Banannery Public

Part of this complete breakfast.

Vote for the candidate you want — October 12, 2016

Vote for the candidate you want

There is a political argument, common to the Left and the Right, that is wrong and lazy, and harmful to democracy in general and the United States of America in particular.

A vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton is a vote for Donald Trump who is mentally unstable and is not qualified to be President.

The fact of the matter is that either Trump or Clinton will be president. Hillary WILL appoint the most radical leftist Supreme Court judges which will alter the course of the nation for decades to come. Sitting at home on one’s moral high horse will not alter that fact.…Doing nothing is a vote for Hillary.

(Source: Random people on Facebook)

This is an argument from pragmatism. It keeps appearing on social media and in political op/eds. The “lesser of two evils” argument is used by Trump and Clinton supporters to guilt and browbeat their fellow citizens into voting for someone they don’t want in office.

Perhaps you don’t like either candidate, and a friend or relative has targeted you with this argument from pragmatism. Let’s look at the essence of the argument, why it’s wrong and lazy, why it’s harmful, and how you should instead vote for the candidate you want. Then I’ll answer a couple objections that might occur to you.

The essence of the argument from pragmatism

Here are the logical steps that form the argument.

  1. Candidate “Bad” and Candidate “Worse” are the only viable options in a civic election.
  2. The candidate who receives the most votes will win the election.
  3. It is morally unacceptable for Candidate “Worse” to win the election.
  4. A voter who fails to vote for Candidate “Bad” is enabling Candidate “Worse” to win the election.
  5. Therefore, one should vote for Candidate “Bad.”

Can you identify the weak link? Premises 1, 2, and 3 are true. It’s premise 4 that is false. Let me show you why.

Why the argument from pragmatism is wrong and lazy

Here’s a brutal reality that no politician will ever tell you: Your vote has zero practical value.

Let’s suppose you were a US citizen who supported Mitt Romney in 2012. On Election Day, you were walking out to your car to drive to the voting booth, but you slipped on a patch of ice and fell and broke your hip. As a result, you failed to vote for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Did your failure to vote change the outcome? Would Romney have won if only your fragile hip had survived the fall intact? Of course not. Your vote had precisely zero influence on the 2012 presidential election. It had no practical value whatsoever. Only in the smallest civic elections might your vote have even a tiny chance of making a difference.

If you were truly behaving pragmatically in 2012, you would not have voted at all. You would have saved your half-hour at the polls and spent it on a more productive task—shopping for groceries, or vacuuming the house, or researching hip replacement surgery. The only reason that a pragmatist votes is that he or she has not followed this pragmatic line of thinking to its logical conclusion, but has quit thinking halfway to the end. He or she is a lazy thinker, blurting out an argument that is lazy and wrong.

So if your friend or relative is going to urge you to act pragmatically on Election Day, follow their argument to its foolish end. Tell them that the brilliance of their pragmatism has persuaded you. Tell them you have decided not to vote for Clinton and not to vote for Trump. Tell them you have decided not to vote at all, but rather to spend that half-hour on election day with a pragmatism and productivity that will put theirs to shame. For that half-hour, they can find you at home, folding your laundry.

Why the argument from pragmatism is harmful

The argument from pragmatism is harmful for at least three reasons.

First, it encourages people not to vote. Why is voter turnout so low in many democratic elections? It’s because people are acting pragmatically in the months leading up to Election Day and on the day itself. They’re not spending their time learning about the candidates and their platforms and their merits. They’re not spending the time to vote. They’re doing other things that have genuine practical value. They’re not lazy; they’re pragmatic. They are following the argument from pragmatism to its logical conclusion.

Second, it enables bad candidates and corrupt parties. How have the Democratic and Republican parties maintained the two-party system for the last 150 years? They have employed the argument from pragmatism. They have manipulated voters into believing that their vote must be cast for a candidate from one of their parties. It is in the interest of both parties to perpetuate this nonsense. Anyone who repeats this argument is either speaking as a cynical manipulator or working to recruit you as a fellow pawn.

