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Tim Challies

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global issues

6 years 10 months ago
There are some people who will probably read no further than the title of Red Letter Christians, the latest offering from Tony Campolo. The reference to Red Letters will no doubt convince people, even before they read the book, that it is a defense of ignoring the black letters of the Bible (which is to say, most of the Bible) in favor of the red words (the words actually spoken by Jesus). While I, too, am somewhat uncomfortable with the term, it is only fair to allow Campolo to define it before passing judgment!

“A group of us who are speakers and authors and who share an evangelical theology got together and confessed that we have a hard time applying the label [Evangelical] to ourselves anymore. Among those who gathered were Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr and Jim Wallis. They settled on the name “Red Letter Christians” as an alternative to evangelical. “In adopting the name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that Jesus taught.”

According to Campolo, Red Letter Christians…

  1. …hold to the same theological convictions as do evangelicals (beliefs summarized in the church’s historic creeds).
  2. …have a very high view of Scripture, affirming that the Bible is an infallible guide for faith and practice. They emphasize red letters because they believe you can only properly understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from Christ’s perspective.
  3. …are differentiated from other Christians in their commitment to social justice.

The focus on the red letters means that they will seek to look to the red letters as their guide to understanding the black. They will look first to Jesus before Paul or any other biblical author. This leads to a concern with social justice. Campolo says that poverty is a major concern to Red Letter Christians and he makes the clear throughout the book. From reading this book I’d actually conclude that it is the predominant concern.

I’m not so sure that Red Letter Christians are entirely fair to Evangelicals. At one point Campolo draws what is clearly a caricature of Evangelicals saying, “There are Evangelicals who argue against environmentalism, claiming that global warming is a myth (or at least grossly exaggerated), and that environmental concerns distract Christians from those matters that should fully occupy our moral and political attention: gay marriage and abortion.”

Related to the concern with social justice is a concern with politics, for the two tend to go hand-in-hand. As Christians involve themselves in the political process, they can guide their nations to policies that will promote social justice. The stakes are high, says Campolo, for “On the day of judgment, the Lord will not ask theological questions so much as He will ask if we fulfilled our social obligations.” Campolo anticipates, probably rightly, that some will hear this and immediately cry “liberalism” and he responds in advance, carefully stating that this movement cannot be easily and conveniently labeled as liberal or conservative. “Conservatives maintain many lines that should never be crossed, while liberals destroy many lines that should never have existed.” Instead, this movement seeks to be guided by Scripture. “Challenging the popular image of Evangelicals is one of the purposes of this book. I want it to be known that there are millions of us who espouse an evangelical theology, but who reject being classified as part of the Religious Right. We don’t want to make Jesus into a Republican. On the other hand, we want to say loud and clear that we don’t want to make Jesus into a Democrat, either.” Red Letter Christians can and should take their place in all and any political parties that are democratic and egalitarian. This book seeks to help the reader understand how Red Letter Christians will think about and react to a variety of social and political issues.

And so Campolo seeks to lay out a biblical approach to politics and, in the book’s second chapter, outlines what this means. Red Letter Christians believe that Jesus Christ has initiated His new kingdom and this kingdom is made up of transformed people living in a transformed society. When we preach this message, he says, we are preaching the gospel. The primary way God uses the church to usher in the fullness of His presence in history is “by commissioning its members to serve in each and every social institution … and, like leaven and salt, to permeate these institutions with Kingdom values. Being in all the world, living out the love of God, working for justice whenever opportunities arise, and talking about how God is impacting their lives are the activities that make ordinary Christians into effective change agents, and together living the fullness of the presence of God.” How this gospel can be held as being consistent with the gospel of the historic church and its creeds escapes me, for this seems to be a gospel that is far more about social justice than about the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus Christ.

The bulk of the book, seventeen chapters, looks at a variety of timely Global Issues (the environment, the war, Palestine and AIDS), Hot-Button issues (gay rights, gun control, education, abortion, immigration, crime), Economic Issues (the federal budget, the minimum wage, debtor nation, wasteful government) and Government Issues (political lobbyists, campaign finance, the right kind of candidate). It really applies mostly to Americans as many of the issues are specific to the United States. Others are more widely applicable but are set in an American context. The book seeks to give a biblical, Red Letter perspective on each. “I hope that this book challenges the reader to develop his or her own perspectives, and encourages him or her to use biblically based critiques to examine the pros and cons of contemporary political debates.” In some cases, Campolo succeeds as he looks to Scripture as a guide to our response to various issues. In other cases he seems to miss the mark entirely, stating his beliefs without reference to Scripture or drawing on Scripture only very narrowly. Yes, it is important to look to the words of Jesus as we seek to understand how we are to live in this world, but looking only and sometimes even primarily to the red letters may mean we are ignoring ones which would further explain or further interpret. It may mean we are ignoring the full testimony of Scripture.

