Category: General

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, July 3, 2014
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PatriotPicture-1We Americans have a peculiar relationship to the term “patriot.” To question someone’s patriotism is considered an insult, while to praise their patriotism is a compliment. Yet strangely, the only people who refer to themselves, completely without irony or qualification, as patriots are old veterans, old conservatives, and certain pro athletes in New England .

Of course, people who do not fit into those three categories sometimes self-identify with that label. But when they do it’s almost always accompanied by an asterisk, denoting—whether expressed or implied—that the use of the word comes with a qualifier:

 *Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (the President, the war, etc.)

*I am, but that doesn’t mean I think America is better than other countries.

*Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.

*But I’m nothing like those Bible-thumping, flag-fetishizing, NASCAR-loving, types of patriots.

However, some people are more straightforward their mixed feelings. A Japanese reporter once inquired of filmmaker Michael Moore, “You do not seem to like the U.S., do you?” Moore’s response sums up the sentiment behind the patriot’s asterisk: “I like America to some extent.”
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redstatebluestateIn discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:

Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.

The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)

Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
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offering-plateDespite the struggling-to-recover economy, charitable giving by Americans continues to rise. But a smaller proportion of this money is going to religious organizations.

According to a newly released report by Giving USA, total estimated charitable giving in the U.S. rose 4.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $335.17 billion in contributions. The single largest contributor to the increase in total charitable giving was an increase of $9.69 billion in giving by individuals. In 2013, per capita giving by U.S. adults reached $1,016, and average U.S. household giving reached $2,974.

Giving increased for three of the four sources of giving. Only giving by corporations declined slightly in 2013, notes Tom Watson of Forbes, because of the slow rate of growth in pre-tax corporate profits in 2013, at 3.4 percent.

Unfortunately, charitable contributions to religion continue to slow. The report attributes this to the result of declining religious affiliation and attendance and religious-oriented charitable organizations categorized within other subsections.

But as The Economist points out, the sharp overall rise in charitable giving has been driven by the very rich, who tend to favor secular charities:
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v2-MIMeriam Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter while her legs were shackled to the floor. The young Sudanese mother, who also raised her son in her prison cell, gave birth while waiting execution for committing apostasy from Islam by becoming a Christian. A Sudanese high court delivered the sentence when Ibrahim refused to denounce her Christian faith.

But after the case sparked international outrage, the Sudanese court appears to have reversed its decision. According to the official state news agency in Sudan, Ibrahim is to be freed:

Ms Ibrahim’s Christian American husband Daniel Wani was notified earlier this month that the appeals court in Sudan was deliberating the case, though the government had previously promised she would be released.

Sudan’s SUNA news agency said today: “The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling.” . . .

If the verdict had not been overturned, she would have faced a punishment of 100 lashes and execution by hanging.

As Elise Hilton recently noted, “this may seem like an aberration, an isolated throwback to more barbaric times, but according to Pew Research, one-quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy and apostasy laws.”
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baby1I love babies. And because I love babies, I love economic growth. I’ve explained that connection several times on this blog already, but there is another oft-overlooked way that economic growth helps babies.

In the early 1900s, there were more babies than parents could feed. Illegitimate infants suffered high rates of mortality from murder (usually by the mother) or neglect (as wards of the state). Today, a hundred years later, the situation is drastically different. As Megan McCardle notes, adoptable infants are so rare that parents wait years and pay tens of thousands of dollars to get one. What explains the change?

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davebratLast night, economics professor David Brat surprised everyone in defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) in a primary challenge for Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Predictably, the media is now a-buzz about Brat, rapidly catching up on his beliefs, his plans, and so on.

Time will tell as for whether Brat is successful as a politician, and whether he is, in fact, a strong conservative alternative to his predecessor. But one item that sticks out in Brat’s academic CV is his unique interest in the intersection of economics and theology.

Currently an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Brat holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Hope College in Michigan, a Master’s degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D in economics from American University. I’m sure there are plenty of places to explore his thoughts on these matters, but one place of particular interest is an essay he wrote titled, “God and Advanced Mammon: Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”

Although the essay aims specifically at the issue of usury, in his analysis of the topic, we begin to see the deeper theology and philosophy that steers Brat’s political and economic thought.

Given the length of the essay, the following excerpts are offered simply as a taste of where he’s coming from. Emphasis is added wherever text is bolded.

