Category Archives: Commentary

Oxford University Press book: is religion responsible for wars and violence in history?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

J.W. Wartick posted a review of a book called “The Myth of Religious Violence”, and written by Dr. William T. Cavanaugh.

Let’s take a look at some of the review.

Here, J.W. quotes from the book:

The story goes that, after the Protestant Reformation divided Christendom along religious lines, Catholics and Protestants began killing each other for holding to different doctrines. The wars of religion… demonstrated to the West the inherent danger of public religion. The solution to the problem lay in the rise of the modern state, in which religious loyalties were marginalized and the state secured a monopoly on the means of violence…

This story is more than just a prominent example of the myth of religious violence. It has a foundational importance for the secular West, because it explains the origin of its way of life and its system of governance. It is a creation myth for modernity (123).

Then writes this:

Following the lines of thinking of Voltaire, John Locke, and others, Cavanaugh argues that the myth of religious violence is perpetuated in order to marginalize that which is considered religious and give rise to the nation-state. According to this myth, “All theological religions are to be tolerated, provided they do not interfere with the obligations of citizens to the state…” (129). The myth is that religion is divisive and that they “fight over doctrines or ‘religious creeds’” so that “the state steps in to make peace” (130).

Cavanaugh shows that this myth is indeed false. The “wars of religion” had any number of motivating factors. The use of this story is not so much to tell a truth as it is a means by which to legitimize the nation-state. He argues towards these conclusions by showing that many “wars of religion” were in fact wars of economy, wars of power structures, and the like. He notes four primary factors for this myth to work: that combatants were motivated by religious difference, that the primary cause of war was religion, that religious causes are analytically separable from political, economic, and social causes at the time of the wars, and that the rise of the modern state was not a cause of the wars (141-142). He then analyzes each of these in turn based upon the historical record and shows that these all fail to account for the actual history of the “wars of religion.” In fact, the opposite is true in each case (142-177).

“We must conclude that the myth of the wars of religion is finally incredible, which is to say, false” (177).

[…]Perhaps the most challenging and paradigm-shifting portion of the book is that which focuses upon the uses of the myth of religious violence. Cavanaugh argues that the myth is so perpetuated because of its usefulness.

Cavanaugh has his BA from the University of Notre Dame, his MA from Cambridge University, and his PhD from Duke University.

Regarding religion and wars, consider this post from Well Spent Journey:

The Claim: “Religion has been the primary cause of war and oppression throughout the history of mankind.”

The Truth: In their comprehensive Encyclopedia of Wars, Phillips and Axelrod document the recorded history of warfare. Of the 1,763 wars presented, a mere 7% involved a religious cause. When Islam is subtracted from the equation, that number drops to 3.2%.

In terms of casualties, religious wars account for only 2% of all people killed by warfare. This pales in comparison to the number of people who have been killed by secular dictators in the 20th century alone.

So let’s take a look at those secular dictators.

According to the The Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University Press, over 100 million innocent people were killed in atheistic, communist regimes in the last century. In the past, consistent atheists like Stalin who had power enough to ignore objective morality caused millions of innocent deaths. And you can even see atheism killing lots and lots of people in countries like North Korea today – where the official state religion is atheism. Why is that? It’s because the worldview of atheism teaches that the universe, and human beings, are here by accident. We are all just molecules in motion, and there is no inherent dignity or purpose to any of our lives that would obligate others to treat us a certain way.

On the Christian view, every single person has dignity because they are made in the image of God, and made to know him. Christians can never treat another person (of any religion or no religion) in any way that would discourage them from knowing God and experiencing his love for us. We could never hurt anyone in a way that causes them to turn against God. We are careful with people, because we want to act towards them in a way that helps them to accomplish this purpose.

Of course there are lots of atheists in the Judeo-Christian West who live more peacefully, because they are living in a background of objective morality and human rights provided by Western religions. But in countries like North Korea, with a state religion that cannot ground free will or objective morality or human rights or judgment after death, there are fewer restraints.

Even here, we have already seen over 50 million unborn children killed since abortion became legal. And I can guarantee you that it’s not authentic, Bible-believing Christians who are having these abortions. People who think they are going to face God when they die do not treat their fellow humans like machines made out of meat. As a group, atheists tend to be among the most radical in favor of abortion rights. The Secular Census of 2012 found that 97% of atheists vote for abortion. And of course today in the news we got the second video of Planned Parenthood top brass explaining how they sell the body parts of unborn babies to the highest bidder. I wrote about the first video here.

The idea of the strong killing the weak for their own advantage is the law of the jungle, and it’s not surprising to me that those who think that humans are just animals would act this way with vulnerable children. If you only have 80 years to be happy in an accidental universe, then anything goes. No one is there to hold you accountable when you die. If the weak get in your way, kill them all. Just don’t get caught. That’s what atheist morality teaches.