Because of the variety and importance of the topics he tackles in Red Letter Christians, it is unlikely that many people will agree with him in every point he makes. But that is not meant to be the point of the book. Rather, the purpose is to help people think both critically and biblically about each of these issues. And in that regard I feel the book falls short. If you happen to care what Tony Campolo thinks about gun control, abortion, immigration, the environment and a long list of other issues, this book may have some appeal. If, on the other hand, you are hoping to find someone to model biblical thinking about these same issues, you will want to look elsewhere. Though Campolo’s perspectives are often interesting and often align with my own, I simply do not find that he consistently models biblical thinking or biblical discernment.

7 years 8 months ago
The country of Rwanda has seen some of the worst violence and bloodshed the world has witnessed this side of the Holocaust. If ever a nation has been in need of God’s grace and favor, this is it. In 1994 the nation was devastated by a genocidal civil war that pitted the Hutus against the Tutsis. In just 100 days during April to July of that year, over one million people were killed, the vast majority of them Tutsis. There were countless massacres with thousands of people dying ever day during that period of time.

When the killing finally ended, the nation was destroyed. The economy was shattered, the nation’s infrastructure nearly ruined and the population decimated. And, of course, the people were traumatized, having seen former friends turn on each other, husbands kill wives and even the clergy willfully participating in the murder of thousands.

John Rucyahana is a native of Rwanda and, though he was not in the country while the violence happened, he was appointed Bishop of Rwanda shortly after it ended and has been involved in the aftermath. More than anything he has attempted to champion reconciliation between those who were alienated from each other during the conflict. The Bishop of Rwanda tells his story and at the same time tells the story of the Rwandan Genocide, the events that led to it, and the initial attempts at recovering from it.

The foreword to the book was written by none other than Rick Warren who is using Rwanda as a testing ground for his PEACE plan. In what I found to be a shockingly self-serving foreword, Warren seems to say that the value of this book is in showing how bad Rwanda’s problems were so that people will soon see just how powerful his PEACE plan is. He says “The PEACE plan is a plan by the Rwandan and for Rwandans” but this is simply not the case. “When the rest of the world realizes what the church and the people of Rwanda are becoming in the 21st century,” Warren writes, “they’ll also want to know the foundation upon which it was built. I’m certain this book will be one of the classic texts that people turn to.”

The text of the book is filled with the horrifying story of the genocide. To tell the story properly Rucyahana has to provide ghastly details, though thankfully he is as discreet as possible in doing so. The story told in the book’s opening pages is the most graphic of all and is enough to turn the stomach and bring tears to the eyes. Yet it was the shocking, sick reality for millions of people. Rucyahana tells the story from within a Christian worldview. He believes that the best way to promote peace and a good future within his nation is to convert people to Jesus. And, of course, I couldn’t agree more. Sadly I’m not sure that he preaches the full gospel. While he speaks often in the book about everyone’s need for a Savior, I did not find a full, strong, biblical gospel message within its pages. His ecumenical beliefs, where he seems to teach that he and the Roman Catholic Church preach the same gospel, would make it seem clear that he must be taking something less than the gospel of faith alone on the basis of grace alone because of the work of Christ alone.

I was surprised to see that the book was not particularly well-written, especially considering that the co-author, James Riordan, has authored twenty-five other books and has won several awards for his work. It was almost childish at times. For example, “Several government people who helped plan the genocide actually claimed to be churchgoing Catholics or Protestants, but they could not have done what they did and had any real belief in Jesus Christ. They were more like members of religious clubs than real Christians. They may have belonged to churches, but their beliefs were more like those of Satanists.” There are often short sentences and examples of almost childish self-expression. Perhaps it simply reflects the fact that English is not Rucyahana’s native language.

