Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Aurelien (4) Weak Military

Political weakness is compounded in the West by military weakness. The West has invested too much in the wrong weapons. It has also over-extended its attempts to control other nations at a time when the fragility of its weapon's choices is being exposed.

Given that they worked in World War 2, the United States has focused its defense on aircraft carriers and attack aircraft and helicopters. This has worked reasonably well because all its wars since World War 2, have been expeditionary attacks against weaker nations and rebellions in other parts of the world. Actually it did not work that well in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

In the current world, missile technology makes aircraft carriers and airplanes vulnerable, and this is an area where the US has underinvested.

In spite of spending a collective fortune on defence capabilities, the West is only capable of operating successfully in a limited number of scenarios, and it is not obvious how this can change. We can list some of the principal ones. (Nuclear forces exist in a different conceptual category, and I’m not going to say any more about them here.) Western aircraft could successfully gain and hold air superiority against, say Russia or China, provided the enemy agreed to limit the engagements strictly to air-to-air combat out of the range of anti-aircraft missiles. Western submarines, surface ships and carriers could probably prevail against, say the Chinese Navy, provided the latter agreed to fight outside the range of land-based missiles. Reasonable amounts of force could be projected by sea and air into permissive environments where air superiority could be guaranteed. This could include combat operations with mechanised forces and artillery, provided that operations did not last for more than a few weeks. And peacekeeping missions could still be undertaken, though probably not on a large scale. There are, of course, very important differences and nuances among western nations, but all of them, at different levels, are trapped in a process of smaller and smaller forces with smaller and smaller numbers of increasingly expensive and sophisticated equipment which is more and more expensive to maintain, and impossible to replace once a conflict has begun. The latter point has political consequences that are often ignored: under what circumstances are you going to risk your entire fleet of perhaps 100 front-line combat aircraft in a war which could leave you disarmed in a few days, and unable to rebuild your forces in less than a decade?

These force structures today did not develop by accident: they reflected beliefs about the missions that military forces would be likely to undertake. Essentially, western forces have a lot of super-sophisticated capabilities, and a fair amount of low-intensity and counter-insurgency capabilities, but not a lot in between. But they cannot fight a major conventional land/air war, or even a limited one that goes on for more than a few weeks. They also face the twin problems of the widespread proliferation of relatively cheap and accurate cruise and ballistic missiles capable of overwhelming defences and destroying highly expensive and complex weapons systems on the one hand, and their own lack of investment in sustainability, on the other. There is nothing magical about the technology involved in the new missiles; it is just that the West saw no virtue in developing that technology itself. Likewise, the West saw no virtue in large and expensive stocks of ammunition. As a result, from now on, the West will simply not be able to rely on automatic air superiority in any serious conflict, nor will its navies be able to operate safely anywhere near an enemy coast, or within the range of air-launched stand-off missiles, nor will it be able to conduct sustained operations on land...

To repeat, none of the above would necessarily have been a problem, provided the overall security policies of western nations had been consistent with these limitations. But they weren’t, and in essence they have provoked a situation where military problems are starting to arise to which the West has no adequate response.

So the existing force-structures of western states are going to have problems coping with the likely domestic security threats of the near future. Most western militaries are simply too small, too highly specialised and too technological to deal with situations where the basic tool of military force is required: large numbers of trained and disciplined personnel, able to provide and maintain a secure environment, and enforce the monopoly of legitimate violence.

This decline in influence will also apply to the United States. Its most powerful and expensive weapons—nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, carrier battle groups, high performance air-superiority fighters — are either not usable, or simply not relevant, to most of the security problems of today. We do not know the precise numbers and effectiveness of Chinese land-based anti-shipping missiles for example, but it’s clear that sending US surface ships anywhere within their range is going to be too great a risk for any US government to take. And since the Chinese know this, the subtle nuances of power relations between the two countries are altered. Again, the US has found itself unable to actually influence the outcome of a major war in Europe, because it does not have the forces to intervene directly, and the weapons it has been able to send are too few and in many cases of the wrong kind.

More at https://aurelien2022.substack.com/p/the-west-is-weak-where-it-matters

Monday, January 30, 2023

Aurelien (3) Nihilistic Political Philosophy

Aurelien warns that western political philosophy has become increasingly nihilistic, and consequently incapable.

We are dealing with the immense and still poorly understood psychological and spiritual consequences of forty years of Liberal Nihilism. (Yes, that’s a concept I just invented, I think.) What I mean by that phrase, is that the uncontrolled growth, and universal application, of Liberal social and political ideas in the last forty-odd years have produced the expected result: we are degenerating into isolated, alienated individuals, with no relations except economic ones, no society, no common points of reference, no hope and no future.

This is the natural result of the thorough-going application of an ideology which has no moral compass except short-term financial efficiency and total personal autonomy, and so as a result, we have lost not only the ability to manage and plan at the level of the community and the state, but even the awareness that such a thing might be necessary. It is also the natural result of an ideology which is fundamentally negative, which is always fighting against things, and so cannot express the positive except as the destruction of a negative: as a consequence we have lost our ability to act collectively, since each of us is a suspicious, hostile, monad, seeing others as a threat; an island entire of itself, as John Donne put it. But now, of course, the bell tolls for all of us.

