Movie “God is Not Dead” escalates culture wars rather than turning the other cheek

[I wrote the following article a couple years ago after seeing the original “God is Not Dead”, but never published it. Now that “God is Not Dead II” has come out, and there has been some controversy over it and SNL’s parody of it, I figure there’s no time like the present to publish it, because the damage done by such films needs to be addressed. I hope to view “God is Not Dead II” eventually, but I can’t go to theaters due to my severe LED and fluorescent lighting sensitivity here in my post-Lyme years, so I’ll have to wait for the DVD.]

Upon recommendation by numerous fellow Christians, I rented the popular Christian movie, “God is not Dead.” For those of you unfamiliar with it, the movie tells the story of a Christian college student whose philosophy professor tries to make every student sign a paper stating that God is dead, so they can skip the topic of religion in the class, and as a reward, every student gets an “A” on that part of the course. The Christian student refuses and is forced to make a case in front of the class in favor of Christianity, while the professor threatens to fail him if he fails to convince the class of the existence of God.

The premise of this movie paints a picture of Christianity under attack – innocent Christians being persecuted by academia, despite having done nothing wrong to inspire such attacks. But the movie goes further. It paints every non-Christian character in the movie as a horrific human being, from the non-Christian who dumps his girlfriend the moment she tells him she has cancer to atheistic university professors who scoff at Christians and speak to them in condescending tones. Meanwhile, the Christians in the movie are presented as nothing more than innocent people with hearts of gold who just can’t understand why anyone would want to persecute them. Naturally, this is an oversimplification of human nature, because I’ve known my share of friendly professors and condescending Christians over the years. Worse yet, it’s the sin of judging people (judgmentalism) as being evil simply because they are out of alignment with the Bible on a single issue. The truth is that there are thousands of things a person can say or do right or wrong, so it’s a major sin to judge people on just one or two of those things, as this film does. When we do, we effectively take our seat on God’s throne, doing what only God has the authority to do.

The movie also promotes stereotypes by going as far as to feature a cameo appearance by Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, who is verbally attacked by a reporter from a publication called “the New Left,” whose bumper stickers read, “Meat is Murder” and “I Love Evolution.” She asks him how in the world he can be proud of killing ducks and then, with a sour sneer on her face, asks him if it’s true that they pray to Jesus on his show, as if that’s the most despicable, audacious thing a person could do. So, all in one character, the movie manages to lump democrats, vegetarians, and those who believe in a universe older than 6000 years into the same evil cesspool as atheists who have a seething hatred for Christianity.

This movie could have been a good one, because the arguments made in favor of the existence of God and intelligent design are good. In fact, I would have been much happier with a movie that spent all of its time on the existence of God debate. Instead we got a movie that spent 20 minutes on the debate and the rest on inflaming the culture wars.

What I want to know is how the evangelical church expects to recruit people to the faith (which is the meaning of the word “evangelical”) by attacking vegetarians, non-Christians, Democrats and scientists. Do they really think that non-Christians who see this movie will want to join the faith after they’ve been portrayed by Christians in such disparaging and stereotypical ways?

Unfortunately, evangelism has been rendered worthless and ineffective, because Christians have failed to turn the other cheek. Yes, the church has come under attack by atheists at times. But let’s not forget, it was Christians who once made it illegal, to the point that a person would go to jail, for teaching evolution in a school (this is what led to the famous Scopes Trial of 1925). We Christians have also tried to block mosque construction and gay marriage, because they violate our religion, even though we live in a nation that has, since its inception, guaranteed its people religious freedom in which no one can be forced to obey someone else’s religious beliefs. Yet, when these persecuted groups lash out against Christians, conservative Christians act as though they have no earthly idea why anyone would want to attack us (reminds me of U.S. foreign policy). They then strike back with attacks of their own, as the producers of “God is not Dead” did, which only makes matters worse.

What Jesus called us to do when insulted or attacked by others is to “turn the other cheek.” That means we Christians need to be the bigger person. If those we’ve persecuted in the past lash out, we need to let it roll off our backs rather than return fire. Others who verbally attack us, or even legally attack us, as has been the case with lawsuits that seek to remove all Christian symbolism from our nation’s landscape, are to be dealt with in a biblical manner, which is one of respect. If others truly persecute Christians, and we Christians respond peacefully rather than vengefully, then society will see the Christians as righteous and those who persecute us as evil, and people will turn to embrace Christianity. This is what happened in ancient Rome and later in Africa. But if we Christians go on the attack, we will be seen as the persecutors, and people will turn against the faith. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s been happening over the past several decades.

Why it’s wrong for Christians to blame the poor for their poverty

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No one better summed up the modern-day Republican stance on personal responsibility than Herman Cain did while running for president in 2012. He said, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself! It is not a person’s fault because they succeeded; it is a person’s fault if they failed.” Yes, society has freeloaders who fail. But this statement goes beyond that. It says that anyone who’s unemployed during a recession is to blame for their situation. This includes teachers and police officers who were laid off due to budget cuts. This includes architects and construction workers who lost their jobs due to a collapse of the housing market. This even includes sales reps who fail because they refuse to tell the lies it takes to succeed in selling products and services for dishonest companies. This statement also says that those who are not rich are at fault. In other words, if people struggle financially because they’ve chosen low paying jobs that help others, like teaching or social work, they’ve done wrong; meanwhile, those who seek riches above all else are righteous, even if their schemes bring more harm than good to society, as was the case in the financial industry crisis that sparked the Great Recession.

Is Cain’s view consistent with the Bible?

Let’s examine Exodus 22:21-24 which says, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict [‘take advantage of’ in the NIV] any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Unlike Herman Cain, God does not blame the poor for their poverty in this quote, nor does He blame them (or accuse them of class warfare) for being unsatisfied and crying out. He blames those who place them in such a situation, namely the rich and powerful. To God, poverty and oppression result from evil committed by the powerful, not from choices of those unable to support themselves.

Cain made his statement in response to Occupy Wall Street protesters who cried out against the sins of the financial industry and the corporate world that have expanded the nations disparity of wealth over the last 30 years. While not everyone at those rallies was poor, they represented lower income Americans, some of whom had it pretty hard. Rather than heed the cries of the poor and their representatives, Republicans like Cain have turned a deaf ear to them. This behavior defies Proverbs 21:13, which says, “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” Some of us might read this verse and imagine an ancient world where the poor literally cry in anguish as wealthier people walk by. But this is not how poverty looks in the real world. In the real world, the poor usually cry out in an organized fashion. They organize politically to cry out for help in paying for health care. They organize into unions to cry out for fair wages – wages that provide food, clothing, shelter, basic enjoyment (yes, having some pleasure in life is a necessity), and a wage appropriate for their contributions to their companies’ successes. They even cry out to the government to organize itself to protect them and their environment from the harmful effects of corporate greed.

Rather than close our ears to the cry of the poor, the Bible requires that we have compassion on them. For example, 1 John 3:17 says, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Republican Christians will respond to a verse like this by saying they do have compassion on the needy. Indeed, many Christians give money to help those in foreign nations. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to the American poor, their hearts close. Some will say they choose not to help the American poor, because we have a system to meet their needs. This is true. However, it’s this system that Republican Christians, especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, are hell-bent on abolishing. They tend to believe that America is the land of opportunity; therefore, those who finish last deserve to suffer for not taking advantage of America’s opportunities.

Let’s remember, however, that opportunity is only opportunity. Opportunity combined with hard work doesn’t assure prosperity. Many try their best and still come up short. The formula for prosperity is hard work, plus opportunity, plus God-given ability, plus knowing the right people, plus luck (changes in market conditions, etc.). Only hard work is within our control. The rest is beyond any person’s control; therefore, we must not arrogantly close our ears to the cry of the poor and working class in our country. Much of their suffering is beyond their control. Here’s a short list of opportunity destroyers beyond any person’s control:

1) Competition – A wave of spiritualism, promoted by books like The Secret, has immersed America in a can-do spirit that conflicts with both the Bible and reality. This religion teaches that those who focus on something they want badly, such as money, good health, or a career in a certain field, will receive what they desire if they dwell, to the point of obsession, on positive thoughts of desire and avoid negative thoughts. Some call this the Law of Attraction.

