Archive for December 2012
This article comes courtesy of my husband, who likes milk far more than he likes news.
Congress’ ridiculous infighting over inadequate spending cuts and ill conceived tax increases is keeping our attention from something that may hit all of us more personally and much sooner than either these issues. Current farm programs, which consist of massive subsidies, price supports and various market restrictions, were enacted in 2008 and expire December 31. In ordinary circumstances, this would result in competition and a decrease in the price of milk and an incentive for dairy farmers to produce more. For a small government, deregulation, anti-subsidy conservative like me who is also raising a 14-year-old boy who seems to grow a half-inch per week, that sunset should be grounds for rejoicing, except that the system is rigged against consumers and taxpayers.
Instead of Americans enjoying a bounty of low-priced milk after the clock runs out, federal farm policy will automatically revert to a 1949 bill that will compel the Department of Agriculture to roughly double the price supports for dairy and other farm products thanks to a mystical doctrine called “parity”. The Department of Agriculture concocted this doctrine in the 1920s to “prove” that farmers were entitled to higher prices than the market provided. The official parity calculation is based on the ratio of farm prices to nonfarm prices between 1910 and 1914, the most prosperous non-wartime years for farmers in American history.
In this antiquated system, if the market price of milk fell below parity, the Department of Agriculture intervened in markets in various ways to provide a price floor to benefit dairy producers. This mechanism has been gouging taxpayers and consumers for generations, long after dairy farms went corporate and became far wealthier than average Americans.
In recent decades parity was disregarded as the primary gauge for most subsidy programs. Even farm-state congressmen conceded it was nonsensical considering the profound changes in the economy since 1914. Parity, however, remains in statute and, should Congress fail to act, the price of dairy products will necessarily soar.
Currently milk sells for about $3.53 per gallon nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price data. Once parity kicks in the price could quickly soar to $7 a gallon, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vlisack. The USDA could burn through billions of tax dollars buying up dairy products that are unsalable at exorbitant prices.
Farmers will enjoy a brief windfall while consumer demand plummets for their product. Any resulting chaos in the market place will almost certainly produce demands for new bailouts of farmers.
Understand how this looks from my perspective. My grandfather was a farmer. I appreciate the hard work of family farmers just trying to stay in business, but most farms are owned by mega-corporations these days. The dairy lobby has long been one of DC’s most tenacious. Federal dairy policies cost the average American family enough to buy their own cow. Studies in the 1980s showed that high dairy prices contributed to calcium shortages among low-income Americans. Subsequent studies have shown the same, but this has never registered on Capitol Hill.
The absurdity of the “dairy cliff” is that there is no need for federal intervention in dairy markets. Supply and demand for the vast majority of food products made in America function just fine without government price controls. In fact, the worst and most frequent disruptions occur with the handful of items (sugar, corn, and dairy products) that are politically protected. Oddly, politicians have long exploited these disruptions to drum up donations to their re-election campaigns. Go figure!
My prep item of the week is a 50-pound bag of powdered milk. I normally buy non-fat because its cheaper and I’m using it for cooking, but it looks like the whole powdered milk may be what’s on the list this time around, since with a 14-year-old son I have to balance my budgetary options to avoid rickets.
By the way, the local Walmart had NO milk in the case last night. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Humanity is totally depraved. We’re born in sin as a result of Adam’s original sin in the garden, but then we choose to disobey God whenever we have a choice in the matter. Even Christians fail God’s standard all the time. Humanity sucks, but we can’t use that as an excuse to sin. A truth as crucial as that of man’s depravity has many implications for Christians as well as non-believers, but it’s important to understand what it does NOT mean.
(1) Total depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he could be. The adjective “total” in the term “total depravity” does not mean 100% so that every man is completely corrupt, totally evil. In fact, some men are more wicked than others. This is why Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 10:15 and 11:21-24 provides for degrees of eternal punishment. During the great tribulation men will be given the liberty of pursuing their wicked desires without restraint (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10), until then, total depravity refers to the condition of man whereby every aspect of his nature—intellect, emotions, and will—have been tainted by sin. Not every molecule of bread is yeast, but yeast affects the whole loaf. Total depravity works in the same way.
