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Archive for August, 2012

This article on Slate (brought to my attention by my pal Ike Pigott) exposes the depths of idiocy to which certain of our citizens have sunk.

Under the headline, Let’s Nationalize Facebook, there is this summary sentence, Only then will the social network protect users’ rights and share valuable data with researchers.

Utopian naivete, your name is Philip N. Howard.

Ignoring the cornucopia of specious arguments and logical fallacies advanced by Mr. Howard in defense of this journalistic lobotomy, let’s cut right to the chase and address one central issue: the notion that we need to turn stuff over to the government in order to “make it better.”

There’s a certain class of people who have a deep and abiding distrust of the private sector. And while there will never be a lack of examples of bad behavior among companies that exist to provide services, create jobs, and make profits, the silly notion that an entity called “government” will magically do things better is the fruit of nothing more nor less than infantile, wishful thinking.

We all know that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. But this principle does not merely apply to the world of business. It applies to any group of people who exercise influence through power structures and control of purse strings.

The problem of evil is not corporate, nor is it a system called capitalism. It is humanity, in all its breadth. It is folly to believe anything but that (both potential and real) evil resides in the heart of every human. Any and all institutions (collections of humans) that have growing power along with declining accountability WILL, almost without exception, decline into corruption. That includes business monopolies, government bureaucracies, religious organizations, unions….the list goes on. The need, in every case, is a structure of accountability and checks-and-balances that brings necessary exposure and consequences.

Our government was designed to be “limited” for the very reason that people like Mr. Howard will arise in every generation. Under the cloak of “fair” is fear – fear of individual responsibility and/or freely-organized collective effort. Somehow, coercion and regulation is equated with comfort. News Flash: giving the government growing control to limit a free people is not the path to liberty. In which countries has that worked? Will inviting tyranny “protect our rights”? Why, then, did we even engage in the Revolutionary War?

The role of government is to provide the legal framework of checks-and-balances. Its proper place is in the role of law definition and enforcement. And even then, here in the United States, we have a structure within the federal government of checks and balances in order to prevent unjust behavior and rampant exercise of untrammeled power within the various branches. Because, you know, people love power. We’re intoxicated by it.

That is a framework based on the very realistic view of human nature shared by our Founding Fathers. They’d seen the corruption of unaccountable government power. You have to be willfully blind to the lessons of history to think that government is some sort of beneficial institution to whom we must default, as Lord and Savior, when things get a little scary out there in the real world.

“Someone needs to do something!” is the magic incantation that invokes the deity of government. As if that is the one benevolent dictator in the universe.

The notion that government control of Facebook would lead to better privacy is actually pretty funny – until you realize that some folks actually believe this type of notion. And do we really want government bureaucrats data-mining all the personal information on Facebook (because some bozo has now declared this barely-birthed company a “public utility”) for the sake of – research? Please. And, by the way, who gets to pronounce a private enterprise a “utility”? Do we really want any individual or group of people to have that kind of power?

Of course, I can just imagine how accelerated the pace of innovation will be once Facebook and other digital startups are being run by Congress!

The issue at hand is much larger than a suggestion to confiscate Facebook by government fiat. It’s a willfully-blind mentality about human nature and institutions. And a willingness to seek salvation from some benevolent-sounding tyrant because we don’t trust our founding principles.

Abe Lincoln talked about a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We are to rule the government, not the other way around. And it exists to protect our freedom, not to coddle the irresponsible and plunder the productive.

Let’s leave Facebook alone and instead, nationalize some common sense.

Image credit: Wikimedia

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Fish Out of Water

Beginning to read through Susan Cain‘s recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I was surprised to find, in the second chapter, that she addresses the discomfort an introvert may feel in modern evangelical Christian culture.

The main thesis of the book is that there is a strong tendency to over-value demonstrative extroversion, and a corresponding tendency to under-value reflective and quieter introversion. The inner wiring of introversion can subtly (or even overtly) be viewed as problematic, instead of a strength. I have felt this trend in many areas of life, including business (see Lisa Petrilli’s excellent e-book on the subject, The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership).

