Archive for August, 2009

Test Drive?

August 15, 2009

If you were wondering if perhaps people had learned a few lessons about the dangers of living together before marriage as a prelude to a greater likelihood of divorce if they later marry, this article should answer your questions.

Nope.  Haven’t learned a thing.

Visualizing Your Literary Fear

August 14, 2009

A nice, graphical way of boiling down to possible eventualities of unhealthy state control of the individual.
Which is your particular nightmare?  Which one are you already living?

Memorializing Manson

August 14, 2009

Much publicity has been made this week regarding the anniversary of the Charles Manson murders.  Living near to Los Angeles, the coverage has been particularly heavy, but I suspect that the story is appearing in most major areas at least as an item of historical interest and curiosity.  Without a doubt, the murders that occurred 40 years ago are heinous and awful. 

But the question in my mind is, when do you decide that justice has been served?

Several members of Manson’s ‘Family’ are alive and still in prison.  One of his followers – not involved with the 1969 murders but convicted for an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford in 1975 – was released from prison today.  The CNN story does not make any mention of whether or not Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme has made a break with her troubled past.  In a quote from an interview 22 years ago, Fromme appeared to feel that her incarceration was pointless, that her attempt on Ford was a matter of “fate” instead of a proclivity towards violence.

Parole hearings for other members of Manson’s ‘Family’ directly involved with the 1969 murders have always ended with the denial of their parole request.  This despite the fact that at least several of them are described as ‘model prisoners’, and one of them has become an ordained minister. 

These are people who clearly seem to be different from the people they were 40 years ago.  These are people who did a terrible thing at a single point in their lives.  They admit that.  They own that.  They  are not in denial.  And for at least some of them, they repudiate the things they did and believed in the past.  They have moved past them.  I wonder whether there is a point in keeping them in prison for the rest of their lives for that one moment of their life, if they are indeed changed people.

As I think I’ve written about before, our prison system is theoretically imbued with the notion that a person can change.  In other words, prison is not – at least traditionally – described as a permanent form of punishment for someone who has committed a crime. Rather, there has been a strong feeling that prison ought to serve as a means for the rehabilitation of a prisoner.  That through self-improvement and education opportunities during incarceration, and with a lot of time for thought and reflection, a person can be brought to a place where they recognize the errors of their ways, and are equipped to live the rest of their lives differently.

And outside of prison walls, back in the society from which they were removed for their crimes.

Thus, we hear from time to time figures on recidivism – statistics that track how many paroled criminals wind up back in prison again.  A system that doesn’t believe in at least the possibility of reform in an individual would not need to track such statistics.  The expectation would be that of course they would end up back in prison.  The rates are not very encouraging if our goal is – at least in part – to change people’s lives. 

We claim that we believe a person’s life can be changed.  However, we’re also very skeptical.  For example, a lot of folks are skeptical about the conversion of Charles Colson to Christianity as he faced prison time for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.  Some feel that Colson got off easy in terms of prison time in part because of his prominent conversion.  The idea seems to be that punishment needs to be served, time needs to be served – regardless of whether or not the person changes their life (or has their life changed by God).  Colson was viewed as having cheated the system somewhat through his conversion, though being able to link his conversion to his sentencing would be a tricky feat indeed.  And the fact remains that Colson has remained a passionate advocate of his Christian faith and ministering to the incarcerated. 

Is prison simply a punishment, or is it a chance at rehabilitation?  Or is it a mixture of both?  If rehabilitation can occur without prison, would we still want people to do time in jail or prison as punishment, as a deterrent to others? 

The question is interesting.  At first blush, it would seem that what we ought to want is for people to genuinely changed.  If you’re a violent and angry person and you hurt or kill others, the best goal would be that you get the help necessary to change your ways.  You become rehabilitated into a calmer and non-violent person.  Several questions follow from this.