(2) Total depravity is never intended to reinforce sinful psychological self-abuse. Many Christians fail to appreciate who they are in Christ. They demean themselves as unlovable and unworthy. We are unworthy of God’s grace—that is what makes it grace. Though we are worthy of condemnation, we are also divinely created and fashioned by God in the womb (Psalm 139:13). God valued man enough to send His Son to die for us, while yet sinners (Romans 5: 6-8). If we are true believers, we are in Christ, and He is in us. Every Christian has a spiritual gift which equips that saint for a function and calling within the body of Christ, the church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1). When the Christian is self-demeaning, he or she is depreciating the work of God. In my opinion, that’s a pretty serious sin. If you will remember, it was the steward who thought he had the least to offer his master who was inclined to be slothful with what he was given (Matthew 25:14-30).
(3) The doctrine of total depravity is never an excuse for sin in the life of any Christian. I’ve heard self-proclaimed Christians excuse the sin in their life with a flippant, “But I’m totally depraved; what did you expect from me?” The answer to such a statement is, “No, if you are a Christian, you are not totally depraved.” Paul wrote in Ephesians “You were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That’s past tense. In Romans 6, Paul again addresses the subject of sin in the life of the Christian. The rhetorical question has been raised; “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (Romans 6:1) Paul emphatically answers, “God forbid!” The reason that a Christian must not continue to live in sin is because he has died to sin:
Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:8-11).
Christians must leave the old life of sin behind to begin living a new lifestyle of righteousness. In Romans 7 tells us that a strong desire to shun sin and practice righteousness is still not enough to overcome sin’s influence in our lives. In Romans 8, we find that no Christian must live in sin because God, through His Son, has brought forgiveness, and through His Spirit, has brought power to live according to His righteous requirements.
Total depravity means that man will always choose to do evil, because that is his disposition. Since, in Christ, “old things passed away” and “new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we now are able to choose righteousness and flee evil because of God’s enablement. No Christian must sin because total depravity speaks of the condition of lost men and women.
We who were dead in sin are now alive in Christ, free from sin and forgiven of its penalties (Ephesians 2:1-10). We are presently being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Our lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Holy Spirit enables us to comprehend spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:6-13). The Spirit of God gives us power to live according to His demands (Romans 8:1-4).
(4) Total depravity does not mean that an unsaved person has no choice to make, but it does mean that fallen man will always choose to go his own way rather than submit to God. Early in Romans, Paul demonstrates that all men are worthy of God’s eternal wrath, not just because Adam sinned, but because all men are given some revelation about God, which they must accept or reject, and, given this choice, men always choose to reject God. The lost must be confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for apart from a hearing of the word, men cannot be saved:
“Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)
All men are faced with the choice of submitting to God or rejecting Him, but man’s nature determines man’s decision. Man, in his lost state, has the same free will to become a Christian that a lion has to become a vegetarian. This is why salvation is always initiated by God and not by man:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. … For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, … (Philippians 1:6, 29).
(5) Man’s total inability in spiritual things does not mean that it is futile to proclaim the gospel to the lost. Man will never respond positively to the gospel in his own strength, but the Bible makes it clear that those who are saved have been the recipients of divine enlightenment and enablement.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. … And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 13:48; 16:14).
Because it is God Who saves men, we may proclaim the gospel boldly knowing that those whom He has chosen will be saved. And when we pray, we need not pray that men will have the intellectual ability to believe, or that their wills may be open to divine instruction, but that God will give them life, effectually call them, and draw them to Himself. If it is ultimately God Who saves men, then we can plead with Him for the souls of men, knowing His desire to save (1 Timothy 2:4), knowing He delights to answer our prayers (1 John 5:14-15), and knowing He is able to save any whom He chooses (Acts 9:1-22).
And even when men do not believe the message of the gospel, God is glorified by its proclamation:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10).
In evangelism, as in every area of Christian living, we are never commanded to be successful, but only to be submissive to His will and obedient to His word.
Ouch! Does it seem that I have a very low opinion of human kind? I do. I look around the world and see the depravity of man and agree wholeheartedly with the Bible that the human race, apart from God, sucks. Oh, there’s people out there who do a good turn for others from time to time and there’s even one or two exemplary folk who do a lot of good, but taken as a whole, human kind shows more evidence of hell than heaven.
