Derek Johnson Muses

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World War Z, Conservatism, and Christianity

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

I read World War Z last winter, after the film adaptation’s trailer came out, and enjoyed the book immensely. The idea of a zombie did get me thinking about how I should think about post-apocalyptic literature like WWZThe Walking Dead, or even the late TV show Jericho, from a Christian perspective. WWZ preached the token secularist point: surviving nations ruthlessly adapt the Redeker Plan that leaves people to die, and Theocratic Russia is plainly hiding something. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed that liberal, isolationist culture would be the ultimate victim of a WWZ, if there was such a war.

Liberal social policies tend to rise in societies that can afford them. Should the resources disappear, society would have to adapt. Ask yourself this: who is better built to survive a zombie apocalypse, wealthy, urban social liberals who can pay for two or three divorces, or thrifty conservative families who have always bought their clothes at Goodwill? Birth rates always go up with the advent of war and fears of the end, and prospering in our modern society is bound in many ways to being socially liberally. Should the zombies rise, humanity would have to reproduce at much more rapid rate to replace those who died, and conservatives, in general, have more children than liberals

And consider how the notion of family would change. Without birth control abundantly available as it is now, people would have more children, and the sheer act of providing, even without emotional content, would be considered love. The ambitious people who today leave government for the private sector would have a stronger moral obligation to lead in government. And religion would become more of a cultural force, and not the religion of self. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, “give us this day our daily bread” is your favorite prayer, and you would want a God who is greater than this world.

I’m not saying that every liberal/leftist principal would get swept away in a sea of zombies, but what I am saying is that a lot of liberal principals require the vast prosperity that America (certain parts of the world) currently provides. Liberalism wouldn’t die (although modern capitalism as we know it might), but some of it we would see in a different light.

It makes me wonder why Hollywood, the liberal center of western culture, is greenlighting so many destroy-the-world epics when destroying the world would likely cause them to loose a place for the liberal values they enjoy. Of course, the Hollywood version usually features the “death of God” in some capacity, and the end of the world is caused by a greedy businessman or general (think Terminator 3, where the ambitious military is responsible for Skynet, or , as I’m given to understand, The Day After.) But it would be curious to see one where the liberals get the shorter end of the stick. 

So, conservatives, let’s write a novel that will show a world crisis that eradicates radical secularism and liberalism from America after a cataclysmic event. Hey, maybe I should get on that.

Kids are Okay. In Fact, They’re Good.

Recently, I finished reading a book called What to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathan V. Last, a statistical analysis of America’s (and the world’s) falling birthrate. Personally, I reflected a lot on this book, because it taps into feuding movements in my mind: one, having babies is a good thing, and two, I personally lack skills necessary to raise a child.

Last’s book, short and to the point, is definitely conservative but ends with a reasonable goal: we need to help people who want to have babies have babies, and there is only so much that we can do politically to increase the birth rate up. He simply lays out the trends, like the rising costs of raising a child, the decline in religion and family structure, and even social security, all adding to possibility that social unrest could accompany population shrinkage. And once momentum is heading one way, it’s hard to get going the other way.

While there may not be immediate problems with population decline, we should be aware of it and know the possible difficulties that way may face, like economic downturn and too many elderly citizens to support. Of all the points Last raises, the growth of movements like the child-free movement is particularly disturbing. Some (not all, of course) in this movement mock people with children and complain about how the world is set up for people who have children. I find the most extreme attitude of the people in this movement appalling. Yes, I’m in the same boat, but I’m not here to mock anyone who needs more resources and support to raise their kids. Personally, I have no idea what to say to a child, or how to raise one. People with my attitude shouldn’t be telling people who have kids how to raise them.

My perspective from the book: you can’t have a kid as an act of self-fulfillment. Two people have children because they see something beyond this life that is greater than it, and they want to give it to their . I can’t help but wonder as I look at the secularist countries and the secularist parts of the U.S., who have such low birthrates, what it is about this life that they don’t want to pass on to another generation.

I’m inspired by those of you who are raising God’s gifts to you, and doing it without a second thought. You’ll end up being a more self-less person than I’ll ever be. Yes, I mind it when your kids act up, but only for a second.

Epilogue: Pastor Mark Preus, has written a paper on rethinking birth control, which you can read here. His wife, Becky, was in my college class at CUW, and the way he connects naturally having kids with God’s plan for the humanity.  Preus’ paper got me thinking about kids in general, and it’s really a great example of how belief in God is essential to raising the birth rate. If you view kids as a commodity, you won’t want one. If you view children as a gift from God, you see those sacrifices in a different light. Thanks again, Pastor.