All of this was entirely predictable, and was predicted, from the tenets of a political ideology of selfishness, that puts individual needs and wants before collective ones, and where the more power and money you have, the more your private needs will be fulfilled. China builds railroads while we build electronic currency markets. Russia does real mining while we do Bitcoin mining. Nobody forced our leaders to banish manufacturing industry abroad, to eviscerate public services in the name of management efficiency or to turn all activities, even education, even social life itself, into machines for generating money for those who have too much already. And now all we do have is money, or the luckiest of us, anyway, who mostly have other peoples’...

There was nothing inevitable to the change which eventually led to Liberal Nihilism: it depended on a series of decisions made by particular individuals at particular times and under specific circumstances. For all that real issues (competition from Japan, oil-price driven inflation, the need to modernise the Trades Unions) were prayed in aid, the actual process was one of deliberate, if incoherent, attempts to impose abstruse, unworkable and even dangerous economic theories, which nonetheless were strongly supported by certain groups, notably the rich.

This wasn’t a conspiracy though, much as some would be comforted to think it was. Nor were the pointy-headed economists behind it consciously evil : they were mostly just misguided and divorced from reality. And even the politicians who adopted these ideas do generally seem to have thought, in their confused and ignorant fashion, that they would be good for the economy, rather than injecting a potentially-lethal poison into it. Beyond a few nutcases, none of them would actually have wished to bring about the situation we have now. But then evil is always easier to deal with than incompetence...

This is why the current situation is so dangerous and so apparently hopeless: elites have so internalised “technical” solutions which are “effective” by the most banal of criteria, that they are literally incapable of thinking any other way even as disaster approaches. Failure to them simply means that the ideology has not been tried hard enough, and they continue to self-inflict pain, as did the Xhosa tribes who famously killed all their cattle in the 1850s, after a prophecy that it would restore their former greatness as a nation.

The worship of “technique” of course, is the opposite of “vision,” even in the debased sense in which that word appears on company PowerPoint slides. Our current leaderships have been trained in technique to the exclusion of everything else, and are obsessed with “technical” solutions to problems, the more complex the better. Ask them what the actual purpose of politics is, and they stammer incoherently. Its hard to believe that the Sunaks and Macrons of the world, with their mere smattering of genuine education, have really thought deeply about the policies they are trying to thrust on their populations: they are as much intellectual prisoners as everyone else. That Macron could possibly believe, at a time like this, that forcing French people to work longer for smaller pensions should be the highest priority for his government, may seem to defy belief. But the fact is that, when all you know is how to build Lego models, every problem looks like a Lego model needing to be built.

And so we live in a kind of Hell where nothing changes, or ever can change, except for the worse. CS Lewis observed once that the only people in Hell are the ones who want to be there, by which he meant that they were incapable of understanding and learning, and incapable of changing their minds. Escape from our current problems is thus dependent on the only thing that is excluded in principle: a change of mind...

We are more used these days to revolts and revolutions that have an eye towards the future, but for this you have to believe that a different future is in fact possible, and at least some vague idea what it may look like. For a long time, religion supplied a possible conceptual framework, as it still does with some fringe movements in Islam, but in the West its place has been taken by the secular apocalyptic cult I described a few weeks ago, whose ideology is precisely the absolute triumph of Liberal Nihilism. With the abandonment of Marxism, and even of reformist Socialism, and their effective suppression from political discourse in the West, there are no shared alternative frameworks within which a different and better future could even be imagined.

More at https://aurelien2022.substack.com/p/the-years-midnight

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Aurelien (2) Elitist Political Systems

Political systems right across the western world have become fragile and ineffective, while becoming more and more elitist.

Elections have become a party game in which different members of the elite group take turns at governing. The courts and news media that are supposed to keep them accountable and the security services that are supposed to protect the overall system both come from the same professional, fairly prosperous, political class that lives in the capital and attended the same schools and universities. The problem is that this elite group has become more and more detached from the people that they govern.

People tend to vote for parties that represent, or at least acknowledge, their interests, and if a party no longer does that, they will stop voting for the party, or stop voting altogether. This was an entirely foreseeable consequence of the move towards elite Professional and Managerial Class (PMC)-based political parties.

In the past, for as long as there were genuine differences between parties, and parties themselves had mass memberships, the problem was containable. Most people were prepared to go along with the system, believing that their vote could change things, if only at the margins. That’s no longer true, and not only do people increasingly not vote, which is awkward in a democracy, but when they do vote, it might be essentially a vote of protest against the system, out of a desire to demonstrate a lack of faith in it. So other methods have been required as well...

In most western countries there is now a professional political class, with links of family and education to similar classes in the media, professional and intellectual worlds, who mostly think alike, and who believe, and tell each other, that they know what’s best, and so should be allowed to rule. This political class itself is drawn from a far narrower and far more homogeneous group than at any point in modern history.

So this professional political class, narrowly based and insulated from much of real life, but with close and overlapping contacts with other parts of the establishment, naturally thinks that it knows best...

But this class is only part of a larger PMC, which also includes the traditional establishment professions: law, education, banking, the media, the public service and so forth. Structurally, we can look at much of the rhetoric around the functioning of today’s political system as different expressions of the class power of the PMC, and to some extent a reflection of the competition for power and influence within it...

