Ron Paul, uniter

American politics is polarized.   Our government is in a state of paralysis.  Conservatives, liberals, and moderates are at each other’s throats.  National unity is no more.   And yet, I see a presidential candidate who might be able to bring the country together:  Ron Paul.

He has the support of the Tea Party dissidents on the right who yearn for a more limited, more constitutional government.  But he also has significant support from the Occupy Wall Street dissidents on the left for his criticism of big corporations and the banking interests.   And yet he appeals to business folks as a free market purist.  He is pro-life, which is enough to satisfy lots of social conservatives (and he would certainly appoint “original intent” judges).  He is also anti-war, which attracts lots of liberals disillusioned with Obama’s war machine.  Above all, he has appeal to the vast internet subculture, which, as observers have noted, is essentially libertarian.

Whether or not you want him as president–and please don’t confuse my mental experiments on this blog for my own endorsements–could it be that Dr. Paul or someone with an ideology like his shows the way to bring this country together again?

The death of Christians’ favorite atheist

Christopher Hitchens, one of the “new atheists,” has died of cancer at age 62.  An iconoclast skeptical not only about religion but about conventional liberalism, Hitchens won wide respect, including that of many Christians who debated him.  One of his sparring partners, Doug Wilson, has written a good account of the man and his unbelief for Christianity Today (which also links to their written debates):

Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Hitchens was something of a staple on the Washington, D. C., social scene, and I’ve talked with several people I know who met him at a party or some such and hung out with him.  He was said to be an unusually friendly and likeable person, even to people he disagreed with, as well as a very stimulating conversationalist on virtually any issue.

He is being called Christians’ favorite atheist.  Many had been praying for his conversion, something that did happen to his brother Peter.  It’s hard to imagine so many Christians writing tributes to Richard Dawkins.

Hitchens wrote books condemning God and, what might be worse in some circles, Mother Teresa, and yet lots of Christians, while disagreeing with him, liked him.  What was his secret?  How could he be both so cuttingly negative to what people hold so dear and yet so winsome?  Is there anything that the other side could learn from him?

UPDATE:  The arch-confessional Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway knew Hitchens, to the point of co-hosting a baby shower with him and his wife, so her thoughts are especially interesting.

UPDATE:  Ross Douthat may have the definitive answer about why Christians liked him:

Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) This is not a sentiment that was often expressed about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other member of the New Atheist tribe. But where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him.

Some of this reflected his immense personal charm, his willingness to debate with Baptists and drink with Catholics and be comradely to anyone who took ideas seriously. But there was something deeper at work as well. American Christian intellectual life is sustained today, to a large extent, by the work of writers very much like Hitchens — by essayists and journalists and novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to W. H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, who shared his English roots, his gift for argument and his abiding humanism.

Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.

For a sample of Hitchen’s masterful, yea, C. S. Lewis-style of essay writing, click that link to his tribute to the King James Bible.

HT:  Matthew Schmitz

The Iraq war is over

Yesterday the war in Iraq officially came to an end.  The American flag in Baghdad was taken down, a somber ceremony was held (with no representation from the Iraqi government), and peace was declared.

The war lasted 9 years, with 4,500 Americans giving their lives.

So it’s over.  Where is the jubilation?  Where is the celebration in Times Square?  The Washington Post put the story on p.3.

We conquered the country and overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Doesn’t that count as a victory?  Why doesn’t it feel like one?  Do you think the war was worth it?

What do you think will happen now?

via As Iraq War ends, soldiers’ families reflect.

The ex-Lutheran Republican primary

Newt Gingrich grew up Lutheran!  So did Ron Paul.  So did Michele Bachmann.  And Jon Huntsman, though a Mormon, went to a Lutheran school in Los Angeles.

That Paul and Bachmann used to be Lutherans is common knowledge, but I did not know about Gingrich.  (The article, below, says that he grew up in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, which has three ELCA congregations, not that that body existed back then.  Paul also was raised in a non-LCMS congregation, as I recall, but perhaps someone else knows the details.  Bachmann was a lifelong member of the Wisconsin Synod until very recently, when she left that church body because her opponents were making much of its teaching that the pope is the antichrist.  Paul is now a Baptist.  Gingrich left Lutheranism in college to become a Baptist and recently converted to Roman Catholicism.  Huntsman, of course, was never a Lutheran, but in any Lutheran elementary school he would have studied the Small Catechism.)

I thank my friend Aaron Lewis for alerting me to these facts and for going to the trouble to find sources for the information (below).

So what are we to make of the fact that four of the seven Republican candidates for the presidential nomination have some sort of Lutheran backgrounds?

Aaron finds a common theme:  “It could be that their proclivity for constitutionalism could go back to the ad fontes mood of the Small Catechism.”

