Archive for September, 2010

What's good about Winchester

Christian Perez performs in the George Rogers Clark High School Marching Band, which has a history of excellence. America's Promise recently named Clark County one of the 100 best places in the country for young people. Sun photo by James Mann.

In the little town of Stanton, Texas, folks have a sense of humor. A sign there greets visitors: “Welcome to Stanton, home of 3,000 friendly people and a few old soreheads.”
That’s funny. And probably true.
I remembered that slogan last week when I was reading some scathing online comments about Winchester and Clark County, as well as the results of an online poll and a Facebook question, both asking whether this is a progressive community. Readers answered each question with a resounding “no!” Yet at the time the questions were asked, we were celebrating the beginning of a new hospital, completion of a new bridge, a milestone for our community college and Clark County’s being given a national youth award.
Sometimes I think Winchester is a town with 16,000 positive people and more than a few soreheads.
Rather than vent my frustration by smashing my computer to bits with my phone receiver, I thought I would write this column, showing that, yes, good things do happen here.
Flipping through back issues of the Sun for September, I found these notable examples of progress.
Industrial jobs — On Sept. 24, we reported that Alltech, one of Kentucky’s outstanding corporate citizens and sponsor of the World Equestrian Games, would buy Winchester’s Martek plant and provide new jobs. This happened in part because Todd Denham, our economic development director, and local officials intervened to save the company after they learned it was going to move operations out of state.

Bluegrass & Barbecue, a fundraiser for the local museum, is one of the most recent cultural and culinary events held in Winchester.

New hospital — On Sept. 22, LifePoint broke ground for a new, state-of-the-art, $60 million Clark Regional Medical Center on U.S. 60. The board of the current hospital has been working for quite some time to find a partner that can bring the resources needed to make Clark Regional a truly great medical center.
Community college — At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new U.S. 60 bridge over Interstate 64, Gov. Steve Beshear and transportation officials also unveiled signs for the new Winchester campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and mentioned that it had quickly grown to 1,000 students.
Making youth a priority — At both the bridge/college and hospital ceremonies, Beshear held up a copy of the Sun and said he was proud that America’s Promise had chosen his home county of Clark as one of the 100 best places in the nation for youth because of public-private efforts to mentor students and help them become career-ready.
No Child Left Behind — National test scores released last week showed nine of Clark County’s 11 schools met their goals, including four that hadn’t last year. Superintendent Elaine Farris, acknowledging the improvements, said, “We still have some work to do.”
Agribusiness — On our farm page Wednesday, we reported that Congressman Ben Chandler helped get a $2.4 million federal grant for an Eastern Kentucky University biofuels project that involves growing switchgrass in Clark County.
Our heritage — We reported Tuesday that the Bluegrass Heritage Museum will be hosting several fall activities, including the return of trolley tours downtown. Also, on Sept. 11, tourism groups hosted a living history event at the Civil War Fort at Boonesboro.
Culture and charity — On Sept. 18, Tom and Angela Rice of Blackfish  Golf and Hunt Club hosted a picnic-with-the-pops style orchestral concert to raise thousands of dollars from local sponsors to benefit  STRIDE, which provides recreational opportunities for adults with disabilities. The event, with entertainment provided by members of the Lexington Philharmonic, was phenonenal. The previous weekend, the Rices and other sponsors had a benefit concert for the Mykal Barnes Memorial Fund. And this past weekend, the St. Vincent de Paul Society raised nearly $10,000 in its Friends of the Poor walk at College Park.

Clark County is a compassionate community. Last week members of St. Joseph Catholic Church raised nearly $10,000 in the St. Vincent de Paul Society's Walk for the Poor.

