Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sweet Six

When did birthday cakes become Picasso's?

Probably when 5-year-old's started jumping off high dives.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Ownership II

In a previous post on ownership within the Church, Derek comments that ”the "ownership" model fails as solution because the "big pot" model fails as an explanation for the failure of the institutional church to do God's Will.”

I agree with Derek here. There is not a budgeting and funding model that will make a Church that is not doing the will of God all of a sudden start doing the will of God. Also, a bad budgeting and funding model will probably not stand in the way of a Church that is completely sold out to doing the will of God.

Of course there are many organizations, some of which are Churches, that are extremely well funded and extremely successful at something. A few even do a fairly good job of preaching and teaching and spreading the gospel, but there really isn’t a corelation between the will of God and the funding of activities. Many cults are well funded and many legitimate Christian ministries get by on pennies.

I never meant to imply that the big pot was the cause of all of the problems within Churches or that an ownership model would solve all of the problems within Churches. In some ways a change of the model will change the problems, not solve every problem.

However, I believe a change of the model will free up believers to use their spiritual gifts and tithes in ways that will provide for more accountability, more enthusiasm, more joy, and most importantly, make the body of Christ more attractive to non-believers. Capitalism works because in capitalism, there is a corelation between ownership and success. The more individual ministries within a Church are owned, the greater the probability of the ministries being successful. Filtering tithes through the fingers of Pastors, and Elders, and Committies, saps the enthusiasm and joy out of even the most committed believers, just imagine what it is doing to those who observe the process without being committed.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Aspects of our Nature

Many years ago, when I was a young, and not so smart, Marine, I needed to punch a guy who was trying to start a fight with me. I knew the guy was going to beat me to smithereens, but I had to defend my honor. However, I must have been slow, as well as dull, because before I got my punch thrown, one of my buddies had the other guy on the ground beating him to smithereens. I’m not saying that Derek is asking for a fight, or that I need to defend my honor against him, or that I’m any smarter or faster now than I once was, or that Jennifer is beating Derek to smithereens, but I will say that Jennifer can be in my squad anytime she wants. Derek can too.

Derek and Jennifer left such great comments. Before I start addressing any of the specifics of Derek’s critique and Jennifer’s earlier concern, I first need to clarify an aspect of all of the factors that have made capitalism the best economic system and an aspect of capitalism that will also be present if our Churches were more willing to use an ownership model.

When I wrote that free will, property rights, and competition, were three of the main reasons why capitalism is successful and why I believe these same factors should be a part of a model for improved Church organization, I wasn’t trying to claim these three aspects of capitalism were morally good. Free will, property rights, and competition are morally neutral. I don’t think any of these three factors are part of our sinful nature or part of our good nature. They are simply part of our nature that can be used for good or evil. Jennifer did a great job of showing how Scripture describes these aspects of our nature are as being used for good. Free will, private property, and competition are also described in Scripture as aspects of our nature that are used for evil. The free will that God gave us, we use to separate ourselves from him as did Adam and Eve. We sometimes hoard our property, as did Cain and Abel and Esau and Jacob. We sometimes compete at the expense of others, as did the apostles to sit at the right hand of Jesus.

These same negative aspects of free will, private property, and competition will be present in our Churches if we change the model. However, this is not a reason to keep the old model because the old model doesn’t take advantage of all of the good aspects of free will, private property, and competition. I believe Capitalism has proven to be the superior economic model because of these aspects of our nature and I also believe it will prove to be a better Church model because of these aspects of our nature.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Is it unBiblical?

In a comment to my previous post on Church Ownership, Derek asks, “I grant you this: an "ownership model" is definitely "contrarian." But is it Biblical?” Derek’s question is similar to the challenge posed by Hammer in an earlier comment, when he wrote, ”Clearly, there are some in the church whose job can be to manage the "big pot".

I would never, ever, want to write or advocate anything that conflicted with the will of God or the word of God. I can’t even express how much it means to me to have Derek, Jennifer, Teresa, Hammer, Buz, Pete, and a few others who read what I write and compare my thoughts to what each of you know about the word of God. I don’t take different positions to be different, I just have a different way of looking at most issues. I pray often that my blog doesn’t become anything that would not be approved by God.

I try to stay away from broad generalizations. My opinions, views, and proposals are not for everyone. They are not even for most believers most of the time. I want to offer an alternative view and an alternative proposal to what everyone else is advocating. For the most part, I don’t see the point in advocating what the majority is advocating even if I agree with the majority.

