Category: Public Policy

Readings in Social Ethics: John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, part 3 of 3. There are six sermons in this text, based on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This post deals with the third and final pair. The first four sermons dealt directly with Chrysostom’s exegesis of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. These latter two sermons were given on different occasions. References are to page numbers.

Sermon 6:

  • The sermon comes after an earthquake has hit the community: “Have you seen the mortality of the human race? When the earthquake came, I reflected with myself and said, where is theft? Where is greed? Where is tyranny? Where is arrogance? Where is domination? Where is oppression? Where is the plundering of the poor? Where is the arrogance of the rich? Where is the domination of the powerful? Where is intimidation? Where is fear?” (97)

  • Chrysostom searches out the source and cause of the disaster: “So I was not afraid because of the earthquake, but because of the cause of the earthquake; for the cause of the earthquake was the anger of God, and the cause of His anger was our sins. Never fear punishment, but fear sin, the mother of punishment” (101).
  • Chrysostom reiterates a theme from the previous sermons. We are not to judge someone as fortunate based only on their external condition: “In the same way, imagine two sinners, one being punished, the other not being punished. Do no say, this one is lucky because he is rich, he strips orphans of their property, and he oppresses widows. Apparently he is not ill, he has a good reputation in spite of his thefts, he enjoys honor and authority, he does not endure any of the troubles which afflict mankind—no fever, no paralysis, nor any other disease—a chorus of children surrounds him, his old age is comfortable; but you should grieve most for him, because he is indeed ill and receives no treatment” (102).
  • The varieties of sinners characterized as beasts rather than men: “You see, you should not examine his nature but his character, not his appearance but his disposition; and not his disposition only, but investigate his whole way of life. If he loves the poor, he is a human being; but if he is wholly involved in commerce, he is an oak tree. If he has a savage temper, he is a lion; if he is rapacious, he is a wolf; if he is deceitful, he is a cobra. You should say, ‘I am looking for a human being; why have you shown me a beast instead of a man?’ Learn what really is the virtue of a human being, and do not be confused” (107-8).
  • Chrysostom concludes by examining Abraham’s words that Lazarus received the evil that he was due in this life, and the rich man received the rewards he was due. Chrysostom understands this to mean that the evil man has done at least some good, and therefore is rewarded in this life, while the good man has done at least some evil, and therefore is punished in this life.

Sermon 7:

  • A condemnation of worldliness: “For those who are eager to go to the races and the other satanic spectacles, who have no care for self-control and give no thought for virtue, who wish to behave recklessly, who yield themselves to luxury and gluttony, who spend themselves every day in madness and frenzy for money, who strain after the things of the present life—these people walk by the wide gate and the easy road. But when they go farther along, and gather a great burden of sins for themselves, when they are all spent and come to the end of the road, they are no longer able to go any farther, because they are pressed tightly by the narrowness of the road and burdened by the weight of their sins so that they cannot go through” (129).

  • Riches are a blessing and a temptation: “Do not call these things good without qualification, O man, bearing in mind that they are given by the Master in order that by enjoying them in due proportion we may have sustenance for our life and may overcome the weakness of our bodies; but the truly good things are something else. None of these things is good, not luxury, not wealth, not expensive clothing; they have only the name of goodness. Why do I say that they have only the name? They often indeed cause our destruction, when we use them improperly. Wealth will be good for its possessor if he does not spend it only on luxury, or on strong drink and harmful pleasures; if he enjoys luxury in moderation and distributes the rest to the stomachs of the poor, then wealth is a good thing. But if he is going to give himself up to luxury and other profligacy, not only does it not help him at all, but it even leads him down to the deep pit” (136-37).

Next week: Bonaventure, A Defence of the Mendicants (selections), in From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625, ed. Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, pp. 312-19.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Here’s an interesting report from the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute on the cyclical nature of media coverage on the issue of climate change. We all know about the global cooling craze of the 1970’s, but who knew that the issue goes back more than a century?

It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.

The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”

Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.

It appears that we’re reaching the “outright hysteria” part of the current coverage cycle, considering that Al Gore can get completely credulous coverage for statements like this:

“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We have to go far quickly,” former Vice President Al Gore told a packed, rapt house at the Benedict Music Tent Wednesday. With many scientists pointing to a window of less than 10 years to moderate the effects of global warming, he said, meaningful change is still possible, but “It is a race.”

…”What we’re facing worldwide really is a planetary emergency,” Gore said. “I’m optimistic, but we’re losing this battle badly.”

…”The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk,” he said.

I don’t know about you, but my BS detector is going crazy at the moment. I’d say that we’re about as likely to be in a 10 year race for survival today as we were to be in a 10 year race to save the oceans back in 1988 (according to the then-popular TV star Ted Danson). Apparently Cristopher Hitchens isn’t the only one prone to wild overstatement these days. And while we’re on the topic of overstatement

Readings in Social Ethics: John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, part 2 of 3. There are six sermons in this text, based on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This post deals with the second pair. References are to page numbers.

