Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and Relativistic Positivism

The title is more ambitious than the post.

I was stirred to think about our current state of affairs by a scholarly article by R. Scott Clark of Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido California. Its title is "Calvin on the Lex Naturalis" (Stulos Theological Journal, 6/1-2 (May-November 1998) 1-22).

Dr. Clark's main point is that Calvin defined natural law by identifying it with the Ten Commandments or moral law of God. This is very similar to the view held by Blackstone (he called it the "laws of Nature"— a phrase found in our Declaration of Independence).

In contrast, Thomas Aquinas viewed natural law as what the mind of man can discern by reason. His presupposition was that man, because he contains the image of God, has an "inclination to the good". Id. p. 4. Of course, Calvin, with his understanding of total depravity, did not think this was a viable basis for a moral system.

Although the Calvin-Blackstone view (that is, we look to God's revealed law in scripture for reference) was reflected in the early English Common Law, the Thomistic view seemed to take over in our country almost from the start. Certainly, by the time of the ratification of the Constitution, it was ascendant. Read a few opinions by the early Supreme Court Justices for evidence.

People who study jurisprudence speak of natural law theory being the main theory of jurisprudence in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It began to be eclipsed by the Legal Realism, which bloomed into Positivism by the early 20th century.

Positivism is considered a reaction to natural law theory. It holds to the idea that law is "manufactured" by social convention. The phrase "widely and warmly shared values" is something of a touchstone for it. The idea is that judges, and legislatures, dictate what the law should be according to community norms. Instead of the law being just because it is right, the law is right because it is the law.

But it struck me that Thomas and the Positivists are really saying the same thing. Following Thomas, law is discovered by using man's reason. What should be right is what is reasonable. But depraved men are by definition and in fact unreasonable. Using their faulty reason, they come up faulty standards. When these don't work, they seek what the majority of men think is reasonable and make that the law. The end result under either the Thomist version of natural law or legal positivism is the same: the moral standard is discovered by the latest opinion poll.

In the jurisprudence world, the natural law people are considered to be dinosaurs. The positivists are the current conservatives because they still want law based upon social tradition. Critical Studies people, FemCrits, or whatever is their postmodern term du jour, push the envelope a bit further: the law is whatever the judge says it is based upon, among other things, what she* had for breakfast and whatever convention suits the moment.

These days, law is process, not justice. There is essentially no standard, just inertia. Conservatives and liberals can fight all they want about the terminology, but they miss the primary point: their presumptions are all grounded in rebellion against God.

Thomas Aquinas owed his thinking to the philosopher Aristotle, that granddaddy of empiricists. Calvin's view of philosophers, quoted by Dr. Clark, is appropriately dismissive:

. . . they saw things in such a way that their seeing did not direct them to the truth, much less enable them to attain it! They are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of night before he can take even a step – let alone be directed on his way by its help.
Id., p. 8, (quoting Calvin's Institutes, 2.2.18).

Of course, Paul addressed this too:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Colossians 2:8.

*(Feminine Critical Legal Studies convention requires the generic personal pronoun to default to "she" or "her", etc.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Inkhorn Man

And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar.

And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side;

And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.

And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:

Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. . . .

And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.

Ezekiel 9:2-6, 11

I learned this afternoon that a reformed man, whom I had corresponded with from time to time, had abandoned the Protestant faith and converted to Catholicism. I consider this a disaster, but it is in God's hands. Others I know are playing with the strange fire of neo-legalism. A war is going on and casualties are falling on all sides.

In our days of moral relativity, ambiguity is the rule. Degrees of grey define our ethics.

These amorphous standards are perhaps Satan's master stroke for our era. They comprise a false two-edged sword: the doctrine of the image of God is perverted by denying virtue; the doctrine of total depravity is neutered by assuming that everyone is good.

A steadfast person fulfilling his calling is a terrifying thing.

The Inkhorn Man had no such problem. He was given a terrible and clear-cut duty: identify by a mark those who weep at abomination. He knew full well the consequences because God told him and the five others what was to happen. Everyone without the mark -- man, woman, or child -- was to be executed.

Ezekiel had just been shown how the elders of Judah were worshipping idols. The women were weeping for the Babylonian fertility god Tammuz. Priests were worshipping the sun. Yet, in public, they all pretended to be faithful.

The Inkhorn Man was not distracted. He walked quietly through the city evaluating each person he met. One step after another, one mark here, no mark there -- no appeal and no second chance. When done, he reported without self-congratulation, "I have done as thou hast commanded me."

We also have been given commands from our King. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We often tell ourselves that compliance is impossible. And so it is. But this should not keep us from emulating the single-mindedness of the Inkhorn Man. We walk one step at a time, read line by line, and pray.

Every day we are bombarded by distractions, rumors, false doctrines. Wolfish teachers beckon from the internet and from the streets. Vanity Fair is doing brisk trade and hundreds are drawn to its gates. Some of them are friends going astray. Yet our duty is to warn them and walk on. "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." We are to keep our eyes on the prize, the Word who sustains us.

