Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No to 'compassionate conservatism'

No to 'compassionate conservatism'

Posted: August 7, 2000
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Well, we've all witnessed the "compassionate conservative" convention.

It left me feeling empty.

I respect Marvin Olasky, the former Marxist journalism professor who coined the term. But he and George W. Bush are barking up the wrong tree if they think "compassionate conservatism" is going to rally popular support necessary to effect the real change needed to turn this country around.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am not a "conservative." I reject the term. I repudiate it.

Why? Because conservatism only makes sense if there is something to "conserve." America is far beyond that point.

The founders gave us something worth conserving -- an ingenious and inspired system of limited government, a constitutional republic of sovereign states, an independent nation, checks and balances against tyranny and protections of individual liberties.

Basically, it's all gone. Today we pay only lip service to some of the ideas. Both parties and politicians of all stripes serve a federal leviathan that respects none of the principles of freedom upon which our nation was created under God.

So what are we "conserving"?

Olasky is right as a historian. He recognizes that there was a better time in America when churches and charities did a better job serving the poor, handicapped and underprivileged. He suggests we need to return to those ideals and a time before the federal government stepped into every aspect of our lives and tread so heavily on our rights.

But, by George, we won't get there by being "conservative" -- compassionate or otherwise.

We will only get there by being radical, revolutionary change agents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry before us. Were these men "conservatives"? Hardly. But they are my heroes. Was Jesus Christ conservative? Hardly. But he is my ultimate hero -- my Savior and my Lord.

Jesus and Washington chose to overturn the world's established order, not preserve it.

You can't tame this beast. That's what America's federal bureaucratic establishment has become. It's a hungry, voracious animal that devours freedom, self-reliance, prosperity and independence. It's much more dangerous than the British Empire was in the 18th century. The founders' dream can only be restored by revolutionary action and a radical agenda for change. Anything short of that will only perpetuate the inevitable march to tyranny.

"Compassionate conservatism," Olasky admits, is an attempt to co-opt a tactic employed by the left during the last 35 years. Liberals used "compassion" as a guise for change. It worked. But conservatives, by definition, oppose change. They seek to preserve. They seek to tinker with a system that is frightfully contemptuous of all the principles upon which human freedom is based. It won't work. At best, "compassionate conservatism" can only slow down the momentum that is driving America down the road to serfdom.

"Compassionate conservatism," for instance, seeks tax credits as rewards for good charitable works. It does not seek the overthrow of the tax system -- the very idea that the government has some inalienable right to confiscate your wealth, your earnings, your property. That is a woefully unambitious agenda. Given the yoke of dependence and servitude with which Americans are currently burdened, it is a very un-compassionate plan of inaction.

I've heard many conservatives attack "compassionate conservatism" because they don't like the adjective. They believe it's squishy and wishy-washy and suggests some conservatives are not compassionate. I'm different. I like the adjective. I don't like the noun.

"Conservatism" has lost any meaning, if, indeed, it ever had any. A conservative in China is a Communist. A conservative in America is an anti-communist. Does this make sense? Conservatives define themselves, it seems, by aligning themselves with the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster in an ever-changing world.

Picture two men involved in a ballgame. One is trying to advance the ball, while the other is trying to hold it still. Who's going to win? Obviously the man who is trying to advance it. Picture two men in the boxing ring. One is trying to knock out his opponent, while his opponent is only trying to defend himself. Who's going to win? Obviously, the fighter who is attacking.

Those are illustrations of why the principle of "compassionate conservativism" cannot win. It is a purely defensive strategy. It is a holding action.

It's also an oxymoron. Because when you are confronted with evil, there is nothing compassionate about standing still.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Hot Air of Climate Change, Part 8

The Hot Air of Climate Change, Part 8

By Kermit Frosch
Published: January 14, 2008, 08:33 AM

This is a multi-part series examining the current debate over "global warming", also known as "climate change".

We live in an era of tremendous technological change. One hundred years ago, most Americans lived or worked on a farm, or in some sort of farming-related service industry. Then, technology improved; one farmer could produce more food; so people went to work in factories, making goods to improve all our lives instead. In recent decades, technology improved again; now, instead of 10,000 people clocking in to a massive factory, you have a few dozen highly trained staff monitoring the computer systems that churn out even more stuff. Things have changed so much, that it's all too easy to say, "Everything is different now! The past doesn't matter!"

For all the changes in technology, human nature has not changed one iota. Our leaders today have the exact same natures that you would find in Caesar's Senate, Nebuchadnezzar's court, or for that matter, Ooga and Booga's cave; the only difference is how they manifest themselves. It's no longer beneficial to clonk your opponent over the head with a club, or poison their wine; so they don't. The end goals, however, are identical: our leaders all want money and power, as leaders always have.

So in considering the fraud of global warming, which has been so successfully perpetrated on most of the world despite being so transparently obvious, it's worth considering: why? How could we reach this point? Who would prostitute science, promote clear falsehoods, and attempt to destroy all the benefits of modern life, all for nothing? And the answer can be clearly seen, if we follow the money, and the power.


As the children of a technological age, most of us have some sort of idealized conception of the scientist - an odd guy in a white coat slaving away in a lab, making amazing discoveries, to the exclusion of everything else in life. Most scientists you see in the movies cannot even comb their hair or wash their clothes; surely such pedestrian concerns as dating and mortgages are beneath them (or maybe above.)

But that view is totally contrary to the real world. No doubt there are some scientists whose whole life is in the lab, just as there are some businessmen whose whole life is the office, some musicians who care only for their music, and even some politicians who'd sell their own mothers for a bigger budget. Most scientists, though, are just like anybody else: they juggle test tubes from 9 to 5, then drive home in their SUV to watch American Idol. They'd like to have a nicer car; a bigger house; finer schools for their children; and, nowadays, maybe even the chance to participate in an IPO and become rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

And like anybody else, they respond to what's being demanded by the market. The trouble is, the market for science is an odd one. Really, it's two markets. There's certainly a market for science in the business world - Intel, Gilette, and countless other large companies employ thousands of researchers trying to come up with useful innovations. But that kind of science is not as prestigious as the other kind - the "pure research." Almost by definition, that sort of science is not useful - or at least, not obviously useful. Of course, there's certainly the hope that it might be useful - Einstein's Theory of Relativity has some interesting implications, and contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. But it didn't make any money for him or for any of his colleagues. The profit in nuclear weapons and nuclear power was quite disconnected from the research.

So where did Einstein work, anyway? At a university - Princeton, to be exact. In the United States, our system of major research institutions is designed to allow scientists the freedom to investigate pretty much whatever they themselves consider worthy of research, in the hope that they'll trip over something worthwhile. And it's worked fairly well for a long time.

The trouble is that science has gotten very very expensive of late. Time was when you could do useful, original research with a few dollars' worth of test tubes, chemicals, and beakers. Now, most of the easy stuff has long since been nailed down; to come up with anything really new, it takes a lab full of expensive computers, specialized measuring equipment, and all sorts of things. The money has to come from somewhere.

Thus, we have government funding of science, via grants. Many if not most science professors who are doing research at universities, may be receiving their paycheck from the university, but the actual money is coming from a government research grant. If the government grant ends, so does their salary.

Which brings us to the first reason why global warming has become the force that it is. Dr. John Coleman, the founder of the Weather Channel and a professional meteorologist (that is to say, a professional student of the weather), gives this explanation:

Scientists know that if they do research and results are in no way alarming, their research will gather dust on the shelf and their research careers will languish. But if they do research that sounds alarms, they will become well known and respected and receive scholarly awards and, very importantly, more research dollars will come flooding their way.

So when these researchers did climate change studies in the late 90's they were eager to produce findings that would be important and be widely noticed and trigger more research funding. It was easy for them to manipulate the data to come up with the results they wanted to make headlines and at the same time drive their environmental agendas. Then their like minded PhD colleagues reviewed their work and hastened to endorse it without question.

There were a few who didn't fit the mold. They did ask questions and raised objections. They did research with contradictory results. The environmental elitists berated them and brushed their studies aside.

Supposing a scientist did research, and reported that the sky is blue. He'd be ridiculed for wasting his time, and certainly wouldn't get any more money to burn on something so lame. But, suppose instead that he reported the sky to be green. Now, that would be new! Some might agree; others would disagree. But at the very least, more research would be required to resolve the issue - and the scientist's paycheck could continue.