While I have felt like a fish out of water in some church settings, I hadn’t thoroughly connected it to the broader evangelical culture until pondering this (page 65 of Quiet):

Now I’m quite sure our Lord was outgoing, but to peg Him to a personality type and then use that as a screening tool for leadership effectiveness? I don’t think so (but I have felt that pressure)!

From what I have seen over the years, outgoing-ness and expressive-ness are valued more highly in church settings, both in the pulpit and the pew. The gregarious pastor, the energetic worship leader, the hand-raising parishioner – those whose faith more easily flows into outward expression often surround the quiet and reflective souls who are left silently wondering if their faith is somehow defective.

Last week, my wife and I were watching a DVD of Michael W. Smith leading a worship concert of thousands in Houston (Michael’s got “it” when it comes to up-front leadership charisma, though I suspect he also has a reflective side). I felt that pang of insignificance – how does my more one-on-one approach to people and life measure up to this type of public display? Answer: It’s not meant to. Michael is built for what he does. I’m built to reflect and analyze and question and reason and write and teach. Is one of these traits inferior? I have to believe not (but that doesn’t always stop the feelings of inferiority that introverts regularly experience!)

So I guess that’s the point of this rambling post. Measuring ourselves, and others, by some “ideal” personality type – let’s dispose of that. In life, in business, and yes, in the church. We need our extroverts; they bring a lot to the table. But introverts have some very unique and vital strong suits that balance out the inevitable weaknesses of those who lean more heavily toward speech and action and social engagement (and vice-versa).

I struggle to worship in the outwardly-expressive manner of many of my brethren. I feel like an alien trying to schmooze in noisy social settings. I sometimes feel like a fish out of water when I’d rather take a walk and think, rather than run off to some social gathering. But I’m OK with all of that. God made me to go deep, not necessarily wide. My personality, along with my navel, is an Innie, not an Outie.

I’m sure our Lord loves His introverts.

(Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may earn a few pennies if you click on them and buy the book!)

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We’re in the season when social media gets hot and heavy with opinions – sometimes blisteringly delivered – from people who passionately advocate for their political points of view.

Or social points of view. Or religious points of view. Pull it all together, and it’s your worldview.

I’ve always considered it a fallacy to embrace the old saw, “discuss anything but religion and politics,” because this implies a very truncated and unrealistic view of human nature.

We all have a worldview. And, it’s showing.

Some believe President Obama is something akin to a savior; others see him as the devil incarnate. Sprinkle in a wide range of viewpoints in between. Same person being discussed – but we each see through our own set of glasses. Same thing happened with Presidents Bush, Clinton, Reagan, and on and on.

I believe that everything having to do with the lives of Hollywood types is utterly valueless. Others spend hours per week devouring magazines and TV shows on the subject. We have very different worldviews about where value is found. I’ll tell you right now that I don’t get it, and that I think it’s a waste of time – but if I then write you off as a sub-human being, I’ve crossed a line of disrespect. Even if I firmly believe you’re “wrong” and can argue a really strong case for it!

You may turn out a light bulb because, by that small action, you feel like you are helping to save an endangered planet. There is an entire narrative of beliefs feeding that sensibility. Whereas, another person may turn off a light bulb simply to save a few pennies, while quite convinced that there is sufficient energy for the world’s needs and no real danger is posed by the consumption of those watts.

Same action. Very different worldviews. Very different core beliefs.

Our opinions are shaped by our worldview – how we see and feel about the world, its origin and destiny, its occupants, and the laws by which it operates. How we assess “right”ness and “wrong”ness. And undergirding our worldview are our (consciously or unconsciously held) core beliefs – our first principles. Our intuitive moral framework. What are religion and politics and social causes if not expressions of worldview?

Face it, folks – by and large, we don’t believe because we see. We see because we believe. That goes for naturalists and supernaturalists, of every stripe. <—-(this statement is an expression of one of my core first principles of belief. Don’t share it? Fine. Happy to talk. Respectfully.)

