Revelation’s Beast – Where the Religious Right Gets it Wrong

If you’ve spent many years of your life in or around conservative Evangelical Churches, you’ve heard plenty of speculation about who the Beast is in the Book of Revelation. Usually, you’ll hear them say it’s a person, like Barack Obama or the Pope, or that it’s an entity, like the U.N. or the Roman Catholic Church.

I say the Bible points to none of these and that the Religious Right simply uses such accusations to justify their nationalist condemnations of the outside world, when, in reality, Revelation’s criteria for the Beast actually points to their own world.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters, not because we need to determine the time of Jesus’ return, but because the Bible sternly warns us Christians that “those who worship the beast and his image” will have an exceedingly bad afterlife (Revelation 14:9-12), to put it mildly. So it’s of great importance that we not give the beast and its image a religious level of reverence and devotion, nor should we let it be our teacher of what is right and wrong.

Before we get started on examining each of Revelation’s criteria for the Beast, let’s clarify a couple things:

First, the Beast and the anti-Christ are two different things. The anti-Christ is a person who gets no mention in Revelation. And 1 John 2 says there were many anti-Christs who already existed in John’s day. So it’s questionable as to whether there is one official Anti-Christ just before the end of days.

Second, the Beast is not a person; it is a kingdom. And it’s not just any kingdom, it’s the world’s most dominant superpower. The concept of the beast originated in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 7. Daniel had a dream about four beasts, each with a bizarre appearance. He didn’t understand it until “one like a son of man” whose “kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” said to him, “The four beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth.” Most scholars believe that the beasts were Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Rome, the 4th beast, is said to be the most terrifying, to the point that it would “oppress the saints (Dan 7:25).”

That’s where John, the writer of Revelation, comes in. He resurrected the Beast concept, once the promised “oppression of the saints” had begun. He introduced two beasts – the first “coming out of the sea;” the second “coming out of the earth [Rev 13].” The first Beast is most likely Rome, the world superpower at the time of writing, since Revelation 17:9-10 says, “The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.”

The 2nd beast appears to lie in future, after the first beast had fallen. It’s likely to come along near the end of civilization, since it apparently has the technological ability to “make fire fall from the sky (Rev. 13:13)” and “control who can buy or sell (Rev. 13:16).” And, naturally, it must come along soon (if it hasn’t already), since our technological advances are quite capable of annihilating us any time, now. Thus, the chances of the 2nd Beast existing in today’s world are high.

(Another possibility is that the final Beast is not made up of just one nation. In fact, Rev 17:12 explains, “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the Beast.” So maybe each age has its own beast – a world superpower who preys upon the innocent. If so, perhaps no single superpower matches all the criteria for the 1st Beast or the 2nd. Maybe it takes all the beasts & kings collectively to fulfill all the prophecies.)

That being said, let’s move forward by examining the criteria for the 2nd Beast and then seeing how it matches up with each of the major Beast candidates.

Criteria for the 2nd Beast:

Revelation 13:11: “Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon.”

If you know the Bible, it’s likely you know the horns represent rulers, the lamb represents Christ or Christians, and the dragon represents Satan. What’s open to debate is whether the number two is literal or symbolic. I had learned in my New Testament History class in the early 90’s that, in Jewish apocalyptic literature, two was the number of witness/testimony, such as those who go about in pairs sharing the faith. If that’s the case, then the 2nd beast is a kingdom whose ruler(s) professes Christianity, but speaks like the devil, who Jesus called the Father of Lies.

Roman Catholic Church: Once upon a time, they were a perfect fit. The popes of the late Middle Ages were downright demonic, waging wars against outsiders and conducting torturous inquisitions of their members.  But today, they no longer have political power. And recent popes, like John Paul II and Pope Francis, have continued reforming the church.

The United Nations: The U.N. may qualify as a world superpower, but it does not profess to be Christian and it doesn’t have prominent leaders, so it’s not a good fit.

Russia & China: China’s rulers have not been professing Christianity up to this point in time. Russia’s Putin does promote orthodox Christianity, and he sure lies a lot. So Russia is a possible match.

USA: All its presidents claim to be Christian. Some are quiet about their faith, while others, like George W. Bush & Donald Trump, are quite vocal about it. All its presidents tell lies (which is probably necessary to get elected in a democracy). But PolitiFact has found 67% of Trump’s claims to be mostly or completely false, far worse than any other president. The USA is the closest match for this passage.

Revelation 13:12: “He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.”

Again, the 2nd beast is somehow rooted in the 1st beast and calls its people to worship the first beast. The problem here is that people don’t worship old fallen kingdoms, which is what the first beast is. So worship must mean something else, such as an allegiance to the location or the ideology of the first beast.

The Roman Catholic Church: It’s located in Rome, so that makes it a match for this criteria.

The United Nations: It has little to do with Rome – an unlikely candidate.

Russia & China: Little to do with Rome.

The Axis Powers: Eighty years ago, the Axis between Berlin and Rome would have been a perfect fit.

USA: It’s not Rome. However, its founders resurrected the Roman concept of a Republican government. The USA even has a political party called The Republican Party. One might argue that Rome had become an empire, run by a dictator rather than by a republican government, by the time of Revelation’s writing. But one could also argue that increasing executive power, even to the point where the president can fire those investigating him, has effectively turned the USA into a dictatorship; and with a military presence in most of the world’s nations, it has become the world’s most powerful empire of all time. While ancient Rome may not be worshipped by Americans in a traditional manner, many Americans effectively worship America, regard its Rome-inspired Constitution as sacred, and honor its Rome-admiring founders with a religious zeal normally reserved for gods. Thus, the USA is a likely candidate.

Revelation 13:13: “And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men.”

Only countries able to engage in modern warfare can literally make fire come down from the sky. So this can’t be the Roman Catholic Church, since it has no weapons, but it could be the U.N., Russia, China, or the USA.

Revelation 13:14-15: “…He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.”

“Wounded by the sword and yet lived” makes sense as a reference to Rome as the first Beast. The Western Roman Empire was taken down by invaders (by the sword), yet the Holy Roman Empire took its place. By using the Roman name, they, in a sense, kept the empire alive.

Problem: If the beast is a fallen kingdom, like Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome were, then how could anyone make an image of it and cause it to speak? Obviously, we’re getting into some pretty symbolic imagery here. We can assume, however, that the image is something made by humans that symbolizes the first beast. The image that inspires the most reverence in the modern world is a nation’s flag, which is symbolic of the nation’s government. It’s the government and its constitution that speak. So perhaps, the flag & constitution of the kingdom whose government is most like that of ancient Rome is the image to which this passage refers (that would be the USA). Perhaps a day will come when those who fail to honor the “image ” of the flag will be persecuted. Therefore, any entity that commands its people to revere the flag could fulfill this prophecy.

Revelation 13:16-18: “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of the name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.”

We could get into all kinds of speculation about calculating the number of the beast, but since there are so many possibilities, there’s no room for that here.

The question that we can address, however, is “Who has the power to control whether people can buy or sell?”

Roman Catholic Church: Today’s church has little control over world finances. Even if it were to prohibit its members from buying or selling, most Catholics would not obey, just like they don’t obey the church on birth control. And there would be nothing the church could do about it. Unlikely candidate.

The U.N.: U.N. resolutions have little power, so a resolution that no one could buy or sell would be ineffective. The nations of the U.N. can work together in a join military venture, but that’s not the kind of thing that would restrict individual buying or selling. Unlikely candidate.

China & Russia: As both countries grow in wealth and power, their ability to control buying or selling grows, too. Certainly, they both have some very wealthy and powerful people who may someday control some of the world’s most powerful industries. And both have a tendency toward authoritarian leadership that controls every facet of people’s lives. Both are likely candidates.

