A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Could this be the beginnings of a third political party in America?

In polls by both Gallup and Rasmussen, there are indications that affiliations with the Democratic party is reducing, but it isn’t being followed by an increase in Republican affiliation by the same percentage. Unaffiliateds are apparently getting larger as a group, although I do not know how this compares with the the past years. Furthermore, Rasmussen reports that Republican voters feel Republician politicians are “out of touch” with their political base. Listening to conservative talk radio on the occasions that I do, there is ire towards the Republican party also.

The Republican party is getting into a difficult situation, IMO, with its continued to survival. On the one hand, it has its conservative base hat it relies upon. However, on the other hand, I would take a guess to say that the political spectrum in American is broadening and towards the left, as American culture is beginning to be defined less and less as being opposed to Communism/Socialism once the Cold War ended (although, socialism is not the same as communism, but that doesn’t affect how the public understands them).

Does the Republican party become the centrist party of American politics? If so, it risks alienating its more conservative base. Does it move towards it’s conservative, Regean-esque principles (although, maybe reducing spending, something Regean didn’t do)? If so, it may leave the people who are more centrist voting for the Democratic party. At least, under the former option, there is a higher chance that conservatives vote for Republicans under the “lesser of evils” idea.

There is little option for the Republican becoming a big-tent party. Conservatives tend to be more systematic in their thought, and any major contradiction with it causes problems with offering up support, except when its base is rallied in a fight against “the enemy”, the Democrats. Liberals, on the other hand, are more pragmatic, which is what allows them to be a broad party in recent history.

However, the Democratic party, while it is in a position of power at the moment, has its own problems to face. It too has to face with the fact that the political spectrum in America is broader than it has been in recent history, and even pragmatists have their limits. There is even the beginning of fractures within the Democratic party, as there is a sense of unease with the current medical care reform even within the Democratic party. Furthermore, their own support is eroding, as evidenced in party affiliation and the presidential approval rating. To go continue to go further to the left will alienate the centrist portion. To move towards America’s center will ensure its dominance in America politics in the short term, but will lead to further problems as the political diversity in America continues to broaden further.

Not to mention, the Democratic party risk a future division based upon the fact that there is a chance there can be a split between the different types of “liberals.” In my own experience, people who classify themselves as conservatives generally have conservative ideas in social, fiscal, and governmental policy. However, people who call themselves liberals may be fiscally and governmentally liberal, but social conservative. In my opinion, there are three categories that define American politics right now and they are related to social issues (homosexuality, abortion, immigration, etc.), fiscal issues (how much should the government tax and spend), and governmental issues (how much control should the government exercise). As it is, current the current powers in the Democrat party are operated as more liberal in all three directions, and if that continues, it will chafe other Democrats.

Long story short, the political diversity in America is growing in such a way that it can no longer conceivably have only two prominent parties in future. A “big-tent party” is becoming less and less doable, and so there will be a large portion of the American public that will be so disatisfied with the two current options that will lend their support to other options. Unless there becomes some issue that American as a whole defines itself against in order to produce a smaller political spectrum, a third party is a great likelihood in my opinion. But unlike in American history where the rise of a third party signaled the demise of one of the other two parties, in this context, all three will continue to exist (for better or worse).

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September 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Medical care: A right or privilege?

In the medical reform debate in the US, part of the rhetoric used in describing the differing sides based upon who should recieve health care classifies viewing health care as a right or as a privilege. Frequently this form of rhetoric is more “liberal” in usage as it the word privledge, because of its negative connotations, is associated with upper class, and thus is wrong. But to frame the discussion in such a way is a quick and easy heuristic to determine a basic approach to health care (all or not all), but it fundamentally misses differing rationales.

It is important to note that health care doesn’t work like most other sectors work. In most sectors, price will affect demand significantly. However, in medical care, price is not a major factor in demand when it comes to issues of death and extreme suffering, because most people value their life more than all their possessions. As such, there is little price people won’t pay in order to live and in order to avoid extreme suffering. This contrasts with the majority of goods where there is a negative correlation between price and demand.

Secondly, as demand increases for medical care, so does supply. Everytime you save the life of someone, there will be another time where they will risk death. Saving someone’s life leads to them having to run into the risk of losing their life down the road. Death is not escapable by any human means. So giving medical care only leads to more necessary medical care down the road.

In addition, the more health problems one has, the more likely they will have health problems in the future, so as medical care supply increases, there is also a near exponential increase in future demand.

The only major restriction of health care demand is population and the ages of that population. But population also affects the potential supply of medical care as it requires labor in providing medical care, and labor in obtaining knowledge to practice medical care, and labor to obtain more knowledge that can be taught to those who would provide medical care and create instruments to use in taking care of the ill. Since only a select portion can work in field of medical care, and yet everyone needs it (at the very least in any society, some labor has to be dedicated to provide food, clothing, and shelter), you can plausibly reach a point where demand exceeds supply. In more practical terms, the number of patients overwhelm health care providers to the point that they either can not serve some people or they have to ration their time and services and reduce the quality of care for every individual for every new person that needs medical help.

I use the word ration purposefully because that is an idea that has been used in the current medical reform discussions. Rationing of health care will become an eventual necessity in any society where there is a major reliance upon medical specialists. The demand exceeds supply.