If someone shares our worldview, we feel an affinity. But what if, in the body politic of our society, we encounter others who have a very different set of assumptions, whose embraced narrative about reality differs from ours? What then?

Unlike those who think that religion and politics should be “off the table” as subjects, I advocate for an honest and consistent worldview, embraced with appropriate measures of both passion and humility. If Tim Tebow believes that Jesus has helped him, let him say so in any way that he prefers. No laws are broken. On the other hand, if a gold-medal winner wants to say, “All praise to Allah for my performance,” and another athlete wishes to say, “I did this all myself through my hard work,” and another says, “I didn’t build that – it was my parents and society and government,” and another says, “the stars were in alignment for me today” – whatever. Own your beliefs. Don’t be shy about your worldview.

And respect the fact that other people don’t share it. I’m not going to shut up about how I see the world because someone says, “Dude, I disagree with you,” or, “that belief system offends me.” If I say to you, “I believe that the world was created through random processes of mutations and unsupervised evolution (or, alternatively, it was created by a Supernatural Being),” then you are free to disagree and to state your beliefs (and vice-versa). And I’m perfectly free to express my worldview in a blog post, a book, TV interview, or a banner trailing behind an airplane. We live in a land of first amendment rights. However, if in a dialogue together, I say, “I understand where you’re coming from, but I find this particular aspect of your belief system to be distasteful and don’t want to discuss it further” – then the correct thing to do is to move onto other subjects. That’s being respectful in our differences.

Suppression of the expressed beliefs (even publicly!) of others isn’t the goal. Mutual respect is.

But here’s the other danger we face – denigrating stereotypes. All Muslims must be terrorists – or all Bible-believing Christians are dumb rubes – or all liberals are elitist communists – or all conservatives are greedy haters. The possibilities are endless. And if I’m associated with one or more of these labels, you might be tempted to lump me into a group of straw men that you can conveniently flail and then write off. Pretty disrespectful.

Because, ultimately, no matter which hot-button topics you try to avoid publicly, through your many words and actions and associations and tweets and status updates, your worldview is showing anyway. So put on big enough panties to express yourself clearly, debate others intelligently and forthrightly, learn about the glasses others wear, and make friends with those who may not share your first principles.

We all might learn a few things that way. Even while agreeing to disagree.

We don’t live in a theocracy. Or an atheocracy. This is America, where we can have possess our worldviews and speak of them freely. Thank God for that (or, don’t, if you prefer!).

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Landing on Another World

I can hardly imagine the nervousness at NASA today, as the rover Curiosity is due to land on Mars late tonight.

I grew up devouring science fiction. I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. The idea that we could create machines that escape our planet, land on another one, and ship back data is still breathtaking to me.

But, as with all Mars or Moon landings, this is no slam dunk. A LOT has to go right to get Curiosity (intact) onto the surface. One of my brothers is an engineer with a firm that designs parachutes for these space adventures. This is high-risk, complex stuff.

The drive to visit another world, and the technological brilliance required to design a way to “Make it so!” (gratuitous Star Trek reference for Jean-Luc Picard fans) is one of the curiously amazing things about how we, as humans, are created.

But it shouldn’t surprise us. We were created by a God who conceived and brought into being an entire universe (0.00001% of which we barely understand), and this Creator was perfectly capable of visiting us, on this Earth, in a form to which we could relate.

Curiosity may fail to land safely on Mars, or it may fail to function properly. Jesus, however, did not fail. It looked like a catastrophic crash when He was impaled on a cross, but that death had a purpose (the redemption of His people), and His rising from the dead and current reign over heaven and earth validated His identity as Savior and Lord.

If your idea of God is a Being incapable of intervening in His own creation, incapable of communicating with His finite creatures, incapable of providing redemption and forgiveness to sinners…well, then, to quote a book title from a few decades ago, Your God is Too Small.

It is a small but still amazing thing that we little humans can reach out to another world. Let it serve as a snapshot of a far greater visit to our world.

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