Third, it guts our democratic process of its dignity. It encourages realpolitik, the embrace of amoral pragmatism and Machiavellian politics. It encourages citizens to vote out of fear, hatred, and loathing of the opposition candidate. It ensures that wicked campaigners will gain power, and corrupt elites will remain in power, by infesting voters with their fear, hatred, and loathing of the alternative. If all this sounds like America circa 2016, it’s because we have made our bed, and now we are lying in it.

Vote for the candidate you want

Your vote, and my vote, has no pragmatic value. It will not sway the results of all but the smallest civic election. So why do we vote?

You and I vote not because it’s practical, but because it’s our duty and our dignity. We vote for ideological reasons. We are citizens of a state that, for all its faults and corruption, protects us from harm, enforces justice, and promotes what is good. It is my responsibility to the state to vote in a civic election, because my vote is my voice. I use it to communicate what kind of person I believe should be in office, and what kind of platform they should run on. I want my community, my state or province, and my country to be led by someone who is virtuous and just and wise, and who makes decisions with virtue, justice, and wisdom.

There is only reason to vote for a candidate for public office: you vote for the candidate because you want him or her to hold that office. It is a violation of your civic duty, a betrayal of your citizenship, to vote for someone you don’t want.

If you’re an American citizen, here’s how you should vote in the 2016 presidential election:

  1. If you want Donald Trump to be President, then vote for Donald Trump.
  2. If you want Hillary Clinton to be President, then vote for Hillary Clinton.
  3. If you don’t want either one to be President, then research your third party alternatives, find a candidate that you do want to be President, and vote for that candidate.
  4. If you can’t find a third-party candidate that you want to be President, then write in the name of a person you would like to be President, if your state permits it.
  5. If your state does not permit a write-in vote, or restricts it to names you don’t find acceptable, then do not cast a vote for President. (Do, however, cast a vote for other elected offices on the ballot.)

Remember: Your vote has no practical value. It will make no difference. And so you are free to vote for the candidate you want.

Objections answered

If everyone thought this way, then Candidate “Worse” might be elected!

Don’t forget that if everyone were thinking this way, then the supporters of Candidate “Worse” would also be thinking this way. Many of them would vote for someone else. Remember, they are voting for this candidate only because in their opinion, it is Candidate “Bad” who is the worst! Given an alternative, many would choose someone better. So in the end, this objection only leads to speculation and worry, both of which are hardly pragmatic.

Al Gore lost Florida to George W. Bush by 537 votes. If the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had instead voted for Al Gore, then Gore would have won Florida—and the election. So didn’t this ideological voting for Nader cost Gore the 2000 presidential election?

Once again, it’s speculation to assume that Ralph Nader’s supporters would have voted at all if Nader weren’t an option. And if we’re going to speculate, why not speculate about the party nominations in that election? Would Al Gore and George W. Bush have even been nominated as candidates if party members had voted ideologically rather than pragmatically? And would prior presidential elections have been reshaped by ideological voting, fundamentally altering the political landscape for the 2000 election? We don’t know.

The point is this: It’s not your civic responsibility, or mine, to speculate about the results of your voting. It’s your civic responsibility to vote for the candidate you want.

Furthermore, you are not responsible for other people’s votes, but only your own. And if you had been one of those Nader supporters, changing your vote to Al Gore would not have won him the election. With your help, he still would have lost—by 536 votes.

Ramblings on Calvinism — May 29, 2008

Ramblings on Calvinism


It’s been a nice day outside, and I’m sitting out on the back deck watching robins hop along the roof of the house across the yard from me.  I thought this would be a good place to bring all my thoughts together as I wait for a pot pie to cook in the microwave.

Lately, I’ve had a lot on my mind when it comes to the doctrines of grace.  I grew up firmly convinced that people were able to come to God on their own for salvation.  I guess I believed this by default; I found out, when challenged, that the Bible teaches the opposite.  I fought tooth and nail against Romans 9 before grudgingly admitting that maybe God knows what He’s doing better than I do.  And finally, the doctrines I once despised ended up becoming precious to me.

Why is God’s complete sovereignty in salvation so important to me?  I think a lot of it has to do with boredom.  Frankly, I was used to a boring god who needs pizazz and clever marketing campaigns to sucker people into church.  That god is almost impossible for me to worship.  Happily, I don’t have to, because he’s not real.  The true God is fearsome and awe-inspiring, and He’s a lot easier to worship.  That’s the kind of God that appears in Calvinistic doctrine, and this doctrine resonates with me because I crave a God whom I can fear.  I can’t love a God that I don’t fear.

