The Rule of Law – Lincoln at Lyceum

“I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.”

Lincoln spoke those words in 1837, only 24 years before civil war tore America apart. The future Great Emancipator spoke of mob justice, racially motivated violence, and attacks on American political institutions. Now in 2018, we read of racially motivated shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue and a Kentucky store, and mail bombs sent to politicians. If 1837 seems similar to 2018, it is…and Americans should do all they can to stop it.

The ancient Romans are reputed to have said “Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum” (let justice be done, though the heavens fall). Ironically, the English Roman Catholic priest and political conspirator William Watson popularized the sentiment in Ten Quodlibetical Quotations Concerning Religion and State (1601). The idea has been that to maintain civic order, the Law must be supreme. The institutions that uphold the Law, in America’s case the legislative, executive, and judicial branches at the national, state, county, and city levels, must also remain supreme in the minds and hearts of the people. The supremacy of American law, as with the “Law of the Medes and the Persians” famous from the Bible, is a major safeguard of peace and tranquility. This is dangerous, for every type of government is better than anarchy. When the Beatles sang “You say you want a revolution” to the youth of the 1970s, even John, Paul, George, and Ringo advised restraint.

America, though, was born of revolution. We hold two seemingly contradictory values, the status quo and the change (progressive or regressive), at the same time. Lincoln himself was conservative in his aims (to preserve the Union) and progressive in his aims (ending slavery). Politics in the United States has always been an uneasy balance.

The uniting factor, of course, is justice. Racial discrimination and even slavery in America has always been unjust, exactly as it has been in the Africa, Asia, Europe, India, Middle East, South America, and every other nation throughout human history. However, the murder of innocents through abortion is equally unjust. Neither modern “progressives” nor “conservatives” have a monopoly on justice. Rather, we can learn from each other. The real villains are those who would destroy American political institutions and leave us with tyranny. Justice will never be perfect in any human society, and justice delayed is not necessarily justice denied. However, Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum is not a bad rule of thumb. Our society would be much better if we as individuals knew it, believed it, taught it, and practiced it. Abraham Lincoln did.



National Suicide – Comments on Lyceum

In our ongoing study of Lincoln’s words to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL on 27 January 1838, we have briefly examined some of the amazing blessings of America. These include her geography, her resources, her development, and her political institutions. Most people throughout history have been crushed by the boot of tyranny, from Argentina to Japan to Zimbabwe. Even today in China, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations, the light of liberty is flickering, or has gone out. The American people, working through brilliantly conceived and enduring political institutions, have lived in freedom, limited primarily by their own industry and imagination.

We have also discussed the men and women who made the United States the amazing country that it is. As heirs to their wisdom and to their labors, we must be grateful. As heirs to their folly and mistakes, we must be humble, because it is not clear that we are any wiser, or any more industrious, than they were. Looking at the United States today, one wonders if we are not greater fools and greater sluggards. Those who cast aside the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic thought they were building better societies.

Today we must explore Lincoln’s next passage, asking where the danger to America would come.

“How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Lincoln’s logic is impenetrable. As a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people decide if that nation will endure. Our political leaders are not space aliens who flew in from a distant planet, they are our neighbors, our co-workers, and our fellow citizens. Money and fame notwithstanding, it is ultimately we who put them in office. Does power corrupt most people? Of course. Do humans get proud? Absolutely, as almost everyone has in all of history. But unless angels rule us, and most of us wouldn’t want an angelic society because we all enjoy our personal vices, we are stuck with people to lead us in government. We can curse them, and make them worse than they are, or bless them, and make them better than they are. The choice, and the consequences, are ours.

If as Lincoln said the danger to America is not in foreign invasion, where is it? It is in national suicide. How can we kill ourselves?
1. By killing ourselves, the literal destruction of the American people by other Americans. Since 1973, over 60 million American babies have died by our own hands.
2. By killing our souls, forgetting the God who created us, sustains us, and guides us.
3. By killing our character, the loss of the values that made us great. In America, each person is created equal in value and responsibility before God; equally free to pursue their own lives and equally accountable for the consequences of their choices. Courage, industry, honesty, compassion, and a whole host of other virtues follow from this fundamental idea.
4. By killing our minds, turning us into media-dominated automatons too afraid and too confused to think, speak, and act for ourselves. By exchanging reality for fantasy, whether through the Internet, television, video games, or something else, and by preferring virtual relationships to real ones, we become less human.
5. By killing our dignity, promising income without work and vice without consequences.
6. By killing our bodies, using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs until we waste away.
7. By killing our families, using “personal fulfillment” to separate us from those who should be our greatest support, as we are their greatest support.
8. By killing our communities, writing laws, regulations, and procedures to kill jobs, paralyze initiative, dehumanize interpersonal interactions, brainwash children, and make honest men into criminals.

The list could be much longer, and the examples legion, but this is enough for now. Americans who love their country, who abjure our ongoing national suicide, would do well to look at what a young country lawyer said to a group of other young men a long time ago…Lincoln at Lyceum.