After all, the elites move between the various spheres, and sometimes occupy them simultaneously: a politician may go on to a lucrative media career, a lawyer may also advise and work for NGOs. If one part of the ecosystem seems to be getting a little out of control, other parts can step in to restore order. Above all, the system is multiply redundant in obstructing attempts from any quarter to challenge its power, or to advance the interests of ordinary people.

Liberalism, the dominant political force in modern western societies, has been elitist since its conception: it’s just that we are more conscious of that now, as the gap between the interests and preoccupations of ordinary people and the PMC continues to grow all over the world.

The sociologist Robert Michels developed what he called the Iron Law of Oligarchy, based partly on his experiences in the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War. All organisations, he argued, even the most faultlessly democratic, ultimately wind up being run by a “leadership class” which takes decisions and renews itself. Anyone who has observed, or participated in, organisations large or small, is likely to find this argument persuasive, but it’s clear that, beyond a certain level of complexity, it applies to nations as well. Perhaps the PMC is, in part, a natural consequence of a complex society.

The problem is the rest of us, and especially those whose only relationship to the PMC will be that of a servant class.

More at https://aurelien2022.substack.com/p/lets-all-be-accountable-

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Aurelien (1) Weak Leadership

After reading most of the substack articles written by Aurelien, I discern that he sees five big weaknesses that are affecting the leading nations of the western world.

1. Lame Leadership
The greatest weakness of the modern West is its weak political leadership.

Yet the West as a whole faces a fundamental problem that no institutional Lego manipulation can cure: the quality of western politicians, intellectually, morally and politically, is lower than it has been at any time in modern history. Oh, history is full of politicians who have not been very bright, and politicians who have been morally dubious. But the dumb were generally kept at the appropriate level, and overt corruption was frowned upon. In general, though, even the worst actually understand something about, you know, politics. As it is, we’re stuck with the equivalent of people who have elbowed their way into the finals of a talent competition through personal contacts, but can’t actually sing.

This is important, because in the end it’s people in systems who make systems work. Good systems can, and do, bring on mediocre people, but through the activities of their members, not through some kind of magic. If you’ve worked in large organisations, you know that good people can make even poor systems work better, but bad people will eventually bring even the best system down...

But bear in mind one thing: all of these people and their “advisers” were there because they wanted to be. They fancied their own abilities enough to thrust themselves forward for positions of real power at a time of crisis, and to tell people to trust them. So they deserve to be held to a very high standard of personal competence, honesty and intelligence: this isn’t a widget factory or a hedge-fund we’re talking about here...

For these and many other reasons, the typical parliamentarian in many countries is now a relatively young and inexperienced figure, parachuted in from outside, who has no particular contact with any community or area, no interests or experience outside politics, and no personal qualities except ambition. They do not, and cannot, claim to represent the community, although some formal deference may be paid to local issues and personalities. The basis of their power is not local, but in the national or regional organisation of the political party they want to represent. Inevitably, they are faithful exponents of whatever their party’s ideology may be for the time being...

If aspirant politicians no longer come from a defined community, no longer represent defined interests, no longer have local ties and loyalties, no longer have previous experience to draw upon and no longer have to appeal to an electorate which expects a modicum of intelligence, capability and character; and if besides all that they are driven exclusively by personal ambition, ready to compromise any idea and abandon any ally for a sniff at power, then you get something like the present mess in Britain...

But it’s worth pointing out that the worst political class in modern history is having to confront an unprecedented series of crises, any one of which would have strained the capabilities of a much better class of politician. Something is going to give, and soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Aurelien

Some of the most thoughtful articles that I have read in rececent times are published by a person writing under the name Aurelien on Substack (Aurelien was emperor at a time when the Roman Empire was disintegrating). He writes that he has had a long professional career in government, before and after the Cold War, and in many parts of the world. He claims to have been to enough places, met enough people and done enough things, to have some idea about how stuff works in real life (Given his age, I am presuming he is “he”). I agree with his basic premise that we are at a turning point in world history, and I believe that he has something useful to say about it.

The following quote describes the changes he is concerned about.

As you get older, you become more and more distrustful of people who tell you that, “we are living today in a tme of unprecedented change.” Normally, that’s just an excuse to make life worse for you, get money from you, or force you to do things you don’t want to do. Ironically, though, we are now at a point of major change that hardly any of the usual suspects are prepared to recognise, because, for once, it’s their version of the world which is being upended.

Put simply, we are one of those periods in history where things move extremely rapidly, and after which nothing is ever really the same again. It’s accepted that 1914, 1945 and 1989 were like that. It is pretty clear that we are now living in such a period, for all that the political classes of the West are desperately trying to avoid seeing it, and to discourage the rest of us from doing so.

Like most seemingly violent changes, this one has been building up for some time. The roots of it lie in a whole series of progressive, unconnected, but cumulatively catastrophic errors made at the end of the Cold War, essentially by people who wanted the illusion of change without the hard work of actually deciding and implementing it. True to the short-term benefit-maximising culture that has dominated the last thirty years, the future was expected to be much like the present only more so, and anyway capable of looking after itself, so we only needed to think about the next few years at any one time. Liberal political and economic ideas would spread without limit or resistance, it was thought. NATO and the EU would expand forever, without resistance or consequences. Western domination of the world economy, of international trade and international institutions, would continue forever, without resistance and ever more intensively. At some vague, indeterminate, point in the future, it was thought, the whole world would come to resemble a brown-bag lunch at a progressive American think-tank. The fact that if something can’t go on literally forever there must be a point at which it stops, was somehow overlooked. Indeed, if there is a single phrase that encapsulates the intellectual lethargy of the last thirty years, it’s “we’ll worry about that when it happens.“ Well, it’s happening now, and western elites have absolutely no idea how to deal with it (Politics is like Engineering).

