Relishing A Messy Society

No Mess, No Life

A free society is always a mess.  Because folk don’t like a messy society, they end up wanting to curtail freedoms left, right, and centre.  As Chesterton acerbically put it, when people stop believing in God they end up believing in anything and everything.  One of the things they inevitably come to believe is that society can get rid of all messiness; virtual perfection is attainable.  If we had this authority, that rule, a new extension of government regulations and powers every messy problem we face would be duly solved.

A Christian society, on the other hand, is a mess.  Always.  Why?  For two reasons.  The first arises out of an acceptance of human limitations.  We are finite creatures, with limited understanding and abilities.  The second and worse cause of mess is that we are fallen creatures, in a fallen world, with hearts that are deceitful and desperately wicked.  Yet it is Christian society which maximises freedoms (even while accepting the inevitable messiness.)  In this sense, Christians love the mess, because the alternative is unthinkable.

The Christian accepts both the messiness and the duty to advocate for a free society.  The Christian can do this with sanguine hope and positive joy because we believe in Providence–the faithful governance by God over all things, both visible and invisible.  God devolves His authority to men, and promulgates His law both authorising human rule over the creation, and, at the same time, delimiting the extent of human rule and authority.  Because parents are given special authority and competence to bear and raise children, it does not mean the state, or the church, or the school or any other authority can subvert parents and replace them.  There are boundaries the state and other authorities may not cross–without putting mess on steroids.  This holds true, even when parents make a mess of raising children.  The messiness of some homes does not justify setting up kibbutzim so the state can become the uber-parent.  (If you didn’t like the dysfunctional state of some homes, wait until you see the dysfunction wreaked upon us all when the state becomes the Parent of everyone.) 

These days, because the State is the only authority and power to which secularism can appeal, every mess requires a statist solution.  Is there unemployment?  The government must sort out the mess by welfare payments for those out of work, forcing interest rates lower, and vastly expanding government jobs.  Are there drugs on the streets?  The government must declare a war upon drugs, expanding government powers, surveillance, and punitive punishments.  Are pupils leaving school unable to read or write?  The government must step in to define and control curricula and teaching standards to ensure literacy and numeracy.  And so it goes.  Without end.

At each step, freedom diminishes; external, illegitimate authorities and controls are extended.  And the people love it.  For them, mess and uncertainty are the problem.  The Christian man, however, knows that mess is a necessary and intrinsic part of a free society.  He also knows there is a God-directed way to deal with mess.  Sometimes it requires benign neglect. Some problems ought to be ignored.  Under the loving hand of Providence they will self-correct and diminish.  Sometimes decisive action by local civil society or neighbourhood groups is required.  At other times, it requires interdiction by the Department of Defence.  But the existence of mess, in and of itself, does not provide an argument nor justification for extensions of statist power.

In our secularist atheistic culture messiness becomes the fuel for a white hot nuclear core which relentlessly expands the mandate, role, and grip of the state until the inevitable meltdown. 

Without freedom, there will be no mess.  When there is no longer any messiness, we will all be dead. 
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Monday quote

I think one of the most intense dangers to modern Christianity is the assumption that sin is wrong because it harms someone.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant
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Panoptican Tony

With Friends Like This, Enemies Are Redundant

The phrase, Panoptican State refers to a real threat.  Sadly, the threat is coming not from terrorists, nor criminals in general, but from our governments.

As a result of the threat of terrorist crimes, Western governments want to transform the State into one which observes citizens at all times.  In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott foolishly and recklessly wants the Parliament to approve collecting “metadata” on all Australians, storing it for up to two years.  “It will help us interdict and catch the malefactors,” says Tony.  Yes, and so would stationing a member of the intelligence service at our right shoulder, observing all we do and say, twenty-four seven. But would that justify the horrendous invasion of government power into our lives.  Tony says it would. 

Fairfax media have done us all a service.  With the assistance of a Liberal Senator, David Leyonhjelm they have demonstrated just how much information on all citizens will be available to government spies.  Leyonhjelm “turned over” his metadata to the analysts and what they learned about him was significant indeed.

The federal government says its controversial mandatory metadata storage proposal – which will force telcos and internet providers to store phone and web data on all Australians for two years – is necessary to fight serious crime. Prime Minister Tony Abbott described metadata, which will be available to law enforcement without a warrant if the Data Retention Bill becomes law, as “not the content of the letter, it’s what’s on the envelope”.