If the Bible has a clear teaching on any matter, I would never advocate against what it teaches. If the Bible is not clear, I would still give the Bible the benefit of the doubt based on our best understanding of what it teaches. However, I will not automatically afirm traditions that are based on the Bible but not taught in the Bible. I don’t see where the big pot model is taught in Scripture.

I will address some of Jennifer’s and Derek’s concerns in a later post. But for now, I ask Derek and others, is anything I have advocated unBiblical?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Church Ownership

Most people tend to take very good care of the things they own and tend to be less concerned about the things that are shared or belong to someone else. When I worked as a Real Estate appraiser back in the early 90’s, I would occasionally appraise a house that was in South Central Los Angeles, close to where the Rodney King riots broke out. The owner occupied houses were smaller but not much different from the houses I appraised in the better parts of LA or Orange County; the lawns were mowed, the gardens had flowers, the houses were painted, and the owners were proud of their homes. At first, I was surprised to see such nice houses in such bad neighborhoods, but the more I appraised, the more I realized well maintained owner occupied houses were the norm, not the exception. However, the rented houses in the same neighborhood were such a mess it was hard to imagine anyone actually living in them.

Private amusement parks tend to be maintained better than public parks. Private golf courses are usually in much better shape than public golf courses. Rental vehicles never accumulate as many miles as leased vehicles which don’t last as long as vehicles that are bought outright.

One of my biggest challenges as a parent is trying to get my girls to treat everything in our home as if it was their very own possession. One of the biggest challenges constantly facing large corporations is getting employees at all levels to take ownership of a problem. Corporate leaders know that when a problem is “owned”, it is usually solved, and when the problem is not “owned”, it is rarely solved.

Christian Churches have a similar challenge to the challenge faced by parents and corporations. The leaders of a Church come up with ideas for ministry and then depend on the members of the Church to fund and execute the ministries. In my last post, I wrote about what happens to the funding when members don’t agree with the ideas of the leaders. Execution is just as big of a problem as funding in most Churches. Members who try to execute the ideas of the leaders fail to meet the leaders expectations most of the time. But sometimes, the members even do harm to the ministry by not executing properly. I can’t even count the number of Churches I’ve visited where some of the Child Care staff had no business working with children or parents. The leaders may have had a great idea, but the idea never got executed properly because the leader didn’t own the ministry and the Child Care staff member did not own the ministry.

The solution to the ownership problem in Church is for Churches to abandon the big pot model. Throwing money into a big pot and then allowing a group of leaders to decide how to spend the money is inefficient at best, and sometimes even very harmful. A better model for Church would be for the leaders to be shepherds and the members to fund and execute their own ministries. For the most part, there is no reason why contributions need to pass through the fingers of the Pastor or other leaders.

Some ministries and projects would require the funding and participation of more than one member and some ministries and projects would require only one member. If someone wants to provide coffee on Sunday morning, just let that person buy the supplies and coffee and be the one who serves the coffee instead of having that person put money in a basket and then beg the leaders for money to buy coffee and supplies. If a group of members want to build a new building, let that group of members sign promissory notes to acquire the funding. The group of members who want a new building will end up doing more of the manual labor themselves if the funds are coming out of their pocket than if the funds are coming out of the big pot.

Under an ownership model, Churches will still need Pastors and Elders to: occasionally veto an idea that isn’t a good fit for the Church; coordinate activities between ministries; oversee some ministries; sometimes help with recruiting members for ministries; and sometimes help with getting commitments for funding ministries. However, Pastors and Elders will no longer have to make members execute the ideas of the leaders, and they will no longer be responsible for creating a budget and hoping everything gets funded through donations. Also under this ownership model, members will put their time, effort, and tithe, into a ministry that matches the desire God has laid on their heart instead of the ministry God has laid on the heart of the Pastor or Elder.

For the ownership model to work, Pastors and Elders will need to relinquish some control. I know the members are ready for a new model. I’m not sure the leaders are.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Giving and Budgeting

Free will, ownership, and competition within the Christian Church would all help to make Christianity a better and more attractive alternative to other religions of the world in the same way each of these factors have made capitalism the most effective economic system in the world.