  • Are there limitations to the means by which we accomplish this rehabilitation?  In the interest of the common good, to achieve a good end, are we willing to resort to any means?  Are we willing to go down the path of the treatment of A Clockwork Orange‘s protagonist, Alex? 
  • How do we adequately determine when someone has been rehabilitated?  Behind this question lurks the fear that somebody could fake it – that someone could put on a good enough show of rehabilitation to be released back into society, only to commit further atrocities.
  • Is there enough of a deterrent factor for other potential criminals if the worst thing that happens to someone is that they go to prison or some other sort of institution until they learn to behave themselves?  In other words, what if we aren’t tough enough on crime?  This spawns the question of whether, if people are rehabilitated to better lives without the need for harder ‘punishment’, if the purpose and therefore need of punishment itself begins to atrophy.

Lots of questions, and no clear answers.  People are inherently bad, I believe.  Some people seem to be more bad than others.  Some people can’t or won’t control that badness, and need to be punished, rehabilitated, or both.  Some people can be rehabilitated.  Some can’t. 

But in the case of individuals who have served a long prison sentence (punishment), who not only express but live out changed lives (rehabilitation), is there a point to continuing to keep them in prison?  Are they really serving as a deterrent at this point in the game?  Is there a point where society – as an expression of the values it holds dear – offers the mercy in clemency that the criminal denied to their victims?

Or are some crimes simply too awful to ever allow someone to move on from? 


7 Quick Takes Friday

August 14, 2009

I’m trying something new, courtesy of Jennifer and a site called  Not sure if I’ll like it, but I like it so far.


I am feeling a bit overwhelmed this week with the potential of entering into two collaborative authoring projects of completely different natures.  I’m excited, because it might help hold my feet to the fire to actually do some more focused writing.  I’m excited, because I enjoy the various people that I’d be working with.  But I’m also overwhelmed at the thought of more focused writing. 

Perhaps I need to be overwhelmed more often. 


As part of one of the aforementioned writing projects, I may be doing some spieling here on the theological concept of vocation.  It’s a classical Christian idea that has really gotten a bad shake in the last 100 years or less.  I hear people talking about trying to determine God’s will for their lives, and to follow God’s will rather than their own.  I hear a lot of angst.  I smell a lot of fear.  I taste a lot of uncertainty on conversational winds like these.  And I hope that with some frank discussion about what it means to be a child of God the Father, redeemed by God the Son and indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, some people might be able to sleep easier at night.


That being said, I really need to get into a better sleep cycle.  Late night writing – particularly on Saturday nights – sets a trend that often will keep me off balance for the next several days.  It doesn’t help that I’m a night owl with a stubborn streak who enjoys the odd hours – until I’m being awoken lovingly by my children in the wee small hours of the morning. 

I’ll go to bed as soon as I finish this entry.  Honest.


Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untruthful
Honesty is hardly every heard, and mostly what I need from you.

– Billy Joel –

Sing it man, sing it.


I hate my blog hosting service, and need to get up the chutzpah (and just the time) to migrate it to another site.  Any recommendations?  Know somebody that could make this awful thing look purty?  Honestly?


I appear to be one of the only male bloggers participating in this “Take 7” gig thus far.  I wonder if I should be questioning my masculinity?  Perhaps if I had a better hosting site, and was getting more sleep, I wouldn’t have these late night feelings of insecurity.  Honestly.

On the plus side, they mostly look like ladies that have a lot in common with my wife – stay at home moms and in several instances, home-schoolers, which we will become in the next week or two.  Woohoo!


I’m not a fan of perpetual uncertainty.  One of the hallmarks of post modernism is this notion that if truth can’t be known absolutely – or at least can’t be communicated absolutely – then the necessity of staking oneself on something pretty much evaporates.  Why go through the hassle of trying to sort through things to find out if there is truth and what it is?  Why not just remain ambivalent?  Why not have warm fuzzy inclinations that you act on in a half-hearted way when it isn’t too hard for you to do so?  Why not write about your uncertainty as though you’d really prefer to be certain, but you have no intention of making the effort to become certain?  Why risk either hot or cold when tepid is kinda comfortable? 

