Sunday, June 07, 2009

From Frankfurt, Germany

I haven't posted in a short bit because I've been busy with travel plans and family lately. Right now I'm in Frankfurt, Germany en route to Bangalore, India and I've had time to type a couple of posts, so now I'm posting them. I'm on a rather expensive Verizon card at the moment and I don't want to squander bytes posting several posts (Kim, this is why I'm not accessing your site at the moment - I'll wait until India to come over and say hi.), so I'll include them in this one post. One deals with our capacity to think we know what's best for God and the other deals with the balance of authoritarianism.


Are We Experts of the Universe?


En route to India, we had a mechanical problem with the plane. It started with a couple of buttons, one in the cockpit and one in the cabin, which needed fixed or replaced. This was a short but manageable delay. As we taxied out to the runway, one of the brakes overheated. We taxied back toward the terminal to have it repaired, normally a one hour delay. They jacked up the plane with us aboard and proceeded to change the brake. While the plane was jacked up, the weight of the plane with people aboard was taken into consideration causing a hazard if any of us were to leave the plane. However, in the process a storm came up and a few lightning strikes sent the maintenance crew into safety. Also, while they had the wheel apart, they realized that something was probably worse with the wheel. It could be made fit to use for a short while, but it had the same problem a few times recently and a mechanical problem was causing undue wear and friction on the brake. It was deemed unsafe to be put back into long-term international service and was to be sent immediately to Philadelphia for a higher-echelon maintenance routine to be performed. We would be transported to Philadelphia with the plane, fed, and transported on to Frankfurt with significant delay. We had been confined to the plane no less than 8 hours, 6 of which was spent on the tarmac in Charlotte.

Needless to say, most of the passengers were upset. Some yelled at the poor stewardesses. Some cursed the pilot. Many had unkind words to say about the “they” who make decisions in the U.S. Airlines command structure. Most of the comments were such like “’They’ should have done this,” or, “’They’ should have done that.” A guy from CNN who sat behind me passed around a sheet to get e-mails of everyone who wanted to be part of a mass-complaint. I was astonished at the level of expertise my fellow passengers exhibited. So many of them were apparently more intelligent or knowledgeable of the logistics and regulations necessary for international flight travel than the people actually trained and experienced in and hired to do the job.

I seriously doubt that the uncomfortable and inconvenienced passengers really have more of a clue than the people who run the airlines.

Likewise, I doubt that we have more of a clue than God does how to run the universe.

However, do we not too often berate our Lord because we think we know who He really is or should be and how he should handle certain situations? We think we have the answers and too often dismiss the answers that God gives us. We may even think that God’s grace and the death of his Son on the cross is inadequate for our salvation. One does not get on a plane without the understanding that there will be delays or even that there is the risk of death. We are told in the Bible to expect suffering in this world. Why are we surprised when it actually happens? Why do we doubt God when what he says actually happens?

It has been said that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I shared a plane with a host of passengers insistent on cursing the darkness. I made it a point to express my appreciation to the stewardesses as we disembarked in Philadelphia. In these days of civil unrest here in the United States, I hear many who curse the darkness. Is it not better to find where God is working and join him there rejoicing that he is still in control and has instead planned on using the situation to his glory? When trials come, do we despair and curse the darkness out of anger because we are inconvenienced with the threat of death. It is better rather to glory in the true God who created all things and has a plan. I made it to India enriched by the new experiences given by virtue of a seriously delayed flight. God is good.


A Case for Balanced Authoritarianism in Government


En route to India I was entertaining myself with some math puzzles. As I considered the symbols representing different quantities of numbers, I asked myself where these symbols come from. Why must we use these symbols? Why can we not use other symbols? Perhaps I want to use the same symbols, but assign different quantities to them. Perhaps I want to develop a new set of symbols for base 17 and only use that when balancing my checkbook. I mean why not? We have rights in this country and I should have the right to use whatever symbology I so desire. I mean, what makes what the math teachers teach us the “correct” way. I think it’s perhaps some academic totalitarianism.

The same thing could be said of the English teachers. Who is to say that I should only use English, or what English is? I mean, hasn’t English itself changed and is still changing? So what they are teaching us is only temporary information anyway. Go to downtown New York and see if the English you learned helps you any.

Yup, definitely academic totalitarianism. They have no right to restrict us by placing all these rules of language on us. In fact I think I want to communicate by using my own language. J.R.R. Tolkien made up his own language – or few – so why can’t I? And why couldn’t I use it if I want? I mean, if you don’t have a clue what I’m saying or how much I’m spending, that’s your problem, right?

But let’s stick to one of these – language, for example. Professors of English teach us rules of English that were observed from usage. What happens is that usage changes and professors of English resist that change in the classroom. New patterns of usage replace the old and those who are educated in the old patterns of usage are considered more intelligent. Indeed, they are better educated and new patterns of usage are developed by those less educated. (So, as an aside, today’s linguistic education often consists of the knowledge of yesterday’s uneducated masses.)

I think it’s interesting that liberals who tout personal liberties also seek greater government control. I also think it’s interesting that conservatives who tout personal responsibility often do so by appealing to a higher moral law. The difference is that liberals think government itself defines morality as the final arbiter thereof much the same way that academia resists changes to language while following the changes in patterns of past usage. That’s why I’m conservative. I believe that while there may be different ways of expressing government legitimately, there is no authority on earth that was not given by God. (Yes, work through that double negative.)

That’s also why I’m not libertarian. We need a common frame of reference for civil cooperation. Just as using the same mathematical constructs are necessary for balancing our budgets and bank accounts, and using the same linguistic constructs is necessary for effective communication, so a common code of civil conduct is necessary for sociological stability. Because we are sinners, human government is necessary to arbitrate this conduct, ideally according to the standards of morality passed on by the revelation of God.

But it has rarely been so that a government has been explicitly Christian, and never has any perfectly governed according to God’s moral law. We should not be surprised. This is a sinful world and governments are stocked with sinful people. If legislators and rulers make decrees according to cultural sensibilities, then we must understand that the educated that resist the changes of language are likewise not perfectly educated for not one of us knows everything. And if those who are uneducated are those who provide the usage for tomorrows professors to teach, then it is sinners in need of a law who provide the cultural means by which tomorrow’s laws are written.

You may ask why I say “cultural” here. Just as US law was based on British common law, it is cultural norms that give us the familial accountability on which civil accountability is based. So it is through the culture that sinners are not completely given over to debauchery short of civil law. Therefore, it is not that the law will always be degraded, but that in reaction to laws that follow poor cultural standards, better cultural standards will develop.

Therefore, it is this tension between cultural development and the paradoxical resistance\following of civil legislation that provides the energy for the swing of the pendulum of civil morality.
(That said, it must be noted, that whether the pendulum is on one side or another, the gospel must be preached. If the times are good, the temptation (and often the pattern) is for the gospel to give way to mere morality where churches become little more than clubs of rule-followers.)

So, there is a place for authoritarianism in government; not that the government is ever the final arbiter, but that God gives us a means for civil order that often follows, and gives testimony to, the general revelation of His righteousness ingrained in every soul.

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