Friday, November 30, 2012

A Christian Argument for Abortion?

    One of the most bizarre arguments for legalized abortion that we have ever seen recently appeared on a blogpost by Greg Rubottom entitled "Death Throes of a Great Deception – The Fall From Grace of the 'Pro-Life' Movement." This, in turn, was copied with a lengthy introduction by Frank Schaeffer
on Mr. Schaeffer's blog at Patheos under the title "A Christian Answer to the Lies of the Evangelical / Catholic Pro-Life Movement." It is an extraordinary piece of sophistry.

    Mr. Rubottom rehashes the usual pragmatic arguments: forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term would cause her harm and doom the child to a miserable existence as an unwanted child. What is peculiar about his argument is that not only does he seek a Christian justification for this, but he actually claims that his argument reflects "the core elements of traditional Christian spirituality" and that the Pro-Life position is "heresy." In support of this dubious contention he gives us one of the most convoluted accounts of Christian doctrine that we have ever witnessed.
    He claims that Jesus taught that "the human body is a 'container' for what God values in human life – the soul – and the creation of a soul is a 'process' and not all conception is necessarily the will of God." Presumably human beings decide, through their own actions, to conceive a child, and then God might decide that it was a bad idea, in which case the pregnancy should be aborted.
    And how does Mr. Rubottom know that this is what God actually thinks? He tells us that "the core teaching of traditional Christianity" is that "God must always be defined as 'good.'" God, then would not wish the pregnancy to continue if it would bring harm to either the mother or the child. In other words, Mr. Rubottom believes that God is guided by the same "common sense" as himself, and that it would be evident, from a kind of cost/benefit analysis, that some pregnancies should be terminated.
    We do not know from what source Mr. Rubottom derives his conception of "traditional Christianity," but it is certainly not from any source with which we are familiar. What God actually said was, "You shall not murder"; and the reason assigned for this is that human beings are created in the image of God. "Whoever sheds man's blood,/ By man his blood shall be shed;/ For in the image of God / He made man" (Gen. 9:6; NKJV). In other words, human life is sacred because man was created in the image of God. Murder is a form of sacrilege.
    This, then, raises the thorny question of just exactly when does life begin. Mr. Rubottom's explanation is purely fanciful – it exists nowhere in the history of "traditional Christianity." It is entirely of his own invention.
    But what is the church's traditional understanding? The fact of the matter is that historically the church has been divided on the question. One line of thought, called "Traducianism," holds that the soul of an infant is derived from those of its parents by way of natural generation. This view was held in ancient times by Tertullian, and more recently by many Lutheran theologians. Obviously in this viewpoint abortion would always be tantamount to the taking of an innocent human life.
    The opposing viewpoint is called "Creationism" (not to be confused with opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution). According to this theory each soul is created individually by God. This viewpoint was held by St. Jerome and later by Calvin and most Reformed theologians. The obvious difficulty with this position in terms of the present discussion is that it is impossible to say when the individual soul is created. What we do know from Scripture is that at some point in the course of the pregnancy the developing child is a conscious human being: John the Baptist, while still in utero, leaped at the approach of Mary (Lu. 1:41).
    What proved decisive in the debate were the advances in modern medical science that showed that the fetus undergoes a continuous process of development from the moment of conception until the moment of birth and beyond. There is no specific point in between at which the fetus suddenly acquires the definitive characteristics of a human being. Genetically the developing child is a unique person at the moment of conception and is just as human then as it is after birth. It was undoubtedly with this realization in mind that most U.S. states in the late 19th Century outlawed abortion.
    What Mr. Rubottom has done is to palm off a modern version of ethical pragmatism as "traditional Christianity." It is, in fact, no such thing. The historic Christian position has always been that "The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 69). If life begins at conception, we are forbidden from taking it.

For a previous blog on Roe v. Wade see "Should Abortion be Legal?"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - VIII

Section 10: Work
    We have been responding to the "Raised Evangelical" series on the atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" by Libby Anne ( in which she asks readers to tell their stories about how they were raised in conservative evangelical homes and then became atheists. The respondents follow a standard question and answer format, which we have also tried to follow in our own response.
    Those who have looked at the original series on Libby Anne's blog may have noticed an omission. While she asks her respondents to describe their churches and education, and what they were taught about politics and gender roles, there is scarcely any mention at all of work. She does ask at one point about mothers working outside of the home, but there is no discussion about what it is actually like to work for an employer. This undoubtedly reflects Libby Anne's own personal experience. We gather from her blog that she is a young woman in her 20's, married with two children, and currently a graduate student. A bright, intelligent young woman, apparently what she does not have is significant work experience.
    Herein lies the problem. Her lack of work experience is reflected in her worldview. In describing her own deconversion she says "I have walked beyond the borders of religion and found that the world is still a beautiful place, filled with wonder, love, and joy." A "beautiful place"? "Filled with wonder, love, and joy"? What planet is she living on? What she has apparently done, in effect, is to replace the "evangelical bubble" in which she was raised with the "academic bubble" she lives in now. Thus it is relatively easy for her to imagine that the world could get along just fine without God. She has never been in a truly godless environment.
    Here, then, is what life is really like. It is in the business world where human beings interact with each other economically. It is a place where each person's actions directly affect others. And it is not a pleasant sight. Most businesses exist for the sole purpose of making money for their owners. They hire employees; they buy goods and supplies from vendors; they sell to their customers. Theoretically this can all be done with a measure of integrity, but it rarely is, for it is here that human nature comes into play. Because we are essentially self-centered by nature, we rarely conduct these transactions with any regard for the other person's well-being. We regard them as economic opportunities for ourselves. We misrepresent our goods and services to our customers. We charge as much as the market will bear. We suppress wages. Moral and ethical considerations take a back seat to profits. Caveat emptor ("Let the buyer beware") is the ancient motto of commerce.
    It wasn't quite as bad as it is today. I can remember that as a boy growing up in the Syracuse, NY area most of the banks, department stores and hotels were locally owned and operated. The owners knew most of their employees by name, and many of their customers as well. There was a human receptionist who greeted you with a warm, pleasant "hello."
    It was a time when it was still possible to talk about a "Protestant work ethic." People more or less recognized that if you wanted to run a successful business you had to treat others with integrity and respect. My grandfather, a machine-shop foreman, put it like this: "It does not take much to give a small shop distinction. A few good, steady mechanics, a few reliable customers, a good location, personal contact with the workmen, good management, adequate tools and machinery, and a reputation for service – these things make for success" (H.L. Wheeler, Popular Science Monthly, Aug. 1923).
    Today this seemingly unimpeachable wisdom is largely forgotten. The 1980's saw a wave of mergers and acquisitions, hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts. The modern corporation is run by MBA's armed with computers and fixated on numbers. The pleasant receptionist has been replaced with an automated voice-mail system ("press 3 for accounting"). Customer service and even recruiting have been outsourced. The customer is now largely invisible to management.
    In this large, impersonal business environment greed and selfishness reign triumphant. The human element is lost. It is the dog-eat-dog world of cutthroat capitalism in which all managers think about is the bottom line. They personally do not care what happens to their customers, their employees, or their employees' families. It is hardly a "beautiful place, filled with wonder, love, and joy." It is rather the harsh world of greed and power. It is the grinding struggle for survival.
    And what does God think about all of this? "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4; NKJV). Remove God from the picture and you have removed any binding moral obligation to treat others equitably. The profit motive reigns supreme!
    It is here that the biblical message is so strikingly relevant. Atheists sometimes accuse the Bible of presenting a false and distorted view of reality. Yet the central themes of the Bible center around sin and redemption. What is unrealistic about that? The presence of evil in the world is obvious. It is the redemption part that must be revealed.  Are we prepared to say that realism demands that we simply accept evil? That the hope for redemption is a mere myth?
    Is there a real difference between right and wrong? Is there real justice? Can God punish sin without destroying the whole human race? Can He forgive sin without appearing to condone it? The answer to all of this is the gospel: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Other blogposts you might enjoy:
Boom and Bust 
Capitalism and the Sabbath 
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party 
Wealth Management 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - VII