The Law of Attraction, unfortunately, is a lie. It’s invalidated by a much more powerful force, something I like to call the Law of Competition. My Law of Competition says that if you obsessively focus on becoming president of the United States in the year 2020 and never doubt, and 1 million other people do the same, only one of you will become president in 2020. It won’t necessarily be the one who wants it most or thinks most about it, it will be the one who competes best. The rest of the presidential hopefuls will fail, despite all of their positive thoughts. This Law of Competition applies to any situation where an object of desire exists in smaller quantity than those who desire it.

Law of Attraction proponents often speak of how we live in an abundant universe. This, too, is a lie. The necessities of life, along with pleasurable things, exist in limited quantity; therefore, we must compete for them. Among these necessities are jobs.

Republican Christians who despise government assistance programs often tell rags to riches stories to convey the point that in America, the land of opportunity, everyone can have a high-paying job if they just try hard enough. It’s certainly true that hard work can lead to great riches. However, it’s only on the individual level that hard work, etc. might lead to riches. On a national level, not everyone can be rich or close to it. Even if all Americans were to work their hardest and get PhDs, they wouldn’t all prosper. In such a situation, if our nation had 160 million workers and only 140 million jobs, 20 million people with PhDs would be unemployed. And if 30 million jobs paid less than $10 per hour, then 30 million people with PhDs would earn what is a pretty unlivable wage. The reality is that the majority of jobs in America are low-paying, and regardless of how hard everyone tries, the majority of people will be working-class poor. It’s just like a foot race; someone has to finish last.

Since capitalism has always been a system of winners and losers, it’s wrong for Christian leaders and politicians to promote the lie that every individual can win simultaneously if they just try hard enough. Instead they need to ask, “How badly must the losers lose? How badly must they, being created in God’s image, suffer for not being smart enough, well-connected enough, or cut-throat enough to make it in a dog-eat-dog economy?” We need to address the realities of our winners and losers system rather than pretend that poverty is a choice.

2) Injury, Illness and Disease – I could share with you one of many stories of people whose employment options are limited by physical disabilities or who suffer so much chronic pain that they struggle to function on the job, but I think everyone has at least seen, if not known, someone with such struggles. Sometimes we can blame someone for a disease that may have resulted from irresponsible health choices, like smoking, drug abuse, or poor food choices. But for every case like this, others suffer chronic headaches, fatigue, etc from toxins in the products they use or in the environment. Not only are these illnesses not their fault, but they are often the fault of those who enrich themselves through environmental neglect. (I, for example, found after many years that I’m allergic to chemicals used to make mattresses flame-retardant. I suffered a decade of relentless sinus infections and headaches when windows were closed over the winter. Now I sleep on an air mattress, and sinus infections and headaches are rare.)

Not only does poor health hurt job performance and limit career opportunities, but medical bills devastate family finances. Illness and injury play a major role in more than half of all personal bankruptcies. And, prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, in ¾ of these cases, the injured or ill person was insured.

3) Below Average Intelligence – Many politically-conservative Christians say, “If you work hard, and you’re smart, you’ll be successful.” This statement implies that the opposite is true: If you’re lazy and stupid, you’ll fail; and failure, according to Herman Cain, is your own fault. Most individuals can take some blame for laziness, health permitting. Stupidity, on the other hand, is different. If you attended public school, you may recall some childhood classmates who struggled to learn. In my elementary school, those were the kids in the 3rd reading group. They weren’t bad kids. Many of them behaved. They simply struggled to learn. Some really struggled. I remember coming home from college for a visit and seeing one of those kids who really struggled, now an adult, pushing a broom at the local grocery store. It’s likely that broom pushing was about as high-paying a job as he would ever find. According to many Republicans, even those who are Christians, this is an example of a bad person who deserves a life of malnutrition, squalor, and misery, all because he’s not-so-smart. If he has children, they deserve misery, too, maybe even starvation or death from exposure, all because their father lacks intelligence.

Proverbs 14:31 says, “Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.” If any of us were born too stupid to figure out how to get rich, or even get a job, we are as God made us. It’s no person’s fault that they’re stupid; it’s God’s fault. Yet, God has no faults! Therefore, people are as smart as God made them, and no one has the right to judge God’s creation. When we blame the poor for their lack of intelligence, we “insult their maker” – God – for making them as they are, and we judge God as evil and incompetent. Those to whom God gives smarts, skills and lucky breaks have no business being arrogant toward those who receive a less lucrative package of abilities from Him. And nowhere does the Bible say that less intelligent people should struggle to survive as punishment for their stupidity.

4) No Time, No Money – When I think of people who have insufficient time and money to achieve business success, I think of Sofia [fake name to protect identity]. Sofia worked a 40 hour week as a teller at a bank my company partnered with. She also worked a 40 hour week as a cashier at a grocery store. The average pay between those two jobs was probably around $10 an hour. So her reward for 80 hours of hard work was $800 a week, or about $40,000 per year. At the same time, I earned $45,000 per year (working about 50 hours per week) and lived in a one bedroom apartment. On my income, I could pay my bills, save a few thousand a year for retirement and take a week-long vacation. The difference between Sofia and I was that Sofia had kids. With kids, Sofia had no opportunity to save any money or enjoy herself as I did. (Conservatives often argue that poor people are irresponsible for having kids they cannot afford. This is an anti-biblical claim. Bearing children is a God-given right. “Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28),” is God’s first command in the Bible. I won’t go as far as the pope and say birth control use is sin, but I’m certain that choosing not to use it is righteous in God’s eyes, since it didn’t exist throughout most of human history.)

Having to work 80 hours for low pay, Sofia had no extra money to fund a business start-up or seek higher education, nor did she have time to develop skills that could lead to higher-paying jobs or dream up entrepreneurial innovations. Having come from a low income background, Sofia was stuck in low income jobs, investing all of her time and money in present-day survival rather than in future ambitions. Millions of Americans suffer similar disadvantages. Few of our nation’s millionaires, on the other hand, have ever suffered these disadvantages. Most of them have come from middle to upper class families that fund their ambitions and free up their time to develop marketable skills and dream up big ideas.

Why I, as a gun owner, now believe the NRA really wants criminals to have guns

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I know the title of this article sounds like a conspiracy theory. And that bothers me, because I hate conspiracy theories. And as a Christian, I believe it’s a great sin to assign false motives to someone else. It’s effectively the sin of slander and bearing false witness. I can’t help but see the devil in such false accusations as, “Obama wants to take all of our guns,” when Obama has said no such thing, and “Obama wants to be a dictator,” when he has indicated no such thing, and my favorite, from the comments section under a 2014 Mike Huckabee Facebook post is, “Obama wants to give us all Ebola, so he can declare Martial Law.” So I’m hesitant to assign motives to the NRA, but their actions are leading me toward one conclusion, and one conclusion only – that the NRA wants criminals and terrorists to have guns, so the industry makes more money at the expense of innocent lives.

For most of my adult life, I assumed that the NRA was just an organization of gun owners that represented their interests, and nothing more. My mom was an NRA member, and when I bought my parents’ house after she passed away in 2000, I had no intention of removing the NRA sticker from the sliding glass door. But when NRA president Wayne LaPierre propagated the rumor that Obama was coming to take all of our guns, even though Obama never even suggested so little as a ban on the further sale of assault rifles, I got suspicious. And then the NRA proceeded to oppose every one of the president’s common sense gun regulations, no matter how little those regulations would have intruded on the rights of gun owners. But that’s not what led me to first suspect the NRA wanted criminals to have guns. It started with something that predates Obama.