The USA: America is less authoritarian than some other countries, but that can change very quickly. The U.S. and the U.K. control global banking. And global banking, in many ways, controls them. The lines between the government and corporate financial power are blurred, with democratic governments having the power to regulate finance, but also with the financial industry having the money to get their own kind elected, so they can control the system that has power over them and increase their power even further. As our commerce system moves away from cash so that people must rely more and more on electronic commercial instruments provided by the financial industry, the easier it is to simply deny people access to these instruments if they displease the powers that be. Thus, the USA, where corporate capitalism has most of its roots, is the most likely candidate.

Revelation 16:10, “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.”

Roman Catholic Church: It’s pretty hard to plunge a religion into darkness, since its members are scattered around the globe. Unlikely candidate.

The U.N.: Since the U.N. consists of 193 nations, the whole planet would have to be plunged into darkness. That could be done with a change in solar activity, heavy ash in the atmosphere from an asteroid impact, or a nuclear winter. But if that were the case, you would think Revelation would simply say the whole world would be plunged into darkness. Unlikely candidate.

Russia, China & the USA: A country could be plunged into darkness one of two ways – a major volcanic eruption, like Krakatoa, or, in modern times, a broken power grid. Ted Koppel recently published a book about the latter, called “Lights Out.” It’s possible one or more of these countries could have their power grids hacked and destroyed by cyber-terrorists (or destroyed from an electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear bomb detonated atop the earth’s atmosphere high above the target nation). And with hardly any Large Power Transformer replacements on hand, 99% of their citizens would be without food, funds, refrigeration, clean water, sewer, gasoline, and functioning hospitals for several months to several years. Diseases from malnutrition, contaminated water, and lack of healthcare would cause the “pains and sores” mentioned in the passage. Perfect candidates.

Conclusion: If there’s a representation of Revelation’s final Beast in the modern world, the United States of America is most likely it, or at the very least, part of it (perhaps joining together with other nations or intertwining with growing corporate power around the globe). They appear to be the only candidate that matches all the criteria.

That’s a tough pill to swallow if you grew up in the USA, thinking your country was the good guy, after all it had done to protect the world from Nazi Germany, Imperialist Japan, the Soviet Union, and Communist China. But the power it gained in the process can be used for evil. The election of Trump to the presidency is proof of that. And there’s something kind of supernatural about the way it all went down – from brainwashing millions of Christians into following the least Christ-like individual there could possibly be, to the surreal election night in which he won against all expectations and odds. Some, like Franklin Graham, have said the “hand of God” was involved. Perhaps he’s right: Revelation 17:17 says, “For God has put it in their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the Beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.”

Just because someone comes to power by the “hand of God,” doesn’t mean they aren’t of the devil.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

The Protestant Case for Purgatory

Let me start by saying this:

I have never been Roman Catholic a day in my life, nor have any of my close relatives.

But having spent my young adult life in the Bible Belt, Evangelicals drilled into my brain the idea that we Christians were to enthusiastically study the Bible on our own. I think they expected that doing so would lead people like me to come to the same conclusions as them. But by my mid-30’s, I found that the more I studied the Bible open-mindedly, the more I came to different conclusions.

One of those conclusions was that the afterlife isn’t so simple as heaven vs hell, that there are multiple possibilities for what happens after we die. Jesus frequently mentioned the “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Revelation speaks of the “second death” in the “lake of fire,” where the wicked are destroyed, not eternally tormented. Eternal torment appears to be reserved for the likes of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the devil himself.

But only in the last couple years have I taken special notice of passages promising or at least implying that we will be punished for our unrepented sins in the afterlife, and that the punishment will vary according to what we have done. That’s effectively what purgatory is – temporary punishment. Granted, this goes against the popular Protestant ideology that we are forgiven all our sins just because we call Jesus our Lord. However, Jesus shot down that idea a long time ago by saying he’ll refuse to even recognize those who call him “Lord,” yet do the devil’s will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform, many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers [Matt 7:21-23].”

The Bible is loaded with passages refuting the notion that simply believing there was a guy named Jesus, who was the Son of God, sends you straight to heaven. But we’ll save those for another article. This one’s about purgatory. And here, now, is a collection of passages that have inspired me to open my mind to an idea that most Protestants find offensive:

Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.”

In other words, the extent to which we forgive will affect the extent to which God forgives us. One might argue that God will forgive us entirely or not at all based on whether we have forgiven entirely or not at all. But the truth is that all of us forgive someone somewhere along the way, while none of us forgive all people completely. So, for God to judge us based on how we forgive cannot be an all or nothing proposition.

Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This goes hand in hand with forgiveness. We have two choices when others sin against us, against others, or against God. We can judge them, or we can forgive them. If we judge others by strict and unrealistic standards (like calling for them to be imprisoned if they fail to remember every email they sent 4-8 years ago), then God will likely judge us by strict and unrealistic standards. But if everyone just goes straight to heaven or straight to hell based solely on whether they prayed the Jesus prayer, then that would have to mean Jesus was lying when he made this statement.

Matthew 11:24, “But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Here, Jesus addresses Capernaum, not an individual. But since judgment day is for individuals, Jesus must have meant that judgment day will be more tolerable for some bad people (those in Sodom were supposed to have been pretty bad) than for other bad people (like those in Capernaum). Therefore, judgment varies based on the level of sin committed.

Matthew 12:35-37, “The good man brings good things out of the food stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

This passage could go either way. One might take it to mean that if our judgement day defense is good enough, then we go to heaven forever, but if our words on that day fall short, then we burn for eternity. Wow, talk about pressure! But if it means God will give us a chance to defend ourselves (“give account”) for every evil thing we say, then there is hope that God will only impart a partial punishment for those wrongs.

Matthew 16:26-28, “For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”

(This quote is from the New American Standard Bible, which is considered to be the most literal of the major translations. The New International Version uses “reward” instead of “recompense” and “what he has done” rather than “deeds.” But I still remember my Old Testament History book at Belmont University criticizing the NIV for translating the Bible to fit American protestant doctrine. This appears to an example of that.)

If we go by the literal translation, this passage is clearly states that our “deeds” will determine our “recompense,” rather than the mere belief that Jesus is the Son of God determining it. But don’t despair. Other passages indicate that we will be forgiven for the sins we repent of. Repentance means to not only be sorry for our sin, but to turn away from it and stop doing it. We may still slip and sin from time to time, but we should acknowledge our sin and work to eliminate it. More importantly, we must not glorify or preach sin, whether we revel proudly in drunkenness or cry “my money” when faced with having to pay taxes to help those less fortunate than ourselves. That leads us to this next verse:

Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

Jesus implies here that having a millstone around your neck and being drowned is far better than the afterlife punishment for those who lead others astray. So purgatory, or the 2nd death, are not to be taken lightly.

But if we all go straight to heaven or hell based on having been told the right name to pray to, then what difference does it make if we lead others into temptation? Wouldn’t the believer in Christ be forgiven regardless what he did, and the non-believer condemned eternally regardless of what he did? Clearly for the believer and the non-believer, judgment will be worse for those leading others into sin.

Luke 12:47-48, “That servant who knows this master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Again, we see varying degrees of punishment here, not one person receiving eternal lashes and another receiving none, because they sang praise songs to Jesus. In this case, those who know the law of God receive more punishment than those who don’t.

So why become a Christian if you’re going to be held even more responsible for your deeds?

That’s like asking, “Why teach a ten-year-old that it’s wrong for him to bully six-year-olds and that he’ll be punished if he continues?” The answer is that protecting the innocent, defenseless six-year-olds is of far greater importance than protecting their abuser from punishment. Likewise, the more we truly seek to live the Christian life (rather than just look out for our own salvation), the more we love God and others, which makes this world a better place for everyone. That’s why sharing Jesus’ message and the Bible’s teachings is so important.

2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.”

This time we even have Paul, the author of most salvation-by-faith theology, saying that we’ll be judged by what we’ve done. And the fact that he says each “will receive what is due him” implies varying rewards and punishments, while “things done in the body” implies deeds, not just beliefs. Notice, he does not say, “each may receive what is due him for having decided to believe or not believe in Jesus.” He assumes the church members to whom he writes already believe in Jesus.

Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

And finally, John joins in by quoting Jesus saying that He will recompense every person based on what they have done, not so much on what they have believed.