And once the entire scientific establishment, or a large portion of it, is subsisting off of one single theme, do you think it likely that they would support research which might show that theme to be fraudulent?

Look at it this way: would any group of people support another person who was arguing the first group's beliefs to be wrong? Of course not! Any child in a playground could tell you this. So why do we think scientists are somehow more noble than anybody else? They aren't - they are mostly just ordinary people with ordinary problems, wanting the next raise.

But, why would their paymasters - the government - allow research dollars to be wasted in this way? The money might have been spent on some other, more useful (not to say true) science. Go and research a cure for cancer, or cold fusion, or something.

And that presents us with the other key driving force behind the global warming fraud.


Just as with scientists, bureaucrats wish a better life for themselves. They want more prestige, more authority, a bigger budget, a larger staff, and certainly a bigger paycheck. If you are the administrator of some obscure and irrelevant government backwater, your prestige is not going to be very high, nor anything else. If, on the other hand, you are given the opportunity to transform your agency into a "happening place," wouldn't you jump at it? So, is it any surprise that the bureaucracy, top to bottom, jumped on board with the scientists to help create the "global warming crisis"? It's simply human nature at work!

But now, it's gone far beyond that. A growing bureaucracy is bad enough, but there are many leaders worldwide who have seen the opportunity, and the excuse, to increase their power on a global scale.

For what is regulation, but the opposite of freedom? By definition, as regulations increase, freedom decreases.

In San Francisco, you no longer have the freedom to choose what sort of bag you want at the grocery store - the government has chosen for you (paper).

California is seriously considering banning the ordinary light bulb - Thomas Edison must be rolling over in his grave. That would mean that you could no longer choose to have lights on a dimmer, since flourescents don't work with ordinary dimmers; it would also mean the poor could no longer choose to have well-lighted houses, since compact flourescent bulbs cost ten times as much as the old ones.

Nationally, you cannot even choose to buy a strongly-flushing toilet. The only legal toilets are "low-flow" such that one must flush it mutiple times to obtain any serious effect.

These are all relatively small and minor nuisances, and we've learned to work with (or around?) them. But little nuisances become big ones.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has rejected the construction of much-needed new electric power plants.

Canada is trying to ban leaf blowers and gasoline lawnmowers, to cut down on carbon emissions.

Activists are attempting to disrupt and derail the desperately-needed expansion of Heathrow airport in London. As perhaps the most grossly-overcrowded and dysfunctional airport in the Western world, Heathrow has needed expanded facilities for decades, but the global-warming crowd would prefer flying to be as uncomfortable and inconvenient as possible to make people less inclined to fly. This impasse affects the entire traveling population of England, much of Western Europe, and Europe-bound Americans.

As we've already seen, the CAFE fuel-efficiency regulations in the United States have led to deaths, as people drive government-mandated smaller, lighter cars which are less safe than bigger, more heavily-built ones.

Yet, we see Al Gore flitting around the globe on a gas-guzzling, ozone-destroying private jet. He doesn't feel that global warming or climate change requires any sacrifice from him. Sacrifice is for little people like you and me.

The protesters will never shut down Heathrow airport - but by limiting its capacity, they will drive up the price of air travel. This is no big deal for the rich, but makes it harder for ordinary folks to go on vacation. The same is true of higher gas prices caused by environmental taxes, and of higher electric power prices caused by bans on new power plants. Sacrifice is for little people, not for plutocrats like Al Gore.

As people see their living standards declining, where will they naturally turn? To government, of course! We see this taking place with government fuel assistance programs; how much more so will this be, when the full cost of government regulations and environmental taxes are felt?

The global warming scam has been foisted upon the public for very good and clear reasons, not because it's true. The people involved have private motivations and beliefs, just as we all do. Scientists want research grants, more published papers, and to be listened to by the general public. Bureaucrats want a bigger department and more clout. Politicians want a crisis - any crisis - so they can ride to power with a "solution". Is there a secret conspiracy of the world's leaders, meeting in an underground chamber somewhere, to create this fraud for their own benefit? [Insert Dr. Evil laugh here.] No, almost certainly not. No conspiracy is needed. This all comes about simply by following the motivations of the various players involved. Follow the money and follow the power.

What's needed is a strong dose of truth and reality. Polls show that, although Americans are concerned about global warming, they're still far from convinced that the Al Gore path is the way to follow; we even saw this effect in an earlier discussion. In other countries, the measures taken to reduce carbon emissions are provoking a backlash. More and more voices are being heard, saying quietly, and then louder and louder, "It's a lie!"

Now you know the truth, and have the arguments to back it up. And with each person who actually studies the evidence and thinks it through, the forces of falsehood grow weaker. As Winston Churchill once observed,

"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing... after they have exhausted all other possibilities."
Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for Read other articles on environment and global warming

Ethanol - The Perfect Boondoggle

Ethanol - The Perfect Boondoggle

By Petrarch
Published: August 9, 2007, 09:28 AM

Western society, with its tremendous need for energy, has been primarily petroleum based since at least the Second World War. If you consider transportation needs alone, dependence on oil goes back further than that, to the 1920s. As a fuel, oil-based products have so many advantages that it is difficult to imagine any effective replacement. Electric? Either you need extremely expensive infrastructure, as with the overhead lines on high-speed railways, or you need heavy, expensive batteries filled with nasty chemicals. Coal? Chunks of filthy rock have their place, but in my car isn't one of them, and while there have been experiments with converting coal into something a little easier to use, they haven't been economically successful. Hydrogen and other gases? Aside from the question of where you get the hydrogen in the first place, storing high-pressure explosive gas in fast-moving vehicles has its disadvantages.

Now comes a solution which claims to present an answer to all these problems: ethanol. Since it comes from plants, ethanol is a renewable resource; and since it's a farm product, it can be produced anywhere that farming is feasible. Ethanol refining results in a liquid, which is far easier to transport and use than solids (coal) and gases (hydrogen). Ethanol even works with today's existing car technology, if it's mixed with ordinary gasoline; and with fairly minor modifications, an ordinary car can burn straight ethanol. What's not to like?

Well, there are a couple of technical problems with this approach. For one thing, it seems to be illegal to convert a normal car to run on ethanol. Cars are so heavily regulated that any change must be vetted by the government, and this one hasn't been. (Ethanol is not alone with this problem; bio-diesel falls foul of EPA regs too.) Another problem is the inherent chemistry of ethanol; it doesn't pack nearly as much of a punch as gasoline, so if you are using ethanol to fuel a car, your mileage goes down accordingly - in some cases, by quite a lot.

Even the environmental benefits of ethanol are somewhat questionable. Sure, ethanol comes from renewable plants. But, in the US, almost all ethanol comes from corn, which doesn't exactly grow wild. A corn farm requires large amounts of (petroleum-based) fertilizers; many miles driven by (petroleum-fueled) farm equipment; and even the conversion of corn into ethanol takes a great deal of energy, almost as much as the ethanol itself can produce. Studies at MIT conclude that the environmental benefit of ethanol is basically too close to call - that is, corn-based ethanol is so inefficient in other ways, that it's environmentally as harmful as gasoline. And goodness knows ethanol is not cheaper - in fact, each gallon of ethanol receives a 51-cent subsidy from the federal government, and it's still more expensive than the Saudi stuff!

So the only real reason that ethanol finds its way into our gas tanks, is the one we know to look for whenever something stupid is going on - government interference. The law requires oil companies to mix ethanol in with their gasoline, and to almost double the amount of it by 2012. However, this is an exercise in futility. Even if every last corn-cob grown in the US was lobbed into an ethanol refinery, that would still meet only 10% of our current petroleum consumption.

Are we going to give up our corn-on-the-cob and nacho chips, to fuel our cars? It's no laughing matter - the famous laws of supply and demand are already at work here. Every bushel of corn that's turned into ethanol, is a bushel of corn that is not available at the grocery store for you to eat. That pushes up the price of food. Of course, the frozen Birdseye is going to get more expensive - but it's surprising just how dependent our entire food chain is on corn. Perhaps we can afford to pay a little more for food, but the world's poor can't.

A great deal of meat is produced by feeding animals. Corn products, such as cornflour, are found in most cereals and a great many backed goods. How about dairy products, which come from corn-fed cows?

Then there's that famously unhealthy sweetener, corn syrup, which shows up in darn near everything. And therein lies a tale.