Democracy — Mark and Carlisle Mayer invited everyone to their farm for the annual Clark County Roundup, a harvest celebration and opportunity for voters to meet candidates from both parties. Community Education and some other groups are also organizing a candidates’ forum for October.
Good stewardship — On Sept. 2 we reported that the Clark County Fiscal Court received a “spotless audit,” showing the county has managed its finances well. Our lead story on Sept. 14 was about how the county jail’s home incarceration program is expected to save taxpayers nearly $350,000 a year. Other stories have shown that our school district’s tax rate is among the lowest in the region, and that our city has cut $3 million in spending and imposed a hiring freeze.
Beautiful downtown — Our top story on Sept. 16 was about efforts involving landscape architects, to encourage local property owners to beautify Main Street, to improve its image and foster business growth.
School facilities — On Sept. 14, the school board chose a general contractor for a new $33 million high school on Boonesboro Road. The district also has been chosen for federal funding for a new elementary school to replace Fannie Bush and Central.
Everyday heroes — St. Joseph Catholic church honored police officers, firefighters, paramedics, soldiers and others on Sept. 11. We should keep in mind that because local property values have declined during the recession, it was necessary to raise city property taxes by an insignificant amount — an average of $5 a year — to pay for these and other essential public services.
Equestrian showcase — The World Equestrian Games are in the international spotlight this week, but during the second week of September, the Kentucky Equestrian Center in Clark County hosted the United Mountain Horse World Grand Championships.
Pioneer Festival — Several thousand people from Winchester and surrounding communities attended the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival and dropped thousands of dollars into our economy. The festival has become one of the best fall festivals in the region. The festival was followed by a fabulous Winchester Labor Day Parade that also drew a big crowd.

Hollywood actor Matt Long, featured in a new commercial about Winchester, is one of several celebrities from our town.

In the limelight — Filmmaker Jason Epperson of “On the Lot” fame recruited some other national celebrities with local ties to make a 30-second TV spot for Winchester First, promoting our downtown during the WEG. It features Kentucky’s first lady, Jane Beshear, Chicago White Sox pitcher Matt Ginter, TV personality Lee Cruse and “Mad Men” actor Matt Long. Maybe his next one will feature the Miami Dolphins’ Yeremiah Bell,  Keeneland president Nick Nicholson, former America’s Junior Miss Michelle Rodgers and the legendary former White House reporter Helen Thomas — all from our little town.
Winchester and Clark County have a few problems, like any other place, but we’ve got a lot to be proud of, too, and this is a wonderful place to call home.
Let’s start noticing the silver linings a little more, and not let our appreciation of all the good things we have here be clouded by temporary difficulties. If you’re my age, our grandparents’ generation, who survived infinitely greater hardships than we could even imagine, didn’t lose heart, and neither should we.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun.

Clark County's 'new day' dawns bright

Gov. Steve Beshear, who lives with his wife Jane in Clark County when not at the capital, held up a copy of The Winchester Sun Wednesday to mention how proud he was that the community had been chosen as one of the 100 best places for youth in the nation. Beshear was here to dedicate a new bridge over Interstate 64, celebrate the local campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College reaching its 1,000-student milestone, and participate in the groundbreaking for a new $60 million LifePoint hospital. Sun photo by James Mann

Not long after I returned to Winchester after having been away for 25 years, I was at a Chamber of Commerce lunch and was seated with a doctor I had known when I was in my 20s.
He asked how it felt to be back home.
It’s great, I said. I had a good job, and not only was Winchester my hometown, but it was such a progressive community.
He looked at me blankly, and asked: “In what way is it progressive?”
I was taken aback. It seemed obvious.
While other cities had let their downtowns decay, Winchester had a vibrant Main Street program. It had recently restored the beautiful old Kerr Building, and new businesses had opened.
Unlike communities that were blighted by sprawl, Winchester had well-managed growth. We were a thriving farming community, but the Bypass was bustling with new development, and the Industrial Park was welcoming Sekisui and the new campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Instead of being a bedroom community, Winchester had a well-balanced economy with a healthy mix of agricultural, industrial, retail, professional and public development.
Moreover, there was a civic spirit here that you don’t see in many towns. The city and county governments were working well together, along with the school district, churches and business groups. The Clark County Community Action Plan had emerged as an excellent means of grass roots participation in planning.
In my view, Winchester was an exemplary small town. And what I’ve seen since then strengthens that opinion.