 

So if Jesus will judge us according to our deeds, was He, or the New Testament’s writers, a liar for saying that those who believe in Him will be saved?

No, because such a statement was true for the audience to which he was speaking. Remember that no one in New Testament times was raised a Christian, neither was anyone living in a Christian community. Those who professed faith in Christ believed in his teachings. And they were so dedicated to his teachings that, according to the Book of Acts, they sold or shared what they had and joined what was effectively a church commune. They made radical life changes according to his teachings; they didn’t just believe in a name they were taught while continuing to live a life of greed and mercilessness.

That’s what the Pharisees (the religious establishment who persecuted Jesus) did, as they believed in the names of Abraham and Moses, but served the devil in their behavior. And that’s what many Christians do today, as they preach Republicanism in the name of Christ. I won’t say there will be hell to pay for them, but I will say that  temporary punishments might be in the their future.

-K. Scott Schaeffer

12 Good Things Democratic Government Has Done


At the core of conservative political thinking, both Republican and Libertarian, is the idea that our democratically-elected government does far more harm than good. Conservatives say the government that governs least governs best. My short response to such statements is to ask, “Can you name a small government country that you think is much better? Of the 35 capitalist countries that make up the OECD, only Mexico has had far fewer regulations and significantly lower taxes than the United States.”

There’s a reason that small government breeds misery. And that reason is that small government doesn’t protect people from the life-ruining effects of corporate greed, nor does it provide the services and stability that the free market cannot. A strong democracy is the best system humans have come up with so far. Here are some examples of the good things our strong democratic government has done. I’m sure you can think of many more examples that one could add.

Prevent Depressions – I’ve already covered our nation’s depressions, and I’ve pointed out that we haven’t had any since we modified capitalism in the 1930s. That’s not to say potential for depressions hasn’t been there. On October 19th, 1987, the U.S. stock market lost 22.68% of its value, the biggest single day drop in American history.  This time, however, the Federal Reserve lowered the Federal Funds rate and injected liquidity into the market to help the market rebound.  Not having to worry about maintaining our nation’s gold reserves, the government could actually help improve the situation, unlike in the supposed good old days of small government and the gold standard.

Preserve nature for our enjoyment – When I visited Yellowstone National Park in 2012, I took shelter from a thundershower indoors one day and found myself face-to-face with an exhibit on geothermal wonders around the world in such places as Iceland, New Zealand, and Russia. I was shocked to learn that many of these marvels of natural beauty had been transformed into ugly industrial sites in an attempt to profit from their thermal heat. Had Yellowstone been located near 1800’s eastern industrial sites, it likely would have been ruined, too. Its remote location allowed it to hang on until America could come to its senses and preserve it. Likewise, the only reason the great sequoias of California avoided annihilation by the logging industry was that the trees are brittle to the point that they break apart when falling to the ground, making them useless for lumber.

I’ll admit that I make more use of the national parks than most Americans, and I literally thank God that I live in a country that preserves the wonders of God’s creation rather than in a country that empowers those who love money to destroy them or limit the enjoyment of them to the wealthy few.

Break Time & Lunch Time – In late 1800s, textile mills fined workers for eating on the job, sitting down, washing hands, and getting a drink of water.  Fortunately, “we the people” voted for politicians to require lunch breaks, sick time, family leave time, etc., in the workplace; and we’re all better off for it.

National Weather Service – While their weather forecasts aren’t always accurate, they’ve done a lot to help us prepare for hurricanes, snowstorms and tornados. Many lives have been saved. Republicans don’t like the fact that they share their research with Americans for free, however. That’s why Republican 2012 presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, sponsored a bill to deny the NWS the right to supply the public with free weather data and require that they only share it with private companies. This is yet another example of Republicans manipulating government to enrich their corporate supporters.

Water Supply – Private water management just doesn’t work. Owners of lakes, dams, and irrigation systems can be financially persuaded to share water with some businesses while denying it to others. Only a public water supply can ensure water for everyone at a reasonable price.

40 hour workweeks and overtime pay – The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 created the 40 hour work week. It requires that those who work more than 40 hours receive overtime pay. Unfortunately, many employers today get around this law by paying low income professionals by salary rather than by hourly wages. They can then force the employees to work extra hours without paying them any extra money.

How does working many hours let Christians serve God?

It doesn’t. Salary slavery, as I like to call it, is a roadblock to Christian living. Religion isn’t just belief; it’s action. We can’t take that action if we’re enslaved to our jobs. We can’t exercise freedom of religion if we spend most our waking hours creating wealth for the wealthy. Long work hours reduce our church and community involvement and minimize our personal relationships. God designed us for these as well as for work. A work-dominated Christian life is hardly a Christian life at all.

Building codes – As a graduate of Boyertown High School, I have to mention the Rhoads Opera House fire of 1908 in Boyertown, PA. As a result of poorly marked exists (in a dark theater) and doors that opened inward toward the crowds pressing against them, 171 people died.  This is why theaters and other establishments must adhere to fire codes today. Business owners may whine about government telling them what to do with their property, but lives are more important.

Removing abandoned corporate structures – Thanks to corporate liability protection, the wealthy leave behind abandoned factories after their businesses fail. These factories crumble over time, making them dangerous and unsightly. They also serve as breeding grounds for crime. While some properties are bought and used for other commercial real estate purposes, many never are, especially those in the cities that are far from highways. Our tax money funds these clean-ups; that is, if there’s enough tax money available. Otherwise, the land is ruined for everyone.

Toxin-free food and workplaces – In 2008, approximately 300,000 Chinese infants and toddlers were sickened, and some died, from the addition of melamine to children’s milk products. Farmers often purchased artificial protein powders containing melamine from traveling sales reps.  They added these powders to the milk to stretch it while ensuring that it would pass protein quality tests. Farmers also had been adding hydrogen peroxide to milk to keep it from spoiling.  China does not have a Food & Drug Administration to regulate and inspect food production. If libertarian Republicans had their way, neither would we. The food industry would have the “liberty” to do what it wanted at our expense.

Mortgage consumer protection – For most people, buying a home is the biggest financial commitment they’ll ever make. If their lenders sneak tricky wording into their mortgage agreements, home buyers will lose many thousands of dollars. This is a complex industry, and few hard-working people have the time or even the mental capacity to read and understand the fine print and catch every possible scheme. That’s why we’ve chosen to protect ourselves by having our government pass laws like the Truth in Lending Act of 1968.

Hunting Regulations – Thanks to the NRA and the gun debate, today, most hunters are Republicans, many of whom complain that regulations do more harm than good. Yet, it’s regulations that make their favorite hobby possible. Most states, especially those with large populations, have rather strict hunting laws designed to preserve the sport. The states impose rather short hunting seasons, limit hunting firearms capacities to just a few bullets, restrict hunting to the daytime, and limit the number of a given species that can be harvested in a day’s time or in a year’s time. If hunters were permitted to mow down entire herds of deer with semi-automatics, day or night, all year long, with no harvest limit, the hunted animals would likely be on the verge of extinction within a year’s time, and hunting would cease to exist as a hobby. In other words, the greedy few would have ruined hunting forever for everyone else. And that’s generally what regulations are all about – protecting the many from the greedy few, so that everyone can share in the goodness that life has to offer.

Quieter Commercials – This may not be a lifesaving regulation, but it demonstrates the positive power of democracy. When I watch football, I like to turn the sound up a bit more than I do for other programs. I like to feel like I’m at the game. By the fall of 2011, I couldn’t do this anymore, because every time commercials aired, my television’s volume was darn near ear-splitting. Apparently, thousands of Americans suffered the same problem and complained to the FCC. The FCC then prohibited commercial volume being louder than that of regular programming, starting in 2013. A libertarian might argue that we have the liberty to not watch television at all if we don’t like loud commercials, but that’s not the ideal outcome that most Americans want. Instead, “we the people” put pressure on our democratic government to fix the problem, and it worked.