During the tenure of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (2003-2011), the governor promoted legislation in PA that would limit an individual’s ability to purchase a handgun to one gun per month. They could buy 12 guns per year, but only one per month. The reason for such a proposal was that some people without criminal records would buy 10 or more guns at a time, take them to crime ridden areas, and sell them for profit to ex-convicts who could not legally buy guns on their own (about 40% of guns used in crimes were purchased legally but then used by someone other than the purchaser to commit the crime). The intent of the bill was to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. So how did the NRA and their Republican puppets in the legislature respond? You guessed it. “The NRA killed the bill in committee. It never even got to a vote,” said Rendell in his book, “A Nation of Wusses.” So the next time you hear the NRA and the Republicans say they can’t do anything to limit gun violence because Obama is just too ineffective and divisive as a president, remember that they’ve opposed common-sense, un-invasive gun laws at the state level, too – a place outside of Obama’s jurisdiction.

When you consider how little negative impact such a law would have on a law-abiding gun owner, you have to ask, “How could anyone be opposed to such a law?”

The worst that could happen to someone who wanted to buy multiple guns for their own or their family’s sake would be that they have to wait a little bit, just like someone who gets a learners’ permit to operate a vehicle has to wait to get their license. Clearly, the NRA opposition to such a bill has nothing to do with denying the constitutional rights of a gun owner or laying a heavy burden on that person. The only logical conclusion then is that the NRA wants criminals to have guns, especially when you also consider the NRA’s fierce opposition to requiring gun shows to do background checks and their refusal to deny gun and ammo sales to terrorist associates already denied the right to fly on all American airplanes. The level of inconvenience these laws would cause is minuscule compared to the value of the lives such a law would save.

NRA supporters might make the tired old argument that passing such laws would be a “slippery slope” toward the abolishment of gun rights. But such an argument is invalid. First, there is never an excuse to do the wrong thing, especially for Christians. Second, it’s not as if passing such sensible laws would somehow prohibit pro-gun congressmen from being allowed to vote against future laws that might actually infringe upon gun-owners’ rights. Third, the “slippery slope” argument is simply the argument extremists make when they know their position is evil, but they believe the position of the extremists at the opposite end of the spectrum is even more evil, so they oppose the righteous solution that lies in the middle, because they fear that any compromise on their part might be seen as a victory for the opposite extreme. Again, this is never an excuse to do the wrong thing.

The final piece of evidence that has led me to believe that the NRA is more desirous of criminals and terrorists having guns than they are concerned about the “slippery slope” is Mike Huckabee’s quote in response to the Charleston church shooting, when he said, “The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal carry or there had been either an off duty policeman or an on duty policemen, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter.”

Remember, this was a 10 person Bible study meeting on a weeknight. Hiring 7-day-per-week security isn’t in every church’s budget (and not all Bible studies are on church property), so, effectively, Huckabee’s answer to gun violence is that tens of millions of Americans (at least 1 in 9) should carry guns on them at all times to protect themselves from mass shooters. If Americans heeded Huckabee’s words, the weapons industry would make billions of dollars from all of the people buying guns to protect themselves. Of course, the number of accidental shootings resulting from so many casual gun carriers would most likely number in the thousands, and so would the number of shootings by casual gun carriers with quick tempers. And because of the latter group more people would then have to arm themselves for protection. That’s a glimpse of what a guns-everywhere society looks like.

As a Christian gun owner who once favored the NRA, I now have no choice but to oppose it. We’re talking about innocent lives here, and the NRA getting its way will destroy thousands more of them per year. And their motive is quite simply…Money! The gun industry had been losing ground in recent decades as younger generations have found more interesting things to do than sit in the woods hunting animals, so the industry has to find other sources of revenue. Spreading lies to drive fear among those who still love guns has been their most lucrative marketing strategy.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

10 Past Evils that Small Government Failed to Stop

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[This is an excerpt from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason”]

As I stated previously, I worked in corporate sales for 18 years. There are things I think I know, and there are things I know indisputably. What I know indisputably is that a significant percentage of people will do anything for money if they can get away with it. For many corporations, there is no concern for right versus wrong. All that stops them from doing evil is the strong arm of the law. Here are ten examples of the innocent suffering where the strong arm of the law was absent:

Triangle Fire, March 25, 1911 – The year before this fire, Triangle Shirtwaist workers went on strike demanding sanitary conditions and safety precautions, including fire escapes and open doors to the streets. They didn’t get them. The fire killed 146 women, average age 19, because the doors were regularly chained shut by management to keep employees from leaving early or taking breaks. When the fire broke out, few could escape. No owners were ever tried for a crime. According to libertarianism, these business owners were in the right, because the factory was their property, and they could do whatever they wanted with it.

Breaker Boys – from the 1870s to the 1920s – Boys 8-12 years old would work 10 hour days, six days a week inside the entrances of coal mines, separating coal from other elements. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there were 20,000 breaker boys in 1880. Numbers peaked at 24,000 in 1907. Labor activist “Mother” Jones complained, “Fifty years ago there was a cry against slavery and men gave their lives to stop the selling of black children on the block. Today, the white child is sold for two dollars a week to the manufacturer.” In today’s money, that two dollars equals about $40, just enough to feed the child.

The libertarian Republican might argue that the children’s parents were “free” to choose to send them to the mines. The truth was that families were so impoverished they had no choice but to make their children earn their keep. As I stated in the last chapter, money buys liberty; those who lack money have no freedom but the freedom to live a slave-like existence in a laissez-faire, corporate capitalist, libertarian society.

The Freedom Rider attacks – 1961 – The Freedom Riders were a mix of white and black Americans riding buses bound for a civil rights rally in New Orleans. The riders chose to have African-Americans sit up front as a symbol of their convictions. City government officials in Birmingham, Alabama, under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, carried out a plan to have KKK members attack the riders on numerous occasions, while the police were prohibited from intervening. Most riders were beaten to a point that they could no longer continue on the journey and had to be replaced by new Freedom Riders. Only when John F. Kennedy threatened to use federal force to protect the riders did the state of Alabama reluctantly offer some protection. The KKK was so powerful that it controlled local government, but it was nowhere near powerful enough to control the federal government. Ultimately, it was the federal government that put a stop to the atrocities against African-Americans in the South, because state and local governments, corrupted by the KKK, refused to do so in the name of states’ rights and small government.

The Leaded Gas Scare – 1920s – Standard Oil and DuPont Chemical workers suffered severe neurological effects, and even death, from lead exposure while manufacturing leaded gasoline. Had the government had workplace safety regulations enforced through inspections, these people would have been spared terrible suffering.

Hawks Nest Tunnel (Union Carbide) disaster, Gauley Bridge, WV 1927-1930 – According to a congressional report, 426 workers died and 1500 were sickened by silicosis while digging a hydro-electric tunnel and mining silica within it. The excessive silica dust inhibited lung functionality. Company management, knowing the dangers, always wore masks when on site, but no safety precautions were taken or permitted for the workers. Safety precautions would not have been all that expensive. But to the truly greedy, even small amounts of money are worth more than human life.

Today, Republicans complain about the nit-picky nature of OSHA. Having worked in a furnace manufacturing plant in my younger days, I agree that they can be a nuisance. But as we examine history, it becomes clear that we are far better off being annoyed by OSHA than we are suffering death and dismemberment at the hands of the greedy.

Shipping deaths of immigrants coming to America – early to mid-1800s – When American ships returned from delivering exports to Europe, they loaded up with European immigrants looking for a new life in America. In the late 1700s, about 10% of passengers died en route to America. So did the ship’s owners improve conditions to save lives? Not at all! In fact, they did just the opposite. They proceeded to regularly oversell passenger space, cramming up to 1000 people below deck. Conditions on board were so unsanitary that one in seven people died from cholera in the 1840s. By 1845, 20% of incoming immigrants died en route to America, more than twice the death rate from a few decades earlier. On board the April, in 1847, 500 German immigrants died. These atrocities serve as proof that lovers of money will kill for even more money.

