Monday, August 31, 2009

An Aphorism

Truth invites scrutiny of the evidence, but error demands tolerance of opinion.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dave Ramsey on "Cash for Clunkers"

With all the buzz about Cash for Clunkers, it’s easy to think that it was a great way for people to get a better set of wheels. But was it really? No way! Cash for Clunkers was simply a way for broke people to buy cars that they really couldn't afford. It was a bad idea on multiple levels. But before digging into that, let’s take a little history lesson.
About a decade ago, a fair housing program was started, called a sub-prime lending market. The idea behind it was that everyone “needed” to own a home—including broke people. The government decided to start a program to reinvest in communities, which allowed pretty much anyone to borrow money to buy a house. Lending companies charged high interest rates, causing already struggling families to go even further into debt.
Basically, this was a program designed to encourage broke people to buy houses. Most people didn’t even know it existed until it unraveled and became the number-one cause of our recent recession. The government took those stupid loans back and securitized them, which created the financial mess last fall. Helping broke people buy houses didn’t turn out to be a great government program. Guess what? Helping broke people buy brand-new cars—and now home appliances—will turn out just as bad.
The Cash for Clunkers program was designed exactly for people who should not take advantage of the program. You trade your $2,000 clunker in for a brand-new, shiny $20,000 car, and the only way you can afford it is with a high-interest payment. That just means you really couldn’t afford it to begin with. Doesn’t this sound like the sub-prime mortgage problem all over again?
When you drive that new car off the lot, you’re immediately going to lose $4,500. The worst car accidents happen on the showroom floor. New cars go down in value like a rock. The government thinks it’s going to save the American auto industry by putting broke people into cars they can’t pay for. It’s going to come back to bite them—and the rest of us—in the form of taxes galore.
Another bad thing about this program is that we, the taxpayers, are paying for the new cars! It’s morally wrong of the government to take money away from us—against our will—in the form of taxes and give that money to someone else to buy a stupid car they can’t afford in the first place! This is theft, plain and simple.
Cash for Clunkers is a program that redistributes wealth in the name of the environment, and it’s going to be a curse on the car dealer and the manufacturer that carries the paper. It’s going to hurt the broke person who bought a car he couldn’t afford. And it’s already a problem for our country, because it’s adding dollars to the national debt.
There’s always a twist with government programs like this. They try to think of creative ways to help people, but the situation usually ends up worse than it did before they “helped.” In the end, I should decide what to do with my own money. If I want to buy you a car, I will! And if you can’t buy a car without actually paying for the whole thing, then you’re better off keeping your “clunker.”
So good riddance to a really bad program that has done more damage than good.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I know nothing!

This past Saturday morning I spent some time down at UGM with some friends that do a monthly service project there, and we were enjoying some brunch afterward. I was having a bit of a theological discussion with a couple of the guys at the table, and another guy across the table made a comment about how "You know everything!" (meaning me). He didn't say it in a mean spirited way. In fact, I think he meant it as a genuine compliment, but it got me to thinking about how *little* I really know. Then I got worried that other people might actually believe I know something when I don't. Or, even worse, I might think I actually do know something when I don't and steer someone in the wrong direction. Jesus called people like this "blind guides." That started me thinking about what I know and don't know. I'll be the first to admit, I know far less than it appears on the surface, and that is an integrity issue that bugs me.

When I was a kid I liked the show "Hogan's Heroes." It was about some very smart POWs in a German prison camp who basically chose to stay in the POW camp of the naive Col. Klink so they could run counter intelligence activities. One of my favorite characters was the pudgy Sergeant Schultz whose famous line was "I know nothing – NOTHING!" I've been feeling a lot like Sergeant Shultz lately, and this got hammered into my mind further today when I read this on a web site:

If we honestly want to discover the truth, it's helpful to start with a clean slate by pretending that we don't know anything about the topic that we are studying. This will help us look beyond our preconceived biases and "filters." It's important to be as prayerful, honest, thorough, and objective as possible, and it's important to be willing to believe whichever view has the greatest weight of evidence in Scripture.

One of my best friends has been telling me this for a couple of years. This "second witness" really hit it home for me. I come to the Bible with a TON of preconceived ideas that have been absorbed from all over the place. I rarely have an original thought. I'm lazy that way. It is easier to let someone else do the thinking for me and then criticize their viewpoint by comparing it to other viewpoints and using compare/contrast techniques. Original thinking is hard work and slow. I find it much faster to build on the work of other people and synthesize their thinking into my own world view. I'm pretty fast and adept at this process, and I try to choose my source information carefully. This allows me to increase my knowledge base widely. However, it puts me at HUGE risk of being wrong if one of my sources is wrong or if I inaccurately interpret a correct source. I hate being wrong, but it now occurs to me that I've been letting the pride of having a wide breadth of knowledge outweigh my desire for Truth. Bad choice. Pride comes before the fall, and knowledge puffs up.

Another issue I've been under conviction about is that I read for information more than transformation. Being in the technology industry where change is always accelerating, I've learned how to process large amounts of information and filter down to what is important for the task at hand. For example, it is not unusual for me to process through more than 150 email messages in a day. This is a counter productive behavior when it comes to processing information for personal transformation. Somehow I need to figure out how to go deeper rather than casting such a wide net in our information rich but knowledge poor info-tainment culture.

If you have any ideas about how to do this, I'm listening...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tim Keller on the Gospel

Religion operates on the principle of "I obey -- therefore I am accepted by God." The basic operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ -- therefore I obey." As we have seen, believing the gospel is how a person first makes a connection to God. It gives us a new relationship with God and a new identity. We must not think, however, that once believing it, the Christian is now finished with the gospel message. A fundamental insight of Martin Luther's was that "religion" is the default mode of the human heart. Your computer operates automatically in a default mode unless you deliberately tell it to do something else. So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.

We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security. We believe the gospel at one level, but at deeper levels we do not. Human approval, professional success, power, and influence, family and clan identity -- all of these things serve as our heart's "functional trust" rather than what Christ has done, and as a result we continue to be driven to a great degree by fear, anger, and lack of self-control. You cannot change such things through mere will-power, through learning Biblical principles and trying to carry them out. We can only change permanently as we take the gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves. That is how we grow.

From The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, pp. 114-115