Of course, there are many other good things I could have listed, including civil rights legislation, worker safety legislation, and even the Do-Not-Call List (which gives residents freedom from harassment by eliminating corporations’ freedom to harass residents). I did not intend for this to be a comprehensive list. But I did intend for this to be a reminder that “we the people” have done so much to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of greed that few of us can fathom all of the good that’s been done. We tend to be naïve about how devastating the effects of greed can be on humanity, because we’ve grown up in a world with a protection system already in place. We then tend to imagine that our small government past was so much better than the present, when the truth is that we’re terribly ignorant of our nation’s history. And it’s that ignorance that Republican politicians and pundits count on. If we remain ignorant, the Republicans and Libertarians will, in the name of small government, dismantle all of the good we’ve fought so hard to establish.

The truth is that a democratic government structured like ours, regardless of its size, is good, not bad. If officials do wrong, we can vote them out of office. The only instances in which a democratic government becomes evil are those in which non-democratic forces control it. In Birmingham, that force was the KKK. In Ludlow, it was the coal company’s power over the state government that brought about the murder of the workers’ wives and children. In the banking fiasco of the Great Recession, it was the banking industry’s influence over government that brought about deregulations that enabled the crisis to occur. And in the future, it will have been the influence of wealthy people who have funded candidates and bought elections that cause debt doomsday – a day when our nation can no longer borrow money to pay its debt and will have to print up the money to do so, causing hyper-inflation – all because Republicans have spent decades shoveling tax dollars to the rich while simultaneously cutting their taxes.

15 Anti-Wealth Bible Quotes Contradicting Republican Ideology

[The following is an excerpt from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason” by K. Scott Schaeffer]

In the years leading up to the 2012 election, the Republican Party embraced the Ryan Plan, a “roadmap” designed to align the nation’s budget and tax structure with modern Republican ideology. On the house.gov website, the Republicans said the plan “Promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends.” Notice that their pitch implies that “saving” is good, that it is righteousness to be rewarded by exempting those who practice it from having to pay taxes. There are two fronts on which they claim saving is good. One is that it benefits the economy, and the other is that it’s more righteous than spending.

Yet the savings of the wealthy are often of no benefit to the economy. Republicans act as if all savings by the wealthy lead to job creation, which is untrue. When customer demand is low, the wealthy invest in real estate, short selling, derivatives, gold, oil futures, etc. and effectively keep their savings out of the economy, which is good for no one but themselves and maybe those who conduct the transactions.

The implication that saving is more righteous than spending sounds good to many of us. We know it’s bad to use credit cards to purchase consumer items we lack money to pay for. In such cases, we borrow money at high interest rates for non-necessities, which costs us more in the future, and that’s irresponsible. It’s this model of irresponsibility that leads many of us to see spending as bad and saving as good. We all know that the right thing to do is to save up for items we want but don’t absolutely need. We also know it’s wise to set aside money for unforeseen emergencies like job loss, car repairs, house repairs, or illnesses.

The saving that Republicans promote as righteousness is different. As of 2011, only 4% of capital gains realizations belong to those who earn less than $100,000 a year. So the “saving” the Republican tax plan rewards is that of the rich. For the rich, saving isn’t a matter of managing money in order to afford the basics of life. They already have the basics of life and much more. For them, saving is hoarding. Here are a few passages addressing this kind of saving:

Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Luke 12:33-34, “Sell your possessions and give to charity. Make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”

Deuteronomy 17:17, “He [the king of Israel] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.”

This last verse condemns hoarding money, not spending it. The Bible differentiates little between saving money and buying possessions with it. In the Bible, hoarding either is wrong. Only giving excess money and possessions away is always right. So there’s no biblical or moral reason to reward hoarding. Those who hoard money should pay at least as high of a tax on that money as lower income people do on their incomes.

Are the Rich Evil?

I once saw a bumper sticker that said “Basic Socialist Theory: Demonize the Rich.” This is an example of how Republicans fight off any suggestions that the rich may be in the wrong. They label as evil those who criticize the rich and are unwilling to label the rich as righteous heroes who create our jobs.

So am I wrong for criticizing the rich?

If so, I refuse to take responsibility. I will simply point my finger at the Lord, and say, “He started it!” The Bible’s condemnation of the rich is overwhelming. So I won’t just share a few verses with you. I’ll share a bunch:

James 2:5-6, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?”

1 Timothy 6:5-10, “…and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Amos 4:1, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’”

Amos 5:11-12, “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.”

Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”

James 5:1-6, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. You gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you in the last days that you have stored up your treasure. Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”

Matthew 19:21, 23-24, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me… Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

I’ve heard countless Christians say that this last passage is not in any way a requirement to give away all of our money; it only applies to people who put their hope in money. In other words, if you pray, “God, I’m relying on You,” even though you’re confident that you have and earn plenty of money to support yourself, you’re fine; but if you pray, “God, I’m relying on my money…thanks for nothing,” then you need to give all of your money away; so as long as you give lip service to the idea that God provides for you, this verse is useless.

I can’t find anything in the Bible that leads us to this interpretation. Here’s another interpretation:

Do you blame the poor for their poverty?

If you do, that means you see yourself as having worked harder than the poor and being more deserving of wealth than they are. In such a case, you place your hope in your own efforts to acquire wealth, not in God. Give away all your money, so you can overcome your arrogance and reap God’s blessings!

Are you envious of people on welfare who don’t work?

End your envy by joining them! Quit your job. Let someone who has been unemployed for a while have it. Then give away everything you have, and let the government provide for you. Paradise isn’t so far away after all!

Are you furious that low income earners can get government assistance?

If so, join them! Accept only minimum wage for whatever work you do and give away all that you have. Then you can live like all of those people you envy who want government handouts, because they are unable to figure out how to prosper in our competitive economy!

Are you fighting mad that you have to pay taxes, crying, “They have no right to take my money! And what about the 47% who don’t have to pay?”

Give everything away and accept minimum wage, then you won’t have to pay taxes and you can keep what little money you’ll have (although you’ll have to spend it all on minimal necessities just to stay alive).

Are you socking all of your money away in gold, locking it up in a safe, and stocking up on guns and ammo in anticipation of the day when you have to shoot the hordes of poor people (or government representatives) invading your home to take your gold and guns?

If so, give it all away, then you won’t have to shoot anyone, and you won’t have to worry about the poor coming for your money!

If your love of your money and possessions makes you arrogant, envious, angry, dishonest, hateful, greedy, fearful, and even willing to harm anyone who might take them, this quote from Jesus was meant for you! Remember when Jesus said in Matthew 5:30, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, and throw it from you…?” There’s a pretty good chance this statement applies to money, too. If it causes you to sin, give it away!!!

Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter heaven?

It’s that wealth is a driving force behind two of the Bible’s greatest sins: greed and pride (which are the driving forces behind most other sins). I’ve already shared with you many Bible quotes that condemn greed. However, the Bible also contains about 40 passages that condemn pride. Here are some Bible quotes linking wealth to the sin of pride:

1 John 2:16, “…for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the father, but from the world.”

Ezekiel 16:49, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but she did not aid the poor and the needy.”

Psalms 10:2, “In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.”

James 1:9, 10, “But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory on his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.”

1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

Some of us are raised to believe that pride is good, but Proverbs 21:4 tells us this: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.”

So is all pride bad?

Like many words, pride has multiple definitions. Webster’s defines pride as “1 a) an unduly high opinion of oneself; exaggerated self-esteem; conceit b) haughty behavior resulting from this; arrogance. 2 proper respect for oneself; sense of one’s own dignity and worth; self-respect. 3 delight or satisfaction in one’s own or another’s achievements, in associations, etc.” The Bible opposes both the first and third definitions. The second definition is acceptable, however, because we are allowed to feel good about ourselves. But we are prohibited from feeling that we are better than others because of our actions, possessions, children, or any other reason.