We proceed with our response to the "Raised Evangelical" series on the atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism."
Section 9: Coping
Question 1: Does having been raised evangelical or fundamentalist make you feel "different" from the rest of society, or like you stick out or don't fit in in some way? Explain.
    Well, I should certainly hope so! Christianity is supposed to be more than just being a nice, respectable, middle-class American. It is supposed to be an inward transformation that changes you and makes you different. If you are a genuine Christian you "march to a different drumbeat" than the rest of society.
    It is supposed to be a life of discipleship. It is fascinating to see how Jesus dealt with inquirers – He would actually turn people away. He did not say "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Just say this little prayer and everything will be taken care of." What He actually said was, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24; NKJV).
    Bear in mind that the central issue here is salvation. The problem is our sin and our guilt, which we share with all of humanity. To come to Christ we must acknowledge our guilt, ask for forgiveness, and place our trust in Christ as our Savior. This is accompanied by the New Birth – an inward spiritual renewal that results in a transformed life. If you have genuinely repented, and your life has been changed, then you will be different – different from what you were before, and different from "mainstream" society now. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . ." (Rom. 12:2). You cannot live with one foot in the world and one foot in Christ, although many professing Christians try to do so.


Question 2: What do you think is the biggest way being raised in an evangelical or fundamentalist family and church community has influenced who you are today?
    Well today, by God's grace, I am still a Christian, and I would not to have it any other way. This is not to say that it has always been easy. As a Christian you often feel a little bit like a fish swimming upstream, because your priorities are often different from others around you. Sad to say, even other professing Christians will sometimes disappoint you and let you down. But I have a sense of purpose in life, the Lord has met my needs, and I have peace within my heart. That is really all a person could ask for.


Question 3: How did you perceive your childhood and evangelical or fundamentalist religious upbringing at the time compared to how you see it now?
Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the more problematic things?
    The Christian life is an ongoing process of spiritual growth. As you learn more your perceptions naturally change. As a general rule I am probably more conservative now theologically than I was then, but politically more liberal. I am probably a combination of John Calvin and William Jennings Bryan, if such a thing were possible!
    As a historical movement I think that Fundamentalism has had its pros and cons. On the positive side there was a heroic stand for historic Christian truth; on the negative side there was often a bitter divisiveness that left a black mark on the entire movement. History has certainly borne out their assessment of the situation in the mainline denominations. One could only have wished that they could have combined the courage of their convictions with a gentleness of spirit. Fortiter in rem; suaviter in modo!

    I think that aside from the opportunity of hearing the gospel, the most valuable practical lesson I learned growing up was how to resist peer pressure. Just because the herd is rushing headlong over the cliff does not mean that you want to go there too. Being able to say "no" has spared me a lot of heartache and grief in life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - VI

We continue with our responses to the "Raised Evangelical" series on the atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism."

Section 6: Politics

Question 1: In his book Broken Words, Jonathan Dudley argues that a fourfold opposition to abortion, homosexuality, evolution and environmentalism constitute the markers of evangelical tribal identity. What role did opposition to these four issues [play] in your fundamental or evangelical upbringing, and would you agree with Dudley?
    Frankly most of these weren't issues when I was growing up. Abortion was illegal and homosexuality was never discussed in public. Evolution, of course, was discussed and debated. Environmentalism was not an issue for Christians at that time.
    Part of the problem with Dudley's thesis is that he is defining Evangelicalism in sociological terms: Evangelicalism has a "tribal identity" marked by opposition to certain political issues. But Evangelicalism should mainly center on the experience of salvation (justification by faith, the new birth, and a relationship with God). The church is supposed to be the mystical body of Christ and the communion of the saints, persons who are tied together by the shared experience, not a voting block in the American electorate tied to a secular political party.
    Abortion and homosexuality are, of course, serious moral issues that deserve the attention of the church, and evolution raises questions about the underlying worldview. Opposition to environmentalism, however, does not logically follow from the other three. If nature was created by design, then we should respect the design in nature just as we do in marriage. We are no more justified in raping the environment than we are in raping a woman on the street. Both acts violate God's purposes in creation and bring about serious consequences. Francis Schaeffer, in fact, wrote a very interesting book on the subject in 1970 – Pollution and the Death of Man.

