Monday, February 27, 2012

Sense of Entitlement European Sytle

Europe has gotten itself into quite a jam. The “womb to tomb” nanny state policies of most of the European countries have resulted in a financial crisis in several countries. The socialistic mentality that the government has to provide all kinds of services has bankrupted Greece and other countries because the cost of these services has exceeded tax revenues. Rather than cut back on these services, those countries have borrowed to make up the difference. Now they have such a huge debt it is nearly impossible to pay it down.

Despite the financial crisis, citizens of these countries still have a sense of entitlement and are rioting because some of these services will have to be curtailed. How do these people think these services will be paid for? Drachmas from heaven? I doubt if they want to see their already high taxes go even higher.

The United States is also in deep financial trouble, with an enormous national debt, unfavorable balance of trade, an ailing economy, and a crisis of leadership. Similar to the Europeans, we have a government that is living beyond its means. Special interest groups and many individuals have a sense of entitlement, and so continue to feed at the government trough.

What’s the humane but practical solution? Returning to what made this country great in the first place: government that wasn’t intrusive, reasonable taxes that aren’t a disincentive to succeed, a solid work ethic, and nearly unlimited opportunity to excel. How do we do this?

First of all, government at all levels should do only what either nobody else can do or do what it does best, and eliminate everything else. Government shouldn’t try to be all things to all people, but should be responsible for national defense, police and fire protection, education, infrastructure maintenance, regulation and control, food inspection, environmental protection, provide a safety net for the disabled, poor, and those temporarily unemployed. Earmarks should be eliminated and the president should have line-item veto.

Second, redeploy some of the savings from smaller government to programs of national importance: energy policy, rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure, including the electrical grid, building up a defense against cyber attacks.

Third, simplify government, reduce paperwork, make starting a new business easier, get government out of some aspects of life where it makes minimal if any positive impact, simplify the tax code (but no flat tax, no VAT).

With these actions hopefully we as a nation can become debt-free, energy independent, and more business-friendly, and begin to eliminate the sense of entitlement that so many people have. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to bring some manufacturing back into the U.S. from overseas.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Congratulations to the Cardinal

Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has been in the local NY news quite a bit. He was recently elevated to the rank of Cardinal, putting him in the elite leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. The main thing the Cardinals do is elect the next pope from their ranks when the current one dies.

Dolan is a refreshing change from Cardinal Egan in terms of personality. Egan seemed somewhat dour and aloof, plus he wasn’t liked by some in the Archdiocese. He had to make some tough and unpopular decisions regarding closing schools and churches, which didn’t endear him to some.

You can’t help but like Dolan. He is genuinely pleasant, is available to the media, and just seems like a really nice guy. Even if he has to make more tough decisions, I think people will be more forgiving because of his personality. As head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and their spokesman, he is getting a lot of national publicity, especially regarding his criticism of the Obama plan to require Catholic organizations to pay for and provide contraception for employees. He is articulate and presents his position well.

I’d love to see him elected pope some day. After all, the U.S. probably has more Catholics than any other country, and most of our Catholics are active. Italy, France, and other European countries may claim to be Catholic, but most of the people are not practicing. Their churches are essentially museums, with worship attendance very low. Much of Europe is now post-Christian, so calling these countries Catholic is a stretch (except for Poland, which takes its religion seriously). Dolan seems to be on the fast track, so who knows?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Introducing Religion into the Campaign

Rick Santorum is criticizing Obama’s environmental “theology” and some are concerned because Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Conservatives still aren’t comfortable with the liberal church Obama attended for years, given some of the inflammatory rhetoric of Pastor Jeremiah Wright. I haven’t seen religion play such a major role in an election since JFK was running for president in 1960.

The Obama administration made matters worse by getting the Roman Catholic Church riled by insisting it pay for health care coverage for lay employees that includes contraception and abortifacients (“morning after pills” which induce an abortion). Even those who view contraception as OK are not happy that Obama is insisting a church must pay for and provide something they believe is morally wrong. If that is allowed to stand, it sets a dangerous precedent.