Winchester is a caring community and one that puts emphasis on the arts, as shown by the recent orchestra concert to benefit STRIDE. Sun photo by Randy Patrick

We’re a caring community, as shown recently by the Music at the Manor benefit concert for STRIDE and other charitable events.
We have relatively low taxes and our public agencies get good audits. They are conservative in how they spend our money, but have managed to provide excellent parks, an indoor pool (see video of grand opening at, an expanded library, new infrastructure and good fire protection ratings.
Wednesday was a red letter day for Clark County. Gov. Steve Beshear was here to dedicate a new bridge, celebrate the growth of the our Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus to 1,000 students, and best of all, take part in the groundbreaking for a new state-of-the-art $60 million Clark Regional Medical Center.

LifePoint broke ground Wednesday for a new hospital on U.S. 60. Sun photo by James Mann

The hospital will be located just west of Winchester Plaza, which is being renovated as part of a cooperative effort between the developer and local governments.
The governor, proclaiming “a new day for Clark County,” also held up a copy of Tuesday’s Winchester Sun and said he was proud of the fact that two national groups had chosen our community among the 100 best for youth in the entire country.
These kinds of successes don’t just happen. They take cooperation, planning and hard work.
They also take good leadership, and we have plenty of that. We have a superintendent of schools, Elaine Farris, who led the state Department of Education; a mayor, Ed Burtner, with three decades of experience in public administration; a forward-looking county judge, Henry Branham, and an economic development director, Todd Denham, with a record of success.
In a down economy, it’s easy to get discouraged, and I’ve heard more than enough grumbling. But let’s give credit where it’s due and appreciate the good things we have.
As the mayor said Tuesday, “The glass is way past half full.”
Let’s drink a toast to success.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Contact him at

Tax cuts: Obama vs. the GOP and Chandler

In a campaign stop in Winchester Friday, Andy Barr, the Republican candidate for the 6th District congressional seat held since 2003 by Democratic  incumbent Ben Chandler, said he wanted to offer an alternative to the tax-and-spend, big-government, more borrowing and more  debt approach of the current government.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell can't have it both ways. He can't say that reducing the debt should be a top priority while extending tax cuts for millionaires that will do little to help the economy, yet expand the debt by as much as a trillion dollars. Image by

This is certainly fair criticism — except for the part about taxes. As I pointed out in my recent blog post, “Taxed enough already?” President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress have already cut taxes for middle and lower income earners and are proposing to do so again by extending the Bush era tax cuts, which expire at the end of this year, to everyone except the top 2 percent or so of taxpayers.

The argument between Democrats and Republicans is whether the new tax cuts should also apply to those individuals earning over $200,000 and families over $250,000 a year. The White House says the country can’t afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to give millionaires and others in the upper tax bracket even more tax breaks. Most Republicans and some conservative to moderate Democrats — including Chandler — say the tax cuts should extend to everyone, at least for the short term, until we get out of the recession. Some economists say that it’s likely the economy won’t recover for at least six years.

Also, last Friday, we published a guest op-ed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who wants to pass legislation making the Bush tax cuts permanent for all income brackets. One of his arguments was that not extending them for those in the upper bracket would hurt small businesses, and thus hurt the economy. But even John Boehner, the Republican leaders in the House, admitted that it will only affect about 3 percent of the nation’s small businesses. And President Obama’s latest tax program extends other taxes to small businesses, including complete elimination of the capital gains tax on small business capital investment.

For an analysis of the Bush era tax cuts and the Obama proposals, read “Q&A: Fact and fiction in the debate over Bush tax cuts” by McClatchy Newspapers reporter Kevin G. Hall.

In his column Sunday, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took McConnell to task as a political extortionist who talks a good game about reducing the deficit but now wants to “blow that deficit up with big tax cuts for the rich.” He says the Republicans’ plan would add “about $700 billion to the debt over the next decade while doing little to help the economy.” Others are saying it could be more than that — possibly more than the cost of the health care reform act and the $780 billion stimulus combined.