Grateful to our Fathers – Comments on Lyceum

Showing gratitude to our fathers for American government is a good idea for us today

“We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”

I have been personally involved in three political miracles. I stood in the cold rain on the Washington Mall at the Inauguration of George W. Bush (20 Jan 2001), I was second in command of Fort Belvoir’s military medical contingent at the Inauguration of Barack Obama (20 Jan 2009), and I was the deputy commander of all Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed military medical forces on the Washington Mall at Obama’s second inauguration (21 Jan 2013). Why were these events political miracles? Because they were peaceful transitions of power. America is not like ancient Rome, which had four emperors in one year (69 AD). We are not like modern China, which has an unelected ruler for life. And we are not like most nations for most of human history, in which rulers were chosen by their “royal” blood, and the blood they spilled from others. Why do we enjoy such political miracles? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

I have spent many hours in Washington working with the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and others. I have met with members of Congress and worked with their staffers on important issues. I have also studied totalitarian regimes and seen Baghdad immediately after Saddam Hussein, when some Baathists still clung to whatever they could keep. Our government is a model of stability, and even cooperation, compared to Louis XIV’s France, Frederick’s Prussia, and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Why do we enjoy such political stability? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

I did Christian missions work in Guatemala, and traveling in Cairo, with machine gun armed police officers and soldiers everywhere. I took Chinese Bibles from then-British Hong Kong into Red China (via Shenzhen and Quangzhou) in December of 1988 and more than once stared down the barrel of an AK-47. I traveled in Erdogan’s Turkey, where they copy the passport of every traveler every day, ensuring that the watchful eye of Big Government knows who is in their country and what they are doing. By contrast, citizens rarely experience the heavy hand of the military, and visitors to America travel freely from sea to shining sea. Why do we enjoy such political freedom? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

Why aren’t we grateful to our fathers for the wonderful system of government they have left us?
1. We cannot see the good in this heritage, focusing instead in what is bad, or at least what we don’t like. This blindness may in intentional or unintentional.
2. We know nothing of history, or current events in many countries of the world, and don’t care enough to find out, so we have nothing to compare our political system with.
3. We don’t like “dead white men.”
4. We are chronological snobs, believing that our era is far more enlightened than the “primitives” of the past, and that we have little to learn from them, never realizing that our descendants will think the same thing about us.
5. We live “lives of quiet desperation”, unwilling to take the time to be thankful to anyone for anything.

America is not perfect. Our transitions of power are less smooth, our politics are less stable, and our freedoms are more skewed, than they should be. Our politicians are sometimes corrupt, and institutions can be overbearing, but compared to the rest of the world, and to almost all of history, we have so much to be thankful for.
Let’s be grateful to our fathers (and mothers, of course) for the amazing land we call the United States.

American Blessings – Lincoln at Lyceum

The first in a multi-part series of commentaries on Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Lyceum.

“We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.”
How many of us consider the blessings of being American?

Our geography, from the fertile Great Plains to the extensive and navigable river basins, is the best in the world. We are protected from potential enemies by great oceans to the east and west, broad deserts to the south, and thick forests to the north. Stretching for thousands of miles, we are a land and sea nation like no other on the planet. We were destined for greatness.

Our political institutions are the fairest in the world. For all of our complaining, we have freedom the likes of which has been unknown throughout history and across the globe:

Those who have never known tyranny long for a strong man to take responsibility for them, to give them money, and to keep them free from the troubles of life. They do not know that the government is often the biggest oppressor of all.

Those who have known tyranny long for the freedom to make their own way through their own industry, courage, and wits, helped by their families, friends, and other groups. They know that governments are often the biggest threat to the livelihoods and lives of citizens.
After long and bloody experience in Europe, early settlers built America to balance the needs of its people and to protect its people from their government. They did not try to build a state in which everyone was equal in every way, for this is impossible. Rather, they tried to build a state in which every citizen had a roughly equal chance to fulfill their needs and their dreams.

There are failings in the American political system, but as a system that reflects the will of the people, the failings are really in us. Political divisions are really population divisions. We have a beautiful democracy, but are we men and women enough to keep it?

Let us rejoice in America, her geography and her political institutions, today.

Riding Along

A few months at the Citizens’ Police Academy helps us see law enforcement officers in a better, and more human, light.

I was about to leave for school when I heard the loudspeaker. Looking out my window on that winter morning, I saw a police cruiser, some uniformed officers, and one policeman speaking into a handset, telling me to come out of the house. I walked out my front door, oblivious to the fact that I had my hands in my pockets on this cold day. The officers instantly drew their guns and aimed at me, shouting for me to take my hands out of my coat. Startled, I complied. One of the men moved me to the car, put my hands against it, and searched me, saying that shots had been fired at my location. Later my younger brother came out of the house – he had been setting off fire crackers.

I have had a few other interactions with police in my life. Once a lady in a campus clothing store called the police on me because she thought that I lingered there too long and she found it threatening. More than once I have seen the dreaded flashing blue lights of a police cruiser in my rear-view mirror. Driving home at 0200 after a shift as a bus boy at a local restaurant, an officer stopped me. As I searched my glove box for my registration and proof of insurance, he saw a black object. The officer exclaimed “what’s that” as he drew his weapon. “A comb” I replied, and handed it to him.

Most people have similar stories. Police and security personnel of various types check our luggage at airports and our bags at other venues; a time consuming, embarrassing, and potentially tense experience. Law enforcement personnel linger at the periphery and sometimes the center of our lives, and we rarely interact with them in good situations. Guns, tasers, body armor, and bludgeons do not generally make people comfortable, and police are trained to take control of every situation they are in. Law enforcement officials escalate tense situations simply by showing up.

No one can say with certainty who will transition from a regular citizen to a serious lawbreaker, or from a malefactor to a law-follower, and when. Most citizens are law abiding most of the time – even hardened criminals – yet no one follows the laws of the land all of the time. Advocates for the police argue that the presence and work of officers make society stable.

