Archive for November, 2005

Christianity: Ecumenicalism leaves the WCC behind

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

An essential tenet of Christianity is the unity of the church. The body of Christ consists of all believers, all united in faith, all serving God according to their gifts. This fundamental fact does not necessarily preclude the formation of denominations, but it does clearly require that all Christians put their unity in Christ ahead of their unity with a particular denomination or other earthly organization.

In the late 19th century, Christians involved in missions decided that it would be helpful to form relationships across denominational boundaries to further their work. This cooperative effort became known as ecumenicalism sometimes referred to as ecumenism, or, more commonly, the ecumenical movement. Like many good ideas, this one got hijacked by leftist bureaucrats who subscribed to one of the great errors of socialist thought – the dreamy notion that good institutions can make people good.

Promoting unity from the top down

One of the institutions what was supposed to make Christians “better” was the World Council of Churches (WCC), founded in 1947. Thomas C. Oden, writing for Christianity Today, describes the WCC as “an organization of churches, historic denominations chagrined about their divisions. Its task is to bring church bodies into a formal dialogue leading toward visible unity.”

Oden notes that “the WCC’s Geneva offices were controlled for many years by leftist ideologues.” The WCC has been defined by its fondness for “colluding with Marxist regimes, fixating on regulatory politics, fantasizing about various liberation theologies, fostering illusions about world anti-capitalist revolutions, and advocating some forms of sexual liberation.” Even today, “though many Marxist regimes have passed, the historical pro-Marxist flavor remains in much of the political and social interpretation that comes out of Geneva.”

The WCC’s statist worldview underlies its basic structure, which Oden describes as “hierarchically organized to coordinate competing church hierarchies, each with their own vast bureaucracies.” With the usual arrogance of the left, the WCC believes that unity cannot be accomplished by individual Christians but must be achieved through its top-down enlightenment of the Christian masses.

Sacrificing unity for politics

The WCC’s left-wing arrogance has led it into another delusion – that WCC bureaucrats are wise and pure enough to determine God’s will and to pronounce it on behalf of all Christians for whom they presume to speak. But this is mere pretense. There is no agreement among Christians that the WCC’s left-wing ideology – or its shrill espousal of it – represents God’s will for the church.

This presumption belies the WCC’s claimed intent to be the “broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity.” Indeed, the WCC seems bent on producing disunity with its political activism and Marxist worldview. This destructive behavior is illustrated by the controversy that erupts within my own Presbyterian denomination every time it appropriates another handout to prop up the WCC.

Seeing the light?

Years of irrelevance seem to have taken their toll on the WCC. In a recent meeting in New York, the moderator (Presby-speak for chairman) of the WCC central committee observed that “institutional ecumenism ‘ is in stagnation. The challenge is, how can we go beyond institutional ecumenism and make it a healing reality?'”

In an astonishing confession of years of wasted effort and money, he went on to say that “the ecumenical movement can no longer afford to be ‘a private club for conference-goers and church hierarchs.'” Another leader acknowledged the need “to be in dialogue with evangelical, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic groups” who do not belong to the WCC – and who would be unlikely to support the WCC’s political posturing. Another – perhaps seeing the need to focus on spiritual unity rather than political or organizational unity – called for “new approaches, based on ‘compelling spiritual vision rather than predictable organizational momentum, and by deep change rather than incremental change'”.

The real ecumenical movement

The “church hierarchs” who focus on talking to each other probably haven’t noticed, but the ecumenical movement is actually alive and well. It is characterized, as it originally was, by loose inter-denominational and sometimes international connections of lay people and local churches. There are many examples; here are a few my local congregation has participated in:

In my city of 50,000, people from more than 100 local churches have attended Great Banquet weekends, praying. learning, and talking together. Instead of talking to each other, maybe the WCC leaders should be talking to churchgoers who actually live the ecumenical movement. But in the long run, it doesn’t much matter what the WCC does; Christian unity lives below their radar.

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Tech: How thieves drove Sony into the spyware business

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Not intentionally, of course, but Sony has made the purchase of their CDs too dangerous for customers who might play them on a PC. In a well-deserved twist, it would be much safer for listeners to forego the purchase of a CD and find a pirated copy instead. Is this what Sony had in mind? The Recording Industry Association of America and its members have made a lot of stupid choices in their battle with those who steal recorded music. One of the stupidest was Sony’s decision to use the most dangerous virus-writing technology to limit copying of some of its music CDs.

Stealing music

Napster had two effects on American culture. The first was to make wholesale theft of music easy and downright cool. The second was to expose the moral bankruptcy of millions of Americans. Spoiled brats of all ages decided that they were entitled to own the recorded music they coveted and to decide what – if anything – they would pay for it. In millions of cases, the decision was to pay nothing.

