Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • “Obamacare Thinking” and the Ebola Crisis

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:36 am, October 17th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    My father, a CPA and an attorney, used to tell me, over and over and over again, “You get what you measure.”  This is an accounting adage that refers to the fact that the company that focuses on gross sales may get huge gross sales, and yet no profit.  If a company focuses on profit, they may make them, but at the expense of growth.  You get what you measure.

    I recently spent a good deal of time in an airport restaurant surrounded by doctors returning home from a  convention of some sort.  One thought struck me as I listened to their conversation – “These are not professionals.”  When I was a child physician and attorney were considered the highest of professions.  And yet these conversations were not learned men discussing the limits of knowledge in their field and how to advance it.  They were not discussing how to save more lives or invent new techniques.  They were discussing insurance coding and receivables timing.  They were discussing procedures for insurance filing and how to maximize payment.  These were clerks, not professionals.  They were not exercising judgement based on a great reserves of knowledge and expertise, they were trying to figure out their place in a vast bureaucracy.

    Physicians are no longer professionals, they are ordinary labor in an immense third-party payer system of which Obamacare represents the acme of current evolution.  This system and thinking did not start with Obamacare, but it certainly represents the pinnacle of such an approach in the United States.

    Think about the much discussed second nurse.  Clearly her professional judgement thought it might not be a good idea to get on an airplane, or else she would not have called.  But trained and paid by the bureaucrats, when they told her it was OK to fly, she flew.  The narrative around the Ebola crisis is not one of the valiant professional seeking to control virulent disease, rather it is one of protocols, procedures, and systems.  It is the narrative of a bureaucracy, not a profession.  It is the narrative of how Obamacare handles a health crisis, not how professionals would.

    Obamacare has set the measurement for medicine – procedures, codes and protocols, and that is what we have gotten.  It currently appears to be failing us.

    Lest the reader think I have left the religious roots of this blog in the dirt, there is a religious tie-in.  Christianity represented something quite unique from Judaism.  The Judaism of Christ’s time was a system of rules, procedures and protocols to achieve goodness.  Christ came and preached a message that goodness cannot be achieved merely by following the rules, but that real fundamental change in a person has to happen for the rules to even have a chance.  How that change happens is supernatural and too theological for this blog, but the idea is remarkably parallel to the difference between labor fitting into a system and a professional.  Labor tries to follow rules and procedure; a professional uses his or her judgement which has been developed through education and experience.

    Leaving faith behind as our nation “advances” is having consequences far beyond simple moral decline.  Absent the predominant Christian thought that founded the nation, we no longer think in terms of individuals reaching their highest potential, we think of the rules and procedures for each individual to achieve their place.   In this case, because we have turned medical professionals, everyone really, into mere labor there are simply too many moving parts for the system to respond with the speed it needs to in a crisis like this.

    You want someone to blame for the Ebola crisis?  Blame modern areligious thought and the Obamacare it has wrought.

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    Staring At Evil or What Makes the U.S. a “Christian” Nation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:27 am, September 11th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    The nation is unhappy.

    This is an anniversary date  on which we should remember the evil that was enacted upon us and the justice we brought to the world.  Instead we find that many do not remember (because they were not taught) and the evil is closing in on us once again.

    The president tried to turn that mood around last night and failed, utterly.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of memories and disappointments.  Hugh Hewitt rounds up just a small sampling of the disappointed reaction to the president last night.

    No wonder we are unhappy.

    Much of the failure of this administration lies in its inability, perhaps unwillingness, to recognize some essential tenets of the American character.  These tenets are deeply rooted in Christianity; they are in large part what makes us a Christian nation.  I can hear The Left screaming charges of “theocracy” right now.  Nonsense , this is not about theology in any serious fashion.  Those of us on The Right look at the moral/social place we find ourselves and wonder if we really are a Christian nation anymore.  I would argue that in many important ways we still are.

    Americans recognize evil when they see it. Christianity recognizes evil when it sees it.  We don’t parse it, we don’t split hairs, we name it for what it is.  In order to fight it, you have to look it square in the eye and recognize it.  We believe evil can be redeemed, but generally there is a penance to achieve that redemption.  Without the penance, we can never be sure the evil will not return.  This is not theological (Evangelicals and Catholics will argue eternally about the role of penance) this is practical.  Practically speaking you do bad, you suffer consequences so I can know you have learned not to do bad again.  You don’t renounce the bad, the consequences keep coming.  This president truly does not get that.

    Americans worry about more than just themselves.  Christians are commanded to do this.  Few passages galled me more in the president’s address last night than this one, “American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves,….”  In other words, “Not my problem, really.”  That is remarkably self-centered, even selfish.  In the preceding paragraph of the speech was this gem, “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,….”  In other words, “Evil does not really matter unless you perpetrate it on me.”  Well, you know, we weren’t gassing Jews here in America way back in the day, so why did we bother with Europe?  It was the Japanese that hit Pearl.  We fought in Europe because it was the right thing to do.  But then if the president cannot recognize evil, then he cannot really recognize “right” either.