Here’s famous atheist Richard Dawkins explaining why infanticide is OK:

And here’s what he thinks of objective moral values and duties:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

–Richard Dawkins, (River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

You can read more about the morality of atheists likeRichard Dawkins here.

In a previous post, I looked at an article by an atheist who explained what it meant to live consistently with atheism. I really recommend reading that in order to understand what is rational within that worldview.

Are women naturally good?

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

Disclaimer: This post doesn’t apply to married women.

There is a common theme among pastors and church leaders that the Bible only applies to men, and women are justified in disregarding it because anything they do that is wrong or that backfires can be blamed on men.

For example, here’s Mark Driscoll explaining how men are to blame for single motherhood:

Part of it is the unintended consequences of divorce. Forty percent of kids go to bed at night without a father. Not to be disparaging toward single moms, but if you’re a single mom and you’re working 60 hours a week, and you’ve got a boy, and he’s home all by himself with no parents and no dad, he’s just going to be hanging out with his buddies, feeding himself pizza rolls.

The number one consumer of online pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys. What that means is he’s home eating junk food, drinking Monster energy drinks, downloading porn, masturbating and screwing around with his friends. That really doesn’t prepare you for responsible adulthood. That’s a really sad picture, especially if you’re a single gal hoping to get married someday. You’re like: “Seriously, that’s the candidate pool? You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”

The Bible says that premarital sex is wrong, but Mark Driscoll knows better – he thinks that it is only wrong for men. If women do it, then it’s not wrong – it’s actually men’s fault. He has also told women who have premarital sex that men should be expected to marry them. This man-blaming for the mistakes that women freely make is not an anomaly, this is the standard practice of most pastors and Christian leaders. Is it a good idea to teach women in the church that their own poor choices can be blamed on men? I think a better way would be to teach women that they are responsible for their actions, and that they need to make better choices. In particular, they need to learn not to follow their emotions.

So, here is a post was written by a woman – Lindsay from Lindsay’s Logic.

First the picture she posted:

Focus on the Family says: blame the man
Focus on the Family: blame the man for what the woman does

Note that the Bible does not qualify the command in Ephesians 5 that women should submit to their husbands by making it conditional on anything that a man has to do. A man has separate duties, and those are not conditional on anything a woman has to do first. But Focus on the Family doesn’t quote the Bible – they change what the Bible says in order to appeal to their predominantly female audience (Note: I agree with Focus on the Family on 99% of their views). And this is why men don’t touch Christianity with a ten-foot pole these days. It’s not manly Christianity they don’t like – they’ve never encountered it. It’s the feminized Christianity they find in the church, which blames them for everything, that they reject.

Now, the full text of Lindsay’s post:

Focus on the Family recently posted this meme on their page.

At first glance, many people might be tempted to agree with it. But the statement in the poster is actually false.

The truth is that there are plenty of loving, gentle men who are worthy of respect but whose wives are not responding properly to their love and gentleness. Plenty of women have fallen for the feminist ideas that they should never submit or let a man lead them and will be difficult to live with, no matter how wonderful their man is. Even among women who are not feminists, it’s difficult for many women to follow a husband’s leadership because our sinful nature is in rebellion against God’s plan.

Submission and following our husbands is something that must be learned, not something we’re born with or develop naturally. Women aren’t naturally good and kind any more than men are. We’re all fallen. We have to work to develop good habits and learn to do what God wants of us.

It certainly is easier for women to follow a loving, gentle man, but the poster is wrong in assuming that the only barriers to a woman following her man are his flaws. That simply isn’t true. Women also have to overcome their own flaws that stand in the way of the proper relationship they were meant to have.

Unfortunately, this attitude that women are naturally good and that men are the flawed ones that need to change is very prevalent, even among Christians. Imagine the outrage people would have if the scenario was reversed and the poster said something like this:

“Men are usually comfortable being kind and loving to their wives if their wives are submissive, keep up their appearance, and respect them.”

People would be up in arms over such a statement that assumes that men are always wonderful if women will just behave as they should. Why is it any different if the assumption is that women are always wonderful if men are behaving properly? Both are wrong. Both sexes are responsible for their own actions, regardless of what the other person in the marriage does.

So about the post.

I don’t think that it’s a good idea to blame men when a woman makes a poor choice of her own free will. This is especially the case when a woman chooses a bad man, because we cannot expect a bad man to do good things. A bad man does bad things, and there is no sense expecting him to do good things. It has to be the woman’s responsibility when she chooses a bad man, and he acts badly. The woman could have chosen a good man, but many women today are more attracted to bad men. You can’t choose a bad man and then expect him to act like a good man. 

