Politics: September 2007 Archives

Imprecatory Prayer

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Justin Taylor had some great posts not too long ago on imprecatory prayer (i.e. praying against someone). I was particularly impressed by Crying for Justice. The main difficulty is that these prayers occur throughout the psalms (and elsewhere in the Bible), and yet they seem to offend modern moral sensibilities. Justin gives three approaches people have taken that minimize the role of imprecatory prayers in the Bible and why those views are misguided:
1. Imprecatory psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed or confessed as sin (C. S. Lewis, Walter Brueggemann).

2. They are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics (Roy Zuck, J. Carl Laney, Meredith Kline).

3. Such words may be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him (James Adams, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Justin gives a brief but good account of why all three views are unsatisfactory and offers a better approach that takes these psalms as legitimate prayers in certain contexts, even if such contexts are more rare in contemporary North American life. I won't repeat his reasoning, but I think he's right.

I think it's worth thinking through the possibility that love and hate are simultaneously possible and in fact even good in certain contexts. We assume that love and hate are opposites, and thus love for enemies requires not hating anyone. But there are clear biblical statements of hate for people, which Justin in an earlier post explains and defends in the context of loving enemies. Augustine's way of thinking through this issue has seemed to me to be the best way to work together these two seemingly contradictory themes. Love is our obligation, always, to any human being, whether we see the person as an enemy or not. With respect to the gospel, no one is our enemy. Everyone is a person in need of repentance. At the same time, we ought to hate evil, and people can be pretty evil. Everyone is evil in some significant ways, and we ought to hate what is evil in people.

This isn't just hating actions that are bad, since actions aren't all that makes us bad. Evil is within us, worked into the very fiber of our moral thinking, our character, our hearts and minds. We ought to hate that in anyone, and that does mean hating individual people with respect to the things in them that are evil. But what is redeemable, what will still be there if the person is transformed by God's grace, is always lovable, is always worthy of love. We aren't worthy in ourselves, without God, of any love, but what remains of God's original work (and something must, or regeneration would actually produce a new person, with the original ceasing to exist) is good. What God will do in transforming someone's mind and heart is good, and that is worth seeing as deserving of love. This is so even with the worst persecutors of Christians. Consider the example of the worst of such persecutors in ancient times, Saul of Tarsus, who was so transformed.

Skipping Debates

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I thought the leading Democratic presidential candidates were being petty, politically stupid, and morally unjustified when they refused to participate in a debate co-sponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus a few months ago. I will say the same for Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, and John McCain for refusing to appear at a PBS debate hosted by Tavis Smiley that will focus on minority issues. Tancredo doesn't surprise me, I would say that I doubt he has a race-sensitive bone in his body, except that most of his language on immigration seems designed to appeal to those who very much are race-sensitive but in the wrong direction. Rudy Giuliani does have some episodes during his tenure as mayor of NYC that he may not want people like Al Sharpton haranguing him about. Maybe Mitt Romney is worried about Sharpton continuing his criticism of Romney for belonging to a religious institution that used to be racist. (Doesn't Sharpton support Planned Parenthood?) I can't think of any reason why Thompson and McCain are doing this, and I'm not impressed on the moral level by any of the reasons the others might give, even if it's psychologically understandable.

There is nothing wrong with having a debate that focuses on certain issues. There's nothing wrong with appearing before questioners who will ask you difficult questions, even loaded questions with immoral assumptions. The point of a debate is to be able to answer such people, sometimes answering what's wrong about the questioners' assumptions. Several commenters at the post I linked to above are saying that it would be stupid to show up at a debate where it's clear the point is just to lambaste Republicans for their policies, where everything is framed in terms of trapping them into saying things to make them look foolish to minority voters. But if they can't handle themselves in that kind of environment, then they deserve not to get any votes from minority voters.

There's a reason black voters tend to vote 90% Democratic, and it's not because black people are inherently Democratic or because Republicans advocate policies that are so obviously anti-black that no decent black person would vote for a Republican. There are enough intelligent, well-meaning, and sincere black conservatives to disprove such a ridiculous notion. The real reason, I believe, is because Republicans are typically bad at explaining why they think their views are actually more in the interest of blacks than Democratic policies are, and that's because many Republican candidates simply haven't thought through the issues they need to think through to make that case but have adopted extremely simplisitc justifications for the very policies that I think could be justified much more carefully when the issues are framed differently, in ways that many black voters might be more inclined to listen.

Republicans don't have the easy out of simply supporting some politically correct policy that doesn't accomplish all that much in terms of real social progress. Liberals, just by supporting affirmative action and other band-aids, can get away with not worrying about dealing with the actual wound, because liberals tend to get black votes as long as they don't advocate anything terrible. Conservatives have to work much harder to get black voters, so they need to explain why conservative views are actually more in line with what blacks and other minorities want for this country (as I think is actually the case, at least on some issues, so I think it can be done and just isn't).

When the four leading presidential candidates from the GOP skip out on a debate that would give them the chance to do that, it gives fuel to the myth that Republicans are all racist or at least don't care about issues that affect non-whites. But then it makes me wonder if candidates who would skip out on a debate like this are the ones to make that case.

WIC and Breastfeeding

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Regardless of what you think about the legitimacy of social welfare programs, it's nice to find one that's somewhat responsible, focused on a real need, and hard to abuse. Food stamp money can cover candy, soda, lobster, and steak. It can be used for entirely name-brand products. It has no regard for whether its funding gets used for expensive or unhealthy products. The WIC program, on the other hand, limits its benefits to foods that contain nutrients that are particularly lacking in the diets of those in the target group. Like most government programs since welfare reform, it requires some earned income or a somewhat reasonable exception from working. It has separated checks for certain kinds of food items with the exact amount of food it will cover and a price limit for the check. It's not hard to get name-brand products for some items as long as you get cheaper brands for some, since the entire check is what matters, but it's usually impossible to get the most expensive products for all the items on a check.

It's therefore more than a little disappointing to see people issuing false charges against the WIC program merely to score points for a more general political thesis (one that in general I think is at least in the right direction). David Freddoso of The National Review Online claims that WIC's provision of formula for infants is encouraging moms not to breastfeed. Anyone actually familiar with WIC would know that this is stupid. WIC provides free food for moms who breastfeed, and those who get formula can't get that. Once the baby is born, the mom goes off the WIC program unless she breastfeeds. How exactly does that encourage using formula? WIC does provide something for such infants so that they do get something, but the benefit of food for the mother only comes if she breastfeeds.

Also, no one on the WIC program can get their checks without hearing constant reminders by WIC dieticians at every visit that breastfeeding is healthier and without seeing the ever-present posters throughout WIC clinics recommending breastfeeding. It's ridiculous to claim that WIC is encouraging the use of formula merely because they provide it as an option to those who don't follow their recommendations. Their recommendations are so very clear to anyone who has ever visited a WIC office. Those on the WIC program are largely from the group that is least likely to breastfeed, and the WIC program has been targeting this group with the message of the benefits of breastfeeding.

But Freddoso (and his supporters in the comments here) seem to want to pretend that they don't do that in order to treat all government programs as if they can't ever do anything right. Whatever you think about tax money used for social welfare, it isn't a good idea to criticize such programs as ineffective or as causing the wrong results if you've got the facts wrong and that programs is actually doing what you would prefer them to do (given that there are going to be such programs, anyway).

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