Maybe.  On the other hand, I’m dismayed at the prospect of voting for anyone who can not be trusted to keep his or her confirmation vows!  (“Do you as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”  That confession, by the way, is earlier defined in the rite as holding to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and as agreeing with the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as taught in the Small Catechism as being drawn from those Scriptures.)

Probably the ELCA doesn’t use that kind of vow anymore.  I don’t know what the different churches that merged to form that body in 1988 did in the old days.  Does WELS have that confirmation promise?  We Missouri Synod Lutherans do, as does the ELS.  We don’t need to discuss again whether requiring such a life-long promise is a good practice.  But surely if someone makes that commitment, it is a commitment!  To say it is “just a ritual” or “just something we make kids do” is to beg the question:  A promise is a promise, and it is wrong to take it lightly.)

Anyway, what do you make of all of this Lutheran background of the candidates?  (To me, this is not Lutheran triumphalism but rather the opposite!)

Do you see any trace of a Lutheran influence  in any of the candidates?  Are they testimonies of the need for better catechesis than they perhaps received?  Or does this just show that Lutheranism more or less lets people have whatever politics they want?

Newt Gingrich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

New Gingrich’s Faith Journey

Jon Huntsman–Wikipedia

Tattoo regrets

Despite the current economic doldrums, a new business is booming:   the tattoo removal industry.  Emily Wax reports:

She arrives quietly, coming in from the rain after work. She lies down on her stomach atop a sleek, white reclining chair. She lifts her shirt and tugs down her jeans slightly.

It’s enough to unveil a large pink flower tattoo with fat, webby green leaves, which she’s here to have lasered off her lower back. She wants to become a mother someday, and she doesn’t want her children to see this. The process could take up to 10 sessions, she says. She pauses. Then she starts crying.

“I was only 18. It was a homemade tattoo done at a party,” says Lizeth Pleitez, 30, who quickly dries her eyes. Her voice is shaking. “I wasn’t thinking about what it meant, you know? Little did I know it meant something else — like people calling it a ‘tramp stamp.’ I’m a Pentecostal, and the body is a temple. And I felt really ashamed.”

If tattoos are the marks of an era — declarations of love, of loss, of triumph, of youthful exuberance or youthful foolishness — then tattoo removals are about regret, confessions that those landmarks are in the past. They’re about the realization that whatever you believed in with such force that you wanted it eternally branded on your skin is now foreign to you.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo. Getting a tattoo, once the province of sailors rather than suburbanites, is so mainstream that tats are inked at the mall and seen on everyone from Middle American mothers to H Street hipsters to Hollywood starlets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a parallel trend is emerging: tattoo removal, with dozens of businesses and training schools opening across the country. . . .

Tattooing was once considered audacious, powerful and rebellious, precisely because of its permanence.

But for a generation that has come of age during an unprecedented revolution in medical technology, tattoo removal by a super-powered laser seems like a facelift for young people, a chance to start over, erase, rewind. Like deleting a bad photo from a digital camera or defriending a Facebook friend.

“It was such an underserved market,” says Christian Slavin, 54, who has an MBA from Harvard and owns Zapatat in Arlington County, which opened in September. “The difference between the regret rate and the removal rate is huge.”

While older lasers burned off the skin, Slavin’s new model interacts only with the ink and “makes it shake and makes it break,” he says. But it still hurts — it feels like hot rubber bands snapping against your skin, most removers say — and often is more painful than getting a tattoo.“When it’s all said and done, I’m just not that guy anymore,” says Corey Newman, 29, who is getting married in May and wanted to get three tattoos removed: his left arm’s panther, his right shoulder blade’s bull, and two small Chinese characters on his right leg. He is spending $2,500 to take off tattoos that cost $600 to put on. (Which might explain why tattoo removers tend to be better dressed and better paid than tattoo artists.)

via Rethinking the ink: Laser tattoo removal gains popularity – The Washington Post.

OK, so if the demographics of this blog hold true, 40% of you 26-40 year-olds have tattoos.  Who has stories of tattoo regret?

Whose job is it to keep Christ in Christmas–and in sermons?

Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilkens has posted a provocative point on his Facebook page on the perennial “keep Christ in Christmas” controversies.  Since I’m one of the ten or eleven Americans not on Facebook, I’m indebted to my friend Michael O’Connor for showing it to me and for asking Todd for permission to post it here:

I don’t expect the culture to keep Christ in Christmas; that’s the church’s responsibility.

Besides, the “Christ” of culture bears no resemblance to the Christ we find in scripture. So it’s probably best that the culture leave Christ out of the holiday.

What does disturb me is that many of the Christians worried about keeping Christ in Christmas have little problem with Christ being left out of the preaching they hear the rest of the year.