But a Fairfax Media investigation into what metadata can reveal has shown the envelope is almost transparent. If the bill passes it will represent a significant loss of privacy for all Australians, with law enforcement being able to derive far-reaching information and associations left behind by our digital footprints.

Here’s how they went about it.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm gave permission for metadata from his business address in Sydney’s inner west, an agribusiness consulting company, to be captured and analysed.  NCC Group, an information assurance firm with more than  15,000 clients worldwide, agreed to perform the analysis for Fairfax Media. It was overseen by its Asia-Pacific general manager, Wade Alcorn.

They used off-the-shelf software  to intercept all the data to and from the internet via a laptop plugged into the office’s internet router.  Using free online tools they stripped out about 99 per cent of what was captured, including the content of communications, and the industry-standard definition of web history – http and https traffic, which is all the data sent between your computer and the web server, including web addresses . Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said, “The act will expressly exclude a person’s web browsing history.”

What did they learn about David Leyonhjelm?

Alcorn’s report reveals the surprising scope of what could be gleaned from the metadata generated by the office outside of its day-to-day dealings with meat and livestock organisations in Australia.  “The metadata revealed communication to an airlines booking system and to specific hotels in the Whitsunday Islands,” wrote Alcorn. “This may indicate that someone in the office will be travelling in the near future and planning to visit that area of the country.” . . .

“We’d sift through the data and look for interesting things,” he explained. “For example, with the airline booking site, we started expanding backwards and forward in time to reveal what other information there is on what the airline bookings might be about. At that stage we found information about the Whitsundays, hotel bookings, etc … it went from airline bookings to hotel bookings and associated holiday information.”

They found clues suggesting someone was buying furniture – communication to the webpage of a furniture retailer and a subsequent call of four minutes and 12 seconds to the same store. One day there was an interest in jewellery, home improvements and renovations.

Metadata can reveal someone’s hobbies or interests without the need to see the content of messages. There was communication in the office with mail servers relating to the Inner West Hunters Club, a NSW approved hunting club. Leyonhjelm is a high-profile supporter of the relaxation of gun laws.  NCC analysts referenced other email metadata with public information resources to infer communication with organisations involved in hunting, consultancy, market research and the sale of contact lists for marketing purposes.  Metadata could enable future governments to monitor people with agendas other than their own. The potential for inferring links between people, leading to further investigation, is vast.

Analysis of sender and recipient email addresses identified people who were often involved in group email discussions. Despite neither subject nor content of emails being available, some inferences could be drawn.  Alcorn wrote, “The email metadata collected was suggestive that there was a common political agenda. Taking the email addresses and searching for the people in Google determined they were active in various political arenas. From this information it was possible to find common agendas.”

One group email discussion possibly centred around pro-gun reform, with active lobbyists in the area taking part – something NCC analysts determined by putting specific email addresses into a search engine. Other members of the discussion weren’t public supporters of changes to gun laws.  “An analyst may, rightly or wrongly, infer from this metadata that the other members of the discussion are privately supporting gun reform and for some reason don’t want it publicly known,” wrote Alcorn.

Traffic volume showed when staff were in the office, when they were working late or at the weekend and for how long. Metadata showed consistent spikes of several minutes’ activity on Facebook at 9am, around lunch and just before 5pm. One afternoon there was no Facebook activity, which could suggest an early knock-off for the day.

Metadata also showed someone was exploring CTP insurance renewal, had used Dropbox – a way of transferring files too large to be emailed – as well as Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia, AVG and Avast technologies.
“We’re not using the most sophisticated tools to analyse metadata,” Alcorn said. “There are faster ways to do it and more automated and mature processes. We also didn’t use tools for displaying graphical connections. With further time and more sophisticated tools, more habits and details could be extrapolated.” . . .

And Leyonhjelm’s reaction to the results of analysing his metadata:

Leyonhjelm called the results of the analysis “very revealing”.  He had no problems with targeted retention of metadata via a warrant or court order based on suspected criminal activity. “But to collect that data on everyone – my 84-year-old mother and my wife and my next-door neighbours who wouldn’t say boo to a goose – it’s wrong in principle,” he said. . . .”The government’s basically saying we’re going to spy on everybody in the country,” said Leyonhjelm. “It’s appalling, it’s absolutely appalling.”

