Top Ten 2011 Blog Posts

    I know I’m a year late, but as I began to assemble the top ten blog posts of 2012, I realized that there were a few from 2011 that still had value and might well be worth a second look.  Here they are, more or less in order of popularity.
1) God Will Destroy the Fat Cats – November 29, 2011 – A Blog about God’s desire to destroy the rich, well, not really… but sort of.
2) Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? Part 1 – February 9, 2011 – Part 1 of 4 – The first in a series that I wrote after the shooting of Gabriel Giffords.  Not really pro-gun or anti gun, just asking a lot of questions and thinking out loud.    The first two installments made the year’s top ten, but while part 3 was moderately popular, almost no one made it to part 4.  My lesson?  Even broken into pieces, this was just too long.
3) Happy Birthday Mr. Shea! – February 2, 2011 – A tribute to George Beverly Shea           on his 102nd birthday.  
4) Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? Part 2– February 10, 2011 – Part 2 of 4
5) Living Together, No Harm No Foul? – April 27, 2011 – Is living together normal, healthy, moral and responsible?  I’m sure you can find lots of people who think it’s a good idea, but, well, no. 
6) Seeing God in the World Around You – March 25, 2011 – A man I never met, weeps during my talk, wondering how I knew so much about his life.  I didn’t.  But God did.
7) 20/20 Blindness – March 31, 2011 – A blind man is thrown out of a restaurant because of his guide dog.  Apparently, humans are just as blind today as the Pharisees that Jesus knew.            
8) Christmas in January – January 4, 2011- I explain why our family still leaves our Christmas decorations us until the first week in January.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25th you know.
9) Too Busy for God? – May 25, 2011 – Do you plans for the summer, or for the New Year, include church.  If church is important to you, don’t allow it to happen by accident.

    In reality, there was a three or four way tie for tenth place.  Instead of picking one of those, or using all of them, I jump to the blog that comes after the tie because, even though it was read less often, it had more comments than any other blog of the year.  That’s worth something mentioning, I think.

10) A New Digital Divide – Who wins, who loses? – January 19, 2011 – As we become an increasingly technological society, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the people who are being left behind.
Honorable Mention) The Nightmare of Democracy? – February 14, 2011 – I include this, a blog that was written at the very beginning of what we now call the Arab Spring.  In it, I worried that the revolution in Egypt might not be such a great thing.  In the two years since, attacks on Coptic Christians and on the Coptic Church have increased and the government has shown little interest in preventing it.  Events are still unfolding in the Middle East and as they do, out brothers and sisters in Christ will continue to be in need of our prayers.

Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? (Part 4 of 4)

    There remains one aspect of this issue that is often passed over or ignored entirely and yet, in my mind is perhaps most important of all.  Earlier I said, “Most of our laws are prohibitions against actions or behavior that we commonly agree is not compatible with the maintenance of an orderly society or which or society generally agrees is immoral.”  Although many in our modern culture would like to forget it, our nation was founded on principles that were heavily influenced by the writings of the Bible and much of our legal system stems from the legal foundations of Christianity with notable contributions from other religions as well.
    The legal precepts of the Bible are largely prohibitions against actions and behaviors, not the ownership of things.  It is people who are immoral and not objects.  John Adams (second President of the United States) once said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  If we are to be truly effective in our efforts to reduce violence and to create a safer society we cannot ignore the contributions of culture and religion on morality.   As much handwringing as we do about violence and gun control, we ought to be equally concerned about declines in culture and morality.  My suspicion is that many of the very people who publicly rant in favor of gun control would be appalled by the idea of content controls on movies, television and musical artists.  I am not advocating censorship, but to me it seems that any perceived increase in criminal activity can be blamed on declining culture, politeness and morality just as easily as it can on guns and gun owners.
    As I said, there are no easy answers but if John Adams was right, teaching morals to our children, getting people back to church and developing a better relationship with their God will do far more than any laws that we can pass.  These are things that each of us can do and I believe that this is where we have the greatest opportunity for success. 
At the very least, that is where I intend to spend my time.   
How about you?