Friday, January 20, 2023

Two Years Before the Mast

Last year I read Two Years Before the Mast by RH Dana. The following is a synopsis of the book prepared for me by ChatGPT.

Two Years Before the Mast is a memoir by Richard Henry Dana Jr. about his experiences on a two-year voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship, the Pilgrim. The book covers his experiences on the ship, including the harsh living and working conditions, the camaraderie among sailors, and the dangers of the sea. He also describes the various ports they visited and the people they met, including a brief stay in California during the Mexican-American War.

Dana, a Harvard student, left his studies to go to sea in 1834 to recover from an eye injury. The book provides a detailed and accurate portrayal of the life of a sailors at sea in the mid-19th century, with descriptions of the daily routine, the weather, and the relations between the sailors. He also writes about the ports they visited and the different cultures they encountered.

The book is considered an important historical document as it provides a rare first-hand account of the conditions of American sailors at the time, and the challenges they faced. It is also notable for its descriptions of the California coast, which was still a remote and little-known part of the world at the time.

The thing that struck me from the book is the ability of humans to cope with intensely difficult circumstances. The desperate conditions that the sailors coped with during frequent storms were almost unbelievable.

I have read several accounts of British sailing ships during the Napoleonic wars. They always had a large number of sailors. I presume they needed a big crew so that sails could be changed quickly during the manoeuvring of a battle with the enemy. They had sufficient sailors to change the sails on all the masts at the same time.

The merchant ships Pilgrim and the Alert on which RH Dana sailed had very small crews; only about twelve men, which meant about six in each watch. When one was sick, they often had only five sailors on a watch. When the sails need to be changed, they often had to do one mast, before moving on to do the other two.

When they sailed around Cape Horn, on both the way out and the way back, they experienced terrible storms. The temperature dropped below freezing, and icebergs in the sea had to be avoided. The sailors were constantly sent up the mast to change the sails in stormy conditions. While on the decks, they wore gloves to keep their hands warm, but they had to take them off before they went up the mast, because it was two hard to grip the rigging while wearing gloves. After being on the masts for several hours, their hands got so cold, they had to bang them repeatedly against the sails to thaw them sufficiently that they could grip the sail they were furling or reefing.

I was also amazed by the engineering of these ships. The crew could remove the top half of a mast if a storm was coming, or replace a mast or spar that got broken while at sea. All this was done with blocks and tackle and some men straining on a capstan to raise and lower the heavy mast with ropes. I am amazed that they even attempted to do such a complex task.

I was intrigued by the way the captain and officers constantly kept the men working. Once the basic work was done each day, they would be set to work cleaning the decks and repairing ropes and sails. I presume that the officers felt they needed to keep the men busy so that would not get troublesome. The officers would often find a reason why they had to work on Sunday, which was supposed to be a day off.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Fun with 666

In his revelation, John says that the number 666 is a key to the identification of the Terrible Beast that dominates much of the vision. The usual approach is to identify a political leader whose name adds up to 666.

In Greek and Hebrew each letter of the alphabet doubles as a number. Gematria is the practice of calculating the numeric equivalent of words and phrases by adding up the numbers associated with each letter. Technically, Gematria refers to calculation in Hebrew while Isopsephy is the Greek equivalent.

The English alphabet doesn't normally carry numeric values but this practice has been carried into English using numbering systems similar to the ancient languages. This has become known as English Gematria. When I was a child, we sometimes wrote messages in code by using numbers instead of letters.

Many political leaders have been suggested by interpreters of Revelation. Early scholars attempted to identify the number 666 with Nero, but for various reasons, this did not work. In more recent times, people tried to link the number to Hitler and Stalin, but all these attempts have eventually failed.

The usual approach is to identify a dangerous political leader and check if his name adds up to 666. However, checking thousands of potential names is rather tiresome, so I decided to work the other way around by looking at the Greek alphabet and determining what sets of characters would add up to 666. I was surprised by how few options there are.

The difference in scale of the three components of 666 (600, 60, and 6) means that each one has to be made up of a different set of Greek characters. This also means that the characters for six, sixty or six hundred and above cannot be used. These are shaded in blue in the table.

Only three combinations of numbers add up to six. These are
    α,ε       1+5 =6
    β,δ       2+4 =6
    α,β,γ     1+2+3 = 6

Three combinations of numbers add up to 60
    μ,κ       20+40 =6
    ι,ν       10+50 =60
    ι,κ,λ     10+20+30 = 60

Three combinations of numbers add up to 600.
    υ,σ       200+400
    ρ,ϕ       100+500
    ρ,σ,τ     100+200+300 = 600

There are a few other combinations that will work, but they need a lot more letters, which indicates a very large and complex name.

The result surprised me. The easiest way to get 600 is with the letters υ,σ. These add up to 600 and their English equivalent is “US”. Wow.