That’s sort of the category that this fits into.  I thought about doing a full-blown blog post on it, but realized there’s not much to respond to.  How do you respond to a non-theist who likes the idea of being a theist but apparently not enough to actually do something about it?  Like punching jell-o, or wrestling Spam, or doing cartwheels in tofu.  Honestly.  Since when is doubt the ideal?  When did Doubting Thomas become the hero instead of the obstinate skeptic or the lovable goob?  “It sure looks a lot like Jesus, and those nail marks and open wound in his side look real enough all right.  But I’m a little late for this progressive dinner I’m supposed to be going to.  I gotta go buy some ice cream or something.  Maybe spumoni.  Nice to see you again Jesus, if that’s really you.  Oh hey, can somebody unlock this door for me?”

Sanctuary No More

August 13, 2009

Police in Copenhagen, Denmark have stormed a Christian church to remove 17 Iraqi men who have been living in the church since May in order to avoid deportation to Iraq.  The pastor of the church as well as a former Danish Prime Minister have expressed outrage and indignation at this action, which on the whole, denotes a change in tactics that have largely kept civil forces from similar actions in other countries in the world.

The concept of the church being a place of sanctuary is an old one.  When the Israelites conquered the Promised Land in the Old Testament, they were instructed to designate six specific cities of refuge (Numbers 35).  These were to be cities that someone who accidentally kills someone could flee to in order to avoid members of the deceased’s family from exacting vengeance in the form of a blood killing

But perhaps a closer root for the tradition of Christian churches being used as places of sanctuary is 1 Kings 1, which contains an episode where someone clings to the horns of the altar in the temple as a means of ensuring that no harm would come to him.  His tactic appears to work here.  However, the tactic doesn’t work so well one chapter later, where another person attempts to secure safety by clinging to the horns of the altar, and is apparently struck down at the altar all the same.  

Christian churches – literally called sanctuaries – have often been treated as a place where no harm may come to those who run to them.  Results have been equally mixed.  Most notably, Thomas Becket, who learned the hard way that opposing King Henry II was a fatal mistake, and that even the sacredness of Canterbury Cathedral could save him from the king’s wrath.  In recent decades, the sanctuary movement  has made headlines in America, often in relationship to the issue of immigration.  Even in the last few years this notion of the church as a place of sanctuary has remained in our collective consciousness.   

It should be noted that there is nothing in US law that recognizes the idea of sanctuary in this sense.  On the books, a church is no different than any other building, and duly authorized officials are free to carry out their responsibilities regarding people inside a church just as they would be in a private residence or a corporate office building.  In practice though, there is something profoundly disturbing about the idea of government representatives dragging people out of a church to enforce the law upon them.  Thus, this occurence in Denmark raises some vague sense of impropriety although no law was broken.

The idea that a church can provide sanctuary to someone has persisted throughout history.  Only in rare instances did such sanctuary extend for prolonged periods of time.  Biblical cities of refuge were places where a fair hearing could be made before rash acts of revenge might be carried out against a potentially innocent person.  But the city could only remain a refuge if the person was actually innocent.  And only the most severe of crimes – the taking of human life – were to be dealt with under in this way.

The Iraqi’s in Denmark are not said to have broken any law, outside of being in Denmark illegally.  They sought asylum in Denmark, but were denied it.  Legally, they were to be deported to Iraq.  Hiding inside the church was their effort to avoid this course of events. 
I think it’s interesting that they sought a Christian church to hide in.  I wonder if they are Iraqi Christians, or if there is no similar cultural history of sanctuary being available in a mosque.  There are apparently mosques in Copenhagen, I wonder why they didn’t seek shelter there?  I also wonder what fate they hoped to avoid by being sent back to Iraq.  Were they worried about their safety?  Was it an economically motivated decision to try and stay in Denmark? 