    (Go back to Part 3)              (Go to Part 2)             (Go back to the beginning in Part 1)

Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? (Part 3 of 4)

    In any discussion involving firearms or the 2nd Amendment we are almost certain to hear the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  This may be a true statement but it isn’t very helpful.  Yes, guns require that there be a person to pull the trigger.  The difficulty with placing the blame on the user is that, however mentally deranged or socially deviant the person at the trigger, guns make killing shockingly easy.  Every year people go to prison because the gun they were holding fired either accidentally or because it fired far more easily than they expected.  While many things can be used to harm others, few other weapons suffer from this trio of horrors, a) ease of use, b) devastating damage, and c) the potential for accidents. 

    On the other hand, there remains a human being who is in control, who makes a conscious decision to load, carry, and point a firearm.  Once that is done, the “accidental” nature of a discharge, intentional or not is practically irrelevant next to the intent already demonstrated and the chain of poor choices that has already been made.  The truth is that social misfits, deranged persons, and anyone who intends to do harm to another will not be deterred by a lack of access to a firearm.  Congresswoman Giffords was meeting people in a supermarket parking lot.  Without a gun, her assault could just as effectively been carried out in an automobile and the harm to innocent bystanders would have been equally great or worse. 
Congresswoman Giffords’ assailant was not unintelligent.  Without access to a firearm, it would not been difficult for him to construct an improvised explosive device (IED).  Fifty years ago construction of such a device might have taken a fair amount of research but today the Internet makes it all too easy.  Curiously, the man who disarmed the gunman credits his courage to the handgun he himself was carrying and wonders what might have happened had he not stopped for cigarettes and arrived a few moments earlier.

    If it seems that I am taking both sides in this discussion it is because I am.  Once again we are engaged in a public discussion where both sides have legitimate concerns.  There are no easy answers.  Every potential solution has potentially serious and harmful consequences, including that of doing nothing and allowing things to continue as they are.  As we move toward a solution, we must continue to have an open discussion that reveals all of our concerns because what we are ultimately choosing are those consequences with which we are most willing to live.

    It is difficult to say whether we are on the right road or the wrong one.  The statistics that are available present us with a mixed bag.  FBI statistics reveal that violent crime (in fact crime of all kinds) in the US has been falling steadily since  the early 1990’s and currently is about half the level it was in 1991.

    According to statistics from the United Nations, the United States ranks 24th  in murders per capita (behind Columbia, South Africa, Mexico and Russia but ahead of most other developed nations) but 8th in murders with a firearm (again behind Columbia, South Africa, and Mexico).  We are also 8th in total crimes per capita but this time behind nations like New Zealand, Finland, Denmark and the United Kingdom.  Finally, according to an EU  study cited in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper,the per capita violent crime rate in the US is less than that of ten European nations of the EU and Canada (but more than Australia).  

    What I see in this data is that while we (in the US) seem to stand out in our capacity to murder, American society is less prone to violent crime overall.  For years it was assumed that violent crime was linked to population density and this was used to explain why cities appeared to have more violent crime.  Recent studies seem to refute this and show that per capita, cities are no more violent or prone to crime than other less populated areas.  How guns play into this remains unclear, at least to me.  It would be interesting to compare the rates of violent crime, murder and gun crimes in cities where strong gun controls have been enacted with cities that have none.  I favor a ‘go slow’ approach that allows local and state governments to try a variety of solutions and see what works (and what does not) before launching a nationwide initiative based on untested theories and hunches particularly when each potential solution has a consequence of its own.

Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? (Part 2 of 4)

So what is it that bugs me about gun laws?

    As I considered my own discomfort I might have landed on an idea.  I’ve now confused several discussions in my mind, but in one such discussion, (and of course now I can’t find it) Terry (or someone) asked, “If gun laws are irrelevant because people will break the law anyway, then why bother making laws regarding murder or rape or anything else?”  Why indeed?  What is the difference between laws against murder and laws banning guns?  This is not an easy question, at least it hasn’t been for me, but as I thought about it (and I still don’t have everything figured out) a few things began to come together.
Most of our laws are prohibitions against actions or behavior that we commonly agree is not compatible with the maintenance of an orderly society or which our society generally agrees is immoral.  Murder and rape fall into these categories.  John Adams said that in the United States we are a “government of laws and not of men.”  So what are laws?  Saint Thomas Aquinas said this… “Law: An ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community.”  As I see it, our laws are outlines which we use to describe for ourselves what constitutes acceptable behavior.  Laws are external, they do not (and indeed cannot) cause a change in that behavior.  Behavior is internal and is shaped by our character and morality.   I’m not the first person to feel this way. 
“You can’t legislate intelligence and common sense into people.”                                                                                          – Will Rogers 

 “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”            – Plato

 The difficulty is that gun laws would ban, not unacceptable behaviors or actions or even morality, but things… objects. 