I have never known of a Church that did not use a socialistic model for financing Church expenses and Church activities. Under this model, members, regulars, and visitors will donate money to a Church and then allow the Elders and/or Pastors to decide, prioritize, and budget how the donations are spent. Budgets are usually based on historical giving patterns and yearly pledges from the members. Most Churches allow input from the members and then require a vote of the members before a budget is approved. More often than not, contributions fail to meet the budget expectations.

It is a mystery to me why Churches continue to use a model that has rarely worked and will never work as a long-term model. I know there are some Churches where giving outpaces expectations during periods of rapid growth, but there are also cults where giving outpaces expectations during periods of growth, so citing examples of where this model has worked does not make it God’s intended model.

Understanding why this model has so many problems is not complicated. People who believe in a Church will give generously. Most believers look for opportunities to give. However, every time the Church Leaders makes a decision that affects how contributions are spent, some of the contributors become less enthusiastic about supporting the vision of the Church. Ideally, others would become more enthusiastic, but it is always easier for those who are already giving to start giving less than it is to start giving more.

Older churches intrinsically understand this dynamic, even if they don’t understand all of the reasons. Many Churches wither away very slowly over many years because the leaders never make a change of direction. These Churches continue to get contributions from long-term members year after year even after the ideas of the Church have quit producing new fruit because the long-term members have become very comfortable with the purpose of the Church, even if the only purpose is a Sunday meeting.

Getting rid of the big pot mentality will increase contributions, improve budgeting accuracy, and, most importantly, improve the effectiveness of spreading the Gospel and creating Disciples in our Churches. In my next post, I will discuss how ownership would change the contribution and budgeting dynamic.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Tithe

It should be obvious to anyone who has been around Church for any period of time that the big pot never is big enough. There are always more ideas and more ways to spend contributions than there are contributions. More contributions to Church won’t solve the shortage of funds any more than more taxes ever satisfy all of the needs of government. When it comes to spending other peoples money, there never is enough. If you don’t believe me, just go ask your Pastor or your dictator.

For most of my life as a believer, I’ve given my 10%. I believed I was obligated to tithe because I have always been taught it is Biblical to tithe. God has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined, so I can’t complain about how much I have given, but I will no longer participate in a big pot model of the Christian Church because the big pot model is a mess and it is not a model prescribed by God.

There are many interesting passages in the Bible about tithing. I would encourage everyone to do a study on their own. Most tithes have a very specific purpose and sometimes the purpose is even for the benefit of the person doing the tithing. Even though tithing is not coerced, it is very similar to a tax in some situations. The poor are even expected to tithe. Tithes that are used for sacrifices can be eaten by the ones doing the tithing. Tithes are used to support the priests and the temple. Tithing is used to diversify assets. [I bet a Pastor never told you that one.] The alien, the fatherless and the widow are to receive tithes designated as gifts.

I’m not pointing out any of these tithing principles to be legalistic. I’m legalistic about my lawn, not my faith. But I do want to point out that rarely, if ever, is tithing described as a big pot contribution where a committee decides how to spend the tithe. The tithe is almost always designated for a specific purpose.

Perhaps getting back to the principle of a designated tithe along with the principles of capitalism would improve contributions and the uses of contributions. In my next post, I will tie this together with capitalism.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: The Wrong Model

God created people to act and react in certain ways. Our own sins and the sins of others prevent us from ever experiencing all of what God intended. Communities of believers should be more of a reflection of God’s intentions than communities that are a mix of believers and non-believers or communities that are completely non-believers. We will never be free from sin completely, but believers should be noticeably different from non-believers.

Perhaps one of the reasons Churches don’t seem to be much different than the other world communities is because Christian Churches have been using a wrong model for ministry. We have been operating with a severe handicap. Maybe Christianity has misinterpreted the description in the Acts of the Apostles of new believers selling their possessions and sharing the proceeds. Perhaps selling and sharing is a good idea for individuals, but a bad idea for the Church.

The socialism model that has proven to be an utter failure for governments around the world appears to be as equally pathetic in most Churches. The idea that believers can just throw money into a big pot and then let some wise Pastor or Elder Board decide the best way to allocate scarce contributions may be just as foolish as the idea to let a wise Dictator of a State government decide the best way to allocate scarce resources. My entire life I’ve been hearing about how believers need to give more to their Church. Maybe it is the Church, not the believer, who is responsible for the problem.