So in reality, with the usage of the rhetoric of rights vs priviledge, what is in reality being talked about is a method of rationing health care. To say medical care is a right in reality is to say that medical care should be rationed equally among all the people. Privlege is in reality saying that equal rationing among all the people is not the preferential option. But the latter is not necessary an acceptance of the rationing system as it is, but merely a rejection of the form of rationing being espoused under the premise of medical care as a right. There are multiple ways to conceivably ration health care, not just two (government regulation vs. current market rationing).

A very general concept of rationing is based upon what is appropriate, both for the individual and the society as a whole. In other words, a combination of need and merit.

Here is a hypothertical circumstance to illustrate: There are two people who are sick. One person is one we might refer to as upper class. He made his money providing some service that people paid for and providing many benefits to his customers, and the customers as a whole felt the price was well worth what they got (in other words, this man didn’t exploit his customers). The other person would be classified as lower class and never worked a day in his life. The rich person also has a serious medical problem that requires more medical care to treat, wheras the poor person as an illness at the moment that is threatening to his life or quality of life, but other than that, he would be considered healthy.

If there was not enough medical care to be provided to both of those people, then rationing has to occur. Do you split health care amongst them equally? Then the poor person would survive, and the rich person wouldn’t. But then the service the rich person provided would be affected, and thus many other people would be affected because of his passing. You may have done something according to the principle of equality, but you have turned around and in fact hurt more people.

Now this example isn’t meant to be representative of all rich people and all poor people. There are many rich people who are good and who are bad, and there are many poor people who are good and who are bad. Nor is this meant to be determinative of a specific principled stance towards health care. However, it shows a potential dilemma of equality in health care. Equality sounds good, but it isn’t in all circumstances the best option for everyone (including those not recieving care).

Now one might try to create government regulations to take into consideration cases such as this. To a degree, they could create some leeway in the rationing system. However, because government regulation relies upon everyone acting according to similiar standards, the distinctions that are to be used to determine how to ration are restricted by the available vocabulary and the ease of understanding the  particular words chosen.

However, that is not easy to do. It would be near impossible to give articulate a principle that is by an large based upon equality, but yet consider that one exception, in one basic clause. Thus, it would require mutiple sentences to explain how to handle varying cases. But that is not the only situation where equality may not be beneficial. For other circumstances, it would require further exceptions be articulated. However, the more and more you add to a certain set of principles and codes, the harder it is to retain and remember all of them (just look at the IRS tax code!). So for those who implement policies that have been laid down, they would either be more prone to making mistakes or having to spend more time looking up regulations, and thus requiring more time and labor to actually implement the policies (the problem of beauracracy, in other words). As you try to take into consideration more and more exceptions to a general principle, knowledge costs rise dramatically.

So while in theory, government regulation could adapt their principles for medical care rationing to consider what is beneficial also for the entire population, including those not receiving medical care, in practice the costs become prohibitive for efficient implementation. Also, the less efficiency there is from beauracracy means there is less available resources available for actual medical care, thus reducing how much medical care can be rationed (or it requires use of tax funds either by pulling from so other programs which could hurt other segments of society, or increasing taxes which could hurt the economy).

Another option would be to give policy implementers allowance for exception based upon their judgment. However, people do not actually make decisions based upon actual future outcomes, but upon principles they have been taught that may or may not relate to future outcomes. For instance, a person may not recognize the rich person given in the example above will not be able provide those helpful services if he dies (after all, medical care does not need to know what you in order to treat you). Or, the person may feel that all rich people are evil and all poor people are innocent and make a decision that favors the poor person. Or, the person may not be concerned about society as a whole, but purely and only with the individuals. Etc. Etc.

So in consideration of whether health care should be a right or a privilege, the idea that it should be a right, while it might sound good, is not necessary the best route to go to benefit everyone. That is not to say that I personally think that the current way the market operates to dole out health care is the best way (at least best theoretical option) to do it. However, for all the injustice that is latent in the current system, it does allow for individual need and merit to a degree (as money can be said to correspond with the services provided to society, although there are other factors involved such as luck, greed, etc.). Without the ability to actually articulate a rationing system in such a way that is simple, considers all the possible different scenarios, provides health care to those who have nocapacity on their own to provide (whether due to infancy, being elderly, mental handicap, etc), is efficient, and does not allow for great potential to be used corruptly for personal power by a few individuals, the current system is preferable to a overhaul in my opinion. That is not to say the current system doesn’t need tweaks to improve health care, but there is no tweaking of the system that can provide everything that is being demanded of health care in my opinion. The human limitations of knowledge and time bear heavily upon us. To be ignorant of said human limitations while in the pursuit of justice can lead to some of the greatest forms of injustice.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Obama’s slippage in approval rating

At the celebration of many conservatives and the bemoaning of many liberals, Obama’s approval rating by most of the different polls have reaching about 50%. But what is even more disturbing for Obama is that there are many more people passionately against him than for him, as Rasumussen’s daily tracking poll illustrates. His presidency could also be one of the quickest adminstrations to fall below 50% approval rating, which is interesting in light of the fact that he had the second highest initial approval rating after World War II  (see here and here). To tack on even more good or bad news (depending on your politics), the Republicans have a 5 point lead in a Generic Congressional Ballot.