The idea of sanctuary – whether legally recognized or not – is an interesting one.  It seems clear that governments in various places have been loathe to violate the physical integrity of a Christian place of worship for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws against people who have no other outstanding crimes against them.  Denmark apparently made a repatriation agreement with Iraq earlier in the year, and intends to return to Iraq some 240 Iraqis who have sought asylum in Denmark. 


The Limitations of Failure and the Deception of Imagination

August 11, 2009

When you have come to your wits end, when you have reached the end of your abilities, when you have exhausted all of your resources, when you have nothing left to give, no ability to receive, and you lie spent on the rock bottom floor of your own capabilities – dig a little deeper!

I’m paraphrasing part of the message that was given at a good friend’s wedding. 

It’s the same message, essentially, that J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame gave to the graduates of Harvard this year

Not surprisingly, I have the same issues with this message as I read it today as I did hearing it on a windy parapet a decade ago. 

Rowling basically says that failure is empowering and imagination is ennobling.  The core of the message is that you have everything you need within you.  All you need to do is to make sure that you’re tapped into the right vein of yourself, rather than letting others dictate to you the terms you live your life on, and you’re destined for greatness.  Greatness of heart.  Greatness of experience.  Greatness of life.  Rowling doesn’t spell out these destinies explicitly, but they’re implicit in how she speaks and what she has to say.

Because of  these implied successes that the proper state of mind and the proper utilization of one’s own talents and gifts should foster, failure ultimately can become a very damaging process and imagination can become a condemnation of those around us who do not enjoy the same successes that we do.  The bottom line of this appealing philosophy is this – failure sucks, but it’s not entirely real.  You can get out of it.  You can overcome it.  You have to overcome it.  You have the ability to do so buried within you, you just have to realize it and access it. 

Which of course, implies that anyone who fails, or remains stuck in failure, is not living up to their potential.  Is not recognizing their ability.  Is – for whatever reasons and the reasons may vary wildly – not doing everything they could or should.  Is – in a very real sense then – to blame for their continued failure and their inability to extricate themselves from whatever circumstances of war or poverty or sickness or disease they may find themselves in.  The valiant and worthy persevere and overcome.  The rest are cannon fodder. 
This is empowerment through failure indeed, but of a dark and twisted kind that I’m sure the villains of Ms. Rowling’s works would take great delight in encouraging.  Failure becomes the litmus test of our worthiness, our mettle.  It weeds out the weak and favors only those who are able and willing to overcome it.  It leads ultimately to the destruction of the empathy that Ms. Rowling speaks so glowingly about under the term imagination

Regarding imagination, Ms. Rowling quotes Plutarch, who wrote: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

This is true in both the best and worst sense.

In the best sense, the changes that occur within us do affect reality around us, do impact the people in our lives.  But because of how little we achieve inwardly – left to our own devices and resources – external reality remains tragically much the same in our world today as it was in Plutarch’s.  There remains the small private beauties and joys, but there also remains suffering on a staggering level.  People remain imprisoned by the inward lack of change in their leaders as well as themselves.  What Plutarch and Ms. Rowling both key into is the idea that things not only ought to be a different way, they can be a different way.  Where they both fail to hit the mark is in resting the soul authority and agent of those changes within themselves, within me, within humanity.

Humanity has consistently demonstrated in the most abysmal ways possible our fundamental inability to achieve inwardly what is necessary to change outer reality.  Humanism is a glorious battle speech before an army lunges forward and off a cliff like proverbial lemmings.  We are not defeated in the battle with our world because we’re never really engaged in that battle.  We experience the crushing power of defeat before we ever reach the enemy, because we are in many ways our worst and most potent enemy. 

This is the true nature of defeat and failure, to have spent oneself totally and to still fail.  To have hit rock bottom without so much as a spoon to continue digging deeper.  To be in our hour of need and have no one to lend us a hand because they are hitting their own private bottoms as well.  To recognize that it is not a matter of attitude or aptitude, of capability or probability as to whether or not we can triumph over adversity.  That when push comes to shove, and if our backs should ever truly be up against the wall, we will find that we cannot move, and that there is nowhere to move to.  Our external reality will remain direly the same because our internal nature is so woefully broken and unable to move.