  1. Police discourage bad behavior by reminding people of the law and penalties for breaking it. Which driver has not seen a cruiser and reflexively slowed down, even if they were not speeding?
  2. Police attempt to rescue us from mishaps (missing persons, search and rescue teams).
  3. Police encourage good behavior through community outreach (car seat classes, drug and alcohol education).
  4. Using personal experience, huge databases and complicated analytics, police predict where crimes will be, who is most likely to commit them, and try to intervene before the fact.
  5. Police investigate crimes, apprehend suspects, put them into the justice system, and deal with the criminals in the corrections system – from guarding them to taking them to medical appointments.

Experiences matter. The most common interaction many people have with police is through entertainment, from television to music to literature, even though shows, books, and songs invariably shade the truth. Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen do many of the same things as police, and military members often feel a kindred spirit with their law enforcement brothers. Studying at Virginia Tech, my oldest two children, Anna and David, feel comfortable around people in uniform (cadets, police). Others don’t. Interpretation of experiences also matter. Other people in the stories above would have interpreted things differently than I did.

Relationships between citizens and the Law have never been great. We all have personnel iniquities that we enjoy, and the presence of the Law, embodied in people who make, interpret, and enforce the Law, annoys and frightens us. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews failed time and again to keep God’s law, and suffered greatly for it. Some people commit big and bold sins – kidnapping, rape, murder – and a few even enjoy them. Other people content themselves with little sins – pride, envy, and gluttony. Humans often perceive mistakes or even wise words as slights, reject personal responsibility for words and actions, and refuse to forgive.

Relationships between police, security, other law enforcement personnel and the general public have deteriorated in the past decade. Cell phone and body camera videos document police violence, and commentators safe in their easy chairs argue about whether the police response to a given incident was justified. The technology of death, from firearms to explosives, makes every police call a potentially fatal one for police, suspects, and bystanders alike. Cultural misunderstandings and mistrust add to the volatile mix.  Too often the media does not seek truth but instead amplifies stories, both true and false. Talking heads then broadcast their opinions to a populace hoping to be titillated, bored with complexity, and more interested in bad than in good.

Police departments all over the country try to bridge the gap between their officers and the people they serve. Some have open houses, most welcome volunteers, and some (like Shelby county, Tennessee) even allow citizens to become full fledged volunteer officers. As a medical student, I served for a few months on the San Bernardino County Sheriff Search and Rescue team, covering over 20,000 square miles, the largest county by area in the US.

The Citizens’ Police Academy

The police department in Beckley, West Virginia, offers the Citizens’ Police Academy, a ten-week course designed to help the citizens of Beckley and Raleigh County get to know their police officers and to understand them better. The Academy covers the following topics:

  1. Mission, organization, and officers (selection, training, etc.)
  2. Use of force, including a chance to use a force simulator, a “shoot or no shoot” machine.
  3. Detective bureau, including crime analysis, including a visit to a simulated crime scene house
  4. Domestic violence
  5. Highway safety, traffic enforcement, and field sobriety
  6. Canine units
  7. Drug investigations and enforcement
  8. Three-hour ride along in a police cruiser
  9. Tours of the Southern Regional Jail and the Emergency Operations Center
  10. Prosecution, probation, and parole
  11. The Courts

I have had the privilege of attending the 2018 Academy. Our class has over 15 students, mostly women, who come from all walks of life, from waitresses to hospital administrators. Classes are held in the police station and taught by the officers themselves, and by special guests. The class coordinator is Lt. Charles Ragland and the sponsor is the police chief, Lonnie Christian. I have included a few observations about the class below:

  1. I used a force simulator in the Army, and it illustrates how hard it can be to decide whether to shoot a potential criminal when you only have seconds to decide, and with limited information. On 12 January 1998, a 22-year-old Deputy, husband, and father of two, Kyle Dinkheller of Laurens County, Georgia, decided not to shoot. He was killed in a shootout with Vietnam veteran Andrew Brannan.
  2. The crime scene was a small, older house on the West Virginia Tech campus that the school uses for criminal justice training. The scenario was a drug sale gone bad, with a mannequin corpse in a bedroom at a desk with cocaine. The assailant had shot him in the head, ransacked the room, and fled down the stairs. We learned ballistics, fingerprints, crime photography, and how to find clues at the scene. Our group found the 9 mm brass and most of the other clues but did not check the trash can, a major oversight. The simulated victim knew the simulator perpetrator, whose name was written on a restaurant receipt.
  3. The German shepherds of the canine (K-9) unit were a high point. Fun and frightening at the same time, these well-trained and expensive animals had a powerful connection with their individual officer. One man said that he spends more time with his dog than with his wife and kids. Police dogs change the calculus of every encounter. Many times, a drunk, or even several of them, have challenged individual officers, or even a group of them. But these same drunks quiet down when confronted by a K-9. The same is true in domestic violence and other cases.
  4. Drugs and alcohol drive a huge amount of crime in the US and worldwide, and West Virginia is the epicenter of the US opioid epidemic. As a physician, I treat patients struggling with substance abuse, and as a health care administrator, I help to build systems to identify, treat, and prevent substance abuse in our veterans. The Beckley police work to solve the same problems.
  5. My three-hour ride along on 21 April revealed many of the obstacles that the police overcome every day. The officer had just returned after recovering from a major orthopedic injury when a suspect ran him over with a car. The cruiser was old and crammed with weapons, radios, computers, and other paraphernalia. Whenever the officer got out, his thick body armor or heavy belt, laden with a pistol, two magazines of ammunition, a taser, a radio, and other items, scrapped or clanked against the steering wheel or door. Police drive many hours per day, and so, like truckers, it is no wonder that a large number are overweight.
  6. We saw a car approaching us with a front headlight out, but couldn’t safely turn around and make it through the light in time to stop him. A young, female, African American driver ran a stop light, but since she was learning to drive, only got a warning. A young, white, male driver well-known to the Beckley force got arrested for another drug charge. One driver had a rear registration light out and received a fix-it ticket. We cruised through the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, but overall it was a relatively quiet night.
  7. The Southern Regional Jail breathed sadness and anger. We had to remove everything except shirt, pants, dresses, socks, and shoes just to enter. No keys, jewelry, jackets, or cell phones were allowed. Our class passed through gate after gate, of which no two could be open at the same time. Inmates looked at us as much as we looked at them. Some hooted, some scowled, some puzzled, and some seemed downcast. A few talked to friends and family through thick steel grating. Inmates had little space, as the jail housed twice the number of people that it was built for. Both women and men were there, but were carefully segregated. The medical infirmary had cells for those too sick to stay in their regular cell, but each had multiple patients. I thought of the inmates, how at age 5 or 7 no one would have thought that they would be in jail. Anyone who cared for them would have considered jail a great tragedy, if anyone cared for them. And yet 15 or 50 years later, here they were. For much of our tour, I prayed from the inmates, their jailers, and the many who would follow them.
  8. Prosecutor Kristen Keller pulled no punches in describing the courts and the legal system. It is slow, crowded, and by design, gives the benefit of the doubt to the accused. Most Americans have never experienced real tyranny of the kind that I saw when I worked with Iraqis who had been under Saddam Hussein. But protecting the people from the government, as much as protecting the government from the people and the people from each other, is a vital part of American democracy. Ms. Keller is no fragile flower and showed little tolerance for mollycoddling criminals, but she clearly wanted to do good. I had no idea that convicted criminals could appeal their sentences essentially forever.