Traditionally, sugar has been the most common sweetener used in our food - either cane sugar, or sugar refined from sugar beets. Everyone is familiar with the white stuff you spoon into your coffee, and years ago food manufacturers did much the same thing on a larger scale, with train cars full of refined sugar. Then, in the 1970s, corn syrup was developed as a cheaper alternate source of sweetness. But corn syrup is not naturally cheaper than sugar, for many of the same reasons that ethanol is not naturally cheaper than petroleum - more refining is needed to turn the corn-cob into something useful. So how is it that corn syrup is cheaper? Again we find - government interference, through tariffs and subsidies.

The government subsidizes American sugar cane and sugar beet production, and places high tariffs and strict quotas on importing foreign sugar. The end result is that in the US, sugar costs about double the price paid elsewhere in the world, costing American consumers billions, and benefiting primarily industrial-scale producers such as ADM. Since the corn is grown in the US, it is not subject to import restrictions, and corn syrup can compete - but only because the price of sugar is twice what it ought to be.

Brazil is one of the world's leading producers of sugar, and is often cited as an example to follow when it comes to ethanol. Being a tropical country, Brazil has a very easy time growing sugar cane, which is not so easy in Iowa. And as sugar cane makes cheaper sugar than corn, so does sugar cane make ethanol more easily. In fact, the comparison is truly astonishing. An acre of sugar cane can produce 650 gallons of ethanol, as compared to 400 gallons for an acre of corn - but beyond that, 6,500 kcal of energy are required to produce one gallon of ethanol from sugar cane, most of which can be obtained by burning the sugar stalks. To get one gallon of ethanol from corn, it takes 28,000 kcal of energy - more than four times as much!

Why on earth are we attempting to grow the ethanol ourselves, when we have available a large, friendly country with 30 years of experience in producing ethanol, from an inherently more efficient source? Why don't we see ethanol tankers from Brazil pulling up to our docks every day?

By now, you can probably guess the answer already. Sure enough, the US has a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol, enough to price it out of the market. The combination of tariffs on ethanol and other farm products, and our farm subsidies, has led to a great many problems in free trade agreements - if we won't lower our tariffs, other countries won't lower theirs, making it more difficult for American companies to export American products, as well as more expensive for us to buy things domestically.

So let's review for a moment. How are we robbed?

We are robbed at the gas pump, because of the government requirements for overpriced ethanol, a gift to factory farms and industrial agriculture.

We are robbed at the grocery store, because anything with corn in it is going up in price, as the corn is needlessly converted to ethanol by government decree, instead of being sold as food.

We are robbed again at the grocery store, because we are paying twice as much as we should for sugar, again a gift to big sugar corporations.

And we're robbed in our taxes, because we pay subsidies, both to farmers for growing corn and sugar, and to ethanol producers who must make ethanol inefficiently from corn, when Brazil can do it more efficiently and cheaply from sugar cane.

Anything else? Oh, yes, we are starving the poor by driving up world food prices, and damaging the environment in so doing.

A more perfectly destructive boondoggle would be hard to imagine. Our government at its finest!

Petrarch is a staff writer for Read other articles on economics, regulation, Brazil, corn, farm subsidies, sugar, energy, ethanol and tariffs

Study: Ethanol Production Consumes Six Units Of Energy To Produce Just One

Study: Ethanol Production Consumes Six Units Of Energy To Produce Just One

ScienceDaily (Apr. 1, 2005) — In 2004, approximately 3.57 billion gallons of ethanol were used as a gas additive in the United States, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). During the February State of the Union address, President George Bush urged Congress to pass an energy bill that would pump up the amount to 5 billion gallons by 2012. UC Berkeley geoengineering professor Tad W. Patzek thinks that's a very bad idea.

For two years, Patzek has analyzed the environmental ramifications of ethanol, a renewable fuel that many believe could significantly reduce our dependence on petroleum-based fossil fuels. According to Patzek though, ethanol may do more harm than good.

"In terms of renewable fuels, ethanol is the worst solution," Patzek says. "It has the highest energy cost with the least benefit."

Ethanol is produced by fermenting renewable crops like corn or sugarcane. It may sound green, Patzek says, but that's because many scientists are not looking at the whole picture. According to his research, more fossil energy is used to produce ethanol than the energy contained within it.

Patzek's ethanol critique began during a freshman seminar he taught in which he and his students calculated the energy balance of the biofuel. Taking into account the energy required to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol, they determined that burning the biofuel as a gasoline additive actually results in a net energy loss of 65 percent. Later, Patzek says he realized the loss is much more than that even.

"Limiting yourself to the energy balance, and within that balance, just the fossil fuel used, is just scraping the surface of the problem," he says. "Corn is not 'free energy.'"

Recently, Patzek published a fifty-page study on the subject in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Science. This time, he factored in the myriad energy inputs required by industrial agriculture, from the amount of fuel used to produce fertilizers and corn seeds to the transportation and wastewater disposal costs. All told, he believes that the cumulative energy consumed in corn farming and ethanol production is six times greater than what the end product provides your car engine in terms of power.

Patzek is also concerned about the sustainability of industrial farming in developing nations where surgarcane and trees are grown as feedstock for ethanol and other biofuels. Using United Nations data, he examined the production cycles of plantations hundreds of billions of tons of raw material.

"One farm for the local village probably makes sense," he says. "But if you have a 100,000 acre plantation exporting biomass on contract to Europe , that's a completely different story. From one square meter of land, you can get roughly one watt of energy. The price you pay is that in Brazil alone you annually damage a jungle the size of Greece ."

If ethanol is as much of an environmental Trojan horse as Patzek's data suggests, what is the solution? The researcher sees several possibilities, all of which can be explored in tandem. First, he says, is to divert funds earmarked for ethanol to improve the efficiency of fuel cells and hybrid electric cars.

"Can engineers double the mileage of these cars?" he asks. "If so, we can cut down the petroleum consumption in the US by one-third."

For generating electricity on the grid, Patzek's "favorite renewable energy" to replace coal is solar. Unfortunately, he says that solar cell technology is still too immature for use in large power stations. Until it's ready for prime time, he has a suggestion that could raise even more controversy than his criticisms of ethanol additives.

"I've come to the conclusion that if we're smart about it, nuclear power plants may be the lesser of the evils when we compare them with coal-fired plants and their impact on global warming," he says. "We're going to pay now or later. The question is what's the smallest price we'll have to pay?"

Adapted from materials provided by University Of California - Berkeley.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is A New Dark Age At Hand?

January 27, 2008

Is A New Dark Age At Hand?

By Lawrence Murray

The Internet has brought a sudden and tremendous change in the history of man's search for information. We like to think that the Internet, the I-Pod, the I-phone, and all the other "Eyes of the Future" will bring about a new Age of Enlightenment, with all the wisdom and artistry of mankind instantly available to everyone's fingertips.

But suppose we're wrong. As Herbert E. Meyer recently put it:

"...information is like water. It's vital to our lives; we cannot survive without it. But if too much pours over us - we drown."

I dare to suggest that we are drowning, that the dam has burst and we are bring swept by the deluge into a new Dark Age of ignorance and superstition.

The Google glut

In the Dark Ages - which began with barbarians driving Roman civilization from Europe and ended with the Medieval awakening, the Italian Renaissance and the Gutenberg revolution - long nights were filled with gossip, rumor, storytelling, and idle fancies flowing into a fact-impoverished world....

Today, easy access to the Internet is flooding us with gossip, rumor, celebrity tales, and slant that drown out the trickle of actual truth. The Internet can tell you anything you want to know with a googly glance at its googol of inputs. We no longer need seek out and read a book to learn; we need only power a search engine with a few words, even when they're spelt inkorekly. Internet's Wikipedia, which is as objective as a list on a barroom menu, and often as fully fact-checked as a diatribe, has all but replaced studiously researched encyclopedias.

"Information" is not the same thing as "fact". But eventually, we forget the distinction and uncritically accept all information as truth. When a briefly popular author invented a mythical society, the Priory of Sion, Google was rapidly filled with thousands of references to its history, organization, famous leaders, and its lost, hidden or church-burned documents - none of which were true. Need one add that 70% of us believe in UFOs and 70% believe that JFK was the victim of a political assassination plot.