I was pleased to see that Rucyahana did not shy away from discussing the involvement of supposed Christians in the genocide. I have heard, over the years, that the Roman Catholic Church was particularly heavily involved in the lead-up to the genocide and even in carrying it out. This book discusses some of those details and suggests that this was, indeed, the case. However, Rucyahana soon reveals his ecumenical leanings and is quick to portray this as a failure of Christianity rather than a particular fault of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, in the aftermath, he is working hand-in-hand with Catholic clergy in his efforts to make the Christianity known throughout the nation.

All-in-all, this is hardly great literature and, despite Warren’s claims, is not likely to be a book with a long shelf life. However, it is still valuable in telling the story of the Rwandan tragedy from within a Christian perspective and from the point-of-view of an insider. I do hope and pray that God uses Rucyahana and other believers to bring hope and healing to this nation and to others throughout the African continent.

7 years 8 months ago
 A Long Way Gone begins this way:
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life. “Why did you leave Sierra Leone?” “Because there is a war.” “Did you witness some of the fighting?” “Everyone in the country did.” “You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?” “Yes, all the time.” “Cool.” I smile a little. “You should tell us about it sometime.” “Yes, sometime.”

In this book, that has spent a couple of months near the top of the New York Times list of bestsellers, Ishmael Beah tells about it. When he was only twelve, with his country of Sierra Leone thrown into a long and bloody civil war, his village was attacked by rebels. He was forced to run for his life knowing that if he was caught he would be forced, upon pain of death, to join the rebel army. For months he and his friends ran, successfully evading the rebels as they systematically destroyed the nation, raping, pillaging and murdering indiscriminately.

Eventually Beah found himself in a village controlled by the national army. He thought he was safe here, but they soon compelled him to fight for them, despite his young age. Fueled by hatred towards those who had harmed his family and driven him from his home, he readily joined the cause. For over two years he fought for this army, participating in countless battles and skirmishes. He became a cold-blooded killer, killing, torturing and maiming. He was supplied with endless amounts of marijuana and cocaine and lived these years in a constant drug-induced haze. Though he began fighting on what he felt was the good side, he soon found himself descending further and further into moral decay so that he felt nothing, even when he looked into the eyes of men whose throats he was cutting.

The book takes a somewhat unexpected turn when Beah is suddenly handed over to UNICEF for rehabilitation. In one day he goes from being a soldier in the forests of Sierra Leone and the next he is taken to a rehabilitation center in Freetown. He slowly and painfully recovers from his drug addiction and is reintegrated into society. Though he was “a long way gone,” he is able to recover his humanity, though only with much time and patience. The story comes to an ending that is disappointing for its abruptness and leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.

It is a moving story and a terrifying one for it plainly displays the senseless depravity of human beings and the depths we can fall to. It shows how even a nice young man can be so easily reduced to a killer. While Beah was blessed to be able to eventually escape the controls of the military and to escape to the United States, some 300,000 child soldiers remain in combat around the world.

There were at least two aspects of this book that gave me much to ponder. The first dealt with moral culpability in situations like Beah’s. How much responsibility does a person like this bear for his actions? He was just a young boy when he was forced into drug addiction and, while under the influence of narcotics, to commit horrifying atrocities. Does he bear the same responsibility as if he had done all this as an adult who was not under the influence of narcotics and under the influence of bloodthirsty leaders? The second aspect, related to this, dealt with Beah’s recovery. When he was in the rehabilitation center he would be told constantly, “It’s not your fault.” Yet this answer infuriated him so that he would plug his ears rather than having to hear it again. It seems that he somehow wanted to be able to take responsibility for his actions but that the people who rehabilitated him would not hear of this. The book does not go into as much detail as I would have liked about his psychological or spiritual recovery. The cover mentions that he had to learn how to forgive himself, but this does not seem to factor into the narrative. What I hope for this young author (who is still only twenty six) is that he will be able to assume responsibility for his sinful actions and seek true forgiveness from the One who is both willing and able to provide it. This will surely mark his deepest and most important recovery. Only in the Bible will he find a clear explanation as to how he could be so easily swayed by sin and only in the Bible will he find the hope of forgiveness.

A Long Way Gone is an important book and one that is well worth reading. It shakes the foundations of those of us who live in a part of the world that is so safe and where we are so sheltered. It inspires gratitude that we have escaped such pain and hopefully inspires action that peace may come to nations where young boys are still drafted into service as ruthless, cold-hearted killers.