I am more pro-law enforcement than many, despite the incidents noted above. The Beckley Citizens’ Police Academy has been more than worthwhile. It demonstrates a public service organization with solid training, adequate equipment, reasonable restrictions, good intentions, and sound results. The Beckley Police Department is comprised of people, regular people, with all of the strengths and weaknesses implicit in being human. My experiences with the Shelby County Sheriff and the San Bernardino County Sheriff Departments showed the same. While there will always be bad cops, like there are bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad truckers, bad nurses, bad secretaries, and bad apples in every bushel, these are the minority. A little reform, a little understanding, and a little forgiveness will go a long way in healing the rifts between the police and the people. But the most important work is to be done in the hearts and minds of all involved.

This is possible because police are just like the rest of us. In fact, they are us. After all, even police don’t like seeing flashing blue lights in their rear-view mirror.

Adventures in Athens – Sex, Imagery, and Religion

Religion and sexuality have been closely related in most cultures of the world throughout history. As a result, the images and vocabulary of human sexuality have often been used to express, and to experience, religion.

Priorities differ. Near the end of our time in Greece, I wanted to see the battlefield of Marathon, where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490 BC. Marathon is an hour’s drive from Athens, and all that remains is a burial mound in a large field, and a few historical displays. Anna wanted to buy presents for friends and family, admittedly a higher priority. So I went to rent a car and Anna visited the Dimotiki Agora (Public Marketplace). Anna likes to shop, and is good at it. Amidst the panoply of scarves, table runners, wooden spoons, and other treasures, Anna encountered a rack of large, brightly painted, wooden penises, also known as phallic symbols. Amused, she took a photograph, and finished her shopping. I joined her at the market, and she joined me for the drive to Marathon.

Sex is power. Sexual imagery is present in all the world’s religious traditions, and pervasive in some. Male Australian aborigines sang a sexually explicit song to attract young women. [1]  Sexual imagery is pervasive in the major Eastern religions. Hinduism sees men as fire and women as water, but simultaneously sees a man’s semen as water entering the fire pit of a woman’s vagina. Such sexual transformations suggest the religious transformations inherent in Hinduism. As Hindus represent the god Shiva with a phallus and his consort Sita with a vulva, so Daoists represent male gods like Mu Kung and goddesses like Hsi Wang Mu in the same way.[2]  Many Eastern traditions such as Daoism and Tantric Buddhism represent female genitalia with the lotus flower. Siva worship, which involves anointing a phallus-shaped rock or other symbol, often with milk or water, is common. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern faiths sometimes teach that sexual intercourse itself is a pathway to perfection. Canaanite and Egyptian female figurines used in fertility rites had large breasts and prominent labia.

Sexual imagery is present, although much debated and much less prevalent, in the Abrahamic traditions. Islam forbids images, fearing idolatry, but sexual imagery describing Allah’s love for man and man’s love for Allah is widespread in the Sufi sect. Sufism is controversial, and is even considered heretical, by many Sunni jurists. Sufi mystics, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922 AD), have been executed for their beliefs. Still, Sufism remains a vibrant force in Islam. Paul described the Church as being like the “Bride of Christ.” Followers of Christian mystical traditions, epitomized by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), took this farther, describing a “spiritual marriage” to God, often in sexual terms. Jewish commentators such as the Rabbi Aqiba (50-135 AD) interpreted the Song of Solomon as an analogy of love between Israel and God. Christian commentators including Hippolytus, Origen, Gregory of Nicea, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others saw the Song of Solomon as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church.[3] Modern scholars often dispute these interpretations but cannot deny their influence in the history of Christianity.