My first options for 6 and 60 were α,ε and μ,κ. The English equivalent of these letters is AMEK. That rung a bell, but needs an R to be clear. Surprisingly, the third option for 600 has is ρ ,σ ,τ. When I took the ρ to get AMERK. I was left with σ,τ, which in English is ST, an abbreviation for “States”.

I am not sure it is legitimate to use vowels a and e twice, but doing so gives α μ ε ρ ε κ α     σ τ. The English equivalent is AMEREKA ST.

I guess you can say that John should have been more accurate than that, but it is not bad.

This result might be significant, or might just indicate that you can get what ever result you want if you put in a little effort.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Isolation and Coercion

I am not sure where I got the following quote, but I copied it down because it seems to be pertinent to our current situation.

Modern society tends to be made up of lonely, isolated people. They will often feel like they are surrounded by people they don’t know, don’t like, and don’t trust. They can easily slip into assuming that people who don’t believe what they believe and don’t want what they want are a threat to them.

These feelings of vulnerability often develop into demands for political coercion with the aim of making people think and behave like us. If politicians stoke these fears, it can easily lead to bloodshed.

The problem is that we don’t know how to live with people who are different, so we want to force them to become like us. The Old Testament had rules that required foreigners living in the land to be treated with empathy and kindness. We need more of that empathy and kindness today.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Bias and Justice

(From The Moral Core: The Biblical Perspective on Justice by Dean Brackley, SJ. I found this through Ray McGovern.)

Most modern, Western conceptions of justice stress its essential impartiality. For us, judges who are supposed to symbolize justice … could not be considered proper judges and at the same time be biased, prejudiced, and partial. Bias is incompatible with our abstract concept of justice.

Biblical justice will have none of this. It is forthrightly biased, prejudiced, and partial. More accurately, it recognized that all systems of justice are biased, covertly or overtly, and it opts for overt discovery of the bias. Biblical justice theory is biased and it admits it.

Its bias is two-edged: it is unequivocally partial to the poor and suspicious of the “rich.” This meaning is etymologically grounded in the very word for justice, since the biblical root for sedaqah, the prime Hebrew word for justice, has from the first a bias towards the poor and needy. The related Aramaic tsidqah meant “showing mercy to the poor.” Our modern tendency is to think of justice in terms of criminality or litigation. Our justice is concerned with trouble. The biblical preoccupation is wholly other. Justice is “good news,” especially “to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

So positive (versus punitive) is the terminology used for justice. God says (literally), “I will not do justice … to the wicked.” Justice applies to the innocent.

Justice is not reacting to evil, but responding to need. Woe to those who “deprive the poor of justice” (Isaiah 10:2). The prime focus of this justice is not on the guilty, but on victims and the dispossessed.

Deuteronomy says: “You shall not deprive aliens and orphans of justice.” What justice requires is spelled out in detail: never “take a widow’s cloak in pledge” or a poor man’s cloak if he needs to be warm — even if it is owed to you by a mathematically strict standard of justice. “When you reap the harvest in your field and forget a swathe, do not go back and pick it up; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” When you are harvesting your olives or your grapes, leave some behind: “What is left shall be for the alien, the orphan, the widow” (Deut. 24: 10-22).

This early and often repeated formulation of justice primarily involves not contracts or torts, but compassion, benevolence, and redistribution. Augustine summed up the tradition simply when he said: “Justice consists in helping the needy and the poor.” The poor, quite simply, are God’s children and they are marked out for special handling. That special handling is the prime work of justice.

Because of its overarching concern for the poor, biblical justice is not quibbling legalism. It is large-hearted and magnanimous. It must, in the course of life, descend to the picky details of legality, but its heart is not there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Jeremiah

I recently read the final chapters of the book of Jeremiah. I find his prophetic scope amazing. Jeremiah gives a detailed prophecy for each of the major nations of the world during the time when he lived. He obviously understood the workings and history of each of these nations and had listened to God and gained his perspective on their future. He then wrote a detailed prophecy for each one. That is an amazing achievement.

The modern-day equivalent would be for a prophet to give detailed prophecies for each of the following; United States, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Nigeria. I cannot think of any of the modern so-called prophets who have come close to doing this.

When I read the prophetic bulletin boards, like the Elijah List, it seems that all the prophecies are about the United States, as if Americans are the only people whom God cares about, when the reality is that the US church is in decline, and the American culture is tearing itself apart. This suggests, contrary to the prophetic focus, that God has abandoned the United States.

No one on the Elijah List has the international scope that Jeremiah had. A few of the Australian prophets give positive prophecies about America, but I presume that this is a good way to build up their ministries and sell their books. A few Americans on the Elijah list say bad things about China and Russia, but they don't know much of these nations' history, and seem to be rooted in fear and xenophobia, rather than the heart of God.

Although the Holy Spirit has been poured out since Pentecost, and the prophetic gift has been restored over the last century, I cannot think of any modern prophet who has achieved the depth and breadth of scope that Jeremiah achieved (as did Isaiah and Ezekiel). This is an indictment on the prophetic movement.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Failed Tactics

Given the dramatic decline in the proportion of Christians and the religious plurality emerging in Western culture, Church leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Continuing in a Christendom-style mode of operating as if Christianity is still dominant in our culture leaves us looking foolish and arrogant.