Perhaps our Churches would benefit greatly if we took advantage of all of the reasons capitalism is such a success. Maybe God didn’t intend for His Church to be socialistic. If God’s plan outside the Church is capitalism, why should it be different inside the Church? In a future post, I will describe some new ways this could work inside our Churches.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Capitalism: Competition

Everyone is born with a desire to survive and a desire to compete. Not everyone loves to compete and most everyone likes an occasional break from competition, but God did create humans with a competitive nature. Therefore, competition is the third key to the moral and functional success of capitalism.

Most economists rightly assert that competition is a major factor in the success of capitalism. When people, or organizations, or corporations, have to compete for customers, they will have to offer better products and services than if they were assigned customers by the government. When people, or organizations, or corporations, have to compete for sellers, they will find better suppliers than if they were assigned a supplier by the government. Health care is a good example of a system that is not market driven. Prices are high and choices are low in health care due to a lack of competition.

People who criticize capitalism are usually most concerned with the results of competition. According to the critics, competition causes some people to win and some people to lose; some to get more than they deserve or need, and some to get less than they deserve or need. I think competition causes people to get very close to what they actually deserve, but need is slightly harder to quantify. People who really need something will find a way to get it, while people who only want something will not always do what it takes to get what they want.

The aspect of competition that economists usually don’t consider or acknowledge, and the critics don’t understand is that competition is a process, not just an outcome. Our competitive nature is an inner drive that keeps us going when we have obstacles to overcome, it keeps us from reaching a point of satisfaction, and most importantly, it’s enjoyable. Thinks about it, how much of what we enjoy today is a result of someone or some organization refusing to quit? Temporary satisfaction is great, but how meaningless would life become with permanent satisfaction? Could we even imagine a life without having and achieving goals?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Capitalism: Property Rights/Thy Shall Not Steal

The ability to keep, trade, or give away, the proceeds of labor by individuals is the second key to the moral and functional success of capitalism. When the property rights that were given by God and affirmed in the commandment, “Thy shall not steal” are acknowledged and protected by law, everyone has the opportunity to trade their labor or something of value for something else of value. The use of currency and bank accounts allows a person to store the proceeds of their labor for future use and future transactions.

Capitalism is not greedy anymore than socialism is greedy. Individuals who are greedy will be greedy regardless of the economic system. However, socialism does not account for the relationship between giving and getting that has always existed in God’s plan. In fact, once socialism is established as the economic system of a country, individuals actively begin trying to get more than they have to give. But in capitalism there is a direct relationship between giving and getting. The more the individual gives, the more the individual gets.

Individuals who choose [remember free will] to work harder, or work smarter, or work longer, or be more creative, are rewarded more than individuals who choose to do less. Some people start life with a head start by being from a wealthy family, or having good looks, or being bigger or stronger or smarter. But in capitalism, nobody is rewarded for simply being something. In capitalism the rewards come from doing something. The doing part is the great equalizer and the part that makes capitalism so fair.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Capitalism: Free Will

With the possible exception of the entire Cuban government, most entertainers, many college professors, and some Europeans, everyone by now should know that capitalism is superior to all other economic systems. Capitalism is both morally superior and functionally superior to every other economic system that has been attempted. There is no reason to believe any other system will ever outperform capitalism either. I’ve heard Christians claim that economics are not important to God. However, the very reason capitalism works so well is because capitalism is consistent with the laws of God.

The first key to the moral and functional success of capitalism is the fact that God created humans with the free will to make choices, and just as importantly, God punishes and rewards individuals based on the choices each individual makes. I know it’s not always clear why we are being rewarded or punished, and sometimes it feels like we are being rewarded or punished when we are not, but still, a basic of Christian belief, and a fact of life, is that there are consequences to our actions.

The more a society is controlled by legislators, bureaucrats, courts, and administrators, the less individual freedom the members of the society have. Conversely, the less a society is controlled, the more individual freedom is available to the members. Absolute freedom would create anarchy. The extremes do need some control. A society cannot let murderers run free or powerful corporations manipulate markets, but within the extremes, individual choices lead to the best outcomes.

When individuals are allowed to choose what to produce and what to buy, the most innovative producers and the most diligent shoppers are rewarded accordingly. Producers who recognize a need in society that is not being currently met can start supplying a product or service at a price buyers are willing to pay. If the price is too high, some potential buyers will choose not to buy. Likewise, if the price is too low, there will be more people who want to buy, than there is product available. Eventually, the interactions between the buyer and the seller will create an equilibrium where the supply and demand are the same. These free will interactions determine how much product is produced, how much product is bought, and what the right price should be. Some products are introduced with very high profit margins and some products are introduced at a price that doesn’t even cover the cost. Some producers are willing to lose money initially if they believe the long term prospects of their product will create opportunities for a profit.

