Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: rjmoeller
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
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A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

-David Shulman, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

Some 237 years ago today, the Continental Army was stationed along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border preparing for a secret attack upon British and Hessian troops. Beleaguered and under-supplied, the brave men under General George Washington’s command knew they needed a miracle. The plan was to send three raiding parties across the Delaware River at different points to surprise the enemy at Trenton.

Weather and the elements had other ideas.

The crossing of the River using the Durham boats, ferry boats and other craft took longer than expected as a nor’easter effected the area causing sleet and freezing rain to pelt the weary troops. Large ice flows and flood-like conditions hindered the nighttime maneuvers.

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From an archived column by National Review‘s Rich Lowry:

Arriving at Trenton at 8 a.m. the following morning, his spirited troops seemed “to vie with the other in pressing forward,” he wrote afterward. They surprised the Hessians, not because they were sleeping off a Christmas bender. Harried in hostile New Jersey, the Hessians had exhausted themselves on constant alert. They didn’t expect an attack in such weather, though. The battle ended quickly — 22 Hessians killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 900 captured, to two American combat deaths.

“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote.

Washington followed up soon enough with another victory at Princeton. In the space of a few weeks, the Americans killed or captured as many as 3,000 of the enemy and irreversibly changed the dynamic of the war.

David Hackett Fischer (author of Washington’s Crossing) sees in that resurgence after our fortunes were at their lowest a reassuring aspect of our national character in this season of discontent: We respond when pressed. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a great supporter of the American cause, wrote: “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” 

May it still be so. 

A great reminder of an important story from our nation’s unique past. The freedoms we enjoy were won with a price. Violence on this holiday was the result of something a tad more important than the newest Air Jordan sneakers. 

 

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, December 23, 2013
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In my Acton Commentary today, “The Great Exchange of the Magi,” I reflect on the fact that, due to the material poverty of the holy family, the gifts of the magi can be considered alms in addition to homage:

The magi set forth an example of the heart that all of us need to have when it comes to stewardship of our material blessings. They knew their own poverty of spirit, and gladly gave the riches of this life for the blessing of eternity: worship. Their almsgiving, then, had a particular attitude attached to it. They did not see the holy family as mere victims of an unjust world, but as persons worthy of their investment, the Child whom they worshiped most of all.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), I think an additional application is worth reflecting on: whenever we give alms, we, like the magi, also pay homage to God incarnate. (more…)

ballotAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to inventory the year’s proxy resolutions introduced by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, a group purportedly acting on religious principles and faith, is actually nothing more than a shareholder activist group engaged in the advancement of leftist causes at the expense of their fellow shareholders and the world’s poorest.

ICCR recently released its 2013 Annual Report. Its “2013 Proxy Season Recap” (pp. 16, 17) presents a snapshot of initiatives ICCR members pursued this past year. The foundations for several categories betray the left’s tenuous grasp of science and economics while, at the same time, displaying a perverse naiveté regarding the potential negative consequences of their respective crusades.

Fortunately, all the worst proposals failed. As noted previously, ICCR shareholder resolutions are drafted by Bruce Freed, president of the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability (CPA). Both Freed and ICCR boast huge successes for their resolutions, assertions that rely on extremely fuzzy methodology that excludes abstention votes. (more…)

In Austin, Texas, the organization Mobile Loaves & Fishes has started a new program for the homeless: Community First! a village of tiny houses and other small domiciles. Lee Morgan of the New York Daily News reported recently,

A life of relative luxury awaits homeless people in Texas with the construction of a new gated neighborhood featuring a garden, drive-in theater and air stream motel.

Hundreds of down-and-outs in east Austin will have the chance to get back on their feet by moving into the pioneering Community First Village.

Residents will have to work and pay a minimal rent to be able to stay at the compound, which will be nestled in 27 acres of land east of U.S. Highway 183.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is explicitly motivated by Christian principles and has been working with the homeless in Austin since the mid-1990s. The webpage for Community First! even quotes Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and take care of it.” Their work in the past has involved not only feeding the homeless with their food trucks but helping them find employment, obtain upward mobility, and shelter. (more…)

61-kids-expensiveAs any parent can attest, kids are expensive. They take up space (increasing the cost of housing), eat everything in your kitchen (increasing the grocery bill), never remember to turn off lights (increasing the cost of utilities), and find dozens of other ways to drain your banking account. From birth to high school graduation, the average cost to raise a kid is $241,080.

The high cost is often proffered as an explanation for why families today are much smaller than in the past. But as Bryan Caplan explains having kids was never a paying venture:

One popular story about the decline in family size over the last two centuries goes like this: Back in the old days, having kids paid. Children started working when they were quite young, and provided for their parents in their old age. Then industrialization and/or the welfare state came along and changed everything. Young children ceased to contribute much economically to their families, and once Social Security, Medicare, and so on were in place, people stopped supporting their aging parents.