He added, “If you’re going to invade people’s privacy and treat them all like criminals-in-waiting, then to what extent do you do that? Malcolm Turnbull has said it’s nothing more than phone data, to and from and time and location, but it’s a lot more than that. I don’t see how it can be limited to that and I don’t believe it will be, either.”

The old slogan runs, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  Now, due to the craven lust to do evil that good may come, the Australian government has unwittingly provoked a new slogan: “Give me death rather than your kind of liberty.”  Or, more tellingly we suggest to Australian citizens that they face up to the Prime Minister and his conspirators and say, “Stop being such cowards.” 

It is a small mercy that in order to “get the power” to store everyone’s metadata and take a huge stride towards a Panoptican State, Parliament gets to debate it in public and vote upon it.  Let’s hope there is a rebellion in the government’s parliamentary ranks. 
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Daily Devotional

Anxiety

“The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”
Proverbs 16:33

Charles Spurgeon

If the disposal of the lot is the Lord’s whose is the arrangement of our whole life? If the simple casting of a lot is guided by him, how much more the events of our entire life–especially when we are told by our blessed Saviour: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father.”

It would bring a holy calm over your mind, dear friend, if you were always to remember this. It would so relieve your mind from anxiety, that you would be the better able to walk in patience, quiet, and cheerfulness as a Christian should. When a man is anxious he cannot pray with faith; when he is troubled about the world, he cannot serve his Master, his thoughts are serving himself. If you would “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” all things would then be added unto you.

You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances. You have been trying “providing” work and forgetting that it is yours to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.

Come and survey your Father’s storehouse, and ask whether he will let you starve while he has laid up so great an abundance in his garner? Look at his heart of mercy; see if that can ever prove unkind! Look at his inscrutable wisdom; see if that will ever be at fault. Above all, look up to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while he pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you? If he remembers even sparrows, will he forget one of the least of his poor children?

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
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More True With Each Passing Century

The Work of One Who Lives

All around the world this Christmas season people will be coming to new life.  Once dead in their sins and trespasses, they will arise and and see the Son of God for the first time.  They will be born again by the Spirit of God.  In every land.  In every nation.

In the early fourth century AD, church father, Athanasius reflected on the reality of his day which continues to our day.  Same truths, same realities, same Lord.  To the arguments and evidences that Athanasius lists, we can add this consideration: his case is tenfold more weighty nigh two millennia later.  The same realities of which he speaks, we, today, can testify to.  But our testimony is even more powerful, since it is about a living Saviour and a living faith which have, like an irresistible leaven, penetrated into many more centuries, many more cultures, more languages, more countries, and many more families and souls. 

Dead men cannot take effective action; their power of influence on others lasts only till the grave.  Deeds and actions that energise others belong only to the living.  Well, then, look at the facts in this case.  The Saviour is working mightily among men; every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond  the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching.

Can anyone, in the face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life?  Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ?  If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities the adulterer from his adultery, the murder from murdering, the unjust from his avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious?  If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and  the evil spirits whom they worship?  For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it. 

This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead and, more than that, it is the work of God.  [Athanasius, On the Incarnation. Translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson.  (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1946.), p.46f  ]

The previous century saw the most implacable, industrialised, and determined effort yet seen to overthrow the Son of God.  Militant atheism in Asia and Europe attempted to strip the knowledge and memory and power of Jesus Christ from the earth.  Now, it lies broken, like Ozymandius of old.  
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Jesus, Son of Joseph, Son of David

With Christmas nearly upon us, here’s another foray into the birth of Jesus. How was he the “Son of David” if Joseph, the descendant of David, wasn’t really his father? Biblical prophecy foretold that a descendant of David would rule on his father’s (David’s) throne and rebuild the fallen tabernacle of David. From the beginning, the […]
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Hell and broken thinking

What if your view on hell made you think that life had no value?
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Douglas Wilson’s Letter From Moscow

Natural Evil and the Classical Christian School

Blog and Mablog
Douglas Wilson
December 17, 2014
One of the central arguments that materialistic atheism offers against the Christian faith is that the reality and universality of suffering is inconsistent with the doctrine that we were created by, and are loved by, a gracious heavenly Father. If we intend to do our job in training our students to be able to defend their faith as they go out into the world, it seems to me that we ought not to begin by granting the foundational premise of unbelief.