When individuals are told what to produce, producers are not rewarded for innovation, and buyers are not rewarded for diligence or even allowed to choose what to buy. Socialized medicine and other government solutions to economic needs don’t work because of the lack of free will interactions between the buyer and seller to set a price that rewards innovative producers and diligent buyers. The supply and demand never meet because consumers want more than the producers are willing to produce. Theoretically, socialism could also produce more of a product than consumers are willing to buy, but in practice, socialism never is able to produce enough of anything because socialism doesn’t reward innovative producers.

My next post on capitalism will be about the second key to the moral and functional success of capitalism.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Has Walter E. Williams been reading my blog? : -)

Probably not, but I had a feeling he would get it right.

Selected excerpts:

"Let's examine the "vicious cycle of poverty" myth and whether foreign aid is a necessary ingredient for economic development. The U.S., Britain, France, Canada and most other countries were once poor. Andrew Bernstein of the Ayn Rand Institute wrote in an article titled "Capitalism Is the Cure for Africa's Problems" that pre-industrial Europe was vastly poorer than contemporary Africa.

A relatively well-off country, like France, experienced several famines between the 15th and 18th centuries as well as plagues and diseases that sometimes killed hundreds of thousands. In France, life expectancy was 20 years, in Ireland it was 19 years, and in early 18th-century London, more than 74 percent of the children died before reaching age 5.

Beginning in the late 18th century, there was a dramatic economic turnabout in Europe. How in the world did these once poor and backward countries break the "vicious cycle of poverty" and become wealthy, without what today's development experts say is absolutely necessary for economic growth -- foreign aid handouts, World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans, and billions of dollars of debt forgiveness?

The answer is simple: Capitalism started taking root in Europe. Capitalism is an economic system where there's peaceable, voluntary exchange. Government protects private property rights held in goods and services. There's rule of law and minimal government regulation and control of the economy."

"The worst thing that can be done is to give more foreign aid to African nations. Foreign aid goes from government to government. Foreign aid allows Africa's corrupt regimes to buy military equipment, pay off cronies and continue to oppress their people. It also provides resources for its leaders to set up "retirement" accounts in Swiss banks.

What Africa needs, foreign aid cannot deliver, and that's elimination of dictators and socialist regimes, establishment of political and economic freedom, rule of law and respect for individual rights. Until that happens, despite billions of dollars of foreign aid, Africa will remain a basket case. "


According to Biological Scientists, around one hundred million species have existed since the earth was formed. 30 million are thought to still exist. [Source: PBS Documentary (Take it for what it’s worth; the exact number is not that important for the point of this post.)]

Only one species has ever cooked their own food, harnessed and used electricity, visited the moon, transplanted a heart, painted a Mona Lisa, died to save the life of someone else, written a book, embarrassed themselves blogging, and worshiped God (that we know of).

Doesn’t it take an almost unbelievable amount of faith to believe something would happen based on the odds of 1 in 100,000,000? What kind of intelligence does it take to place a bet for eternity on only 1 chance in 100,000,000 of being right? Can a person be a scientist and not understand finite math?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Suffering

Sometimes people see the suffering of others and then feel compelled help. Many mistakes have been made by trying to relieve the suffering caused by injustice without addressing the underlying injustice or by trying to relieve someone else‘s suffering when the relief is unwarranted. Some suffering is good; suffering causes most people to get stronger or make changes. Injustice is never good. Taken as a whole, the New Testament usually shows the effects of suffering and then prescribes our response to suffering in the context of the injustice that caused the suffering.

I love to see my daughters suffer through a homework assignment. I love to see them suffer as they do their chores. Sometimes I will help to relieve their suffering, but I will never remove their suffering that comes from doing homework or chores because they need the suffering of homework and chores in order to develop their brains and their discipline. I love to suffer as I run an extra lap at the track. I don’t love the pain, but I know it is worth the extra effort to keep my heart strong. I absolutely hated the suffering that came with thirteen weeks of boot camp. Left to my own, I would have quit a million times. Thankfully, we have leaders in this country who understand the importance of suffering. What does “Take up YOUR cross and follow me” mean if it doesn’t mean to prepare to suffer and then suffer?