It turns out that this story is only half true. Yes, in the modern era, people give little financial assistance to their elders; even in late adulthood, old-to-young transfers remain larger than young-to-old transfers. The flaw in the story is the assumption that things used to be different. In an eye-opening 1996 JEL piece, Ted Bergstrom summarizes evidence showing that even in pre-modern societies, kids did not pay.

Caplan also adds this intriguing question, “If parents in 1850 were willing to support five or six kids with a negative financial return, why aren’t we?”

Sadly, because unlike most people in 1850, we measure the worth of children in financial terms. Theologian Al Mohler noted this a few years ago:
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In his treatise on the state of social conditions in early 20th century Great Britain (What’s Wrong With The World), G.K. Chesterton wrote the following:

“It is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease.”

For the Christian attempting to live “in, but not of” the world, our proverbial North Star should be what God’s standards are, not the mess we’ve made of things here on earth. There are positive fundamentals of a biblical worldview we can (and should) affirm: mankind made in God’s image, “work” is our divinely appointed task, working is a noble thing, our dominion over the earth, etc. etc.

If such things are not your culture’s presuppositions, you will inevitably lose your way. And sadly, even in the context of a church body, many Christians have.

Lost their way, that is.

Sin is another reality. It pervades every aspect of our lives. From the biblical account of man’s fall in Genesis 3 to the moment you are reading this blog-post (and every second this side of Heaven), one cannot escape the clutches of our hereditary spiritual disease. (more…)

waughWhile working on a recording together, Johnny Cash asked Bob Dylan if he knew “Ring of Fire.” Dylan said he did and began to play it on the piano, croaking it out in typical Dylanesque fashion. When he was done he turned to his friend and said, “It goes something like that, right?” “No,” said Cash shaking his head. “It doesn’t go like that at all.”

I can understand how Cash felt; I often get the same feeling when people talk about conservatism. For example, a friend of mine once wrote that, “Conservatism is what it is and it’s not subject to interpretation. It’s not a ‘living’ concept subject to the vagaries of public opinion. It’s small government, low taxes, and muscular foreign policy in its simplest form.” Although many conservatives in America would nod in agreement to that tune, all I can think is that while some of the words are right, “It doesn’t go like that at all.”

No one seems to be able to agree on what the term conservatism means anymore, so we’re forced to keep adding modifiers—neo-, paleo-, pomo-, crunchy—to clarify what we intend. That being the (unfortunate) case, let me add one more for consideration: Waughian conservatism.

William F. Buckley, Jr. considered Evelyn Waugh to be “the greatest English novelist of the century.” His novels are certainly are worth reading (A Handful of Dust is a personal favorite) but it was a travel memoir that provides some of his most intriguing and overlooked thought. In his book, Mexico: An Object Lesson, Waugh presents what could be considered a succinct manifesto of his British, Catholic-influenced conservatism. (I’ve taken the liberty of breaking up the text into paragraphs to make it easier to read):
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Acton’s busy week of media appearances continued last night with Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joining guest host Arthur C. Brooks – president of the American Enterprise Institute – on The Hugh Hewitt Show to discuss Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, and the compatibility of Catholic social teaching with free market capitalism. We’ve embedded the interview for you below, and added the video of Arthur Brooks’ 2012 Acton University plenary address after the jump.

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Blog author: dpahman
Friday, December 13, 2013
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Today at Ethika Politika, I look at the busyness of the Advent season through the lens of Orthodox Christian asceticism in my essay, “Busyness and Askesis: An Advent Reflection.”

The Advent season in the United States is typically ransacked by shopping, parties, visits with family, and the like. Perhaps worst of all, it can seem impossible to avoid the bombardment of holiday and Christmas-themed advertisement. People work overtime in order to earn a little extra to buy gifts for friends and family (and themselves). The ethos of the season can seem to be emite et labora, buy and work. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to affirm the understandably natural, knee-jerk condemnation of busyness as such.

Drawing upon the story of “difficult Father Nathaniel” from the recent Russian bestseller, Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon, I describe how, though busyness can be a spiritual distraction, “sometimes busyness itself can be askesis.”

I write,

Busyness can be the adversary of Advent, but it need not be. Instead, the Advent season can be a time for us to examine and practice how our busyness itself can be transfigured by the life of the Church, how our worldly work also may be liturgical labor, how when transfigured by the kingdom of God our busyness can also serve the common good.

The story of difficult Father Nathaniel, however, is worth visiting in further detail here as well. Hand in hand with complaints about the busyness of the season come complaints about the business of the season. (more…)