In the Light

Too many empty chairs?

Even if it Weren’t True…


Why doesn’t this work for you?

The socially liberal lifestyle (or progressive, as it likes to be known by) is a tempting proposition. For the most part, people can do whatever they want in that life and can follow any kind of whim that they, and if anyone wants to challenge you, you just have to claim personal autonomy.

But I still follow conservative Christian social teaching for a simple reason: Christians are kinder.

Of all the half-truths that are propagated about Christianity and “religion” on TV, this is the one that the world gets the wrongest. They keep portraying Christians as stuck in their ways and unchanging, and sure, I know some Christian people who are bit crusty and who come off as cold and unfeeling.. But all of my Christian friends have better countenance, are better educated, and generally more pleasant people than the non-religious people I know.

There have been times in my life where, yes, I was wandering about, and I would have happily adhered certain liberal positions. But I missed the Lord, and even though Christians are a bit rigid and unwavering, at least they are for the right reason. The modern leftists are so insecure they don’t just want to win, they want the other side’s argument completely silenced in the public square. Why? What is it about Christianity that makes you so afraid?

In my observation, the simple difference between secularists and Christians is that Christians believe in joy over happiness, and secularist just believe in happiness over joy. Secularist look to whatever makes them happy in the moment, to whatever gratifies their fancy as something that deserves moral public standing. Christians believe in joy, that whatever is happening to them, God never lets go, and in fact, whatever happens is part of God’s plan. This is no more different when look at a Christian’s attitude toward having children versus a secularist’s attitude toward having children. Secularists say, “Have a child if it helps you realize yourself. Don’t compromise your lifestyle because of it.” Christians see children as a gift from God, and no matter how much work they are, they have intrinsic value beyond this life. (As someone who really struggles with the idea of having kids, that does help me.)

And even if that wasn’t true, who wouldn’t want to believe in that?

Do Democrats Do the Most for the Poor?

Old House

Where Much is Needed

When I grew up, I didn’t have any depth and understanding to the politics of the democratic party. All I knew was that they supported a larger government and higher taxes, plus the evil of abortion. As I aged, went off to college, and watched more news, I became more acquainted with the ins-and-outs and the nuances of American, even becoming surprised to learn that there were many Christians who thought that Democrats were the better party, because of their emphasis on social programs that support the poor. I took this with a shrug but found it odd.

But upon some recent contemplation, I’ve come to believe that because the Democrats’ support is actually because they don’t care about the overall well being of the poor. They support these programs because they favor a society driven by the whim of fleeting emotions and sexual passions, not one that provides sustainable support systems for those who are least fortunate.

Not everyone has the same gifts in life. There are a lot of people whose gifts are to do skilled labor or are to work in a service industry, which they do with all their hearts. They are not like the leaders of our country or industries, who go to sleep thinking about their work and their employees; once their forty hours a week are done, they go home with a clear mind. This work is not any less valuable than work that is done at the highest levels, even though its monetary value is much less. (Cite the Doctrine of Vocation.)

So the question becomes, what happens when these people go through a poor experience in their lives? If you have a health crisis or get laid off in this country, you’re going to have a lot of bills for it. So what do you do? How should uncle Billy be cared for when he’s in a construction accident? This is were the programs of the “great society” come and say, “Here, the government can’t just let uncle Billy suffer under the weight of his medical bills.”

But let’s look at it from another angle: what if there were an organization in our society that could care for uncle Billy, without incurring the massive health care costs and will keep his job for him? What if he had a brother, parents, and children to chip in while he recovered? Again, let me go to my personal experience: I was wandering around after college when my father welcomed me into his business. Because I had a family, I was able to recover from the issues I faced from quitting one career track prematurely and move into another one at a time that was best for me.

While my story is just my own, it represents this point: families can be the greatest source of stability for the lower members of society. And who makes a better judge of what a person needs in a time of crisis, a close family member or a large sterile government, who comes in and makes quick, mass judgments?

Obviously, the federal government can’t go out tomorrow and eliminate every entitlement program, or our country would collapse under its own weight. Was Obamacare necessary? I would argue the problem is real, the solution is debatable. The medical industry itself could benefit from a change in perspective, from an attitude of always gunning for the best care and biggest profits, to an attitude of how can we serve everyone who needs care.

But for the life of me, I can’t understand why social conservatives don’t make the thesis of their arguments “sexual looseness and no fault, easy divorce are class-ism and a war on the impoverished.” Granted, some of this is probably the liberal media and television, but still, if you want to make your case more successfully, just say sleeping around is the cause of class gap. That will get people’s attention, and give you a better chance of winning.