It is a frightening thing to be His servant. It is also frightening to see professing Christians drift toward shipwreck. His yoke is easy yet they find a way to make it chafe. Playing games with the gospel is deadly and serious. We are to walk in sobriety and with a single eye.

God be praised that he keeps his own.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Hebrews 13:5.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's ALIVE!?

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth. . . . Genesis 1:21.

A new publication from the IRS on charitable giving has this interesting take on the state of our law:

The IRS considers this publication a living document, one that will be revised
to take into account future developments and feedback. Comments on the
publication may be submitted to the IRS at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue,
Washington, DC 20224
Attn: T:EO:CE&O


Does the IRS's subjective opinion on the state of the document make it alive? If so, how can they justify revising it? Wouldn't that be cruel? And if it is alive, who made it so?

Maybe they should ask the document what it thinks about all this.

Let's all drop T:EO:CE&O a postcard and ask him (or it) the answers to these pressing issues.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Double Entendre and Double-Speak

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD. Proverbs 16:33.

And he cast for it four rings of gold, to be set by the four corners of it; even two rings upon the one side of it, and two rings upon the other side of it. Exodus 37:3

I took my last LLM tax final for the quarter last night. As I left the building after the three hour exam, I thought to myself, "The die is cast."

Then I noticed the delightful double entendre. When you toss a die, as in one of a pair of dice, you are doing what Proverbs 16:33 describes. The outcome is determined and out of your control. It is in God's hands.

But as an amateur foundryman, I've cast molten metal into dies. There again, I'm reminded of God's working hand. He formed me in the womb. He casts the outcome of all things as if pouring his will into his handcrafted mold.

Perhaps overdoing it, I thought of how machinists can use a die to stamp metal into a certain shape. Again it reminded me of God's hand: he casts the handle to the die-press which forms me by force and some violence to conform to what he has determined.

So the die has been cast, my first quarter of the tax program is behind me. God has been gracious in sustaining me.

Now for something completely different:

As I mused about double entendres, I noticed another example of double-speak in the news. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota apparently had a form of brain hemorrhage yesterday. He has undergone surgery and his doctors are optimistic. It is big news among the political types because he is a Democrat. If he has to step down, the Republican governor of South Dakota decides his replacement. If the replacement is a Republican, the Democrats lose control of the Senate.

So while a man is in critical condition recovering from surgery, the political vultures are hovering over the outcome. Shades of Jude 1:9, perhaps, but neither side is aligned with Michael.

But the double-speak was this:

"A person familiar with Johnson's condition said the 59-year-old senator's underlying condition caused the stroke-like symptoms and doctors will be watching him closely for the next 24 to 48 hours. The person spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for the senator's family."


The person claims anonymity out of respect for the senator's family? Not likely, if the family wanted privacy. No, the gossiper (which is what he is if the family wanted privacy) spoke on the condition of anonymity out of respect for his own fear of being exposed.

I've written about this sort of thing before. It's a plague on our language and our thinking.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dignities and the dishonorable

But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.

2 Peter 2:10-12.

I come from a big-time political family. My "godfather" was a U.S. senator. My Dad was his field aid. My grandfather was Attorney General and later a Supreme Court Justice in Montana. My great-grandfather was instrumental in getting Harry Truman on FDR's ticket. Our family was steeped in the old-time Democratic Party tradition of back-room politics presenting itself as populism. I grew up among the sausage makers: lobbyists, news broadcasters, greater and lesser politicians, the behind the scene wheeler-dealers with bloodshot eyes and hangovers who mastered the art of patriotic spin. I even tried running for office myself but couldn't pull it off. I was too introverted. It made me very tired.

And I committed the greatest act of family rebellion by occasionally voting for Republicans.

From that background I naturally developed a cynicism that plagues me still. I am sorely tempted to rail against "dignities". I am tempted to rationalize that because they are so undignified, I get a pass. Peter tells me otherwise.

Calvin considers the civil magistrate to be ordained by God:

The Lord has not only testified that the office of magistrate is approved by and acceptable to him, but he also sets out its dignity with the most honorable titles and marvelously commends it to us.
. . .

This amounts to the same thing as to say: it has not come about by human perversity that the authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers, but by divine providence and holy ordinance.

Calvin's Institutes, 4.20.4, McNeil Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

So I am reluctant to gratuitously attack our leaders. I do believe I have warrant to point out their errors, but that is for another time.

Happily, I feel no such constraint concerning a former leader, Mr. Contract with (on) America, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He is considered (perhaps only by himself) to be a potential presidential contender. He is notorious for his wit and somewhat less well-known for his callousness.

But he is adding new foundations to his notoriety. Two months ago he advocated initiating war with practically every country in the Middle East. A couple of days ago he clearly called for the government to reconsider the First Amendment. He wants to monitor what Americans say and how we say it:

"Gingrich Says Free Speech Helps Terrorists"

Ironically, Mr. Gingrich claims to want to expand free speech in one realm: the activity of giving money to politicians. He apparently thinks that civil liberties are something to be distributed by the government to its friends.