So all is lost for the Democrats, the Republicans will gain a significant portion of seats in 2010, and Obama will become a lame duck president. Right? Not necessarily so.

Just from a quick and dirty analysis of the chart those who strongly disapprove and those who strongly approve, it seems Obama has reached the bottom of the current downward trend and things seem to be leveling out. This chart as time passes could take on the form of a parabola and move upward in favor of Obama. Of course, this could also be a temporary halting point before a further downward trend.

But charts and graphical shapes do not determine the future, but people do.  One of the biggest factors in determining public opinions is the state of the economy. As people are slowly growing more confident, this will tend to favor the current party in power. Nothing brilliant there. However in my opinion, it will be a larger factor than in the past (for reasons I will refrain from giving at the moment, for the sake of brevity). Case in point, during the election race, McCain had taken a significant lead in the polls (at which point, I, embarssingly predicted a McCain victory) and there was talk about the Obama candidacy losing its mojo of sorts. However, once Goldman Sachs’ problems were reported on the news, the momentum suddenly shifted towards Obama’s direction, and McCain never posed a significant threat after that. The economy won the election for Obama and lost it for McCain after that point IMO, not any politicking.

As the perception of the economy looks to possibly improve (see this), Obama’s approval ratings will rise steadily. Furthermore, the current ratings are no doubt affected by one thing, medical care reform. However, the attention of Americans is focused upon recent events. If an administration is to ever attempt to enact extreme reforms (which the medical care and the energy bills are), the first and third year of the administration is the time to do it, so that if it backfires with the public, the passage of time can begin to fade the memories of that time and allow for present issues to dictate the polls more so.

Long story short, the current polls mean little to nothing as to what will happen in the 2010 elections, and even less for the 2012 election. Expect to see a more moderate Obama administration and Democratic party as the 2010 elections approach.

With all that said, Obama shares some interesting parallels with Jimmy Carter, which I will perhaps bring out in a future post. That does not bode well for Democratic control of the future. But a similarity in patterns does not dictate continuing conformity.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Reason for the high costs of health care

With the recent media attention on the costs of medical care and reforming of the health care system, I figured it would be a good idea to try to articulate some of the different factors in the US health care system that is causing the rise in health care costs.

1) Desire for profit – I am purposefully avoiding using a term such as greed, which has no real agreed upon qualifications (Is any profit greed? Is profit a certain amount greed? Or is greed performing certain types of behaviors to make a profit?). However, I will readily agree that there is greed in the system that helps raise prices, but that there is also a lot of “justifiable” profit.

For every person who has a part in the medical field, as with any other career field, the person expects to receive “more” (although no necessarily in money) than they put in. Otherwise, they would be recieving nothing for their time and effort, and with their own individuals needs cutting into what they have, they would eventually be left with nothing. Now, if society took it upon themselves to take care of all the needs of people working in the medical fields, they would not have to make a profit on their services and goods in order to continue to thrive.

There are also some practices that are made to ensure or increase the profit of a particular group, frequently at the monetary loss of another group (although, money is not everything, and there may still be a gain as whole). This becomes especially frequent when there is little resistance against rising prices, where there is relatively little competition in the field.

This is rather a generic observation, but because it is one that is true for all career fields and not just medical fields.

2) High costs of discovering medications – The costs of discovering new medications are enormous, sometimes reaching into the billions. The amount of employees, time, resources, machines, and knowledge needed to be able to produce a new medication is real high. Furthermore, many medications never make it to market and thus create costs that must be made up elsewhere if the company is to continue to thrive. Otherwise, one failed medication could potentially bankrupt a company.

3) Patenting – After a company develops a medication, in order to be able to regain the money they lost, they would need to be able to recieve a monopoly on the product for a number of years before generic pharmaceutical companies would be able to make it also, forcing the costs to go down. Without patenting, any company could immediately make a drug that another company discovered, increasing the risk that a pharmaceutical company would lose money on making a medication. Therefore, there would be the reduction in companies that actually discover medications because it would in fact be determental to the owners/shareholders of the company.

4) Socialized medicine in other countries – When other countries regulate the amount medications cost in their borders, it will naturally raise the costs for medication in countries where pharmaceuticals is part of a free market. For illustration, say it costs $1 billion dollars to discover and produce 100 million pills of a medicine. If half are sold in free markets and half are sold in regulated markets that average $2 a pill (meaning they make $200 million in those countries), it would require $800 millon dollars to be made from the free markets in order to ensure a break even point. That means that each pill would have to cost 300% more at $8 a pill.

Not that that illustration accurately conveys the actual costs and distributions for pharameceuticals, nor does it include profits, but it illustrates that where some countries regulate costs, others have to make up for it. But it still make financial sense for pharmaceutical to sell in regulated countries (so far as the costs of each indivudal pill is exceeded by the set price).

5) Barriers for corporations to enter into the medical field – The more regulated a particular field is, the more barriers there are to entering into the field. When it pertains to medical care, regulation is involved in many aspects by the US government. This insures a higher level of quality for medical care, as I am sure no one wants to go back to the day where you have snake oil salesmen, but it also decreases competition by creating greater overhead and continuing costs to enter into the field. So the higher costs get trasmitted to individuals, along with a lack of lowering force against the costs.