Question 2: What role did you, your family, or your church community believe Christians should play in politics? What did your family or church hold was the end goal of Christians' involvement in politics? What were your family and church community's beliefs about the end times, and how (if any) did these beliefs affect their view of Christian's role in politics?
Question 3: Were you, your family, or your church community involved in politics? What did all their involvement include? Did your pastor ever preach a political view from the pulpit? Did you ever picket an abortion clinic, attend a "defense of marriage" rally, or participate in any related activities? Describe your experiences.
    The short answer to the first question is "none whatsoever." We were Baptists, and one of the "Baptist distinctives" is separation of church and state. Moreover, to answer the question about the end times, our church was very strongly Dispensationalist, and believed that we were living in the last time. The last great apostasy was underway, and the Soviet Union was preparing to invade Israel from the north! (Yes, that's what prophecy teachers were actually saying back then. How a supernatural figure like the Anti-Christ could be a dialectical materialist and a dogmatic atheist was never clearly explained.) Thus things were not expected to get any better. The church saw its role as snatching a few last sinners from the world before the end finally came (within the next few years).
    Moreover, most Christians at that time didn't have an especially favorable view of politicians. They were cigar-smoking, whiskey-swigging crooks who cut deals in back rooms. They were the dissolute looking bunch of characters you saw hanging out in the bar in a downtown hotel. Most Christians wouldn't care to admit that they knew any of these rogues and scoundrels personally.
    Beneath the surface, however, there was a gravitational pull toward right-wing politics. Although the pastor was careful not to discuss it from the pulpit, I think that Barry Goldwater got a lot of support from the members of the congregation when he ran for president in 1964. The fervently anti-Communist John Birch Society attracted support from evangelical Christians, and I can remember reading None Dare Call It Treason, by John Stormer, which laid out an elaborate conspiracy theory.

Question 4: What political issues did you, your parents, and / or your church community see as most important in deciding who to vote for and why?
    People's perceptions back then were colored by the Cold War, and the threat of a possible nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. And since the Soviet Union had tried to combine (illogically) a socialistic economic system with and atheist / materialist worldview, many conservative Americans did the exact opposite: they tried to combine (illogically) Christianity with laissez-faire capitalism.
What seemed to make it plausible at the time was the fact that some large companies back then practiced a kind of "welfare capitalism" that included generous benefits packages. And so American conservatives threw their support behind the free-market economic system and a strong national defense.
    There was also an ethnic dimension to all of this. Most "WASPS" (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in the north were aligned with the Republican Party, while Catholics and Jews were mainly identified with the Democrats. So many Protestants, evangelical and liberal alike, thought that they were protecting the traditional American way of life by voting Republican.
    My father, and I think my grandfather before him, were strongly pro-business and ant-union, and pro-military. My father was known to have voted for Democrats only twice – once by mistake (he accidently pulled the wrong lever in the voting booth), and once because he thought that not even a Democrat could be as bad as Nelson Rockefellar, who was the Governor of New York State at the time. Shortly afterwards the Conservative Party of NY was founded, and my father became an enthusiastic supporter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Meditation - 2012

     Thanksgiving is one of those traditional holidays that have lost much of their original meaning over time.  Thanksgiving was, of course, originally intended as an occasion upon which to express gratitude to God for the blessings of the preceding year.  It is loosely based on the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.  Although most Americans have long since ceased to devote the day to the actual giving of thanks, that does not lessen the fact that we have much for which to be thankful.  A moment of reflection is in order.
     Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise that extols the providential care of God over His creation.  "The Lord is good to all," the psalm proclaims, "And His tender mercies are over all His works" (v. 9: NKJV).  This providential care is of two sorts.  First, there is God's provision for the physical sustenance of all living creatures: "The eyes of all look expectantly to You, / And You give them their food in due season. / You open Your hand / And satisfy the desire of every living thing" (vv. 15,16).  Secondly, there are God's answers to the prayers of the devout: "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, / To all who call upon Him in truth. / He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; / He also will hear their cry and save them" (vv. 18,19).
     At this point the modern skeptic is sure to protest.  Nature works by natural means; thus there is no trace of divine providence in nature.  To which we reply that we do not deny natural cause and effect.  But who designed and created nature in the first place?  In creating an entire ecosystem God graciously provided for the sustenance of life.  But the evolutionist says, it is the species that is adapted to the environment, and not the environment to the species.  To which we reply that life would not have been possible at all if God had not first created a suitable environment.
     Indeed, one of the strongest arguments for Intelligent Design is the "fine tuning" of the universe.  In order for life to be possible on earth a number of critical factors have to be in place.  The planet has to be the right distance from the son, so that temperatures fall within a certain range.  There must be the presence of water.  The planet must have an atmosphere with just the right amount of oxygen. Gravity and electromagnetic force must all fall within a certain range.  And then there is the sheer complexity of life itself, with each organism made up of several different coordinated systems.  In order for evolution to be true, it would require a constant stream of near-miraculous advances from lesser to more complex forms of life, something that we don't witness in real life.
     It all points back to an infinitely wise and all-powerful Creator.  But it tells us something else about God as well.  Why would the Creator have gone to such lengths to create an entire ecosystem that is so intricate and elaborate?  The psalmist gives us the answer: "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, / Slow to anger and great in mercy. / The Lord is good to all, / And His tender mercies are over all His works" (vv. 8,9).  In other words, God genuinely cares about the creatures He has made.  We do not inhabit an impersonal and amoral universe.  Granted, we experience injury and disease, drought and pestilence, poverty and oppression, wars and natural disasters, and finally death.  But evil is ultimately the result of our sin and depravity.  The fault lies with us, not with God.  God is the Creator and Sustainer, and every good in life that we enjoy comes ultimately from Him.
     On this Day of Thanksgiving let us remember to "praise God from Whom all blessings flow."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - V

We continue with our responses to the "Raised Evangelical" series by the atheist blogger Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism.