Mr. Gingrich is a history professor; he understands the purpose and spirit behind the First Amendment. He clearly thinks the time for such things has passed. Of course, the First Amendment is not limited to speech, but addresses religion and assembly too. In a few years your website might be shut down. In a few more years, perhaps your assembly will be too. In Mr. Gingrich's world, it will all depend upon how loyal you are to the cause du jour.

My suggestion: keep an eye on Newt and his friends. They came on the scene masquerading as conservatives. Whether by the corruption of power or by original design, the so-called new conservatives are looking more and more like old fascists. The old true conservatives have been licking their wounds since Goldwater's defeat.

Calvin, in his Institutes, ended his discourse about the civil magistrate with these words:

The Lord has declared his approval of their offices. Accordingly, no one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men.

Would that God would send men who realize this truth, and keep us from the judgment of being ruled by those who don't. God directs us to honor the dignities. May God be merciful to grant us dignities who are honorable.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Left Behind

Thank God I am not a dispensationalist. Otherwise, I would have been a bit startled at seeing more than 100 abandoned cars on the side of the freeway in a three mile stretch of my morning commute.

It was not the rapture. Instead, people encountered snow and just gave up. It was an odd sight for this Montana native. Many Puget Sound drivers literally freeze in panic when it snows.

Those who didn't give up found that it took 3 hours to go 30 miles, even in the early morning:

I'm glad that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. He willed a few more to fall this morning.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another twist: taxing what you don't receive.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Matthew 7:9-11.

If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.

Exodus 22:25.

Generations from all cultures have recognized the virtue of giving gifts. Sometimes the gift takes the form of an interest-free loan. It's a good way for parents to help their children start out while still instilling a sense of responsibility and gratitude. But if that loan is more than $10,000, beware. The federal government will tax the person giving the loan for the interest he could have gotten had he made the loan on the open market. 26 U.S.C. § 7872.

There is something called the "applicable federal rate." If you make a loan with interest below that amount, the government wants you to pay income tax on the difference between the magical federal rate and what you charged.

So, for instance, if you made a no-interest loan of $40,000 to a child to help him make a down payment on a house, the government imputes interest income to you. The October 2006 federal applicable rate was around 5%. Presto, even though you haven't gotten any income from the loan, you will be taxed as if you had received $2,000. (There are convoluted adjustments possible, but this is the general idea).

Even though there is a gift tax exemption for certain amounts, it is only by the grace of Congress. In the meantime, remember that even if you don't want to charge usury to your family or friends, the watchful grace-enforcers will tax you as if you did.

There is another nifty little feature in tax law. If you let your adult children (or anyone else) use property you own, perhaps a cabin by the lake or an extra house to live in (or, conceivably, even a car or boat), the IRS can impute rental income to you. This is decidedly not Calvin's doctrine of imputation. But that is another story for a different time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Batteries not included

I've been sort of pressed at work and school and therefore haven't been blogging. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist talking about this news item about a Talking Jesus Doll.

Continuing in my curmudgeonly manner, I find it an abomination. The Lord and Sovereign Creator of the Universe, Judge of All, Savior of His people, King of Kings, and Wonderful Counselor is represented as a push-button battery-operated toy. This item is put out by people who claim to have a "ministry". The company also has a talking Moses doll. He even recites the Ten Commandments. Apparently nobody in the design department listened to the part about the 2nd Commandment.

The news report indicated that Toys for Tots initially rejected the doll because they didn't want to offend Jews or Muslims. No mention of any Christians who might be offended. Sadly, they are probably right, many would not be. May God be merciful to those ignorant of His law and His character.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:4-6.

Monday, November 06, 2006

And Science Continues Its Quest

Because it is too hard to find enough human eggs to do research on stem cells, some scientists are planning to fuse human DNA with cow eggs. Perhaps the unstated goal is to make us even more herd-like. Notwithstanding such cynicism, the justification, as always, is the common good.

"UK scientists have applied for permission to create embryos by fusing human DNA with cow eggs.

Researchers from Newcastle University and Kings College, London, have asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a three-year licence.

The hybrid human-bovine embryos would be used for stem cell research and would not be allowed to develop for more than a few days.

But critics say it is unethical and potentially dangerous.

Stem cell research is one of the most promising areas of medical science.

They are the body's master cells and five-day-old embryos are packed with them - each with the potential to turn into any tissue in the body.

It is this ability which scientists want to harness to treat diseases such as Parkinson's Disease, strokes and Alzheimer's Disease.

To do that, they need to have access to thousands of embryos for research."

BBC Story

The result will be, technically speaking, a chimera. The ancient Greeks were probably wiser in this regard. They considered a chimera to be a monster.

Indeed, something seems very monstrous about this idea.

"Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself." Isa 44:24.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Neither could they blush.

(I have not included hyperlinks because of my own sensibilities).

"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD." Jeremiah 8:12.

"And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Ezr 9:6.

The people of Jeremiah's day faced a tremendous crisis but did not know it. It wasn't for lack of Jeremiah's crying. They were dulled by their deep apostasy. They worshiped idols. Their false prophets cried "Peace, peace" when there was no peace. Abominations abounded, yet they could not blush.