Polls have shown most Americans oppose extending the tax cuts to the wealthy, but Democrats like Chandler are playing it safe by opposing anything that could be labeled a tax increase by their opponents. In this year’s political climate, they can’t afford not to be cautious.

But if most in Congress are determined to cut taxes without cutting spending — and only a small part of the non-defense part of federal budget is discretionary spending rather than legal entitlements like Social Security or debt payments — and the economic downturn continues for another six years, we shouldn’t look for the debt to  get much smaller anytime soon. Whether the Democrats or Republicans control Congress, that isn’t going to happen.

Huckabee on 'faux conservatives'

After church this morning, I stopped by Half Price Books and bought a paperback copy of Mike Huckabee‘s 2008 post-campaign memoir, “Do The Right Thing.”

Before I paid for it, I sat down and started thumbing through it, and came across a chapter on what he called “faux-cons” and started reading.

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (AP photo)

Although I was one of those “I like Mike” folks when he was running for president, and appreciated his “compassionate conservative” views and Christian faith, I apparently wasn’t paying attention when he warned of the battle that was forming for the soul of conservatism.

In that chapter, he envisioned a society that empowers individuals, families, communities and churches to take responsibility for helping people so that the government can play a limited role — but not just abandon people who need help, or neglect the teaching of all major religions that we are responsible for helping one another.

The greatest threat to “classic and responsible conservativism,” he said, is not liberalism, but “libertarianism masked as conservatism,” which, he said, may “not only split the Republican Party, but render it as irrelevant as the Whig Party.”

He denounced what he called their attitude of “supreme superiority” for its ideological purity, and their cruel, angry rhetoric.

“Faux-cons aren’t interested in a spirited or thoughtful debate, because such an endeavor requires accountability for the logical conclusion of their argument. Their passion for their point of view goes beyond ‘loud and proud’ and just substitutes volume for veracity. Faux-cons use dismissive language to accuse those who disagree as being anything from RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), socialists, big-government Republicans or religious nuts … . Once such dramatic lines of demarcation are drawn, an honest dialogue over the details pretty much disappears.”

How true  that is today!

He also accurately said that many of these “faux-cons” have outright contempt for religious people, yet are devotees of a kind of religion that replaces the worship of God  with the worship of material things.

“In the case of libertarians (the faux-cons), the god of choice is personal  power and wealth.”

This is also one of the arguments against libertarianism in an article in the current issue of Christianity Today about Ayn Rand, the atheist German philosopher whose books like “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” have influenced libertarianism, which has influenced the tea party movement. Rand once said she wanted to be the greatest “enemy of religion.”

That is a profoundly un-conservative idea.

Is the traditional Republican Party dying?

Ronald Reagan and George Bush were traditional conservatives who believed in limited government. Today's tea party candidates are anti-government libertarians.