6) Barriers for individuals to enter into the medical field – This is related to the previous point, but it manifests itself is some subtly different ways. For instance, for people to become physicians, they have to spend nearly in a decade in school (when one takes in college, medical school, and residency) where the individuals have to incur enourmous debt and are unable to bring in substantial income (as opposed to an engineer, for instance, who can enter into the field after four years and make a substantial incomce relatively quickly). Firstly, this reduces the number of people willing/capable to enter into the field. However, it also raises prices of medical care by doctors who have to pay back their school loans and also are behind in accumulating wealth (not necessarily in a greedy sense, but other things such as funding retirement). Again though, these barriers to entering into the field insure that physicians as a whole can provide better quality care.

7) Medicare and Medicade – Medicare and Medicade do not agree with physician groups a rate of reimbursement (unlike insurance companies) but rather develop prices that are fixed. For instance, Medicare reimburses a fixed amount based upon the diagnoses, not the different things necessary to determine the diagnoses. For instance if a certain diagnoses can be generally be determined without using an MRI, but in certain instances it will require it, reimbursement that was determined without the costs of MRI will not cover that procedure. Thus doctors and hospitals either raise the severity of the diagnosis or they are left to cover the costs elsewhere, typically from other persons. That is just one instance where government reimbursements do not cover the costs of medical care.

8) Lack of payment of medical bills – This is a big factor that amplifies all the other factors to raise medical costs. In principle, for every dollar that a person is billed that is not paid for, another dollar is charged to other persons to make up for the lack of reimbursement.

To illustrate and assuming a minimim medical cost, for every $5 worth of billing, $1 is not paid. In order to make up for that, the people who would pay $4 actually would be billed $5 for a total billing of $6. That is a 20% markup. However, it doesn’t simply end there. Some of those persons who could afford medical care previously would not be able to afford it at the 20% markup. If default rate goes to 10%, then 50 cents would would have to be made up from the people who could pay, so then they would pay $5.50, with total billing reaching $6.50. And again, certain person who could pay couldn’t with the second increase. So in this hypothetical case (the percentages were determined for ease of illustration, not based upon any statistical data), in order for the hosptials and doctors to be reimbursed for every $5 of costs, they would have to bill $6.50, a 30% increase.

One this my illustration does not take into consideraton is population distributions tend to follow a bell shape curve, so wealth was presumably follow that curve. However, for every dollar you raise costs (up to the mid point of the bell curve), you get more people who could not pay than you had with the prevous dollar increase. Theoretically then, as you raise medical costs to make up for other’s inability to pay, you create more people who can not pay at a greater rate relative to rising costs. To put this simply, if true, this would mean rapidly escalating medical billing. This hurts particularly those who are already poor though, because people with greater wealth have medical insurance that is essentially a guarantee of payment. Guaranteed payment allows hosptials to bill less (hence why medical insurance becomes a bargain), but in doing that, they do not make up the losses from others as much from the insurance companies, thus placing the burden on those without medical insurance who can not guarantee payment.

9) Demand for high quality care – Whether it be accomplished through regulation or through market forces, Americans demand high quality care, which naturally increases medical costs. However, because there is not great amount of competition, most hospitals and medical care facilities move towards providing higher quality care, including things that are not directly related to medical care such as private rooms. That means that there are relatively few places that are geared towards less wealthy individuals. In the free market, universally demanded goods generally generate different sub industrties, some geared towards the wealthy (producing higher quality for high prices) and some geared towards those who have less (cheaper prices for less quality). A good example is the difference between Target (higher quality) and Wal-Mart (cheaper prices). But with the relative lack of organizations and corporations in the medical field, they tend to be move towards where profit is maximized, that is by providing higher cost, higher quality care. But there is little alternative for the less wealthy, so they have to use the medical systems that are geared to the wealthier, with the costs that come with it.

10) Stagnating economy – When insurance companies take a premium from people they insure, the premiums they take from all individuals do not necessarily cover the medical costs for all the medical costs they incur over the long haul. Medical insurance is in fact a bargain, as expensive as it might be. Insurance companies (and not just medical insurance) rely upon investing the insurance premiums into the market, in hopes that investment returns will make up in the difference in premiums and medical costs.

So, when the economy has been stagnating (as it really has over the past decade), you will naturally have a rise in insurance premiums to insure that medical costs, present and future, can be covered. While this creates volatility in insurance premiums, it means that people being insured do not have to bear all the costs themselves for medical insurance.

11) Increase in life expectancy – As people live longer, their bodies are more susceptible to health problems. Thus as age increases, so do medical costs to insure longevity and quality of life. So when a society as a whole is having higher life expectancy, they will naturally incur greater expenses as a whole later in life. However, if some do not reimburse (either out of pocket, government programs, or insurance) hosptials, doctors, etc. for their expenses, it has to made up elsewhere. So increase in life expectancy of a nation would tend towards an increase in medical costs across the board.

12) Low infant mortality rate and better pre-natal care – With the ability to save the lives of infants who would have otherwise died, you bring in a group of peoplewho on the average would not be as hardy as other persons might (though this is not true for ever individual case). By doing this, you raise the potential number of medical problems that have to be addressed in the future, along with the ensuing raising of costs of everyone. (To be clear, I am definitely NOT complaining about this, as I myself was a person who could have been still-born if not for the intervention of a physician).