  • In the past, Christians lived in a culture that respected their beliefs and supported their values (even if they didn’t always live according to them). Their daily lives did not contradict their Christian life. Now the entire culture is hostile, so even if the Sunday service is really good, young Christians spend most of their lives in a culture at work or school that is not conducive to faith. Their interaction with the world during their daily lives will constantly undermine their faith. Many have already succumbed to the pressure. As the pressure gets more intense, many more will give up because their faith is not strong enough to sustain them in an antagonistic environment.

    Modern culture places a high value on members of oppressed groups (female, racial, religious, sexual and transgender minorities). In this context, Christians are seen as part of the dominant culture that oppressed these groups in the past. Consequently, we will see greater hostility to the church, and in some situations, persecution of Christian leaders. So life as a minority will be more unpleasant for Christians will be far more unpleasant than they expect. We will not just be ignored. Those who stand against favoured cultural changes will be harassed.

  • For most people who do not know Jesus, church is a scary place. A few will go with a friend, but most won’t. This means that the Sunday service is no longer a suitable place for seriously sharing the gospel. As a method for sharing the gospel, the Come-to-Church-Model is no longer effective. The declining number of Christians confirms this in Western countries. The modern church has not even been able to replace the Christians who die. Our preferred method for sharing the gospel no longer works.

    Most of what the church does is done in programs run in a church building. Most non-Christians never see the love of Jesus being lived out by people who love one another as Jesus commanded, even if it does happen.

The Come-to-Church-Model is not effective in a culture when Christians are in the minority. It does not work for followers of Jesus, and it does not work for people who need to know Jesus. Persisting with a method that is failing is foolish. Christian leaders who understand how the world is changing should be looking at alternative ways of operating that are better suited to our task.

The New Testament church operated in a very hostile environment. They were often persecuted, first by the Jewish establishment and then by the Romans. People who chose to follow Jesus often had a very tough life. However, Jesus had left his disciples with a way of operating that proved to be very effective. The early church grew rapidly despite the hostility of the environment it operated in. Modern church leaders should be having a serious look at how they did it.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christian Decline

The UK Office of National Statistics has just announced results for religious affiliation from their latest Population Census. For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percent decrease from 59.3% in 2011. This is amazing. In a nation that was once perceived as the heartland of Christianity, Christians are now a minority. In parts of London, the percentage of Christians is now less than thirty percent.

A similar change has occurred in New Zealand. According to the 2018 population census, only 37.3 percent of the population describe themselves as “Christian”, whereas nearly half (48.6 percent) claim to have “No Religion”. If the various ethnic churches are excluded (they are probably unlikely to reach the existing population with the gospel), the percentages would be significantly worse than in the UK.

The United States is a decade behind, but secularisation of the culture is proceeding faster there, so the decline will be faster too. Unless something changes significantly, the United States will soon be in a similar state to the UK. Pretending that this decline is not happening, or vainly hoping that revival will come and turn the situation around is foolish.

The decline in Christian faith recorded by these statistics represents a massive cultural change in our society. A reasonable person would expect the church to recognize the problem and begin adapting so that it can be effective in the new culture that is emerging. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that this is happening.

A military general who lost half of his troops, while his enemy's forces were increasing would be freaking out. He would probably be wondering about surrendering or suing for peace before his army was totally decimated. At the very least, he would be changing the way that he fought. He would stop all major engagements against large concentrations of enemy forces, and would disperse his remaining forces to engage in guerilla-style insurgent tactics, harassing the enemy in hit-and-run attacks.

Despite facing similar losses, the church seems to be content to go on doing what it has always done without any consideration of radical change. The “Come to Church for an Hour on Sunday” is still the norm. The worship songs have become more upbeat, and the music production is more professional. The presentation of the message uses more sophisticated visual aids, but the method is still one man preaching. The song-prayer-sermon-altar-call club-sandwich is as popular as ever.

Given the dramatic secular shift and the religious plurality emerging in our culture, Christian leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Isaiah (2)

The second half of the book of Isaiah has some amazing prophecies about the promised Messiah. Isaiah 53 records a detailed prophecy of how his death would occur. The various Servant Prophecies are an amazing description of what Jesus would be like and what he would do. As I read these prophecies, I was amazed at how accurate Isaiah was in hearing God’s voice and prophesying events that were way beyond what anyone living at the time expected. More amazing, this was way before the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Given the difficulties a person like Isaiah would face in receiving God’s word, I am amazed that he could prophesy so clearly about events that were so far in the future. I assume that he did not have this capacity when he was first called to be a prophet. I presume that it gradually developed over many years, as he received and declared God’s word, as he dealt with pushback and hostility, and as he suffered for his loyalty to God. I presume that it was God working in his life by the moving of the Spirit and suffering for the truth that produced the ability to hear God clearly.

I assume that when Isaiah was an old man, he was far more skilled in hearing God speak than he was when he was first called (this is a challenge for everyone with a prophetic calling). It was only toward the end of his life, following intensive work by the Holy Spirit, that he was able to receive word about what the Messiah would do when he came. It was only when he was old that he was able to receive a revelation about the Messiah that was totally different from what everyone else expected.

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry reached great heights as he grew older. Therefore, I am not surprised that he began speaking in a different style and used different words. This would be a natural response to the major work that God had to do in his life. So a change in writing style is not evidence that a different person wrote the latter chapters of the book.