Are traditional conservatives’ days numbered?
Based on the results of recent primary elections, it would seem that Main Street Republicanism as we’ve known it since the Eisenhower era is in need of last rites.
In contest after contest, tea party rebels are defeating Republican incumbents or candidates favored by the party’s establishment.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware lost his bid for the Senate Republican nomination to Christine O’Donnell despite party officials’ warnings that she would be unelectable in November. O’Donnell supports abstinence-only education and opposes abortion in cases of rape.
In New York, tea party candidate Carl Paladino shocked the Republican Party by winning its nomination for governor over Congressman Rick Lazio.
Last month, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was defeated by Joe Miller, a newcomer backed by Sarah Palin, and in Florida, tea party favorite Rick Scott defeated establishment candidate Bill Collum. Arizona Sen. John McCain survived a tea party challenge, but only by running hard to the right.
The trend began last year when Scott Brown of Massachusetts, backed by the Tea Party Express, won the Senate seat that had been Ted Kennedy’s for four decades by campaigning against the kind of health care reforms he had supported as a state legislator.
Then in Kentucky this spring, Rand Paul, son of libertarian idol Ron Paul, humiliated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by demolishing moderate Republican Trey Grayson. That same week, Paul said the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have applied to businesses, and he’s recently suggested that local authorities should handle drug enforcement and mine safety regulation without so much support from the feds.
The most radical tea party candidate has been Sharron Angle of Nevada, who earlier this year suggested that “Second Amendment remedies” might be the way to deal with Congress.
While Barry Goldwater argued in the 1960s that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” I don’t think he had violence against fellow lawmakers in mind.
The kind of politics we’re seeing from the tea party movement, Palinites and disciples of the Russian anti-government philosopher Ayn Rand bears little resemblance to traditional conservatism. True conservatism is moderate and cautious. Revolutionary conservatism is an oxymoron.
Michael Gerson, former President George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter and now a columnist for The Washington Post, believes the tea party movement may be “toxic” for the Republican Party.
“Most Americans who identify with the tea party movement are understandably concerned about the size and reach of government,” he wrote in August. “Their enthusiasm is a clear Republican advantage. But tea party populism is just as clearly incompatible with some conservative and Republican beliefs. It is at odds with Abraham Lincoln’s inclusive tone and his conviction that government policies could empower individuals. It is inconsistent with religious teaching on government’s responsibility to seek the common good and to care for the weak. It does not reflect a Burkean suspicion of radical social change.”
In my lifetime, there have been some great Republican leaders: John Sherman Cooper, George Bush, Jack Kemp and Colin Powell, among others. But the tea party is not in keeping with that tradition.
If the party of Lincoln and Ronald Reagan dies and is reborn as a party of radical individualism, it will be a sad situation for moderates and traditional conservatives, and a tragedy for the two-party system in America, which is based on compromise.

Taxed enough already?

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“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said in a speech in 1904. Today those words are inscribed above the entrance to the Internal Revenue Service headquarters at 1111 Constitution Ave. in Washington, D.C.

And, despite the misperception many have about federal income taxes, we’re paying much less than we have in a long time.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress have cut taxes for 98 percent of working families. That’s because tax cuts were a big part of the stimulus package, which most people think consisted only of public spending. A CBS News/New York  Times poll in February found that only 12 percent of Americans knew that Obama had given them a tax cut.

The tea party movement is largely a protest against taxes as well as spending. In fact, the acronym “tea” stands for “taxed enough already.” But most of those attracted to the movement don’t know or won’t admit that the president and Congress actually cut their taxes and that for all but the richest Americans, the federal tax burden as a percentage of their income is lower than it’s been in half a century. And for the wealthy, the tax rate has been steadily declining since the 1950s.

Like Presidents John F. Kennedy (shown here) and Ronald Reagan, President Barack Obama lowered taxes on most Americans to stimulate economic growth in a sluggish economy.

When the federal income tax was first created in 1913, the top marginal tax rate was 7 percent. By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, it was 70 percent. It had been as high as 94 percent at the end of World War II. President John F. Kennedy is often cited by conservatives as a Democrat who lowered taxes in order to stimulate the economy. And this is true. But under Kennedy, the top tax rate was only reduced from 91 to 77 percent on those earning $400,000 or more a year. Reagan rightly gets more credit for reforming the tax code because he persuaded a Democratic Congress  in 1987 to lower the top rate to 38.5 percent for those earning $90,000 a year.

When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he got the Democratic Congress to raise the top rate from 31 to 39.6 percent. A deficit hawk, Clinton not only raised taxes but cut spending and reduced the size of the federal government to reduce the debt. As a result, under Clinton, the federal government had its first budget surplus since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

You can do that when the economy is strong and growing, but when the economy is in recession or depression, Keynesian economists (and almost all economists are Keynesians) say the government should spend more and hold the line on taxes rather than raise them, as this will stimulate the economy. In other words, deficit spending is a tool for fostering economic growth.

The real question is how much deficit spending is too much? It is arguable — and many economists today will argue — that the debt is too large in relation to GDP. Others, like Nobel Prize-winning economist and newspaper columnist Paul Krugman, say the stimulus wasn’t nearly large enough to pull the country out of a recession. Krugman thinks it should have been more in the range of $1 trillion rather than $780 billion and that more of the stimulus should have been spending instead of tax cuts.