Avondale mining disaster, Plymouth, PA 9/6/1869 – Just a few months before the disaster, politicians serving coal company interests defeated legislation to have safety inspectors and better ventilation for mines. All 179 men in the mine died, some as young as 12 years old, because a fire blocked the mine’s only entrance and suffocated the workers. In neighboring Schuylkill County, 556 mine deaths occurred from 1870-1875.

Cuyahoga River fires – 1868 to 1969 – This Cleveland area river caught fire 13 times during this period, due to an overabundance of oil and other industrial pollutants in the river. The largest and most expensive was in 1952. It did one million dollars in damage to boats and buildings along the shore. The most famous was the 1969 fire featured in Time Magazine. A 1968 Kent State study of the river affirmed that a large section of it had no animal life. Thanks to aggressive environmental legislation and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the river has been cleaned up and fires haven’t been a problem. Even northern pike and steelhead trout, which can only live in clean water, have returned to the river. According to libertarian ideology, the EPA is an unnecessary evil, because the threat of corporate lawsuits is all it takes to prevent pollution and river fires. History has proven the libertarians wrong.

Enron and rolling blackouts – early 1990s – George H.W. Bush supported 1992 deregulatory legislation that removed government price controls and allowed risky investment behavior. Within the first 6 months after the law went into effect, California experienced 38 rolling blackouts. Enron also deceived investors through acts of creative accounting, leading people to invest in a company that would soon go bankrupt.

Health insurance deception (personal story) – 1990-1991 – As I prepared to move to Nashville, Tennessee to study at Belmont University, I bought a small, student health insurance plan. The plan’s prospectus said the policy would cover “up to $5000 for surgeon’s fees,” among other things. About nine months into the policy’s coverage period, I had a hernia operation, and the surgeon charged $3000. How much did the insurance company pay? They paid $1000. Apparently, “up to $5000” meant they would pay whatever the felt like paying, but that it wouldn’t be more than $5000. It’s deceptions like these that “we the people” need to fight by means of our democratic government. This is one of the reasons that health insurance industry regulation, like that found in the Affordable Care Act of 2009, is so important.

This list of atrocities is indisputable proof of the dark, satanic power of pure, unrestrained greed – not the greed of a sole street criminal running off with someone’s belongings, but the calculated, cold-hearted greed of rich, corporate owners and executives. This greed is every bit as pervasive today as it was 100 years ago; in fact, it’s probably more so, because a far higher percentage of Americans held religious values 100 years ago. If we let greed have its way in the name of small government, our future will likely be even more oppressive than our past. We can’t let our guard down. We must be forever vigilant against greed. Our most effective defense is our democracy in which “we the people” can choose and pressure leaders to protect us through the strong arm of the law.

This is not to say that all leaders we choose to protect us are righteous heroes. If the leaders fail, we must replace them. If the leaders steal our tax money, we must watch their every move, identify the theft, and reveal the evidence to the world. If our leaders are incompetent or inefficient, then we should replace them with leaders who do a better job. Of course, to do this, we need to know who our leaders are, not just the president, not just the U.S. congressmen, but our state and local representatives, too.

Here’s what we shouldn’t do: Don’t commit intellectual suicide by saying that all politicians are corrupt and then vote for the anti-government types who say the same. They say this because the big businesses they represent are diametrically opposed to “we the people.” There’s nothing worse for predators than when their prey have power over them. That’s what democracy does. It gives the prey power over their predators. The anti-government types hate democracy, because it keeps them from funneling tax money to corporations and enabling the corporations to exploit the working class. They want you to vote away the power of democracy, so they can increase their stranglehold on America.

Small government is both incapable and unwilling to protect its people from big business. When government is small and businesses are big, businesses effectively become the government; government obeys them, not the people. If you want to replace our big government with a small one, the only way it’ll work is if we abolish big businesses. That would mean outlawing corporate liability protection, which would make corporations go away. Our landscape would then be populated with only small businesses, and we would only need a small government to regulate them. Of course, we’d no longer be able to produce cars, planes, and major appliances or distribute gasoline, phone service, and internet service. And society as we know it would collapse. But that’s the choice we have. We either return to a primitive, agrarian, small trade society run by a small government, or we embrace a democratic government in which “we the people” have enough power to protect ourselves from corporate rule.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

Five ways the USA was never a Christian nation

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To argue that any idea or solution is un-American is to imply that the American way is righteousness; it too is a morality. For a Christian, this is the equivalent of saying that the American way is one and the same as God’s way. This is what the Republican Party, as well as many Republican pastors, would have us believe. They tell us that America was originally a Christian nation and that its traditional values are biblical values. Indeed, our nation was settled by Christians from multiple denominations, so naturally, their descendants who freed the nation from England’s reign were mostly Christians, too.

But does that make the nation Christian?

It’s naïve to assume that Christian founders had no choice but to create a Christian nation. Christians often do un-Christian things. For example, not all Christian business owners conduct their businesses as Christians should. This is especially true if we count as Christian all people who call themselves Christians, even if those who rarely read the Bible, pray, or attend church. Likewise, our nation’s founders were a group comprised of devout Christians, Christians in name only, and some non-Christians, such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who liked some, but not all, of Jesus’ teachings, but denied His divinity).

The truth is that America’s founders could have designed our nation to be like God’s nation of ancient Israel, but they chose, instead, to go in a different direction. Here are some major differences between God’s nation and the nation our Founding Fathers established:

1) Freedom of Religion – In God’s nation, there was no freedom of religion. Even at the time of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, people believed that different religious beliefs couldn’t co-exist within the same society. They thought that conflicting beliefs would have a cancerous effect on their faith. Looking at Christianity in America today makes me wonder, sometimes, if they were right. It’s a lot harder to live the Christian life when everyone around you openly engages in non-Christian behavior. At heart, many of us Christians realize this and try to fight off alternate lifestyles through legislation. But we can’t do that in a society built on religious freedom.

2) Republican government – Rome, the nation that worshiped Greco-Roman gods, like Mars and Aphrodite, was a republic. So was the Union of Soviet Socialists’ Republic (USSR), an atheistic nation. God’s nation of ancient Israel was not a republic.

3) Democratic government – Ancient Greece, the most homosexuality-promiscuous society in world history, established the first democratic city-states. Our founders followed their lead, not God’s. (I think democracy is the best system humans have ever devised. I am not condemning it. I’m just stating that it does not come from God.)

4) States’ rights – While God divided Israel’s land among the twelve tribes, He did not give each tribe the right to make their own laws. The Law of God applied to the whole nation. It was a federal system. There were no states’ rights to conflict with, or undermine, the national law. Our nation’s founders, on the other hand, chose to leave many rights to the states when they ratified the Constitution. This was an unbiblical decision. But let’s not assume they all wanted it that way. It’s not as if the founders all shared a unanimous vision of a nation in which power was split between states and a federal government for centuries to come. They were divided over the matter, to the point where they formed opposing political parties – Adams and Hamilton led the Federalists against Jefferson’s Democrat-Republicans throughout America’s earliest decades.”

The harsh reality of their time was that the states existed first. They were created by England as colonies. Upon realization that the states couldn’t survive as a federation, James Madison led the charge to draft a Constitution that would give more power to the federal government. To bring this Constitution to life, the states had to ratify it, meaning that each state’s leaders had to vote to give up some of their power to the new federal government. Nobody likes to give up power, so the Constitution had to be watered down to appease power-hungry state leaders. The Constitution is a man-made document of compromise; the Bible is not.

Many Republicans and Libertarians have stated that emphasizing states’ rights protects us from the tyranny of a large federal government. Yet our history shows the opposite. Strict adherence to states’ rights kept African-Americans bound in slavery before the Civil War and segregated from the rest of society after it (Plessy v. Ferguson). And, as I stated before, states’ rights was the reason the Supreme Court shot down the Owen-Keating Act of 1916 (in the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart) that prohibited interstate trade for companies that employed children under the age of 14. Strict adherence to states’ rights has inflicted tyranny upon millions of Americans, because individual and corporate wealth and power manipulate small states far more easily than they do a large, federal government. So, ironically, it’s been the federal government that has often come to the rescue of those oppressed by the tyranny of states’ rights.

