Looking for a New Testament break in the Qur’an

Many Bible reading plans have the reader in both Old Testament and New Testament sections at the same time. The Old Testament needs the completion of the New Testament to be understood. By itself most will take the Old Testament purely as “eye for an eye.” (I think there is evidence of grace and mercy there, but to many it might not be obvious).

I could use the same kind of break in reading the Qur’an, like it should have something like a New Testament breather somewhere.  But there is no break. At least so far, I cannot detect a softening, a flowering of a higher spirituality, a break with the heavy condemnation of the Jews. No matter where the Qur’an might wander, the Jews aren’t very far away from another prosecution and anathema.

I have read portions of other “holy books” from different world religions, but this “cut off the hands” mindset of the Qur’an I can’t remember.

By the way, I am reading Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. Significant insight into Islam and Arab culture. Of course, Lawrence was outraged that the Allies of WWI used the Arabs to attack the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had allied with Germany and then carved up Arab lands for the Allies rather than give to them self-determination. His travels among the Muslims before and during the war and before the treaties still demonstrates a culture that was not at peace with any people or religion outside of Islam. I think that to make the West the sole reason of why Muslims hate us does not seem to offer a historically verifiable answer. They were isolationists of an extreme kind before WWI. More to come as I read my way through.

Why Dutch women don’t get depressed

Here is a book review of Why Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed. There is some thinking here about women in the marketplace.

In the American family mothers must work virtually  full-time for families to economically survive. This is and of itself makes our tax codes immoral. When all taxes are added up – income (state, federal and sometimes county and city), property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, capital gains taxes, etc., close to 50% of the American family’s resources go into the larger pot. Both spouses in middle class homes have to work. This requires children to be farmed out and living at a level of exhaustion that destroys the ability to feel good about oneself.

One should be able to be middle-class on one salary. Now it can’t be done. And taxes are the critical reason it can’t be done, not sheer marketplace forces. While it is true that the post-WWII boom made wealth available to the middle-class, it was an unusual bubble. There was ultimately no way to sustain such high wages for so many who were not even high school graduates. So expectations of life style were unreasonably high. But even apart from this phenomenon, soon the high level of taxation required even then double incomes.

In 1960 the US government spent $509 per person. Today it is $11,500. To pay this amount of money to our government, we virtually have to abandon our children and live lives of exhaustion. And exhaustion is not a mere physical phenomenon. It brings with it intellectual and moral consequences.

Those who accuse conservatives of not caring because they speak for lower taxes get it very, very wrong. Caring for people means losing confidence in the state’s ability to solve many of these central problems we face. Whereas people like Jim Wallis of Sojourners continue to tell us that if we loved Jesus we would give more money to the state, we respond that because we love Jesus and people, we want to give less.

What we owe to the Massachusetts Puritans on this Thanksgiving

PR matters and the Puritans need to find a new firm to get out the truth. David Hall does his best in an opinion piece in the New York Times. In spite of the job the Transcendentalists did on them in the 1800s, a closer look at the facts points to a democratic spirit unleashed  by the Puritans on the new continent that overthrew all authority not vested in the people. Did they have a commitment to a high morality? You betcha’. But no King, no bishop, no Governor had authority over the conscience and natural rights of man.

Statism is always the enemy. It offers the easy way to organize society. Like Plato’s theory of government, it seeks those who will know best and hands to them the power of rule. The three great “isms” of the 20th century sought the same – Nazism, Communism, and Maoism and their 101 imitators, like Fidel Castro.

Statism is always the enemy in church, too. By this I mean the belief that the guy sitting in the pew is a dummy and needs a hierarchy to keep in check. Is there leadership in the New Testament? For sure. Does it have the responsibility to teach, confront and if need be expel? Yes. But what they do, they do not only in the name of Christ but by virtue of representatives of the people.

When I started out in ministry church discipline was all the rage. The church was rumored to be soft, morally low and out of control with the foreign spirit of democracy. So many of my friends started their ministries with sermon series on church discipline and actual such acts. They had sufficient reasons to be concerned. But maturity in ministry shows another way. What looked like moral carelessness was often more empathy and a family feeling of patience. What often looked like a cantankerous spirit toward authority was on closer look a belief that no person was right by virtue of his position. What looked like chaos in congregational life and abounding inefficiencies was a rejection of the church as business model that so many pastors were learning in seminaries.

The new Reformed movement is another version of what was happening when I graduated from seminary. Young people fed up with so-called compromises and pipe dreams of an easier way to do church based on hierarchy – God, Bible, Pastor. As the pastors get older and wiser, raising their own families and learning how to keep extended relationships intact and as healthy as possible, they will come back to acceptance that the old curmudgeon sitting in the pew and doing church the “old way” is not a dummy. He’s on to something that is very important in church.

Hall makes the case for a richer reading of the American Puritans. Read it.

Today’s Money Shot, 11/26/10

God forgive us for gathering in His name, not expecting much to happen, praying for rain but not carrying our umbrellas. We pay church staffs to do church work and then assemble on Sunday to watch them do it! It is a performance, not an experience. When the preacher stands up to preach, the attitude is “All right, preacher, let’s see what you’ve got.” When he finishes we say in effect, “I move we accept this as information and be dismissed.” No wonder we meet at eleven o’clock sharp and end at twelve o’clock dull.

Vance Havner