The phallus has been revered as a symbol of the divine in most cultures for millennia. The Vedas describe phallus worship as characterizing pre-Aryan inhabitants of India.[4] Later it was incorporated as a symbol of the god Shiva in Hinduism. The Aboriginal myth of the Wawalag sisters includes Yulunggur, a (generally) male and definitely phallic rock python.[5] Dionysus, the Greek Olympian god of fertility, ecstasy, and wine, was represented in festivals with wooden or metal phalluses.[6] In Egyptian mythology, Isis, goddess of fertility and wife of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, recreated a penis for her dead husband. As a result, he was able to impregnate her and his heir, the god Horus, was born.[7]  During a trip through the ruins of Pompeii in October 1993, my wife Nancy and I were surprised to find that most houses had stone or painted phalluses in entryways, courtyards, bedrooms, and altars.

Many people in ancient cultures understood human fertility in the same way they understood agricultural fertility:

  1. As the seed of a plant is contains within it all of the plant, so the seed of the man (semen) contains within it all of the baby. No contribution from the ground besides nourishment is necessary, and no contribution from the women besides nourishment is necessary.
  2. As the farmer placed the seed into the ground, so the man placed his seed into the woman.
  3. As the ground incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown plant, so the woman incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown baby.

These assumptions seemed consistent with the fact that men had obvious sex organs, and sex-related emissions distinct from blood and other body fluids. A woman’s sex organs and fluids were primarily internal, and were therefore largely invisible. Menstruation looked like nothing more than blood. Without modern microscopes there was no way for ancients to know about the male sperm joining with the female egg – both sexes contributing to the new life.

If this is how early man understood human reproduction, his or her thinking becomes understandable. If agricultural seed is generally good and failures in the harvest most often arise from troubles in the ground (poor soil or inadequate water), then the male semen should be generally good and failures to give birth must be due to problems in the woman. This helps explain why the onus for infertility fell most heavily on wives (examples in the Bible include Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah). Also, ancient people thought that agricultural fertility contribute to human fertility and vice versa. Sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes was intended to mimic sexual intercourse between a god and a goddess, thus gaining their favor. In response to such worship through coitus, the deities would grant reproductive and financial (usually agricultural) success. With its power to generate wealth and sire offspring, ancients found the presence of the gods in the phallus. Among some Melanesian tribes in the eastern highlands of New Guinea, a daughter-in-law had to eat the penis of her father-in-law on his death. Doing so would transfer his fertility and power to her.[8]


The phalluses for sale at the tourist shop at the Dimotiki Agora were not religious symbols. Those who made and sold them wanted to make people laugh and to make people buy. Those who bought them probably felt curiosity and mirth. Nonetheless, the simple fact that these phalluses were there suggests a fascination, and perhaps even a reverence, for sexual imagery. People in most cultures throughout history have used sex to understand, communicate, and experience religion. It is no surprise – the ecstasy of intercourse can seldom be exceeded by anything but the ecstasy of religion. Further, the creative power of intercourse, the ability to make a new human life, exceeds every other type of natural human creative power. Georges Bataille wrote, “eroticism is primarily a religious matter.”[9] Many people from many religions over many centuries would agree.

From a Christian standpoint, sex is a gift to mankind from God, part of common grace, but sex is not God. Further, sex is not a path to God. Believers should not fear sex, ignore it, or be obsessed by it. Our Creator intended human sexuality for procreation, for pleasure, and to provide a glimpse, albeit feeble and faint, of the rapture that followers of Christ will experience when we finally see Him as He is. In the meantime, Christians must use sex, as with everything else in life, to glorify the God and to enjoy Him forever.

[1] Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1995), 35.

[2] Geoffrey Parrinder, Sexual Morality in the World’s Religions (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, ©1996), 82.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein and Dick Polcyn, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 5, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1991), 1202.

[4] The Vedas: the Saṃhitās of the Ṛig, Yajur (White and Black), Sāma, and Atharva Vedas, single volume, unabridged. ed., trans. Ralph T H. Griffith and Arthur Berriedale Keith KB Classics ([United States?]: Kshetra Books, 2017), 104

[5] Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1995), 37.

[6] ANTHONY EVERITT, RISE OF ATHENS: the Story of the World’s Greatest Civilization (S.l.: RANDOM HOUSE, 2017), 236.

[7] Byron E. Shafer et al., eds., Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 44.

[8] Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1995), 157.

[9] Betsy Prioleau, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 70.

US Foreign Policy and Donald Trump

Pundits, politicians, progressives, and prophets panic over Donald Trump’s “failures” in his foreign policy. They may want to reconsider

“Disaster!” media outlets howl when they discuss American foreign policy in the first year of the Presidency of Donald Trump. Some commentators bemoan the withdrawal and even decline of US power, while others rejoice to see the return of a multipolar, rather than a unipolar (US “hyperpower”) or bipolar (US and USSR, or perhaps China, as superpowers) world. Recently the Economist, a British news magazine, announced that Trump has made America and the world less safe.

Whatever one thinks of President Donald Trump, he or she must consider these breathless pronouncements in terms of history and geopolitical reality, not just in terms of modern events. In a speech to the House of Commons (1 March 1848), Viscount Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) said “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”[1] He was right, and the permanent interests of nations are a surer guide to success on the international stage than the vagaries of the news cycle and the panic of political pundits.

Russia and Turkey

Current events – Several articles last fall criticized Trump for driving Turkey into the arms of Russia, thus threatening NATO and by extension the security of the West.[2]

Historical reality – Turkey and Russia have been at each other’s throats for at least 500 years. The fall of Byzantium in 1453 opened up the Balkans to Ottoman armies, and Sultan Suleiman the Lawgiver capitalized on the victory, conquering Hungary in 1526 and even threatening Poland. Until the Ottoman defeat in 1918, the Turks occupied or at least threatened southeastern Europe, the Ukraine, and Southern Russia. From Romania to Crimea to Armenia, Russians and Turks spilled oceans of blood and mountains of gold.