There are people who think the solution to the problems in Africa is for the developed world to end the suffering. They are wrong. Suffering is never ended by relieving suffering. Suffering is only extended by relieving suffering. There are some people who think prayer and missions and conversions will relieve the suffering in Africa. The are probably also wrong.

There was a time in the United States when a very large percentage of the population were believers; similar to today. However, during this time there was also a lot of suffering. Human beings were being bought and sold and traded and whipped and punished and sometimes even starved and murdered without retribution. The majority of slave owners were believers. It is easy for us to see now that it was a corrupted belief, but it doesn’t change the fact that they considered Christ Lord.

Imagine what would have happened to the institution of slavery in the United States if the solution to the suffering of the slaves was for the debts of the plantation owners to be forgiven and then have the northern population start sending aid to the south. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be writing this in English if the ONE Campaign solution was the solution to slavery in the United States during that period of our history.

President George W. Bush has proven to be a modern day Churchill in regards to Iraq. Nothing short of a modern day Lincoln, and more than a few modern day Yankees, who are willing to suffer, will end the injustice and the resulting suffering in Africa. Concerts by self-indulgent and pampered celebrities are an insult to Africans and everyone else who understands that good intentions rarely equal good results without the appropriate amount of suffering. Sometimes believers must oppose other believers when those other believers are wrong. I wish we all thought with the same mind, but we don’t.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Expert Advice on Africa

Derek Simmons passes along this SPIEGEL Interview with man described as "The Kenyan economics expert".

Selected excerpts:

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...

SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers ...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle.

Shikwati: Of course. Hunger should not be a problem in most of the countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds. Africa is always only portrayed as a continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrial nations, there's a sense that Africa would go under without development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans came along. And we didn't do all that poorly either.

Shikwati: If one were to believe all the horrorifying reports, then all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. It's not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it's only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that.

SPIEGEL: And why's that?

Shikwati: AIDS is big business, maybe Africa's biggest business. There's nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.

Shikwati: I am afraid, though, that the money will still be transfered before long. After all, it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, the Europeans' devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason. It makes no sense whatsoever that directly after the new Kenyan government was elected -- a leadership change that ended the dictatorship of Daniel arap Mois -- the faucets were suddenly opened and streams of money poured into the country.

Shikwati: I am afraid, though, that the money will still be transfered before long. After all, it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, the Europeans' devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason. It makes no sense whatsoever that directly after the new Kenyan government was elected -- a leadership change that ended the dictatorship of Daniel arap Mois -- the faucets were suddenly opened and streams of money poured into the country.

Shikwati: ... jobs that were created artificially in the first place and that distort reality. Jobs with foreign aid organizations are, of course, quite popular, and they can be very selective in choosing the best people. When an aid organization needs a driver, dozens apply for the job. And because it's unacceptable that the aid worker's chauffeur only speaks his own tribal language, an applicant is needed who also speaks English fluently -- and, ideally, one who is also well mannered. So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs. That's just crazy!

Shikwati: And what's the result? A disaster. The German government threw money right at Rwanda's president Paul Kagame. This is a man who has the deaths of a million people on his conscience -- people that his army killed in the neighboring country of Congo.

SPIEGEL: What are the Germans supposed to do?

Shikwati: If they really want to fight poverty, they should completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa should stand on its own two feet.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Preach What You Practice

In an article titled "What rocks is capitalism... yeah, yeah, yeah", Mark Steyn makes more than a few good points about the problems in Africa and the solutions to those problems. He also pokes a little fun in the process.

Selected excerpts:

”And that's why the Live8 bonanza was so misguided. Two decades ago, Sir Bob was at least demanding we give him our own fokkin' money. This time round, all he was asking was that we join him into bullying the G8 blokes to give us their taxpayers' fokkin' money.

Or as Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd put it: "I want to do everything I can to persuade the G8 leaders to make huge commitments to the relief of poverty and increased aid to the Third World. It's crazy that America gives such a paltry percentage of its GNP to the starving nations."

No, it's not. It's no more crazy than Linda McCartney giving such a paltry percentage of her estate - ie, 0 per cent - to Gordon Brown. And, while Britain may be a Bananarama republic, it's not yet the full-blown thing.