13) Baby boomers – As the baby boomer populaton continues to age, they are having more and more medical issues that require more action. Again, this relates to higher costs across the board.

14) “Far-flung” medical infrastucture – In principle, it is cheaper for one hosptial to serve a certain population in one location than for two hosptials to serve the same number of people in two different locations. But in the US, you have a large number of people who live in rural areas that are being provided medical care. This requires an infrastructure that is wide spread, incurring greater costs. For instance, in Mississippi, every county has a hopstial, regardless of the population. But in more rural counties, it costs more per patient than it might in a more populous county. However, with regulation in health care, the billing costs tend to be equalized to some degree for more rural and more urban health care. Thus urbanites tend to pay a higher price than they would otherwise (but they also, as a whole, would tend to be wealthier).

I am not advocating necessarily what should and should not be done in order to address medical care in the US. Rather, my point is to try to show why health care is getting more expensive and to illustrate the trade-offs we have made and the potential trade-offs in the future.

In my own opinion, there is nothing that can be done on the governmental level that can actually reduce medical costs drastically. There are too many systematic difficulties that can not effectively be regulated, nor can market forces address the concerns either. I chalk this one up to inherent human limitation that we can not escape, as staving off death has always been diffcult and will always continue to be so.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

The differences in White American and Black American Christianity in politics

Before I make further comments, I have purposefully described race in terms of color, instead of culture, because in the end, that is how race is really viewed in America by in large. It isn’t a matter of ancestral origin, but color of the skin. Terms such as African-American are utterly devoid of useful purpose, as there are some people with black skin who do not come form Africa, and those persons with black skin who derive their lineage from Africa in the distant past are different culturally from and an African who recently migratex to America. White American and Black American are more apt descriptors, in my opinion, of the culture of the two groups based upon the dividing factor within American society.

One particular point of interest with me that I have always wondered about was the difference in political voting between White American Christians and Black American Christians (WAC and BAC for brevity, with WA and BA referring to the racial culture as a whole without reference to Christianity). WACs typically lean towards more conservative candidates on the basis of issues such as abortion and homosexuality. However, there is considerable divergence on those moral issues within the WAC culture. On the flip side, BACs are more unified on those issues in the conservative direction, but yet paradoxically, they with almost a unified voice tend to vote for more liberal candidates. It is obvious, then, that social/moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality are not a deciding factors in political alignment. What is the cause of that?

Some might attribute it to poverty which exists at a greater rate in BA, where the Democratic rhetroic is more geared towards lower-class individuals. However, I think this is an overly simplistic answer, or rather I think poverty is merely related to an over-arching mindset.

Poverty is more than just an absence of resources of wealth. It is frequently associated with a certain set of beliefs about life in general. People all by nature have a gear to survive and to live comfortably after ensuring survival. However, if with repeated efforts one fails to achieve those goals, no matter how hard one works, then one will eventually begin to believe one has no personal control over their circumstances. Fate (although not necessarily in the cosmological sense, but in a personal sense) is the resulting belief. In psychological terms, this is described as learned helplessness.

But a personal fatalism would not necessarily be rooted in BAs poverty alone. The instituton of slavery (which is definitely a component in the continuing high poverty rates) would be another source of personal fatalism, which would be passed down through the culture the follow generations. Being forcibly removed from one’s homeland and forced to live in a particular place with little recourse would engender personal fatalism.

Contrast this with the culture of WA, who largely migrated from Europe. Their ancestors migrated to Europe in order to try to make a better life for thermselves, to escape religious persecution, etc. Their conscious decision to move was a voluntary one in the exercise of personal control. As the choice to move provided a better life for them, they felt empowered and belief in personal freedom and power was fostered, and would be passed down through the generations.

Also, have ancestors who succeeded in the American culture, the following generations already had the resources and know-how to succeed. As they made conscientious choices to preserve their life and better it, they succeeded enough to continue to strengthen the belief in personal freedom and power.

An proper analogy for the differences between WAC and BAC is the difference between Christianity after it become enfused with the powerful state in the reign of Constantine, and before especially when it fell under persecution. The early Christians were not particularly involved in governmental change, displayed in the book of Revelation where the Roman government was evil and a source of destruction. For those Christians, they believed little in personal choice to overcome the Roman Empire, but they must have a deliverer from the source of their suffering, God through Jesus Christ.

The later Christians after Constantine, on the other hand, felt more personally empowered as a group. That they felt empowered to act was witnessed when Julian the Apostate threatened to revoke Chrsitianity’s priveledged status. As time passed, the Christian Church united with the state (and eventually overcome the state in the West) took different initiatives, such as preserving the legal system in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The analogy falls short though in that BAC does not regard the government as Babylon, but they are a great example of the mindset of Christians living in Babylon. BAC does not view their religon as antithetical to governmental reign, but can find a hero for their struggle in both religion and government. God is worshipped as one who redeems, who acts in power for His people, etc. But, government officials are percieved also as providing a form of hope of “redempton.” For them, a hero is important.