Similarly, our prevailing ethic discounts shame. We dare not blush in public. In the City (a rather uninspired imitation of Vanity Fair), images and self-images routinely assault the senses. Yet to exhibit sensibilities would be to admit weakness. Or worse, it would peg you as a prude.

Which brings me to the billboards, the bus-banners, and the radio advertisements. We are exhorted to pay $24.50 a head to see a traveling cadaver show.

"Bodies: The Exhibition", is a traveling exhibit of human corpses. We are assured that it is educational. The bodies have been preserved by a plasticizing method developed by a German doctor, Dr. Gunther von Hagens. He figures that some 20 million people have seen other similar exhibits he has put on.

The cadavers are placed in various poses and in various degrees of dissection for our edification and awe. Some of them are shown playing tennis or throwing balls. Some are on skateboards.

We are not to worry about the provenance of the corpses. They are "on loan" from an institution in China. We are assured that none of them were executed political prisoners. Instead, they were unidentified, and probably homeless, people who died on the street or in the hospital. We are told to trust the Chinese medical school in Dalian, considered the "hub of the corpse-processing industry."

They weren't always so careful. Back in 2004, Dr. von Hagens was forced to send seven corpses back to China from an exhibition in Germany because it was found that two of the "highest quality" specimens had been killed by shots to the head. The bodies had also come from a Chinese medical school. It is apparently located just down the street from a prison.

The notorious Oscar Wilde once said, "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." He may have been right. Europe, for all its decadence, seems to have put up a greater fuss about these exhibits than any city in our country. Some people there still have the capacity for shame and outrage.

I have only run across two local news stories critical of the exhibition. One is a web-based news site run by a self-described Gnostic. The other is an article in the homosexually-oriented local weekly the Stranger (sic). The author of that article concluded his piece this way:

"I feel ashamed of myself when I look on his dead body. And when I think about the strategic location of his body—at the end of the tour and beside a sign that says "To See Is to Know"—I feel heartsick. The truth is, we don't know. We will never know. Only that man knows how he died. We can only wonder.

And gape."

Unrest in Pieces, Dan Ruisi, Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2006, the Stranger.

Millions of people have spent more than $20 each to gape. Tremendous profit is there for those who traffic in the fruits of death. Only a few leftwing souls seem to be outraged and ashamed.

Lest we forget, Death is an outrage. Mocking it will not mitigate its impact. The remains of creatures made in the image of God should not be hawked for entertainment value or to produce a sense of awe. Here, commercial return on investment is a blatant form of sin's wages.

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16.

". . . but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil." Romans 16:19.

Being harmless is not to be silent. Being simple is not to be ignorant. We are called to blush and to be outraged at abominations. Let not our minds be dulled to the point that we cannot proclaim the need for repentance and faith in Christ.


All laid bare in "Bodies" exhibit. Seattle Times, Aug. 20, 2006.

Von Hagens forced to return controversial corpses to China. The Guardian ,January 23, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/germany/article/0,2763,1129261,00.html

"Bodies: The Exhibition": an Ethical Nightmare, Oct. 19, 2006. http://www.snant.com/fp/archives/bodies-the-exhibition-an-ethical-nightmare/

Unrest in Pieces, Dan Ruisi, Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2006, the Stranger. http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=93635

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Tax Stuff

One of the jobs of the IRS, and the courts, is to "protect the fisc." What that means, generally, is that the IRS Commissioner can interpret the rules and "restructure" transactions in such a way so as to prevent tax avoidance. Federal Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Commissioner, 558 F.2d 128, 130 (2nd Cir 1977). This also has been stretched to mean that even if a statute allows you to do something, you may not necessarily really be allowed to do it. The case of Albertson's v. Commissioner jumps out as an example of "there are many ways to do it wrong."

Albertson's developed a deferred compensation plan for its employees. Although the facts are a little complicated, the essence was that Albertson's promised to pay employees in the future as part of their compensation. It also promised to pay interest on the amount deferred. It then wanted to deduct the interest on its tax return.

At first, the IRS agreed with the scheme. Then it changed its mind and charged Albertson's with a tax deficiency. The lower tax court was badly divided over the whole thing, but decided against the deduction. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, after first deciding in favor of Albertson's, changed its mind and reversed itself.

The reason for the change is remarkable. It agreed that Albertson's had a strong argument under the plain meaning of the statute. But that wasn't enough. Here is a key quote:

"Albertson's argument as to the plain language of the statute is a strong one. We certainly agree that the additional payments resemble "interest" and that, under a literal reading of the statutory language, the deduction of interest is not affected . . . .

In the end we are forced . . . to reject Albertson's approach. We may not adopt a plain language interpretation of a statutory provision that directly undercuts the clear purpose of the statute. . . . (T)he 'court must look beyond the express language of a statute where a literal interpretation 'would thwart the purpose of the overall statutory scheme or lead to an absurd or futile result.'" (citation omitted).

Albertson's Inc. v. Commissioner, 42 F.3d 537, 545 (1994)(Emphasis added).