Ms. Rowling chides those who romanticize poverty and struggle and failure, and yet she herself does just that by failing to see it for what it is.  And imagination in a situation like that is more likely to lead to madness or delusion, rather than a beautifying of the external reality. 

I work with people from time to time who appear to be at the end of their ropes for one reason or another.  Their marriage is flawed and crumbling.  They’re moments away from homelessness, and hours away from their last meal.  Most are quite capable people, but they have found themselves in situations where their capabilities are no longer adequate to the challenges they face.  I do not counsel them to dig deeper into themselves, because it insults them by insinuating that somehow, they haven’t already done this.  Rather, I point them to the only One that is capable of bringing light into their darkness, who can lead them out of the pit with hope and joy, who can provide them with the patience to endure whatever it is that they are enduring at the moment. 

I don’t glorify failure or imagination or any other human attribute or situation, because those are ultimately the darkest corridors of despair.  I know that from experience – mine as well as the experiences of countless other people I have met and never will meet. 

At graduation, it is good to exhort people, to encourage them, to point a way to them that might guide and inspire them.  But to hold up a mirror to them and show them themselves as their own encouragement, their own way, their own guide, their own inspiration – is ultimately to do the worst disservice to them.  It forges chains of fear and self-loathing far more powerful than the prison cells of miscreant nations around the world.  It points them ultimately to the pit – whether they recognize it for what it is or not.  Graduates need more than themselves as guides in this world – we all do.  And we all recognize that at one level or another.  Painting a glorious but false image of ourselves will never help us, it will only damn us.

Christianity and Rationality

August 11, 2009

a religious world view is fundamentally incompatible with a rational one

Do you buy this or not?

Perhaps more importantly, are you aware how aggressively it’s being sold?

Lisa Miller, the author of this Newsweek article on President Obama’s nomination to head the National Institute of Health (NIH), Francis Collins, doesn’t feel like this is necessarily true.  But there are folks that do.  She paraphrases a recent opinion piece in The New York Times by Sam Harris, who worries that Collins’ belief in a God-given human morality will make him unwilling to pursue certain scientific fields as aggressively as he might otherwise.  Harris is doing doctoral work in neuroscience, and therefore has a very vested interest in ensuring that funding for scientific arenas such as his are not underfunded or otherwise ignored. 

I would suggest that assuming that morality is somehow relative or driven by man himself is problematic, to say the least, but I’m not likely to get into a debate on the matter with Mr. Harris directly.  Needless to say, he doesn’t seem to think that his personal biases against the existence of any supernatural entity are problematic.  Considering the very real problems that can arise when morality becomes a matter of expediency, convenience, or even profit, I tend to worry more about Mr. Harris’ assertions about the nature of reality. 

Christianity is irrational.  Religion is irrational.  This is what we are being pounded with these days.  It isn’t true, or at least is not universally True, of course.  But it sounds good and when repeated often enough by persuasive enough personalities, it can take on the air of undisputed truth that it seeks to lay claim to, but cannot by the very terms and definitions it has created for itself.  The honest rationalist at best can say that she is unable to prove whether there may be a God or may not be.  The very honest (and very rare) rationalist would probably be compelled to say that simply from an empirical standpoint, the more likely explanation is that there is a creator God, rather than the convoluted extrapolation of time and chance and wishful thinking that ultimately lie at the base of natural selection, evolution, and non-theistic attempts to explain our existence. 

And science, which has prided itself on the vigorous investigation of things in myriad and sundry ways, that has learned repeatedly of the chance observations and random lines of thought which lead to greater insight and understanding of this marvelous universe, seems an unlikely voice to attempt to silence another train of thought, another set of presuppositions.  It is ironic for the standard of rationalism to be used for the type of theological and philosophical repression once so vehemently portrayed as the exclusive realm of the religious. 