And thus, if it's "hot" on the Internet, we uncritically accept the fad of the moment. A growing multitude drink water from bottles that Pepsi and Coke fill from New York water faucets rather than drink the water coming out of those faucets because we've been warned that non-toilet trained Catskill fish swam in it.

The stifling of skills

In the Dark Ages, the upheavals from wars and barbarian invasions eroded education and the common knowledge of skills and arts, which were preserved only in a few places such as monasteries....

We accept this flood uncritically because we are no longer trained to use our minds. In ancient days, one was expected to listen to and retain a million words for instant recitation. Then, the Greeks and Romans, and their latter-day Renaissance counterparts, couched their minions to read the written word, rather than listen to some minstrel song, like those from the likes of Homer. But at least education in readin', ritin' and 'rithmetic were still considered a necessity as ways of training the mind to think.

Now, when hand calculators instantly answer the most complicated A/S/M/D mélange conceivable and times-tables are no longer necessary, memory can be used for better things like celebrity gossip and e-mail addresses. Why bother anyway? Sex ed and 'personal development" are the real needs!

The passivation of leisure

We are also losing our leisure skills. Western society brags of the prosperity brought to it by technological breakthroughs while disregarding their social side-effects. These inventions with unintended consequences began with Scotland inventing the Industrial Revolution, thereby causing labor to move from farms to mines and mills. Then the phonograph brought music into every house-bound ear, thereby inducing parents and children, who once learned and played instruments at home and amuse themselves in neighborly song fests, amateur combos, quartets and pickup bands to just sit and listen to the parlor Victrola. Listening replaced performing.

Radio brought entertainment and the world into the living room, so that neighbors and relatives who had once gathered to chat and tell stories sat quietly in front of talking boxes. And why bother to read so much, if just listening is easier and cheaper. In passing, it ought be stated that free radio brought along radio ads that provoked family purchases of a superabundance of Wheaties, Ovaltine, Pepsi, Ivory-soap, Tide and Lux.

Then came television, showing scenes and details that could only be imagined while listening to the radio, so imagination was left to Castles-in-Spain daydream-time. There were also movies, but why drive to theaters when you can watch a move on TV or download it from the Internet.

And what little reading we now do is confined to TV schedules, movie timetables, and magazines and books about the doings of politicians and celebrities whom TeeVee made infamous. Or we try to dig up the real dirt about those celebrities on - yes - the Internet.

We used to go to concerts. Now, enabled by Dialup to download any music onto a CD, music is more easily heard using good earphones than by motoring through downtown traffic to Symphony Hall to look three tiers down at a hundred seated people chugging away! Symphonies are declining everywhere while motion-dominant Opera thrives: another victory for look over listen.

We used to participate in sports. Then, TV began gobbling up the remaining free time, once devoted to stickball, stoopball, roller-skating and burying treasure in empty lots, to watching professional sports on TV or simulating them in computer games. Even the most basic physical activities of our ancestors, such as walking or horseback riding, were obliterated by the automobile - which at least provided some arm and right-foot exercise.. But even that will soon be eliminated by telecommuting and Internet shopping. We are becoming a nation of couch- and console-potatoes.

The triumph of triviality

The upheavals of the Dark Ages so restricted travel that most people lived in isolated villages, unknowing and unconcerned with great issues and preoccupied with the trivia of daily life...

E-mail instantly and cheaply sends our just-thought-ofs' to your computer list. No longer need you spend time writing down and thinking about what you're going to say. And you don't have to worry about spelling [nor own a dictionary anymore]: an email maven corrects spelling [never information or syntax] errors. Messages need not be composed with pith, wit, personality or any particular intent. They need only be laboriously typed without a syntactical glance and sent out quickstep. On hearing "You've got mail", most such free-from-thinking machinations are scanned with deserved dispatch and deleted. Inadvertently have we also deleted from our lives the joys and treasures of personal correspondence - treasured emails lie in the category of seashore sand-castles; they get tidied up in the next tide. Autographed signatures at the bottom of cherished letters have been replaced with scrawls of accidental heroes on baseballs and movie albums.

Cell phones provide instantaneous communiqués to wherever a whomever happens to be. One often talks the instant a name pops into her head so that chatting takes the place of time-wasting speculation about work, family, church or country.

In being preoccupied with trivia, we're only imitating our masters in the entertainment world. With the triumph of FX and morphing, movies and TV shows have lost what little literacy they ever had. Dialogue movies have started to disappear with flash, slash, and bash becoming Hollywood's latest sacred cash-cow. On TV, CSI's multiple second-long quick cuts, and "unscripted" Que Sera, Sera reality shows are replacing slow-moving situation comedies, mysteries, musicals and adventure tales. Modern talkies - and now TV - contain fewer words than silent films showed in their title cards.

And needless to say, the Internet encourages, and amplifies this trend toward triviality: digits ranging through digitized agendas instead of eyes scanning a better known analog world; ear-splitting sounds rather than script-advancing dialogue; dramatic eye-confounding screen switches instead of stage play continuity. Game buttons, Cable remotes, and Internet clicking have trained us to hop, skip, and jump - rather than slowly turn pages in an easy chair.


And so, the Internet has induced society to scorch its path from see-read-listen-remember-digest into scan and flip, thereby replacing judgment with opinion, objective reasoning with subjective impression, and common sense with consensus. We are thus becoming perfect little lemmings, easily stampeded by marketers, fad creators, propagandists, and politicians with hidden agendas.

Is our culture navigating the circle back to where darkness lies waiting for us? Is our modern path freeing us from thought - while letting in a new horde of barbarians, the Superficials, to open our gates to a New Dark Age?

With easy-access now on cell phone and soon, perhaps, via a chip implanted into our cortexes or spines, this next fifty years is going to get very interesting (in the Chinese sense) unless the world ends first - or until something or Someone more meaningful comes.

Cream Rises to the Top, Even on the Internet

January 27, 2008

Cream Rises to the Top, Even on the Internet

By Thomas Lifson

In the Dark Ages, information was a rare and precious commodity. Books were copied by hand, and were expensive, rare, and unavailable to most people, who could not, in any event, read them, as literacy was limited largely to the nobility and clergy. Most book publication was in the hands of religious orders, whose scribes produced many beautiful examples of illuminated manuscripts, enhancing the beauty of the Scriptures and other sacred works with exquisite artistic flair.

Once Johannes Gutenberg's infernal invention moved beyond publication of the Bible and fell into the Wrong Hands, the average quality of books was never again so high in the West. All sorts of mischief resulted, upsetting the political, religious, and social order. Martin Luther's 95 Theses, leading to a long, fierce and deadly religious war, were an early sign of the trouble to come. With religious authorities no longer controlling the flow of published information, the slippery slope downward was inevitable, leading to romance novels, pornography, and It Takes A Village receiving widespread circulation.

So it is with internet. While Lawrence Murray offers American Thinker readers a perceptive critique of many serious problems accompanying the arrival of the internet, and while we should strive to minimize the downside he persuasively identifies, I am thrilled that I have lived to see the arrival of the internet, and have been privileged to launch a publishing venture that never would have been possible in the era of print and centralized control of broadcasting. The tender mercies of the elites in control of major newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters are insufficient to ensure a balanced and accurate supply of information reaching those who care about politics, art, culture, and many other expressions of the human intellect and soul.

When ordinary people are in charge of making decisions over their own lives, it is inevitable that many of their choices over what to do, what to read and think, and how to take care of themselves, will displease others who reckon themselves better educated, more aware, and more capable of infusing those choices with wisdom. And when those same ordinary people are able to publish their own thoughts for the world to see, a lot of what they produce will be dross. This is both the peril and glory of a mass culture of culture producers. As seen on YouTube, where terrible dreck exists, but where rising geniuses get access to the world's eyeballs.

The nearly ubiquitous phenomenon of Wikipedia illustrates well the tradeoff we make by accepting the internet. Yes, it is true as Murray avers, that Wikipedia entries can include nonsense and worse. But a self-correcting mechanism exists, and is put to good use: readers and the public are able to dispute incorrect information. When links to additional information are included, readers can search for the truth themselves. For all faults, Wikipedia has enabled me to gather information effortlessly, and as a result on a daily basis I have informed myself of a far broader range of subjects than was possible two decades ago.

