05 Apr 2015

“Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”

Religious 25 Comments

Here’s one way of resolving the age-old question…

Bad Things Good People

05 Apr 2015

Understanding God

Religious 20 Comments

By His very nature, God is utterly beyond our comprehension. It is very dangerous to try to evaluate God’s actions from a human perspective. For example, recently on Facebook someone commented on my Wall (or whatever we call it nowadays) that the God of the Bible is a genocidal maniac who slaughters children.

Now I understand what would make a libertarian atheist say that to me. (For those who don’t know, I used to be what I called a “devout atheist” in college, and I planned on writing the best critique of the Bible to date, because I thought guys like Paine and Mencken hadn’t done a thorough enough job.) But it really makes no sense at all.

If the God of the Bible exists, then every moment of existence in the entire universe is a direct manifestation of His will. If He hadn’t flooded the world, for example, all of those people still would have died, either from being murdered by other humans or from accidents or from “natural causes.” No matter what, God would have killed these people, if you are going to say He killed them with the Flood.

Thus you’re reduced to saying that you hate God and think He’s a genocidal maniac, because He had the audacity to invent the idea of humans and not grant them immortality. It is literally complaining about being born.

The big problem with the atheist libertarian critique of Christianity is that it takes the actions of the God of the Israelites and imagines they are committed by a very powerful alien, or by a human with amazing technology. Yes, that guy would be a bad ruler.

But the God of the Israelites isn’t a human who has a lot of power. No, it’s more like an author who writes a novel and creates an entire universe in his mind, filling it with characters who live and die, sometimes horribly. Is the author a moral monster because he causes certain characters to do evil things to other characters? Of course not. This is true, even though if the author made a character in the novel become very powerful and start bossing other characters around, then the dominated characters would plausibly call him a tyrant.

Hmm, well how do we decide whether we think the God of the Israelites is good or evil? After all, it’s really hard to even begin to evaluate someone so beyond our nature.

Fortunately, He became a man and walked among us. If you want to dismiss the gospel accounts as fairy tales, fair enough. But to the extent that we analyze them at face value, there’s no doubt that Jesus was the greatest vessel of goodness humanity has ever produced.

Jesus wasn’t a “nice guy,” He was a good man. He showed compassion and gentleness to the powerless, but He had such stinging rebukes of the powerful that they ultimately had Him killed. And let’s not forget that He actually started flipping tables when He saw people turning the temple into a den of thieves.

So if you want to understand God’s character in a way to which we can relate as humans, look to Jesus. There should be no doubt that He is good and can be trusted.

04 Apr 2015

The Distinction Between “Catering a Gay Wedding” and “Serving Gay People”

Religious 31 Comments

I really thought I wasn’t going to talk about this divisive issue anymore, because I realize at this point there is little to be gained. People on both sides have made up their minds.

And yet… I haven’t seen many people make this distinction. It is crucial to understanding what is going on here. Obviously if you are an agnostic then this may seem like a trivial detail, but it is crucial to understanding why the framing of this controversy is so lopsided.

There is a full-court press to frame the issue as, “Some Christian business owners want the legal right to not serve gay people.” I can understand when people at Salon take that tack, but I really lost all hope when even self-described libertarians like Penn Jillette don’t even take the time to understand the issue.

This CNN piece is classic.

Be careful to watch the actual questions posed to the people on camera, as opposed to the “summary” that the CNN guy gives after the fact. The florists in Georgia are never asked, “Would you refuse to sell flowers to someone you knew was gay?” No, the actual exchanges we see on tape always involve a hypothetical business opportunity to provide the flowers for a gay commitment ceremony (they don’t have gay marriage in Georgia). (UPDATE: In two of the interviews, we clearly hear that the question concerns a gay ceremony, while in the third we don’t hear the opening question.)

Admittedly, the woman who falls into the CNN guy’s trap was partly asking for it when she said “it’s a different kind of sin,” but strictly speaking his analogy was awful. In case you don’t click the link, he asked her if she would sell flowers to an adulterer, and she admitted she would.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Do customers actually walk into the florist–especially when the employees are smiley women with Southern drawls as in this CNN piece–and say, “Hey, I’m sleeping with my secretary, and I want to get her something nice. Let’s hope the old lady doesn’t find out, amirite?!”

Of course not. Likewise, suppose there were a national movement to change the divorce laws, so that infidelity could no longer be used in alimony or custody battles, because it reflected an outdated cultural prejudice in favor of monogamy. And then someone came into a Georgia florist shop and said, “My friends and I are having a party celebrating adultery. Can you provide the flowers for that ceremony?”