Believe me, the pressing reality of natural evil is a major argument that the atheists use, and the theistic evolutionists will have to do a lot better than they have done thus far in mounting a reply.

If evolution was God’s means of creating, then this means that pain, struggle, suffering, agony, and torment were His means of creation, and He pronounced all of it “good.”

There are two kinds of evil that we have to consider — natural evil and moral evil. While moral evil is more horrendous, it is a little easier to handle because we are doing so much of it to ourselves. We can handle that another time. But natural evil is a different thing altogether, and on the theistic evolutionary account natural evil cannot be considered evil at all.

. . . the pain and suffering of sentient animals has to be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is no longer the problem of evil, but rather “evil? no problem!”

Here we have to posit millions of years of death-dealing events — volcanoes, floods, tar pits, and so on — without anybody having done anything wrong such that it would bring this state of affairs about. This is just how God likes to do things.

This means that the pain and suffering of sentient animals has to be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is no longer the problem of evil, but rather “evil? no problem!”

Having said this, I want to give two qualifications. The first is that the “absence of death” means the absence of agonistic death. I happily assume that when leaves fell to the forest floor in Eden, they rotted, and that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit that was permitted them, the fruit was broken down in their stomachs by enzymes. Is that not a form of “death?” Sure, if you always remember to use the scare quotes. The fall gave us deranged entropy, not the simple arrival of entropy. Could Adam have shuffled a deck of cards, or would he have gotten a royal flush every time?

The point I am making concerns sentient life, animals with a central nervous system, capable of experiencing excruciating pain. The atheist wants to say there is something wrong with that, but he cannot give an account for why it is wrong because he believes there is no God. The creationist wants to say that there is something wrong with it, that something has gone terribly wrong, but that the sin lies with man. The theistic evolutionist has to say that it is all good. That’s just how God rolls.

At the same time, given the reality of the fall, and granting a high view of God’s sovereignty, I am willing to grant that there is a grim and glittering beauty in the severity that is pervasive in the animal kingdom. “Who provideth for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, They wander for lack of meat” (Job 38:41). “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God” (Psalm 104:21). And who among us has not bowed the head to say grace over meat from the grill?

But it will not be this way forever. The place we are going tells us something about the place from which we came. Man did not become carnivorous until after the flood (Gen. 9:3), and a time is coming when there will be no carnivores at all. “And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: And the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Is. 11:7) “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25). This is an idyllic vision, and it is also a “return-to-Eden” vision.

But if there was no Eden, if Adam and Eve were the two lucky primates who got smarter than their ancestors, but who also died in exactly the same way as their ancestors, then we discover that what we have done is simply declare death a friend. This is instead of what Scripture does, which is to declare death an enemy.

Adam brought death into the world (Rom. 5:12). The theistic evolutionist has to say that millions of years of dying and death brought Adam into the world. But if that is the case, then why on earth would death — even human death — be considered an enemy? Why then should death be conquered? Why did Jesus bother to come back from the dead? What was the point?

The creationist has answers for these questions. People may not like the answers, but they are solid and defensible answers. Adam was established as the covenant head over all the created order. When he fell, the whole created order fell also. Since that time, the whole created order is longing for the day when everything will be put back to rights. When the children of God are finally revealed for who they are in Christ, then the created order will be restored. Restored to what? Restored to the Edenic glory, and then some.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18–23, ESV).

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Daily Devotional

The Greatest Salvation Imaginable

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . . ” (Jeremiah 31:31)

John Piper

God is just and holy and separated from sinners like us. This is our main problem at Christmas and every other season. How shall we get right with a just and holy God?

Nevertheless, God is merciful and has promised in Jeremiah 31 (five hundred years before Christ) that someday he would do something new. He would replace shadows with the Reality of the Messiah. And he would powerfully move into our lives and write his will on our hearts so that we are not constrained from outside but are willing from inside to love him and trust him and follow him.

That would be the greatest salvation imaginable — if God should offer us the greatest Reality in the universe to enjoy and then move in us to see to it that we could enjoy it with the greatest freedom and joy possible. That would be a Christmas gift worth singing about.

That is, in fact, what he promised. But there was a huge obstacle. Our sin. Our separation from God because of our unrighteousness.  How shall a holy and just God treat us sinners with so much kindness as to give us the greatest Reality in the universe (his Son) to enjoy with the greatest joy possible?