Africa is a hard place to help. I had a letter from a reader the other day who works with a small Canadian charity in West Africa. They bought a 14-year-old SUV for 1,500 Canadian dollars to ferry food and supplies to the school they run in a rural village. Customs officials are demanding a payment of $8,000 before they'll release it.

There are thousands of incidents like that all over Africa every day of the week. Yet, throughout the weekend's events, Dave Gilmour and Co were too busy Rocking Against Bush to spare a few moments to Boogie Against Bureaucracy or Caterwaul Against Corruption or Ululate Against Usurpation. Instead, Madonna urged the people to "start a revolution". Like Africa hasn't had enough of those these past 40 years?

Let's take it as read that Sir Bob and Sir Bono are exceptionally well informed and articulate on Africa's problems. Why then didn't they get the rest of the guys round for a meeting beforehand with graphs and pie charts and bullet points in bright magic markers, so that Sir Dave and Dame Madonna would understand that Africa's problem is not a lack of "aid". The tragedy of Live8 is that its message was as cobwebbed as its repertoire.”

”The system that enriched them could enrich Africa. But capitalism's the one cause the poseurs never speak up for. The rockers demand we give our fokkin' money to African dictators to manage, while they give their fokkin' money to Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts to manage. Which of those models makes more sense?"

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Relationships

I’ve never heard a Christian leader claim that Christians have enough relationships in terms of the number of relationships or enough relationship in terms of the quality of a relationship. In fact, a high percentage of sermons and a high percentage of admonitions from Christian leaders are about how believers need to form more and better relationships in order to conform to God’s plan for our lives.

I always try not to assume to know the motives of others. Not that people don’t have motives, but I’ve noticed that there are way too many assumptions made about the motives of others and way too little evaluation of the ideas of others. Now, having written that, let me break my rule for a moment.

I wonder if the reason so many Christian leaders feel the way they do about relationships is because most leaders in general, and especially religious leaders, are highly relational in their own life. These leaders tend to see problems in terms of relationships and see solutions in terms of relationships. Therefore, our ideas about relationships may be skewed by the number of highly relational people who think and write about relationships.

Without accusing any of these leaders of being wrong about God’s plan for our life, I want to offer an alternative view about relationships. It seems to me that people can desire, and covet, and lust after relationships in a way that is similar to lusting after sex or lusting after money or lusting after possessions or lusting after success.

Just as the love of money can create an unhealthy and sinful attitude toward accumulating wealth, the love of relationships can create an unhealthy and sinful attitude toward accumulating relationships. Just as the desire for sex can become insatiable in some people, the desire for new and better relationships can become insatiable in some people. Just as the pride that comes from owning the latest sports car can become an obsession, the pride from attaining an important relationship can become an obsession. Just as the drive for a promotion can prevent a person from living a balanced life, the drive for a better relationship can also prevent a person from living a balanced life.

Perhaps relationships are a part of God’s plan for our lives, but not necessarily God’s entire plan for our lives. Perhaps some believers need to confess and control their lust in the area of relationships similar to how some believers need to confess and control their lust in the area of money, sex, possessions, and success. Perhaps some believes should spend a little more time making things, and growing things, and building things, and maintaining things, and a little less time relating.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Fertilizer

Quiz: If I want a healthier and greener lawn, I can pray for a greener lawn, or I can pray for a greener lawn and apply fertilizer and water to my lawn, or I can just apply fertilizer and water to my lawn. Two of my possible solutions work every time. Which of my solutions is not guaranteed to work?

I hate to disappoint any of the believers out there, but the prayer only solution is the worst of the three solutions and probably won’t even work at all. The reason prayer alone won’t make my grass greener is because God has already provided a solution for the problem of brown lawns in the summer. God's solution is fertilizer and water. Fertilizer and water don’t solve very many problems, but both water and fertilizer are perfect for brown lawns.

Likewise, someone who has been diagnosed with cancer can sit at home and pray for healing or they can get their butt down to the clinic and start chemotherapy. Due to the nature of chemotherapy, I would recommend both prayer and medicine, but I wouldn’t expect the healing of cancer without modern medical methods.

We have no way of knowing how many of our problems or how many of our blessings are because of God’s active will or because of his passive will. I suspect God allows some things to happen and he causes other things to happen. However, from our human perspective, almost all of our problems and all of our blessings come from God through other humans to us.