Yes, nonsense can become amplified by the arrival of Google and other search engines. But it does not take much life experience before internet users grasp the concept that mere arrival of information on a computer screen does not guarantee reliability. Perhaps there is a higher percentage of nonsense published on the internet than in books, but there have been some pretty awful nonsense books published with great harm resulting (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf, for instance). At least counter-arguments can be rapidly produced and distributed on the internet when a comparably evil work is produced on the web.

Movies were regarded as cheapening the art of stage performance. Recorded music threatened live performers, as did radio. Television took less imagination than radio and went for the lowest common denominator. Every advance in the technology of communications is denounced as vulgarizing earlier artistic forms. And the younger generation's fecklessness has troubled their elders since the dawn of civilization. The complaints Lawrence Murray offers are hardly new or unique to the internet.

The web is still in its infancy. The reason I am optimistic that it will lead to a better (though far from perfect) culture and society is that the very accessibility ensuring vast quantities of low quality information also serves to sort out the good from the bad. Critical voices have access to the web, too. And they can be virally distributed. You can't suppress dissent, and leaving a reasonable argument unanswered becomes a public act with archives a hyperlink away.

Those of us who publish on the internet hear almost instantaneously from critics when a typo, , much less a questionable assertion is published. Those who refuse to be responsive to such critics quickly lose their reputation for quality and reliability, for the critics have full access to the world's eyes and ears.

If anything, skepticism is on the rise because critics are able to find an audience for their questions. We saw how this worked in Rathergate. Certainly Dan Rather and his colleagues at CBS News were appalled at being questioned over the reliability of a docment on which their report was based. To them, the internet seemed pernicious indeed, But in the end, the truth will out, and these days it runs at the speed of light.

It makes great sense to be concerned about the tradeoffs we face with the arrival of the internet. But those who believe in the marketplace of ideas as a sorting mechanism for discerning Truth have nothing to fear.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.

Protection And Profit From Falling Dollar And Rising Inflation

Protection And Profit From Falling Dollar And Rising Inflation

Issue #355 11/7/2003
The U.S. dollar is now vulnerable to a decline on two fronts — against major foreign currencies and in terms of its declining purchasing power in the United States.

Already, based on our recommendations in this column, you should be protecting yourself — and profiting — with:

  • About 10% of your conservative portfolio in Prudent Global Income Fund (PSAFX, 800-711-1848,, which has enjoyed nice gains, and/or American Century International Bond Fund (BEGBX, 800-345-2021,, which has done even better. But don't let the difference in their relative past performance bother you. Both are still buys. Here's a chart showing their relative progress:

    Contra-Dollar Funds

    Both of these mutual funds are designed to benefit from a declining dollar, but each does so in a somewhat different manner. The American Century fund buys short maturity highly-rated bonds of overseas governments and corporations in non-dollar currencies. Prudent Global Income fund, meanwhile, also includes shares of gold companies in its allocations, along with a modest allocation to US treasuries for stability.

  • About 15% in gold-related investments, which are also doing very nicely. Now, it's time to go a few of steps further.

    Step 1. Reduce your Treasury-bill allocation from 45% to 30%. That's still more than adequate for good safety and liquidity.

    Step 2. Open an account with Everbank. It's owned by First Alliance Bank in Jacksonville, Florida, which earns a Weiss Rating of B (good) and is insured by the FDIC up to $100,000. You can reach them via email at or by calling 1-800-926-4922.

    Step 3. Their minimum account is $10,000. If that's more than 10% of the amount you've allocated to our Conservative Portfolio, add to your dollar-contra funds instead. Otherwise, put the 10% of your Conservative Portfolio into their 3-month euro CD, yielding 1.26%.

    Although the interest is better than the equivalents in the U.S., the primary goal is appreciation in the value of the currency. I like the euro because it has such a strong uptrend against the dollar.

    Step 4. Set aside 5% of your portfolio to buy Enerplus Resources Fund (ERF). This is a closed-end investment trust that produces a steady flow of earnings from various royalties it receives from the distribution of natural gas and oil. But don't buy it right away. Wait for it to decline some more and pay no more than $25.75 for it.

    Portfolio Update

    To sum up, here's what your Conservative Portfolio should look like:

    1. Treasury bills or equivalent money funds: 30%. Buy directly through the Treasury Direct program (for info, call 800-722-2678 or visit

    One of the most convenient ways to buy is through money market funds specialized in Treasuries, such as:
    • American Century Capital Preservation Fund, ticker symbol CPFXX (800-345-2021;
    • Dreyfus 100% US Treasury Fund, ticker symbol DUSXX (800-645-6561;
    • Fidelity Spartan US Treasury Fund, ticker symbol FDLXX (800-544-8888;
    • USGI US Treasury Securities Cash Fund , ticker symbol USTXX (800-873-8637;
    • Also consider our own Weiss Treasury Only Money Fund, ticker symbol WEOXX (800-814-3045;
    2. 3- to 5-year Treasury notes: 15%. No change in your allocation.

    3. Dollar-contra funds: 10%. No change.

    4. Euro CD: 10% (see above).

    5. Gold-related investments: 15% (see Larry's Gold Column).

    6. Enerplus (ERF): 5% (see above).

    7. Other energy related investments: 15%, including ...
    • Provident Energy Trust (AMEX-PVX), which rose as high as $8.63 in October, nearing my sell targets. Sell half at $8.90 or better and the other half at $9.40 or better. In the meantime, hold on and enjoy the dividends.

    • Pogo Producing Company (NYSE-PPP): Profits rose from $31.6 million to $67.7 million in the third quarter for this company. But the shares slipped as oil prices fell. Hold.

    • Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE -KMP): 5%. KMP announced third-quarter net income up from $80.4 million to $95.6 million. Hold.
    8. FTI Consulting (NYSE-FCN). Last month we recommended that you exit this stock at $18 or better, and it rallied as far as $20, giving you ample opportunity to get out.
  • Sunday, January 27, 2008

    The gospel of money


    Pinsky_12opedonline The gospel of money

    Megachurch pastors and broadcast ministries are drawing renewed scrutiny for living lavishly off the faithful’s funds. Fortunately, a divide is emerging in the world of evangelicals: the ‘haves’ and the ‘will have none of it.’

    By Mark I. Pinsky

    "The love of money," the New Testament teaches in I Timothy 6:10, "is the root of all evil." But what about some televangelists' fondness for major bling — such as multiple, multimillion dollar estates, luxury cars, vacation homes, exotic trips and private jets? Does that make them, in the words of one author, "pimps in the pulpit?"

    Many outside the evangelical movement are puzzled by the apparent lack of outrage following reports of high-living, tax-exempt religious broadcasters. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been looking into six megachurch pastors and broadcast ministries, requesting financial records. Richard Roberts has stepped down as president of Oral Roberts University following charges that he used the school's resources for family perks, such as a trip to the Bahamas for his daughter.

    These charges come as no surprise to those within the evangelical world. Such tales of excess and profligacy have been an open secret for years.

    (Illustration by Sam Ward, USA TODAY)

    Some justify this way of life by arguing that, as advocates of the "prosperity gospel," it only follows that those who are the most faithful will prosper — in a big way. Is this why there has been no outcry among the faithful? Perhaps it is a reflexive circling of the wagons.

    "Within conservative media ministries, criticism from outsiders often is seen as a badge of honor that validates a ministry's righteousness," says Quentin Schultze, of Michigan's Calvin College, author of Christianity and the Mass Media in America.

    Loyalty or gullibility?

    But there is something new going on. Just as political, ideological and generational fissures are emerging among the nation's evangelical leadership, there is also one involving lifestyle.

    In one camp are those being scrutinized by Grassley: Benny Hinn of Texas, a flamboyant faith healer whose followers believe he can raise the dead; Paula White, a motivational speaker whose recent divorce from her co-pastor husband rocked their Tampa megachurch; and Joyce Meyer, a St. Louis author and speaker whose broadcasts are heard in 200 countries. They make no apologies for the way they spend their salaries, speaking fees, CD and book royalties and "love offerings," lavish gifts of cash and jewelry.

    What makes this discussion delicate and sometimes uncomfortable — especially among evangelicals — is that many of these leaders come from the Pentecostal (or Charismatic) tradition. This brings with it undercurrents of class and culture. Historically, those once derided by other Christians as "holy rollers" for their ecstatic prayer and preaching have their roots in the working and lower-middle class, in rural areas and small towns. There is the implication that their leaders, having grown up in hardscrabble circumstances, tend to have a nouveau riche weakness for flashy displays of wealth.

