Faith Involves Your Brain, Too

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 5.32 pm

A BIG thanks to Relevant for publishing my latest:

I don’t like devotional books.

I rarely get swept up in emotional worship experiences.

And as much as I’ve wanted to be the girl who sings with her arms raised, eyes closed and heart full of joy, I just end up fixated on whether or not I’m flashing sweaty armpits to everyone around me (spoiler: I probably am).

For years, I participated in small groups and Bible studies feeling like there must be something wrong with me. I couldn’t connect to the kind of devotional, emotional spirituality so many of my friends seemed to enjoy; and most of the time I’d rather study the details of Paul’s arguments about justification than meditate on a Psalm.

Then I came across an essay by C.S. Lewis called, “On the Reading of Old Books,” and it completely changed my perspective. “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books,” Lewis wrote, “and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others.” Years of worry that I was unspiritual or a bad Christian began to melt away. Lewis continued:

I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hands.

Swap the pencil for a laptop and the pipe for a beer and he’d nailed my experience exactly. But if C.S. Lewis of all people was on my side, why did it seem like we were hanging out alone?

Read the whole thing here.

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Where did your tax dollars go?

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 11.57 am
11th 2 p.m.

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. — Mark Twain

Last year I shared this image, the Heritage Foundation‘s chart for 2012 explaining where your tax dollar goes. It got almost 800 notes, because it’s a great graphic way to demonstrate what our government does with our money. I noticed this morning that it was getting a few additional reblogs thanks to today being Tax Day, so I thought I’d share an updated chart.

As it turned out, I’d already found and saved the very similar chart for 2013 made by the National Priorities Project (NPP), the graphic at the top of this post. When I uploaded it, I took a minute to compare the two versions. Both Heritage’s image for 2012 and NPP’s image for 2013 use the same clever design, but I immediately noticed that the similarities stop there. And when I dug up Heritage’s chart for 2013 and NPP’s far more chaotic version from 2012, the differences became even more telling.

See, all these charts are informative, but they’re made with different agendas in mind.Heritage is a conservative think tank, and as the ACA (Obamacare) has gone into effect since their 2012 graphic, their focus has shifted even more strongly to highlighting entitlement spending. Note that big bracket they’ve added, and how “Income security, Veterans’ benefits” was retitled “Income security and other benefits,” a subtle shift which will make that spending feel more wasteful to Heritage’s typically anti-welfare, pro-military audience. Military spending, meanwhile, is dubbed “National defense” — a label I’d say isn’t quite accurate in our age of endless war — and calculated in a way which makes it seem quite small compared to the social programs.

Then there’s the NPP, which is a nonpartisan transparency organization that leans left. In both of their charts, military spending is labeled as just that, and it’s also calculated in a way which makes it the largest portion of the budget. Veterans’ benefits, health care spending, unemployment benefits, housing benefits, and food benefits are all chopped up into different sections, making social welfare spending look like a smaller slice of the pie than it really is. (The interest on the national debt also plays a much larger role in NPP’s charts than Heritage’s, a difference which I presume comes from Heritage’s use of “net interest.”)

So what’s the takeaway here? Well, there are a few:

1. No matter which chart you use, one thing is clear: Our government spends a heck of a lot of money that we don’t have.

2. The vast bulk of it goes to military spending and entitlement programs. Within each of those categories, there is plenty of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and corruption of all sorts.

3. While I don’t believe any of these charts were intentionally designed to be deceptive (there are multiple, legitimate ways to slice up these spending categories), each presents the information with a certain bias. Bias is NOT a bad thing (see more on that here), but it can be dangerous if we’re not aware of its presence. Last year, I posted Heritage’s chart uncritically. I don’t think anything too terrible happened as a result, but looking at their updated chart this year (especially compared to NPP’s differently-biased graphics) indicates that was not the best choice.

4. ALWAYS use multiple sources. Last year I didn’t look for other sources on this, because the proportions are generally correct. It’s typically fairly safe to think of Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and military spending each taking about 25% of our spending, with the rest going to other programs and interest on the debt. That’s a very rough estimate, but it’s a good guide to see if charts like these are anywhere close to reality.

Beyond that general estimate, though, we need more sources. Unless you’re a math and budget genius, check multiple versions of these calculations, which inevitably simplify very complex information into a very small space.

Personally, I think this graphic, though least visually interesting, is probably the most valuable. It’s from the Tax Foundation, which is more interested in lowering taxes and spending overall than making any particular part of the spending look more ominous than it is (note: it’s all pretty ominous). This chart slices up $100 instead of $1, but the idea is the same. And here you’ll note something of a mediating position which lines up pretty closely with my 25% x 3 approximation.

The White House, the New York TimesCNBC, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and plenty of other organizations with widely varying agendas have put out their own versions of these charts. Being able to find and compare these different calculations is a huge advantage of the internet.

So, where do your tax dollars go? Well, you figure it out. Probably somewhere you don’t like. Happy Tax Day…or something like that.

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For Millennials, patriotism doesn’t mean compliance

Posted on April 13, 2014 at 2.12 pm

Thanks to Rare for publishing my latest:

What do President Teddy Roosevelt, author Mark Twain and theologian G.K. Chesterton have in common?

Each understood what patriotism is—and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

Each also understood it in a way that is, unfortunately all too rare today.

Recent polling research has revealed not only that the Millennial generation is more politically independent than our elders, but also that we’re less patriotic… or at least, that’s how the poll results are presented, with dire headlines like, “A generational gap in American patriotism.”

But is this actually true? It depends on what you mean by patriotism.

Young people are about 15% less likely than average to say the U.S. is the greatest country in the world (32% vs. 48%), and only half say the phrase “a patriotic person” describes them well. Millennials also more likely to criticize or question the government in wartime, and the majority thinks, “that the US is too involved in other countries’ affairs.”

While pundits like David Frum bemoan a future where Americans are “less united by patriotism,” I’m far less concerned about my generation.

You see, it’s not actually patriotism that Millennials lack. What they reject is unconditional support for whatever our government does.

And that’s where Roosevelt, Twain, and Chesterton come in. What they understood—and what commentators like Frum don’t get—is that patriotism doesn’t simply mean uncritically backing government action.

In fact, the opposite is true. Patriotism doesn’t mean compliance.

Twain put it most succinctly: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And does most of what our government does deserve Millennials’ support? No, it doesn’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Note: I probably would never call myself “patriotic” anyway for theological reasons, but I still think it’s really important to distinguish between uncritical acceptance of our government’s decisions — which is what people like Frum want — and affection for the people and places we call home.

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