The Bible got there a long time before I did. God watched Adam sin, but He knew before He ever breathed life into Adam that His creation was going to spit in His eye. God only ever created two types of creature with a free will — angels and man — and both rejected His love.
Theologians and philosophers have argued this point for centuries, ever since Pelagius (a Briton living in the fifth century) suggested God wouldn’t hold mankind accountable for obeying Him if He hadn’t also made us able to obey Him in our own right. Bible theologians like Augustine refuted Pelagius sternly, arguing for the traditional Christian belief in the depravity of mankind, but others found comfort in a synthesis view, whereby mankind was damaged by sin, but could seek God in our own strength. Both those heresies remain with the modern church.
The Bible is clear that mankind is fallen, so badly damaged by Adam’s original sin that there is no hope of recovery without God’s intervention. We are not made sick by sin. We are dead in our sin. “‘There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands. There is non who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace have they not known. THere is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).
Romans is a systematic exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to both Jews and Gentiles. In the first three chapters of the letter, Paul lays a foundation by establishing a universal need for salvation. His conclusion is found in the expression “all have sinned” (3:9, 23). The pagan is rightly under divine condemnation because God’s creation reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (1:20), but man has willfully exchanged this truth for a lie and has chosen to worship the creature, rather than the Creator (1:23, 25). Man is further condemned because he fails to live according to the standard by which he condemns others (2:1-3).
The Jew is even more culpable, because he has received the written revelation of God contained in the Old Testament. Some not only hold God’s word to be authoritative, but are teachers of it, and yet fail to live by its commands (2:17ff.). All men, then, from the pagan who has never heard of Christ to the Jewish Rabbi who teaches from God’s word, are under divine sentence of death. And this must mean that those of us who now have the revelation of God contained in both the Old and New Testaments are even more responsible before God. Our difficulty is surely not the shortage of revelation, but our failure to live by it.
In verses 10-18 man’s desperate and damned condition is depicted by citations from the Old Testament. The extent of the depravity of man is underscored so as to force us to conclude that man is not sick but dead. First, Paul proves that when viewed corporately man, without exception, is found to be unable to do what God views as righteous. Second, individually man is rendered helpless by sin in every part of his nature: intellect, emotions, and will.
When it comes to sin, we’d all would like to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule. If Paul had said that most men were sinners, we would probably assume we ourselves among the few who are not. Thus, Paul must show that all men, without exception, fall under the wrath of God and need the salvation provided only in Christ. Four times in these nine verses Paul uses the word “all” to describe man’s fallenness. To prevent any misunderstanding, twice he clarifies his point by affirming that “not even one” is righteous in God’s eyes. So far as God’s righteousness is concerned, “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10).
Paul did not limit man’s sinfulness to one particular age or culture. The truth of these verses can be amply illustrated throughout history. By referring to the Psalms and Isaiah, this broad historical perspective is accented. When Paul reminds us that “destruction and misery are in their paths” (verse 16), we know that this is as true today as it was in Paul’s day or-the prophet’s. In a day when a president and a pope can be shot within weeks of one another, we need not be urged to accept the fact of the violence of man.
Having established from Scripture that man, without exception, is a sinner, Paul also proves irrefutably that every dimension of a person’s nature is tainted by sin, incapacitating every person where righteousness is concerned.
In verses 13-18 Paul speaks from the perspective of a physician, showing that every organ in our body becomes the instrument of sin due to our depravity. Beginning at the head, Paul deals with the organs which generate speech. The throat is a grave, corrupted and defiling, and the tongue is deceitful (verse 13). The lips of man, much like the viper, conceal deadly poison; they are instruments of destruction. The mouth is full of curses and bitter words (verse 14). The feet hasten man to deeds of evil (verse 15). The sum and substance of this anatomical analysis of man is that from head to foot man is dominated by sin. His organs are instruments of sin (6:12, 13).