The argument was fairly technical. In a nutshell, Albertson's plan was a non-qualified (but perfectly legal) deferred compensation plan. The IRS argued that Congress had developed a scheme for "qualified" plans. It further argued that even though Alberston's was not violating any law, and in fact was operating squarely within the statutory scheme, Albertson's should still lose because this would tend to negate Congress's goal of promoting qualified plans. In other words, Albertson's loses because Congress was not clear enough.

The moral of the story is not only do you have to know the law as passed by Congress, you have to know what Congress really meant when it passed the law. Should be easy enough as long as you are clairvoyant.

Of course, the idea of a standard, as in something to measure by, is obscured by that process.

"Divers weights and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD." Proverbs 20:10.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Federal Income Tax and the Doctrines of Grace

Spend a little time reading tax cases or commentary upon tax law and you are likely to run across a phrase such as this:

"Deductions are a matter of grace and Congress can, of course, disallow them as it chooses." Commissioner v. Sullivan, 356 U.S. 27, 28 (1958).

Such a statement jars the ear of a Christian remade by God. Who is it that administers grace? Our old 1928 Webster's had it right:

1. (theology) a. The divine unmerited favor toward man; the mercy of God, as distinguished from His justice; also, any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon. "And if by grace, then is it no more of works." Rom. Vi.6.

Webster's New Int'l Dictionary of the English Language, G&C Merriam Co. 1928.

I first happened across the doctrines of tax grace in law school in 1990. My tax professor had been raised Catholic. He often intoned another truism: "The IRS has awesome powers."

Back then I was a full-bore pagan. Even so, I was familiar with the Bible. The idea of Congressional grace seemed a quaint way of saying what was unquestioned truth to modern citizens: "The government giveth and the government taketh away, blessed be the name of the government." It was sort of a sick joke that we tossed about in our class discussions. We'd imagine the IRS as the avenging angel of the State. None of us dared to really explore the implications. We had finals to prepare for.

In case you think that "grace" might have a special legal meaning, consider this definition of grace in a common legal dictionary: "a favor or indulgence as distinguished from a right."

Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition (West Publishing Co. 1979).

Grace, then, is administered by God, or at least by a sovereign. It is unmerited. Nobody has a right to it. Without the administration of grace, justice demands a harsher outcome.

Our federal income tax system (and, by extension, our whole system of federal laws) presupposes that whatever you have belongs to the government. Justice demands relinquishment. It is by grace (alone?) that you are allowed to keep some of it. The courts defer to Congress's awesome power. Lawmakers have taken upon themselves the former role of the Catholic Church. Indulgences are dispensed at whim.

People these days fear theocracy. What they miss is that we already live under a theocracy. The theos of our day is named demos. It claims everything. We are told to at least be grateful for the grace it has so far shown. Perhaps we should be careful, lest it be angry.

November elections approach. We are starting to hear advertisements from the government and others to exercise our "sacred" right to vote. As Rushdoony pointed out: "the source of a society's law is its god." In exercising this secular sacrament, we should seriously reflect that demos (the will of the people), deserves no worship and has no claim to being gracious. Rather, it is better to acknowledge it for what it is: a usurper.

Even so, it is a wise idea to pay your taxes. Just because a usurper is wrong doesn't mean he can't hurt you.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Spinning for Secrets, Reflections from a Lord's Day Journey

Gnosticism (nŏs'tĭsĭz-m), dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.; they all promised salvation through an occult knowledge that they claimed was revealed to them alone. . . .

(The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.)

Although many definitions can be found for Gnosticism, the basic idea is that there is some sort of secret knowledge that will lead to a better state. The prospect entices. We, as fallen beings, want to get ahead of the other guy. We mitigate our competitiveness by convincing ourselves that we would bring everyone else along after we have figured it out. But we do want to be first.

The mystery religions rehash an old story. Satan offered the mystery knowledge to Eve in the Garden. "You will not surely die" was as plain a lie as any ever was. Yet it was accepted, and is accepted in our day, on the ungrounded and greedy belief that we can bootstrap ourselves to the better place. Adam and Eve did not die immediately for their disobedience. But they did surely die. We do too.

I once calculated that a typical undergraduate curriculum requires approximately 1,600 actual hours of lecture time. I recall that during the Reformation, and on through the history of the Protestant church up to the 19th century, it was common for church members to hear three hours or more of tight and logical sermons every Lord's Day. They'd then spend the rest of the day talking about the sermons. Not counting catechism as children, most church goers had the equivalent of two undergraduate degrees of lecture time by their late-twenties. Unlike today's courses, the content was solid. People knew how to think. It shouldn't be so surprising that statesmen from the colonial and revolutionary war period were smart. The pool of thoughtful people was relatively large in those days. Some no doubt were not Christians, but they still had deep wells to draw from.

Even so, that old enemy, self-absorbed Gnosticism, lay in wait. Perhaps the shock of the industrial revolution and the accompanying explosion in scientific knowledge distracted people from their lessons. It became easier to tinker than to think. The improvement in the standard of living was very good. Yet the decline in thinking, in no small part due to the decline in good preaching, opened the door for old and well-crafted deception.