However, I do think that a good man should take responsibility to help a woman to grow and be better for God’s purposes. But if he does everything he can to lead her and she still prefers self-centeredness, then he is not responsible for the outcome. This is important. We are responsible – practically-speaking – to help other people grow. But we are not responsible for whether they actually do grow. In fact, that goes for men and women. Both sexes should take responsibility for helping Christians grow – especially spouses. But do it right – it if works, then you’re doing it right. The goal here is to take responsibility and to do what works. Not to make excuses.

Note: Lindsay almost certainly does not go as far as I go on this issue. My opinions are my own.

Thomas Sowell, America’s most influential public intellectual, announces retirement

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell changed the minds of a generation of young people, including me

I had written enough posts to carry me through the Christmas and New Year’s vacation. But then something happened that caused me to come off vacation and postpone today’s scheduled post in order to write about the retirement of a man who influenced my worldview as much as anyone has. And I am not exaggerating when I say that this man contributed the most of anyone to the economic views of libertarians and conservatives. (Although his views on social and foreign policy issues were largely conservative, as well). I never disagreed with his views, or maybe it’s just that he always convinced me to change to agree with him. He’s that kind of man – if you liked having a friend who knew how to think through just about anything, then this was the guy for you.

But now he has announced his retirement. Here is his farewell column. (H/T Mary)

Excerpt:

After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.

[…]Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

[…]Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

[…]With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students’ faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

It’s a tragedy that Thomas Sowell is not more recognized in our culture. Thomas Sowell makes public appearances, but mostly to conservatives. Although I am not a Rush Limbaugh listener, I once heard Thomas Sowell sitting in for Rush, and he had another conservative black economist Walter Williams on with him. Rank-and-file conservatives bought Sowell’s books by the bushel and we went through them one after another. The first girl I ever dated went though 6 Thomas Sowell books in 2 months, then enrolled in university to study economics. That’s the kind of effect that Thomas Sowell had on people – you couldn’t read just one of his books. You read as many as you get from the public library, then you read all could afford to buy. Then you asked for them on birthdays and Christmases from your dumbfounded liberal relatives. It was fresh air – you read Thomas Sowell to get the lies and dishonesty of the progressive culture out of your mind.

But most people on the left have never heard of Thomas Sowell. Despite Sowell’s splendid scholarly credentials and academic publications, the leftist gatekeepers don’t want their liberal followers to know that the real intellect behind economic conservative is a black economist. Instead of fighting against Sowell’s ideas, their response has been to ignore him.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the institutions who are recognizing the great man’s retirement.

The American Enterprise Institute called it “the end of an era”:

In my opinion, there is no economist alive today who has done more to eloquently, articulately, and persuasively advance the principles of economic freedom, limited government, individual liberty, and a free society than Thomas Sowell. In terms of both his quantity of work (at least 40 books and several thousand newspaper columns) and the consistently excellent and crystal-clear quality of his writing, I don’t think any living free-market economist even comes close to matching Sowell’s prolific record of writing about economics. And I don’t think there is any writer today, economist or non-economist, who can match Thomas Sowell’s “idea density” and his ability to consistently pack so much profound economic wisdom into a single sentence and a single paragraph.

Even at 86 years old, Thomas Sowell has remained intellectually active with his syndicated newspaper columns and the publication last year of his 40th book — Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective — which was, amazingly, his 13th book in the last decade! To honor Thomas Sowell’s well-deserved retirement from writing his invaluable weekly column for the last quarter century, I present below some of my favorite quotations from Dr. Thomas Sowell (most were featured on a CD post in June on Sowell’s birthday) and a bonus video of the great economist:

I had to choose just a few of these, so here goes:

6. Politicians as Santa Claus. The big question that seldom— if ever— gets asked in the mainstream media is whether these are a net increase in jobs. Since the only resources that the government has are the resources it takes from the private sector, using those resources to create jobs means reducing the resources available to create jobs in the private sector.

So long as most people do not look beyond superficial appearances, politicians can get away with playing Santa Claus on all sorts of issues, while leaving havoc in their wake— such as growing unemployment, despite all the jobs being “created.”

If you show or read the quote below to anyone who is a serious conservative, they will immediately tell you that the author is Thomas Sowell, or someone summarizing Sowell’s work:

10. The Anointed Ones. In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume: 1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted, and 2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.

The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society.’

Celebrating entrepreneurs:

12. Helping the Poor. It was Thomas Edison who brought us electricity, not the Sierra Club. It was the Wright brothers who got us off the ground, not the Federal Aviation Administration. It was Henry Ford who ended the isolation of millions of Americans by making the automobile affordable, not Ralph Nader.

Those who have helped the poor the most have not been those who have gone around loudly expressing “compassion” for the poor, but those who found ways to make industry more productive and distribution more efficient, so that the poor of today can afford things that the affluent of yesterday could only dream about.

