Perhaps we should stop listening to secularists in our fight against ISIS

26 Feb

From Dr. Paul Miller in The Federalist (excerpt):

In truth, the Islamic State’s (ISIS’s) religious nature is banal because it is so obviously true. The Islamic State is difficult to comprehend only for secularists who believe religion is an aberration in the modern world. It isn’t: they are. Ignoring the religious nature of jihadists is the simple arrogance of those who dismiss as “false consciousness” the sincere devotion of the faithful. I read Graeme’s piece and felt like Captain Renault being shocked—shocked!—to find gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe. You’re only shocked if you’ve been deluding yourself for a decade.

But the religious nature of the Islamic State—and of jihadist terrorism generally—feeds into some disturbing chatter I’ve heard among conservative friends and colleagues. People rarely say it publicly, but in private conversations and emails among friends, I’ve heard more mutterings about the problems with “Islam,” about how the Islamic State proves Islam is not a “religion of peace.” I heard someone wonder when we were going to recognize the threat from “them” and start tracking Muslims in America to protect ourselves from their plots.

We are right to dismiss the White House’s pablum as vacuous nonsense. But rejecting one idea does not mean we have to affirm its opposite. It is false that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam; but that does not mean that Islam is nothing but jihadism. The tiresome, politically-correct cliche about the vast majority of Muslims not being terrorists….is true.

…jihadist religious claims are certainly relevant. Success in war depends on knowing your enemy. Social scientists who dismiss the religious claims of jihadists, treating religion as epiphenomenal to some other “real” cause, betray a materialist, secularist bias and do not help us understand our enemy. The secularist view—that jihadism is the product of frustrated rational actors lashing out at their disempowerment in corrupt, poor, repressive societies left behind by globalizing modernity—is true but incomplete, the shallow understanding of secular modernity unable to come to grips with the enduring power of religious identities.

Religion powerfully intermixes with politics in all societies in the world, including the United States—whether it is the religion of Christianity or the religion of Enlightenment secularism.

What do Conservatives and Liberals teach their children?

26 Feb

Read the rest from Pew

Graham Wood’s article, What ISIS really wants, should be the ‘go-to’ piece of journalism on this issue.

26 Feb

From the Atlantic:

What is the Islamic State?  Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

Read the whole thing, no seriously, read it.

The War on Poverty can’t overcome the demise of the family

24 Feb

Good book review in the WSJ today:

No one today seriously questions the wisdom of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. But consider the Great Society’s record on poverty. From 1959 to 1966, the number of Americans living below the poverty line had fallen to 14.7% from 22.4%—without the benefit of the Great Society. Since then, the poverty rate has remained stubbornly above 11%. As Nicholas Eberstadt has noted, in 2012 (the year with the latest available data), it was at 15%—slighter above the 1966 rate.

Consider also the War on Poverty’s effects, like welfare dependency. In 1983, one in five Americans belonged to a family receiving means-tested federal benefits like food stamps or Head Start (in other words, not Social Security or Medicare); in 2012 the number had risen to one in three. Family life suffered related changes, as Uncle Sam steadily replaced parents as a family’s principal breadwinner and the number of reasons to remain married—or get married—dwindled away. The Great Society and the War on Poverty helped set off an explosion of out-of-wedlock births. That is one reason why the poverty rate for children today is higher than before the mid-1960s—and why more than half of black children (about whom Johnson expressed so much concern) live with only their mother and why nearly half of those children live below the poverty line.

Read it all

From custody rights, to the right to avoid custody. The global flight from family

24 Feb

From Nicholas Elberstadt:

‘They’re getting divorced, and they’ll do anything NOT to get custody of the kids.” So reads the promotional poster, in French, for a new movie, “Papa ou Maman” (“Daddy or Mommy”), plastered all over Paris during my recent visit there. The movie sounds like quintessential French comedy, but its plot touches on a deep and serious reality—and one not particular to France.

All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.