Raised on liberal Democrat social theories, these delinquents believed that they were entitled to determine – with no knowledge of the business – what profit was “fair” for music publishers. They decided that by stealing the products they wanted, they would tell the evil music publishers that they weren’t necessarily entitled to either cost recovery or profits. If you stop to think about it, it’s a short leap from setting an arbitrary minimum wage that eliminates low-value jobs to setting an arbitrary maximum price for CDs that eliminates low-margin artists

Spoon-fed public-school economic theories, they decided that the proper response to prices that they considered too high was to simply steal what they wanted. They were unable to grasp two simple facts:

  1. Prices are driven by cost and profit; everyone in the business of music has to recover their costs and make whatever profit they consider sufficient to make the business attractive.
  2. When massive theft reduces the number of CDs that are actually sold, the publisher will do something – either raise the price to cover both costs and profits or resort to other measures to make stealing less palatable.

(Ok, I’m being too kind to the thieves. Most of the millions of miscreants didn’t actually think about it all. They just saw something they could steal with little chance of getting caught and they stole it. The few who turned down the volume on their stolen music long enough to permit thought – mostly mature adults who should have known better – generally presented rationalizations along these lines.)

Sony’s spyware solution

Sony responded to the theft with a copy-protection scheme born in one of the sleaziest corners of the Internet, the lair of the virus writer. These folks (who, in terms of moral fiber, have something in common with people who steal music) have a new tool in their kit – root kits. Root kits allow the creation of software that hides from virtually everything – simple directory listings, registry editors, anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, you name it. Imagine the danger of a program running under Windows that Windows itself doesn’t even know is there.

On October 31, Mark Russinovich reported his discovery of root kit software on his PC and posted this blog entry spelling out (in great technical detail) his investigations. He traced the cloaked software to a CD from Sony.

Caught red-handed, Sony confessed that it had been installing a nasty copy-protection tool called XPC on customers’ PCs since early this year. Reaction to Sony’s confession has included a request to Italian police to investigate Sony for possible criminal activity and the decision by a major security software vendor to declare XPC spyware and announce that its tool will identify and remove XPC starting November 12.

In an effort to defend and continue its use of virus technology, Sony posted a patch on its web site that would leave the software in place but un-cloak it. Unfortunately, the patch can cause Windows to crash. Worse, Russinovich has reported that the spyware communicates with Sony’s web site. These two behaviors – avoiding detection and undisclosed communication with another computer over the Internet – are exactly the sort of thing we expect of the most malicious spyware.

Sony gives up for now

As Russinovich warned, viruses have been identified that exploit the cloaked environment created by XCP. With a PR nightmare on its hands, confronted by European rights groups demanding that honest consumers not be treated like criminals, and facing at least one class-action lawsuit, Sony threw in the towel – sort of.

According to this Reuters story, Sony said “as a precautionary measure, Sony BMG is temporarily suspending the manufacture of CDs containing XCP technology,” and added that content protectin is “an important tool to protect our intellectual property rights and those of our artists.” They’ll be back. There is little doubt that Sony (and perhaps others) will continue to ignore honest customers’ legal and ethical rights and will continue to victimize them with harmful technology.

There’s not much consumers can do about this kind of abuse. If Sony and other publishers were required to disclose the limitations imposed on PC users (Mac and Linux users were never at risk), shoppers could at least vote with their pocketbooks and simply decline to buy spyware masquerading as “protection of intellectual property rights”. Perhaps there’s another class-action suit there….

Who’s to blame?

There’s plenty to go around

The only hero in this story is Russinovich. The thieves, the virus-writers at First 4 Internet Ltd, and the spyware distributors at Sony have all contributed to making music less accessible and PCs less reliable. They should all go crawl back under their rocks.

Did Sony install spyware on your PC?

Here are two lists of CDs reported to have been infected with spyware by Sony:

If you own one of these CDs and tried to play it on a Windows PC, your computer may be infected. Keep your spyware removal software updated. Microsoft and others have announced plans to include Sony’s XPC in the list of spyware they will remove.

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ACLU Follies: Kansas Board of Education gets it right

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

The Kansas Board of Education has adopted new standards for science education that will allow teachers and textbooks to finally acknowledge scientific challenges to Darwin’s theory of evolution – no religious challenges, just scientific ones. The ACLU really doesn’t want you to know that.

Like many journalists, John Hanna of the Associated Press followed the ACLU party line in reporting the story. The ACLU has manufactured a definition of Intelligent Design theory (ID) that suits its decidedly un-Civil purposes. The ACLU calls it “a pseudoscientific set of beliefs based on the notion that life on earth is so complex that it cannot be explained by the scientific theory of evolution and therefore must have been designed by a supernatural entity.”

