Friday, August 30, 2013

The Stop and Frisk Debate in NYC

The leading Democratic mayoral candidates in New York City are falling all over each other about who will be tougher in eliminating the police’s controversial “stop and frisk” program. However, some of the rhetoric doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s examine this policy and see what we can learn for both NYC and other cities where crime is high.

Before doing so, let me interject the reason a religious blog is talking about this subject. The bottom line is that the City of New York is trying to reduce crime in general, and violent crime in particular. It is trying to save lives. Every life is precious in the Judeo-Christian tradition, so it is appropriate that we, as a society, try to not only preserve life but to enable people to live up to their potential. With that in mind, let’s examine “stop and frisk.”

“Stop and frisk” is vulnerable to abuse, and should be used only when someone looks suspicious, is acting suspicious, or matches the description of someone the police are looking for. The police must assume everybody is innocent until proven guilty, meaning they should be polite and respectful when stopping someone on the street.

The police should take a photograph or video of the person they are considering stopping, if there is time. This allows others to see what the police observed in the event of a formal complaint or an audit.

The racial profiling argument against “stop and frisk” is misleading. If the police are patrolling in a mostly black neighborhood, they are going to stop mostly African-Americans. That’s not racial profiling – it’s simply the population they are dealing with.

Too many people, including children and other innocent bystanders, are being shot and killed high-crime neighborhoods. While being stopped by the police is not pleasant and is even humiliating, maybe that’s the price that needs to be paid for now to reduce violent crime – at least until a better program comes along.

According to the crime statistics, “stop and frisk” has been successful in lowering violent crime in NYC. That means fewer violent deaths of black men, and as mentioned above, every life is precious. Eventually, police, knowing there are fewer guns out there, will feel less threatened and will be less prone to shoot as well.

Certainly oversight of the program should be strengthened but why eliminate a program that is saving lives?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus – A New Low

At the MTV awards show, popular culture reached another new low with the Miley Cyrus bump and grind dance routine. Sadly, her entertainment went well beyond bump and grind, to downright gross. Aided by Robin Thicke, who should know better, this spectacle was unsuitable for audiences of all ages.

I’m not a prude, but I do think there should be some boundaries, some standards of decency. About the only thing she didn’t do in her over the top display was full frontal nudity. While MTV likes to portray itself as edgy, this was going too far, even for them. Don’t they have any adult supervision at MTV?

I know what Cyrus was attempting to do. Taking a page out of the Madonna playbook, he was reinventing herself, as Madonna has successfully done several times in her career. Cyrus wanted to go from the squeaky clean Disney character Hannah Montana to a sexy Madonna-type adult. However, she overshot her goal and went beyond sexy to slutty. Of course she also presented herself as a terrible role model for girls. I’m sure there will now be an outbreak of Miley-type dance routines appearing on YouTube done by everybody from pre-pubescent girls to 20-somethings. Sexting will be on the rise once more as well.

Besides the obvious (at least I hope they are obvious to you), there are two other problems with what Cyrus did:

First, this will cause body-image problems for girls who aren’t built like Miley Cyrus.

Second, Miley and Robin reduced girls and women to sex objects by their sensual exhibition.

I hope Miley just fades away – that this ends up becoming her unintended swan song. That would show that there are limits, that we still have some standards of decency, and that such over the top performances don’t insure success, Madonna and Lady Gaga notwithstanding.

If her performance does end up launching a new career for her, then God help this country and western civilization.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lack of Conscience

What is conscience? “The sense of consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character, together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” (Miriam Webster Dictionary, © 2013).

It is sense of knowing right from wrong, given by God to help people behave as they should. While conscience can be modified by cultural influences, it is remarkably consistent around the world and throughout history. Murder, stealing, lying, and cheating are considered wrong is just about every society. The Apostle Paul alludes to this in Romans 2:14-15a:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the [Jewish] law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness. (NRSV)

In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul mentions that it is by God’s grace that we have the strength to follow our consciences and so what is right:

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so, not according to worldly wisdom, but according to God’s grace. (NIV)

In the above verse, “worldly wisdom” refers to the lies of this world that lead us astray. As I mentioned above, our consciences can become corrupted by worldly influences, as we read in Titus 1:15-16a where Paul wrote about some people this happened to:

Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. (NRSV)

A good conscience is not enough, because it can get corrupted. We all need God’s grace on an ongoing basis, along with constant exposure to biblical teachings in worship or in a Bible study. Otherwise, all that we are taking in are the ungodly things portrayed in the media: sex, violence, murder, cruelty, self-centeredness, etc. Eventually we become so saturated with this steady flow of garbage that our consciences become numb.