Unfortunately, wealth fuels pride. Attaining wealth leads us to credit ourselves, not God, for our successes, because we think we have out-performed others. We rarely take into account how the unique set of circumstances that enabled us to succeed exists for no one else on earth. For everything we achieve, thousands of things beyond our control had to have fallen into place at the right time. When we assume that our circumstances are similar to those of others, we believe ourselves to be more deserving of wealth’s benefits than others. For those who grow up wealthy, or easily acquire wealth, it’s even more difficult to have merciful attitudes toward those who don’t, because they are out of touch with most people’s struggles. Everyone they know lives a life of ease, so they assume that lower income individuals are just lazy. Those who have not experienced or witnessed the struggles of the poor lack empathy and, therefore, neglect the needs of the poor.

So do the wealthy have any shot at eternal life?

The answer is “Yes, but…they have less of a shot than low income individuals.” Wealth’s power to fuel greed and arrogance is too strong for most people to handle. That’s why, as classes go, the wealthy are the evil class. This is not to say that all rich people are bad, and it’s certainly not to say that all poor people are good. But Jesus made it clear that the rich face the slimmest odds of receiving the gift of eternal life.

What must they do?

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that all they have to do is accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and all will be fine. But as Jesus says in Luke 13:3, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It’s not just about believing and asking forgiveness, but also turning away from sin. Accepting Jesus is the starting point. And then through prayer, God can guide you to a point of repentance by means of the Holy Spirit. I believe that getting to that point of true repentance includes having a love for what God is all about. Many Christians think God is all about their forgiveness. But that’s a self-centered Christianity. True Christianity is other-centered, not self-centered. If the rich become one with the other-centered love of God through Christ, which means rejecting a life of greed and arrogance, then heaven awaits.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

 

How obsessing over grace creates selfish Christians

For the last 40 years, I’ve heard over and over from pastors and Christian writers that they have a new and wonderful message for us. And that message is that God’s grace is all we need; we can’t have too much of God’s grace; all we need is God’s love; God loves you so much; your sins are forgiven; and you’re going to know that love forever in heaven.

I agree that grace is an important part of Christian theology. Yes, God forgives us for our sins through Christ (although both Jesus and the epistles tell us that those who abuse grace and “love and practice lying” will not be forgiven, but only those who repent). But grace isn’t all there is, and love is meaningless if we don’t know how to implement it in life.

Too many American churches are making the mistake of limiting their teaching to grace theology and nothing more. They simply harp on how saved you are, tickling people’s ears with a feel good message week in and week out. But when it comes to personal behavior in daily life, they give their congregations no further instruction than to “love God with all of your heart.” They neglect the other half of the greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And even the grace-obsessed churches who do instruct their congregations to love others (which they say should be “out of gratitude” for grace, even though the Bible never says that), do nothing more than throw the word “love” around.

The reason such an approach is so toxic to the church is that most people don’t know how to apply love in real life.  For millions of Christians, love is just a warm fuzzy feeling we exude toward the world through ESP when we are reminded to do so.  But when push comes to shove, which it does on a near-daily basis for most people, we don’t respond in a loving manner.

As a long time sales rep, I have known devout evangelicals who have no problem with lying to people to get the sale, even though the Bible opposes lying in about 3 dozen passages. In the political realm, Evangelicals spread false accusations about politicians they dislike, even though the Bible prohibits slander and gossip in about 20 passages. Evangelicals are infamous for looking down on other supposedly more sinful people with contempt, even though the Bible contains about 40 passages condemning pride, arrogance and judgmentalism. And conservative Christians pay virtually no attention to the 100+ Bible passages condemning greed and oppression of the poor, which include social justice verses calling on those with political power to do something about it.

Obsessing over grace has opened the door to the Republicanization of the Christian faith – a faith that is effectively the opposite of Christianity, but is still carried out in the name of “I’m going to heaven no matter what I do.” How to live the Christian life with regard to society is simply not being taught in most churches, and that’s why the faith is becoming unrecognizable. Yes, grace is great, but it’s a pretty simple thing to teach. It’s worth a few sermons a year. The rest of the sermons need to focus on how to live out biblical teaching in daily life. If the church doesn’t move in this direction, biblical Christianity will, for all practical purposes, all but vanish from America.

10 Pitfalls of Privatizing K-12 Education

As America discusses the possibilities of a private K-12 school system, conservatives defend it by saying, “Why shouldn’t I get to send my kids to any school I want?” while liberals express concerns over discrimination against LGBT youth. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need to take a closer look at how this will play out. Granted, in the short term, this will be little more than the federal government shoveling tax dollars to private schools, so they can get richer at the expense of taxpayers. But the long term goal appears to be the total privatization of the K-12 education system. Here are 10 ways privatizing K-12 schools won’t go as well as Republicans would have you believe:

1) You’ll have to pay a lot for a good school
That’s how the free market works. The schools that generate the greatest demand will charge the most. So if the school voucher all students receive is $10,000, then the worst schools will charge at least that much (because why would they pass up the free government money?). But if a really good school has a 1000 student capacity but has 10,000 applicants, then they will raise their price to the point where they maximize their revenues. So if they charge $30,000, that will drive away most applicants, but they’ll still have more than enough to fill their seats, and they’ll make an extra $20,000 per student to boot. That’s what private businesses do; they charge as much as they possibly can in order to maximize profits.  It will be no different than college, where Ivy League schools charge a whole lot more than community colleges do. The availability of Pell Grants and student loans (both of which are vouchers – money the government gives you to spend at the school of your choice) does little to make the better schools affordable.

2) Blue collar workers will be priced out of their local schools
Again, just like college, the ones closest to you aren’t always the most affordable. If you have a relatively low income and live in a suburban area that has a sizeable middle class population, you’ll be priced out of your local school. You might live a mile away from it, but you’ll have to drive your kid 15 miles every day to get them to a cheap school in a low income area. Ironically, a lot of these people are the ones that thought Trump was going to help them. This will hurt them. And they will feel the pain every day.

3) Transportation will be a nightmare
This is the part that’s different than college. You can have 3 kids in college, and they can all live on campus or drive themselves to it. But if you have a kid in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school, the logistics of getting them to their far away poor quality schools will be impossible. Likewise, if you’re impoverished to the point where you have no car, and your local inner-city schools are terrible, but you want to send your kids to a better school, how will they get there? There isn’t enough public transportation to do it, and public transportation is unlikely to take you all the way out to suburban schools, anyway. And are wealthy suburban schools really going to pay to send buses to the inner city just to bus in the poor kids? How does that add to their profits? It doesn’t. So it won’t happen.

4) Teacher quality will not improve
Conservatives repeatedly tell us of experiments where they give vouchers to impoverished kids to go to private school, and the kids get better grades. Of course, they do. But is it because the teaching is better?

Perhaps in the most expensive private schools it is, but many cheaper private schools have lower qualification standards than public schools, just like colleges that employ adjunct professors who have no teaching background. The real reason impoverished children do better at private schools is because being there takes them out of their impoverished environment. Their peers at private schools have a better attitude toward learning, because private school students come from wealthier families that emphasize education more than working class families do. Wealthier families provide a better home study environment and are more active in their children’s education, even before they start school, while low income families tend to leave it up to the schools to educate their children (for more on this, read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell).

Under a fully privatized K-12 system; however, the notion that private schools have better teachers or more enthusiastic students falls apart. Because if you give vouchers to the entire country, then every school will be a part of the voucher program and so will every teacher and student, and that includes the worst teachers and worst students. Ultimately, the best teachers and learning environments will be at the most expensive schools, while the worst teachers and learning environments will be at the schools who charge the voucher rate.

5) Segregation will increase
What made the public K-12 education system one of America’s greatest achievements was that it gave equal educational opportunity to Americans of all economic classes. Many of us grew up with classmates who wore hand-me-downs to school every day, while other kids got new clothes once a year, while some were wealthy enough to always wear the latest designer fashions. A private school system will cause each school to consist of one economic class. The poorest kids will be together in the voucher–priced schools; the middle class kids will go to the schools that cost a bit more; the wealthy kids will be in the expensive schools; while the richest kids will continue to attend the most expensive schools.