    Americans die for others, we do not ask others to die for us.  That, dear friends, is the heart of Christianity.  While Obama committed an entire additional  475 troops to non-combatant roles, John Kerry bragged about the “40 nation coalition.” (Talk about herding cats!)  Inherent in every action taken and proposed by the president is an effort not to spend American lives.  No one wants to see an American die, but it is honorable and good, even Godly, when they die in defense of what is right – in the destruction of evil.  But then again, you have to recognize evil to get that.

    No wonder we are unhappy.

    But we will not stay unhappy for long.  Americans hope, and Christianity is the source of our hope.  We will get through this, and eventually we will be accorded the opportunity to rebuild this great nation and to put evil back into its dark places.  Despite this administrations best efforts, we remain rooted in our hope in the ways I have just described and so many more.

    We will be happy again.

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    The Ugliest Statistic

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, June 26th 2014     &mdash      1 Comment »

    The Wall Street Journal:

    In the first quarter of 2014, GDP in the U.S. plunged at a 2.9% annual rate, and productivity—the inflation-adjusted business output per hour worked—declined at a 3.5% annual rate. This is the worst productivity statistic since 1990. And productivity since 2005 has declined by more than 8% relative to its long-run trend. This means that business output is nearly $1 trillion less today than what it would be had productivity continued to grow at its average rate of about 2.5% per year.

    Lagging productivity growth is an enormous problem because virtually all of the increase in Americans’ standard of living is made possible by rising worker productivity.

    They go on to cite a lack of new business formation as the largest single contributor to this trend.  They also mention some policy choices that could help reverse it.  Fair enough, but I look at those stats and I see a problem that cannot be fixed by simply changing a few policies.   When Ronald Reagan reversed a similar downward spiral in the 1980′s he did so leading a nation that acted constrained by the bad policy of his predecessor.  Numerous people wanted to start businesses or make other changes that would result in enormous productivity increases, all they needed was a little boost by reversing some policy obstacles.

    I see a very different picture today.  I do not see a nation chomping at the bit waiting for some sort of “go” signal.  I see a nation that honestly does not know if there is anything better.  Note that the trend cited started not with the Obama administration or even the financial disaster of 2008, but way back in 2005.  The nation started losing hope before it elected a government that piled policy disaster on the hopelessness.  Where did the hope go?  (New business start up is practically a function of ideas, the availability of capital, etc.  But fundamentally it is a reflection of hope in the risk taker.)

    Government cannot instill hope in people.  It acts upon it, and it amplifies its presence, but it does not create it.  Part of the genius of America is that it relies on non-governmental forces to create the hope that is absolutely necessary for democracy, and capitalism, to succeed.  The primary non-governmental hope creating force in America is religion.  Government can destroy hope because it can limit religion.  This is the root of the much cited “separation of church and state.”  The separation is designed not to keep religion out of the public square to to permit it to flourish and generate the hope that makes the nation work well.  The founders had seen Europe and its state sanctioned religion and had seen how ties too close to government tended to turn religion into an instrument of government rather than allow it to be religion – to be a hope creator.

    The concerns of the WSJ are far more profound that just the downturn in productivity and causal slowness in business formation.  (Something that, by the way, if not reversed will mire the nation in the debt this administration has buried us under forever.)  It is a reflection of the secularization of the nation – it is not a business problem, it is a soul-sickness.  Elections can change politicians that can change policies.  That’s a good thing and it should happen.  But if the hope does not exist to take advantage of those policy changes, the nation will remain on this downward trend economically.

    Political victory that is not accompanied by religious reform and revival will at best be fleeting.  If our hope is only in that political victory it can be taken from us as easily as it was won.  Real and lasting hope comes from something far larger and far more eternal that our politics.  Our churches, synagogues, and other houses of prayer and worship need to step up here.  Some churches today are becoming hope stealers and breakers.  They are failing to be at least one important part of what the church should be.  Some churches simply sound the bell of judgement and doom, which also does not create hope.  The wall of separation has fallen in ways far more subtle than the coercive forces of law and courtroom.

    It is time for the religious folk of America to stand up and be counted.  Not so much on issues and policy, but on the three things that abide – faith, hope, and love.  If we of deep and heartfelt religious conviction can stand up for these things, I think the issues and policies will right themselves in good order.

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    The Importance of Religious Institutions

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:17 am, April 17th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Fascinating story in the Desert News Tuesday and religions, religious affiliation and belief:

    For several years, the United States has seen a decline in religious affiliation. Currently, 20 percent of Americans don’t claim a particular religion or church — up from 15 percent just five years ago. Some worry that this shift into secularism will turn the United States into Western Europe.

    Yet others are more optimistic. They point out that polling data don’t always allow for a nuanced discussion of faith and spirituality, and that many individuals still want to have a relationship with God, albeit on their own terms and with their own timing. These individuals may not relate to specific dogmas or rituals, but they still seek and find solace in believing that God is in charge and that when they put him first, their lives go smoother — an acknowledgement that is at the foundation of most religions and the first of the Ten Commandments.