Section 5: Purity
Question 1: What were you taught about physical and emotional purity, and also about modesty? What did your family believe about dating and courtship? How was sex education handled?
    At that point in time society as a whole still had a lingering Victorian attitude toward sex. It was never discussed in public, and there was no sex education in the schools. I think my parents gave me a booklet on the subject and told me to read it (it was by a Christian publisher, if I recall correctly). I do remember one visiting evangelist railing against "short shorts" and "necking and petting," and mixed bathing was problematical. Dating was considered normal -- you just weren't supposed to make out in the back seat of a car.


Question 2: How did the things you were taught about purity, modesty and dating/courthip work out for you in practice? Did you date, and at what age? Did you have sex before marriage, and if you did, did you experience guilt? In essence, explain how belief met practice and with what results.
    I didn't date until well after high school. I was always a little shy around girls, didn't have a driver's license, and wasn't too encouraged by the example of my parents' marriage. I did not have sex before marriage – you just have to be careful to avoid compromising situations.


Question 3: How do you feel about your family and church's purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings today? Do you think there are any parts of these teachings that still have value? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?
    I think that for persons of my generation one of the biggest changes that we have seen over the last fifty years is the collapse of public morality and with it the breakdown of the family structure. When I was growing up in the late '50's and early '60's we took a stable, two-parent family for granted. Kids knew their biological fathers – he was right there at the dinner table every night. Today these kinds of families have practically disappeared. When I worked on the U.S. Census in 2010 I was always surprised when I encountered a household in which everyone had the same last name. I think that this has left an emotional void in the hearts of the rising generation. President Obama has given us a compelling account of this in his autobiographical book Dreams from My Father.


Question 4: Do you feel that the purity, modesty and dating/courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how? What do you feel is the most detrimental effect of purity teachings?
    Frankly, the part of my upbringing that has had the most detrimental effect on my life is what I absorbed from Hollywood. The whole Hollywood concept of "falling in love" creates unrealistic expectations. And if I had taken the time to think about it, there was an obvious flaw in the message I was getting. If Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney couldn't make it work in real life, what made me think it would work for me? What took me many years to learn is that it takes character to make a marriage work, not sex appeal.
    Interestingly, there was a brief period when Feminists actually worked together with Evangelicals to fight pornography and the sex industry. At that point Feminists were concerned about women being treated as sex objects. But that didn't last very long, and now we are back to sexualizing girls at younger and younger ages.


Added note:
    Sex is something that was created by God, and is a beautiful expression of love when done in the context of a healthy marriage. When done for selfish reasons, however, it can be tremendously destructive.
    We have encountered a vivid example of this recently in Gen. David Petraeus. It seems that his conquests weren't confined to the battlefield. The femme fatale in this drama, Paula Broadwell, was caught sending threatening e-mails to another woman whom she suspected also had a romantic interest in "her man."
    Ms. Broadwell's predicament is a perfect illustration of the moral principle involved. We hope that she is struck by the anomaly of her situation. All of the parties involved (the general and the two "other women") are married. As long as Ms. Broadwell was the only paramour in the picture, she was apparently unconcerned about the sanctity of marriage vows. But when she began to fear that "her man" might be getting involved with yet another woman, this one even younger and more attractive looking than herself, she was overcome with jealousy. The shoe didn't fit so well on the other foot.
    Ms. Broadwell has now experienced firsthand the emotional impact of infidelity, and can see, we hope, the unspeakable harm that she has done to the general's wife, Holly Petraeus. A distinguished career has been ruined, the CIA director left himself vulnerable to blackmail, and three marriages are under stress. Ms. Broadwell is the home wrecker par excellence.
    Because marriage involves such an intimate physical and emotional bond, infidelity is bound to be devastating. Adultery is one of the cruelest things that one can do to one's spouse. It is an assault on one's self esteem, destroys trust, and rips families apart. Anything that tends to undermine marriage or cheapen or degrade sex (including immodest dress in public) is to be totally abhorred. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4; NKJV).


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - IV

We continue with our responses to the "Raised Evangelical" series on the atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" (


Section 4: Education


Question 1: What sort of education did you have: public school, Christian school, or homeschool? What reasons did your parents give for choosing the method of education for you that they chose?
    In those days there were no such things as Christian schools, and homeschooling was unheard of. The only alternative to the public schools were the Catholic parochial schools. There were a few private prep schools and military academies, but they were for the rich. Why did my parents choose the public schools? The answer was obvious – we weren't Catholics!


Question 2: Briefly describe the academic aspect of your educational experience, . . . featuring on the role played by religion. If you were public schooled, did your parents try to counteract anything you were learning at school with different teachings at home (i.e., sex education, evolution)? Or, did the public schools in your area find ways to include things like creationism or abstinence only sex education?
    Our church participated in a "release time" program in our local public schools. If I recall correctly this occurred on school property during school hours and was strictly voluntary. But this was something extra that was tacked on to what was essentially a secular education. I don't think that most people at the time had any conception of a "Christian worldview." 2+2=4 whether you were a Christian or not. And of course most older evangelical Christians at the time would have been educated in the public school system, and wouldn't have seen any major problems with it.
    Sex education was handled at home and was not taught in the public schools at all.
    There were a few areas of conflict, however. Evolution was obviously one. I forgot exactly how our church handled it, but I personally never found evolution convincing. Then there was the issue of square dancing in gym class. Good Fundamentalists eschewed dancing, although on this one I think my parents were divided. There was also an art teacher that my parents thought was a Communist sympathizer or something. And then there was the English teacher who wanted us to read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (My parents had me moved to another English class).


Question 3: Briefly describe the social aspect of your upbringing, especially as influenced by religion. How did your education experience (public school, Christian school, or homeschool) affect your socialization? Was your friend group religious diverse or more homogenous? If you were public schooled, did your religious background cause you any social problems in school?
    I basically had two "friend groups" (where did this term come from?) – one was the youth group at church and the other was mostly kids from the Honor Society at school. The Honor Society kids were hardly a bunch of rowdies, and so I got along fine with them, except that some of them probably found me a bit opinionated at times. You could almost say that I was a blogger before there was even an Internet!