7 years 8 months ago
Mark Steyn is a brave guy. It takes a certain kind of bravado to write a book criticizing Islam. Just a few days ago I heard an author mention a book he has written dealing with Islam, but suggested that it will only be released posthumously. Other books on the subject have been released anonymously. This is a topic many people are concerned about but which they are afraid to address. Not so, it seems, for Mark Steyn.

Bemoaning the fact that Europe has fallen under the influence of Islam and is almost certainly too far gone to recover, Steyn suggests that if any Western nations are to survive, the future will belong to America standing alone against an Islamic world. The book’s central points go something like this (and I have borrowed these from another reviewer who managed to encapsulate them very neatly):

1) In the ongoing conflict between the West and Islam, both the demographics and the will to power favor the Islamists. That a country like Spain, with a birth rate of 1.15 children per adult women, will extinguish itself in a few generations, while immigrants from countries such as Pakistan (birth rate 4.53) will move in to fill the vacuum.

2) That as an aggressive, unassimilated minority edges closer to a majority (as in France, with an estimated 30% Muslim population in the under 20 age group), the character of the democratic institutions will become more closely aligned with Islamic law and culture.

3) That the post-Christian welfare state is largely to blame for the pessimism and failures of will demonstrated by Europe.

4) That America represents the primary exception to this trend, if only by degree, and that only a concerted effort to save our society stands a chance of reversing these trends.

 

Though agreement with these points is far from unanimous, I found it interesting that of the nearly 300 reviews at Amazon, the majority are positive (with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of a possible 5). This tells me that people are intrigued by this topic and are concerned by what they see as a growing threat to their way of life. Europe is extinguishing itself through a very low birthrate and through extremely high rates of immigration. While native Europeans seem to have little interest in having children, they are inviting millions of Muslims to the continent and these people are maintaining high birthrates. Needless to say, something is going to have to give. It will probably not be long before most of Europe is predominantly Muslim.

As far as I could tell, the book does not flow from the first chapter to last. Rather, like a Coulter book or any number of other “issues” books, the chapters seem somewhat like essays that have been compiled into the book. I will grant that the book is comprised of three sections, each with several chapters, and there is flow from one section to the next, but not so much from chapter-to-chapter. Of course this is more observation than critique.

Steyn, a Canadian who now lives in New Hampshire, has a quick wit and one that appeals a lot to my Canadian sense of humor. And though he makes many jokes, he avoids the vulgarity of Ann Coulter and other commentators. And all the while he keeps the book focused on the dead seriousness of the topic.

Interestingly, Mark Steyn is the obituarist for The Atlantic Monthly. This book reads like an obituary, not for a person, but for a civilization. It is one that continues to exist, but one that seems to Steyn and many others to be hurtling headline to oblivion. While I may not buy into the “doom and gloom” tone of the book, it does seem the Islam is on the rise and that Christianity is on the decline in much of the world. It may be Europe is already destined to fall under the crescent. Steyn is not the first to suggest this and will certainly not be the last. It is wise for us to at least consider the possibility and prepare ourselves accordingly.

7 years 10 months ago
“There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production—with serious political implications for just about every nation on earth. The drop in food production could begin quite soon. … The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” The story is from Newsweek. The year was 1975 and the threat was global cooling. A year later the magazine reported that “this trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.” But then global cooling went out of style and Newsweek and other media outlets went on to discuss other topics. Three decades later the same overstatements and hysteria are being broadcast about global warming. I have read a good deal about this topic and even took the time to read Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. As a fairly rational fellow, I thought it would be wise to look for dissenting views, for books that might strike a balance. To my surprise I found that very little had been written to refute the notion of global warming, and this despite knowing that many scientists are far from convinced. Eventually I stumbled across The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (and Environmentalism). This is the latest entry in the Politically Incorrect Guide series, a series that has already covered Islam, Intelligent Design, Feminism and other issues our society faces.

This guide is written by Christopher C. Horner. He is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an acknowledged expert on global warming legislation and regulation, and has spoken before Senate committees and the European Parliament. He seems fairly well qualified to write on the topic (especially when we consider that the main proponent of global warming is a politician whose college level science grades continue to be a source of embarrassment to him). Horner’s thesis is evident from the book’s opening lines. “Al Gore and his friends—social, corporate, and media elites, Europeans, and UN aficionados—declare ‘global warming’ an unprecedented global crisis. Hyped as an environmental nightmare, global warming hysteria is truly the environmentalist’s dream come true. It is the perfect storm of demons and perils, and the ideal scare campaign for those who would establish ‘global governance’ (Jacques Chirac’s words in praise of the Kyoto Protocol) with strict control over corporate actions and individual behavior.”

