organic food is worse for the environment because it requires more acreage to produce the same amount of useable crop; it is fertilizer that has saved us from a Malthusian fate. The claim is made that concentrating people in cities supported by specialized farms is a more efficient use of land than spreading people out the way we used to live. The claim is made that “renewables” are especially destructive, and that most “green” initiatives are very much anti-green.
A quote from page 239 and 240 sums it up:
“Wind turbines require five to ten times as much concrete and steel per watt as nuclear power plants…Hundreds of orang-utans are killed a year because they get in the way of oil-palm bio-fuel plantations…Not even Jonathan Swift would dare to write a satire in which politicians argued that – in a world where species are vanishing and more than a billion people are barely able to afford to eat – it would somehow be good for the planet to clear rainforests to grow palm oil, or give up food crop land to grow biofuels, solely so that people could burn fuel derived from carbohydrate rather than hydrocarbons in their cars, thus driving up the price of food for the poor. Ludicrous is too weak a word for this heinous crime…”
Finally, Ridley wraps it up by reporting on the state of pessimism. Every generation since Plato has thought that the world was getting worse, yet polls show most people are optimistic about their own lives. This is similar to a phenomenon I have noticed among churched people: They are so keen on encouraging each other to have faith that our prayers will be answered on a personal level, yet are convinced in their interpretation of prophecy that the world is going to get worse and worse and worse until Jesus returns. I don’t understand it. The state of the world is merely the sum of states of the individuals living in it.
Another line of thought I found interesting was when Ridley was discussing how ideas beget ideas when inventing new technologies. It might not merely be a function of need and the limitations of physics. There might be some sort of metaphysical structure to “ideaspace” that guides technological development. That’s something to wonder about.
Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends.
This alien creature lives in the thick, toxic atmosphere of a faraway planet. It lives off the radiation produced by dust grains it traps inside its body cavity.
It moves by pulling air through some of its thirteen valves and expelling it out of others. It can also rest on vertical surfaces by using its valves to create suction. Suction also allows it to pick up objects such as rocks to find the tastiest dust grains.
Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
If strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet, friends are just enemies you haven’t offended yet.
This starfish of the distant future has learned to walk on land. Evolution has flipped its body over so its mouth is on the top. Its arms end in callouses it uses to skitter across the hot sand. Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
All pithy bits of wisdom sound great until applied to real-world situations.
Most larger demons died within the first three billion years of our universe’s existence, but this diminutive flying demon has been wreaking havoc and causing mischief for fourteen billion years now. It is half a millimeter in width and can form plasma arcs. Its eye is inside its mouth and its veins spell 666.
Any temptation can be endured for short periods by even the least among us. Even the lightest temptations will break the strongest among us given enough time.
This alien ghost has one eye, one nose, and one mouth, each on a separate head. It is covered in question marks and cloaked in mystery. When unscrambled, the letters on its skin spell “Boo, boo, boo, I will eat you.”
Taking a break can sometimes help you get more done in the long run.
This animal uses its grooved flippers to hold on to the slippery rocks on the shores of its home planet. It is an air-breathing reptile that lives in salt water and eats mostly seaweeds, though it may rarely snatch up an odd crab or two.
It has poor vision, but partly makes up for this with the row of chemoreceptors on its upper lip.
When threatened, it will roll into a ball with its dorsal osteoderms facing outwards. Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
It is better to eat a burger made by washed hands than to eat a burger made by gloves that have previously taken out the trash.
It is better to look both ways before running a stop sign than it is to stop and go without looking.
It is better to obey the spirit of the law than the letter.
Millions of years in the future, some spiders evolve gliding membranes between their legs. Eventually, these surfaces become true wings and the first flying spiders terrorize the Earth. Their pedipalps become claws to hold onto tree trunks while resting. Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
This creature uses its multipronged tongue to lick up ants. When threatened, it can spit fire or whip around its hooked tail. Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
Do not ignore or belittle those of little power or influence. Small things grow.
This alien creature is actually a colonial organism of many individuals, not unlike the siphonophores of Earth. They share blood vessels and a digestive cavity. The individual on one end has a sucking mouth ringed by sensitive oral whiskers. The rest of the colony sport transparent sacks full of symbiotic algae. How they communicate and coordinate their movements is still poorly understood (I haven't made it up yet). Merchandise with this design is available in my store.
Every moment is unique. Every situation is unique. A door that was closed seconds ago may be open now. A door that seems open now may slam in your face as you attempt to enter. Persistence is no more a predictor of success than acquiescence, and adaptation is no more a predictor of success than stubbornness.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.