Africa and Africans need our prayers, but they also need the right human solution. I wouldn’t be as passionate about opposing the ONE Campaign if the proponents were just a bunch of clueless secularists. The reason I am so troubled by the ONE Campaign is the number of Christians and Christian leaders who are advocating a solution that will not work. I can claim with confidence that the forced redistribution of personal resources will not work just like it never has worked because it is against human nature and the laws of God. I can also claim with confidence that there is a human solution that will work because it has always worked and it is consistent with the laws of God.

Just as God has already provided a human solution to the problem of brown lawns, HE has also provided a human solution to the problem of extreme poverty. Fertilizer is not the solution to the problems in Africa. Private property rights, obedience to the laws of God, and voluntary charity, are the human solutions to all of the problems in Africa. The ONE Campaign solution of using the force of law to take from some and give to others really is a bunch of fertilizer.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Exporting Poverty

Practically every problem in the world is caused by some people wanting (coveting) the possessions of others and then finding a way to take those possessions through legal and illegal means. Poverty, AIDS, and starvation are worse in Africa than the rest of the world because most of the countries in Africa do not have any type of protections for private property. No country in Africa has ever had real civil rights, but the countries that once had some form of law protecting private property have been moving in the wrong direction. Zimbabwe is now completely destroyed and South Africa is steadily getting worse.

The leaders of the countries in Africa have stolen to the point where there is practically nothing left to steal. The citizens of the African countries follow their leaders in taking what they want from each other including sex from others who are not their spouse. The problem in all of Africa is institutionalized thievery. Africans can feed themselves and avoid AIDS if their possessions and spouses were protected by law.

Americans could be a big help to the African people if the G8 governments would insist upon private property rights in Africa and then enforce those new private property rights. In other words, the solution to the problems in Africa is to export capitalism to Africa.

However, the ONE Campaign isn’t promoting the right solution. The ONE Campaign wants to export the cause of Africa’s problems to the rest of the world. They think the solution to the problems in Africa is for other governments to start stealing more personal possessions through the coercion and rule of law in order to fund relief and debt reduction for African countries. It won’t work. The ONE Campaign solution will only increase poverty in the rest of the world and do nothing to help Africa solve their problems.

Americans have proven time and time again that the solution to poverty is the freedom for people to keep, give, or trade what they produce. Westerners have proven time and time again that one spouse is the solution to societal instability. Why oh why are we still having these arguments?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Emily Post: Expectations

I started blogging in January with the hopes of improving my thinking and writing skills. For years I have had contrarian ideas percolating in my brain, but whenever I tried to explain my ideas to someone else, I wasn’t able to express my thoughts in a way that made a lot of sense to the person receiving the explanation. [Usually, my dear wife.] I was tired of getting blank stares and rolling eyes. [Usually, but not always, my confounded wife.]

I have discovered that by writing my ideas on this blog, and exposing my ideas to public scrutiny, I have had to rethink many of my positions, and in the process, I have had to modify and change some of my beliefs. I don’t know if my thinking or writing has improved, but I do know the blogging process has been good for me. Ideas no longer percolate forever in my head without getting poured.

The original name of my blog was “Iron Sharpens Iron”. I thought for sure there would be other bloggers and readers who would disagree with some of my opinions. I have gotten some disagreeing comments, but not as many or to the extent that I expected.

I still have a desire to dialogue with others who can defend traditional beliefs or who have new ideas and good reasons for their new ideas. I want to challenge thoughtful bloggers and I want to BE challenged by thoughtful bloggers. I still believe iron sharpens iron, but I’m not so sure how to make it happen in the blogsphere.

As I’ve roamed the blogsphere, I’ve noticed a lot of clustering taking place. Bloggers tend to link to bloggers of like minds and comment on blogs of like minds. Comments on most blogs, most of the time, are comments of affirmation. Once a cluster reaches critical mass, it is hard for any new bloggers to become part of the IN-group in that particular cluster.

I plan to continue to seek dialogue with bloggers of a different mind than my own. I will also continue to link to interesting bloggers on my blogroll, but after a very short period of time, I am going to remove bloggers from my blogroll who do not link back to me and I am also going to remove bloggers from my blogroll who are not interested in dialogue. I don’t expect a response to all of my questions and comments on other blogs, but I do expect a response to most of my questions and some of my comments.

My blogroll is my salute to other bloggers. With only an occasional exception, I will salute those bloggers who salute me and I will expect a salute from the bloggers I salute.