Question 4: Did you attend Sunday School, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.
    I attended all of the above, although I don't remember a lot of what was specifically taught. I do remember preferring to be in classes taught by the pastor himself, since they were bound to be a little more challenging and informative.
    I also remember an episode at camp. One of the counselors urged us to be willing to do whatever God wanted us to day in the way of a career. I really struggled with this. I inherited from my mother a dislike of hot weather. I told the counselor that I was willing to go anywhere the Lord wanted me to go, as long as it was not to a country with a hot, tropical climate! Much to my chagrin, years later I found myself in the Army bound for Viet Nam. And they didn't even give an "invitation" or altar call! It was get on the plane or go to jail. I somehow managed to survive the experience.


Added note:


    Some of our readers at this point might be tempted to ask, why Christian education? What is so bad about public schools? Some might even go so far as to suggest that Christian education is nothing more than propaganda that leaves students with a false and distorted view of reality.
    So what is so bad about public schools? It depends largely on how one conceives of the purpose of education. If the only goal of education is to prepare people to work for corporate America, then most public schools do a passably good job. The provide their students with the basic math, science and English skills necessary to function in the workplace (although we have heard employers complain about job applicants who can't read a tape measure or find their own addresses in a street atlas!). If, however, education is supposed to serve some higher purpose, to mold character and help students understand life as a whole, then public education is a dismal failure. It fails to provide a coherent worldview and it fails to impart a clearly defined value system. It often fails to give students a basic understanding of their own culture and civilization ("books by a bunch of dead white men"!). The science teacher might be a rigorous materialist, while the English teacher might be a Postmodernist. The student is left in a state of confusion.
    But is Christian education merely propaganda? It all depends on the nature of reality. If God actually does exist, then it is the secularists and atheists who have a warped and distorted view of reality. It makes no sense at all to say that God exists and is somehow the Creator, and then construct an educational system that completely ignores Him. And yet this is the position that most American parents find themselves in when they send their children to public schools.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - III

Section 3: Gender and Family
Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?


    For the most part these were issues that I can recollect. This was before the "Sexual Revolution" and the Women's Lib movement. We lived in a middle class, suburban community in which the two parent family was the norm. It was more or less taken as a matter of course that the husband was the "Head of the House" and that mom stayed home and took care of the kids. Thus our church's beliefs on the subject weren't noticeably different from the thinking of the rest of society, and didn't receive a whole lot of attention.


Question 2: Describe your parents' marriage: was it complementarian (i.e. "soft" patriarchy) or more openly patriarchal, or in practice egalitarian? Did your family or church use any of these terms?


    I don't think that my family or church even ever heard of any of those terms. If you were to ask most women at the time, they probably would have said that the husband was the head of the household, but often what really went on in the family was another story. My mother had her issues – let's just say that she could be difficult to get along with. I think that in actual practice we operated on the principle that "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."


Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
Question 4: In what ways were girls and your family expected to be stay at home mothers or to hold jobs? Did your mother work, and if so, how was that viewed by your family and church?


    I think that it was generally assumed in society at the time that men and women were different from each other and should be treated differently. The expectation was that when girls grew up they would get married, have children, and stay at home to take care of them. Day care centers were unheard of. Why would you pay someone else to raise your own children for you?
    Child rearing was aimed at preparing boys and girls for their future roles as husbands and wives. The gender roles were reinforced through a formal code of etiquette. Men were expected to show deference to women, to respect them, and to treat them gently. To that end boys were taught to hold doors open for girls and to help them into their seats. In high school boys were required to take shop classes and girls home ec.
    There was also a real difference in the way that boys and girls were treated. Boys were expected to be tough and "take it like a man," while girls were consoled when they cried.


Added Note:


    Much has been said in recent times about the alleged "misogyny" of the Bible. It must be frankly admitted on any honest reading of the Bible (which is the way that the Bible should be read) that the Bible definitely assigns a subordinate role to women in the family and the church. This is probably the major reason why many American women today either object to a literal reading of the text, or reject the Bible altogether.
    Is the Bible wrong on this issue? By whose standard? Where does that standard come from? The contemporary standards of modern society? The problem here is that the atheist has no objective standard by which to judge anyone's beliefs or behavior, because an atheist will not admit any moral absolutes. But who is the judge, anyway? In the end will the Almighty give a hoot about what American feminists think? And if the so-called "evangelical feminists" resort to a contorted exegisis to eliminate the patriarchalism of the Bible, aren't they picking and choosing what they wish to belief? Aren't they in fact chasing a God Who in the final analysis is merely a figment of their own imaginations? Doesn't this give credence to the charge of atheists that religion is all make-believe?
    But more to the point, subjection to lawful authority is not "oppression." Several different New Testament passages discuss a wide variety of relationships that involve the exercise of authority by one person over another: husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, rulers and subjects. The Bible never questions the legitimacy of any of these relationships per se. In fact, Paul even goes so far as to call the civil magistrate "God's minister to you for good" (Rom. 13:4; NKJV). And this was written at a time when Nero was the Roman Emperor! The plain fact of the matter is that human society cannot function without such hierarchical relationships, and so we are instructed in Scripture to "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake . . ." (I Pet. 2:13).
    Rather than challenge the legitimacy of such relationships the Bible instructs us on how to treat each other within the context of these authority structures. In general, persons in authority are to treat their subordinates with justice and humanity, and the subordinates are to honor and respect those in authority over them.
    The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful picture of the ideal of Christian marriage. He compares the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and the church. Is it an egalitarian relationship? Obviously not. Is husband free to mistreat and abuse his wife any way he pleases? "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25).
    The underlying principle here is Christian love, expressed in humility, patience and a willingness to serve others. Paul enjoins believers of both genders to "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3,4). Christianity and Feminism are operating on diametrically opposed value systems.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - II

    We continue with our responses to the series "Raised Evangelical" on the blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" (


Section 2: Theology


Question 1: Briefly describe the church your family attended while you were growing up. What role did the pastor play? How large was it? What sort of programs did it offer? What denomination was it? How many times a week did you attend church? How about Bible study or Bible club?