Morally, every man falls short of the standard of righteousness which God has set. “There is none righteous” (verse 10), “there is none who does good” (verse 12). Understand, this does not mean that individual people cannot do anything that his fellow man considers good. It is obvious that some who do not profess to know Christ personally at times live by a higher standard than some who do know the Savior. Unbelievers may be kind to their wives, give to the poor, and help the helpless … all commendable deeds. However, the Bible teaches that no one will ever be justified that is, be declared righteous, by his works:
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).
The Law was not given to save men but to condemn them, to show them their sin and the need for a savior. Legal righteousness could only be earned by obedience to the whole Law, without any violation, ever:
For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).
For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).
Anyone under the Law is obliged to keep it completely, lest the Law condemn him. Further, the Law, while it provides the standard of righteousness, does not give the strength to do what is righteous:
Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5).
Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a Law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law (Galatians 3:21).
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bandage to sin (Romans 7:14).
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
Righteousness, then, cannot be earned by good works or the attempt to keep the Law of God, for fallen man is incapable of overcoming sin apart from divine enablement. Beyond this, those deeds which may appear to be righteous in the eyes of man may be evil because they are accomplished out of evil motives. Good deeds, if they are done to earn God’s approval and blessing (that is, righteousness), are based upon an evil motive. God has said that we cannot please Him by our works, for they are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Most often we do good deeds in order to obtain man’s approval and acclaim, which negates any possibility of divine approval:
“When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).
Unsaved man may perform deeds of human kindness and charity. Man may do those things which win the approval of others. But men, apart from God, cannot please God. They cannot do anything which God calls righteous or has merit in His eyes.
The unsaved man’s will is always contrary to God’s. It can thus be said that no man seeks God (Romans 3:11). Frequently man willfully turns from God for Paul reminds us, “all have turned aside” (3:12) so as to become useless. Man is born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and is thus an enemy of God by nature:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Intellectually, man’s ability to comprehend spiritual matters is nullified by the effect of sin. Paul wrote, “there is none who understands” (Romans 3:11). Man has made great strides in the fields of science and medicine, but even the most elemental spiritual truths are beyond the grasp of the most brilliant person, who is still in his sin:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Corinthians 2:14).
This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18).
We are therefore driven to the conclusion that all men are sinners by nature and by practice. Man is not sick in sin, but dead. We don’t not need a doctor to treat our weakness, but a medical examiner to pronounce us slain. We do not need God’s help; We need life. The Westminster Confession of Faith states this same truth:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
The early Christian church understood this painful truth and taught it to all who they evangelized. Christianity spread throughout the known world over three centuries without the use of violence or the means to coercion. Yet today we reject this cornerstone of the gospel for fear that modern man will not accept a God who thinks we’re not perfect. Or perhaps its that we think modern man would reject any gospel that takes him out of the driver’s seat of his own destiny.
More on that subject later.
Following recent shooting sprees in “gun free” zones, Homeland Security has issued a pamphlet providing tips for how to avoid death in such circumstances.
My favorites were “shouting at the assailant” and throwing objects at him/her.
I have never been in a mass shooting and pray God never to have the experience. However, I did work for a lot of years in a mental health agency with potentially dangerous clients who had access to my work area. It was a “gun free” zone. I had plans for what to do in the event of a rampage by a paranoid schizophrenic, but hiding under my desk never seemed as secure as hiding under my desk with a Glock trained at the door.
I grew up around guns. The Alaskan wilderness is not the sort of place you want to go into unarmed. You could go a very long time and never need that gun, but you don’t get any mulligans if the wildlife decides you look tasty. Last week, a trapper was attacked by a wolf. My dog has backed down a few moose with just her attitude, but my husband faced down a bear with a chain saw a couple of years ago. He was clearing land for our cabin site under a deadline from Department of Natural Resources and his employer (who wanted him back at work). He didn’t have the option of just staying away until the bear went to sleep for the winter, so he returned the next day with me packing a shot gun and the day after that with our 16-year-old daughter carrying the shot gun. Last summer, he did more work out there with our 13-year-old son carrying the shot gun. The bear has returned five times. He didn’t like the sound of my personal body alarm at first, but last summer, he was coming closer even as it was deafening us. I know people who were mauled after using bear spray. So, yeah, a shot gun and someone who can hear over the chainsaw is necessary. I was berry-picking there one day and heard something in the woods. The 357 came out of my shoulder holster, just in case. There are no mulligans if you face an Alaskan bear unarmed. Google “Johnny McCoy bear attack” if you want to know what might happen. In his case, he was harvesting a moose, but in our encounters with Mr. Grizzly, the only food he was interested in was us.