    Somehow when we move from using behavior, actions and morality as defining characteristics of who we are as a society to determining what we may or may not own we are making an important shift.  I suppose in many respects we already do this.  We already restrict the ownership of high powered lasers and many explosives, but even then, if you really want them, there are local, state and federal permits for which you can apply that will allow you to own them (if you meet all of the necessary requirements).  Many drugs and poisons are also restricted.  Few, if any, of us would argue that individuals should be able to own nuclear materials or intercontinental ballistic missiles (although private individuals may launch really large rockets if they can afford it and if they meet stringent permitting requirements) but where do we draw the line?  

    In the discussion of gun ownership, I have heard others scoff at the idea of gun collecting, but why?  Frankly, the idea of gun collecting holds no interest for me, but then again, all sorts of people collect all sorts of things that I find to me far more ridiculous than guns.  People collect glassware, playing cards, stamps, beer cans, pop tabs, lunch boxes, Avon perfume bottles, decorative whiskey bottles and a million other things that others find to be useless or worse.  We all have dramatically differing tastes in what we find interesting and one of the strengths of our nation has been the freedom to pursue whatever interests us, regardless of what others think.  Just because gun collecting doesn’t interest me, in no way reflects on whether or not I think it ought to be legal.

    In a nation where the ownership of private property has always been an important value, how willing are we to criminalize the ownership of firearms or anything else?  How far are we willing to go?  More to the point, if our laws help us to define who we are as a people and as a nation, at what point would these changes fundamentally rewrite our understanding of our identity and how we understand our freedom itself?

    (Go to Part 3)                       (Back to Part 1)

Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? (Part 1 of 4)

 (Author’s Note: I started writing this two or three weeks ago, it got bigger than I expected and it just kept growing.  Because of it’s size, I am breaking this up and will post one part each day for four days.  I don’t intend for this to be a purely political forum but my hope is to discuss political events and find where they intersect biblical teaching.  That element does appear in this discussion but it doesn’t show up until Part 4 so please be patient.)

    After the horrifying shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the news was full of talking heads from every political persuasion arguing over the cause and how such a tragedy might be prevented in the future.  I have grown so tired of such talk that I mostly ignored it.  What made me stop and think was a conversation that I had on Facebook with my friend, Terry Fairfax.  Terry and I met in our high school band.  Today he is a lawyer (and remains a huge musical talent).  Terry and I are sometimes, at least politically, worlds apart but I enjoy chatting with him because we respect one another and we are both willing to consider the merits of logical arguments, even when we disagree. 

    As we often do, we came at this tragedy from different perspectives and drew from experiences of different lives.  As such tragedies often do, the discussion of Rep. Gifford’s shooting caused us to consider the need for individuals to own firearms and then, obviously, our constitutional rights to “keep and bear arms.”  Terry made me think.  His knowledge of the law and history made me dig deeper and get past a lot of the sound bites thrown out by conservatives in the media.  Eventually we agreed on some things and disagreed on others while remaining friends.  

    As I continue to reflect on our discussion, something has been bothering me.  I found myself wondering why the ideas of gun control and the passing of gun laws bothers me.  Understand that I am not (nor have I ever been) a huge proponent of gun ownership.  I have served in the military.  I have trained on and have carried an M-16 rifle for many days and for many miles.  I am comfortable around firearms but at the same time, I can see that there is a logical problem with permitting ordinary citizens to own weapons of moderate destruction.  Things like rocket launchers, tanks, hand grenades and land mines, in the interests of everyone’s safety, should belong to the military.  So what is it that bugs me about the idea of gun laws?