Gnosticism now pops up in strange places: conspiracy theories about sinister people in the know who control things; New Age meditation techniques to heal the world from disharmony; human potential, biofeedback, genetically modified intelligence, etc. All of these things have a ring of plausibility, but only if we are naïve enough to trust our instincts or our feelings.

Of course there are conspiracies, but the ones made up by foolish men with secret knowledge are vanity. Of course the world needs supernatural healing, but our will-power is utterly powerless to accomplish this. And of course humans had potential, but sin snuffed that out. As with a car stuck in the mud, the faster the wheels spin, the deeper goes the rut.

A professor I knew reportedly once said, "there are many ways to do it wrong." Being a Gnostic herself, she probably has not yet realized the import of her observation. The real conspiracy is in how man is distracted from the truth by the mad pursuit of the secret.

Our church's own Lord's Day worship took about three hours yesterday. We considered the total conflict of worldviews, the futility of disbelief, the epistemology of true knowledge, and the glorious sovereignty of God. None of this information is secret knowledge. It is revealed plainly in Scripture. Gnostics hate plain knowledge because it doesn't give them a private advantage.

"Thus saith the LORD: Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Jer. 6:16.

Lord, I pray to be kept on your old paths.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Bumpersticker

"Motherhood by Choice, Not by Chance."

Apparently some people are convinced that chance causes pregnancy. No matter how careful you are, chance, more fickel than instant karma, will trip you up. If only we had a choice to not take chances.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Compare and Contrast

U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, second paragraph:

The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
(Emphasis added).

Senate Bill 3930 (passed on Thursday, the House has already passed essentially the same bill:


(a) In General- Section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, is amended—

(1) by striking subsection (e) (as added by section 1005(e)(1) of Public Law 109-148 (119 Stat. 2742)) and by striking subsection (e) (as added by added by section 1405(e)(1) of Public Law 109-163 (119 Stat. 3477)); and
(2) by adding at the end the following new subsection:

`(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who—

`(A) is currently in United States custody; and
`(B) has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

(Emphasis added).

Yes, it is a big deal. The writ of habeas corpus is abolished for non-citizens who have been determined by the president (or his agents) to either be an enemy combatant, or who are awaiting that determination.

No, I don't think we have a rebellion or an invasion right now within our borders. But the legislation does not limit itself to outside our borders.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined a long time ago that the writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended in areas in which the civil Federal Courts are open. Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2, 140 (1866).

"We by no means assert that Congress can establish and apply the laws of war where no war has been declared or exists.

Where peace exists the laws of peace must prevail. What we do maintain is, that when the nation is involved in war, and some portions of the country are invaded, and all are exposed to invasion, it is within the power of Congress to determine in what states or district such great and imminent public danger exists as justifies the authorization of military tribunals for the trial of crimes and offences against the discipline or security of the army or against the public safety." Id. at 140.

So the Milligan Court recognized that military tribunals could be authorized by Congress, but only when there is an invasion within our borders and a declared war (or a rebellion, as the Court called the War Between the States). We don't have any of those within our borders now.

But, as of the end of this week, we will have the suspension of the Great Writ for aliens (including legal aliens) throughout the land. All it takes to lock such a person up is for him to have been "determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination." In other words, if the President says you are awaiting determination, you can be locked up and you don't get to ask a court for review.

One other thing to note: the protections of the Constitution, including due process and habeas corpus, have consistently applied to all "persons", not just U.S. citizens, found within our borders. (The distinctions between citizens and non-citizen residents show up in some cases, like immigration, which the Constitution expressly allows for Congress to regulate.) This means that no conceptual or legal difficulty exists to prevent the law from being extended to citizens sometime in the future.

Welcome to the future. It doesn't seem so bad yet. Incrementalism works well on lobsters and sleepy people. The temperature of our country just went up another degree or two.

Hang on.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bumper Sticker Theology

Seen on a car bumper this morning: "Eve was framed."

The driver was a burly man in a baseball cap. I spent more time than was wise trying to imagine the scenario that resulted in this strip of paper being affixed to his car. Of all the philosophical or political statements one could choose to purchase, this one struck me as a remarkably succinct expression of theology gone bad.

It also exhibits precisely Eve's error. If we can believe Eve was framed, that means that we can determine what is right and wrong for ourselves. By trying to do that, God tells us, we become blind--and dead.

The burly cap-man probably wants to defend Eve because he hopes to defend himself. But even Eve did not seek such a defense.

"He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool," Prov. 28:26, and, "But the fool rageth, and is confident." Prov. 12:10.

Lord protect me from such confidence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Augustine the Clarkian, or is it vice versa?

I'm reading Warfield on Augustine. I ran across this paragraph and it reminded me of Gordon Clark's view on the Bible being the source of truth. (And his so-called arch-nemesis, Cornelius Van Til, I'm sure would agree).

"Say you are determined to have a religion which you can demonstrate. The very search for it presupposes a precedent faith that there is a God and that he cares for us; for surely no one will seek God, or inquire how we should serve Him, without so much to go on. And where and how will you seek? Who are the wise? How will you determine who are wise in such things? In the manifold disagreements of pretenders to wisdom, it will require a wise man to select the really wise. We are caught in a fatal circle here; we must needs be wise beforehand in order to discriminate wisdom. There is but one outlet; and that outlet is, shortly, revelation."