I know quite a few mentally ill people because of my former job. Some of them are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet — when they’re on their medication. But the law says they don’t have to be on their medications. They have a right to refuse to be medicated … even if they are dangerous when unmedicated. If they haven’t actually broken the law, they can’t be locked up just for being paranoid and delusional. If they do break the law, they only have to serve the same sentence as anyone else, so as soon as they get out, they can go off parole. Security in our persons is a bedrock constitutional right, so what are we going to do?
- Disarm as many people as possible;
- Put armed guards and police officers wherever people gather;
- Arm all the “normal” people.
- Option #1 won’t work! Sorry, it simply won’t. Personal ownership of guns is rare in China, but school massacres are not (see my previous post). If you can’t get a gun and you really want to kill people, you can find other methods. Anybody familiar with suicide bombers? Yeah, they don’t usually use guns. Twenty-two children were stabbed and some critically injured in China the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting. A man here in Fairbanks beat three of his roommates to death with a hammer about 15 years ago. Option #1 just leaves ordinary citizens to be victims of those who want to kill people.
Option #2 also won’t work! That’s a lot of manpower and that costs a lot of money which we don’t have. This country is broke, in case you hadn’t noticed. Plus, someone is going to fail to guard some venue, somewhere and that’s where the bad guys are going to hit. Remember, the reason why 911 happened was that nobody sane thought that flying airplanes into buildings is an effective way to kill 3000 people — until somebody did it.
Also, I don’t particularly like the idea of turning every public venue into an armed camp where admittance is only gained if you allow a stranger to feel you up, search your bags and take your name. I don’t like the idea of my kid going to school with a cop or a soldier standing at the door with a gun. Do we automatically think that the soldier or the cop is a “safe” person who would never turn that weapon on a classroom? I don’t. I live in a military town and I don’t think that is a safe assumption.
Option #3, however, would work. Look up the statistics on concealed carry. The number of incidents involving permitted concealed carriers is essentially a statistical anomaly. In the 20 years since the concealed carry movement got started, there’s been fewer than 1000 incidents in a country of 300 million people and most of those incidents have been legal use of a firearm in defense of self or others. A friend of mine carries concealed just about everywhere he goes. You’d never know it. It under his jacket and he doesn’t advertise it. He’s taken training on how and when to use his gun in some situations. I want to be sitting beside him in a movie theater when a Jim Holmes type character comes in. Yes, Jim Holmes was wearing body armor. Peter unloads a couple of shots into that vest and the shooter’s not going to be able to breathe, giving ordinary citizens a chance to disarm him. Instead of all those dead people, there’d be maybe a couple before Peter could draw, assess the situation and shoot the guy.
I don’t carry concealed simply because as a small woman, I can’t really hide a big gun, but I’m more and more thinking I want to reassess that. I’d much rather have the gun in my hand than be huddling on the floor hoping death doesn’t find me while a madman takes people out like rabbits.
My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because it gets me in the mood for Christmas, which I find overly commercialized and misinterpreted.
I do realize that our modern Christmas celebration is an amalgam of two holidays — the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Let’s get this out in the open right away. Jesus was probably not born on December 25. The shepherds were in the fields. The weather wasn’t winter. Likely he was born in the fall — during the time of the Feast of Trumpets. We call that Rosh Hoshana today — the Jewish New Year. It makes sense that God would arrange the birth at this time of atonement followed by a time of celebration.
So, how’d it end up being celebrated in December?
There’s no evidence that the Jewish Christians of the first and second centuries celebrated Christ’s birthday. They celebrated His death, burial and resurrection — first fruits, pascha, what we erroneously call Easter today. The Gospels record the relative importance of the birth. Mark skips the event entirely. Matthew wrote it from Joseph’s perspective. Luke wrote it from Mary’s perspective — there’s evidence he actually talked to Mary, probably when she was living with John in Ephesus and Luke and Paul were there teaching. John synopsized the birth into one verse — “the Word became flesh and dwelt with us”. One-third of the gospels are spent on the last week of Jesus’ life and most of that on the death and resurrection. The birth was interesting historical footnote to the Jewish Christians.
