The rapid rise and threat of the jihadist group Islamic State has confounded the secularist West. The idea that their motivations could truly be driven by religious ideology simply fails to register with those who view religion as an individualistic, private affair.
Patricia Arquette’s passion is fabulous, says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary, but she’s wrong on economics:
Ms. Arquette’s passion is fabulous, and I’m sure that’s what makes her a great actor. But she’s wrong on economics. The “women make 23 cents less than men” canard is far less accurate than Arquette thinks it is. Women are more likely to work part-time, to choose careers that pay less but offer more flexibility in scheduling (such as teaching) and often take time out of their paid career to care for children or other family members. Ms. Arquette: American women are okay. Really.
“Who cares about the suffering and premature death of millions in the developing world?” asks Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary.”Not religious activists agitating for fossil fuel divestment.”
In another trendy move, environmentalist shareholder activists are pressuring energy companies in which they invest to scale back in part or completely their interests in oil, gas and coal. For example, Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at the As You Sow religious shareholder activist outfit, told The Guardian last month that “market fundamentals” are changing. “We see a whole number of factors moving markets away from fossil fuels – pollution, technology changes, efficiency increases, competition from low-cost renewables,” she said. “We’re seeing the market changing – the world is moving to cleaner resources, and these energy companies have to move with the market or they’ll get replaced.”
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”
Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.
But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.
And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”
“Consumption serves, sustains and deepens community—above all the Eucharistic community,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary.
Consumption is not an end in itself but has a purpose. We are, Schmemann says, called by God “to propagate and have dominion over the earth”; that is to say, consumption serves human flourishing. The first chapters of Genesis portray creation as “one all-embracing banquet table,” foreshadowing a central theme in the New Testament. In the Kingdom of God we will “eat and drink” at the table of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22:30), the Eucharist standing at the mid-point between the creation of the world and its eschatological fulfillment.
We are therefore consumers by nature; if we weren’t then the reception of Holy Communion would be a sin. More importantly, our consumption finds its source and fulfillment in the Eucharist, in our obedient response to Jesus’ command that we “take and eat.”
“Human trafficking is broader in scope than most people realize,” says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary.
Today, human trafficking impacts entire industries, and job sectors – both legitimate and illegitimate. Monetarily, it is the second largest criminal activity in the world. Only the illegal drug trade is more profitable. The profits generated from human trafficking play an enormous role in national and global economies. There is also the untold human cost. It is, as Pope Francis said, an open wound on humanity.
“Black lives matter.’ ‘All lives matter. These slogans may forever summarize the deep tensions in American life in 2014,’ says Anthony Bradley in this week’s Acton Commentary. “We can loudly protest that “Black lives matter” but it will mean nothing in the long run if we cannot explain why black lives matter.”
Black lives matter because black people are persons. One of the greatest tragedies in American history was the myth that America could flourish without blacks flourishing as persons. From the founding of this country, throughout slavery, Reconstruction, the Eugenics movement, and the Civil-Rights Movement, black Americans fought to establish themselves, first and foremost, as persons. At minimum we can define persons as centers of creativity, self-transcendence, communication, morality, self-direction, responsibility, choice, freedom, and spirituality, who come to know themselves in union and communion with the Triune God and other personal selves. Persons are simultaneously unrepeatable splendors with great capacity for good and also vulnerable to disordered loves that can lead to profound evil. Not only do they need moral formation; moral norms ought to shape how we structure the elements of justice in politics, jurisprudence, and the marketplace.
Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.
There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”
Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.
I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7‘
No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!
In this week’s commentary, Acton president and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico reflects on Christmas, but also on the things weighing heavily on many hearts. Despite this being a joyful time, we are caught in perilous moment in history due to the meeting of various things: intellectual, financial, militarily, and theologically. President Ronald Reagan gave a similar address in 1981:
Rev. Sirico says:
How to get to the heart of the matter? That, as Shakespeare might say, is the rub. Yet, as a Christian who believes that the redemption of the world was effected by the Incarnation of Christ, I can certainly use the lens of the Incarnation to understand the state of the world and the people in it, even when, indeed, especially when things are perilous. That is what it means to affirm that Christology is anthropology, i.e., that in order to discover man and what his end truly is, one must study Christ, the perfect man.