    In the other camp are those in the Billy Graham tradition, who are determined to live more modestly and to give back much of what they earn. These include Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and author of The Purpose-Driven Life; and Joel Osteen, leader of Houston's Lakewood Church and author of Your Best Life Now.

    Followers of Warren and Osteen's tend to come from those a little higher up the demographic scale than most Pentecostals — solidly middle-class people from the Sunbelt suburbs. As the cameras pan their audiences, they appear to be somewhat more affluent.

    Warren is vociferous in his opposition to prominent Pentecostals' embrace of the prosperity gospel. "Success in any area often creates a spirit of entitlement — 'I deserve this' — that is the exact opposite of servant leadership," Warren says. "It is evidence of insecurity and low-self esteem. Insecure people show off. Secure people serve."

    Warren takes no salary from his church and has returned every dollar he has earned from the congregation. He will not accept money to speak, and he gives away 90% of his sizable book royalties, in what he calls "reverse tithes."

    "The opulent lifestyles of televangelists make me sick," he says of those ministries being investigated.

    Trying for a balanced life

    Osteen, a rising young star in the evangelical firmament, has stopped taking a salary from his 48,000-member congregation, thanks almost entirely to his own best-selling books. "We make plenty of money from our books," says Osteen, who does not solicit contributions on his nationally televised broadcasts from the Compaq Center. "But we just live normal lives. We try to be conservative and honor God with our life and with our example."

    (Not always, however. Osteen's wife and co-pastor, Victoria, was not above a diva-like snit fit on a flight bound for Vail, Colo., in 2005 after claiming her first-class seat had not been cleaned. An altercation with flight attendants led to a two-hour delay, and the Osteens were asked to leave the plane. Victoria, who called the incident a "minor misunderstanding," later paid a $3,000 fine assessed by the Federal Aviation Administration.)

    Osteen owns just one home where he and his wife have lived in for 13 years, and until recently, he drove a 9-year-old car. Osteen flies commercial and, on the road, pays his own hotel bills.

    True to his Mr. Nice Guy message and his image as "The Smiling Preacher," Osteen refuses to condemn those in Grassley's spotlight. Yet, despite his personal wealth, Osteen has a much more modest way of living and of interpreting the prosperity gospel. "I never preach a message on money," he says. "I do believe that God wants us to be blessed, to have good marriages, to have peace in our minds, to have health, to have money to pay our bills. I think God wants us to excel. But everyone isn't going to be rich — if we're talking about money."

    There is a clear difference between praying for health and financial self-sufficiency, which is reasonable and understandable, and the expectation of divinely mandated wealth and the right to profligacy. American evangelicals have enough enemies. Why hand such adversaries another stick — especially a gilded one — to beat them with?

    Mark I. Pinsky, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, is author of A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed.

    Does God Want You To Be Rich?

    Does God Want You To Be Rich?

    A growing number of Protestant evangelists raise a joyful Yes! But the idea is poison to other, more mainstream pastors

    Posted Sunday, Sep. 10, 2006

    When George Adams lost his job at an Ohio tile factory last October, the most practical thing he did, he thinks, was go to a new church, even though he had to move his wife and four preteen boys to Conroe, a suburb of Houston, to do it. Conroe, you see, is not far from Lakewood, the home church of megapastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen.

    Osteen's relentlessly upbeat television sermons had helped Adams, 49, get through the hard times, and now Adams was expecting the smiling, Texas-twanged 43-year-old to help boost him back toward success. And Osteen did. Inspired by the preacher's insistence that one of God's top priorities is to shower blessings on Christians in this lifetime--and by the corollary assumption that one of the worst things a person can do is to expect anything less--Adams marched into Gullo Ford in Conroe looking for work. He didn't have entry-level aspirations: "God has showed me that he doesn't want me to be a run-of-the-mill person," he explains. He demanded to know what the dealership's top salesmen made--and got the job. Banishing all doubt--"You can't sell a $40,000-to-$50,000 car with menial thoughts"--Adams took four days to retail his first vehicle, a Ford F-150 Lariat with leather interior. He knew that many fellow salesmen don't notch their first score until their second week. "Right now, I'm above average!" he exclaims. "It's a new day God has given me! I'm on my way to a six-figure income!" The sales commission will help with this month's rent, but Adams hates renting. Once that six-figure income has been rolling in for a while, he will buy his dream house: "Twenty-five acres," he says. "And three bedrooms. We're going to have a schoolhouse (his children are home schooled). We want horses and ponies for the boys, so a horse barn. And a pond. And maybe some cattle."

    "I'm dreaming big--because all of heaven is dreaming big," Adams continues. "Jesus died for our sins. That was the best gift God could give us," he says. "But we have something else. Because I want to follow Jesus and do what he ordained, God wants to support us. It's Joel Osteen's ministry that told me. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?"

    In three of the Gospels, Jesus warns that each of his disciples may have to "deny himself" and even "take up his Cross." In support of this alarming prediction, he forcefully contrasts the fleeting pleasures of today with the promise of eternity: "For what profit is it to a man," he asks, "if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" It is one of the New Testament's hardest teachings, yet generations of churchgoers have understood that being Christian, on some level, means being ready to sacrifice--money, autonomy or even their lives.

    But for a growing number of Christians like George Adams, the question is better restated, "Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?" For several decades, a philosophy has been percolating in the 10 million--strong Pentecostal wing of Christianity that seems to turn the Gospels' passage on its head: certainly, it allows, Christians should keep one eye on heaven. But the new good news is that God doesn't want us to wait. Known (or vilified) under a variety of names--Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology--its emphasis is on God's promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke. Its signature verse could be John 10: 10: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.

    "Prosperity" first blazed to public attention as the driveshaft in the moneymaking machine that was 1980s televangelism and faded from mainstream view with the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. But now, after some key modifications (which have inspired some to redub it Prosperity Lite), it has not only recovered but is booming. Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three--Osteen's Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes' Potter's House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar's World Changers near Atlanta--are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits (although Jakes' ministry has many more facets). While they don't exclusively teach that God's riches want to be in believers' wallets, it is a key part of their doctrine. And propelled by Osteen's 4 million--selling book, Your Best Life Now, the belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into more buttoned-down evangelical churches, and even into congregations in the more liberal Mainline. It is taught in hundreds of non-Pentecostal Bible studies. One Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor even made it the basis for a sermon series for Lent, when Christians usually meditate on why Jesus was having His Worst Life Then. Says the Rev. Chappell Temple, a Methodist minister with the dubious distinction of pastoring Houston's other Lakewood Church (Lakewood United Methodist), an hour north of Osteen's: "Prosperity Lite is everywhere in Christian culture. Go into any Christian bookstore, and see what they're offering."

    The movement's renaissance has infuriated a number of prominent pastors, theologians and commentators. Fellow megapastor Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has outsold Osteen's by a ratio of 7 to 1, finds the very basis of Prosperity laughable. "This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", he snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"

    The brickbats--both theological and practical (who really gets rich from this?)--come especially thick from Evangelicals like Warren. Evangelicalism is more prominent and influential than ever before. Yet the movement, which has never had a robust theology of money, finds an aggressive philosophy advancing within its ranks that many of its leaders regard as simplistic, possibly heretical and certainly embarrassing.

    Prosperity's defenders claim to be able to match their critics chapter and verse. They caution against broad-brushing a wide spectrum that ranges from pastors who crassly solicit sky's-the-limit financial offerings from their congregations to those whose services tend more toward God-fueled self-help. Advocates note Prosperity's racial diversity--a welcome exception to the American norm--and point out that some Prosperity churches engage in significant charity. And they see in it a happy corrective for Christians who are more used to being chastened for their sins than celebrated as God's children. "Who would want to get in on something where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?" asks Joyce Meyer, a popular television preacher and author often lumped in the Prosperity Lite camp. "I believe God wants to give us nice things." If nothing else, Meyer and other new-breed preachers broach a neglected topic that should really be a staple of Sunday messages: Does God want you to be rich?