5) Slavery – The original Constitution allowed for slavery and counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for electoral purposes. On the other hand, Exodus 21:16 says, “And he who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” This selling refers to the selling of a human into slavery. I’ve had Republicans argue to me that Africans usually did the kidnapping and the selling, while Americans merely did the buying and driving; therefore, our nation’s founders were faultless for allowing slavery. This argument is nonsense. If you knowingly pay a robber for stolen goods, you go to jail. If you pay someone to kill someone for you, you go to jail. If our nation’s founders had modeled our nation after God’s, buying and owning kidnapped slaves would have been a crime. Also, the fact that the Constitution had to contain a three-fifths compromise is further proof that it was a negotiated document, not an eternal guide to righteousness.

All of this is not to say we shouldn’t abide by the Constitution, or that our nation’s founders are to be disrespected. They risked their lives and made great sacrifices to establish our nation. I believe most of them made the well-being of the American people a top priority. But the fact remains that they established a secular nation. It is not one and the same as God’s will. The founders were not prophets, apostles, or messiahs; they were mere mortals. The Constitution is not sacred scripture; it’s merely a framework for a government. Other nations have constitutions and founders, too. We are no better than they are. We Christians should never cite the Constitution or the nation’s founders as sources of righteousness. Only the Bible teaches us right from wrong. If we place quotes from the founders and the Constitution on par with Bible quotes, we worship our nation and defy the 1st Commandment that prohibits us from having any gods other than God Himself.

 

Marco Rubio book review: American Dreams

A solutions-oriented book marred by some fatal flaws

Having reviewed books by Republican candidates Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump, I expected this book to be just like theirs. Those books were largely devoid of solutions and full of rhetoric designed to scare readers away from the Democrats. This book certainly contained its share of the latter, but it contained far more specific solutions that the other books did.

The first two and last two chapters of the book contain most of the anti-Democrat accusations, while the middle chapters focus more on solutions. I’ll highlight the most noteworthy solutions first and then address some of the political rhetoric for those who care to keep reading beyond the solutions.

GOOD SOLUTION: “The elimination of payroll taxes for those [who are working] past retirement age could be accomplished with little or no effect on Social Security revenues.”

GOOD SOLUTION: Lower taxes on business money overseas, so they bring it back to America (known as repatriation). (Bill Clinton suggested this in his book, “Back to Work.”)

GOOD SOLUTION: Reduce the corporate tax rate. (Obama called for lowering the rate to 25% a few years ago, but the Republicans in Congress refused to pass it.)

GOOD SOLUTION: His plan for a Wage Enhancement Tax Credit for low income earners sounds like an interesting replacement for the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s paid to the worker regardless of whether or not they have children. Although his claim that this will lead more low income men to get married seems far-fetched, since few men make marriage decisions based on economics.

GOOD SOLUTION: He has interesting ideas on higher education reform, such as the Investing in Student Success Act in which investors pay for college and then get something like 4% of the students’ earnings in the post-college years, and the Student Right to Know Before You Go Database. The question is whether these programs will make enough of a difference. Regardless, our Republican-majority Congress could be passing these acts right now; but they’ve chosen not to, probably because Obama is in favor of some of the same solutions, as Rubio says (loc. 1412), “And to his credit, President Obama has also proposed changes to our higher education accrediting system.”

But just when the solutions make Rubio seem electable, then come the HORRENDOUS ideas:

HORRENDOUS: “The Lee-Rubio [tax] plan would also eliminate the double taxation of capital gains and dividends income.” Loc. 1517— Rubio mentions this in passing, without any further elaboration, and for good reason. This is the most evil part of the plan. He wants to eliminate capital gains and dividends, which is how the corporate wealthy earn almost all of their money (Calling it “double taxation” is to make it sound immoral). His plan lets BILLIONAIRES GO TAX-FREE!!! Someone like Donald Trump, who inherited $200 million, invests it in various companies and makes $10 billion, would pay no tax on what he makes, since he makes it from capital gains rather than from getting a paycheck. Meanwhile, WORKING CLASS AMERICANS make up the difference and bear ALL OF THE TAX BURDEN.

HORRENDOUS: His solution for Medicare: replace it with “a premium support system [a fancy word for “voucher”] that would give seniors a fixed amount of money with which to purchase health insurance.” Loc. 1926. — We already have a “support system” that gives college students “a fixed amount of money” to spend at colleges, and results are disastrously high-priced education. Why would health insurance be any different?

HORRENDOUS: “Modernize our legal immigration system toward a merit-based one. That would mean reassigning existing visas away from family-based immigration” loc. 747 — In Rubio’s system, those who can contribute the most to our economy (the wealthy) are welcome, while poor immigrants are criminalized. That might be good economics, but it’s lousy Christianity. We have more wealth to share than anyone, yet Republicans like Rubio are stingier than anyone.

HORRENDOUS: The National Regulatory Budget, which “would be an absolute dollar limit on what federal regulations could cost the economy in a year.” Loc. 594 —There are about 1000 new chemicals created every year. Rubio’s plan would allow unlimited exposure of them to workers, consumers and the environment, unless limitations on previously-regulated hazardous chemicals were lifted so that the new chemicals could be regulated. The more dangers and scams the corporations create, the more regulations we need to protect workers, consumers, and the environment from them.

Rubio misleads the reader into thinking money spent on regulations leaves the economy: “One study put the costs of regulation during the first 5 years of the Obama administration at an astounding $500 billion.” Loc. 574 — TRUTH: If a coal plant must retrofit its facilities, it must pay other companies to do that job, thus increasing the number of business to business transactions within the economy, which creates more jobs than if the corporate wealthy just sit on their money.

HORRENDOUS: Rubio ends the book with a disastrous chapter on how sexual immorality is the cause of poverty, as he cites various statistics on how children from single-parent homes have higher poverty. Rubio may be right that immorality might explain why a person is at the back of the jobs line, but it doesn’t explain why there aren’t enough jobs for everyone in that line. If there are 200 million workers and 180 million jobs, 20 million people have to be unemployed, even if everyone in America comes from a 2-parent home and has a PhD to boot. Until Rubio and other Republicans are willing to address this macro-economic reality, they will never improve poverty. In fact, when you consider that the last three times the Republicans have turned the White House over to a Democrat, the unemployment rate has never been below 7.3%, it’s clear the Republicans make poverty worse.

DECEPTIVE RHETORIC:

BAD: “And yet seven years into his presidency, struggling Americans are – by every measure, worse off today than they were before he took office” Loc. 94 — TRUTH: Unemployment, GDP, the DOW, and the annual deficit are just a few numbers that have improved since then.

BAD: “The economy shrank by the highest rate since the Great Recession on the 1st quarter of 2014” Loc. 94 — TRUTH: Here’s the GDP for that 5 quarter stretch: 3.0, 3.8, -0.9, 4.6, 4.3. The negative quarter was the result of ice storm paralysis in the east, where cities like Atlanta lost 6-9 days of productivity. That’s 1/10th of a 90 day quarter.

BAD: “President Obama told a campaign audience in Virginia, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” loc. 199 — TRUTH: Obama really said, “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

BAD: “I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about dealing with the Affordable Care Act Web site.” — TRUTH: I’ve used it every year, and it’s worked just fine. It worked about 100 times better than when I tried to install Kaspersky Anti-Virus, but Rubio wants to be extra tough on the ACA site, while not pointing out how corporate sites are often far worse.

BAD: Obamacare has been the single largest impediment to job creation in the United States for the past several years.” Loc. 585 — TRUTH: Yet the unemployment rate has fallen from 10% in 2009 to 4.9% in 2016.