In the author’s opinion, global warming provides the perfect means of establishing global controls and global governance. It is inherently anti-capitalist and its pedigree is more red than green. “Environmental causes always include—and often are primarily—campaigns to gain more government control over the economy and individual activity. They are never fights for less control or greater liberty.” He goes on to attempt to prove this thesis through the first three chapters. From there he dedicates four chapters to refuting what he terms “the convenient lies”—the pillars of those who believe in global warming. He shows that climate is always changing so that the earth is always either getting warmer or colder, disputes the belief that humans are responsible for anything more than a fraction of the world’s carbon dioxide production, proves that there is anything but consensus among scientists about whether or not global warming is an imminent threat, shows that global warming is not an earth-wide phenomenon and how men like Al Gore have deliberately tampered with evidence showing this, and proves that humans have not caused the natural disasters that have recently stunned the world (with Hurricane Katrina being the one most fresh in people’s minds). From here he dedicates three chapters to “The False Prophets (and Real Profits) of Global Warming” and includes a full chapter to discussing Al Gore’s book and film. The final two chapters show the cost America would face if it bought into the alarmist agenda, and especially if it ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In short, he provides evidence that global warming is not the terrifying spectacle many people would have us believe and that we should be awfully careful before we buy into the hype.

Despite the complexity of the topic, I found that the author did quite a good job of making it understandable. There were a few spots where my eyes began to glaze over, but on the whole I enjoyed reading the book. The series’ trademark humor and “For Dummies” style helped get me through the tedious parts. Still, I had two complaints about the book. First, while it is obvious that the author is not “against” environmentalism as something less than a wide-ranging political ideology, it would have been nice to see him expend greater effort in affirming the necessity of caring for this world even if we do not buy into the hype. And second, the book could have used a bit more effort from the editorial crew. At times I almost felt that the book had bee rushed out the door in order to put it on store shelves while there is still a market for it. After all, if global warming follows the pattern of previous environmental hype, it will not be long before this book is relegated to the bargain bins. In fact, I hope this proves to be the case!

One thing this book helped me realize is just how complex a subject global warming is and how few people are truly qualified, trained and equipped to make the long-term predictions that are the source of so much hysteria. The book also reaffirmed what I already knew—that this issue simply cannot be separated from politics. There is clearly a great deal of ideology and politics underlying the hysteria. If we seek to know who is behind the hysteria, it seems to me that we need only follow the money trail. If the hysteria continues and nations like Canada and the United States buy into it, countless billions of dollars will leave North America and make their way to Europe, China and other countries that, despite being dependent on America, despise her. Someone is set to benefit from all of this hype. While I do not necessarily know who this person will be, I do know that it is not going to be the average North American consumer. You and I have a lot to lose and we ought to be sure we at least investigate the claims of those who are currently marketing the hype. The proposed “cures” for global warming are unbelievably expensive and will yield results that are absolutely pathetic (to the tune of trillions of dollars being spent to potentially reduce the earth’s temperature by an almost imperceptible .08 degrees over fifty years). The message of this book is simply that there is more to this issue that simply protecting the environment,

I love this world God has given to us and entrusted to us. I know that we have not always been faithful stewards of it and have done a great deal of damage to it. And yet I also know that there is a whole lot at stake in the discussion about human-caused global warming. This discussion goes far deeper than its proponents would have us believe. Books like this one, while far from perfect, can at least begin to equip us to see that there is another side to the argument and to provide some balance to the hysteria we hear all around us. I am grateful that this book is available and am grateful also to see others like it slowly beginning to hit store shelves. I hope they can stem the tide.

I believe that human-caused global warming is largely nonsense and is largely driven by unbiblical, anti-God ideology. With this book review I am going on record with that belief. If I am proved wrong, feel free to laugh at me in ten or twenty years when the earth’s water levels have risen, when the air is unbreathable, when energy costs have increased exponentially and when the earth is reduced to utter ruin. Just laugh at me. I can take it. But I’ve got a feeling that twenty years from now we will have moved on to the next big problem and will have forgotten all about global warming, just like we’ve forgotten all about global cooling. And we will just keep repeating history.