     ”To argue that America is suddenly becoming vastly secular is not the case,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. “You can’t say (religion) is fading out of importance when a lot of the central events of our time, for better or worse, are based on strong religious convictions. I think that rather than becoming increasingly more of a straight, old-fashioned secular society, we have the potential to be religious, but in some different ways.”

    As Spock might say, “Fascinating Captain.”  These are the now well discussed “spiritual, but not religious” and comprise many of the so-called “Nones.”  As you read through the entire well-done piece you come to understand that this group of people want to shape a personal religion for themselves rather than allow religion to shape them.  Theologically that is a subject for a series of sermons and a book.  But let’s focus here on what that means for society and politics.

    Politically, it’s significance is straightforward.  Church and para-church institutions can no longer be relied upon to provide a focal point for political action.  What used to be an exercise in herding cats has now become an exercise in chaos.  Churches, parachurch organizations, and other religious institutions have been a traditional organizing advantage for conservative.  Should the trend described in this article continue, that just does not work anymore.  In terms of organizing we begin to look much more like the liberal/Democrat side of the aisle.  They have been at it a lot longer than we have and are therefore better at it.  Big problem.

    Societally, this is an enormous problem.  American government is not designed to shape people.  Its good functioning is conditioned on a nation of good people.  Our government relies on other forces, mostly education and religion, to make those good people.  Education is pretty firmly in government hands, and the only counter-balance seems to be in decline.  The constitution has both internal and design “checks and balances,” it relies on greater societal checks and balances.  These latter checks and balances are on the wane.  Without them the future appears bleak.

    This is a problem for the church, not politics.  I would argue that it is the church relying on political/cultural force, rather than the moral and spiritual force that is unique to it, that has created this trend.  I believe it is time for the church to get serious about fixing it.

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    Posted in Doctrinal Obedience, Evangelical Shortcomings, Political Strategy, Social/Religious Trends, Understanding Religion | Comment on this post » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    There Is A Cure

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:52 am, March 27th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Daniel Henninger in this morning’s WSJ wonders why liberals can get elected, but not govern.  He uses action on climate change as an example as says:

    Put differently, it’s not about doing something serious about global warming. It’s really all about them (a virus threatening American conservatism as well). The “them” at the U.N. summits included not just the participating nations but a galaxy of well-financed nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.

    Not a particularly insightful conclusion really, but that parenthetical shot at conservatives is what really bothers me.  You see, if we have the same issue then I must conclude we have abandoned religion just as surely as the left.  Oh to be sure we remain clothed in our religious garb, but if we are “threatened by the same virus,” then it would seem our religiosity is in garb only.

    Regardless of your particular brand of of faith, there are two lessons you can draw from faith that sink deeply into the Great American Civil Religion.  Lesson One – there is something much bigger than the self at play.  Lesson Two – It’s about service, not self.

    Before this turns into a sermon, I would simply suggest that the key to our recapturing the Senate this year, to winning the White House in 2016, but most importantly to setting the nation back on the right course are those lessons.

    That most likely means careful and deep re-examination of our religious lives and the institutions that support them.   Take your faith seriously first and the rest will follow.

     

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    I Object!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:19 am, March 3rd 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Ross Douthat’s column on the debate over the AZ religious freedom bill has been making the rounds.  It’s a good piece and I am with him right up to the first couple of sentences of the penultimate paragraph:

    I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.)

    I beg your pardon, while there are some ugly and harshly judgmental people out there in the church – they are the minority.  It’s not a question of “charity” v “intolerance.”  It is in fact charitable to point out when a person is engaged in wrong behavior.  Such is an effort to save the person from themselves and is loving at its root.  The church cannot ostracize the sinner, that is self-defeating – but the church can also not be called upon to tolerate sin of any sort, this particular sin or any other.  Christ was loving towards the woman at the well, but he also pointed out succinctly her sinful marital and sexual practice. In these sentences Douthat has bought into homosexuality as identity; he has bought into the wrongful argument of the opposition.

    Douthat in this piece is calling for Christian charity from those that reject Christianity wholly as a standard for human interaction.  I do not deny that there are those Christians that have failed to show the love of Christ to those that are engaged in this particular sin, but the societal shift we are currently experiencing is not a result of that, for such have existed since the church’s founding.  I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” when Alec Guiness quotes the Geneva Convention to the senior officer in the Japanese prison camp where he is held.  The Japanese officer simply does not care.  Guiness holds firm, under incredible torture, until he eventually carries the day.

    The church cannot afford to concede that homosexuality is merely a matter of identity – it is a matter of sin.  We must keep it in perspective as just one of a myriad of sins, no worse and no better.  We must practice the charity we are called upon to practice towards all sinners, inclusive of ourselves.  But I fear that in the current climate even naming homosexual behavior as sin is sufficient to gain the title “intolerant.”  To try and shed the title under these circumstances is not merely to accommodate, it is to change the very nature of Christian thought.  That we cannot do.

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