BAD: “But if there’s one thing we learned from the Obama administration’s failed taxpayer subsidies of companies like Solyndra, it’s that the government is a lousy venture capitalist.” Loc. 623 — TRUTH: The money lost on Solyndra only represented 1/80th of the money Obama invested into clean energy. If a venture capitalist is right 79 times out of 80, he’ll soon be the richest man in the world.

BAD: “The army is set to be reduced to pre-WWII levels. The navy is at pre-WWI levels.” Loc. 2251 — TRUTH: We have 11 aircraft carrier fleets while no other country has more than one. And we spend over 600 billion a year on defense, which is more than the next 8 biggest spending countries combined. He’s apparently talking about the number of active troops (he never cites a source on this), not taking into account the fact that technology (like drones and missiles) reduces the need for troops.

GOOD RHETORIC: Rubio does sometimes share the other side of right-wing talking points. Here are a few examples:

GOOD: “the fact is poverty is more widespread in rural areas than in cities.” And then mentions that 85% of “persistently poor counties” are rural. This dispels the notion many Tea Partiers have that the poor “moocher class” are black and Hispanic.

GOOD: At least when talking about the decline in the workforce participation rate, he mentions that its largely due to baby boomers retiring. Most Republicans deceive their audiences by blaming it on welfare or claim those not in the workforce represent the “real unemployment rate.”

All in all, this book is a worthwhile read, but only if you balance it out with a book or two from the other side of the aisle. I recommend the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.” It’s my favorite, but I have to admit I’m a bit biased on that one.

 

Statistical proof that minimum wage increases don’t kill jobs

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As the minimum wage debate rages on, Republicans, and even some Democrats, tell us that raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy, thus hurting everyone. There are two fronts on which they make this argument: One is that a minimum wage increase will kill lots of jobs, because business owners cannot afford to pay their workers that much. The second is that the increase in wages will drive up inflation. I will tackle these issues the way I like to tackle everything – by examining comprehensive economic data.

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the unemployment rate in 1948, we’ve had 20 minimum wage increases. Here they are, along with the unemployment rate at the time of the wage hike, and then the unemployment rate 12 months later, so we can see the long term effects:

Date      Wage     % Increase     UE rate     UE rate 12 months later          Difference
1/50      $0.75      88% (40c)      6.5%            3.7%                                             -2.8
3/56      $1.00      33%                4.2%            3.7%                                             -0.5
9/61      $1.15       15%                6.7%            5.6%                                             -1.1
9/63     $1.25       9%                  5.5%             5.1%                                             -0.4
2/67      $1.40      12%                3.8%            3.8%                                              0.0
2/68      $1.60      14%                3.8%            3.4%                                             -0.4
5/74      $2.00      25%                5.1%             9.0%                                            +3.9
5/75      $2.10       5%                 9.0%             7.4%                                             -1.6
5/76      $2.30      10%                7.4%             7.0%                                            -0.4
1/78      $2.65       15%               6.4%              5.9%                                            -0.5
1/79      $2.90      10%               5.9%              6.3%                                            +0.4
1/80      $3.10       7%                 6.3%              7.5%                                            +1.2
1/81      $3.35       8%                 7.5%              8.6%                                            +1.1
4/90      $3.80      13%               5.4%               6.7%                                            +1.3
4/91      $4.25      12%               6.7%               7.4%                                            +0.7
10/96    $4.75      12%               5.2%               4.7%                                            -0.5
9/97      $5.15        8%                4.9%              4.6%                                             -0.3
7/07      $5.85      14%                4.7%              5.8%                                            +1.1
7/08      $6.55      12%                5.8%              9.5%                                            +3.7
7/09      $7.25      11%                9.5%               9.4%                                           -0.1

These stats prove the job-killer argument wrong, by showing that 12 of the 20 wage increases did NOT result in a higher unemployment rate 12 months later. That includes the two biggest wage hikes, percentage wise, in 1950 and 1956. These numbers imply that minimum wage hikes actually improve unemployment numbers.

For those who want to dwell on the few exceptions where the wage hikes were followed by large rises in unemployment, we have to keep in mind these hikes coincided with major recessions that were brought about by other causes ranging from OPEC to the banking crash. The ’73-’74 recession had seen three quarters of negative GDP (which is what defines a recession) by the time the minimum wage was enacted in May of ’74. In all major recessions, peak unemployment numbers lag behind drops in GDP by about 18 months (give or take a few months), so the job losses caused by falling production were mounting just as the wage was increased. The same goes for the 2008 increase. The high gas prices of 2008 hurt the economy, but then in the fall of ‘08 the banks crashed, so that by the summer of 2009, unemployment was reaching peak numbers.

No matter how you slice it, there’s no consistent evidence here that minimum wage increases kill jobs. If anything, the largest increases created jobs. Yes, a small number of workers might lose their jobs in the short run and some small businesses may go under if they’re already struggling. But the vast majority of minimum wage workers, as well as those earning a little more than minimum wage who also see raises, spend their raises within the economy, so that business owners have to hire more workers to service the increased number of customer purchases. That’s why significant wage hikes lower unemployment (assuming of course, that all other factors influencing the economy remain the same).

As for inflation, here’s a similar chart on that:

Date      Wage     % Increase     UE rate     UE rate 12 months later          Difference

1/50       $0.75     88% ($0.40)      -2.1%                   8.1%                                    +10.2
3/56      $1.00      33%                     0.4                      3.7                                         +3.4
9/61      $1.15      15%                     1.4                       1.3                                          -0.1
9/63      $1.25      9%                       1.0                       1.3                                         +0.3
2/67      $1.40      12%                     2.8                      4.0                                         +1.2
2/68      $1.60      14%                    4.0                       4.7                                         +0.7
5/74      $2.00      25%                   10.7                      9.5                                          -1.2
5/75      $2.10      5%                       9.5                      6.2                                          -3.3
5/76      $2.30     10%                      6.2                      6.7                                         +0.5
1/78      $2.65      15%                      6.8                     9.3                                          +2.5
1/79      $2.90      10%                      9.3                    13.9                                         +4.5
1/80      $3.10      7%                      13.9                    11.8                                          -2.1
1/81      $3.35      8%                      11.8                     8.4                                           -3.4
4/90      $3.80     13%                      4.7                      4.9                                         +0.2
4/91      $4.25     12%                      4.9                     3.2                                            -1.7
10/96    $4.75     12%                      3.0                      2.1                                           -0.9
9/97      $5.15      8%                        2.2                      1.5                                           -0.7
7/07      $5.85     14%                       2.4                     5.6                                          +3.2
7/08      $6.55     12%                      5.6                     -2.1                                           -7.7
7/09      $7.25     11%                    -2.1                      1.2                                           +3.3

Here, 9 of the 20 minimum wage hikes did not result in an increased inflation rate. Yes, conservatives might argue that 11 out 20 times it did. But if you average all of these numbers together, you’ll see that the average increase in the inflation rate per minimum wage hike was only 0.5%. So if our average inflation rate is 2%, a minimum wage hike will increase it to 2.5%. That’s something the average person wouldn’t notice.

Now the person who opposes a larger minimum wage hike all the way to $15 per hour might point to the largest wage hikes in 1950 and 1956 and say they increased inflation the most. That’s a fair point, especially since there was normally not much inflation in the 1950s. Since a $15/hr. minimum wage is more than doubling our current one, we are likely to see over 10% inflation as a result. That’s why we should apply caution in setting our new minimum wage rate. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the minimum wage, inflation-adjusted for today’s dollars, ranged between $9-$11 per hour. So going to $15 would be unprecedented.

So why is it that minimum wage increases cause very little inflation?

It’s because most pricing is not set on the cost of production, but on the amount that consumers are willing to pay. I remember when I bought my first home computer in 1999. The computers with Pentium II processors had cost about $1500. But then when the Pentium III processors came out, they then cost $1500, and the Pentium II prices dropped to about $600. Is that because the manufacturer suddenly found a way to manufacture the Pentium IIs at less than half the price, but not the Pentium IIIs?