7 years 11 months ago
Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is a book I feel quite unequipped to review. And, indeed, it has been very widely reviewed by people far more qualified than I. The reviews, which I turned to only after I had finished reading the book, are mixed. Some people feel this book is groundbreaking while others feel it rehashes old arguments simply set in a new context. It seems that the more knowledgeable the reviewer, the less enthusiasm he has for the book. I was interested to see that many of the concerns of the experts are ones I shared as well.

The author’s main point is obvious and well-proven. The world is, indeed, flat. The gap between nations is quickly closing. Countless jobs from North America and other developed nations are being outsourced to China, India and beyond. Instant communication and speedy travel have made the world seem smaller and smaller. Friedman identifies ten forces that he feels are the most important contributors to this new, flat world:

  1. The fall of the Berlin wall
  2. The internet (represented by Netscape’s IPO in 1995
  3. Workflow software
  4. Open source
  5. Outsourcing
  6. Offshoring
  7. Supply Chain Management
  8. Insourcing
  9. In-forming
  10. “The Steroids” digital, mobile, personal and virtual

Friedman sees three eras of globalization. The first of these began with Christopher Columbus’ first journey in 1492 and lasted until sometime around 1800. At this time new lands were discovered and the world shrank from large to medium. From 1800 to 2000 industrialization made the world still smaller. And now, through the creation of a global fiber optic network, the world has shrunk to the point that we are all neighbors.

A recurring theme of the book is the number of jobs that have been outsourced from North America to India and China. Multitudes of customer service jobs have moved to India, and countless manufacturing jobs to China. In one fascinating section Friedman outlines the source of each of the components of his Dell laptop, showing how many different nations are involved in the manufacture of just one small computer, from a customer service representative based in India, to a manufacturing plant in Malaysia.

Having identified the direction the world is taking, Friedman begins to propose what American individuals and corporations must do to ensure that they are prepared and equipped for the future. And I would say that his analysis of what has happened and what forces have combined to bring about globalization are, on the whole, better than his projections of what we need to do to adapt to this world.

Because I do not feel that I can add a whole lot to the vast number of reviews already available (every major periodical has reviewed it and there are almost 900 reviews posted at Amazon) I will simply post a few of the notes I jotted down while reading or after reading the book.

In general I would say that the book is probably too long. The version I read, version 2.0, is more than 100 pages longer than the first edition and it does seem, at times, to be repetitive and at other times to spend several pages stating what could be said in only a few paragraphs. I think the book could easily have been 100 or 200 pages shorter. It probably should have.

The author refuses to allow Islam to be its own reason to drive people to commit acts of terrorism. Rather, he assumes that Islam is little different from any other reason and it is other people who pervert the religion in order to make it such a negative force. This view ignores the fact that the Koran is clearly a book that calls for violence. While not every Muslim a terrorist, it has to be admitted that there is something inherent in the religion that leads to extremism.

Some of the author’s analysis is a tad strange. For example, he believes that if every country in the world had a McDonald’s franchise, there would be world peace. The same would happen if every country was a part of the Dell supply chain. While these kinds of corporations do tend to set up shop in nations that have some level of political stability, to assume that such nations are beyond being able to wage war is, quite simply, to ignore human nature.

Friedman takes quite a few potshots at George W. Bush and expresses an optimism in government that strikes me as being distinctly American. Canadians and citizens of many other countries do not seem to share the American optimism in government, that the fall of one party and the rise of another will really make such a great difference. We are a pessimistic people, I suppose. But Friedman really seems to believe that America and the world would be a much different and much better place had George Bush not had two terms to delay progress and focus on the wrong issues.

A particularly good portion of the book dealt with the American educational system and the problems inherent in a system that does not push students as far or as hard as the systems of other nations. Students in many other nations are clearly learning more and faster than their American counterparts. Sooner or later this educational discrepancy will have consequences.

The first few chapters are, in my opinion, worth the price of the book. It bogs down in the middle and there are a few forgettable chapters there. By the end it regains its interest.

I was disappointed to see that, while the book often quotes other people and publications, there is not a footnote to be found.

Because the book is written about contemporary issues, and the issue of technology in particular, it already seems a little bit outdated, though it was written just two years ago (and updated early in 2006). This is the peril of writing about technology.