Distinctions like this is what gave so many ordinary people the desire to read more and more of Thomas Sowell to clean popular culture socialist pablum out of their minds:

13. Income Mobility. Only by focusing on the income brackets, instead of the actual people moving between those brackets, have the intelligentsia been able to verbally create a “problem” for which a “solution” is necessary. They have created a powerful vision of “classes” with “disparities” and “inequities” in income, caused by “barriers” created by “society.” But the routine rise of millions of people out of the lowest quintile over time makes a mockery of the “barriers” assumed by many, if not most, of the intelligentsia.

Everything becomes clear – as spiderwebs – with a little Thomas Sowell. And for evidence, he used the best studies from all over the world, from across all different times and places, so that you always had the evidence at your fingertips. His books are filled with footnotes for further study.

The Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard has an article entitled “Thomas Sowell, America’s Greatest Public Intellectual, Says ‘Farewell'” by Fred Barnes.

Excerpt:

Thomas Sowell is giving up his column. I can think of lots of columnists whose writing we wouldn’t miss. Sowell isn’t one of them. Every column he wrote in a quarter-century career as a columnist was eminently worth reading. I say this having read nearly every one of them.

What made his columns so good? He wrote with sparkling clarity. He relied on facts. He didn’t showcase his scholarship, but his range of subjects was impressive. He understood his readers and didn’t write down to them. He was prolific. He wrote two columns a week and, when he had more to say, sometimes three or four. Best of all, he analyzed things from conservative—and somewhat libertarian—perspective better than anyone else and in fewer words.

If you wanted more words, you could always look to his books, and that’s what my friends and I did.

National Review

National Review has an article entitled “Thank You, Professor Sowell” by Michelle Malkin. They also re-posted an article from 2011, entitled “A Lion in High Summer”.

One quote from Michelle Malkin:

I first read Thomas Sowell in college — no thanks to my college.

At the majority of America’s institutions of “higher learning,” reading Thomas Sowell was a subversive act in the early 1990s when I was a student. It remains so today. Why? Because the prolific libertarian economist’s vast body of work is a clarion rejection of all that the liberal intelligentsia hold dear.

[…]The former leftist playwright David Mamet, in his 2008 manifesto “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,” cited his exposure to Sowell, whom he dubbed “our greatest contemporary philosopher,” as a critical factor in his conversion. Whether tackling the “bait and switch media,” the “organized noisemakers,” or the lawless enablers of “social disintegration,” Thomas Sowell’s dozens of academic books and thousands of newspaper columns have sparked generations of his readers across the political spectrum to think independently and challenge imposed visions.

Asked once how he would like to be remembered, Sowell responded: “Oh, heavens, I’m not sure I want to be particularly remembered. I would like the ideas that I’ve put out there to be remembered.” Mission accomplished. Though it has been decades since he taught in a formal classroom, his students are legion.

This is where today’s conservatives came from – we read the Thomas Sowell. Many conservatives (e.g. – Michelle and myself) came from non-white families and cultures, just like Sowell. We were convinced to give up on the socialism popular in our families and cultures by his writing. He convinced himself, then he convinced us. In contrast, there isn’t much convincing on the secular left – most people just accept secular leftism in order to be liked – it’s not cognitive, it’s just virtue signaling. Conservatives are convinced by Thomas Sowell’s writing, whereas liberals blindly follow Hollywood celebrities. It’s just tribalism.

Ben Shapiro

Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro wrote an article in The Daily Wire entitled “Farewell to Thomas Sowell, Dean of Conservative Columnists”.

One excerpt:

In what we can only hope is the final heartbreak of 2016, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution Thomas Sowell announced his retirement from his syndicated column. Sowell isn’t just one of the great thinkers of our time. He’s a genuine voice of decency and truth in a time when screaming and hysterics gain headlines. His voice will be missed every week.

[…]For years, I’ve named Sowell as the man I’d most love to see as president. That doesn’t end just because his column has.

At the end, he lists his favorite Thomas Sowell books.

That’s to show you how real conservatives like Ben Shapiro who are having a real influence (his podcast is the #1 conservative podcast, it has exploded in popularity) were influenced by Thomas Sowell. Shapiro always says that people new to conservatism should always start with a study of basic economics, e.g. – books by Thomas Sowell. No one in my own family started out conservative. I read Thomas Sowell, then they read Thomas Sowell. That’s how we became conservatives.