No.

The Pentium II prices dropped drastically, because customer demand for them fell so dramatically after Pentium IIIs hit the stores. Prices were set based on what consumers were willing to pay, not on the cost of production.

Throw on top of that the fact that, in today’s hi-tech world, the cost of the technology to produce goods and services is usually far greater than the cost of labor, so that increasing labor costs have a minimal impact on the cost of production, and you’ll see why minimum wage hikes have far less of an impact on inflation than the average person might think.

But you are now smarter than the average person for having read this article. So you just might want to share this newfound wisdom with your politically-conservative friends.

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

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Three of the 16 presidential candidates in the 2016 Republican field are/were people with no political experience – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump. They, along with first term Senator Ted Cruz, have managed to garner most of the 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” or “change the way Washington works.” I have bad news for those people: It’s impossible for a president to accomplish that. 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 took 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. 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. 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. So 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 if we elect an extremist radical president with no experience, it just might get a whole lot worse.

Exposing the 7-year Tribulation Doomsday Myth

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Over the past 50 years, a significant number of conservative Christians have promoted the idea that God has called America to support Israel at all costs, even if it means invading nations who might threaten Israel and effectively waging perpetual war in the Mid-East for the sake of weapons industry profits.

These Evangelicals, led by Pastor John Hagee, promote interpretations of biblical prophecy that predict an unfolding of events in the Middle East which includes the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and a 7-year tribulation. According to them, if we don’t defend Israel and help this temple-building process along, we are somehow working against God’s will. Here’s the main passage eschatological Christians cite as proof of a coming 7-year tribulation:

Daniel 9: 25-27, “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven “sevens” and sixty-two “sevens.” It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two “sevens” the Anointed One will be cut off and have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven. In the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And one who causes desolation will come upon the pinnacle of the abominable temple until the end that is decreed is poured out on the desolate city.”

Most theologians will tell you that the first 69 “sevens” (called “weeks” in some translations) are the 69 seven year periods (483 years) that passed between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and the arrival of Christ. It’s the final “one seven” that conservative Evangelicals will tell you represents a future 7-year tribulation in which there will be suffering throughout our world like never before. I believe they are wrong. And here’s why:

This seven year period already happened – a long time ago – from A.D. 67 through A.D 73. After a Jewish revolt in A.D. 66, Roman Emperor Nero appointed Vespasian around the beginning of A.D. 67 to destroy the Jews. He wasn’t just fighting off a rebellion, like his predecessor Gallus; he was utterly defeating them. I believe Vespasian’s agreement with the Romans to do so was the “covenant with many for one seven (conservatives think “the many” are the Jews, but the Bible never says that),” because his campaign to defeat the Jews lasted approximately 7 years. It started in early 67 and ended with the fall of Masada in late 73. Right smack-dab in the middle of this period, in July of A.D. 70, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Temple would be destroyed 3 ½ years into the 7-year period.

To me this is about as obvious a fulfillment of this prophecy as there can be. Therefore, we don’t need to rebuild the Temple again so it can be destroyed again for the sake of fulfilling this prophecy. It has already been fulfilled. It’s not about us.

Another indication that this prophecy is about Vespasian’s conquest is this passage (along with several other passages that say similar things):

Daniel 7:21-22: “I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell – the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I watched this horn waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the most high, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom [This last line likely refers to Israel becoming a nation in 1948].” And then verse 24 interprets this as, “The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones, and he will subdue three kings.”

While Vespasian was a general when he embarked on his quest to defeat the Jews, he became emperor of all of Rome in the summer of A.D. 69. That didn’t halt his campaign. He simply placed his son in charge of the military operation. What’s remarkable about Vespasian is that he was Rome’s 4th emperor to take the throne that year. The three emperors who preceded him died in the first half of A.D. 69. Two of them were murdered and one committed suicide. Whether Vespasian’s supporters had anything to do with these deaths will never be known for sure. But this passage I just shared, as well as several others in Daniel, speak of a king who replaced three other kings, and it’s that king who defeats the Jews.

What throws a lot of Christians off track in understanding these passages is references to “the end.” They suppose it refers to the end of the world, but the Bible never says that. In this case it appears to mean the end of the Jewish nation and the Temple.

Another thing that throws Christians off track is the self-absorbed insistence that the Bible’s prophesies have to be fulfilled in our lifetimes, as if all others who have read the Scriptures over the centuries, including those who read them first, really don’t matter to God as much as we modern American Christians do; God really wrote the Bible for us.

While many Christians will be upset by my bursting of their prophetic bubble, they shouldn’t be. The Dead Sea Scrolls, along with other archaeological evidence, all but prove Daniel to have been written at least a couple hundred years before the destruction of the Temple, if not sooner. There’s little that strengthens the faith of a Christian more than some convincing evidence of a Bible prophecy having been fulfilled, especially in an age where skeptical attacks against the validity of the Bible are more numerous than ever.

The only bad news here is for those who long for American invasions in the Mid-East, because they have had one of their biggest justifications debunked. This is also bad news for ministries that use end-times prophecy to distract Christians from studying the biblical teachings that actually make a positive difference in this world. They just might have to repent of that.

Refuting the Republican Anti-Welfare Stance

[Photo – a rendition of Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” myth]

[The following article is an excerpt from my book, Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason”]

Opposite Evil: Freeloading

Nearly all of us have known some freeloaders. Sometimes they’re our family members. Sometimes they’re our co-workers. Sometimes they’re the employees we manage. At home, they do what they can to live off of other members of the household. On the job, they goof off more than they work. They do just what it takes to get by and no more. They’re such poor employees that no employer should have to hire them. They complain so much about their jobs, their employers, and their lives in general that some of us can barely stand to be around them. According to them, nothing bad in their life is ever their fault. And they use the shortcomings of everyone around them, and even society at large, as the perfect excuse not to try. Their incessant negativity chips away at our ability to maintain a sunny disposition.

Some freeloaders feel that society owes them something, usually money. They blame the government, racism, sexism, the education system, their parents, and the business community for creating barriers that keep them down. Indeed some of these barriers exist; others do not. However, these barriers rarely give sufficient cause for someone to abandon all hope and live off of society. Other freeloaders, however, may not have such big chips on their shoulders. They simply game the system for what they can get from it. Either way, freeloading is a simple combination of greed and sloth.

Naturally, any responsible, hard-working person cringes at the thought of freeloaders freeloading off of the tax dollars workers pay. Such freeloading is unjust. The Bible calls for justice. Therefore, many Republican Christians say, “I believe in personal responsibility. People should be held accountable for what they do. Others shouldn’t have to pay for those unwilling to work.” And for support, they’ll point to this sentence in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” This verse has become a cornerstone of Republican Christianity. Conservatives interpret it as a biblical mandate to deny assistance to anyone in need.

This, however, is a classic case of how God’s Word can be distorted when we build a belief on a solitary verse without looking at what the entire Bible has to say. Yes, freeloading is a sin. We should do all we can, within reason, to prevent it. On the other hand, I’ve already shared with you passages that require God’s people to share with those in need (such as the mandatory tithe for the poor), especially with those who lack the means (such as land) to provide for themselves. So we know the Bible teaches that not all needy people are freeloaders. Many can do little to improve their situation. Therefore, using verse 3:10 to deny all assistance to the needy is a distortion of the Word of God and is sin. In fact, if we examine the verses leading up to it (verses 6-10), we see that the Apostle Paul, who is visiting the Thessalonian church, works to provide for his own needs while he’s there, so others in the church don’t have to. Apparently, there was enough work available that he could find some, even though he was just passing through. If he could find work, certainly local church members could find it, too. Paul was calling on those who could find work to work rather than freeload. He wasn’t calling on those unable to work to go hungry due to lack of opportunity.