Geopolitical reality – Russian Black Sea fleets are bottled up by Turkish control of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli Straits to the east and west of the Sea of Marmara, and Russia wants the surrounding land. For centuries, Russia has sought a warm water port with access to international sea lanes close to its European economic center. St Petersburg is no good – the Baltic Sea freezes over in the winter and Russian fleets can be halted at the Danish straits of Kattegat and Skagerrak. Vladivostok, on the border with China and North Korea, is too vulnerable and too far away. Further, Russia has historically positioned itself as the protector of Eastern Orthodoxy, the largest sect of Christianity in the Balkans, since the fall of Constantinople and southeastern Europe to the Muslim Turks.

Conclusion – Russia and Turkey are about as likely to become permanent allies as Roy Moore is to marry Hillary Clinton. If Turkey leaves NATO, it will not be because of Trump, but because of Islam.

Israel and the Palestinians

Current events – Trump announced that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the United Nations and most of world opinion. The US State Department has begun to comply, and the Palestinians have rioted.

Historical reality – The label of “Palestinian people” is a construct of the mid to late 20th century. From the Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine in 636 AD, the area has been part of the Umayyad Empire, Abbasid Empire, Fatamid Empire, Crusader State, Ottoman Empire, and British Empire. Only once Israel became independent in 1948 did the Palestinian people become a major political force and the Palestinian state a major political goal. This would seem to bode well for peace efforts, but it has not. Israel and its neighbors are no closer to a permanent peace now than they were 70 years ago.

Geopolitical reality – The desires of Israel and the Palestinians are mutually exclusive and in the current political framework, irreconcilable. Both want all of the historical city of Jerusalem, both want the Temple Mount and the buildings there (including the Dome of the Rock), and both want the best, most arable land. Both sides also want the finest ports for access to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel has built a wall (three-layer, concrete, barbed wire, 10-25 ft high) along its entire West Bank border (708 km), which it claims is for security and the Palestinians argue is a land grab. The 1988 Charter for Hamas, a major Palestinian political movement, called for the destruction of Israel,[3] although a recent manifesto may have partially mitigated that demand.[4]

Conclusion – If Trump’s moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem did nothing else, it changed the political calculus in the region and may have opened up new possibilities for peace.  The move is risky, but tolerating the status quo may be riskier.

North Korea

Current events – Donald Trump has been bellicose and unpredictable in his approach to North Korea and their nuclear arsenal, and he has faced withering criticism as a result. Major media outlets are predicting that nuclear war will result, or at least become more likely.[5]

Historical reality – Expecting Kim Jung Un (1984-) to be rational in 2018 is like expecting Adolph Hitler to be rational in 1938. The same was true for his father, Kim Jung il (1941-2011), and his grandfather, the founder of the North Korean personality cult and dynasty, Kim il Sung (1912-1994). They play by their own rules, but that only works if others are predictable, if North Korea’s adversaries play by well known international rules. This was true during the invasion of South Korea (25 June 1950), and has been true during the negotiations and border provocations for almost 70 years. Leaders from America, Europe, China, and throughout the world have obliged North Korea, until now.

Geopolitical reality – North Korea is bankrupt and starving, while South Korea is thriving. The North no longer has the muscle to challenge the South with conventional military forces – their only trick is a nuclear one. But with the capital and most populous city in South Korea, Seoul, only 30 miles south of North Korean forces on the DMZ, a nuclear attack would be devastating.

Conclusion – North Korea may implode in flame and ash, but such an end may signal catastrophe for its neighbors. More likely, the state will linger for decades and gradually decline. Trump’s high stakes game is risky, but by taking away America’s predictability, it has already borne fruit. North and South Korea have started talking again, and will march together under a unified flag in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam

Current events – Pakistan has been an unsteady US partner, the word “ally” is far too strong, since the Afghan war began in 2001. Pakistan has alternately fought and supported the Taliban and other Muslim extremists. As a result, America has suspended military aid. Pakistan has turned to Russia and China,[6] and the press has accused Trump of another foreign policy disaster.

Historical reality – Since their split in 1947, Pakistan and India have been at each other’s throats, and China has been a close ally of Pakistan. Why not, as India and China have fought over their shared border for half a century? China has also fought Vietnam for millennia, most recently in 1979, and Vietnam is a close ally of India.

Geopolitical reality – India and Japan are the only nations that can challenge China as regional powers in Asia. Combining their economic, demographic, technological, and military strength, India and Japan, together with Vietnam, can isolate the Chinese dragon. China, India, and Pakistan have nuclear weapons.

The Strait of Malacca is a 550-mile long strategic waterway (1.5 miles wide at its narrowest and 82 feet deep at its shallowest) between Malay peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is the busiest shipping lane in the world, transporting 25% of the world’s cargo, including oil. Closing down the Strait would cripple China and Japan, since the detour around it is thousands of miles. India could close the western end, and Vietnam the eastern end, with existing forces. China’s reply is twofold –

  1. Build a superhighway, a new Silk Road, from eastern Chinese centers of industry across western China, into central Asia, to the Middle East, and beyond.[7] Important branches will travel south into Pakistan, which is well west of the Straits of Malacca, but the road will bypass India. Such a road will allow China to position forces to threaten India’s western regions, and minimize the danger to China if the Straits of Malacca are closed.
  2. Occupy and fortify the “South China Sea”, bringing their own air and naval forces closer to the critical strait and threatening Vietnam.