Because the government programs that feed the poor aren’t there because of the poor; they are there because the rich people in our country, democrats and republicans, wish to live in sexual debauchery, and a society full of sexual whimseys is bound to have lost and divided members, living as units unto their own selves who are going to need assistance. When the natural family gets destroyed, the poor are made to suffer.

So all you rich people, go out and get your divorce and say it was “all for the best” because you can afford it. Just know that the result of fighting for this kind of revolution leaves the weakest members of our society at risk.

This Election that Debated Nothing

When they election was complete, I was relieved, because, of the five presidential elections I can remember, this was worst in terms of what was debated. The debates amounted to two tax accountants telling people how loopholes in the code worked for them, as if we were going to just vote for whoever gave us the biggest check.  Even four years ago, Obama talked ardently about vision and governing fairly, and, even though I disagreed with things he said, at least it was more important than the deficit roundabouts that Obama and Romney had this year. Even foreign policy got shut out.

Partisanship aside, what I felt got left behind in this election was a serious debate about leadership and where the country is headed. In many ways, this election didn’t work because we were numbed by Obama’s message of “coming together” from four years ago. Obama sold a message of compromise and being an outsider who understood all perspective, and the country naively acted as if he had no perspective himself. The result was, in this election, all we talked about sterile spending issues and Obamacare, and ignored the “hot button” issues.

In a way, it’s funny. Obama is asking the country to put aside our differences and solve problems, which sounds good and is necessary in some cases. After all, don’t both sides get tired of arguing over abortion and realize the issue won’t get solved this generation or the next? While all of that is true, ignoring huge differences doesn’t solve them, it only makes them worse in the long run. As a conservative myself, I hope what this sets up is a run by a strong conservative in 2016, even if the prospects look bleak at the moment.

As I observe the Republicans, they seem to be neglecting the key principal to winning national elections is finding the candidate who can appeal to the broadest part of their base, to both the business Republicans and the religious Republicans. Entrapped by the fear of backlash from the gay lobby and the lifestyle left, Romney downplayed his pro-life, pro-family positions, when he should have been taking advantage of Obama’s War on Religious Freedom, AKA the HHS Mandate and public support of gay marriage. Yes, the national media would have sabotaged him, but religious conservatism and moderates would have run to the polls.

I’m a Christian conservative who grew up hearing stories of the Moral Majority and the glories of the 1980 election. If you had told me six years ago that a Mormon would be the Republican nominee for president, I would have said, “At least he’ll be tougher on social issues than any Christian.” No wonder there is talk about forming a conservative-Christian party.

But I’m hopeful about the conservative movement, because it’s the one that fights for principals, even when everyone else tells them they are wrong. Recently, I’ve been reading in Suzanne Venker‘s book The Flip Side of Feminism about how the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the 1970’s. The conservative lobby educated people on the bill, and in spite of the fact that the state senator received so many threats and smear tactics from the left, the amendment never passed. That gives me a lot of hope when I hear the national media telling the conservative lobby that they should just go home and they’ve already lost.

But in spite of all this, I’m still hopeful because my faith is in God, not the political process.  I know that, whatever happens, God will be still be the one who saves, thanks be to him.

Hearing Paul Ryan: A Political Apathete Steps Out

Beign the good Lutheran I am, I’m politically apathetic. Heck, when the zombies rise up, politics are going to get simplified pretty quick. But on Sunday, I received an e-mail about a rally for Paul Ryan in Adel, Iowa, on a day when I just happened to be driving from Ames to Seward, I figured why not go.

Due to some construction, I had to drive into Adel on country roads. I didn’t realize how big the event was until I saw cars lining the street several blocks away from the courthouse. I choose the most expeditious spot and hoofed it. There were barricades set up around the square and the businesses were empty. If you didn’t know, you might have guessed they were filming The Walking Dead, as all of the storefronts in the town square where empty. A giant American flag had been hung over a building that had Obama banners in it.

Passing the security checkpoint, I took a place at the back of the square. The crowd looked to be about two or three hundred; I don’t know where all those cars came from. I showed up late, and it was worth it. I had to listen to twenty minutes of local politicians before Ryan came out. He’s slick and smart; really, the only difference between him and Sarah Palin is that Ryan has something to say and isn’t relevant in the Kardashian-esque way. Even if he and Romney don’t win, he’ll be relevant after the election,which is wonderful.