That would be closer to the hypothetical concerning gay marriage, for someone who is a Bible-believing Christian, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them didn’t want to work for such a client, in that political context.

In closing: I TOTALLY AGREE that many Christians who think homosexual behavior is a sin, for some reason artificially elevate it to a higher category. Indeed that’s what got that Georgia florist busted on the gotcha question by the CNN guy. (As I said on Facebook recently: If you’re a standard Christian, you think gay people are sinners who deserve hell. You also think straight people are sinners who deserve hell.) But this willful refusal to actually understand what is motivating these Christian business owners is annoying. If you want to accuse or mock them, fair enough, but at least accurately state their position.

02 Apr 2015

Potpourri

Potpourri 15 Comments

==> I’ll be responding, but if you want to get a head start, Jerry Taylor at the Niskanen Center responded to my critique of his pro-carbon tax study.

==> Stephan Kinsella (in the comments here at Free Advice) posted a link to his article on self-ownership. I’m not sure how much of it I endorse, but it’s very interesting reading in any event. He takes the logic of “Does a mother own her child?” further than I’ve seen before.

==> A symposium on Bohm-Bawerk! What more could I ask for on Easter.

==> And now for something completely different: Avens O’Brien offers lonely libertarian men some tough love.

==> Paul Krugman often makes counterintuitive claims that are totally wrong. When it comes to air conditioning and the South, he made an intuitive claim that was totally wrong.

02 Apr 2015

Ben Bernanke Blogging

Federal Reserve No Comments

Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke has a new blog hosted at the Brookings Institution. What interests me is the reverence with which we are to hold the former Fed officials. Here’s how Bernanke describes why he’s happy about this opportunity:

The ability to shape market expectations of future policy through public statements is one of the most powerful tools the Fed has. The downside for policymakers, of course, is that the cost of sending the wrong message can be high. Presumably, that’s why my predecessor Alan Greenspan once told a Senate committee that, as a central banker, he had “learned to mumble with great incoherence.”

On January 31, 2014, I left the chairmanship of the Fed in the capable hands of Janet Yellen. Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.

What bugs me about this is that in other arenas, the public would be upset at officials so brazenly admitting that they are deliberately obfuscating. Or, at the very least, if it were deemed a matter of national security, a CIA chief would very soberly explain why he had to be vague in an answer.

Yet when it comes to Greenspan, the feel of the remarks is, “Oh you! That Greenspan was such a card.”

This is significant, when many economists–not just Austrians, but also John Taylor, the economist after whom the famous “Taylor Rule” is named–blame Alan Greenspan’s artificially low interest rates after the dot-com crash for fueling the housing bubble.

And turning to Bernanke himself, here’s how the Brookings website describes him:


Ben S. Bernanke is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. From February 2006 through January 2014, he was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Dr. Bernanke also served as Chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, the System’s principal monetary policymaking body.

A very respectable and honored position, to be sure. And yet, there are many economists–again, not just Austrians, but including Market Monetarists–who think that the Federal Reserve under Bernanke did a terrible job.

Remember, it’s not just disagreement about what Bernanke’s Fed did after the crisis hit. He was systematically wrong (or lying) every step of the way, going into the crisis (and note that in the beginning of this clip Bernanke wasn’t at that point Fed chair, but was chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors):

On this point, listen to Tom Woods interview Mark Thornton who has a new paper showing just how wrong the Fed was in 2007.

Of course this is nothing new. Richard Nixon was an absolute pariah, but then later eventually somehow became an “elder statesman.”

It is important in the mythology of the modern American State that its leading officials are a different (and higher) category of human, no matter how abysmal their actual performances. Just the fact that they held that much raw power is enough to command the respect and awe of our media and academic institutions.

02 Apr 2015

Hot Button Phrase: “FEMA Camp”

Conspiracy 5 Comments

Second perhaps only to “chemtrails,” when the responsible, sober libertarians on Facebook want to mock the paranoid ones, they bring up “FEMA camps.” A relative sent me the following video, which apparently shows footage from Florida of a drill in which U.S. military pretend to march U.S. citizens into a detention camp. Then the anchor (Franchi) goes on to give other reasons that he doesn’t think this is a paranoid theory.

As the Onion asks: What do you think?

02 Apr 2015

Sean Hannity vs. Pat Buchanan

Foreign Policy 8 Comments

The realpolitik-ish von Pepe sends me this awesome exchange:

Make sure you watch to the end when Hannity plays the Hitler card.

01 Apr 2015

Ed Schultz Does Not Respect Argumentation Norms

All Posts 13 Comments