Wintery Knight

I’m busy cleaning stuff out of my parents basement this holiday season. This trip, I am taking some of my books back with me. I made the choices about what to take before I saw Sowell’s retirement. Without any sentiment at all, I chose:

  • Basic Economics, 4th edition
  • Applied Economics, 2nd edition
  • Economics Facts and Fallacies, 2nd edition
  • Intellectuals and Society, 2nd edition
  • The Housing Boom and Bust, 2nd edition
  • Inside American Education
  • A Personal Odyssey
  • A Conflict of Visions
  • The Vision of the Anointed (best book for beginners)
  • Barbarians Inside the Gates
  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals

I am leaving my second edition of Basic Economics for my Dad. I understand that a new 5th edition is now out, and I might get that. I have many, many more on audio books – I buy all the audio books editions that I can get, and listen to them over and over. This is where my worldview on economic issues (not to mention marriage, gun rights, education, war, etc.) came from.

Battle of the Bulge: The Christmas Day offensive that stopped Hitler in the Ardennes

December 1944: The Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge, situation on December 24th, 1944  (click for larger image)

Well, it’s Christmas Day, and my boring family is just discussing popular shows on Netflix, iTunes and other nonsense which no one cares about. What is much more interesting to me is military history. I have been reading several books on the Korean War in the winter of 1950 and the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944, during World War 2. Since I wrote a post about the Korean War last time, I have a post for you about the story of an American general I really admired, which I found in John Toland’s “Battle: The Story of the Bulge“.

Since I can’t quote that book, I found another book with the story on the U.S. Army web site by Hugh M. Cole entitled “The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge“. The Day is December 24th, 1944. Following a surprise Axis attack in the Ardennes, British General Montgomery has ordered Allied forces north of Bastogne to retreat and form “proper” defensive lines. Major General J. Lawton Collins, located just north of the tip of the German force’s furthest advance west, sees an opportunity to attack the 2nd SS Armored Division, because their superior Panther and Tiger tanks have outrun their supply lines and are out of gas. Will he get permission to attack? If not, will he disobey orders and attack anyway?

Here’s the story:

Although the VII Corps had become involved in a defensive battle, General Collins still expected to launch the corps counterattack which would signal the beginning of aggressive operations against the north flank of the Bulge. In midafternoon on 24 December General Harmon telephoned the VII Corps command post and asked permission to throw another combat command of his 2d Armored Division against elements of the 2d Panzer which had been identified in the neighborhood of Ciney and Celles. (See Map VIII.) The corps commander was away from the command post visiting his divisions; so the call was taken by the corps artillery commander, Brig. Gen. Williston B. Palmer. Palmer knew that the First Army had attached strings to any wholesale commitment of Harmon’s division and that Hodges’ consent and probably Montgomery’s would be needed before more of the 2d Armored was unleashed. He therefore told Harmon to wait-it was too late in the day to launch an attack in any case-until the corps commander reached the 2d Armored command post. Harmon was persistent and called again asking for “immediate authority.” Palmer, sorely tempted to give Harmon the permission he needed, reluctantly steeled himself and told Harmon to await Collins’ appearance at the 2d Armored command post.

A few minutes later Palmer had a call from the First Army chief of staff, General Kean, who said that Collins was authorized to use all his corps and could change his defensive line. In guarded words Kean asked Palmer if he saw “a town A and a town H” on the map and then mentioned a “pivoting move.” Palmer, imbued with Collins’ attack philosophy and eager to give the green light to the 2d Armored, looked hastily at the map spread before him, picked out two villages southwest of Ciney and forward of the 2d Armored positions: Achêne and (Le) Houisse. This looked like the go signal for the VII Corps and an attack to advance its western wing. Because the wire line to the 2d Armored command post had gone out, Palmer sent his aide with a message for Collins giving his own optimistic interpretation of the conversation with Kean.

The aide had just departed when Kean called again. On further reflection, he said (perhaps Kean had caught a tone of exultation in Palmer’s voice), he doubted whether Palmer had understood him correctly. Then came the cold water douche: “Now get this. I’m only going to say it once. Roll with the punch.” Palmer’s glance flicked over the map, this time to the north; there, thirty miles to the rear of the villages he had selected earlier were the towns of Andenne and Huy. Palmer remembers that this was the only moment in the war when he was “ill with disapproval.”

Out went a second messenger with an explanation of Palmer’s mistake and an urgent request for Collins to come home. Collins, who had received the first message at Harmon’s command post, was just giving the finishing touches to an attack plan for the entire 2d Armored when the second messenger appeared. Telling Harmon to “hold everything” but making clear that the 2d Armored was to go ahead with plans for the attack on Christmas morning, Collins hurried back to his own headquarters. He arrived there about 1830 but nothing more could be done until a liaison officer, promised by Kean, came in from the First Army.

Two hours later the First Army staff officer (Col. R. F. Akers) appeared and confirmed the bad news. Montgomery and Hodges had agreed to shorten the First Army line in order to halt the German advance. The VII corps, therefore, was to go on the defensive and its commander was “authorized” on his own judgment to drop back to the line Andenne-Hotton-Manhay. In any case the VII Corps was to retain a firm contact with the XVIII Airborne Corps, which that evening was withdrawing to the Manhay position.