Luke was a Gentle Christian and that may be where the difference lie. Gentiles had a rich tradition of celebrating the births of their deities. I’m not saying Luke was wrong to record it; just that his culture may have been what directed him to do so. Of course, Christianity wasn’t widely accepted in the Roman world for the first three centuries of its existence. During some of those years, being a Christian was not a healthy choice and involved lions, tigers and bears. Celebrating openly could result in a very public death. So the Christians picked a time when their neighbors were involved in a drunken orgy — the solstice called Saturnalia. It was a way to “hide in plain sight”.
Christianity has always been culturally adaptable. The Jewish Christians still went to the temple and kept the feasts. The Gentile Christians were not required to do so. As Christianity moved across the Roman world, its voluntary converts incorporated parts of their culture into the practices. Evergreen boughs were hung in Celtic homes in midwinter to freshen the air. It makes sense that they continued to do so after they became Christians.
Saturnalia apparently has never completely waned in Europe. There’s always been a segment of society that used Christmas as a wild party. The Protestant Reformation attempted to turn Christmas into a quiet spiritual affair, but it refused to remain that way. I think it has a lot to do with the time of year. People need a party at the winter solstice. Certainly Alaskans need a party at the winter solstice.
Still, Thanksgiving, which holds no particular spiritual meaning for the vast majority of modern Americans, is the more spiritual holiday for me because it has not been commercialized. I don’t need to go out into the stores and fight to buy people stuff they probably don’t even want. Don’t get me wrong — I love to decorate my home for Christmas, but I truly wish that it were more of a holy day than it is because it does celebrate a fundamental transformation of human history. God stepped down into human flesh and chose to live for 30 years as a man so that He could die for our errors and provide us a spiritual future. It’s an amazing concept — an incredible act of love — and the greatest miracle to occur since God created the universe.
This is a difficult and emotionally fraught subject given recent tragic events, but the time to have this discussion is while we still have choices. Even amid heartbreaking circumstances, it’s good to remember the words of the 19th-century American statesman Daniel Webster: “A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures.”
European gun attacks
In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Newtown, Ct. there have been many renewed calls for gun control from progressive sectors. On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) announced she will introduce a bill to ban “assault weapons” and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called on President Obama to “exploit” the killings. President Obama then announced that Vice President Biden will head a group to craft new gun control policy and that the issue will become a second-term priority. Many pro-gun Democrats, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, are changing position. The progressive chorus sings that if there had only been more laws, Adam Lanza would not have been able to steal the guns that he used to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A look at past mass killings indicates that the opposite may be true.
The Citizens Crime Commission of New York City lists 27 mass shootings (defined by the FBI as four or more victims killed) in the United States from 1984 through August 2012. When geographical location is considered, the majority of these shootings took place in states with strict gun control laws. Two of the states with the most restrictive gun control laws, Wisconsin and Illinois, were both the site of mass shootings. Two mass shootings occurred in Wisconsin. Four mass shootings took place in California, despite its extreme gun control initiatives. Connecticut was the site of two previous mass killings before Sandy Hook, even though the state’s gun laws are considered some of the toughest in the nation according to studies by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Brown University.
A common argument is that gun control fails because criminals buy weapons in states with lax gun laws. If this is true, then mass shootings should be more common in states that allow freer access to guns. In reality, many states with unrestrictive gun laws saw no mass shootings. When shootings did occur in these states, they often happened in places such as schools where guns were not allowed. In the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, the theater did not permit guns. In the Fort Hood, Texas shooting, soldiers were not permitted to carry weapons on base.
There is a striking similarity to the map showing locations of mass shootings and blue states from past elections. Although the comparison is not perfect, the red states across the south from Louisiana to North Carolina had no mass shootings. Likewise, the Midwest experienced few mass shootings while liberal meccas like California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and New York all made the list.