    As with almost any important religious question, the first response of most Christians (especially Protestants) is to ask how Scripture treats the topic. But Scripture is not definitive when it comes to faith and income. Deuteronomy commands believers to "remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth", and the rest of the Old Testament is dotted with celebrations of God's bestowal of the good life. On at least one occasion--the so-called parable of the talents (a type of coin)--Jesus holds up savvy business practice (investing rather than saving) as a metaphor for spiritual practice. Yet he spent far more time among the poor than the rich, and a majority of scholars quote two of his most direct comments on wealth: the passage in the Sermon on the Mount in which he warns, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven"; and his encounter with the "rich young ruler" who cannot bring himself to part with his money, after which Jesus famously comments, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

    Both statements can be read as more nuanced than they at first may seem. In each case it is not wealth itself that disqualifies but the inability to understand its relative worthlessness compared with the riches of heaven. The same thing applies to Paul's famous line, "Money is the root of all evil," in his first letter to Timothy. The actual quote is, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

    So the Bible leaves plenty of room for a discussion on the role, positive or negative, that money should play in the lives of believers. But it's not a discussion that many pastors are willing to have. "Jesus' words about money don't make us very comfortable, and people don't want to hear about it," notes Collin Hansen, an editor at the evangelical monthly Christianity Today. Pastors are happy to discuss from the pulpit hot-button topics like sex and even politics. But the relative absence of sermons about money--which the Bible mentions several thousand times--is one of the more stunning omissions in American religion, especially among its white middle-class precincts. Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow says much of the U.S. church "talks about giving but does not talk about the broader financial concerns people have, or the pressures at work. There has long been a taboo on talking candidly about money."

    In addition to personal finances, a lot of evangelical churches have also avoided any pulpit talk about social inequality. When conservative Christianity split from the Mainline in the early 20th century, the latter pursued their commitment to the "social gospel" by working on poverty and other causes such as civil rights and the Vietnam-era peace movement. Evangelicals went the other way: they largely concentrated on issues of individual piety. "We took on personal salvation--we need our sins redeemed, and we need our Saviour," says Warren. But "some people tended to go too individualistic, and justice and righteousness issues were overlooked."

    A recent Sunday at Lakewood gives some idea of the emphasis on worldly gain that disturbs Warren. Several hundred stage lights flash on, and Osteen, his gigawatt smile matching them, strides onto the stage of what used to be the Compaq Center sports arena but is now his church. "Let's just celebrate the goodness of the Lord!" Osteen yells. His wife Victoria says, "Our Daddy God is the strongest! He's the mightiest!"

    And so it goes, before 14,000 attendees, a nonstop declaration of God's love and his intent to show it in the here and now, sometimes verging on the language of an annual report. During prayer, Osteen thanks God for "your unprecedented favor. We believe that 2006 will be our best year so far. We declare it by faith." Today's sermon is about how gratitude can "save a marriage, save your job [and] get you a promotion."

    "I don't think I've ever preached a sermon about money," he says a few hours later. He and Victoria meet with TIME in their pastoral suite, once the Houston Rockets' locker and shower area but now a zone of overstuffed sofas and imposing oak bookcases. "Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?" The room's warm lamplight reflects softly off his crocodile shoes.

    Osteen is a second-generation Prosperity teacher. His father John Osteen started out Baptist but in 1959 withdrew from that fellowship to found a church in one of Houston's poorer neighborhoods and explore a new philosophy developing among Pentecostals. If the rest of Protestantism ignored finances, Prosperity placed them center stage, marrying Pentecostalism's ebullient notion of God's gifts with an older tradition that stressed the power of positive thinking. Practically, it emphasized hard work and good home economics. But the real heat was in its spiritual premise: that if a believer could establish, through word and deed (usually donation), that he or she was "in Jesus Christ," then Jesus' father would respond with paternal gifts of health and wealth in this life. A favorite verse is from Malachi: "'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse ... and try Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts. 'If I will not for you open the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'" (See boxes.)

    It is a peculiarly American theology but turbocharged. If Puritanism valued wealth and Benjamin Franklin wrote about doing well by doing good, hard-core Prosperity doctrine, still extremely popular in the hands of pastors like Atlanta megachurch minister Creflo Dollar, reads those Bible verses as a spiritual contract. God will pay back a multiple (often a hundredfold) on offerings by the congregation. "Poor people like Prosperity," says Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. "They hear it as aspirant. They hear, 'You can make it too--buy a car, get a job, get wealthy.' It can function as a form of liberation." It can also be exploitative. Outsiders, observes Milmon Harrison of the University of California at Davis, author of the book Righteous Riches, often see it as "another form of the church abusing people so ministers could make money."

    In the past decade, however, the new generation of preachers, like Osteen, Meyer and Houston's Methodist megapastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, who gave the benediction at both of George W. Bush's Inaugurals, have repackaged the doctrine. Gone are the divine profit-to-earnings ratios, the requests for offerings far above a normal 10% tithe (although many of the new breed continue to insist that congregants tithe on their pretax rather than their net income). What remains is a materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism. No one exemplifies this better than Osteen, who ran his father's television-production department until John died in 1999. "Joel has learned from his dad, but he has toned it back and tapped into basic, everyday folks' ways of talking," says Ben Phillips, a theology professor at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That language is reflected in Your Best Life Now, an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. "To live your best life now," it opens, to see "your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass ..." you must "start looking at life through eyes of faith." Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement. There are chapters on overcoming trauma and a late chapter on emulating God's generosity. (And indeed, Osteen's church gave more than $1 million in relief money after Hurricane Katrina.) But there are many more illustrations of how the Prosperity doctrine has produced personal gain, most memorably, perhaps, for the Osteen family: how Victoria's "speaking words of faith and victory" eventually brought the couple their dream house; how Joel discerned God's favor in being bumped from economy to business class.

    Confronting such stories, certain more doctrinally traditional Christians go ballistic. Last March, Ben Witherington, an influential evangelical theologian at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, thundered that "we need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health--it is a disease of our American culture; it is not a solution or answer to life's problems." Respected blogger Michael Spencer--known as the Internet Monk--asked, "How many young people are going to be pointed to Osteen as a true shepherd of Jesus Christ? He's not. He's not one of us." Osteen is an irresistible target for experts from right to left on the Christian spectrum who--beyond worrying that he is living too high or inflating the hopes of people with real money problems--think he is dragging people down with a heavy interlocked chain of theological and ethical errors that could amount to heresy.

    Most start out by saying that Osteen and his ilk have it "half right": that God's goodness is biblical, as is the idea that he means us to enjoy the material world. But while Prosperity claims to be celebrating that goodness, the critics see it as treating God as a celestial ATM. "God becomes a means to an end, not the end in himself," says Southwestern Baptist's Phillips. Others are more upset about what it de-emphasizes. "[Prosperity] wants the positive but not the negative," says another Southern Baptist, Alan Branch of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. "Problem is, we live on this side of Eden. We're fallen." That is, Prosperity soft-pedals the consequences of Adam's fall--sin, pain and death--and their New Testament antidote: Jesus' atoning sacrifice and the importance of repentance. And social liberals express a related frustration that preachers like Osteen show little interest in battling the ills of society at large. Perhaps appropriately so, since, as Prosperity scholar Harrison explains, "philosophically, their main way of helping the poor is encouraging people not to be one of them."

    Most unnerving for Osteen's critics is the suspicion that they are fighting not just one idiosyncratic misreading of the gospel but something more daunting: the latest lurch in Protestantism's ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism. After the eclipse of Calvinist Puritanism, whose respect for money was counterbalanced by a horror of worldliness, much of Protestantism quietly adopted the idea that "you don't have to give up the American Dream. You just see it as a sign of God's blessing," says Edith Blumhofer, director of Wheaton College's Center for the Study of American Evangelicals. Indeed, a last-gasp resistance to this embrace of wealth and comfort can be observed in the current evangelical brawl over whether comfortable megachurches (like Osteen's and Warren's) with pumped-up day-care centers and high-tech amenities represent a slide from glorifying an all-powerful God to asking what custom color you would prefer he paint your pews. "The tragedy is that Christianity has become a yes-man for the culture," says Boston University's Prothero.

    Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend. Eastern University professor Ron Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a fringe classic after its publication in 1977, is selling far more copies now, and some young people are even acting on its rather radical prescriptions: a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders. Jim Wallis, longtime leader of one such community in Washington and the editor of Sojourners magazine, has achieved immense exposure lately with his pleas that Evangelicals engage in more political activism on behalf of the poor.