But for conservative WAC, who are like the church after Constantine, much of their efforts are rooted in preserving the society as they have known it in accordance to their values. America, formerly adhering to conservative Christianity morality, is rebelling against its traditional religious background and this is threatening to WAC and their place in society. Thus, for them, preserving the way of life is more vital for their political ideals.

This is not an approval of one sets of politic beliefs over the other (for those who know me, I have slowly grown cold to all the limited options in the American political arena). It is merely an attempt to try to understand the reasons for diverging political beliefs in the face of two cultures who do share much in common in the moral arena.

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Religious trust, community, the emergence of self-esteem, and politics

The prevailing emphasis upon the boosting of the self-esteem of individuals is a particularly newer phenomenon, rooted in the scientific study of psychology. But yet, self-esteem isn’t a new cognitive phenomenon. However, boosting of individuals self-esteem is given as a panacea, particularly for depression. There is no denying that it does not work in that regard, as those who have high self esteem do not tend to be depressed (although other things like productivity may not correlate well with self-esteem, at least not as well as productivity would correlate with depression). But why is the focus upon self-esteem such a contemporary phenomenon?

At its core, self-esteem is essentially the confidence of an individual in the individual. It does not consider other persons, nor does it consider (at least directly) a God or higher power. It is focused solely upon the self as an individual. In the American landscape which placed a huge emphasis upon rugged individualism and self-sufficiency, there would not be much focus upon the idea of the esteem of a corporate group or other individuals. Each person should be able to do everything they need on their own.

Once psychology became a more developed field and followed a greater scientific rigor, it would have studied the concept of self-esteem and by seeing a correlation with self-sufficiency. With a disregard for reliance upon others already within the American and modern mind set, individual self-esteem would have been seen as a solution to problems.

When we consider the idea of depression though, which self-esteem correlates well with, the idea of happiness and sadness is a combination of two things: the current state the person is in in addition to the prospect of future pleasure and happiness. Self-esteem relates to this in making judgments about whether we can capably reach a positive goal. In a sense, self-esteem is a self-trust to manipulate our the environment and our resources (both physical and mental) in order to bring about what we feel will be a positive emotional result. Self-trust provides hope, and the greater the hope, the lesser the depression.

But hope doesn’t have to be grounded upon self-esteem in order to exist. If we trust that someone other than ourself will provide the positive outcome we want, then that still engenders feelings of hope. But the individualism of modern philosophy and American culture instead engenders suspicion in others, which leads to break down of trust other persons within a community. The natural result then is of the breakdown of community, although it would be a gradual process.

In addition to that, though, is that with the modernist skepticism of religion, trust in God to provide hope would have been minimized also. At best for some of the religious, they might think that God has given humanity everything they need (in a Deistic manner), and so there is no need to place any further trust in God, but to help ourselves. This is most exemplified by the Benjamin Franklin quote “God helps those who help themselves.”

Combine these two factors, and it leads to the present situation we are in day. Gone is the confidence even in scientific progress taken up by the scientific community. And there is a lack of trust in God by theists, agnostics, and atheists alike. The one bastion of refuge is individual.

But even that is getting torn apart, as it is becoming less and less feasible for people to truly view themselves as truly as capable as they were lead to believe they were. Self-esteem is an evaluation of trust in oneself like trust in another person. It can be eroded when the trust is found to be false, or the person will always interpret their failures as do to others people or situational factors. The first leads to extreme depression, the other to narcissm. The former depresses the individual, the latter frustrates everyone else. But narcissism will slowly erode as the concept of self-esteem becomes less and less tenable. Fewer people will go down the route of self-esteem that can lead to narcissism.

Depression rates are indeed increasing in America, as one would expect with the destruction of individual self-esteem. And postmodernism, with its implications now being a very influential way of thinking among the masses, is in one sense an extension of that idea, in that we can not even trust upon ourselves reliably for knowledge.

But humanity can not be sustained within a vacuum of trust and hope. There has to be a reliance upon something or someone, or there will be the permanent fall into depression. And when the public is so worn down, it is natural to place trust in a seemingly powerful figure. Postmodernism and modernism would not allow this to be in God. So we look to another person or persons. Hence, in America the fascination by the masses by Obama and the near messianic expectations placed upon him and the concept of change. Whether or not Obama is indeed capable at all, a society that constantly views politicians in a negative light can not help but place such huge positive expectations upon a particular politician. The current skepticism makes “Obama-mania” even more suprising, except when we realize that the current societal mood leads for people to be grasping for something. But it isn’t so much in a community, but in a particular individual.

When the bubble bursts, what will be the result in America? Will there ever be an opening to actually placing trust in God and community (particularly a Christ-like community)? Of course for that to be true, a community of Christians must differentiate themselves form the current morass of Christianity. But with Christian ministers themselves existentializing the Bible and making it relate to individualistic self-esteem, will that happen? Is this already happening, and the previous Christian inclination to be based upon belief in propositions instead of trust in God is beginning to pass away?