The failure of gun control to prevent mass shootings is even more stark when other countries are considered. Even without considering killings by organizations, mass shootings occur around the world. This is true even though the United States is one of the few countries in the world where the ownership of firearms is legal and common for civilians. In fact, of the top ten rampage killings listed on Listverse.com, only two occurred in the U.S.
Lists compiled by Wikipedia concur that mass shootings are not an American phenomenon. The worst mass shooting in the world occurred in Norway in 2011 when 68 people were murdered and 110 were injured by Anders Behring Breivik. Breivik also killed another eight people with a car bomb. The second worst shooting occurred in South Korea in 1982 when a man killed 62 people and wounded another 37 before committing suicide. The worst mass shooting in the Americas occurred in Bogota, Colombia in 1986 when a man used a variety of weapons to kill 30 people and injure another 15.
In one interesting case, the same man perpetrated two mass killings in Africa. He murdered 21 people with an axe in the Belgian Congo in 1954. He escaped to Tanganyika where he went on another rampage three years later, this time using a rifle as well as an axe to kill 36 people.
In Europe there have been a surprising number of mass shootings in the past few decades in spite of onerous laws against the private ownership of guns. In addition to Norway’s Anders Breivik, there were mass shootings in the United Kingdom in 1987 and 2010, Switzerland in 2001, France in 1989 and 1995, Russia in 1999, Finland in 2007 and 2008, Germany in 2002 and 2009, and Spain in 1990. In 1996, 16 kindergarteners were murdered in Scotland by a gunman who then committed suicide. Switzerland is the only European country with widespread gun ownership.
Even communist China, a literal police state where most people are not allowed to own guns, is not immune to mass shootings. A man killed 23 people and wounded 80 in Beijing before being shot by police in 1994. Other mass murders in China used other weapons. In 2001, two Chinese men killed 14 people in China with guns and knives. In Gongyi, China in 2006, 12 kindergarteners and four adults were killed with knives and a gasoline fire. A man killed seven children and two women with a meat cleaver in Xian in 2010 and in Hebei that same year, a man ran over 17 people with a tractor.
Knives and explosives have been used to kill large numbers of people on many occasions. In 1950, a man killed 22 people in India with a knife. The worst school massacre in American history occurred in 1927 when a former school board member in Bath Township, Michigan, set off three bombs that killed 45 people and wounded 58.
The worst school massacre in the world occurred in Beslan, Russia in 2004 when Chechen terrorists took 1,200 students and adults hostage. In the ensuing gun battle, 355 people were killed (not including terrorists) and more than 700 were injured.
Conversely, legal guns in the hands of citizens have prevented several massacres. Days before the Sandy Hook shooting, a concealed carry holder confronted a man who had already killed two people in a mall in Clackamas, Washington. When confronted by an armed civilian, the murderer, who showed every intention of continuing his rampage, then killed himself before he could take any more lives. In 1997, an assistant principal retrieved a pistol from his car to stop a shooting spree at Pearl High School in Mississippi. In 2002, two students used their personal guns to help end a shooting spree at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia. In 2007, a churchgoer shot a man who had killed four people in a Colorado Springs church. A Salt Lake City gun owner stopped a man who suddenly began stabbing shoppers in a grocery store. There are many other reports of armed citizens saving lives in smaller numbers.
In spite of the perception that mass shootings are becoming more frequent, criminologists say that random shootings are not becoming more frequent. Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the author of a book on mass murders in America, says that mass shootings increased between the 1960s and 1990s, but have decreased since 2000 (that’s a significant date in this discussion). Duwe found mass killings in the U.S. peaked in 1929. The reality is that, in spite of the emotional impact of random killings, the majority of murder victims know their killer.
It seems that no amount of gun control, even outright bans, can effectively prevent mass shootings from occurring. In fact, by disarming legal gun owners who are often on the scene before police, strict gun control laws might often make these rampage attacks even worse.
The sad fact is that if someone is determined to commit atrocities, planning for months as did Breivik and, according to police, Mr. Holmes, it’s going to be difficult to stop him.