Vol. IV Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Baker Book House Reprint (2003), pp. 167-68 (addressing and paraphrasing Augustine "De utilitate credendi")(citations omitted)(emphasis added).

Not a new truth, but one we keep having to relearn: the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How Not to Know God

During a break from writing and responding to various motions, I noticed a book in the lunch room:

How to Know God by Deepak Chopra.

I had read some things by the author in the past. I sort of knew what to expect. But I picked it up to see if it had an index. It actually did. No entry for "Jesus", no entry for "Christ", not even an entry for "Moses".

I didn't bother to look through it much more, except I did see that it offered advice on the proper posture for meditation.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me." Jn. 14:6.

You'd think a book about knowing God would have at least something to say about this basic truth. More than 200 pages were devoted to ignoring it. As that old king said, "a fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself." Prov. 18:2.

By the way, the index did have an entry for Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Providential Justice

A Lunchtime Vignette.

A while back I was sitting in a little eating area at Pike Place Market in Seattle. I was reading over some notes and eating a hotdog. Tourists crowded the pig statue for pictures. The fish mongers were tossing halibut for the cameras. Natives were grabbing a quick bite.

I like bicycle messengers in principle. Some of them, however, are jerks. One such jerk pushed his bike through the crowd, plopped down on a bench, and leaned his bike against the table so that it pretty effectively cut in half the capacity of the narrow corridor. People struggled by. One middle-aged woman asked if he would move his bicycle. He responded, "hey, f--- off. I'm only gonna be here a few minutes."

Just as my blood pressure started to rise, I heard a crash. A blind man, very startled and confused, had bumped into the bike. He was unhurt, but a bit distraught. Kind people assured him not to worry and guided him away.

Meanwhile, the bike messenger was picking up the front of his bike and looking at it like kid with a broken toy. The front wheel had "tacoed", that is, it was folded over like a taco shell because some of the spokes had broken. He gathered up his bag, his bike, and left his sandwich. It was unlikely his bike would be making any deliveries that afternoon.

We aren't to seek vengeance, but I think it is quite all right to delight in God's providential judgments.

"Vengeance is mine, and recompense, at the time when their foot shall slide: for the day of their calamity is at hand."

Deut. 31:35

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Eccl. 5:18

"Behold, that which I have seen to be good and proper is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, in which he labors under the sun, all the days of his life which God has given him; for this is his portion. "

Some of our grapes are ripe and we are eating them. The ones above need a week or two.

The extra grapes have gone into grape juice (pasteurized for drinking):

And some of it is going into wine.

Our first figs are slowly coming along. Beans, berries, and eggs round out the produce from the back 1/8th acre. And there are roses. It is our portion.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Losing Friendship

"There was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved."
John 13:23.

Does not this image make us red-blooded so-called conservatives a bit uncomfortable? I know I'm not very comfortable with the idea of placing my head on the chest of another man while eating. Why is this?

Of course, there is the culture difference. I worked in the Middle East years ago as a farm consultant. Once I was invited to a tea gathering by some of the laborers. One of the men there sat next to me and put my hand in his and routinely patted me on the shoulder with affection. I was not comfortable, but I didn't let anyone know that. Later, I asked an Arab friend, who knew the man, about it. He told me that the affectionate man was not at all queer or odd. Rather, he considered me a "nearest dearest friend" for two reasons: (1) I defended him against unjust abuse from the farm manager on some occasion, and (2) I honored him with my presence at his humble tea gathering. A nearest dearest friend expresses his pleasure and is willing to sacrifice everything he has to defend and support his friend. I realized that I should have been the one humbled.

Yet there is another thing at work. If you look at pictures of soldiers from WWI or WWII, you will often see buddies with their arms around each other, walking down the street or joyfully posing before the next deadly mission. Even in my youth this was common. It was camaraderie, symbolizing friends for life, and friends even in death.

In my life this all suddenly stopped in the mid-70s. My closest friends said, "hey, I don't want anybody to think I'm homo." We made doubly sure not to express affection for our friends because we were afraid of being labeled queer. Abandoning any expression of deep friendship, we became isolated and shallow.

This is the legacy of "tolerating" homosexuality. Tolerance for sin has trashed the beauty of friendship. In this day, David and Jonathan's friendship-- that knitting of their souls -- would be considered a sure sign that they are just as dirty as the inhabitants of Sodom. This, of course, is the goal of tolerance. It seeks to drag virtue, goodness, and honor down into the gutter. It is the only way the sinful have, absent grace, to feel vindicated.

We should not let them win. They need to be called on it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Coolidge, aka Ahasuerus, responds to "that dog"

It seems that talented yet underachieving dog who owns the Zartmans has tagged me.

I have graciously allowed my servant, MordechaihiVic, to answer for me:

1. One book that changed my life:

Esther. King James version. As soon as this was read in my presence, I understood my place.