But tax cuts are an easier sell politically.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama said repeatedly that he would not raise taxes “one dime” on anyone earning under $250,000 a year, and so far he has kept that promise. Now he wants to let the tax breaks for millionaires and other upper-income earners that Congress put in place under President George W. Bush expire, but extend the tax breaks for the middle class. But he isn’t proposing a huge tax increase, only to raise the top rate from 35 percent, which is what Bush and the Republican Congress lowered it to in 2001, to about what it was during the Clinton era. His argument is that the country simply can’t afford to extend the tax cuts for the most affluent 2 percent of Americans who own more than a quarter of the country’s wealth.

At the same time that he wants to make the personal income tax system more equitable, the president is proposing even more tax breaks to stimulate the economy, including the complete elimination of the capital gains tax on small businesses.

Contrary to the right-wing media image of President Obama as a reckless economic liberal or even a “socialist,” his economic agenda is quite centrist.

'The Hole in Our Gospel' by Richard Stearns

“I have been an eyewitness to these things — to this amazing, full gospel, transforming the most broken of lives and flooding the darkest of places with the radiant light of hope.” — Richard Stearns of World Vision

Richard Stearns

What does God expect of us? That’s the question Richard Stearns, leader of World Vision, asks in his book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” which was published last year and has since been released in paperback with additional material.

Stearns, a successful corporate executive, was, like Jonah in the Bible, someone who resisted God’s direction for his life until Christ’s calling became irresistible: to give up his wealth, his success, his comfort, “then come follow me.” The story of how he came to lead World Vision is itself remarkable, but even more fascinating are the stories he tells of others.

This may be the most inspiring book I’ve ever read about what it means to be a real disciple of Christ. I recommend it.

Note: Family Christian Stores in Lexington recently had copies of the paperback on sale for $5 each. I have an extra copy if anyone wants to borrow it.

What's the GOP's alternative?

What would Reagan do? President Ronald Reagan lowered tax brackets, but also increased taxes when he thought the economy needed it. President Obama wants to see the top bracket to what it was before President George W. Bush and Congress lowered it.

It’s likely that Republicans will take control of the U.S. House in November and make big gains in state elections across the country. It’s even possible that they will win the Senate. But what will they do to improve the economy if they return to power just two years after voters decisively rejected the party at a time of  crisis for the economy?

There is widespread anger toward President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress over joblessness and the continuing economic downturn. Republicans have criticized the Democrats for the $780 billion stimulus plan as excessive, even though many experts like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman say it wasn’t big enough to do what was expected — yet it has had some positive impact.

The tea party movement is protesting taxes — the “tea”  acronym stands for “taxed enough already” — yet a huge part of the stimulus was not spending, but tax breaks. Ninety-five percent of Americans have had their federal income taxes reduced under this president, and the federal tax burden is lower than it has been in 60 years. President Obama says he will oppose extension of federal tax breaks for millionaires, although he is only suggesting that the tax rates for the top bracket go back to what it was in 2001, which is still less than half of what it was 50 years ago. And in his latest stimulus proposal, the president wants to completely eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses.

This was supposed to be the Democrats’ “summer of recovery,” yet the jobless rate remains at 9.6 percent. But it is gradually improving.

Basic Keynesian economic theory says that if the federal government wants to stimulate the economy in a recession, there are two ways to do it: cut taxes and spend. President Obama and the Democrats are doing both. Yes, this increases the debt, but what are the alternatives?

I’d like to hear from those who oppose the president’s economic program.  What should a new Republican Congress do that’s different and why? How will it work?

The truth and the whole truth

Since I published my thoughts earlier this week on Shirin Taber’s book, “Muslims Next Door,” I’ve gotten some positive feedback from Christians who found it interesting because they didn’t know there were so many similarities between Christianity and Islam.

C.S. Lewis

Of course, there are also stark differences, as I pointed out in my column and blog post. Muslims believe Jesus is a great moral teacher and prophet, but not a manifestation of God. Nor do Muslims believe God is knowable in the same way that evangelical Christians talk about having a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus.

