Want to Get Rid of Corruption?

Lord Acton once famously stated, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Those who wish to correct the problems of public corruption would do well to heed these words.

Take college football coaches. As someone who follows both the University of Arkansas and Ohio State, this last year has seen the effects of corruption in head coaches. So how is it fixed? The current solution is to fire the bum and hire someone else. But consider the situation into which the new guy is hired. Especially in the case of Ohio State, fans and boosters are wholly emotionally incapable of handling even a single loss — triply so in the case of the Michigan game. I say this with a great deal of experience, having grown up in and around Columbus. The new guy is expected immediately to turn the program around. Boosters, alumni, and the AD are second-guessing every decision. Every wins results in near-deification. Every loss there’s a call for his head. Corruption is simply inevitable in this environment. This doesn’t absolve the man of his corruption; he always had the option to make the right moral choice. His position as second only to God, combined with such intense pressure to produce, make any excess and any vice seem excusable. For a time, they are. Eventually he crosses an invisible bridge too far, and he falls from favor. Hard. The AD or the NCAA makes a big show of keeping the game clean, and the cycle continues. They fire the bum and hire a new guy — into the same set of pressures that led to the corruption of the last guy. So it goes.

What’s the answer? Hire only the most moral men you can find? That was Jim Tressel, until his own fall. So was Joe Paterno. Hire fallen men and they will act true to their sinful nature. I have a radical idea that comes straight from Lord Acton’s dictum: Take away their power.

It’s not such a hard concept, really. Stop treating coaches like demigods. Stop making college football the national civic idolatry. Require all college athletes to meet the same academic standards for entrance as anyone else, and require that they make their grades (and not their tutors for them — my alma mater is a major football school and I’ve seen it). If the NCAA won’t enforce standards, withdraw from it and establish a league where “scholar-athlete” doesn’t have to be in quotes. As long as wins are the most important goal of the institution, integrity takes a back seat. When football becomes merely a lighthearted periodic diversion — as it ought to be — there will simply be no incentive to cheat, lie, or be corrupt in any way. Until that time, don’t be surprised when the “great coaches” fall from grace every year.

Oh, and this works in other spheres of life as well. Don’t like the three-year election cycle of a President who can foist despotic policies on you? Put him back on the leash the Constitution gave to his office. Campaign finance reform usually only succeeds in restricting First Amendment rights to free speech, association, and petitioning government for redress of grievances. As long as the President is more or less an elected king, half of the country will be miserable half of the time. Why not dust off the Tenth Amendment and restore local governance? That way there is simply little reason for Presidential elections to last three years and cost $2 billion.

Or we could keep things just the way they are and wondering why there’s so much corruption.

The Ridiculous Adoption Argument

There are a number of arguments from those who wish to see elective abortion remain an option for pregnant women, ranging from the flat-out evil and dehumanizing to the mildly irritating. But there is one argument that seems to go unchallenged, and it needs to be. It goes like this: “If you’re so against abortion, why aren’t you adopting all the unwanted children born in this country?” There are several iterations, but that’s how it goes in general. Here’s why it’s not a strong argument in the least:

1. It’s an argumentum ad hominem (literally, arguing against the man). Ad hominems don’t only come in the form of name-calling. This one is rather subtle, in fact. Rather than arguing against the ethics of permitting mothers to terminate their pregnancies, rather than debating the humanity of the unborn child, rather than debating the legality or prudence of prohibiting elective abortion in medical practice — this argument rests solely on the person against whom it is made. This is provable: The argument falls flat when made to someone who actually has adopted unwanted children. Therefore, the strength of the argument comes solely from the other person, rather than on the logical validity of the conclusion.

2. It’s a red herring. It takes the argument away from the actual ethics of the practice of elective abortion and puts the pro-life person on the defensive. If he fails to recognize that this argument is a mere red herring, he either has to justify himself or admit that he has not adopted unwanted children. If he does the former, he is accepting the ad hominem nature of the argument and refuting the argument not with logic but with his own person. If he does the latter, he is admitting that he is part  of the perceived problem — and has closed the door to diagnosing part of the problem that has exacerbated the widespread practice of elective abortion to be the widespread practice of promiscuous sex (and the attendant desire for that practice to come without consequence).