Opposition to sloth and greed of the poor is not only found in New Testament verses like this one; it’s found in the Old Testament as well. Here are some passages that Republican Christians love to quote in the name of personal responsibility:

Exodus 23:2-3, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”

This verse opposes lawsuits in which groups of poor people attempt to steal from the wealthy by making false claims. Not all lawsuits are evil, but we may only sue with just cause and honest testimony.

Proverbs 30:15, “The leech has two daughters; ‘Give, give,’ they cry. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough.’” [NRSV]

Proverbs 21:25-26, “The craving of a lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor. All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back [NRSV].”

Proverbs 21:17, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.”

Proverbs 24:30-31, “I passed by the field of the sluggard, and by the vineyard of the man who lacks sense; and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.”

Proverbs 28:19, “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.”

These last two proverbs give us insight into the difference between those who were at fault for their poverty and those who were not. That difference was land. As I stated in prior chapters, approximately 95% of Israelites inherited land on which they could grow food and build houses, so all they had to do was work the land. These passages, as well as all of the Old Testament anti-laziness passages, condemned those who failed to work their land, not those who had no land to work. Likewise, it’s consistent with God’s will to have a system that aids those who lack a means of self-support, like those who lacked land in the Bible. We are not to hold them to the same standards as those who have a means of self-support.

Of course, the way our society is structured, it’s much harder to tell the difference between one group and the other, since most Americans are dependent upon corporations, rather than farmland, for jobs, tenancy, food, and other needs. Some have skills lucrative enough to make it in the corporate system, while others lack them and either earn unlivable wages or none at all when corporations provide fewer jobs than there are workers.

Welfare

Republicans, in an effort to gain our votes, regularly portray those who receive any government assistance as freeloaders. The embodiment of this rhetoric has been the “welfare queen.” From time to time I’ve heard Republicans say that they “know of” a woman who has ten kids and drives a Cadillac that she bought with her welfare money. Little do most of them know that this story had its beginnings in Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. Reagan described her this way, “She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.” Of course, no one has ever identified this woman, and such an elaborate scam can hardly be commonplace among the poor. Few people are smart and daring enough to pull off a fraud scheme, especially those who haven’t figured out how to make a good living in a competitive economy. Nonetheless, this story was so incredulous that it has for decades been Republican folklore intended to make people despise welfare and cling to its opposite – total mercilessness toward the poor.

Conservatives have modern-day welfare fraud stories, too, and some of them actually can be proven. For example, in March of 2014, Fox News paraded a welfare-cheating surfer-dude by the name of Jason Greenslate before viewers on a program entitled, “The Great Food Stamp Binge.” Greenslate lived with various friends and relatives in the wealth-laden town of La Jolla, California and most likely ate their food, too. And then, being unemployed and eligible for food stamps, he spent his $200 per month food stamp allowance on seafood at the grocery store. When Fox News interviewed him about it, he expressed pride in taking advantage of the system and expressed a desire to continue doing so. Eric Bolling of Fox News said on Feb 26,th 2014 that, “He is the representative of literally millions of Americans,” as if all food stamp recipients have wealthy friends whose sofas they can sleep on and whose refrigerators they can raid.

The truth is that most food stamp recipients have friends and family who are no better off than they are. And, even more important, 76% of SNAP (food stamp) households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person in 2011. These are people who cannot fend for themselves, not lazy surfer-dudes scamming the system. Also, the average food stamp benefit in 2011 was $133.85 per month per person, so even those who do use the system unnecessarily aren’t reaping major money from the government. Their scandals pale in comparison to the 4 billion dollars per year in government subsidies to rich oil companies that Eric Bolling dismissed as merely “a pittance” when compared to all that the government spends.

Today’s anti-welfare conservatives are also largely unaware that the Republican Party got the welfare reform it wanted (mostly) in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Thanks to this law, welfare rolls decreased from 12.2 million in 1996 to 4.5 million in 2006, and caseloads decreased by 54 percent. The legislation replaced the old welfare program (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) which limited lifetime assistance to 60 months, so no one could live off of the system indefinitely. Yet, Republican politicians and pundits never seem to mention it, as though it never happened. Instead, they’ll point out that more people are on food stamps than ever under President Obama, because he expanded the food stamp program as a part of his economic stimulus package. They fail to admit that this expansion was temporary (it ended November 1st, 2013 ), and that an expansion of food stamp payouts should be expected following both a recession and an increase in wealth disparity in which the wages of the working poor buy less and less. Many food stamp recipients are not lazy slugs, but work hard at low-paying jobs that fail to pay for the necessities of life. As working class wages continue to fall in the coming decades, the number of Americans receiving government assistance will grow. We as a nation should not be ashamed that our government assists so many people; we should be ashamed that our economic system leaves so many people in need of assistance.

Welfare opponents, of course, claim that their opposition to welfare is really for the common good. Welfare and other assistance programs, they claim, promote a cradle to grave dependency on the government, taking away motivation to work and keeping the poor stuck in poverty.

So what would happen if they got their way and food stamps were abolished?

Would food stamp abolishment create jobs?

In my credit card processing sales days, I established accounts for numerous small, independent markets in the impoverished areas of Philadelphia. Having access to their processing statements, I saw it was the norm for these markets to get more than half of their business from people who paid with food stamps, sometimes as much as 90 percent of it. If food stamps were abolished, many of these markets would go out of business, and their employees would lose their jobs. So this is how food stamp abolition will destroy jobs. I can think of no way it will create jobs. Conservatives argue that those unable to depend on welfare will look harder for jobs. This accomplishes nothing, because people looking hard for jobs doesn’t create jobs. If there are 160 million workers and 145 million jobs, people looking harder will not create 15 million more jobs. Consumers buying products and services creates jobs. Business owners will not hire workers to service nobody. If food stamp abolition reduces the number of customers spending money in impoverished areas, the number of employees needed to service those customers will also be reduced, as declining revenue from a lack of customers forces employers to cut costs.

If Republican conservative arguments that welfare creates poverty were true, then the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 should have greatly reduced poverty. We should have seen a marked improvement in the American quality of life after its implementation, certainly by 2008, since it cut welfare to such a great extent. Instead, since 1999, median household income has fallen, not risen (this was true even before the Great Recession). This substantial reduction in welfare payouts did nothing to improve the American standard of living. Yet, as long as there are any welfare, unemployment, and disability programs at all, Republicans will argue that reducing and eliminating them will improve life for the average American, despite the lack of evidence to support their claims.

Another point regarding the idea that cradle to grave dependency takes away motivation to work is that, outside of TANF, most other assistance programs help children and the elderly. The elderly, including those in nursing homes receiving Medicaid, are beyond the point where they can work. Their motivation at such a late stage in life is irrelevant. Likewise, children are not yet at the point where they can work. This fact, however, didn’t stop Christian book store owner and Republican Missouri State Representative, Cynthia Davis, from opposing subsidies of summer school lunch programs by stating on June 4th, 2009 that “hunger can be a great motivator.” Perhaps Representative Davis thought that if children go hungry, they will work hard for their food like wealthy children do. Of course, wealthy children don’t work; they have their food given to them. Unlike Representative Davis, the Bible only holds those able to support themselves responsible for doing so. Children and the elderly are not of this group.

All of this is not to say we should encourage dependency on the government. For example, we shouldn’t give the poor so much money that they live better than those who fail to qualify for assistance. This hurts motivation to look for work. However, we should not only discourage low income freeloading, but high income freeloading as well. For example, the banking industry behaved irresponsibly and received government bailouts in the late 1980s and the late 2000s. Oil companies and large farms receive subsidies, and the defense contractors have enriched themselves on tax dollars more than anyone. And let’s not forget that corporate owners couldn’t get so rich if it weren’t for the liability protection they depend on the government for. Apparently, Republicans only oppose dependency on the government when it’s the poor depending on it, not the rich.

-K. Scott Schaeffer