I don’t pretend to think that having a Christian in a prominent government and scientific position means much.  I know all too well how many people extol a Christianity that has little relation to the Bible which has traditionally served as the source and norm for Christianity for over two millenia.  It is every bit as possible for a Christian to allow an evil or ill-thought out branch of action or thought to continue as a non-theist – or a Muslim, or a Mormon, or a Hindu.  But I should think that a man of Mr. Francis’ stature, who has demonstrated his expertise and acumen amongst his peers, should not be forced to ride out of town because of his faith.  And I think it ironic that the rationalistic faith that there is not, can not, and must not be a God should hold itself out as the more honest and more objective faith even as it seeks to eliminate contrary or alternative lines of thought and belief. 

(thanks to J.P. for forwarding me the Newsweek article!)

Strange Bedfellows

August 6, 2009

Understanding where someone is coming from is important to understanding if you’re headed to the same place or not.

Francis Shaeffer, in his book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, warned that the Church needed to be very careful about who it aligned itself with, and why.  It might be possible that the interests of the Church and the interests of those driving societal change might coincide from time to time, but that we shouldn’t mistake that for a true alliance.  Rather, we need to discern it for what it is, a temporary meeting of the minds that will be discarded once it is no longer beneficial or in keeping with where those driving societal change are headed. 

I think that’s the case with this article.

I agree with the overall thrust of the article.  We have entered a very unhealthy era where death must be cheated at all costs – quite literally.  It’s really a logical outgrowth of secular humanism and rationalism – if this life is all we’ve got, it has to be hung on to at all costs, regardless of the reasonability of such efforts.  Better to live a few days longer in the sterility of a hospital than to die a few days earlier in the comfort of home. 

And I agree with the argument that end of life situations should be treated as such and given the dignity and humanity of occurring in some place other than an ICU ward.  I base this in a Biblical understanding of the inherent dignity and worth of all people, because all people are created by God and in the image of God.  And because I believe completely that we are created by a loving God that can be known and trusted, I don’t need to fear death.  I don’t run to embrace it necessarily, I don’t treat my life cheaply or contemptuously – but when it comes time for me to die, I can accept it without fear and with dignity, knowing that my Savior has triumphed over death.  This attitude, incidentally, is likely to result in a lot less money being spent to keep people alive until the last possible moment.  But this is an incidental issue to me – not the key issue.

But for the author of this article, saving the money is the key issue.  If we want a State sponsored health care solution (which we don’t), we have to make it cheaper.  One way to make it cheaper is to quit spending all this money on keeping people who are dying alive a few days longer.  This coincides with a side-effect of my Biblical world view – right?

No, not at all.

The author’s decision that we need to change our approach to end of life care is driven by economics.  We reduce human life to dollars and cents, to a cost-benefits ratio where we determine what is beneficial, and what cost is too high.  Or more accurately – someone else determines those lines.  People who have a budget to keep.  People who have costs to watch.  People who are held accountable for economics.  The decisions aren’t and won’t be made in terms of human dignity, but in terms of money saved and allocated into other areas.  Once we set up this standard as the means for evaluating what is reasonable care or not, the scale is likely to shift increasingly backwards in time.  The issue is likely  to move from being whether or not to prolong artificial breathing and heart stimulation for a patient, and move to whether or not we seek to eliminate the cancer from someone in their 60’s, since the productive part of their life (by our capitalist, consumer society’s standpoint) has passed.  Much better to spend that effort/money on someone younger who will end up repaying it through taxes paid out over a long period of time.

Dollars and cents are not the issue, and if we are led down that path, we’re going to very quickly dislike where it leads us.  Make no mistake – all of this technology and equipment to provide this sort of life-giving care is not going to disappear.  And while the policy-makers may determine it’s not a good investment to use it on you and I, someone who is able and willing to pay for extraordinary care is going to receive it.  The bottom line is likely to be a huger disparity in the quality of care – or care or no care – between those on a State system and those who have the money to negotiate their own treatment options. 