As a pastor, my religious beliefs are important to me, but so are values and positions on issues. For many, their religious beliefs inform their positions on many matters. However, I don’t think it is appropriate for an opponent to attack a candidate’s religion or theology. Attack the opponent’s positions with logical arguments as to why you believe their view is wrong, and present your own position clearly so people understand your view on the matter. Is that asking too much of the candidates?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Israel and Iran

One thing you can say about the Middle East – it’s never dull. Now that Saddam is out of the way and Iraq has been neutralized, Iran has become more aggressive. It is a frightening thought that radical Iran may soon possess nuclear bombs and the means to deliver them as far as the U.S. It appears that Israel, whose very existence is at stake, may make a pre-emptive strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability.

What Americans fail to realize is that it wouldn’t take much for Iran to deliver bombs to Israel – the distance isn’t that great. Na├»ve Americans think we can negotiate with radical regimes such as Iran’s, so they are critical of Israel’s attacking Iran to protect itself. If the U.S. happens to be on the receiving end of a couple of nuclear bombs, it would be catastrophic for the cities hit, but the rest of the country would remain intact. With a small country such as Israel, it would take only a few well-placed bombs to wipe out most of the country. We’re talking about annihilation, so of course Israel must do something before Iran’s nuclear bombs and delivery systems are in place.

What Americans also fail to fully comprehend is the level of dedication to Israel’s total destruction that radical Muslim groups and countries have. It borders on an obsession, and they are willing to sacrifice anything, even their own people, to achieve that goal. Just think if the surrounding Arab countries, the Palestinians, and the radical groups such as Hamas would reach a true peace settlement with Israel. The whole region would become prosperous, safe, and at peace. Rather than wasting precious resources on weaponry, infrastructure would be built, jobs would be plentiful, and there would be prosperity for all. Right now the so-called Palestinian people live mostly in squalor with high unemployment. That could change if only the Arabs would reach a peace agreement with Israel and give up trying to destroy it. But destroying Israel is more important to them then giving their fellow Arabs – the Palestinian people – a decent life. The lame offers they occasionally make for peace with Israel are totally unacceptable.

Hopefully now that you better understand the fanaticism of the Muslim countries in the Middle East, you can see why Israel must protect itself, even to the point of conducting a preemptive strike against Iran’s weapons plants. War is generally not the answer, but it is often the only option, especially when you’re dealing with fanatics. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for peace in the region, and pray Iran doesn’t bomb any American, Israeli or other cities.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lessons from Whitney Houston’s Life and Death

It was a shock to everybody when Whitney Houston’s premature death was announced. It is a shame when anybody passes away while still relatively young. We’ve seen it with Steve Jobs and Michael Jackson, to name a few others who left us all too soon. In the case of Houston and Jackson, it appears their premature deaths resulted from their use of dangerous drugs.

Although you and I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be constantly in the public eye, I can guess that it must be very stressful and often irritating. The pressure to perform flawlessly is an added source of stress. As a result, many stars turn to substance abuse. They have the money to buy whatever they want, so they can financially afford a drug habit. It’s so easy to become addicted, and before they know it, they are hooked. Once addicted, it’s difficult to break that powerful addiction.

Sadly, many “ordinary” people are also engaged in substance abuse, whether its alcohol, heroin, marijuana, or something else. As a result, millions of lives are being ruined and families destroyed. Crime is high because these addicts must fund their habit, so they steal. Drugs are ruining this country, and I have no idea how this problem can be solved. Drugs are illegal but can’t be stopped. We tried Prohibition with alcohol and it didn’t work. Probably strict drunk driving laws are more effective in cutting down on alcohol abuse than anything else we’ve tried.

Besides the danger of narcotics, what else can we learn from the death of Whitney Houston? I think we can see that no matter how rich, beautiful, famous, or talented you are (and she was all of those), you aren’t immune from the natural consequences of your wrongdoing.

Moreover, we also learn that despite your wealth, fame, and star status, you can still die young. While some, like Steve Jobs, died of a disease such as cancer, others died because of their lifestyle. If they aren’t immune, neither are you and I. So we should be prepared to go into eternity at any time. Are you?

Related to that is a further lesson from Whitney Houston’s life and death, which is we shouldn’t stray from God. Whitney was brought up in the church, and faith in God was very important to her throughout her life. However, she let idols into her life and they came to dominate her. The pull of worldly things is strong, especially the escape that drugs can temporarily provide.