And it will not end there. Christians will occupy the Christian schools, while Muslims occupy the Muslim schools, etc. Private school will make society more segregated than ever, making it harder for people of different classes and religions to empathize with one another. If you’re worried about America being divided, don’t privatize education.

6) Paying for school won’t make your kids study harder
Privatization proponents often say, “If parents have to pay for their kids’ schooling, they’ll put pressure on them to study harder.” First, how is that working out at the college level? Do students refrain from partying instead of studying, because their parents are paying for it? Granted, K-12 students will usually live at home, but if they have a bad attitude toward school, it’s unlikely they’ll be eager to please their parents. Second, such an answer implies that parents will have to pay for school out of their own pockets, in addition to the voucher, leaving low income families to bear more of the burden, which is what Republican policies often seek to accomplish.

7) It won’t make America more Christian
If you’re not looking to make America Christian, this is good news for you. While much of America is just starting to consider the effects of privatizing K-12 education, conservative evangelicals have been pushing for it for decades. They prefer private schools, because church and state separation prohibits the teaching of any one religion in public schools. They seem to think that if we could just put God back in schools by privatizing them (so the church/state separation no longer applies), America would become a God-fearing country, rediscover its morality, and that would somehow solve our problems. Again, how is this working out at the college level? There we see the proof that if there’s money to be made in education, it won’t just be Christians making it. Wealthy people of all or no faiths want a piece of that pie, too. Most colleges don’t teach Christianity, and most private K-12 schools won’t teach it, either.

8) It will cause local school shortages
Let’s say 60% of the students from an impoverished city high school go elsewhere. Then the cost of keeping that school open will be prohibitive. It will go out of business, just like a big restaurant that doesn’t attract enough customers. Then the 40% who remained at that school will have no place to go if other schools in the area have no vacancies. The reality of the free market is that businesses go out of business. Granted we don’t see that happening as much at the college level, because of the growing need for higher education for the sake of employment. But at the K-12 level, there is little growth in the need for it, since everyone already attends, so we can expect that some schools will go under due to lack of students, leaving the students without a school, at least for one year.

Of course, it’s illegal to not attend school, so the government will have to make K-12 attendance optional to keep the truants out of jail. But, hey, that won’t mean they’ll have nothing to do. In 2012, Newt Gingrich proposed giving kids under 16 the “freedom” to work; Republicans oppose the minimum wage – making child labor cheap; and they want to cut food stamps – giving poor kids the motivation to work for their food. Privatizing K-12 is one of four steps – all supported by conservatives – that can bring back child labor from the Gilded Age. That may sound far-fetched, but history has a way of moving much faster than we expect.

9) Millions of U.S. students will lack basic knowledge
Over the past decade, the right-wing media has effectively created its own alternate universe. Scientific data on pollution’s impact on climate has been suppressed. Numbers indicative of our economic recovery have been denied. America’s darkest days – from slavery and civil rights abuses to the worker oppressions of the Gilded Age – are no longer discussed. And this is all because they seek to advance the agenda of the global corporate wealthy – an agenda that has proven to be terribly oppressive for the majority of the population wherever it’s been tried. A private K-12 school system will consist, in part, of right-wing schools. And those schools will suppress and twist information that nearly all of us grew up learning as facts that no reasonable person would dispute. There was a time when the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats sought truth and merely disagreed upon how to fix real problems. Those days are gone. Now millions of American children will be raised on lies and propaganda much like children of the old Soviet Union were. I never imagined that could happen here, but a private K-12 system will most certainly assure that it will.

10) Republicans will someday cut the vouchers
As I stated earlier, Pell Grants are effectively vouchers – money the government gives you to spend at the school of your choice. In the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan repeatedly stated that he wanted to abolish Pell Grants for over a million students, and he included those cuts in the Romney-Ryan budget. And at the same time, he wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, as Republicans always want. So we can see where this is going: Republicans will privatize education while claiming that it won’t hurt the poor, because of vouchers; but someday, when they’re looking to get their latest budget cut fix, they’ll take those vouchers away, abandoning the lower class, just like they do with regard to hunger, housing, and healthcare

-K. Scott Schaeffer

Obama Was a Test for Christians, and Most Evangelicals Failed It!

anti-obama-armed-protest

In 2008, I was active in a Christian writers’ group. One day, when discussing the direction of the nation, the leader of the group warned us that “we are being bamboozled” as it looked likely that Obama would become president.  With Obama having the middle name, Hussein, Christians couldn’t help but ask, “Could we be electing a terrorist as president?”

I can see how Christians might tremble at the idea of a man with a Muslim name being elected president and conclude that he might bring Armageddon upon us (which he hasn’t). But the truth might be the very opposite of what they’ve believed. Obama’s presidency might have been a test from God to see if American Christians would refrain from judging and condemning a person based on something other than what he has actually done or said.  It may also have been a test to see if Christians would abandon biblical doctrines if such doctrines were embraced by this black president with a Muslim name. Generally, conservative Christians have failed both tests.

Millions of conservative Christians have wanted to hate Obama from the very beginning. They increasingly tuned in to Fox News to see them repeatedly attack and criticize nearly every move and statement of the president, because that’s what they wanted to hear. It’s as if many of them never followed politics much, until a black man with a Muslim name became president, and then they looked for every reason to hate him. We can tell this is true, because nearly every person who despises Obama and labels him as the worst president in history proves to be almost completely ignorant of our nation’s political history and the actions of past presidents. Close examination of all U.S. presidents reveals they’ve all had mistakes, triumphs, and difficult problems without easy solutions, thus making their decisions easy for opponents to criticize. Obama’s presidency has been more successful than those of most presidents.

Now, as a result of Christian anti-Obama sentiment, it seems Evangelical Christianity has forever been conquered by the Republican Party – the party that has carried out the will of the corporate wealthy since the late 1800s. Most Evangelical Christians have now been brainwashed into embracing the rhetoric of the rich, which blames the poor for their poverty and proclaims the rich to be heroic “job creators” whom we would be lost without. That’s the very opposite of what the Bible says about the rich and the poor.

Evangelicals have also become further entrenched in their hatred of Muslims out of their opposition to Obama. Too see for yourself, just check out the comments about Obama made by Mike Huckabee’s followers on his Facebook posts. Nearly every mention of Obama gets numerous comments employing the phrase “evil Muslim.” Huckabee, the so-called Christian leader of the Republicans (because he was once a pastor), has never, as far as I’ve seen, rebuked them for their hateful statements.

And, of course, since Obama proposed common sense background checks for gun purchases and a limiting of clip capacity for semi-automatic rifles as a response to mass shootings, conservative Christians have now embraced guns as an essential part of Christianity. In fact, Mike Huckabee’s latest book is called, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.” The only word that belongs in that title is “God.” The other things have nothing to do with Christianity. Guns, while not wrong to own, are not synonymous with the faith. This embrace of guns as a part of the faith simply drives away those who are uncomfortable with guns and, therefore, has an anti-evangelical effect.

As a result of Obama’s presidency, most Evangelical Christians have adopted all things Republican as being Christian and have thus rejected true biblical teaching. Muslims attacking us will never destroy our faith. Christianity can only be destroyed from the inside by replacing biblical teachings with man-made ideologies. And the Republican Party is succeeding in doing just that, thanks to Evangelicals failing the Obama test.

How to Explain the Biblical Death Penalty

death_penalty15


As both a Christian and a Democrat, I not only have to argue regularly with Republicans who see their party’s support of the wealthy as being one and the same as Christianity, but I also have to endure attacks from Democrats who hate religion, Christianity in particular. If fact, just a couple hours before I started this article, I had a Democrat reply to a comment I made on Facebook, saying that my Facebook page, “Rescuing Religion from Republicans,” inspired him to consider starting his own page called, “Rescuing Humanity from Religion.” My short response to him was that Stalin and Mao already tried abolishing religion in the former Soviet Union and Communist China, and it did nothing to lessen brutality. In fact, atheist Stalin killed 22 million people and atheist Mao killed 46 million, compared to Hitler’s 17 million; which proves that brutality does not come from religion, but from the very thing that the Bible tries to stop – the diabolic pride and mercilessness that causes brutality. And sometimes, God used the death penalty as a deterrent to merciless behavior.