Isaiah is a massive challenge for anyone with a prophetic calling. I cannot think of many modern prophetic voices who have the insight and accuracy that Isaiah demonstrated. Yet, in the confusion of the modern life in our troubled world, a clear direction like Isaiah brought is urgently needed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Isaiah (1)

I have been re-reading the book of Isaiah. Many commentators suggest that only the first half of the book (chapter 1-39) was written by Isaiah, and that the second half (chapters 40-66) were written by a different author, a century later, when Israel was in exile in Babylon and looking forward to their return to the Promised Land. They suggest that the second half is written in a different style from the second half.

I see several problems with this view.

1. A change in style does not mean much. Isaiah prophesied over more than forty years. He began prophesying as a young man during the final years of the reign of King Uzziah (Is 6:1). He was probably still prophesying when King Hezekiah’s son called Manasseh became king. Isaiah was just a young man in his early twenties when he was called to his ministry. Towards the end of his life, he would have been prophesying for more than forty years, and perhaps nearly fifty.

During this ministry, his understanding of God’s purposes would have increased. Because he was open to listening, he would have developed a clearer insight into God’s will. As he grew in his gifting, he would speak in a different way and use better words to describe what God was showing him.

None of us remains static. When I look back on what I wrote thirty years ago, the tone is different, the message is not as clear, and I use a different set of words. I used to refer to Jesus as “Christ” all the time, whereas now I rarely use the word, because I think it gives a false understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done.

In the same way, Isaiah’s way of speaking would have changed and developed throughout his ministry. So it is not surprising that his later prophecies have a different style, tone and message from his earlier ones.

2. Prophecies about the end of the exile are relatively rare, even in the last half of the book of Isaiah. As I read through the book, I was surprised at how few they were. Isaiah 44:21-28 is one example. That does not make sense if the second half of the book was written at the time when Israel was about to return from exile. There would have been a much greater focus on that event.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Revival

Many Christians have strong hope for revival. Despite the decline of faith in Jesus throughout the Western world, they believe that God will send a revival that will turn the situation around and restore the church to the place of strength that it once held.

The problem with this hope is that revival is not a New Testament concept. The word “revival” is not used in the Testament

The closest to a reference to revival is in Acts 3:19, but it refers to “refreshing” not revival. It was addressed to people who were not believers in Jesus, so Peter was not challenging a dull church. He was doing evangelism in a hostile world, which is very different.

The other problem with the revival hope is that it puts the blame for the decline of the church on God. If the Holy Spirit moves in power in some seasons then remains hidden for other seasons, then a period of decline is most likely the consequence of the Holy Spirit is having withdrawn for a season. If that is the case, the solution is to persuade God to send the Holy Spirit back again to bring revival. There is nothing that God’s people can do until the Holy Spirit returns again.

Unfortunately, the underlying premise of this hope is flawed. The Holy Spirit does come and go. He is not in a good mood at some times and in a bad mood at others. He is not unavailable to the church for long seasons. The biblical message is that Jesus has poured the Holy Spirit into the world. He is always working and he never goes away. He is always available to people who seek him honestly and sincerely.

The biblical message to a church in decline is to change your thinking (repent). Change your ways. Do things differently. The Bible promises that if we will humble ourselves and fully commit to doing his will, he will move in power amongst us.

The decline of the church is never God’s fault. It is never because the Holy Spirit has stopped moving for a season. It is always because the church has failed to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey his voice. The reason he cannot move in the way that he wants to is that the church is unwilling to obey him.

In this season, I see no sign that the church wants to change what it is doing and do what the Holy Spirit is desperately begging it to do. The church seems to want to carry on doing things the same way as it has always done, even though it is not working.

The church seems intent on doing what it is already doing. That means that revival is unlikely to come soon. Relying on revival teaching is a false hope.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Reading and Writing

I read articles written by other people critically, not in the sense of looking for faults, but testing all new ideas to ensure that they make sense in terms of what I already know to be true, such as the truth that God exists and is love.

So when people read what I write, I expect them to do the same. I often push the boundaries of conventional wisdom, so I don’t mind if people disagree with what I write. They are entitled to do that. All I ask is that readers don’t reject my ideas, just because they are different from the majority view. They should remember that majority in Israel wanted to make a golden calf to worship. The majority in Jerusalem wanted to crucify Jesus, so the majority is not always right.

I have studied the scriptures for many years, and I think extensively about what I write, but I also know that not everything that I have written is true. The problem is, as a wise person once said, I don’t know which bits are wrong. If I did know, I would not have written them. So everyone who reads my writing should test my ideas and ensure that they align with the truth that they know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (10) Pseudepigrapha

Some modern scholars claim the pastoral epistles written by Paul are pseudepigrapha. The word refers to letters and other texts that are falsely attributed to an important religious leader who is not the true author. They say that these letters were written by a later leader, who tried to gain authority for his letters by claiming they were written by Paul to leaders from the first generation of Christians.

They suggest that the letters referred to leaders mentioned in Paul’s genuine letters to give them credibility. They say that the author of the letter used Paul’s name to give their writings standing in the church.

I think that this is a stupid idea. Even if the letters were written at a date as late as AD 120, there would be people around who knew about Timothy and Titus and how and where they lived and what they did.