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kingdom of God and political, social, and economic ideologies

Jesus message of God’s Kingdom, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, is not focused around any ideology, but rather it is based upon relationship of person to person. More particularly, the Kingdom ethic is summed up in non-resistance, forgiving, love that does not seek to institute from the top-down, but from the bottom-up (servile love, rather than authoritarian force). It gives no mention of social institutions, political philosophies, economic theories, or anything else. It doesn’t give a comprehensive plan for the ushering in of God’s Kingdom. Jesus simply calls people to a particular form of relational ethics on the grounds that the reciprocating nature of humanity will lead to transformation of our enemies and the enemies of God’s Kingdom through love, compassion, and forgiveness directed towards them.

All attempts to subject Jesus’ relational ethic into a systematic thought on society, or any attempt to claim that Jesus’ message corresponds with a certain  ideology fails to see that Jesus gives no vision of society beyond the relationship between person with person and person with God.

Christians should not envision a society in a certain way and presume that God endorses such a system because there is some correspondance between Jesus’ message and the system. For there is likely some idea that also, perhaps in a subtle way, conflicts with Jesus’ relational ethic.

Who can envision the way that Jesus ideal relational behavior will manifest itself in God’s fully inaugurated Kingdom? To say one has a particular vision of how it should be is the height of human arrogance, presuming that they have a perfect understanding of human psychology, God’s involvement with the world, and a perfect understanding of Jesus’ message. All ideologies, at best, must be regarded as a method that could and probably should be discarded, as it spoils about as fast as milk. Communism, socialism, capitalism, liberalism, authoritarianism, democracy, etc. are all like milk that is good for a little while but then spoils quickly, and like a cubic zirconia that looks like a diamond, but upon further inspection it is structurally different and a cheap, falliable imitation.

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Watch out Obama?

What looked like a sure fire win for Obama is taking an interesting approach and it is getting very close. Over the past few days, the daily Gallup poll, one of the most accurate polls, has shown a narrowing lead. Their traditional poll of likely voters had it Obama and McCain only separated by 4 points as of only the 12th. Now it is separated by 2 points.

On the flip side, the expanded versions of Gallup’s likely voters poll, still show a 6 point lead, down 1 point from 7 on the 12th. The expanded version makes a more inclusive definition of likely voters.

So, the race is tightening up. It comes down to how many of the groups that are less likely to vote will actually vote. If young people and minorities vote more, then Obama is clearly going to be a winner. However, I do not think young people are going to be that much more likely to vote than they are any other year, because young people are always energized about the election, but it generally turns out to be a vocal minority that actually vote. African-Americans will have more voters almost assuredly, but I don’t see what is going to make other minority groups more likely to vote.

But I think this goes to show the weakness of Obama more than anything else. If Obama was a strong candidate, with the economy as it is and the relatively lackluster McCain and the fading star of Palin, then this election would have been done and over at this point. We would be comparing this election to Reagan/Mondale already (originally wrote Dukakis, but I got my insignificant losing presidential candidates mixed up!).

Don’t get me wrong, I still stand by my prediction and think Obama wins this election, regardless of how many young or minority people vote. But the fact that Obama could not put away a reeling Republican party and candidate signals to me a foundational weakness with either Obama and/or the Democratic party.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 6 Comments

Politics, economics, and eschatology

If you have noticed, a few of the things I tend to blog about are politics and economics. But as my purpose of my blog states, it is centered around God’s Kingdom and as it is spreading and growing in the world. And many Christians have this vision and desire, but it is my opinion the methods they espouse, especially in the political and economic arena, are rather short sighted and antithetical to what God’s Kingdom is becoming.

The chief means people use to try to bring about their vision of good (whether the individual or the corporate good) is through control, whether it be through violence, manipulation, deceit, taking without permission, or any other means. People are by nature have some sort of ethics (whether, again, it is to benefit the individual or the community) that they live by. When they see a violation of that ethic, their first recourse if they feel they are confident enough is to attempt to forcibly change the behavior and/or the outcome.

And there are times where this is needed. For instance, the murderer who is put into jail. The criminal is forcibly removed from society so that he can not longer harm and terrorize people. In this case, a person is actually causing an injustice that is not otherwise present. It is not a victimless evil.

But there are times where control is used in other venues, where it isn’t as appropriate. For instance, the religious right would seek to control homosexuality by forcibly removing marriage as an option. While I agree morally that marriage is only between a man and a woman, the attempt as force for such an action is misplaced. There is no direct victim of this moral evil. There is much to be said about how the action changes the person, which in turn might result in other evil actions that have victims, but homosexuality itself brings about itself no further injustice.

Or take the tendency of the liberal side of religion and politics, where they seek to, in varying degrees, take the wealth of the richest in order to give to the poor, the Robin Hood mentality. While yes, greed is a sin, greed itself creates no victim directly (other actions, that may result from greed, are the problem). Certainly, they should give money to those who are in need, but failure to do something, while evil, isn’t the cause of injustice. Suffering and lack is many times the fault of no individual, and while it is our duty to help where we can, we can not forcibly place that ethic upon other individuals. Trying to take money from the rich (who are not always greedy!) itself is an attempt to force an outcome.

Why the distinction between victimizing evils and victimless evils? Before in the former, when one controls the situation, one is actually stopping the injustice. In the latter, one is not actually stopping injustice. Even if we take money from the rich, we must distribute it to the poor in a way that actually solves the problem. But this requires knowing all the situations of the poor, and effectively distributing it. It is an amount of knowledge that is not easily, if not impossible, to obtain.