The irony here is that this definition is a point of agreement between the ACLU and its bitter enemies, the “creation scientists”, who would like to see in ID a validation of their scientific claims. Creation scientists start from a more-or-less literal reading of the creation story in Genesis and conform their findings to that principle – a process called deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is a requirement for religion and useful for math and philosophy, but it is the opposite of science.

“Real” science

Intelligent Design theory is not a “set of beliefs” nor is it based on any “notion” about the complexity of life. It is a valid theory arrived at independently by scores of “real” scientists at “real” universities conducting “real” research in a variety of “real” scientific disciplines. ID is the product of open-ended scientific inquiry – a process called inductive reasoning that lies at the heart of the scientific method. Commenting on the ACLU’s attack on a similar rule in nearby Dover, Delaware, Philadelphia Inquirer writer Casey Luskin (who opposes rules that require public schools to teach ID) had this to say about ID:

It is no secret that intelligent design is a fairly young scientific theory, currently supported by a minority of scientists. But it is being debated by the scientific community. In the last year, three research articles have been published in mainstream scientific journals supporting design theory. In the last five years, three high-profile academic publishers – including Cambridge University and MIT Press – have published volumes with scholarly articles both pro and con debating the scientific merits of intelligent design.

Although the ACLU is not an organization I have much respect for, I will grant that they probably are smart enough to understand the merits of ID as well the academic publishers at Cambridge and MIT. Perhaps it is their legal training that keeps them from seeing how closely their straw man definition of ID resembles an outright lie.

Another irony

Many evolutionary scientists have created their own holy book that lays out the principles to which they must conform their findings. That book, of course, is The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Such conformity is the product of deductive, not inductive, reasoning. In fact, the only real difference between evolutionists and creationists is the book upon which they pin their hopes.

When we consider how the Roman Church responded to Galileo – a scientist who produced evidence that contradicted the Church’s scientific orthodoxy, we see a precursor to the modern reply to ID. The Church lost sight of its foundation by confusing its authoritative guide to faith and practice – the Bible – with a scientific textbook. Likewise, the 21st century scientific establishment has lost sight of its foundation by confusing inductive methods with deductive ones and has reacted in a way similar to the Church – with fear and an all-out campaign to suppress the evidence.

In the end, of course, Galileo and science won out. The Church is stronger for it because it has acknowledged its error and moved away from reliance on the Bible as an authoritative source of scientific information (a claim not found anywhere in the Bible itself). Similarly, ID may win out simply because it is a more viable explanation for some phenomena. If it does, science will be stronger for it, having been forced to return to its misplaced roots in inductive reasoning and the open-ended quest for knowledge that identifies real science.

In the meantime, it is a matter to be settled by open-minded scientists, not by religious leaders and not by ACLU lawyers.

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Politics: Are liberals liberal?

Monday, November 7th, 2005

America was founded upon the principles of classical liberalism. A 1994 essay on the LockeSmith Institute website, “The Rise, Decline, and Reemergence of Classical Liberalism“, provides a summary of the essentials of classical liberalism. These are:

  1. an ethical emphasis on the individual as a rights-bearer prior to the existence of any state, community, or society,
  2. the support of the right of property carried to its economic conclusion, a free-market system,
  3. the desire for a limited constitutional government to protect individuals’ rights from others and from its own expansion, and
  4. the universal (global and ahistorical) applicability of these above convictions.

Liberals then …

The expression of these essentials – with their focus on indivudual freedom and rights – can be found in the Declaration of Independence (emphasis added):

We hold these truths to be self-evident,

… and “liberals” now

But the mis-named modern “liberal” (hereafter mod-lib to distinguish from the real thing) has no use for a limited government that derives its powers “from the consent of the governed”. Indeed, the goal of the mod-lib is to grow (and control) a strong central government that imposes its will on the governed and enforces an elitist vision of a pseudo-egalitarian society.

The phony equality that is the backbone of this ideal society is best illustrated by mod-libs’ attitudes toward public schools. Mod-libs treasure public schools. They reach for greater and more centralized control of both curriculum and funding of public shools. They fight every effort to assist parents who want to get their kids out of public schools and send them to private schools. They lobby and vote for ever increasing appropriations for the grand social experiments that so often overwhelm the simple goal of educating students. (The fact that some of the appropriations find their way to one of their most reliable constituencies, the teachers’ unions, is an agreeable side effect.)

Yes, mod-libs love public schools. They do all they can for them – except send their own kids there. You will find few children of Presidents, Senators, or Congressmen in Washington public schools.

In reality, the “egalitarian” vision of the mod-libs is a two-tier society, one where the wealthy elite enjoy the blessings of freedom while the vast majority endure the curse of egalitarianism. It is no surprise that two of the wealthiest men in the Senate are prototypical mod-libs – Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry – or that the largest single contributor to mod-lib causes is billionnaire George Soros. And why not? These are men who have the money to buy themselves and their familiies out of the oppressive egalitarianism they want to impose on the rest of us.