So it sounds good on the surface.  And there is a convergence of attitudes.  But the author and my Biblical faith are arriving at this confluence from two radically different origination points, and we’re headed towards two desperately different destinations.  Make sure you’re on the right train. 

Reality Check

August 6, 2009

I know that a lot of churches are hurting in this recession/depression/economic downturn/whatever that has fixated so much of America’s attention.  Churches and plenty of other institutions and individuals are suffering and uncertain about what the future might hold.  That uncertainty and fear is real and true and needs to be addressed and dealt with in the best ways possible.

But lest we begin to feel too sorry for ourselves, too quickly, it is good to remember that around the world, Christians are dying for their faith.

In Pakistan, they have been attacked again and again in the last week, based on false allegations and murdered by militant Muslims who were bussed in from other locations specifically to attack Christians. 

In North Korea, a Christian woman is publicly executed by the State for allegedly distributing Bibles.  Her family – parents, husband, and three children – have been sent to prison camps to face an uncertain future.

In Cuba, Christian leaders are falsely accused and subjected to imprisonment at the whim of the State.

In Vietnam, Catholic priests were attacked – one even thrown out of a second story window – allegedly by plainclothes police while other officials stood by and did nothing. 

In Egypt, Muslim converts to Coptic Christianity are persecuted and attacked, as the State decrees that it is illegal to change the religious identification on State issued identity cards.

Persecution against Christians can take a variety of forms and shapes, ranging from media jokes to philosophical attacks to physical attacks and even martyrdom.   Suffering takes many forms and has many levels of intensity.  While we should be mindful of our own challenges and problems, I pray that the Church that enjoys so much freedom and expressiveness in the West will not turn a blind eye to the suffering of Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

Coup de Grace?

August 4, 2009

I’ve vaguely followed with interest the story that has unfolded in Honduras over the past month or more – the ouster of the president by the military.  In technical terms, this is a coup – the removal of one authority by another.  The term has a rather negative connotation – or at least it has acquired one.  The inference is that a coup is never legitimized. 

Well, that’s not exactly accurate.  More accurate would be, from an American perspective, that it is never proper for a coup to be executed against a democratically elected leader.  Ever.  Even if the democratically elected leader has acted undemocratically, violating the Constitution by which he was elected, and threatening to undo the democratic fabric of the country he was elected to lead.

These are the accusations leveled against former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.  Serious accusations, and there seems to be little debate that Mr. Zelaya sought to fundamentally alter the political fabric of his country, in favor of modes of governing favored by some of his other allies – such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  The question isn’t whether Mr. Zelaya acted illegally.  The question is whether or not a democratic nation has the right to resort to a military coup to remove a democratically elected leader who has stopped upholding the democratic Constitution that he was elected to protect.  In removing Mr. Zelaya forcibly, the military ostensibly preserved Honduran democracy from an elected leader who appeared bent on destroying that democracy.

A recent editorial in The Economist followed suit with President Obama in decrying the ouster of Mr. Zelaya.  The charge is that the process for removing Mr. Zelaya was undemocratic, and therefore automatically was wrong.  Despite the fact that a new president was appointed, and that regularly scheduled elections are set for November.  Despite the fact that attempts at mediating the situation have failed – in large part because of Mr. Zelaya’s continued intransigence on certain key issues.  Despite the fact that Mr. Zelaya is calling for his supporters to stage an insurrection on his behalf. 

A few years ago, another group of oppressed people sat down to try and identify the roots of power.  The result they arrived at did not vest authority and power in any particular system – democratic or otherwise.  They vested authority in an amorphous entity called “the people”.  They asserted that regardless of the form of government in place, should the government cease to act in the interests of the people, should the government seek to “destroy” certain basic freedoms, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” such government.  That “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same objective evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

In other words, don’t trust the system to just correct itself, because there’s a very good chance that it won’t.  Seems like sound advice that probably is a little scary to people in power everywhere.  Ultimately, that’s a good thing, I think. 

You should check out the full text here.  It’s worth a read through.  Or two.