Not sure about this? Think, then, about the three boys in Oklahoma recently, who were “bored” and so decided to kill someone at random. They killed a baseball player from Australia just for something to do. Think about the two 16 year olds in Spokane, Washington, who randomly killed an elderly World War II veteran for no apparent reason. Where were their consciences? Did they ever go to Sunday school or church and learn about morals? How were they raised by their parents to know right from wrong?

Think about all of the other crimes committed these days, and how they reflect a lack of conscience on the part of the perpetrators. Some crimes are done for personal gain, such as scams, identity theft and robbery. Others are done just to be cruel and for no other apparent reason: computer viruses, hacking, and cyber bullying. Just recently we had two significant acts of treason in which two different individuals leaked classified information.

Gangs and gang-related violence has become a serious problem, especially in many large cities. Look at the killings in Chicago. These gang members have no respect for human life, and obviously no conscience. Sadly, innocent people get caught in the cross-fire and die (including little children).

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we can continue to exclude God from our lives and our society and face the consequences. Or parents can train their children in faith, morals, and ethical behavior (including by example), and send them to Sunday school so they can learn about God. We’ve got to reverse these trends, but we can do so only with God’s help. Watching our country descend into lawlessness is not a pretty picture.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Arrogance of Power

I am absolutely amazed at the audacity of some celebrities, sport figures, and politicians when it comes to wrongdoing. First of all, I’m shocked at all the wrongdoing that occurs – don’t they realize they’ll eventually get caught? Paparazzi, investigative reporters, and a familiar face make it difficult for them to do much of anything in secret. There’s always somebody who wants their 15 minutes of fame and is willing to expose what these celebrities have been doing.

Second, I’m amazed at how some of these offenders, who betrayed trust, want us to forget and act as if nothing happened. The Bible says we are supposed to forgive, but I believe that commandment applies primarily to one-on-one situations. With the celebrity sinners, we might forgive since we ourselves weren’t hurt by their actions, but do we really want to put them into positions of trust? Many of them think we should.

The most glaring example is Anthony Weiner. He was caught with his pants down (and sent the photo of it in a text message). He left the House of Representatives in disgrace, reconciled with his wife, and then did it again! Now he’s running for mayor of New York City, asking us to forget about his sordid acts and the humiliation of his wife by his behavior. I believe he must earn our trust, something he hasn’t been able to do so far. I believe his run for the mayor is pure ego: “I’ll show them.”

The disgraced Vito Lopez, who sexually harassed many women, is thinking of running for office once again – I believe for the same reason – ego. I hope nobody votes for him.

Elliott Spitzer was a good Attorney General of New York State and probably would have made a decent Governor had he stayed in that job. However, he had to quit because of his patronizing of prostitutes. That’s a betrayal of trust of the marriage covenant, not to mention tacky and disgusting.

Now Spitzer is running for Comptroller of New York City, the city’s chief financial officer. Is he someone we can trust? He might be, because he seems to have learned his lesson, appears to be repentant, and wants to be a productive member of society once more.

Alex Rodriguez, like so many sports figures, wanted an edge. Unfortunately, he tried to gain that edge by using performance enhancing drugs, and allegedly encouraging other athletes to do the same. It is sad that so many sports and teams have been compromised by such actions. The famed cyclist, Lance Armstrong, paid a stiff price, as have others who didn’t “play fair” by using drugs. A-Rod is now appealing his suspension, and I believe his appeal is driven mostly by ego. He should take his penalty like a man. You do the crime – you should be prepared to do the time.

Why do all these things happen? It’s the human condition: humans have an inborn propensity to do wrong. That’s why we must have laws to control human activities, police to enforce those laws, and the courts to punish offenders who break them. As people drift further away from the Judeo-Christian tradition and knowledge of God, behavior will get worse. Leaders will get more corrupt.

People of faith should share their faith with those who aren’t attending worship on a regular basis so that we as a society can reverse this trend away from God. Parents should train their children in faith, morals, and ethical behavior (including by example), and send them to Sunday school so they can learn about God. We’ve got to reverse these trends.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 3)

Some of you may have questioned what I wrote in earlier posts, that anarchy and chaos will result if a society does not observe the Ten Commandments. Of course it’s not really about the Ten Commandments, but about a relationship with God. Out of that relationship comes observance of the first four commandments. Out of that relationship with God and observance of the first four come observance of the last six, with the result being a better and more humane society. – not a perfect society but one that is more just, fairer, and more caring.