Possibly the biggest factor that makes so many people question the goodness of Christianity, and especially the Bible, is the fact that, for ancient Israel, the Bible’s Mosaic Law imposed the death penalty for sins and crimes we consider to be minor. These biblical punishments have led many people, including Christians, to reject the Bible as the Word of God. Others simply reject the “brutal” Old Testament in favor of the “loving” New Testament. Being the scientifically-minded person that I am, I don’t believe in rejecting something just because I disagree with it. I would need anti-biblical evidence to outweigh pro-biblical evidence; and I have not found that to be the case. Thus, I have no choice but to look the death penalty straight in the eye and deal with it, asking “How can a loving God command the death penalty for crimes other than murder?”

First, I have to start with the American, but non-biblical, belief that the punishment must fit the crime. We’ve been raised to see it that way, but most people in world history have not been. Throughout history, many punishments have been more severe than the crime appears to be, because the punishment serves first and foremost as a deterrent. For example, Deuteronomy 19:20 says, regarding the punishment for the crime of perjury, “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” The death penalty was not intended to hurt the innocent, but to keep the innocent from becoming criminals. As long as people were fairly warned that violation of a given law brought death as a penalty, the person breaking that law was being treated fairly, because they knew as they planned to commit their crime that doing so would most likely result in their death. This is not the same as killing someone for supposedly being a witch (i.e., Salem) or for have different beliefs than the church (i.e., The Inquisition) – that’s brutality. The Bible imposed the death penalty for actual deeds.

Second, and more important, is that God realizes that death is not the only horrible thing one can do to a person. I’m not speaking of the death penalty as much as I am the crime of murder. We tend to think that murder is the only crime bad enough to be punished by death (if we believe it’s okay to have a death penalty at all). Murder is not the only thing that ruins life, however. Other crimes than ruin people’s lives without killing them, and they are just as bad. The Bible shares this view. For example, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 says, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” This passage tells us that a life of suffering in this world is worse than never having been born. It contradicts the common notion that death is the worst thing there is, by telling us that a life of suffering is the worst thing there is. The truth is that everybody dies eventually, but not everybody has to suffer oppression; and if we all obeyed the Bible’s laws, no one would suffer oppression.

So it makes sense that God would impose a death penalty for those who cause suffering. God cares about victims too much to allow those who ruin others’ lives to get away with it. If breaking the Sabbath oppresses people by creating a society in which much of the population has to work 7 days a week just to keep up with the competition, then life becomes oppressive and not worth living. God valued weekly rest for His people so much that He imposed the ultimate penalty for those would neglect human well-being. It’s not that He wanted to be brutal, but that He simply wouldn’t budge on His insistence that everyone have a weekly day of rest. Here in America, we go very light on the oppressors, and we think we’re kinder than God for doing so. But the truth might be that we have far less concern for victims who suffer at the hands of oppressors than God does.

Likewise, if adultery ruins lives, which it does, then it makes sense that God prescribed the death penalty to prevent people from imposing suffering on their spouses and children. As for men having sex with men, it too was adultery, since it appears that everyone was married in early Israel. The inheritance structure, in which a man inherited land from his family and then took a wife and had children to live off the land, required marriage in order to work. If the men didn’t marry, they would have hoarded the produce of the land to themselves, and the women would have been left destitute with no husband and no land to live off of. This might be why male homosexuality was punished by death, while female homosexuality gets no mention in the Mosaic Law.

Third, most Americans believe there are things worth dying for other than death. That’s why people stand up for causes (like labor and civil rights) in the face of violence, while others join the military. If nothing was worth dying for, we would simply let invading nations take us over without putting up a fight. We would let them work us like slaves and abuse us, because we think such suffering is nowhere near as bad as death is. The reason we fight back, however, is because we value freedom from oppression as much as life itself. Now, one might argue that this kind of death is different, because it’s good people voluntarily giving their lives to prevent abuse and oppression of others. But I would argue that if good people can give their lives (or even be drafted and forced to give up their lives) to protect people from oppression, why can’t the oppressors be forced to lose their lives to protect people from the very oppression they impose? God might find it kind of strange that in modern America we declare it good for an innocent person to die to prevent the suffering of others, while we declare it evil for a guilty person, who has already caused suffering, to die as a deterrent to other oppressors.

So, unlike many people, I don’t see the Old Testament as a book about a blood-thirsty, angry God. I see it as a book about a God who cared so much about the well-being of His people that He required strong sentences for those who would ruin life for others out of their own selfishness.

I realize that when it comes to some laws, like that of cursing your mother or father, the death penalty seems severe. Even I think so. But we also have to realize that we don’t know everything just because we live here and now and are, therefore, smarter than all other people in the history of the world. That’s an arrogance that author C.S. Lewis called “the snobbery of chronology.” There are probably a million ways of thinking in world history, and God’s laws were designed to be effective in the time and place in which they existed. It’s wrong for us to try to judge God’s laws by the standards of modern thought-trends.

Oh, and one more thing…the Bible never says that “children” are to be put to death for hitting or cursing their parents. It says, “He” who strikes his mother or father… It doesn’t even say “she.” That law was for adult men. The biblical law was for adults, just like our law is. So let’s not allow those who hate our faith to make this false accusation without correcting them.

Why having a “Washington Outsider” as president won’t fix Washington

 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a caucus night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a caucus night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

 

Three of the 16 presidential candidates in the 2016 Republican field were people with no political experience – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump. They, along with first term Senator Ted Cruz, managed to garner most of their Republican voter support by running as “Washington Outsiders,” – people who are going to change the way Washington works.

Yes, people are fed up with the big money influence and gridlock in the nation’s capital, so they say they want to elect a president who is going to “shake up Washington” (as Trump promised in one of his campaign commercials) or “change the way Washington works.” I have bad news for those people: It’s impossible for a president to accomplish this. Many have tried, and all have failed.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran as a Washington outsider. In fact, he had only been in the Senate for a few years before he ran. He was new to Washington. And while he succeeded in many things, especially during his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, he failed to change the big money influence and Republican obstructionism in Washington.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran as a Washington outsider. He had been governor of California, which was 3000 miles from Washington. So how did he change Washington? Well…the Pentagon paid $600 for toilet seats and $400 for hammers. That’s a change. And let’s not forget Iran/Contra. The Reagan administration suffered 138 indictments. That’s the worst in American history. As for changing Washington for the better, he failed.

Before Reagan, Jimmy Carter ran as a Washington outsider in 1976. He was viewed as the polar opposite of Richard Nixon, a corrupt politician who had long been part of the establishment. American voters decided they preferred a humble peanut farmer from Georgia over anyone who had experience in Washington. Carter was never found to have engaged in corruption, but he didn’t change the way Washington worked. In fact, some suspect that his honesty hurt his effectiveness at getting Congress to work with him.

Now someone might argue that these governors and first time senators still had some political experience, but “What about someone one who had never been elected to office?” That person would be Herbert Hoover. He was a successful business man and world famous charitable organizer. Once he became president in 1929, his own party refused to work with him, because he lacked the interpersonal skills it takes to garner votes for his political agenda. He went down in history as one of America’s worst presidents.

So why can’t presidents “shake up” Washington?

First of all, what does it mean to “shake up” Washington? It’s almost as if Trump supporters think he’s going to literally shake people in Congress and chew them out for not doing it his way. That’s not going to accomplish anything. It’s no solution at all. In fact, it will render him ineffective, even within his own party, just like Herbert Hoover.

Second, the president lacks the power to “shake up” Washington. He can’t do it by executive order, because executive orders only change the way things work in agencies that fall under the executive branch; they have no impact on Congress, and Congress is where the gridlock and big money influence reigns. He can’t just give the Congress a good talking to. As President Obama said in the 2016 State of the Union Address, he knows Congressmen he talks to who would like to do the right thing, but they can’t because the voters back home will vote them out of office.