The thing is, I assent to all of the vaunted “five points” of Calvinism, but I don’t think I’ve really learned to think like a Calvinist.  It’s easy to give intellectual assent to a point of doctrine, but it’s much harder to let it soak into your soul so that it becomes the lens through which you view the world.  For too long, I’ve allowed this theology to be a collection of beliefs tacked on top of a worldview which doesn’t really differ much from the culture around me.  This new-wine-in-old-wineskins tension tears me up inside.  It doesn’t work.  I need to start thinking like a Calvinist.

And in a sense, just about every genuine Christian does already…at least in our prayers.  Any Christian worth his salt has prayed for the salvation of those who have not yet believed in Jesus Christ.  “Father, please save my friend Harvey.”  When a Calvinist prays these words, it’s very clear what he means; he is asking God to draw Harvey to Himself with irresistible grace, to open the man’s eyes so he will certainly and gladly choose to follow Christ.  When an Arminian prays these words, I’m not exactly sure what he’s asking God to do.  If the final say on Harvey’s salvation rests on Harvey, well…this is a useless prayer because God’s hands are tied.  Let’s face it—Calvinist prayers are much better than Arminian prayers.

Aside from praying, though, I don’t really think like a Calvinist.  This is especially true when it comes to evangelism.  I’ve heard it said that we should hold to Calvinist doctrine but evangelize like Arminians.  I think that’s what I’ve been doing, and it doesn’t really work.  When I’ve shared the gospel with people, they usually haven’t responded much at all.  I get discouraged about it; the Word of God no longer seems “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  I just can’t seem to get it into my head that God can save anyone He wants.  If someone is His elect, he or she will be saved—period.  If I could only start thinking like that, I would be much bolder in sharing the gospel with others because God could save any person if He so chooses.  George Whitefield, one of the greatest evangelists of all time, remarked that “this makes me to preach with comfort, because I know salvation does not depend on man’s free will, but the Lord makes willing in the day of his power, and can make use of me to bring some of his elect home, when and where he pleases.”

One truth that is sinking into me is the depravity of the human heart.  Sin that I never even used to notice bothers me a lot now.  I wasted most of my Saturday watching endless TV like a lazy slob instead of spending time with the Lord and getting work done.  A couple of years ago, that would have been par for the course; now, I feel awful when I sin like that.  In fact, I feel like a much more wicked person overall than I was a few years back.  Everyone tells me that the opposite is true, but when all the hidden filth of the heart—what John Owen called “a standing sink of abominations”—is exposed by a growing knowledge of God’s will…well, the feeling isn’t good.  But it is a good feeling to have because it’s the truth.

Unfortunately, I just don’t get the love of God.  I tend to think He’s like me, only better—He’s got a longer fuse, but eventually His love will run out and then I’m on my own.  So it’s refreshing to read in the Bible that God is more than a cosmic superman.  While preparing to teach ABF on Sunday morning (which I should have done on Saturday), I read 1 Samuel 12:22:  “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” That was an instant pick-me-up, because all of a sudden I remembered that God didn’t choose and love His people because they’re more intelligent or skilled or more righteous.  He didn’t elect me for salvation because He saw a spark of potential in me that wasn’t in someone else.  No!  God’s reasons for choosing us are His alone to know; all we know is that it brings Him glory.  In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry observed that “the fixedness of God’s choice is owing to the freeness of it.”  God chose me freely, not based on something in me.  Thus, He will not abandon me simply because I’m a screw-up and a sinner.

God’s unconditional election of me is really good news.

So that’s all I have to say for now.  My pot pie is getting cold.  I guess if you want this put into better words than I can write, listen to the hymn “The Love of Christ is Rich and Free” by William Gadsby.  You can find it on Sandra McCracken’s hymns album The Builder and the Architect (or listen free on its website).  It’s a beautiful song praising God’s unconditional love.

(P.S.  You should really buy The Builder and the Architect because it’s incredibly good.)