Despite this, there are those who are working hard to eliminate God from American life, using a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution as its weapon. As a result of this progressive elimination of God, American society has deteriorated. If you don’t think there’s a correlation, look at life in the 1940s and 1950s compared to life today.

If you don’t believe our society could get worse, look at Germany. That country was the most cultured in Europe: music, opera, art, literature, cinema. Before World War II it was a leading scientific research center. Most scientists elsewhere had to learn German so they could read the research papers coming out of Germany. German theologians were at the forefront of biblical and theological studies. Their academic works have an influence on theology to this day.

How could such a “highly evolved” society deteriorate so quickly? How could someone like Hitler gain such influence on a people brought up in a Christian, tolerant, and cultured milieu? I suspect at least some of the problem was that religion in Germany had become cold, stale, and uninspiring. The liberal theology coming out of the universities left pastors confused and skeptical. How can you effectively preach when you aren’t sure what you believe yourself? So German society deteriorated, decadence set in, and many of the people took their eyes off God. In doing so, Hitler became their god. We can’t let the true God be eliminated from our public consciousness.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 2)

This is a continuation from an earlier post about the Ten Commandments.

Our founding fathers understood this need for God, the Bible, and religious practice in society, as we read in some quotes:
“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” — President George Washington
(The “eternal rules of order and right” refer to the Ten Commandments)

“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” — President George Washington
(He recognized that without a transcendent moral compass, a nation would soon sink into anarchy)

“I have lived a long time and am convinced that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” — Benjamin Franklin, 1787
(He recognized that God is involved in human affairs)

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” – William Penn
(Although he wasn’t a founding father, his sentiment is true. If a people don’t follow the Ten Commandments, then harsher laws will be put into place to restore order)

“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” — President Ronald Reagan
(Although Reagan was old when he became president, he wasn’t a founding father. However, he understood that following the Ten Commandments gives freedom – the flip side of William Penn’s statement above)

Despite all this, there are powerful forces at work trying to eliminate God, religious practice, and the Ten Commandments from our society. If they succeed, and they appear to be – at least for now – then the result will be disaster. We are seeing it already in rampant drug usage, crime (both violent and white collar), cheating and immoral behavior (sports stars, politicians), high divorce rate, and a generally ruder and cruder society. Today’s younger generations did not live back in the 1940s and 1950s, and so have no basis of comparison between life today and life back then. While life then certainly wasn’t ideal, we didn’t have the magnitude of problems we are seeing today.

We must get back to a nation “under God” so that we can truly have “liberty and justice for all.” If we continue down the path we’ve been following, I shudder to think what will happen.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 1)

The Ten Commandments are summarized as follows (with broader understanding in parentheses):
1. You will not worship other gods.
2. You will not make any idols.
3. You will not make wrongful use of the Name of God.
4. You will observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5. You will honor your father and mother (and all lawful authority).
6. Do not murder (or hurt anybody).
7. Do not commit adultery (or commit any sexual sin).
8. Do not steal (or cheat).
9. Do not bear false witness (or lie, gossip, or misrepresent).
10. Do not covet anything that belongs to someone else.

There are two parts to this list:
Commandments 1-4 have to do with our relationship with God.
Commandments 5-10 have to do with our relationships with others.

If our relationship with God is good, our relationship with others should be good. If we have little or no relationship with God so we are not following the first four commandments, then our relationship with others won’t be as it should be and we will end up breaking most of the last six commandments.

God put into place the Ten Commandments so that we would be able to live the kind of life God intended for us: having the right relationship with God and one another. God wants us to have an orderly and caring society rather than anarchy and chaos. Because Europe and the Americas have a Judeo-Christian heritage, we see there a respect for life and a more humane society than is typically found elsewhere.

More on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Royal Baby

I am fascinated by the attention being paid in the United States to the royal baby and the royals in general. We broke from England and established a nation that had no king or queen, only elected citizens who were supposed to serve for limited periods and then go home to resume their lives. Yet there seems to be this inborn desire for a king.

Over in Newburgh, NY during the Revolutionary War, one of George Washington’s officers suggested that he be made king once the new nation was established. Washington not only rejected this suggestion but was angry with the officer for even suggesting such a thing. Sadly, we’ve turned the presidency into a sort of royal office with special music played when the president enters the room (“Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief”). Is that really necessary?

Because of this natural tendency to want a king or queen, we Americans follow the British royals as if they were our own. However, we have our eyes on the wrong king. We should remember the words of Psalms 47:6-8
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.

Let us follow what we read in Psalms 145:1-3
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

God is above all earthly powers. Let’s keep that in mind and turn our eyes toward God, the creator and sustainer of life.