The answer is that God put our sins on his Son, and judged them there, so that he could put them out of his mind, and deal with us mercifully and remain just and holy at the same time. Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”

Christ bore our sins in his own body when he died. He took our judgment. He canceled our guilt. And that means the sins are gone. They do not remain in God’s mind as a basis for condemnation. In that sense, he “forgets” them. They are consumed in the death of Christ.

Which means that God is now free, in his justice, to lavish us with the new covenant. He gives us Christ, the greatest Reality in the universe, for our enjoyment. And he writes his own will — his own heart — on our hearts so that we can love Christ and trust Christ and follow Christ from the inside out, with freedom and joy.

For more about John Piper’s ministry and writing, see DesiringGod.org.
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US Tort Law Facilitating Pyongyang Victory

Great Leader Strikes Again

It’s official.  The FBI has confirmed that the hack of Sony computers came from a foreign “power”, North Korea.  The psy-ops war has so far been a total victory for one of the nodes in Bush’s Axis of Evil.  Allegedly, a specialist hacking unit operating out of North Korea hacked into Sony’s computers and databases to “punish” the company for daring to make and planning to screen The Interview, a satirical comedy sending the North Korean dictator up the creek.  Sony could not have chosen a more fitting and worthy subject for a satirical roast. 

North Korea finally disclosed its hand when it threatening to bomb any movie theatre showing the film.  The language employed in the threat was eerily reminiscent of your average, every day fulminating eructation out of Pyongyang.  Ironically, in the long term, this would likely make the movie one of the great cult classics of all time.  Kim Jong Un would forever be remembered as a pompous idiot with no sense of humour (as well as a moral monster).  Watching the movie would become a delicious act of sedition against a petty tyrant; laughing at Dear Leader would become a political act, a blow for freedom.  Sony could never buy that much notoriety and publicity in their wildest dreams.  (We have no doubt that conspiracists will eventually claim that the Sony hacking was all an inside job to immortalise the movie.)

That is, unless Sony completely caves in.  There are signs that it will do so.
  The intended screening of the movie has been cancelled in movie theatres across the country.  Now, at first blush, this seems like an act of national cowardice.  It would appear that the cocky, self-aggrandizing  American bolshieness has ended not with a bang, but a whimper.  After all, it is the coward who talks the biggest game and runs at the first sign of danger. 

But there are deeper issues and worse villains at work, it seems.  Blogger Patterico, a district attorney, discusses the likely real reason movie theatres have refused to screen The Interview

Why is “The Interview” being pulled? Why was Steve Carell’s “Pyongyang” cancelled? In the first instance, you can blame the lawyers.  Once all the major movie chains decided not to show the film, that was the end. Why did they make this decision? I’m sure part of the reason is that they worried moviegoers would stay away from the theaters showing the movie, whether the patrons were there to see this film or not.

But I’d say one major reason the chains decided not to show the movie is that they worry about lawsuits if something happens. Ridiculous hyperbole? Nah. For example, the victims of the Aurora shooting are suing Cinemark over an act perpetrated by a lone gunman. The suit has survived summary judgment, meaning it will cost the chain millions whether there is a settlement or a jury trial. You think chains weren’t thinking about that case and similar litigation when they refused to show “The Interview”?

The apparent decision to forego streaming and DVD sales is also the work of lawyers, from what I have read. Apparently, to collect on insurance, Sony needs a total loss. I would think an insurance company would want them to mitigate their losses, but I don’t write the contracts.

Plus, once the company decides to pull the movie from theaters — a decision that will cost them as much as $200 million, some executive’s head is going to be on a platter. Probably the heads of a bunch of executives. They will be told they should have seen this coming. Now imagine being the guy who decides whether to do a DVD release. You can face the fate of those other executives, or play it safe and kill everything, pointing the finger at the people who are getting sacrificed anyway.

A similar thought process is going on with respect to any movie in development or being considered now: is there some madman or group of madmen who might make violent threats over this? If so, then the project is dead. Simple incentives at work.

Yes, there is a healthy dose of plain cowardice involved here too. (I understand many of you see this as a business decision, but I think you — and the chains — are taking the short-term view over the long-term.) But don’t discount the power of tort law to scare companies into doing ridiculous things. That, in large part, is what started the ball rolling.

Who would have thought that American tort law would have become such an effective weapon in the hands of the Great Leader?  

 
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