Evangelism of the elect — October 23, 2007

Evangelism of the elect

2 Timothy 2:10
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Rather than being a deterrent to evangelism, unconditional election should be a doctrine which encourages us to bring the gospel to the world. Why? Because there are many elect in the world who will “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” It becomes less intimidating to realize that many unbelievers whom we interact with may be elect — that God has determined to save them. So we can bring the gospel to the world with confidence, knowing it is not up to us to persuade others with glitzy presentations or fine arguments, but rather to bring the gospel message regardless of our inadequacy.

I’m not trying to knock the means we use…obviously, God uses means to accomplish his purposes, and we are commanded to let our speech “always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Thankfully, though, we can still impact others’ lives without half of our church budget going to the band, a laser show, and the church coffee bar. It’s God’s Spirit that changes hearts. That’s a cause that we can “endure everything” for.

It’s amazing how I have failed to believe and live out these implications of unconditional election. May God continue to teach us and conform us to his Word.

Entitlement, suffering, and unconditional election — October 20, 2007

Entitlement, suffering, and unconditional election

In 2 Timothy, Paul repeatedly charges Timothy with the ministry of the Word, urging him to suffer for the sake of the gospel. As I’ve been reading this book for the past couple of weeks, that charge has stood in sharp relief to my own life and to the life of those around me. Why in America are we so consumed with our own comfort? Why does it seem that anything is more important to us than the gospel?

Paul points out that our willingness to suffer is drawn directly from our theology — specifically, the doctrine of unconditional election.

2 Timothy 1:8-12
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do.

This is a doctrine that I used to hate because it stood opposed to my self-made concepts of who God was and how he should behave. I was shocked by the idea that God would choose some and not others for salvation. In an attempt to sidestep the clear scriptural teaching on this matter, I resorted to a common response: before the creation of the world, God looked down the tunnel of time and foresaw who would respond to his grace with repentance and belief; then, he chose the ones who would respond favorably.

This was nothing more than speculation, and it already stood on shaky ground because it has no scriptural support. It’s an invention of a desperate human mind. Moreover, it is contradicted by v. 9 above, which says that God did not call us to salvation “because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.” Our election was not due to some action on our part. It was due entirely to God’s purpose, for God has a purpose in choosing some for salvation and not others.

If we really believed this, we would not have such a strong sense of entitlement in our churches. Deep down, we believe that in some way, we deserved to be saved. There was just something about me — maybe it’s because I was smarter than other people; maybe I was just more righteous than them. How lucky God is to have such a fine, intelligent man in his kingdom!

Appropriately, Charles Spurgeon mocked such a man-centered view of election with his “Arminian Prayer”:

Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not — that is the difference between me and them.

Rightly did Spurgeon call that “a prayer for the devil.” No one would be bold enough to say those things — instead, we imagine ourselves safe when we merely think them. Led by a high view of ourselves, we take our salvation for granted, abandoning it to pursue other trifles that are nothing but a vapor.

If there is something about me that brought about my salvation, then I am in some sense entitled to it. And if I am entitled to “life and immortality” (v. 10), then there is no reason to suffer for it. I’ll leave the suffering up to the other poor fools who aren’t as good as I am.

May God have mercy on us. We have neglected this doctrine for the sake of our own comfort. I pray that this teaching may soak into me, that this word may penetrate me to the core of my being, that I would always remember that I am saved apart from my own merit, ability, or wisdom. I pray that I may reject this entitlement mentality. I pray that I may gladly sacrifice and suffer for the God who has chosen me and loves me. O Lord, may you alone receive the praise for your great work of salvation!

In the light of this precious doctrine, let’s rejoice in the gospel of the power of God!

A holy calling — October 8, 2007

A holy calling

2 Timothy 1:8-9
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

If we are not willing to suffer for the gospel, then we don’t really understand that we have been chosen by God for salvation. We didn’t earn our way into this salvation by our own good works. God didn’t save us because we were more righteous than other people. Rather, he chose us for salvation based on “his own purpose and grace”—his eternal purpose and the grace that he had granted to us before time itself began (v. 9).

Because we haven’t earned our salvation, we are not to respond as hired help for the kingdom of God. Rather, we should be grateful to be chosen for salvation—an inestimable blessing that we never would have chosen on our own. In light of this holy calling, I need to consider how to change my life for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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