My great-grandfather moved to the area where my family farmed in 1878. That is about 140 years ago. My father knew his grandfather, and he told me about his struggles on a small uneconomic farm, and his making ends meet by working as a shearer. If someone was to come along now and say that my great-grandfather was a doctor or a lawyer, I would not believe them. Their story would not be credible to someone familiar with my family history.

If Timothy and Titus were active in about AD 50, a letter written in AD 120 would have only a gap of seventy years. That is the equivalent of me looking back to 1952. I was a child at that time. My parents talked to me about the things that happened at that time. I remember some of the big events, like the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth and Hillary climbing Mount Everest. If someone wrote a book about my great uncle climbing Mount Everest, I would know it was not true.

Even if the Pastoral Epistles were not written until AD150, the gap back to Timothy’s actual life is like me looking back to the 1920s. I was not alive then, but my father was. He talked to me about the things that happened in his family and the nation back then. A false narrative about what happened during the great depression of the late 1920s would not gain traction because too many people still alive know what really happened.

So the idea that someone could pretend to write a letter from Paul to Timothy or Titus and gain credibility for their account is not credible. It assumes a level of stupidity for the Christians of that time that is arrogant and unfair.

This full series is at Pastoral Epistles.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (9) Not Deserted

Commentators usually suggest that Paul was depressed when he wrote his second letter to Timothy because all his fellow-workers had deserted him. Again, I think that this is misleading. A more realistic picture is that Paul was constantly organising his fellow-workers to advance the gospel and protect the fledgling churches.

The reason that Paul wanted Timothy and Mark to come was so that they could work with him. A careful reading of the final chapter if Second Timothy shows that Paul was busy organising the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church. He sent his fellows to various places where the church might need help.

  • Demas Thessalonica (he is midunderstood).
  • Crescens — Galatia
  • Tychicus — Ephesus
  • Erastus — Corinth
  • Trophimus — Miletus
These leaders covered most regions of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece where Paul and his co-workers had already taken the gospel. Clearly, Paul was still thinking strategically about how to advance the gospel.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (8) Depressed Paul

Many commentators assume that his second letter to Timothy was written just before Paul died. They suggest that he was shut up in prison in Rome and depressed because he was alone, and his ministry was coming to an end. I reject this view, because I believe that it is based on a misunderstanding of the letter.

The passage that is commonly misunderstood is 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Commentators mostly assume that Paul knew that his death was near and was ready to die. But that is only one possible meaning of these verses.

Paul says that his is being poured out as a drink offering. That was not new. He said the same thing in his letter to the Philippians.

I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Phil 2:17).
He rejoiced with the Philippians because his sacrifice of service was helping increase their faith. He was not talking about his death, so it does not follow that he was thinking about his death when he spoke the same way to Timothy.

Paul says that he has a crown of righteousness and reward awaiting him on the day of judgment. However, this is something that he said frequently, not just when he thought he was dying. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul speaks of the crown that he and the disciples wear, just as he writes to Timothy. Speaking of a crown that would be given by Jesus to his followers when he appears is not a sign that he was thinking about his death.

Paul says that he has completed the race, but he was a person who was always racing, and striving. He always worked hard at his ministry, so he always saw himself as having completed the race that he had been called to run. Paul was always in a position where he had no regrets about what he could have done. His role make his life precarious, so he was always ready to die, because he was always doing what Jesus wanted him to do.

Paul says that the time for his “departure” is near. He was not necessarily speaking of his death (v.8). The Greek word that Paul uses is “analusis”. It means “unloosing” or “departure”. It can refer to the unmooring of a ship ready for departure.

I suspect that Paul realised that his release from prison was getting close, and his letter was planning for what he would do when he got out. He wanted Timothy and Mark to come and join him, so he could engage in further missionary work (2 Tim 4:9). There would be no point in their coming to him if he was about to die. Paul confirms this by saying that Mark is useful for his ministry (2 Tim 4:11).

Paul asks Timothy to come before the winter (2 Tim 4:9,21). He asked Timothy to bring a cloak for the winter, and some books that he used. He would not be asking for these things if his death was imminent. Paul’s practice was to find a good place and stay there for the winter months (1 Cor 16:6; Tit 3:12). It seems that he was planning to do this again.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Pastoral Epistles (7) Many Imprisonments

Paul says that he was in prison (2 Tim 1:8). There is no reason to assume that this was his last time in prison. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul records that he was imprisoned numerous times. Many of these are not recorded in the book of Acts. It seems that part of his life and ministry was missed by Luke.

Several of the bad experiences Paul records in his letter must have happened on another journey for which we have no details.

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits... in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor 11:23-27).
Acts does not record three ship wrecks, or the five times Paul received forty lashes. It does not seem to record all the times he was in prison. So some of his imprisonments probably occurred in his journey to the western Balkans. I think that is more likely that Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written while Paul was in prison at some point on his unrecorded missionary journey, possibly after he had returned from to Greece from Illyricum.

Paul records that he has sent Titus to Dalmatia (which is down the coast from Illyricum (2 Tim 4:10). This suggests that he was writing after he had returned from planting churches there. He often sent one of his co-workers to visit the churches he had established to ensure that elders were functioning correctly. Titus had probably gone to Dalmatia after his time in Crete (Tit 1:5). He had probably gone there with Paul and remained for a while after Paul left (or perhaps was forced to leave).