And that’s the source of the problem. The same voters who say they want to shake up the way Washington works keep voting for the very same congressmen who cause the gridlock and serve the interests of the corporate wealthy. The president is powerless to stop them. Only the voters can stop them.

So that leads us to the formula for change in Washington:

Voters have to become deeply interested in congressional elections. But even that’s not enough. They have to have deep interest in congressional primaries. In the general election, most people tend to vote for the representative of their party, especially at times like these when the parties are so clearly divided over issues. That’s why incumbents usually win. Most states and districts have more voters representing one party than they do the other, so the majority party is pretty much a lock to win.

If we are going to bring about change, we have to make the change in the primaries by voting for better representatives within our parties. Yet most people are reluctant to do that, because the person who already occupies the office has proven they can beat the other party’s opponent, since they have already done so. Nominating someone new comes with an increased risk of losing the election to the opposing party. Add to that the fact that most people don’t even know what primary challengers’ faces even look like, and the incumbent is likely to win the party nomination the vast majority of the time.

The sad fact is that the voters won’t apply the formula I just described, especially within the Republican Party, since they are the party that has represented the interests of the corporate wealthy since the 1890s, and they have a very effective way of brainwashing their voters. The Democratic Party has a better chance of making change, as they strongly oppose ruling like Citizens United. But to really make change that matters, however, we have to pressure our representatives to ban what I called “post term payoffs,” where companies who lobby congress reward ex-congressmen with jobs that pay 10-20 times more than they earned in Congress. Imagine being a Senator and seeing your colleagues who give the lobbyists whatever they want then get hired by those lobbyists’ companies after they leave Congress and get paid 3 million dollars a year. How do you secure such future riches for yourself? Give the lobbyists what they want. As of 2012, 53% of former congressmen worked for companies who lobbied Congress. This is what we have to stop if we are going to have any hope of fixing Washington. But nobody’s talking about it, not even in the Democratic Party. Therefore, Washington isn’t getting fixed anytime soon. But now that we just elected an extremist radical president with no experience, it just might get a whole lot worse.

NAFTA didn’t kill jobs. Bush’s tariffs on imported steel did.

nafta-protest

Donald Trump reiterated yet again in his first debate with Hillary Clinton that NAFTA was the worst trade deal in American history and that he would renegotiate much better trade deals, although he failed to give any details as to how he was going to do that. Trump, as well as many far left Democrats, have repeatedly stated that NAFTA has killed millions jobs and is the primary culprit for most of our economic woes. Trump and his anti-free trade supporters are incorrect.

To clarify, I should say that this is incorrect on a macroeconomic level. I’m sure some of you can tell a story or two about a U.S. plant that closed and moved its operation to Mexico; however, that was already happening in the 1980s, before NAFTA was even a glint in George H.W. Bush’s eye (his administration negotiated it, not the Clinton Administration; Clinton just signed it). But nationwide, manufacturing jobs increased after the implementation of NAFTA; they did not decrease. According to The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Month-by-Month, 1939-2016, in December 1993, when NAFTA was signed, the U.S. had 16.8 million manufacturing jobs; and according to U-3 Unemployment rate, Month-by-Month, 1948-2016, the overall unemployment rate was 6.5%. Throughout the rest of the Clinton years, manufacturing jobs would go on exceed 17 million as early as 1994, and the unemployment rate would steadily fall to 3.9% by the end of the decade, adding over 20 million total jobs to the U.S. economy. Granted, manufacturing jobs didn’t grow by much, but they didn’t decline, either. And the competition for manufacturing jobs came primarily from China, not Mexico.

In 2002, George W. Bush did the opposite of a free trade agreement. In an effort to protect the struggling U.S. Steel industry and win over union voters in the upcoming presidential election, Bush placed a protective tariff on steel, mostly at a rate of 30% (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/general/2002/03/05/bush-steel.htm). According to Donald Trump’s ideology (he has often suggested increased tariffs on China and Mexico), such a move should have increased manufacturing jobs throughout our great nation. It didn’t. Manufacturing jobs fell from 15.4 million in March of 2002 to 13.4 million by August, 2008 (and that was a month before the banking fiasco triggered an economic collapse).

Here’s why:

While the steel industry loved the tariff, industries that used steel to manufacture everything from furnaces to bicycles to construction beams, hated it, because it hurt them by raising the cost of raw materials used in production. Also affected was the auto industry. Of course, we all know what happened in 2008-2009 to the auto manufacturers – they needed bailouts. While various factors played a role in their near demise, increased prices on steal didn’t help. And this is why such tariffs are harmful. Steelworkers may have lost jobs up front without the protective tariffs, but there were far more American companies and employees who manufactured with steel than there were steel manufacturers, and the tariffs hurt their ability to compete on price. What’s ironic is that if it weren’t for the government bail out of the auto-makers, they would have gone out of business, leaving the steel manufacturers fewer clients to sell to, thus ultimately killing steel jobs after all.

Once upon a time, it was the progressive Democrats who believed in free trade, while Republicans opposed it. The original progressives of the 1890s and early 1900s, led by Christian pastor and three-time presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan, called the tariff system of the time “a subsidy from the poor to the rich.” Bryan campaigned for replacing the tariff system with income taxes on the wealthy, because tariffs on imports were (and still are) paid for by the consumer when they buy the end product. And when tariffs are high, U.S. manufacturers can charge higher prices to consumers, thanks to the lack of competition. So, in a tariff system, consumers pay higher prices than necessary and bear the bulk of the U.S. tax burden, while the wealthy pay much smaller percentages of their incomes to taxes and make more money from being able to overcharge customers.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to greatly reduce protective tariffs. But after the 1929 stock market crash, Herbert Hoover and a Republican Congress implemented the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, an act that many economists see as a major contributor to the severity of the Great Depression, which was just a recession when the tariff became law. Other nations responded by placing reciprocal tariffs on US goods, thus hurting industries that had not yet been hurt by the recession. And the increased cost of raw materials added to the cost of production and greatly burdened businesses. The Republicans blew it, and the anti-tariff Democrats took over in 1932, controlling the House of Representatives for 60 of the next 64 years.

As for countries seeking revenge with reciprocal tariffs, what you get worldwide is the cost of goods and materials being prohibitively high, making nearly all products more expensive, thus decreasing their availability. In other words, there’s less to go around for everyone, increasing the need throughout the world. Tariffs create poverty. Everyone in the whole world is created in the image of God; therefore, no one should suffer due to protective tariffs. It’s hypocritical for so-called progressives to accuse the American wealthy of rigging the system so they don’t have to share their riches with the rest of us and then actually advocate that we rig the tariff system so we Americans don’t have to share our riches with the rest of world.

I think this is why President Obama favors the Trans Pacific Partnership. I’ll admit, I don’t know everything that’s in it. But, generally, free trade is good for everyone in the long run. The Chinese are developing their own free trade agreement and alliance with India and 14 other countries than will make it even cheaper for them to produce goods and undercut our prices. So we are competing by effectively adding Japan, South Korea, Australia, Chile and others to the NAFTA alliance. As we move into the future, individual countries won’t be able to go it alone. Alliances will be essential to survival.

I trust Obama on this far more than I trust Trump. Obama is an intellectual, just like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Trump is an emotionalist who stokes anger by placing the blame for our problems on chosen scapegoats. He differs little from Ron Paul. Their campaigns are about getting people to shake their fist at the government, even their own party, rather than doing their homework on how to create intelligent solutions for complex problems. And unfortunately, a lot of working class progressives are now falling for their deception. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in progressivism. But true Democratic progressivism favored free trade, because it’s cheaper for consumers and actually increases jobs nationwide. It’s not the simplest thing to understand, but it’s easy enough for anyone who’s willing to take a few moments to look at the macroeconomic realities and numbers. Hopefully, progressive leaders of the future will do what’s right for the working class and not just promote what sounds good to the uneducated mind.