2. One book that I've read more than once:
Cats of Lamu, Jack Couffer. A wonderful book about cats descended from the royal Egyptian courts, isolated on a Muslim island. Many pretty pictures.

Also, the cat diary on the web. I read it every day: http://webpages.csus.edu/~sac81922/day_183_of_my_captivity.htm

3. One book that I'd want on a desert island: Glamorgan's Tales, A Cat's Garden of Verse, Lauren Bain (Bottomly)

It was written and published by the people who think they own me.

4. One book that made me laugh:

The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford. I laughed when the dogs got into trouble.

5. One book that made me cry:

The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford. I cried when the cat got into trouble.

6. One book I wish had been written:

See second answer to #2 above, my story needs to be told.

7. One book that I wish had never been written:

101 Uses for a Dead Cat, author not to be named. Some people are beneath even my contempt.

8. One book that I am currently reading:

I do not read, but I am having read to me John Owen's little known work, "A Vindication of the inclusive interpretation of Jonah 4:11 and universal salvation of animals, and animadversions against the Popish doctrine of the unelected animals."

9. One book that I have been meaning to read:

Cat & Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship With Our Master by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. Actually, I want my people to read this.

Now Tag 5 people:I must pass on this. I lower my sceptre and retire for the day.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Micah 4:4

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of Jehovah of hosts hath spoken it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Breakfast with a Priest of Molech

This morning my wife and I attended a breakfast seminar for continuing legal education. We need to receive so many hours of this sort of thing to maintain our licenses to practice law.

The topic was the 2005 Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court decision. This was the decision that affirmed the power of a local government agency to condemn a person's private property and sell it to someone else to increase the tax base. The central point of the decision was whether the "takings clause" of the 5th Amendment of United States Constitution stood in the way of such action. That clause reads as follows:

"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

I want to be fair. The decision was not about taking property without compensation. The property owner was compensated for the taking. Rather, the central issue of the case revolved around the meaning of "public use".

The presentation was in the form of an informal debate between Stewart Jay, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Washington School of Law, and Richard Sanders, a justice of the Washington Supreme Court.

Professor Jay, despite his flowing 18th century hair style, proved himself to be an ardent defender of the faith of our day. His slick Power-Point projector flashed images of New London's apparent blight that led the city officials to seek a way to revitalize their community. He pointed out that the decision to condemn the property of the various landowners (there were quite a few) was deliberated after a series of public meetings that allowed for community input. He argued that everybody had their say. It was a nice democratic process that ended in the decision to dispossess some people from their property. Their homes were to be razed, redeveloped, and resold. It was too bad for the widow whose house had been in her family for more than a century. The process was fair; the will of the people dictated it. In a soothing voice of humble reasonableness, he all but asked, "what is the problem?"

To add insult to anyone actually thinking instead of nodding, he also flashed his "proof-texts": out-of-context and uncited quotes from founding fathers suggesting that they too thought that the "good of the people" always trumped individual liberty. He repeatedly remarked that the founding fathers would not recognize our current society and that they could not contemplate the huge role that government, as a force of good, would have in our time.

As the Supreme Court did in its decision, he completely dodged the central issue: why should a clear constitutional protection of an individual right be ignored simply because of the passage of time and custom? Why, indeed, should the restrictive term "public use" become the unrestricted term "public will"?

Justice Sanders, on the other hand, is an articulate defender of individual liberty and the old view of constitutional law. He restated the ancient doctrine that private property, secure from the arbitrary dictate of the state, is the foundation of liberty. The whole purpose of our republic's founding document was to protect individual rights from the whims of the majority while allowing for a majoritarian element to self-government. The people as a whole give legitimacy to their government and the government is charged to protect individuals from, among other things, the people.

He noted that the current takings decisions are based upon a twisted interpretation of the government's police powers. Originally, the state's police powers were focused and limited to protecting individual and collective rights from attack. Such powers were expressly limited by the Constitution and the consent of the people. They never were meant to be applied to promote a proactive "public good". Instead, they were reactive, that is, they resisted lawlessness.

He also pointed out that the "public use" clause clearly originally meant the use of property either directly by the government (such as in building a courthouse), or use by the public in general (such as a highway). The one thing it did not mean was to allow the government to take private property from one individual and to sell it to another.

Although Justice Sanders had the better argument and reasoning, it also was clear that Professor Jay had the force of prevailing sentiment. Professor Jay, at the beginning of his talk, pointed out that Justice Sanders was a great example to law students of how to write an eloquent dissent. Sadly, that is true. Justice Sanders too often is on the losing side in constitutional cases heard by our state's Supreme Court.

Professor Jay is a prominent law professor. During his talk I could not help but think that he is a priest of our official religion. Ancient Canaanites worshipped Molech. We worship Demos.

As in the ancient worship of Molech, a primary doctrine of our official religion requires the occasional sacrifice of someone for the good of the people. We are not as overtly barbarous as they were in those days. We pay compensation to our victims. For the time being, that is. I can hear Professor Jay's soothing voice intone "democracy, democracy, for the good of the people" as he instructs future lawyers and judges in the Gnostic arts of perfection through legislation.

Redemption through redistribution. Why didn't someone think of that before?