    In many ways the church was a typical fundamentalist Baptist church. It was affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). It had about a hundred members, as I recall, and had the usual round of services and programs: Sunday School, morning and evening worship, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and young people's group. The pastor was looked up to as the spiritual head of the congregation, but was not particularly dictatorial. My father was an especially firm believer in regular church attendance, and I can still remember going with him to church in the middle of bad snow storms (this was central New York State, bear in mind).
    There were two things that maybe made our church a little different. One is that we were a fairly new congregation, and many of its members were adult converts who were serious about their faith. The other thing is that we were one of the few evangelical churches in an area that was predominantly Roman Catholic and liberal Protestant. This tended to make us a little more self-conscious of our identity as a fundamentalist church.


Question 2: When and how were you "saved"? How did your parents and church community respond? Did you have a "relationship with Jesus"? If so, at what age did you form this relationship? Please describe what all it entailed . . .


    Shortly after my parents joined the church a travelling evangelist held a series of meeting there. One Sunday evening he addressed the young people's group. He told us about our need to accept Christ and of the eternal consequences of not doing so. He urged us to make a decision right then and there, but in my typical fashion I wanted to think it over first. At that point I didn't know much theology, but I knew I was a sinner – I had an ego and a bad temper – and I sure didn't want to go to hell. So that evening, by myself in my room at home, I asked Christ to save me.
    At that age there is always a question as to how well I understood what I was doing. I doubt that I could have explained the atonement very well. But in my case, at least, my profession of faith has stood the test of time. I was baptized when I turned ten.
    My "relationship with Jesus" has deepened over time, albeit in fits and starts. It wasn't until college that I learned the meaning of prayer. A friend of mine and I determined to spend a certain amount of time each day in prayer -- I think it may have been an hour a day. I'm not sure that it did much good. Then one night, when I was home on break, I was praying alone by myself when suddenly it dawned on me: do you know who you are talking to? I was awestruck, and maybe a little terrified. The next night I prayed again, only I kept it very short and very reverent, conscious that I was in the presence of Almighty God. I think that that was a real turning point in my life.
    I have often read about the great revivals of the past, but I have only personally experienced it two or three times in my whole experience as a Christian. They are awesome occasions, but ever so rare!


Question 3: How did your family and church view the Bible, and what role did it play in your life growing up and in the life of your family and church? How often did you, your siblings and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?


    My father faithfully read his Bible every morning. I knew that when I got up I would find him sitting in his easy chair in the living room reading his Bible and underling key passages with a red pencil.
    Fairly early on I became convinced of the need to read the Bible every day as well. I determined to read through the entire New Testament. So beginning with Matthew 1:1 I faithfully read a chapter every day until I finished the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, when I got done I could not have told you a single thing that I had read! My eyes had looked at every word on the page, but I wasn't reading for comprehension. It wasn't until late that I got interested in serious Bible study.
    Nearly everyone in our church (myself included) had a Scofield Reference Bible. Since nearly all the other churches in our area were either Catholic or liberal, I just naturally assumed that whatever our church taught, Scofield notes and all, came straight from the Bible itself. It wasn't until much later that I learned that there was anything the least bit controversial about any of this.
    There was one preacher who came to our church and laid down this rule of interpretation: "If the plain sense makes horse sense, seek no other sense." And that is the rule of interpretation I have used ever since.


Added Note:


    The modern mind, of course, rebels against the idea of authority in knowledge. "Sapere aude" (Dare to think) the German philosopher Kant famously said. For modern man, his own intellect is the final arbiter of truth.
    There are, however, two considerations that should be kept in mind. The first is the obvious fact that man's knowledge is limited. We cannot observe the physical universe in its entirety, let alone the spiritual realm. We are the tiniest of specks in a vast cosmos, and our range of perception is severely restricted.
    The second consideration is that God is omniscient – He knows everything. Indeed, He is the Creator of everything. Only He can tell us about Himself, about the ultimate purpose and meaning of reality, and about what lies beyond the grave.
    Thus we are dependent upon divine revelation for answers to some of the basic questions of life. We do not deny the facts of reality: let science discover what it can. But we use the Bible to interpret the facts and provide us with a coherent explanation of reality.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story

    One of the more tragic stories is to be found on a blog on the atheist channel of Patheos. The blog is called "Love, Joy, Feminism" (, and is written by a young woman who identifies herself only as "Libby Anne." Libby Anne was raised in a very conservative evangelical home that was strongly influenced by the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. Homeschooled, she went off to a secular college, and confronted with the evidence for evolution her faith began to crumble. Unable to discuss her doubts with her family, in which her father's views were to be accepted unquestioningly, she chose to leave Christianity altogether and is now an atheist and a feminist.
    One of Libby Anne's ongoing projects is a series called "Raised Evangelical," in which she invites readers who have had experiences similar to her own to tell their own stories. The respondents follow a standard question and answer format. Each story is different, but there are certainly common underlying themes. Most of the respondents are young women, there was often an authoritarian parent or pastor in the picture, and there was often difficulty in living the Christian life. In many cases there seems to be confusion about the way of salvation. Even though the person may have been outwardly quite zealous in high school, he / she goes off to a secular college or university and it is only a matter of time before faith in God falls by the wayside.
    Since Libby Anne has a strict policy of "no proselytizing" (she once accused this blogger of delivering a theological lecture on her blog) it is hard to post critical comments on her blog. Yet the stories are profoundly disturbing, and the issues are of immense significance, and so we shall attempt a response here on my blog. Since I do not know Libby Anne or any of her respondents personally, I thought it would make more sense to tell my own story, using her standard format. The questions are grouped together in nine sections, each section dealing with a different topic. Since her questions and my answers are sometimes quite involved, we will spread this out over several blog posts. I will begin with Section 1 (Inroduction) and then go directly to Section 7 (Questioning), since that addresses the central issue. Then, in subsequent posts we will go through most of the remaining sections, since they provide cultural context. In the end I think we will be impressed with how much the world has changed in the last fifty years, and how much Evangelicalism has been radicalized as a result.


Section 1: Introduction


Question 1: Please introduce yourself before we get started, providing a brief snapshot of your background and overview of your beliefs today.


I am a 62 year old widower and father of three daughters. I was raised in Fundamentalist Baptist home in the Syracuse, NY area, and first made a profession of faith at age 7. I went to a public high school, attended a Bible college for two years, spend three years in the Army, then went to a Christian liberal arts college and finally seminary. I spent most of my adult life working at a wide variety of secular jobs. I am still a conservative evangelical and am currently attending an informal house church fellowship.