Yet these differences don’t mean that Islam is wrong on every issue. There are truths in Islam just as there are truths in Judaism (which Christianity inherited) and in Buddhism, which has many teachings that are similar to Christianity. But, I have always  believed that where those religions differ from orthodox Christianity, it is right and they are wrong.

C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite writers, thinkers and defenders of the faith (as only a former atheist-turned-Christian can be), explained this view much better than I can in his classic primer, “Mere Christianity,” written during the dark days of World War II in Britain. Here is what he said:

“I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic–there is only one right answer to the sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

Muslims next door: Understanding Islam

What you probably don’t know about your Muslim neighbors

There is no god but God …
This is the beginning of the Muslim statement of faith.
The controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in New York has shown just how much confusion there is among American Christians about what Islam is and what Muslims believe.
Most Christians, including some with seminary degrees, really have no idea.
The biggest misunderstanding is the perception that Muslims worship some god other than God.
I’ve heard friends, family members and even a pastor refer to “their god,” as if Muslims were idol worshippers.
Muhammad’s new religion was, in fact, a rejection of the idol worship and polytheistic religion in the Arab world, and a turning toward the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But if you listen to or read the opinions of many conservative talk show hosts and fundamentalist preachers, you’ll hear that Allah is a “sun god,” a “moon god” or even, most hateful of all, a “monkey god.”
I even know a Winchester minister who, according to what he recently published in a church bulletin, apparently thinks Muslims worship Muhammad, which they would consider blasphemy.
So one night this week, wanting to learn more about Islam myself and share what I learned with my readers, I searched my apartment and found the copy of a book called “Muslims Next Door,” which I had bought several months ago at a used bookstore.

Shirin Taber

The author, Shirin Taber, is uniquely qualified to write about Islam from a Christian perspective. An evangelical Christian since she was a teenager, Taber is the daughter of an Iranian Muslim father and an Irish Catholic mother, and has lived and worked in Iran and America, as well as in France, which has a large Muslim population.
The purpose of the book is to explain to readers how North American Muslims think and to take readers beyond the myths and stereotypes about Islam that are so prevalent in this country.
One of the biggest myths is that Christianity and Islam have little in common. In fact, Taber says, the two faiths share many core beliefs. Among them are these:
— God is one, the creator of heaven and earth.
— God sent the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), the Psalms and the New Testament as his inspired word.
— All people (except Jesus) have sinned.
— Jesus, who is known as Issa in the Arabic language and the Koran (or Qu’ran), was conceived by the Holy Spirit, without sin, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, whom Muslims venerate.
— Jesus is the Word of God.
— Jesus performed miracles, including raising the dead, healing the blind and the demon-possessed.
— Jesus will return again and intercede for people at the Last Judgment.
Of course, there are also incompatible differences between the two religions. Muslims are truly monotheistic. They believe only in God the Father, and therefore do not believe that Jesus is also God, or as he’s sometimes called, the Son of God.
They do believe that Jesus is an important prophet, like Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses, and that Muhammad was God’s last prophet. They believe that the Koran was given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, the same angel who appeared to Mary in the Bible.
Unlike evangelical Christians, who emphasize the importance of a “personal relationship” with God through Christ, Muslims believe that God is largely unknowable.
In terms of moral behavior, however, there are many similarities with evangelicals. Muslims believe in prayer, fasting and giving to the poor, tithing up to 10 percent of their income. They are also concerned about the erosion of moral values concerning matters such as modesty, sexuality, abortion, blasphemy in movies and other entertainment and what Christians call “family values.”
Culturally, American conservative Christians often have more in common with traditional Muslims than with secular or agnostic Europeans and Americans. A liberal Muslim is almost unheard of in this country or in the world. Also, like evangelicals, most Muslims would like to see the whole world converted to what they believe is the one true faith. But most Western Muslims would not do so through coercion.
I would think that with so many similarities between Muslims and Christians, especially evangelical Christians, there would be more common ground for dialogue, but prejudice against Muslims is not useful either for converting them to Christianity or living peacefully with those next door.

September 2010
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