The book is very America-centric. It tends to focus primarily on the United States, China and India. There is not as much value in reading it for those of us in other developed nations.

At any rate, I did find it quite a fascinating though sometimes uneven read. It is certainly valuable to think about globalization and the new, flat world we live in and doubly so when do from within a Christian context. I just wish I had more to contribute to the analysis of his arguments and conclusions. I would love to hear from other Christians who have read this book and have pondered its relevance to the faith.

8 years 3 months ago
Hurricane Katrina was a national disaster that was played out on an international stage. In this age of instant and graphic communication where there is an increasingly thin line between news and entertainment, the whole world watched while the hurricane bore down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The world watched with sick fascination as pictures of death and devastation flashed across their television screens. Untold millions watched as the New Orleans levies let go, inundating the city with water. And the world saw the response which was both impressive in its speed and frustrating in its disorganization. In The Politics of Disaster, Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism at the University of Texas and editor-in-chief of World magazine, takes a look back at this disaster and looks forward to the inevitable “Katrinas” of the future. “This book examines incidents, some partially preventable, that have a major negative impact on the ability of an entire community to live peaceably.”

Olasky dissects the disaster and gazes into the future. He begins by asking what went wrong in New Orleans. He traces the bulk of the problems to two sources. The first is what he calls “Katrina’s paperocracy.” This sarcastic sentence tacitly describes the paperocracy: “Perhaps New Orleans could have used even more planning and more meetings to unify the FEMA, OEP, LOEP, NHC, MCI, and ESF plans and experience.” New Orleans was prepared, on paper at least, to deal with a Hurricane. Various agencies had plans in place. But these plans were contradictory and allowed little flexibility. Fear of overstepping boundaries, fear of litigation, kept the plans from being effective. “The brutal fact is that big government tends toward big bureaucracy, which means elaborate paper flow but the tendency of one misplaced card to bring down the house.”

The second source of problems was the media. “National media had become a megaphone for hysteria and blame. Among the casualties were truth, speed in offering help, and progress in both international affairs and domestic relations.” Reporters focused undue attention on the traumatic, dramatic events at the Superdome and the Convention Center. Olasky looks at the reality of the crime and violence in the days after the storm and shows how the media stirred hysteria, constantly reporting rumor as fact and fiction as rumor. This hysteria did great damage to the city. For example, reports of armed gangs and snipers were largely false, but relief efforts were put on hold while soldiers and police were dispatched to hunt down these non-existent criminals. As Olasky says, “crying and yelling made for much better ratings than calm assessment of the damages.” News became entertainment. A real-life tragedy became little more than an action movie, and millions sat transfixed by it.

The second section of the book discusses what went right. Olasky looks at rescue, relief and recovery and shows how faith-based organizations, primarily the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention and local churches, by far outperformed any government agency. The absence of a paperocracy allowed these organizations to move quickly and decisively. He looks also at corporations such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Fed-Ex which played an integral role in relief efforts and which put the government to shame with their speed, preparedness and organization.

In the third section the author suggests ways of reforming national disaster policy and then, in the fourth, proposes how faith-based organizations can take the lead in post-disaster relief efforts. The book wraps up with a chapter on international disasters and another that looks at how America is equipped to deal with one of three disasters likely to strike her in the future: earthquake, terrorism and pandemic.

The final chapter, “Beyond Worry,” provides a biblical basis for not becoming overwhelmed with fear of the future. We must avoid both fatalism and undue worry, and place our confidence in God’s providence. “Maybe we need to reawaken that understanding if we are to deal with disasters in ways neither foolhardy nor fearful.” We can have full assurance that God is in control, that nothing happens apart from His knowledge, even events that are difficult to understand. “What’s hard to accept is that the road to contentment runs through misery.” As has been so clearly shown in the death of Jesus Christ, pain and suffering can be terrible means to a wonderful end.

The Politics of Disaster shines some much needed light on the events of Katrina, proving that so much of what we witnessed on television was pure fiction. While the disaster was an act of God, it was made far worse by politics, pride and falsehood. We can only hope and pray that the next time a major disaster strikes America, she will be better prepared and that she will have learned from the mistakes of Katrina, for future disaster is inevitable. Clearly the fruit of much research and much consideration, this is an excellent book and one I enjoyed thoroughly.