Question 2: How did your family and religious community self-identify? As evangelicals? As fundamentalists? Or as something else? What did these terms mean to your parents and religious community?


We saw ourselves as fundamentalists, by which we understood born-again, Bible-believing Christians. (Most other churches in our area were either liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic.)


Question 3: How did your parents become evangelicals or fundamentalists? Did they grow up in evangelical or fundamentalist families, or did they convert later?


They converted later in life. My father had practically no religious upbringing at all – his father had been an agnostic. As a girl my mother had attended a liberal, mainline Presbyterian church. After my parents married they both attended mainline churches. When I was about six my family moved back to the Syracuse area, and for some reason my parents had a hard time finding a church they liked. However a new church opened down the road from where we lived, and my parents decided to visit. It was a fundamentalist church, and there they heard the gospel. They made professions of faith, were baptized and joined the church.


Section 7: Questioning


Question 1: In what ways did the culture of your family and church differ from "mainstream" American culture? To what extent were you integrated into or isolated from "mainstream" American culture? To what extent do you feel that evangelicalism creates a sort of self-contained culture of its own, with Christian bookstores, Christian music, etc.?


    Back then (the late 50's and early 60's) the "mainstream" American culture had not departed nearly so far from its Judeo-Christian roots as it has today. On such issues as marriage, abortion, homosexuality, etc., what is considered today the distinctive agenda of the "Religious Right" was "mainstream" then. We were just ordinary, middle-class Protestant Americans. There was a small evangelical subculture – Christian bookstores and music publishers, as well as Bible colleges, but that was about it.
    On the other hand Fundamentalists distinguished themselves from the rest of the culture by abstaining from the petty social vices of the 20's : movies, drinking, dancing, smoking, card-playing and the like. In these areas we were expected to practice "personal separation."


Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism / fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
Question 3: What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and leaving evangelicalism / fundamentalism? What was the hardest part?


    I think it is pretty normal, as you get older, begin to think for yourself, and become more aware of the broader world, to question your parents' beliefs. You can't help but wonder whether all the things they told you were really true. To further complicate matters, your childhood and family experiences may not have been entirely happy, and that will tend to drive you into a different direction.
    In my case I went off to a Bible college that was approved by our church, and had some very positive experiences there. At first I was tempted to dabble in the "youth culture" of the late 60's, but then was led to examine my faith more closely. There was one professor in particular (a history professor) who was both a godly Christian and a serious scholar. I had a circle of friends who were serious about their faith. Then I began attending a church of a different denomination (Reformed Episcopal) where I heard some first-rate expository preaching.
    I also read books. I was so engrossed by The Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer that I read practically the whole thing in one sitting, although I didn't understand it until almost the end. Later I also read The God Who is There, by the same author. I was also impressed by a book with a decidedly different orientation – The Imitation of Christ by the late Medieval Catholic mystic Thomas a Kempis. What a Kempis did was to challenge me to think about whether or not I really loved Christ.
    What I began to realize is that the question comes down to this: either God exists or He does not. I was convinced that He existed; the order and complexity of the universe cannot be adequately explained by a blind, purposeless natural process. And if God did not exist, where would that leave human society? What answers would we have? Sex and drugs and rock'n'roll? (Believe it or not, that was what passed as an alternative to our parents' materialism in the late 60's.) Life without God looked like a dead-end street to me.
    And if God exists, the only question that mattered was, what does He think? And the only way to know that is through the Bible. My parents and my home church pastor may or may not have been right on a variety of issues – and they undoubtedly were wrong –they were, after all, only human beings. But in a very real sense now that I was a young adult what my parents had said was entirely irrelevant. I was accountable directly to God for what I believed and how I behaved. Ever since then I have applied myself to the study of Scripture.
    I was soon to be exposed to the larger world in a dramatic way. At the end of my second year of college I was broke and since I had a low draft number, I enlisted in the Army. I served tours of duty in both Viet Nam and West Germany. The experience left me with no illusions about the goodness of man apart from God. At one point, when I was in Nam, I became our company's drug and alcohol abuse counselor. I got the job by default – I was the only guy in the company that didn't use either drugs or alcohol. A couple of times I had to pull guard duty with the company "skag freak" (heroin addict).
    And since then not much of anything has happened to me to change my perception of things. I have seen marriages end in divorce, careers ruined in a haze of alcohol, lives end in suicide. The road of life is littered with wrecked and ruined human beings. You say that the world would be better without God? I have seen it with my own eyes. It is not a pretty sight.


Question 4: Among those who grew up around you who were also raised evangelical / fundamentalist, what proportion still hold those beliefs and what proportion have also left them?


    Unfortunately I have long since lost contact with most of the people with whom I grew up. I have met people who were raised in conservative evangelical homes and have since left the faith. I have also met people who came from ungodly backgrounds and are now vibrant Christians. For an interesting story about a friend of mine who was not a Christian when I knew him in high school, visit his website (
    Ironically as it may seem, there is a sense in which a person raised in a Christian home actually has a harder time coming to Christ than someone from a totally ungodly background. The youngster in the Christian home knows what he is supposed to believe. He may genuinely have tried to please his parents and church leaders. He (hopefully) managed to stay out of serious trouble. And everyone may assume that he is already "born again" because of an early childhood profession of faith. But what is often the case is that the young person has only a second- hand faith. Unfortunately wanting to please your parents is not the same thing as wanting to please God. And once the person leaves home for college or the military, it becomes apparent that his "relationship with Jesus" was purely imaginary, and they abandon the pretense, usually saying that evangelical Christianity is out of touch with reality or that there is no evidence that God exists. God is not real to them, and in a sense they are absolutely right: they have no real relationship with Him.
    Part of the difficulty is that a young person growing up in a Christian home may have never repented, because he never really saw himself as a sinner. As far as he can remember, he has always tried to do the right thing. But Jesus came, not to save the righteous, but sinners. The outwardly moral person has a hard time relating the gospel to his own personal experience because he can't see the problem with himself.
    It is also easy for a person from a Christian home to take Christianity for granted. It is just something that was always there, maybe even something that was forced on you, whether you wanted it or not.
    But for the person who was not raised in a Christian home, like my friend Bill above, it is a matter far different. He has seen the heartache and trouble, the hopelessness and despair. He has fallen prey to various addictions, and seen where the path leads. It is not hard to convince him that he is a lost sinner. Thus, when the light breaks through and he finally comes to understand the gospel, he eagerly embraces it – it is his life raft in the raging sea of sin. And thus, in a strange, ironic way, "Many who were first will be last, and the last first" (Matt. 19:30).