A broader perspective is needed. Despite this new atrocity, or other shooting sprees, gun murders of all kinds are down sharply in the past two decades. In his book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” Yale Professor John Lott attributes much of the reduction of mass shootings to the increased number of “conceal-carry” laws in the United States, in which people fairly easily are granted permits to carry concealed weapons on their persons. Of the 50 states, 41 now have such laws, up from just 16 in 1990.
Concealed-carry laws reduce crime because would-be perpetrators don’t know who among potential victims could be armed. According to FBI data, U.S. murders dropped by nearly 40 percent, to 14,478 in 2010 from 23,440 in 1990, even as the population grew by 24 percent. Of course, other factors contribute to the decline in the murder rate, but a long-term study of prisoners across the nation asked these experts in crime perpetration to explain what they fear the most — what would cause them not to commit a planned crime. The most common answer was “armed citizens”. Not cops with big artillery or the SWAT team or longer prison terms.
Criminals fear ordinary citizens with guns.
In the aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, I think that’s a question we really ought to be asking ourselves. Connecticut has stringent gun control laws and they worked to prevent this maniac from purchasing a hand gun. It didn’t stop him from finding the means to carry out his plan anyway.
And, from my perspective, in a state with very relaxed gun laws … no, gun control laws do not protect us from gun violence!
I got the above link from a simple Google search. It shows school shooting sprees worldwide. Note that many of them are in states with stringent gun control laws and several of them are in countries with even more stringent gun control laws. Most of the shooting sprees occur in “gun free” zones — malls, schools, hospitals, movie theaters — where guns are not permitted even if the property is located in a state or community with relaxed gun laws. The three shooting sprees I am aware of in Alaska — two of them occurred in a “gun free” zone — a school in Bethel and a hospital in Soldotna. In the Manley shooting, Mike Silva was turned away from several targets of opportunity by armed citizens. I know that because I know people who lived in Manley at the time, but in researching the case for this post, I could find no mention of it in the media. Manley is a case in point for another reason, however.
There’s a saying — “When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away.”
Well, in Manley, a remote Alaskan town just barely on the road system, it took State troopers several hours to get to the location via helicopter. It turned out Mike Silva was a serial killer implicated in the disappearances of at least six people. He killed several in Manley that day and there’s every reason to believe he’d have killed everybody in the time that he had if not for the armed citizens who barred him entry to innocents.
In 2007, a mentally ill young man shot and killed several workers at a missionary organization in Colorado. He then turned up at the sponsoring church the following morning, killed two people in the parking lot and was headed for the sanctuary filled with hundreds when a church secretary with a concealed carry permit winged him. He killed himself, but she was prepared to do it for him if need be.
A similar incident happened at another church in Colorado this year.
At the shooting spree in an Oregon mall last month, the assailant also killed himself after he realized that a citizen had drawn his concealed weapon and was attempting to stop him.
I found at least five other examples of armed citizens ending public shooting sprees, including one of a Mississippi school administrator who went to his car to get his gun and stop the assailant. Given that most shooting sprees happen in “gun free” zones where the only option is to cower on the floor in hopes the bad guy won’t notice you, it’s pretty amazing that I found that many.
When Gabrielle Giffords was shot, two civilian men with concealed carry permits were in the area and both converged on the scene after the assailant had been subdued by physical force. Had either of them been there at the time of the shooting, they might have saved a few lives.
Many people have never been around guns. They think the problem is the gun and that it can be solved by eliminating guns. I beg to differ. Overshadowed by the Sandy Hook School shooting is a story out of China where a man stabbed 22 children and an elderly woman at a school there.
Apparently, knife attacks on school children are very common in China. Yes, the number of deaths in such knife attacks is usually lower than with shooting sprees, but let’s not pretend that a motivated killer with imagination couldn’t fashion an explosive device or drive a car into a crowd or ….
Not one of those precious children deserves to be dead and as a country we really do need to have a discussion about mental illness and school security and violence. But gun ownership is a Constitutionally guaranteed right for a reason that goes beyond hunting. They are necessary for self-defense and for defense of liberty. They could be the key to stopping such shooting sprees. All it takes is a handful of concealed carry folks in each public school and maybe we can reduce the deaths that occur to one or two rather than 26.
And, yeah, if you want to argue about it — do let’s have that discussion.