Regardless of how and whether Brat actually succeeds in governing, his profound interest in the intersection of economics and theology is a feature we should hope to see more of in the political arena.

Brat on capitalism:

Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful…Capitalist markets and their expansion in China and India have provided more for the common good, more “social welfare,” than any other policy in the past ten years. In fact, you can add up all of the welfare gains from public policy in the United States and abroad, and they will not approach the level of human gains just described. Incomes in China and India have risen from $500 a year per person to over $5,000 a year per person over the past twenty years or so. This is due to market capitalism. Over two billion people now have food to eat and some minimal goods to go along. (more…)

ChaosTheoryCareers[Note: This month hundreds of thousands of young people will be graduating from high schools and colleges across America. Because I’ve had an unusual vocational path, I thought I’d offer them some unsolicited career advice. Admittedly, its not ground-breaking guidance. But I figure someone might benefit from hearing that they don’t have to have their career path already planned out in order to be successful.]

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that people begin asking you around the age five and will haunts you until adulthood, when it transmogrifies into, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To avoid the disappointing and scornful glances that come from answering truthfully (“To be honest, I have no absolutely no clue.”) we learn to respond with a pat occupational objective. But as Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog once noted:

 Most of us like to think that we have chosen our occupations, rather than them choosing us. We have reasons for what we are doing, visions of where we want to get to. We have career planning, career goals – the feeling of control.And yet if you ask people about their career decisions, almost 70% report that they have been significantly influenced by chance events. The two Australian psychologists who carried out this research, published [February 2007] in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour , believe they have provided further support for the Chaos Theory of Career Development.

Vocational researchers examining “chaos theory” tend to emphasize not the consistent, orderly nature of career patterns, but rather the importance of initial conditions and the impact of seemingly random perturbations on career development, that somewhat disrupt the ultimate trajectory of individual careers.

Some of these “random perturbations” include:
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Poor us. We women are being told we aren’t getting equal pay, and now we’re apparently lagging in confidence. The Atlantic recently published “The Confidence Gap,” saying we not only lack confidence, but it’s an “acute lack of confidence.” We “feel like an imposter” as we do our jobs, we can’t bring ourselves to ask for a raise, we are forever underestimating ourselves.

As my incredibly confident mother would say, “Horse feathers.”

Who are these women? Where are these women? The women I know were raised by confident women, had confident women that taught them, had confident aunts and grandmothers and godmothers who nurtured them. We read Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, we studied about Marie Curie and Sally Ride, watched Mia Hamm and Chrissy Evert.

Amy Otto at The Federalist has some suggestions for these poor ladies who’ve lost their confidence. Fear not, Otto says, you can handle things. (more…)

knockingondoorThis month marks ten years since I left the Marine Corps. Although I love being a Marine I can honestly say that I don’t miss active duty. In fifteen years of service I sat on the sidelines during three separate wars, and like most Marines, being away from the action drove me insane. Although I had it easy, for some of my comrades, being on the supporting end back in the U.S. was almost as stressful and emotionally draining as being in a combat zone. This post, which I originally wrote in 2003, is for all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in foreign lands—and all of those in the states who wish they were with them.
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downloadOprah Winfrey recently announced her first-ever cross-country tour, “The Life You Want,” which will feature Oprah “like you’ve never seen,” in addition to talks from a series of “hand-picked” gurus, including Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, Elizabeth Gilbert, and former pastor Rob Bell.

“It’s about living the life you want,” Oprah explains, “because a great percentage of the population is living a life that their mother wanted, that their husband wanted, that they thought or heard they wanted…Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.”

Today, over at The Federalist, I offer a lengthy critique of the spectacle, arguing that behind all the glory and grandeur, much of this amounts to plain old cultural consumerism:

This is cultural consumerism at both its highest and lowest — humanistic in its instincts, privileged in its priorities, and carefully glazed with all the right marketing to deceive itself that justice is at hand and Neighbor Love has the wheel. It’s as if human desire has grown so weary of natural constraints and so content with its own appetite that it would prefer to label self-indulgence as “self-help” and be done with it.

It’s faux-self-empowerment for the self-centered, heart-religion as a mantle for hedonism.

As it relates to the areas of vocation, calling, and whole-life discipleship, getting first things first is fundamental to all that we do. Service and sacrifice must come before self-empowerment, and obedience to God before that: (more…)