Conclusion – China and Pakistan are friends for their own historical and geopolitical reasons, and will be for the foreseeable future, regardless of US presidents or policies. India and Vietnam are the same. As each of these powers begins to flex its muscles, the world is seeing the largest rebirth of Great Power politics since before World War 1.  Trump can ride the wave, but he cannot make the wave.

Europe and NATO

Current events – Trump’s consistent criticism of the NATO has earned him opprobrium from both sides of the political aisle.[8] When he called the alliance “outdated” and implied that he would scrap it, pundits swooned.

Historical reality – Europeans once dominated the world with their products, fleets, and armies. But today these descendants of the conqueror Charlemagne not only cannot rule others, most cannot defend themselves. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) emerged from the ashes of World War 2. It was effective in defending a prostrate Europe from the Soviet Union, but seemed to lose relevance at the end of the Cold War. Behind the shield of hundreds of thousands American troops, and shaded by the US nuclear umbrella, postwar Europe traded regional security for domestic programs. Britain lost its empire but gained the National Health Service, and Germany lost its self-defense but gained a short work week, long vacation, and generous unemployment benefits. Currently, only five of NATO’s 28 countries spend the agreed-upon 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on military expenditures.[9] Germany spends only 1.19%, and as a result they now have an air force with planes that cannot fly[10] and a navy with ships that cannot sail.[11],[12]

Geopolitical reality – While much of Europe has been in a sweet sleep for almost 30 years, Europe’s challengers have been wide awake. The most obvious threat, Russia, has abandoned even the pretense of democracy, invaded South Ossetia (2008), the Crimea (2014), and the Ukraine (2014 to present). The Baltic states fear they may be next. To the southeast, Turkey under Reycip Erdogan has grown more Islamic, more powerful, and more aggressive.[13] India and China rattle economic, diplomatic, and military sabers at each other, and to the world. These realities, along with Trump’s suggestion that Europe could no longer rely on American protection, have begun to rouse these children of Charlemagne from their stuporous slumber.

Conclusion – Forces larger than Trump, or even America, are at work. We can only hope that these once-great nations can find the political will to become forces for peace and stability on the world stage. Trump’s challenges probably help, not hurt, the situation.


Current events – Calling something or someone a “shithole” is not likely to endear them to you, or your country. President Trump endured withering criticism after allegedly using that word to describe several African nations during a recent meeting about immigration.

Historical reality – The US military has been heavily involved in Africa since the wars against the Barbary pirates (1801-1815). Our military and diplomatic involvement skyrocketed during the Cold War, and have not slackened. America was pivotal during the decolonization of Africa, often opposing our own friends (like Britain and France) who wanted to hold on to pieces of their empires. The US has been the largest benefactor of Africa, through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, foreign direct investment, and many other venues. The US government and other groups have bases, laboratories, and scores of other facilities in Africa, along with thousands of people working alongside Africans. While China has recently increased its dealings with Africa, it cannot touch America’s record over the decades.

Geopolitical reality – Many parts of Africa are rapidly developing, but the continent still has far to go. Meanwhile, it faces deadly threats in the form of Islamic terror groups (Al Shabaab – Somalia, Boko Haram – Nigeria, Ansar al Sharia – Libya), ISIS, al-Qaeda, and many others. Tribal conflicts in South Sudan, Rwanda, and elsewhere, including groups that claim to be Christian, and disease epidemics like Ebola, continue to flare. Africa needs a lot of help to catch up with the rest of the world, and is not likely to jettison old friends over idle words.

Conclusion – Trump probably used that phrase, or something like it, but judging from the media reports the outrage seems far greater in Chicago than in Cairo, or in London than in Lagos. It was probably an honest blunder, and an opinion shared by millions of Americans, Europeans, Indians, Chinese, and others too polite to say it. The incident is not likely to have any lasting effect, bad or good, on anyone except people who hated him anyway.


Liberals and America-haters have begun to achieve what they say they have always wanted; the decline of American hegemony and the rise of a multipolar world. No world system is perfect, but multipolarity didn’t work well in 1618, 1812, 1914, 1939, or at any other time in history. Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and Pax Americana will start looking a lot better in the decades to come, at least for those willing to see.

Politicians, pundits, and progressives differ on how they feel about Donald Trump and the new American foreign policy. Detractors say that his relationship with the rest of the world has been an unmitigated disaster. This is both unfair and untrue. Trump’s foreign policy is certainly unorthodox, but it does not suggest a deranged or deluded mind. The President’s bravado, pugnaciousness, and unpredictability may be his greatest strengths on the international scene. Trump is playing a high stakes game, and it just might work. Time will tell.

[1],_3rd_Viscount_Palmerston, accessed 30 Jan 2018

[2], accessed 29 Jan 2018

[3], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[4], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[5], accessed 30 Jan 2018

[6], accessed 30 Jan 2018

[7], accessed 30 Jan 2018

[8], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[9], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[10], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[11], accessed 31 Jan 2018

[12], accessed 7 Feb 2018

[13], accessed 31 Jan 2018


Government Officials and Flights – Abuse of Money and Power?

The dangers of making decisions too quickly, with too little information, or with too much emotion.

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, was forced to resign after revelations that he took charted civilian and military aircraft on trips that were of debatable value to the US taxpayer. The price tag was over $400,000 for the civilian flights and about $500,000 for the military airlift. Since his tenure in office was about eight months (10 February to 29 September 2017), Price spent over $100,000 per month for these flights alone; seemingly an impressive rate of burning taxpayer money. This appears to be prima facie evidence of corruption, or at least rank insensitivity to the needs and resources of the American people.