Collins was stuck – no permission to attack from higher up. If you check the map above, you can see that the withdrawal to the Andenne-Huy line would give up a lot of ground. More importantly, it would give the Germans time to refuel. But Collins was still seeing German tanks out of gas in front of him right now – what a perfect opportunity to attack! What should he do? What would you do in his place?

Major General Collins' plan to attack the 2nd SS Division near Celles
Collins’ plan to cut off the 2nd SS Division east of Celles

Here’s what Collins did:

Although General Collins courteously asked the senior members of his corps staff to give their opinions on the action now to be taken by the corps, neither he nor any of his officers considered giving over the attack planned for the 2d Armored. During the day Harmon’s tanks had inflicted very severe damage on the German columns; the 84th Division had experienced some reverses but seemed to be holding its own. On balance the picture as seen from the VII Corps’ point of view was far less gloomy than that apparently prevailing in higher headquarters. Collins recognized that a retrograde move would strengthen the defenses of Huy and Liège. He also knew that such a move would expose Namur and the major Meuse crossings south of that city, for example, those at Dinant. The final decision, made by the corps commander himself, probably could have been predicted: on 25 December the 2d Armored Division would advance as planned; the corps then would continue with limited objective attacks to break up any dangerous concentration of enemy forces on its front.7

So, what was the outcome of Collins’ decision to disobey Montgomery and the other higher ups?

The attack mapped out by Collins and Harmon late the previous afternoon was launched by CCB at 0800 on Christmas Day, the idea a double-pronged sweep to capture Celles and annihilate the German armor believed to be thereabouts.9 For this maneuver General White divided his command into two task forces. Task Force A (Lt. Col. Harry Hillyard) had its line of departure on the Achêne road and orders to take the Bois de Geauvelant, a large wood some thousand meters across, which lay midway between Achêne and Celles. It was to assemble for the final assault on high ground northwest of Celles. Task Force B (Maj. Clifton B. Batchelder), starting its move near Leignon, was to make the main envelopment and cut off Celles on the southeast. The 82d Armored Reconnaissance Battalion went in on the open right flank of the attack to screen toward the west and as far forward as the Lesse River, south of Celles. CCB would be supported by artillery emplaced west of Ciney and by both American and British fighter-bombers.

Task Force A, medium tanks to the front, went through the Bois de Geauvelant with almost no opposition. As it debouched it came under fire from a little farm near Foy-Notre Dame and lost three half-tracks. The 370th Fighter Group of the IX Tactical Air Command, flying in support of CCB, then flushed out four Panther tanks and put them out of action, at least temporarily. The column again drew fire near Boisselles, but two platoons of the 67th Armored Regiment moved in and destroyed three Panthers doing the shooting. By the middle of the afternoon Task Force A reached the high ground overlooking Celles, blocking the roads to the west and southwest. Task Force B had a brief battle at Conjoux, then rushed on-knocking out isolated tanks and guns- until it arrived on the ridge 1,300 yards southeast of Celles.

The British 29th Armoured Brigade was conducting its own private battle west of Foy-Notre Dame while pushing reconnaissance toward the Lesse River. The British knocked out three Panthers and some infantry near Sorinne, then shot up more German vehicles and took prisoners around Foy-Notre Dame. In the skirmish near Boisselles a few tanks of the British 3d Royal Tank Regiment and some British gunners gave a hand to Task Force A.10

Meanwhile the 82d Reconnaissance Battalion had run into the remnants of the 2d Panzer reconnaissance battalion at Foy-Notre Dame (part of this group had escaped eastward to rejoin the main force huddled in the woods northeast of Celles). These Germans intended to make a fight of it, though at first sight Foy-Notre Dame seemed a peaceful farming village-nothing more. When a platoon from the 82d moved in, the enemy began a fusillade of antitank and machine gun fire from hidden positions. Worse, four Panthers on high ground just south of the village took a hand. The American cavalry suffered some casualties, but Sergeant Rogers used his assault gun to charge a German antitank gun in the middle of the village and the mop-up began. The four Panthers were brought under fire by British gunners, then finally destroyed by air attack. (Probably these were the tanks which had struck Task Force A near the Bois de Geauvelant.) This skirmish marked the end of the German reconnaissance battalion: the commander and 147 others were captured, and much of its remaining equipment was taken.

When General White’s two task forces finally sent tanks into Celles they met little resistance. At first it seemed empty except for the townspeople who had gathered in the church; later some 200 dispirited prisoners were rounded up in and near the town. With the capture of Celles the string was drawn on the bag in the forest between that town and Conjoux. Harmon ordered CCB to turn back the next morning and give the coup de grâce to the trapped enemy.

Although Christmas Day had brought much sporadic action and occasional flare-ups like the fight at Foy-Notre Dame the main German pocket simply had been bypassed. It is known that Cochenhausen’s tanks had very little gasoline, probably not enough to permit any appreciable skirmishing or tactical movement, but the German sluggishness in the pocket may be credited to the gunners supporting CCB, the army pilots in their flying OP’s,” and the close coordination between the artillery and the fighter-bombers of the 370th Fighter Group and Royal Air Force 83 Group. At noon, for example, a spotter plane picked up a column of seven enemy tanks north of Celles-all were destroyed by artillery fire. Twelve P38’s and an unknown number of British Typhoons, taking time out only to replenish fuel tanks and ammunition racks, worked over the woods where lay Cochenhausen’s command and strafed roads and trails whenever vehicles showed signs of making a break for it.

What of the German efforts to reach Cochenhausen’s force? Two small forays were attempted during the day by the Panzer Lehr, whose commander had dispatched tanks along the Custinne road toward Celles, but these efforts were foiled by the ubiquitous Allied planes. That night the kampfgruppe with which the 2d Panzer had been blocking in the Hargimont sector was relieved by the 9th Panzer, and Lauchert finally was free to attempt Cochenhausen’s relief. The force which he led from the Rochefort road through the Bois de Famenne and Ciergnon was not likely to give much confidence of success: a company or two of tanks, a battalion of armored infantry, a light artillery battalion, two companies of engineers, and part of a flak battalion.

The Germans had neared the twin villages of Petite and Grande Trisogne, little more than a mile from Celles, when they saw the ridge ahead “crawling with tanks.” (These may have been British tanks because the 29th Armoured Brigade was blocking behind the CCB lines.) 11 The 2d Panzer never got to launch an attack, for the American guns opened “a hellish fire” (their targets spotted-as Lauchert later recalled-by five artillery planes). Then to top this came the P-38’s and Typhoons. On nearby roads more Allied tanks hove in sight but made no concerted attack. Lauchert’s group was saved by an order radioed from the XLVII Panzer Corps: he was to return to Rochefort at once; the troops in the pocket would have to destroy their vehicles, leave their wounded, and get out on foot. A Panzer Lehr attempt to reach the pocket via Custinne on 26 December was equally futile, and for the same reasons. Bayerlein’s kampfgruppe-at no time in the battles on the Marche front did the Panzer Lehr commander have his entire division in hand-also was ordered back to Rochefort during the night of 26 December.

The story of the 2d Panzer pocket is quickly told. CCB spent two days clearing the thick woods and dense under- brush between Celles and Conjoux. The procedure was simple and effective: first, heavy shelling on a given area, then a slow, methodical advance by the infantry line backed with the tanks. In an extension of the Bois de Geauvelant, where tanks could operate with some freedom, an armored sweep was made which killed about 150 of the enemy. In the main forest near Celles a final squeeze produced 200 prisoners, 12 guns, and 80 vehicles of various types to add to the larger bag. Nonetheless many of the German troops did succeed in escaping on foot. Major von Cochenhausen and nearly 600 of his men ultimately reached Rochefort, but all the equipment of the reconnaissance battalion, the 304th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, the 2d Battalion of the 3d Panzer Regiment, three artillery battalions, and two-thirds of the division flak battalion had to be left behind.12

And that was the turning point of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the end of Hitler’s powerful last major attack against the Allies. That happened on Christmas Day 1944, and since today is Christmas Day, may their “names. Familiar… as household words … be in [your] flowing cups freshly remember’d.” This story shall the good man teach his son.

Should Christians expect to know God’s will by means of feelings and intuitions?

Air Force TACPs confirm target locations with their map
Air Force TACPs confirm target locations with their map

There are two views on the topic of decision making and the will of God. The view you learn in the church is called “the traditional view”. I call this view the feelings/intuition view. This view that elevates feelings / intuitions to the level of divine communications from God. The more practical view is called “the wisdom view”. I call this view the battlefield commander view. I am a proponent of the wisdom / commander view.

Let’s learn about the two different views:

[The traditional view is] that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”.

[The wisdom view] holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be summed up within two categories, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. Basically God’s sovereign will is all the things that god decrees will happen. It is hidden (mostly) from us, and does not play an active part in our decision, although some of it is revealed in the bible. God’s moral will is the part that we must concern ourselves with in making decisions. It is fully revealed in the bible and our decisions must be made within it. We may use wisdom in applying god’s moral will to our lives, or we may be in an area not covered by god’s moral will. We must finally submit in advance to God’s sovereign will, being prepared for him to sovereignty intervene and redirect us through whatever means he wills (see James).

Here’s a bit more from someone else:

Regarding the view that God has a personal will for us individually that we have to discern and find, J.I. Packer says, “The first thing to say is that the idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back farther than the last century. Second, it has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the ‘hotline’ to God seems to go silent, that it has to be discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal ‘hotline,’ ‘voice-from-the-control-tower’ guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations to come our way for the guidance of the whole church.” (Hot Tub Religion, page 118).

As to the point of the question, how do I make decisions, I attempt to make decisions in light of three factors: God’s moral will, wisdom, and my personal desires. If something is opposed to God’s moral will, then I should obviously flee from it. If it’s not opposed, then I consider the wisdom of the choices. For example, would it be wise for me to marry a woman who loves Jesus, though we have nothing else in common? Probably not. If the options pass the criteria of wisdom, then I’m free to choose how I wish. If I’m offered two jobs, and both are honoring to God, and both would be wise to take, then I’m free to choose the job I would like more. I don’t need to put out a fleece or await some other confirmation from God. If it’s moral and wise, then the only question as to whether or not it will honor Him is my attitude.

Some examples of this model used in the Bible (in theological circles referred to as the Wisdom Model) are in Paul’s planning of a mission to Rome in Romans 1:9-15, 15:22-24, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29), and Paul’s instructions for legal disputes (1 Cor 6:3-6).

The best book on this topic is Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God”. In it, you’ll find a full assessment about what the Bible teaches on this topic.

When I am trying to decide what will be effective, I look at Christian scholars, at their papers, books, and public debates. That’s effectiveness because it is addressed to a non-Christian audience in public with the force of reason and evidence. It is persuasion and it is addressed to rational minds. I want to change the minds of people who have a large influence on society on the whole. I don’t think that offering Christianity as life-enhancement or self-help is really “having an influence”. I think that offering Christianity as truth, with support, is “having an influence”.

So let me be clear about what I believe:

  • I don’t think that God normally talks to people directly
  • I don’t believe that life is an Easter egg hunt, filled with clues accessible only to emotion and intuition
  • I don’t believe that God expects people to discover a specific will for their lives using non-rational means
  • I think that people make up their own life plan that is consistent with the Bible
  • The goal of the life plan is to be effective, and there are no other considerations
  • I think that there are many good things a person can do, but that some are more effective than others
  • I think that with respect to the goal of serving God effectively, my happiness is expendable
  • I don’t think that the purpose of doing something for the Lord is to feel good about ourselves
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they like them
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they are good at them
  • I think people should do hard things that they don’t like – as long as it’s more effective
  • I don’t think that any course of action is as effective as any other – some plans accomplish more
  • I don’t think that life is totally unpredictable and irrational and subjective
  • I think that we can know what is or is not effective by studying and learning about the world
  • I think life is like a battlefield that must be surveyed, understood and acted upon deliberately

I think that every person is the commanding officer of his or her own life, and each person must study everything they can, make a plan that is consistent with the Bible’s moral prescriptions, execute the plan and achieve whatever they can achieve for the Lord. And the goal is not comfort or happy feelings, but real achievements. Not for the purpose of being saved, of course, because salvation is a free gift of God because of what Jesus did on the cross. Life is more like a battle than a vacation resort or a buffet or a shopping center. God’s will for us is not have happy feelings, but that we freely choose to sacrifice ourselves out of obedience and service to him. In my case, that means studying hard things, making money, saving money, and giving money away to good scholars, sponsoring good events and being persuasive to non-Christians. None of this necessarily makes me happy, but it does work to bring glory to God. I cried when I had to learn calculus, because it was so hard. But who cares? The main thing is that I have money now to sponsor Christian speakers or to give books to Christians to read, and God is happy with that.

I think that it is very important to realize that God is not impressed by our not being smart and not being effective. If we have the ability to be smart, then we should be smart, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability to make money, then we should make money, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability have a great influence, then we should have a great influence, whether it makes us happy or not. There will be plenty of time for happiness after we’re dead. But this life is a time of serving, and we should try to serve effectively, whether it makes us happy or not. With respect to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness is expendable.

Whenever someone questions my goals and plans by saying that I am asserting my will over God’s will, the first question I want to ask that person is this: “how do you know what God’s will is?” and “what is your basis for thinking that my plan to serve will not be effective?”. I want to know if I have misunderstood something about the way the world is, or miscalculated in some way. I want someone to look at my calculations and show where they are going to produce a less optimal result for the Lord. That’s the only concern I have – effectiveness for the Lord. Usually what I have found is that the other person wants to make the purpose of life their own happiness, and it makes them happier to choose what to do moment by moment, without having to study anything or make plans. It’s not that they have better goals (for God) or better plans (for God). It’s that they want their goals to be above God, and they don’t want to make plans other than to do whatever makes them happy.

I also found this summary of the Friesen book useful:

Remember Jeremiah 17:9:

9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?.

Wisdom is best.