3. It misses the point. The pro-life argument is and ever remains that the unborn child is fully human, possessing the same right to his life as I have to mine. That’s it. No justification can possibly trump that: not the law, not cost, not convenience, not an appeal to a woman’s “right” to choose. The appeal to not adopting unwanted children does not address the humanity of the unborn. That there are children born to parents who do not want them is admittedly a terrible thing, but is the solution to deprive them of their life before they have a chance to be born? From time immemorial, mothers have told their children that two wrongs don’t make a right; there’s wisdom in that. If the unborn child is fully human, even the fact of unwanted children cannot justify depriving unborn children of their life.

Next time someone tries this argument with you, don’t let him get away with it!

Hinton’s Rules of Logic

1. Logic may be the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, but wisdom is seldom illogical.

2. The obvious exception to Rule #1 is the Holy Cross.

3. Prohibited informal fallacy: argumentam ad Fox Newsam — defined as assuming that because your opponent is arguing from a non-progressive viewpoint he necessarily only got it from watching a certain cable news network.

4. If you can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman, a man and a man, and a woman and a woman in a sexual relationship, you either need to retake basic biology or get a new prescription.

5. We don’t define the rule by the exception. Yes, this has the effect of undoing postmodern ethics, but deal with it. The existence, for example, of infertile couples does not negate the fact that procreation is an important part of marriage.

6. Just because this clever man Godwin postulated something about the use of Nazi/Hitler/Holocaust comparisons in online fora doesn’t mean there aren’t actually legitimate comparisons to be made when dealing with those who dehumanize others for their own benefit.

7. The science is never settled. Ever. The whole point of science is that if there are theories and laws, they are testable and repeatable. Don’t argue with someone who disagrees with you — since science is only a way to know things a posteriori, invite him to experiment and observe instead.

8. Self-righteous indignation is not argumentation.

9. Nothing in all existence is as intolerant as tolerance.

10. Mere acceptance of a behavior is not love.

11. The Bible is not a random list of sayings (like this list). There is a narrative, and certain writings were addressed to certain peoples at certain times. If you actually read the thing you’d see that. There’s a reason why Christians promote the moral law while eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics; if you can’t even articulate why that is the case, don’t bother arguing for or against the Old Testament. This rule applies equally to secular progressives and conservative fundamentalists.

12. Car analogies are lame and overdone, just like a Toyota Corolla.

13. Historically speaking, bullying was a totally okay part of growing up, like breaking an arm or breaking up with a girlfriend, until quite recently. No one cared until it started happening to gay kids. So from all the weird kids, fat kids, nerds, and other outcasts — thanks for not caring. Arguments from the number of people being picked on still say nothing to the ethics of the subject.

14. If you want to argue that minute traces of a chemical are building up in our bodies and causing <ZOMGSUPERDISEASE!!!!1!> you had better be prepared to explain why your liver and kidneys stopped working.

15. The loudest and most passionate argument is not necessarily right.

16. Argumentum ad baculum is still possible when you hold little power, and it is still every bit as fallacious.

17. Whoever uses the word “Hater-Ade” automatically forfeits the argument.

18. Everyone is always trying to justify himself. Perhaps the wisest question in the whole scope of ethics is, “Why do you want to know?”

19. Calling me names doesn’t make your argument any stronger.

20. If you think the whole message of the gospels is radical tolerance and acceptance, you must have skipped where Jesus says exactly what He came to do: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for the many” (St. Matthew 20:28).

Sermon – Easter

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Easter – April 8, 2012
Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming

St. Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away ythe stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Sermon – Palmarum

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Palmarum – April 1, 2012
Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Matthew 27:11-54

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Sermon – Reminiscere (Lent 2)

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Reminiscere Sunday, March 4, 2012
Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Matthew 15:21-28

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, ha Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and lknelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat nthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

How to Argue for Women’s Ordination

Woman pastor wearing fuzzy stole on Easter Sunday.Recently a group has sprung up on Facebook advocating that “the ordination of women should be publicly discussed in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.” Many of you may not know that this issue is what finally drove me from the ELCA to the Missouri Synod. I read the LCMS rationale for their practice, and was impressed that it seemed to flow from Scripture, despite how increasingly unpopular it made them. I wanted to know what the ELCA’s rationale was for its practice, so I started asking around. At the time I was about to begin applying to one of their seminaries, so I thought I ought to take care of this issue right off the bat. To make a long story short, not even the systematics chair at their seminary could defend the practice from Scripture. I swam across the Mississippi River so fast I didn’t even get wet. But I find it sad that this professor could not make a good defense, especially because, after years of reading about it in print and online and following discussions such as the aforementioned Facebook page, I have discovered the secret to arguing in favor of women’s ordination.