Price is not the only one. According to the New York Times[1], Secretary Ryan Zinke (Interior), Administrator Scott Pruitt (EPA), Secretary David Shulkin (VA), Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), and others also garnered criticism for flights from Las Vegas to Europe. These accusations are serious, as public service is a public trust and leaders must act with discretion. Several of these Cabinet members protested that they followed proper procedures, and they may have, but the damage remains. In this time of enormous Federal deficits, and national debts, leaders must not only be squeaky clean; they must appear squeaky clean.

But we the people are responsible to calmly and carefully gather the facts in each case, then make and communicate our own opinions. Since by and large the media gave up the calm and careful approach long ago, we citizens are left to our own resources. Just as we don’t allow people in court to be judged, sentenced, and executed without due consideration of the facts, we must do the same for our elected leaders. They are, after all, just people – other citizens like us to whom we have entrusted powers and resources.

From my limited investigation, I am not sure that any of these trips were irresponsible or an abuse of power. Consider the following:

  1. Civilian charter aircraft are used when an executive has a tight schedule and cannot reasonably travel commercially. Cabinet members are busy people, having many demands on their time. If one has a meeting with the President at 1000 in DC and a meeting with the Governor of California at 1600 in Sacramento, a charter may be the only option.
  2. Highly visible leaders make lots of enemies, both through commission and omission. William McKinley was a popular president who loved meeting with the public. He was widely regarded as a nice man and couldn’t understand why anyone would be angry with him, much less want to kill him. Nonetheless on 6 September 1901, the anarchist Leon Czolgosz fired the shots that would kill him. Charter aircraft are generally more secure than commercial aircraft.
  3. Trips that may appear to be a boondoggle often have genuine political and government value. Members of Congress and their delegations go on CODEL trips all over the world. The cost is phenomenal, with dozens of people involved, including staffers, security, crew, and military personnel. Yet, these trips are important. Don’t we want leaders who are familiar with the people and places that we trade with, or send our soldiers to?
  4. Military aircraft are a special case. Pilots and crews are required to get around 20 flight hours every month. They can get these flight hours on a bona fide mission (combat, transport, reconnaissance, etc.) or on a training mission (touch and goes, approaches, flight maneuvers, etc.). The cost to run the plane may be $20,000 per month, but it is a sunk cost; taxpayers will pay the same whether the crew is on board alone or whether a Cabinet secretary and a few staffers are sitting in the back. In fact, any active or retired service member and their families can ride for free on a military aircraft if they travel when and where there is space available. Even if the political leader asks for a special flight, it provides worthwhile training for the crew. Most military crews in peacetime complain of getting far too few flight hours, not far too many.
  5. The amount of money involved is very small relative to the overall budget. Many people will not bend over and pick up a penny off the sidewalk – to them the effort is not worth the reward. Real corruption must be rooted out, but we as citizens must ask ourselves if tightening regulations to limit travel in government, and expelling officials, is worth the reward.

Leaders in government often make far less than they could in a comparable civilian job. As a result, good and capable people often do not enter government service. Some that do volunteer get their reputations sullied and lose their effectiveness due to baseless charges. Only the accusation, not the resolution, makes the news.

We as citizens need to investigate allegations of misconduct, or have the appropriate authorities do so. Only when we have calmly and carefully gathered the facts in each case should we make a decision and act on it. We harm ourselves and our Republic if we crucify people for legitimate work, and we should give the benefit of the doubt about what is legitimate.

This is hard work, but America is worth it.

[1] Health Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Drawing Ire for Chartered Flights,


The sixth century BC was pivotal in the history of the world. Babylon conquered Jerusalem (586), thus ending the Israelite monarchy. Mahavira (599-527), also known as Vardhamāna, known to Jains as the 24th fordmaker, founded the Jain religion. Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-480) founded Buddhism, one of the most prevalent religions in the world. Buddhism today boasts almost 500 million adherents worldwide, and others practice Buddhist meditation and hold Buddhist beliefs without self-identifying with the religion. Gautama is variously known as the Sakyamuni, the Tathagata, and the Buddha.

Any student of world religions should know something about the work of the Buddha. Christians should have an idea of what Buddhism is, and how to best minister to the followers of Gautama.







A group of Orthodox Jews walked by while I was waiting for my children to get off a roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2013. The men wore beards and yarmulkes and the women wore modest skirts and head coverings. Dozens of children flitted around, excited and energetic despite the heat of the day. One man sat wearily down just a few feet away on the short rock wall where I was perched. After waiting several minutes, we began talking. A few minutes later we were discussing the Old Testament (Tanakh). It was a good opportunity to learn about him, and to put in a good word for Yeshua.

A friend from work was a psychologist raised Jewish but no longer observant. His wife, both daughters, and his son were Catholic Christians. We spoke dozens of times for many hours, and I told him honestly that I prayed for his salvation. He had not yet followed Christ when I last saw him, but he remains in my prayers, and in the prayers of his family.

The Jewish people have always been small in number relative to the overall population of the world, but they have had an outsized impact. Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and Lenin are three famous Jews in the past 200 years, but there have been many more. There are an estimated 14 million Jews in the world today, the vast majority in Israel and in the United States.

Christians and Jews have had a checkered history. They have lived together in harmony, have lived with acrimony, and have butchered each other. Since Constantine, Followers of Christ have generally been more numerous and had more power, and have oppressed and murdered multitudes of children of Abraham. Muslims and Jews today fight and die over Palestine, and secularists from Josef Stalin to Adolf Hitler have massacred untold numbers.

By helping readers of the MD Harris Institute to learn more about Judaism, I hope to improve relations and collaboration between Christians and Jews. The articles below are informal reviews on some well-known works on Judaism.