Friday, November 9, 2012

Was the “Religious Right” a Mistake?

    One of the more controversial bloggers at Patheos, Frank Schaeffer ("Why I Still Talk to Jesus – In Spite of Everything" -- recently had a blog post entitled "How Evangelicals Doomed the Republican Party, God, and (Maybe) America." He accuses Evangelicals of having a distorted view of reality, and of allowing themselves to be used as the pawns of billionaires and neoconservative warmongers. He cites as examples the denial of global warming and the unqualified support for Israel, which, he says, prevent us from finding sane and sensible solutions to these problems. "Touch it where you may the evangelical / Republican / billionaire alliance is doomed, it's doomed because the non-retributive Jesus is the true Lord, not a hate filled ideology of imperial overreach that is embraced by crazed and militarized right wing neoconservatives."
    One might wish that Mr. Schaeffer himself would imbibe a little more of the spirit of the "non-retributive Jesus," but there is an element of truth to what he says. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not Evangelicals are self-deluded, the fact remains that they are in an uneasy alliance with Roman Catholics, Mormons, Libertarians, and establishment big business Republicans. Each faction can blame one of the others for the loss in the recent election. Did the Republicans lose because some of their candidates took "extreme" positions on abortion, thereby alienating women voters? Or was it because Mr. Romney was a multimillionaire who is out of touch with ordinary Americans? Both seem to have been factors.
    Looking ahead to the future, what is especially foreboding for social conservatives is that several states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, and the Democrats did especially well among women, minorities and the young, suggesting that changing demographics are working in their favor. Other pundits beside Mr. Schaeffer are saying that the Republican Party needs to change. But change into what?
    This is, in fact, a genuine dilemma. As Frank Schaeffer's late father, the famous theologian Francis A. Schaeffer, labored to point out, western civilization as a whole has experienced a seismic shift away from its Judeo-Christian moorings toward a more secular and materialistic orientation, and this raises the specter of an increasingly amoral and disordered society. One simply cannot stand idly by while he watches civilization collapse. Yet as the elder Dr. Schaeffer also pointed out, the philosophical underpinnings of orthodox Christianity are radically at variance with the naturalistic assumptions of modern secular thought. The younger Mr. Schaeffer concludes from this that Evangelicals (and presumably his conservative evangelical father) are simply deluded. But should Evangelicals allow the outside world to redefine their faith?
    As a Christian believer I would have to say "absolutely not." "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). It would be sheer folly to throw one's soul away for the sake of political expediency.
    What should we do then? Our first concern should be to remain faithful to Christ and maintain the purity of our testimony. This means that we must be especially wary of engaging in partisan politics. The mudslinging and vilification, the vested interests and power politics hardly adorn the gospel.
    Secondly, we must recognize that America is not likely to change for the better unless we change individual hearts and minds, and this can be accomplished best through evangelism. But we must be careful here to preach the whole message. Part of the reason for America's moral decline is that most modern preachers are reluctant to talk about sin. But the gospel is incomprehensible unless we lay out first what God requires from human beings in the way of moral conduct. And the truth be known, the church's own members need to repent and start living the life themselves. Actions, it has often been said, speak louder than words. Let the atheists and agnostics argue and debate all they want; they cannot argue against the example of a virtuous life.
    This does not mean, however, that we must remain silent in the face of encroaching evil. We can protest. We can write letters and hold demonstrations. We can demonstrate compassion by extending the helping hand. But let us never sully the name of Christ with partisan bickering. It only confuses the issues and undermines our credibility.
    The way to reform society has been laid out for us: it is the power of the Word of God. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Path Ahead

   We wish to congratulate President Obama on his reelection victory.  Early results indicate that he ran a masterful campaign and outmaneuvered his opponent.
   On another level, however, we are dismayed.  For the past several years we have seen partisan gridlock in Washington while the government ran up trillion dollar a year deficits. At one point the federal government came perilously close to defaulting on its debt.  But today we woke up to essentially the same government we had yesterday.  Mr. Obama is still president.  The Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives.  In short nothing much has changed, and if it is one thing we cannot afford it is more of the same.
   The fiscal crisis is urgent and demands immediate attention.  The president appointed a bipartisan commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and the commission did produce some recommendations.  The president, however, largely chose to ignore them. Then we saw the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, and it was the intransigence of the Tea Party that resulted in the near default.
   There is no underestimating the challenge involved.  To close the budget gap and get us back on the path to fiscal sanity both the major entitlement programs and the tax code need to be overhauled.  But each program and each tax break has its own constituency, and given the pattern of influence peddling in Washington it will be difficult to enact meaningful reform.  Every special interest group will work aggressively to preserve its piece of the federal pie.
   The president needs to exercise some leadership.  He needs to propose a realistic budget, and he needs to use his bully pulpit to take his case directly to the American people.
   The Republicans need to compromise.  Granted, certain issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, involve fundamental moral principles and cannot be compromised.  One either thinks that they are wrong or he does not.  But the budget is about numbers, and numbers are negotiable. The obvious solution is to find some middle ground and split the difference.
   We need to face the stark reality.  There is no way that we can balance the budget and reduce the national debt without cutting defense spending and raising taxes. The numbers don't even come close to adding up otherwise.  The U.S. currently spends more on defense than the next ten countries combined.  And yet the Federal Government spends nearly twice as much money as it takes in in tax revenue.  The government spends over $400 billion a year just in interest payments alone on the national debt.  In 2010 the federal deficit was 10.7% of GDP.  Greece's was 8.1%  This is an insane way to run a government.
   What we need are leaders who put country ahead of party, and who are willing to level with the American people about the depth of the crisis.  It remains to be seen whether any of the politicians who just won reelection will rise to the challenge.