The world has lost a talented and beautiful person in Whitney Houston. Since she put her faith in Jesus, I am confident she has at last found peace with her Maker. Rest in peace, Whitney, you’re now singing with the angels.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Catholic Church vs. Obama

Soon-to-be Cardinal Nolan, Archbishop of New York, has objected to the Obama administration’s ruling that the health plans of all employees of the Roman Catholic Church must include coverage for birth control. The Catholic Church believes using “artificial” means of birth control (pills, condoms) is morally wrong, so forcing the Church to pay for and provide coverage is interfering with the practice of religion, according to Nolan.

No matter what you think of the Catholic Church or its policy on artificial birth control, the fact is that Obama is setting a very dangerous precedent by his action. No religious institution should be forced to pay for something it believes is morally wrong. The government rarely intrudes into internal church affairs, so what Obama is doing goes against both tradition and the Constitution.

In the First Amendment of the Constitution contains the so-called “Establishment Clause”. It has been misinterpreted by the Supreme Court since 1947. The purpose of the clause is twofold:

(1) First, its purpose is to prohibit the establishment of a state-sponsored religion like you had in most countries of Europe in those days (such as the Church of England). Often those people choosing not to be a part of the official state religion were persecuted or discriminated against.

(2) Second, its purpose is to protect religious expression from government interference. President Jefferson wrote a letter to some Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in answer to their question as to what the clause means. He coined the phrase “wall of separation” (which has been misused since 1947) which he said was a “wall” to keep government out of religion. Today it is interpreted to mean keep religion out of society as much as possible – to protect society from religion and religious influences. Note that the phrases “wall of separation” and “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Obama is “declaring war on the Catholic Church” or on religion, as some are saying. I believe the problem with what he’s doing is twofold:

(1) First, he’s telling a church to pay for something it believes is morally wrong, and this sets a dangerous precedent, as I said earlier. This goes against the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.

(2) Second, the federal government shouldn’t be telling private insurance plans what they must cover. The government can provide general guidelines, such as plans must cover preexisting conditions, but not get into specific things they must cover.

You may want to write your representative or senators and let them know how you feel on this subject.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sense of Entitlement: JFK and the Intern

I watched an interview last night with a woman who had been President John F. Kennedy’s mistress for about 18 months while he was in the White House. She was a White House intern (sound familiar?) and was an 18 year old college freshman when it started in 1962. The president was 45 at the time. It is well-known that JFK was a womanizer, but going after a teen-aged intern was a bit over the top in my opinion.

I see a lot of problems with this “affair” that we should examine so that we don’t fall into a similar pattern of behavior given the right circumstances. Although this 18 year old did not resist the president’s seduction, to me his first encounter with her bordered on rape. Although she willingly continued with this affair, he was clearly using her as his sex toy. What do we learn from these actions?

(1) First of all, JFK’s actions constituted a clear abuse of power. As far as I know, this girl did not throw herself at the president (as Monica Lewinski did with Clinton). When the President of the United States makes moves on you, it’s difficult to resist, especially for an 18 year old kid. If you are in any position of power, don’t use that power for evil.

If you don’t think you are in any position of power, you are if you are a teacher or professor, a clergyperson, a manager or supervisor, a parent, an adult, a politician, or a public figure of some kind.

(2) Second, Kennedy’s actions (as well as similar activities by Bobby and Teddy) reveal a sense of entitlement. He was rich and powerful, and he felt he was entitled to just about anything and anybody he wanted, even Marilyn Monroe. Nobody is entitled to use another human being the way he did.

(3) Third, this was a betrayal of trust. This girl’s parents entrusted the White House staff with their daughter. Jacqueline Kennedy was betrayed by all this. I’m sure the president used government resources to fly this girl to different places, so the people were betrayed.

(4) Fourth, this affair, and the other womanizing done by the Kennedys, shows some serious character flaws. Certainly they reveal an overactive libido (essentially a sex addiction), an attitude that women are to be used, not respected, and a sense of entitlement as mentioned before. “Boys will be boys” doesn’t excuse their actions.

While JFK had a certain charisma, there was a dark side. He was not unique because we all have a built-in propensity to sin called our sin nature. Rather than trying to bring it under control, Kennedy indulged his sin nature, using other people as sex objects in the process. I hope we can learn from him and not give in to our wrong desires. Let us not buy in to situational ethics but remember that some things are just plain wrong.