I was surprised at how much he spoke of job creation and the economy. The one thing he mentioned that I thought was noteworthy was how much prosperity there could be for average people. All politicians, both parties, talk about that kind of stuff, which I find to be pandering. Not that it’s not sad when people lose their jobs; but there’s a limit to how much anyone can achieve, and there’s no shame in admitting it. But of course, politicians don’t get elected by telling people the truth, only what they want to hear. It’s not a Republican or Democrat problem; it’s an American problem.

I stayed for an hour and left at the end of Ryan’s speech, while I believe he was shaking hands. Sorry, Congressman Ryan, I had a life to get to. But I’m glad I took that hour and a half out of my day of travel to listen and consider the issues he talked about. After all, I’m not going to start thing about government and order again until Joe the Plumber wants to bit my neck to feed his ravenous desire for human flesh.

Appealing Flaws

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
John Grisham’s novel The Appeal, while a work of liberal propaganda, raises many issues conservatives must confront. Grisham, a self-described moderate baptists who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, draws his lines clearly, using a tort case against a big company: on the one side, there are the big corporations who use “Christian values” to mask their agenda of advantages for the rich. Then there’s the real church, the one that’s concerned with helping the poor above all else. Just judges, in Grisham’s mind, will always take the side of helping the poor. While I do think that helping the poor needs to be an important part of the judicial system, Grisham draws too many generalities when it comes to religion and excludes the obvious connection between the liberal philosophy he’s advocating and abortion.

Grisham’s perspective, however flawed, does provide insight as to how the Democrats have won the upper hand in the current political arena: cast them as rich, out-of-touch bureaucrats who use empty values to mask greed. Jack Donaghy has done as much to ruin Republicans’ image as George W. Bush did. Growing up, I always thought of Republicans as a party primarily defined by religious, traditional values, but political parties are much more complex. In light of the financial crisis where big corporations share much of the blame, it does give me second thought about the party I belong to. Truth be told, I get my political news from SNL most of the time. Being a true Lutheran, I’m politically apathetic.

Politics aside, there is a bigger problem in this regard, and Grisham takes advantage of American’s (and even Christian’) lack of religious knowledge). There’s more to churches than just large, suburban, and callous, and urban and outreach oriented . Grisham writes little about specific beliefs in The Appeal, andI wonder if he would be surprised to find out that churches who preach social activism over Christ forty years ago are now dying off in America.

As Lutheran, I understand this personally. My own church body, the LCMS, while trying to resolve its issues, has congregational practice that can vary quite a bit from congregation to congregation, and with that, teaching also can very. Not to get into that debate, but churches just can’ be judged actions only. Their teachings (and specifics) should be debated too.

Yes, many Christians have abandoned missions in the cities for houses in the suburbs. Repentance is needed, but we cannot go into these neighborhoods with just food and money. If we don’t preach Christ to these people, than they are worse off than before. This is something that cuts at me personally, because my own church body, while doing notable acts for the poor, does have a track record of pushing doctrine, sometimes too hard.

As far as cases like the one Grisham describes, sadly there are instances where families who suffer injuries aren’t compensated fairly by the courts system. But the judicial liberalism that Grisham advocates for victims is the same logic that legalized abortion, which in many ways slaps the poor in the face by telling them, “The world doesn’t have room for your unexpected babies.” Grisham subtly ignores this fact and does his readers a great disservice by doing so.

But conservatives should read and deal with the issues raised inTthe Appeal, because these are the tactics that lifestyle left are using in their arguments against them. The winning side of a political debate isn’t the one that’s right, merely the one who frames its argument the best.

Part 2 on The Hunger Games: A Social Analogy

Since I first heard the premise of The Hunger Games, I debated whether or not I would want to see it, or if I had kids, whether I would let them see it. Teenagers killing each other? That itself sounds squeamish enough to make you wonder if it’s appropriate at all, let alone young people. Unfortunately, neither the book nor film is tell us how sadistic does a society have to be to put children in an area and tell them to fight to the death. All we know about the motivation of the Capitol for staging the games is that it demonstrates their control, but for what purpose?

In many ways, Collins seems intent on satirizing the manufactured love the entertainment industry gives America, and pro sports leagues for the way they manipulate violence and game play (NBA reffing, NFL rules that benefit passing). But as screwed-up as those industries may be at times, killing young Billy from down the street seems to be taking it too far? We don’t need to be told how schmaltzy the game-makers must be, just make them as cruel as possible.

This is where Katniss’ perspective as the narrator is limited: on the one hand, she, with the ninety-nine percent, observes hopelessness up the obliviously rich people with lavish hair, but she doesn’t give any insight how the Capitol has maintained day-to-day control on the districts for the last seventy-four years, other than their cruel tournament. Granted, many young people in poverty may, though no fault of their own, lack perspective, but that doesn’t help me as a reader trying to understand the world of The Hunger Games. This is why Jonathan Frazen says that if a character narrates a work, then that character has to add something insightful to it.