Furthermore, when one uses force, no matter if the evil doer creates a victim or not, there is going to be the inevitable backlash. Most of people’s actions come because their own individual ethos that they value (And not necessarily an external ethic imposed or taught them) does not condemn what they have done. It is not as if they have done something they would otherwise not do (though those situations do occur) and will recognize the error of their ways. Instead, they will respond with aggression if they have any confidence in their own ability to act effectively.

So whenever control is used, you are creating a group of people who may potentially lash back. When one stops a victimizing evil, the benefits often times outweigh the costs. But when one stops a victimless evil, there will be the tendency for less good to be done, and as a result the backlash outweighs the benefits (if any).

In the end, it is rooted around confidence in the ability of ourselves or other humans to make the world a better place (as we would see it). Making the world a better place is a noble goal, but force tends to create unforeseen consequences that we would never have imagined. Furthermore, it offers false hope. In the end, it turns into a form of idolatry (although varying in degrees). Whether it is the “liberals” when it comes to things like the economy or “conservatives” when it comes to things like homosexuality or the “moderates” who merely play both sides but still attempt to forcibly create a better world, it is an idolatry, in which we view ourselves as humans as the source of “redemption”, instead of the God of Creation.

Here is what it comes down to. God doesn’t choose to use force as the primary means of transforming the world into a better place. Rather, he uses love. He doesn’t merely use love to as a motivation for what he does, but he shows love that then transforms the hearts of the object of his love. The love he shows us in turns leads us to show the same type of love he shows us.

There is some wisdom behind Jesus saying “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It isn’t merely just a logical principle. Jesus is also showing how we can have others do what we want them to do when we do it ourselves for them. If we wish others to show love, we must ourselves act with love. But force is not an act of love, even if it is motivated by it. It is a disregard for the other.

Now God himself will use force, as in the judgment when he will remove the evil doers from those who seek good so as to have a people who will not harm one another and by that cause disorder. But there is a difference between God and us. We believe he knows all. We believe he is wise. So when he acts with power to forcibly remove others, he acts with the complete knowing of what will happen. We on the other hand are not omniscient and our attempts will often times create unintended consequences that we did not, and even could not, foresee. When we try to force about our vision of things, we are acting as if we are the omniscient ones, that we have taken every factor into consideration, and know that what we intend to happen will in fact happen.

Jesus nowhere endorses the call to force to change the world. And Paul himself says that he can not make judgments (of actions regarding) of the world. And many attempts have been made to try to create the world that people envision as best (for instance, communism). And yet many Christians continue to try to appeal to the same principle that is no where endorsed and has repeatedly failed when used to try to bring about a certain vision.

The Kingdom of God when it has fully come is not going to be, as we often times envision it, as entailing a master-servant relationship between Jesus and everyone else. Revelation 3:21 envisions people sitting in authority along side Jesus. In other words, there isn’t the subjection of others. And while we are not mature enough yet to live in such a world, it is counterproductive for us to appeal more and more to force, when that itself is not the way of those who live in God’s Kingdom.

Christians must first break this tendency. It offers at best short-term results when we use it to try to make the world a better place (instead of preventing it from going into further decay). In the end it is a false hope. Our true hope is centered around the work of God and the long-term goal he is working towards. We do play a role in that, but we must recognize our own limitations. But many of us act as if we are omniscient and omnipotent and people who will bring about the world we envision through our own forcing of it to occur, where it be through economic control, income redistribution, moral control, war, etc. Instead of letting love create love, we use force and it creates force in return.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

The language of “class warfare”

Drew wrote a post yesterday discussing whether Palin is in fact middle class or not (which she is not by current statistics). And by judging her current income level, she is not. However, there is an assumption behind whether she is middle class or not and how that makes her qualified to be of the people. And it comes the “class warfare” ideology that has been latent sense Marxism.

The assumption is, the amount of money you have in the present is an  indicator of ones morals and ones understanding of the income bracket one is in, at the exclusion of other income brackets. The first one is easily refuted, but the second one is one I wish to focus upon.

First off, the majority of people do not stay within one classification their entire lives. A good percentage of lower class people will move up to be middle class, and a good (though lesser) percentage of middle class people will move up to be upper class. And then there is also a downward trend in that the reverse happens. This trend of non-static classes is in a large part due to age.

As people grow older and get more experience and training at their jobs, their pay rises. For instant a student fresh out of college will not garner the highest possible income, but as they get into the job, their pay will rise as their experience rises. A resident in medical school will be in the lower class, but once they complete their training and gain more experience they will move into the middle or upper class.

And as people being to get older, work part time, work easier less taxing jobs, or retire, their income will decrease.

The fact is, many people who are upper class were not always upper class. They worked their way up the ladder, not had it handed to them or did amoral things to get up there. And so, being upper class doesn’t mean one is “elite”, as Drew seemed so quick to tag to Palin, and have no understanding and empathy for the working class. Current status is not an indicator of past experiences or status, nor is it of the future.

But this derives back from class warfare, that sees only current status as the important indicator, because it requires too much work to look into people’s pasts. And it also doesn’t fit into the conclusion often times also, so one would suppress and not be as prone to look at the rest of the story. Not saying everyone is guilty of it, but society has been.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment