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The Reagan DiariesFor Father’s Day, my wife gave me a copy of The Reagan Diaries.

In the introduction, editor David Brinkley mentions that Reagan is one of only five presidents who kept consistent personal diaries. The other four were Washington, John Quincy Adams, Polk, & Hayes. That observation alone is remarkable, although understandable. Keeping a diary is a discipline – and presidents have way too many distractions. Keeping a  diary is also a way of refining one’s own thoughts. Putting your ideas into words forces you to clarify and articulate what you mean. Keeping a diary also requires one to develop a certain facility with words – which Reagan had, but rarely gets credit for.

But I’ve digressed. I’ve only started the book, but I was immediately struck by an entry from April of 1981. By that point, Reagan had been in office for just over 90 days. He’d also been shot and spent several weeks recuperating from emergency surgery. There is a remarkable diary entry on April 23.

On April 23, Reagan sent a private note to the Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev – and recorded the text in his diary. In the note, after agreeing with an observation Brezhnev made to him in an earlier note that substantive issues were best discussed face to face, Reagan raises only one issue. It is the height of the cold war. And he devotes 3/4 of his hand-written note to a plea to Brezhnev to release “the man Scharansky an inmate in one of your prisons.”

Reagan tells Brezhnev that, “I can assure you he was never involved in any way with any agency of the U.S. govt.”

The most remarkable part of the letter is Reagan’s offer to forgo any political benefit from securing Sharansky’s release: “. . . this is between the two of us and I will not reveal that I made any such request.”

Two years later, in July of 1983, there is a follow-up entry: “The Soviets are being devious about their promise to let Scharansky go. We’re going to hold them to it.”

Three years later, February 3 1986: “We have a deal to get him out of Russia. Last nite & this morning it was all over the news. I feared the publicity might queer the deal. Turns out the leak was from Moscow.

Finally, eight days later, on February 11, 1986: “1st news of the day ‘Scharansky freed by the Soviets.’ After years of imprisonment he was made part of a spy swap & allowed to rejoin his wife. We flew him to our base at Frankfort & an Israeli plane few to Tel Aviv. Later in day I received a call from P.M. Peres & Scharansky thanking us. I told them Kohl of W. Germany played a big part in putting this together.”

Even in his diary, Reagan refrains from claiming credit for what was accomplished. He does not write “Sharansky thanked me.” He writes “Sharansky thanked us.” And then he further shares the credit with the German Chancellor.

The point of all this: Sharansky is an important (but overlooked) figure in the course of the Cold War. He became a symbol of the Soviet Union’s intolerance of dissent and its denial of human rights. But he was also a person. His personal story inspires as an example of a courageous individual who doggedly refuses to compromise in spite of overwhelming odds.

Another point: Ronald Reagan was hardly an unsophisticated neophyte when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union. The story reveals his skills, but also the personal interest that Reagan took in Sharansky the individual. Reagan’s compassion for Sharansky is a revealing note on his character.

Final part of the story: A month after Sharansky’s release, he visited President Reagan in the White House. Here’s Reagan’s diary entry for that day, May 13, 1986 – about three months after Sharansky’s release:

Met with Anatoly Scharansky. It was fascinating to hear the story of his imprisonment  by the Soviets. I learned that I’m a hero in the Soviet Gulag. The prisoners read the attacks on me in Tass & Pravda & learn what I’m saying about the Soviets and they like me.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

Noah & GodWe went to see Evan Almighty last night – and I had an emotional reaction to the film way out of proportion to the films purported content.

I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think its because of the inherent power of the story of Noah. The film is true to the biblical account in all the important aspects. The film’s power has absolutely nothing to do with the CGI disaster at the end. It has to do with the inherent charm of Morgan Freeman portraying a loving laughing God. Key line: “Remember, everything I do, I do because I love you.” It also has to do with the dynamic of the relunctant prophet, chosen by God and finding he can’t do anything in the end except obey and eventually becomes flint-like in his determination. There’s as much of Jonah in this story as there is of Noah.

Finally, there’s the sub-plot of Noah’s family taking on the building of the ark as a family project. Again, Morgan Freeman delivers the homily that is anything but trite: “If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience, or opportunities to be patient? If they pray for courage, does he give them courage, or opportunities to be courageous? and if someone prays for their family to grow closer together…” Watch for it. This little gem is worth the price of admission.

Also keep your eyes open for the line from Evan that makes God laugh.

Noah’s ArkBut back to my disproportionate emotional response. Perhaps its because I’ve spent a lot of time with the Rien Poortvliet book, “Noah’s Ark.” The images of Noah building the ark, of the animals gathering and waiting patiently, of Noah and his family caring for them in the ark, and especially of Noah exercising his adamic dominion over the natural world are VERY powerful.

This isn’t just a nursery tale. This really happened. And the character of God really is very well portrayed by the writers and Morgan Freeman’s presence.

I did not find the environmental preaching at the end that so many reviewers have referred to. The bad guys are guilty of corruption, cutting corners, and scheming to do commercial development on national park land. You don’t have to be a follower of Al Gore to know that all of that is just plain wrong.

I think those who did this film know something about the power of the story elements that they are dealing with here. They never divert for a cheap laugh. I think the critics are almost all wrong. This may not be one of the great films of all times – but its a very worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours. And ought to provoke some very thoughtful conversations afterwards. Take your friends… and talk about the film afterwards.

Take your kids. The film is rated PG.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

 have in common?

paris peterson michael oj 

They all functioned, serially, as the objects of the obsessive compulsive focus of the popular, ravenous, continuous-coverage, media circus that is CNN-MSNBC-FOX.

For a while, I joked that their real purpose was to be (each in turn), the canary in the coal mine. For those not familiar with the concept, in the days before there was sensitive safety equipment to monitor the safety of the air in a coal mine, miners would keep a canary at key locations. Canaries are very sensitive to changes in the oxygen level and to the presence of methane. A canary will succumb to the presence of methane (a reduction in the oxygen content) long before it becomes dangerous to the minors. So, the canary in the coal mine was a safety device. If the canary was still sitting on his perch, the air was still safe.

While the Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ dramas were going on, they were the canaries in the coal mine. If you got off of an airplane, or wandered into a restaurant or hotel lobby, a glance at the TV screen would tell you instantly whether anything really newsworthy had happened anywere in the world. If Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ were on the screen, you were safe. Nothing bad or significant had happened anywhere.

However, if Hilton-Peterson-Jackson-OJ were NOT on the screen, then they’d been pre-empted by something that really was important.

There’s an old wry, cynical observation that runs thus: “Isn’t it amazing, how every day, just enough stuff happens to fill up the newspaper?”

Now you know just how much attention to pay to the obsessions of CNN-MSNBC-FOX.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

Human sacrifice in Europe has been in the news lately. The following two stories are representative examples, one from the National Geographic news service, the other from LiveScience. AOL picked up the LiveScience story and included it on its sign-on screens for part of one day this week. 

Human Sacrifice Clues Found in European Stone Age Burials

Common Stone Age graves in Europe that include the remains of physically disabled people hint at ritual human sacrifice there, a new study says.

Early Europeans Practiced Human Sacrifice

Europe’s prehistoric hunter-gatherers may have practiced human sacrifice, a new study claims.

[. . .] The diversity of the individuals buried together and the special treatment they received could be a sign of ritual killing, said Vincenzo Formicola of the University of Pisa, Italy.

“These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices were part of the ritual activity of these populations,” Formicola wrote in a recent edition of the journal Current Anthropology.

The news is neither shocking nor surprising. Human sacrifice has been widespread across cultures and through the ages. The prevalence of the practice points to a widespread shared belief that our alienation from God is deep and serious, and that our guilt before God (God’s righteous anger and judgement) cannot be easily assuaged. This widespread, shared belief is not easily dismissed as simply a primitive supersitition.

In fact, most human cultures have practiced human sacrifice. It is not, unfortunately, a thing of the past. It is reappearing in the new millenium. It was the coming of Christianity which put an end to human sacrifice. And it is the waning of Christian influence in the west, which is allowing it to re-emerge.

The evangelion of Christianity is that God himself provided the uiltimate, voluntary human sacrifice – that God himself became incarnate as a man, and offered himself as a subsitute for us, so that we might be reconciled.

Apparently the writers of these stories are without a trace of irony when they solemnly intone that “The new findings could mean the hunter-gatherers were more advanced than once thought.”

The findings are only surprising if you share the modern prejudice that we, of the current age, are obviously much more sophisticated, advanced, and evolved than all who have gone before us.

The truth is, human nature has only ever changed dramatically once – when Adam and Eve ate the apple and acquired a knowledge of good AND evil. Since then we have all shared the same nature. Our technological abilities have waxed and waned (The Ancient Egyptians and the Romans were quite advanced in many ways), but human nature has not changed. Man is still both noble and cruel. He bears the image of God, yet is a slave to sin.

And the solution to man’s predicament has not changed either – we cannot change ourselves. We cannot please God with our own offerings, not even a human sacrifice – for no human is spotless and perfect. We cannot save our selves. We can only be saved.

And that is why Christians for 2,000 years have sung and recited the following: 

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Lamb of God, who takes away sins of world, have mercy on us.

- Rob Shearer
   Director, Schaeffer Study Center
 

Twenty years ago today – June 12, 1987.

Take a moment to give thanks for President Ronald Reagan, the man most responsible for freeing eastern Europe from totalitarian rule.

Powerline has an excellent post, including video of the key moment in the speech. Worth your time to read the memories of the speechwriter, Peter Robinson. Robinson visited Berlin a month before Reagan’s planned visit and spoke with Berliners. He was surprised to discover how passionately they still hated the wall – 26 years after it had been built.

Listen carefully to the speech. The same themes were articulated by President Bush in his speech in Prague last week. Here’s a transcript of the full “Tear Down This Wall” speech if you prefer to read it.

Peter Robinson (the speechwriter responsible for the “Tear Down This Wall” speech) wrote a memoir seven years ago, titled It’s My Party: A Republican’s Messy Love Affair with the GOP. Christopher Buckley reviewed it in The Washington Monthly. (Most anything written by Christopher Buckley is worthy reading, btw!)

Here’s Buckley’s summary of what Robinson had to go through to keep the speech’s most famous line from being cut from the speech:

You’ll already have anticipated what happened: the Berlin diplomat, the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House staff all went bananas. Was Peter Robinson crazy? Take it out! Out, out! But he would not take it out. Among other reasons, the Leader of the Free World kind of liked the line.

The incident escalated, with 30-year-old Robinson going toe-to-toe with, among others, National Security Council Director Colin Powell. (It was disappointing to read this.) Finally, Reagan had to say to his chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, with a trace of Reaganesque irony, Look here, old shoe, who’s President here? Even skilled White House-hand Duberstein had to back down. Reagan went on to deliver the line. The rest is history.

Thank God for men like Robinson with the patient stubbornness to insist on writing the truth. And thank God for a man like Ronald Reagan who had the courage to speak the truth.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

FearNoEviland why is he important?

Last week, I wrote about President Bush’s speech in Prague at the invitation of José María Aznar of Spain, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and Natan Sharansky of Israel (formerly the USSR). The President’s speech was magnificent. He made specific reference to the “defiance of Sakharov and Sharansky.” The events he was referencing occured almost thirty years ago. There are, undoubtedly, many who don’t know anything about the men the President was referring to – or anything about their “defiance.”

 Bear with me. This is a tale worth telling.

Anatoly Sharansky was a mathematics prodigy from the Ukraine. Because of his outstanding talent and ability, he was admitted to the Moscow Physical Technical Institute, where he studied mathematics and computer science. Upon graduation in 1972 he took a position as a computer scientist at the state-run Oil and Gas Research Institute. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 25, he and his future wife Natalia Stieglitz (Avital) decided to emigrate to Israel and requested exit visas. Sharansky’s family had never forgotten their jewish heritage, and Anatoly was increasingly disenchanted with the failures of the Soviet Union. But emmigation from the Soviet Union was strictly controlled. Only a few hundred Jews were allowed to leave each year. 

Avital’s request was approved, but Sharansky was denied permission to leave. The Soviet government informed him that he knew too many state secrets from his work at the Oil and Gas Research Institute. In 1974, the day before Avital left forever for Israel, she and Anatoly got married. Anatoly promised he would join her in Israel.

In 1975, the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords. The Soviet Union signed it, because it guaranteed the current borders of all the states of Europe. But one of the ten points also committed all signatory nations to “Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” This clause, the Soviet Union had no intention of honoring.

In 1976, Andrei Sakharov and Yuri Orlov announced the foundation of a group called the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. Along with them, among the eleven founders, was the 28 year old computer programmer, Anatoly Sharansky. The group’s purpose was to independently monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with Article VII of the Helsinki Accords.

Sakharov and Orlov were famous scientists in Russia. Sakharov was known as the “father of the Russian atomic bomb.”

Because Sharansky was fluent in english, he quickly became the spokesman for the group.

The Soviet Union reacted immediately to crush the dissidents. Sakharov was too famous to be imprisoned immediately. He was eventually arrested and sent into internal exile, far away from Moscow, in the city of Gorky – which was closed to all foreign visitors and thus served the purpose of isolating Sakharov from contract with the western press.

Some of the other members of the Helsinki Watch Group were incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Orlov and Sharansky were arrested and charged with treason. Orlov received a ten year sentence. Sharansky was sentenced to 13 years.

 In his final statement to the court in 1978, Sharansky said:

“Five years ago, I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream. It would seem to be cause for regret. But it is absolutely the other way around. I am happy. I am happy that I lived honorably, at peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death.

“I am happy that I helped people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honorable, brave and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg, who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia [in defending human rights in the Soviet Union]. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of Jews of the USSR.

“I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire Jewish emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people. My near ones and friends know how I wanted to exchange activity in the emigration movement for a life with my wife Avital, in Israel.

“For more that two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, wherever Jews are found, every year they have repeated,‘Next year in Jerusalem.‘ Now, when I am further than ever from my people, from Avital, facing many arduous years of imprisonment, I say, turning to my people, my Avital, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’

Due to the persecution of its members by the Soviet government, the Moscow Helsinki Group was silenced. It announced its own dissolution in September of 1982

Sharansky was to serve almost ten years in the gulag under terrible conditions. He was freed in 1986, due to the tireless efforts of his wife to organize support around the world and keep the pressure on the Soviet government. In the United States a large number of scientists voiced their support for Sharansky by joining a boycott of Soviet scientific exchanges and conferences. SOS (Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, Sharansky), founded by Andrew Sessler and Morris Pripstein of the Lawrence Livermore labs eventually recruited 10,000 scientists who pledged to join the boycott.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland. Following that meeting, the Soviets agreed to release Sharansky, although they insisted that he be included as part of an exchange of convicted spies. On February 11, 1986 Sharansky walked across a bridge from East Berlin and West Berlin. He was met by the Israeli ambassador and immediately handed an Israeli passport. When he reached Israel later that day, (after apologizing for being late!), he and his wife spoke by telephone with President Reagan and thanked him for interceding on their behalf.

Sharansky went on to become active in Israeli politics. He was elected to the Israeli parliament and served in the cabinets of both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.

And of course, in 1989 – three years after Reagan secured the release of Sharansky – the Soviet Union collapsed.

In 2006, Sharansky wrote an eloquent endorsement of President Bush for the Wall Street Journal, calling Bush the “Dissident President.”

I’ll indulge myself by referring readers to one final anecdote that reveals much about Sharansky’s character – both his integrity and his faith. Sharansky insisted on celebrating Hannakuh, even in the Gulag. When the camp commandant confiscated his menorrah and candles, he declared a hunger strike – which was only resolved when the commandment allowed him to finish his celebration in the commandant’s office – with Sharansky insisting that the commandant join in by saying “amen” at the conclusion of the prayers. Read the full account here.

For a reasonably complete biography of Sharansky, those interested can start with the entry at Answers.com.

FearNoEvilAnd for those who want to read a stirring account of perserverance and courage in the face of persecution, I highly recommend Sharansky’s memoir of his time in the gulag, called Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man’s Triumph over a Police State.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

And, predictably, its being ignored by the mainstream media. Before he went to the G8 summit, he spoke to a conference in Prague organized by President Havel and Natan Scharansky (more on them in another post).

One blogger, at the Jewish Review, named Bush our most eloquent president ever, based on this speech.

That blog entry is worth reading.

And so is Bush’s speech, which you will find in full on the White House web site.

Commit an act of rebellion. Read Bush’s speech for yourself.

Read it slowly.

Imagine it being delivered out loud. Imagine how it must have reverberated with men and women who had been imprisoned and tortured for years in the cause of freedom.

And then, give thanks to God that he appointed George Bush to be president for eight years.

-Rob Shearer
   Director, Schaeffer Study Center

“Freedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman, and child, and the path to lasting peace in our world is liberty.” – George W. Bush

PS: Do I detect the hand of Tony Snow in the text of the president’s speech?

Team of Rivalsby Doris Kearns Goodwin

I just completed the book this month. Took longer than I had thought to finish it, NOT because it lacked interest – just because I had too many distractions over the past six months.

Its a magnificent book. Very well written, and with the focus right where it should be – on the individuals who played major roles in Lincoln’s administration. The book is actually an exercise in multiple biography and it works extremely well.

In 1860, there were four candidates for the Republican nomination for President. The front-runner, who everyone expected would be nominated, was Senator Seward from New York. Also in the running was Governor Chase from Ohio, Judge Bates from Missouri, and a relatively unknown lawyer from Illinois, who had served a single term in Congress fourteen years before – Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was nominated on the 3rd ballot at the Republican convention of 1860 and went on to win the presidency. Then he did something extraordinary. He appointed all three of the men who had been his rivals to his cabinet. Senator Seward became his Secretary of State. His other cabinet appointments were made with what seemed to his friends as a careless disregard for his own political fortunes.

Goodwin shows how Lincoln suceeded in managing his “team of rivals,” when everyone expected him to be a weak president who would be dominated by the stronger, more experienced politicians he had appointed.

Perhaps the most startling appointment Lincoln made was Edwin Stanton to be Secretary of War after scandal forced his first Secretary of War to resign. Stanton was a high-powered Washington attorney who had served briefly in the Buchannon administration. More significantly, he had been the lead attorney on a famous patent case (the McCormick reaper case) in 1855. Lincoln had been retained as a local attorney when it looked like the case would be tried in Illinois, but when venue was changed to Ohio, Stanton contemptuously dismissed Lincoln from the defense team and then snubbed him. Any attorney other than Lincoln would have held a grudge for life. But Lincoln set aside any resentment he might have harbored and appointed Stanton as his Secretary of War – and over time the two became friends and Stanton completely reversed his opinion of Lincoln.

Goodwin also does an excellent job of explaining the political context, intent, and effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation is usually either elevated to a status alongside the Declaration of Indpendence and the Constitution (if your sympathies are with the Union) or dismissed as a crude and calculated political ploy that freed not a single slave because it was simply a public relations trick (if your sympathies are with the South). Goodwin explains at length Lincoln’s reasoning for the details of the Proclamation and the timing of its signing. It WAS designed for a political purpose – Lincoln hoped it might persuade at least some of the Confederate states to return to the Union. But, it was also a consistent extension of Lincoln’s evolving policy to deal with the issue of slavery.

Goodwin’s book is excellent biography (not just Lincoln, but also Seward, Chase, Bates, and Stanton) with its focus and tone on the human and personal dimensions of Lincoln’s presidency. Its also a study in political wisdom. Lincoln’s magnanimity is what eventually led to his nomination and election as president – and successful conduct of the war. Finally, it is a study in management principles with applications even now to how leaders should choose key lieutenants and manage them.

Highly recommended.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

You wouldn’t think that there would be much left to discover of Ancient Egypt. But, you’d be wrong. New discoveries are added every year. And old theories often have to be revised – or even abandoned.

News from EgyptEgyptian civilization flourished from about 2500BC until about the time of the close of the Old Testament in 500BC. It was overrun by the Assyrians about 600BC, Alexander the Great in about 300BC and finally the Romans in about 40BC.

When the Arabs displaced the Romans in about 600AD, Egyptian culture disappeared from the radar of western civilization.

The language of the Ancient Egyptians was completely lost and many of the cities of the Nile valley were abandoned and then covered by drifting sands.

Today, I noticed the story associated with the picture above. My point in linking to it is to remind everyone that what we know of ancient Egypt is, in many respects still incomplete and based on conjecture. Hieroglyphs were deciphered only about 170 years ago. Many of the archives are still being recovered, transcribed, and translated. There are clearly still lots of sites unexplored.

In particular, the chronology of Ancient Egypt is still very much a speculative exercise. The evidence that establishes firm dates in the history of Israel is much more complete than it is for Egypt.

Those who subscribe to a biblical world-view need not be threatened by new discoveries from Ancient Egypt. Indeed, we should be excited. Its likely, indeed probable, that evidence of the Patriarchs and the sojourn of Israel in Egypt is still there – waiting to be discovered. There have been tantalizing hints over the past 40 years. Who knows what the next 40 might bring?

You might start with this wikipedia article, if you’re interested in Egyptian chronology.

Here’s another interesting article, with the provocative title, Unsolved Problems in Egyptology. Students of history should know that there are lots of opportunities out there for anyone interested in pursuing a career.

For those who really want to delve into this, I highly recommend the research of Egyptologist David Rohl. A pretty good place to start on Rohl and his new chronology, would be this article. Be forewarned, Rohl is a maverick, and controversial.

While one must always be cautious in reading a wikipedia article, they are often a valuable overview of a topic and provide both links to further information and often some assesment of the pros and cons associated with any controversial issue.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

For a variety of reasons, I have held myself back from the blogging phenomenon which took off over the past six years (see especially Instapundit).

From November of 2000 to May of 2007, I was the City Manager of Mt. Juliet, TN. Because of my obligations as City Manager, I chose not to start a blog and refrained from making political, cultural, and religious comments on the internet.

But, its now June of 2007, and I’ve been set free.

Since 2004, I have also been the Director of the Francis Schaeffer Study Center in Mt. Juliet. For the past three years, the primary work of FSSC has been to co-ordinate a high school program for homeschooled students that, over four years, gives them a chronological overview of the History, Literature, & Art of western civilization from ancient times to modern. We graduated 16 seniors last month, and will start our fourth year of classes in August.

My intent with this blog is to provide my $.02 worth on the issues of the day. I’m inspired primarily by three people: C.S.Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Ronald Reagan. Its in the intersection of those three that I think I may have a few things to offer.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

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