Step 1. Adopt Enthusiasm Early On

By this I do not mean what the term as come to mean, i.e., that you are passionate and excited. Here I intend the enthusiasm defined in the Smalcald Articles (III VIII 3ff). Of course, that same article staunchly condemns this idea, but hey, the Confessions are “living documents,” which means you’re totally free to disregard them when you need to. No, this enthusiasm is the one that says God the Holy Spirit tells you stuff apart from and before the Word.

Try this one: “God has given me all these gifts and He wants me to use them to glorify Him.” If you’re one of those stuck-up Missouri types, you might be inclined to object that Scripture doesn’t speak this way, but this objection is no problem for the Enthusiast. You know what God said because… well, you just do. And because God’s thoughts just popped into your head, no one can question them! But closely tied to this step is the next…

Step 2. Monasticism is Your Friend

I have to become a nun? Of course not! You want to bypass that entirely and be a priest, or maybe even the bishop. After all, the Kingdom of God is a hierarchy, and the closer you are to God in the organizational chart, the better. Why risk your salvation on staying a laywoman? Everyone knows that being a pastor is, like, a Get-Into-Heaven-Free card. And of course it goes without saying that pastors are by their very nature holier than anybody else, so don’t be stingy in pointing out that those mean Missourians are holding back all those goodies from thousands of women.

Think of the argument from Step 1. Not only do you have all these swell gifts, and you’d be just as good a pastor as any man, but you know the only way to use these gifts is to be a pastor. Remember: Only pastors are really serving God. Feel free to step on any other vocation in order to make that of pastor even higher — that’s what monasticism’s all about, remember? Fair warning: your pesky opponents might force their brainwashed wives into arguing along with them that they are content that they serve God “in their own vocations as wife and mother.” Whatever. No woman really thinks that way. The more you denigrate the vocations of wife and mother, the stronger your argument becomes. Bonus points for throwing stay-at-home mothers and homeschoolers under the bus as well.

One thing to remember: try to avoid too much talk of exactly what pastors are, what they do, and how they get to be pastors. Doubly so when engaging biblical texts on the matter (we’ll cover that in Step 3 in greater detail). Your new appreciation for monasticism reminds you that the pastor is just the guy in the church that God likes best, so feel free to point out how Jesus seemed to hold women in high regard. Holding women in high regard = He wants them to be pastors. Your opponent won’t understand what that argument means, but hey, he’s probably a man.  Remember how Yahweh said in the Old Testament, “I like Levi best, so his sons can be priests, but I hold all the other tribes in lower regard, so none of them gets anything special — especially Judah.” It’s somewhere in one of those long boring lists of names.

Step 3. Two Words: Higher Criticism

This step is probably remedial for you, but if it isn’t, you’ll need to understand how higher criticism works. Don’t worry, it’s really easy. You already know what God is like, right? He’s a lot like you. So throw out all the times when God (or Jesus) does or says something you know He wouldn’t, throw out all the commands that you know God wouldn’t really have made, and definitely throw out all the events you just know couldn’t really have happened. When’s the last time you saw a blind man see again without millions of dollars worth of surgery? I thought so.

But what does this have to do with women’s ordination? Well, remember, your opponents are basically knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing fundies with academic credentials only slightly higher than Oral Roberts — so they’re going to be using the Bible as a crutch. They can quote the Bible all day long, but remember they approach it like total simpletons and take it at face value. You know better. You know what Jesus is really like (see Step 1), and He was all about radical inclusion. Again, your opponent will have no idea what that means, but you know it means He totally wants women pastors. They might bring up the fact that Jesus didn’t actually bother to make a woman a pastor during His earthly ministry, but you can just counter by thinking of the name of a woman in the Bible and claiming she was really a pastor.

Oh, and don’t forget the value of the New Perspective on Paul. Jesus was the radical inclusivist who wanted everyone to be happy and get along and never said a mean word to anyone, but then Paul came along and gave the church that nasty mean streak. Learn it well, because your opponents will be quoting Paul. A lot.

Step 4. Argumentum ad Misericordiam

Lastly, never underestimate the power of an argument from your own personal suffering. After all, you have a husband, parents, children, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow citizens, but there’s no one for you to serve until those meanies let you be a pastor. Be sure to include as much detail about your own suffering over this as possible. Remind everyone how you feel like you’re on the outside because they won’t let you in. Remind everyone about how many great gifts you have that can only be used if you were wearing a collar. What a burden that must be. Oh, and feel free to inflate the number of fellow sufferers there might be.

There’s much more that could be said, but that should give you a good start.

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