To evaluate the world-wide flight from the family, we can start in the U.S. Remarkably enough, we do not actually know the probabilities of getting married and staying married in America today, because the government doesn’t collect the information needed to make an estimate. We do know that both marriage and in situ parenting are increasingly regarded as optional for child-rearing.

As of 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 40% of babies in the U.S. were born outside marriage, and for 2014 the Census Bureau estimated that 27% of all children (and 22% of “White” children) lived in a fatherless home. But the opt-out from the old family norm is even more advanced than these figures suggest. A 2011 study by two Census researchers reckoned that just 59% of all American children (and 65% of “Anglo” or non-Hispanic white children) lived with married and biological parents as of 2009. Unless there is a change in this “revealed preference” against married unions that include children, within the foreseeable future American children who reside with their married birthparents will be in the minority.

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

Read the rest

No, Reformed folk aren’t unfamiliar with John 3:16

23 Feb

It is ironic that in the same chapter, indeed in the same context, in which our Lord teaches the utter necessity of rebirth to even see the kingdom, let alone choose it, non-Reformed views find one of their main proof texts to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. It is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ. A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind. What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will receive B (everlasting life). The text says nothing, absolutely nothing, about who will ever believe. It says nothing about fallen man’s natural moral ability. Reformed people and non-Reformed people both heartily agree that all who believe will be saved. They heartily disagree about who has the ability to believe.

Some may reply, “All right. The text does not explicitly teach that fallen men have the ability to choose Christ without being reborn first, but it certainly implies that.” I am not willing to grant that the text even implies such a thing. However, even if it did it would make no difference in the debate. Why not? Our rule of interpreting Scripture is that implications drawn from the Scripture must always be subordinate to the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must never, never, never reverse this to subordinate the explicit teaching of Scripture to possible implications drawn from Scripture. This rule is shared by both Reformed and non-Reformed thinkers.

From Dr. R.C. Sproul

If John 3:16 implied a universal natural human ability of fallen men to choose Christ, then that implication would be wiped out by Jesus’ explicit teaching to the contrary. We have already shown that Jesus explicitly and unambiguously taught that no man has the ability to come to him without God doing something to give him that ability, namely drawing him.

Fallen man is flesh. In the flesh he can do nothing to please God. Paul declares, “The fleshly mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:78).

We ask, then, “Who are those who are ‘in the flesh’?” Paul goes on to declare: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). The crucial word here is if. What distinguishes those who are in the flesh from those who are not is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one who is not reborn is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. People who are in the flesh have not been reborn. Unless they are first reborn, born of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be subject to the law of God. They cannot please God.

God commands us to believe in Christ. He is pleased by those who choose Christ. If unregenerate people could choose Christ, then they could be subject to at least one of God’s commands and they could at least do something that is pleasing to God. If that is so, then the apostle has erred here in insisting that those who are in the flesh can neither be subject to God nor please him.

We conclude that fallen man is still free to choose what he desires, but because his desires are only wicked he lacks the moral ability to come to Christ. As long as he remains in the flesh, unregenerate, he will never choose Christ. He cannot choose Christ precisely because he cannot act against his own will. He has no desire for Christ. He cannot choose what he does not desire. His fall is great. It is so great that only the effectual grace of God working in his heart can bring him to faith.

Excerpt from R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God.

Original source

Belgic Confession 25: Christ, the Fulfillment of the Law

23 Feb

ARTICLE 25 – CHRIST, THE FULFILMENT OF THE LAW

We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ceased with the coming of Christ, and that all shadows have been fulfilled,1 so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet their truth and substance remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.2

In the meantime we still use the testimonies taken from the law and the prophets, both to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel and to order our life in all honour, according to God’s will and to His glory.3

1. Mat 27:51; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:9-10. 2. Mat 5:17; Gal 3:24; Col 2:17. 3. Rom 13:8-10; Rom 15:4; 2 Pet 1:19; 2 Pet 3:2.

– See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.A0EYeGCj.dpuf

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