Violence on screen is a means of catharsis, whether it be the mid-aged man trapped in a separation from his wife (Die Hard), the terror of a senseless world we don’t understand (The Dark Knight, The Walking Dead) the unspeakable atrocities of war (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down). For the violence of The Hunger Games to be cathartic enough to work, the world has to seem so cruel and arbitrary that the games seem strangely fair. Suzanne Collins only goes half-way there. If the Capitol was sadistic enough to enjoy the death of young people as entertainment, they wouldn’t have a problem of putting people to death arbitrarily on the street, which Katniss likely would have seen as a child.

But then I got to thinking: are the hunger games just an analogy for abortion? Are the teenagers being sacrificed in the arena just represented by the children the poor women sacrifice because our society has told them that they would just grow up to be criminals? Meanwhile, the rest of society just moves on and calls it a tough decision.

I digress. Would I let my kids see this movie? Frankly, I would have a hard time, at least until they were older and I could talk to them about it. I’m somewhat more disturbed by the fact that the film doesn’t know how to handle the violence then the violence itself.

The Occupy Movement and the Doctrine of Vocation: Lord, Grant us Contentment

I didn’t follow Occupy Wall Street when it debut last fall (football season), although recently I used it to spoof the SEC’s domination of the Big 10. But recently , I have read up on the movement, and while I do agree with the assessment by the Occupiers, I don’t know if camping out in the financial districts of large cities is the right way to go. Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio, anyone of these people could invest themselves in being a good doctor or lawyer, they could end up earning what they demanded of others.

But I will acknowledge: people do have a right to be upset with the rich in this country. The financial crisis hurt a many people demolished their savings, and the rich were the ones who first made mortgages an investment commodity and sought to sell as many as they could, until they upset the system. Predatory lending was, and still is, a big problem. If the rich people aren’t willing to invest in getting more jobs into this country, people do have a right to be upset.

However, the answer to those problem isn’t to give people more money to the lower classes. Look at what happens to athletes who come from poor backgrounds get lots of money on pro football or basketball contracts: the majority are going broke, and these are people who at least pretended to be students on a college campus (another subject for another blog post). Just giving more money to people isn’t a solution.

And, while a lot of the occupiers want to blame the rich, why don’t the blame the lawmakers who passed no-fault divorce laws? As former Yale professor Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse noted in an Issues, Etc. interview, when divorce hits a low class home, there goes any saving they may have, and from there, a mother with two children can easily end up in straights. Forty years since the first set of such laws, and marriage has virtually disappeared from the lowest class in America, whose out of wedlock birth rate is seventy percent. Meanwhile, everyone who can afford to get divorced act as if happiness is the only social function for marriage. There’s a real reason to have class warefare.

As a Christian person (and I’m surprised that I haven’t found much Christian or Lutheran commentary on the occupy movement), I am forced to turn to the doctrine of vocation-God gives us all a calling in life, and tells us to be content with that calling. I went to school with a lot of people who were going to be pastors and teachers, and all of them knew they were not going to be making a lot of money and graduating with a lot of private school debt. But it meant a lot to them, knowing that they had God’s gifts to serve his people, so they carried on.

When I hear Michael Moore is saying on a news program that rich people have all this money and they owe the poorer classes, I hear the entitlement to blue-collar jobs that sunk the rust belt (a native son of Michigan, indeed.), and I recognize the signs of coveting. Is it wrong to call on companies to invest in domestic jobs? No, but those jobs are provided to those who earn them, with the proper education. Mr. Moore himself has made many successful films; would he just hand over $20 to any schmoo to make a movie? No; what he should be saying to people, is “Get your education. Pursue your idea to the hilt. There’s always room who work hard and pursue their ideas. I’m proof of that.”

I know what people will say “Jesus said ‘You cannot serve God and money.’” (Luke 16:13). This is true, and it is likely that a lot of the people on Wall Street love money more than God, family, and many other things. But is the person who goes to Wall Street and says they deserve some of the one percent’s money coveting? When John the Baptists addresses the crowd in Luke 3, he doesn’t just tell the tax collectors and soldiers not to extort people. He also tells them to be content with what they have.

As Christian people, we have an obligation, to talk to our friends about the Occupy Movement. Yes, rich people may done many things wrong, but we must leave their judgment to God (Jude 9). Instead, we must remind our neighbors and ourselves of the explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Lord, teach us to receive our blessings from you with thanksgiving! Amen.


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