    And then there is Warren himself, who by virtue of his energy, hypereloquence and example (he's working in Rwanda with government, business and church sectors) has become a spokesman for church activism. "The church is the largest network in the world," he says. "If you have 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Christ, that's bigger than China."

    And despite Warren's disdain for Prosperity's theological claims, some Prosperity churches have become players in the very faith-based antipoverty world he inhabits, even while maintaining their distinctive theology. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who pastors Windsor Village, the largest (15,000) United Methodist church in the country, can sound as Prosperity as the next pastor: "Jesus did not die and get up off the Cross so we could live lives full of despair and disappointment," he says. He quotes the "abundant life" verse with all earnestness, even giving it a real estate gloss: "It is unscriptural not to own land," he announces. But he's doing more than talk about it. He recently oversaw the building of Corinthian Pointe, a 452-unit affordable-housing project that he claims is the largest residential subdivision ever built by a nonprofit. Most of its inhabitants, he says, are not members of his church.

    Caldwell knows that prosperity is a loaded term in evangelical circles. But he insists that "it depends on how you define prosperity. I am not a proponent of saying the Lord's name three times, clicking your heels and then you get what you ask for. But you cannot give what you do not have. We are fighting what we call the social demons. If I am going to help someone, I am going to have to have something with which to help."

    Caldwell knows that the theology behind this preacherly rhetoric will never be acceptable to Warren or Sider or Witherington. But the man they all follow said, "By their fruits you will know them," and for some, Corinthian Pointe is a very convincing sort of fruit. Hard-line Prosperity theology may always seem alien to those with enough money to imagine making more without engaging God in a kind of spiritual quid pro quo. And Osteen's version, while it abandons part of that magical thinking, may strike some as self-centered rather than God centered. But American Protestantism is a dynamic faith. Caldwell's version reminds us that there is no reason a giving God could not invest even an awkward and needy creed with a mature and generous heart. If God does want us to be rich in this life, no doubt it's this richness in spirit that he is most eager for us to acquire.

    Conference scholars reject 'Jesus coffin'

    Conference scholars reject 'Jesus coffin'
    Say filmmaker's identification of burial site falls on statistical, DNA, epigraphic evidence

    Posted: January 26, 2008
    8:00 p.m. Eastern

    © 2008

    "Tomb of Jesus" outside Jerusalem
    A group of scholars is disputing the positive media coverage given a Jerusalem conference earlier this month on the so-called tomb of Jesus popularized last year by "Titanic" director James Cameron and Jewish investigative journalist and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, saying the majority of experts and academics in attendence either rejected the identification of the site excavated in 1980 as belonging to Jesus' family or find the claim highly speculative.

    As WND reported in February 2007, the Oscar-winning director's film project, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," claimed the discovery of 10 stone coffins in a Jerusalem suburb is actually the family crypt of Jesus of Nazareth.

    The 90-minute film, made for the Discovery Channel, makes the case that Jesus had a son named Judah with Mary Magdalene.

    Cameron and his director, Jacobovici, claimed also to have DNA evidence to back their story.

    "People who believe in a physical ascension – that he took his body to heaven – those people will say, 'Wait a minute,'" warned Jacobovici.

    According to the filmmakers, 10 ossuaries, or stone boxes containing bones, found in the first century tomb are almost certain to hold the remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene his wife, Judah their son and other family members.

    One of the ossuaries is reportedly inscribed, "Jesus son of Joseph," another "Mariemene e Mara," which in some early Christian texts was believed to refer to Mary Magdalene, and another "Judah son of Jesus." DNA analysis of the bones reportedly showed Jesus and Mariemene were unrelated adults, leading to the conclusion they were husband and wife. Other ossuaries were inscribed with the names Mary, Mathew, and Jofa.

    The news came a year after release of "The Da Vinci Code" movie, based on the best-selling novel of 2004 by Dan Brown, both of which also claimed Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus.

    "This is archaeology," claims James Tabor, chairman of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina, who is interviewed throughout the documentary. "We've got the casket. We've got the bones. I think we can say, in all probability, Jesus had this son, Judah, presumably through Mary Magdalene."

    Cameron and Jacobovici cited statistical analysis that suggested finding the combination of related historical names in a first century crypt at 600 to 1.

    Those claims were the subject of the "Third Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on Jewish Views of the Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context," held Jan. 13-16, 2008, in Jerusalem. The conference was attended by some fifty international and Israeli scholars.

    According to a posting on the Princeton Theological Seminary website, the consensus of the participants was against the tomb being related to Christianity's founder.

    "Unfortunately, many of the initial reports in the press following the symposium gave almost the exact opposite impression, stating, instead, that the conference proceedings gave credence to the identification of the Talpiot tomb with a putative family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. As is abundantly clear from the statements to the contrary that have been issued since the symposium by many of the participants, such representations are patently false and blatantly misrepresent the spirit and scholarly content of the deliberations."

    Several scholars issued a statement on the Duke University Religion Department's website indicating their rejection of the filmmakers' claims and disputing the press coverage.

    • Professor Mordechai Aviam, University of Rochester
    • Professor Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver
    • Professor F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary
    • Professor C.D. Elledge, Gustavus Adolphus College
    • Professor Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    • Professor Rachel Hachlili, University of Haifa
    • Professor Amos Kloner, Bar-Ilan University
    • Professor Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Professor Lee McDonald, Arcadia Seminary
    • Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University
    • Professor Stephen Pfann, University of the Holy Land
    • Professor Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University
    • Professor Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
    • Professor Alan F. Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
    • Professor Choon-Leong Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary
    • Mr. Joe Zias, Science and Antiquity Group, Jerusalem
    • Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University

    The conference featured a challenge to the identification of "Mariemene" with Mary Magdalene, a crucial part of the statistical analysis behind Cameron's and Jacobovici's confidence.

    Professor Stephen Pfann, of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said the inscription does not read "Mariemene e Mara" at all but instead "Mariame" and "kai Mara," suggesting the ossuary contained bones of two women, Mary and Martha. Further, other scholars of early church history dismissed the link between "Mariamene" and Mary Magdelene.

    "A statistical analysis of the names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus' family is virtually nil if the Mariamene named on one of the ossuaries is not Mary Magdalene," wrote Duke University Professor Eric M. Meyers.

    "Even the reading of the inscribed name as 'Mariamene' was contested by epigraphers at the conference," he wrote. "Furthermore, Mary Magdalene is not referred to by the Greek name Mariamene in any literary sources before the late second-third century AD. An expert panel of scholars on the subject of Mary in the early church dismissed out of hand the suggestion that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and no traditions refer to a son of Jesus named Judah."

    Myer also disputed the DNA claims of the filmmakers, citing a report by the head of the DNA laboratory at Hebrew University that concluded the sampling of the bone material was invalid and contaminated and could not be used to infer that "Jesus" and "Mariemene" were unrelated adults and, therefore, likely husband and wife.

    "It was not even worth discussion. That should have closed the case," Myers told Christian Post.

    The "smoking gun" at the conference, said Myers, was a surprise appearance by Ruth Gat, the widow of the archaeologist who excavated the tomb in 1980 and has since passed away.

    Gat told the scholars her husband Yosef knew he had found "the burial tomb of Jesus Christ," but had "serious concerns and fears" over publicizing his discovery. Having been a child in Nazi-occupied Poland, he feared "a wave of anti-Semitism" because of his find.

    Gat told the Jerusalem Post after her address her husband had been "staggered" by the discovery, and that he had discussed it with her "at the kitchen table."

    Film director Jacobovici, who attended the symposium, said he "fell off the chair" when he heard her and claimed he had been vindicated by Gat's statement.

    But Gat's claim was disputed by panelist Shimon Gibson, who was a young archeologist on the 1980 dig. He said Yosef never told him he believed the tomb was Jesus'.

    Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem District archeologist, who wrote the excavation report from Gat's minimal notes 16 years after the find, said the notion Gat believed he had found Jesus' tomb was "absolutely not the case."

    Further, noted Myers, Gat was a field archaelogist and did not have the epigraphic expertise to read the inscriptions.

    According to Kloner, who called Jacobovici "a liar" at one session of the symposium and earlier branded the documentary "brain confusion," most of the bones found in the ossuaries 28 years ago were badly decomposed. Because of pressures from religious Jews, they were never subjected to anthropological tests and were transferred to the Religious Affairs Ministry for immediate reburial along with other remains found in construction projects and archaeological excavations. Their location is not known.