Ironically, the genuine liberals who wrote the Declaration of Independence and helped to write the Constitution thought that the greatest danger of democracy was majority tyranny. The objective – freedom – could hardly be achieved if the majority routinely trampled the rights of minorities who could not muster the votes to preserve their own freedoms.

From Thomas Jefferson’s “yeoman farmer” who would value and defend freedom, to the restraints on power exerted by James Madison’s competing interest groups, to the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the Framers sought structures that would restrain the raw power of the majority. Little did they guess that it would be the 20th century corruption of their own liberal principles that would impose the very tyranny they feared. How? By circumventing democracy altogether.

Hating democracy

Mod-libs hate democracy. They hate it because democracy allows Americans to directly influence the legislative bodies most accessible to them – state and local governments. These bodies are more directly controlled by voters, more likely to be comprised of “citizen-legislators”, and more reflective of their voters’ will. With Congress long the playground of what George Will refers to as the privileged “political class”, state and local governments are the only legislative institutions that empower ordinary people.

But mod-libs don’t like to share power. In the middle of the last century, they discovered that if they could control the federal judiciary, they could thwart the desires of the American people as expressed through state and local legislatures. Mod-lib judges simply invalidate the will of the people by declaring “unconstitutional” any legislative acts that run counter to the ruling elite’s vision. As long as the Supreme Court agrees with the decision, no reference to actual provisions of the Constitution is required and the people’s voice has been effectively silenced. Do you doubt that mod-libs deliberately circumvent the democratic process? Consider where their victories are won and their will imposed.

Disenfranchising America

Time and time again, the American people, speaking through their state legislatures, have tried to control abortion. Some states wish to outlaw it altogether; others would impose few or no restrictions. But the judicial onslaught begun with Roe v. Wade, which was decided with only passing reference to the Constistituion, has disenfranchised them.

Majorities in many states have tried to require their schools to mention that Darwinian evolution is not a universally accepted, monolithic fact but a fractured and flawed hypothesis. They want their students to know that evolutionary orthodoxy is constantly reviewed and its claims challenged, not only by creationists but by “real” scientists doing “real” science. But Edwards v. Aguillard stripped the American people of any right they thought they might have to insist on scientific honesty in their schools.

Citizens in several states and localities would like to acknowledge the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition on their own legal system. This isn’t such a strange idea – the Framers of the Constitution created a form of government patterned on that of the Presbyterian church of the time. While the Code of Hammurabi, for example, is an interesting legal artifact, it is historical fact that the British and later the American legal systems were heavily influenced by the Ten Commandments. To simply note that fact does nothing to “establish” a religion (as prohibited by the Constitution). But state and local governments are seldom permitted to publicly mention this aspect of their own history.

This prohibition, of course, is the result of mod-lib judges who could find nothing in the Constitution’s establishment clause on which to hang their hats. They turned instead to a private letter from Thomas Jefferson who mentioned in passing something he called the “wall of separation between church and state”. Typically, upon finding a nicely turned phrase to undergird their personal view, such judges ignore the fact that, according to Jefferson, the “wall” existed to protect relgion from government, not the other way around.

One need only look to recent bitter battles over judicial nominees to see evidence of the mod-libs’ fierce defense of their anti-democratic strategy. Democrats can live with Republican legislative victories; mod-libs can accept the presence of conservatives in their midst. What they cannot tolerate is a crack in the legislative hegemony that has been seized by uncontrolled and unaccountable federal judges.

If mod-libs aren’t liberals, what are they?

There is another political system identified with a powerful, overbearing central government dominated by an elite minority – fascism. The ultimate irony is that both the mod-lib and the fascist subordinate the rights of the individual to the power of the state. The only difference is that the fascist forthrightly states that the state is more important than individual citizens, so the subordination of individual rights is properly done for the benefit of the state. The mod-lib claims that the state’s exercise of power is actually for the benefit of the individual, so the state is usurping and exercising the citizens’ rights for their own good! There are two obvious grounds for refuting this specious assertion:

  1. As we’ve seen, particularly in the case of public schools, the exercise of power by mod-libs is meant to benefit those who exercise it (though there may be collateral benefits for others).
  2. The state could exercise its power in opposition to the clearly expressed desires of the citizens only if the state were able to know better than the individual what would be best for him or her. Such is the arrogance of mod-libs that they actually believe this is the case.

In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a blackguard (villain) as “a man whose qualities, prepared for display like a box of berries in a market – the fine ones on top – have been opened on the wrong side. An inverted gentleman.” In like manner, we can observe that a fascist – who makes no effort to disguise his interest in power and oppression – is simply an honest mod-lib.

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