Sermon 3:

  • A summary and introduction to the series of sermons: “The parable of Lazarus was of extraordinary benefit to us, both rich and poor, teaching the latter to bear their poverty with equanimity, and not allowing the former to be proud of their wealth. It taught us by example that the most pitiable person of all is the one who lives in luxury and shares his goods with nobody” (57).

  • Those who are involved in worldly affairs are not exempt from studying the Scriptures: “What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them [monks]. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those who are involved in many occupations” (58).
  • The redemptiveness of punishment: “For punishment is not evil, but sin is evil. The latter separates us from God, but the former leads us towards God, and dissolves his anger” (65).
  • Suffering in one form or another is unavoidable in this life: “So if human beings do not persecute us, yet the devil makes war on us. We need great wisdom and perseverance, to keep sober and watchful in prayer, not to desire others’ property, but to distribute our goods to the needy, to reject and repudiate all luxury, whether of clothing or table, to avoid avarice, drunkenness, and slander, to control our tongue and keep from disorderly clamor…to abstain from shameful or witty talk” (68).
  • The question of the theodicy of suffering is raised: “‘But why,’ someone asks, ‘are some punished here, but others only hereafter and not at all here?’ Why? Because if all were punished here, we would all have perished, for we are all subject to penalties. On the other hand, if no one were punished here, most people would become too careless, and many would say there is no providence” (71).
  • The right view of suffering: “In summary, every punishment if it happens to sinners, reduces the burden of sin, but if it happens to the righteous, makes their souls more splendid. A great benefit comes to each of them from tribulation, provided that they bear it with thanksgiving; for this is what is required” (73).

Sermon 4:

  • Why the theodicy of suffering is important: “Nothing tends so much to disturb and scandalize the majority of people as the fact that rich people living in wickedness enjoy good fortune while righteous people living with virtue are driven to extreme poverty and endure a multitude of other troubles even worse than poverty. But this parable is sufficient to provide the remedies, self-control for the rich and consolation for the poor” (82).

  • On corruption and the conscience: “But the court of conscience cannot yield to any of these influences. Whether you give bribes, or flatter, or threaten, or do anything else, this court will bring forth a just judgment against your sinful intentions. He who commits sin himself condemns himself even if no one else accuses him” (88).
Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Samuel Gregg examines the nature of equality in democratic society. “Though Tocqueville held that democracy’s emergence was underpinned by the effects of the Judeo-Christian belief in the equality of all people in God’s sight, he perceived a type of communal angst in democratic majorities that drove them to attempt to equalize all things, even if this meant behaving despotically,” he writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: blevitske
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I would say I met Jeremy Jerschina by chance on the campus of Calvin College, except that nothing ever happens by chance on the very Reformed sidewalks, hallways, and parking lots of Calvin College. So I’ll say I met him by Providence.

Jeremy was visiting from New Jersey as a prospective Calvin student, to study Philosophy or Theology or something in the humanities. He struck me as being extremely well-read, genuine, and sensitive to the call of God on his life. When I heard just a few weeks ago that he was graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, it didn’t surprise me in the least.

What did surprise me was the fact that officials at Jeremy’s high school rejected his speech because of its religious content. Jeremy wanted to pray at the end of his address to acknowledge God as the reason for his academic success, but the principal of Bayonne High School and its board of education told him he could only give the speech if he left out the prayer. So Jeremy chose not to speak at all.

Within the week, Fox News had heard about the incident and invited Jeremy on-air to read for a huge cable TV audience the prayer he could not deliver to the comparative handful of people at his graduation ceremony.

Hearing about Jeremy was a reminder to me that the increasing secularization of schools and other state-run organizations has real consequences for Christians. Most frightening is that religious expression is coming to be viewed as second-class speech. Think about it. Valedictorians across America this year were able to give self-exalting, arrogant speeches praising their own intelligence and hard work without anyone worrying they’d “offend” someone in the crowd. (We’ve all suffered through such speeches and know how distasteful they can be.) But to thank God and publicly attribute success to “a religious figure”? That was considered somehow lesser and therefore forbidden. Amazing.

It also made me think about how Christians react when Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. want to exercise their freedom of expression — we are (often rightly) accused of taking offense too easily at non-Christian demonstrations of religious sentiment. Perhaps it’s time for the Christian community to develop a tougher skin in this area. The minute we view others’ religious speech as second class, we give philosophical ground to those who would relegate our religious speech to sub-societal realms. Unless we’re prepared to retreat into the catacombs, we need to affirm the 1st Amendment’s guarantee to Americans of every creed.

And for my part, I’d be more “offended” to hear a narcissistic valedictorian praising himself than to hear a Muslim valedictorian praising Allah any day of the week.

In a recent CT column, David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, writes, “I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call “stewardship” are basically the same thing.” That’s precisely why Acton prefers the term “environmental stewardship” to “creation care.”

But this connection between stewardship and care for the environment means something else too. Gushee concludes that “economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.”

I’ve made that argument here, “Stewardship and Economics: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” where I contend, “If we hold a biblical view of economics and stewardship, we will not be tempted to divorce the two concepts but instead will see them as united.”

Gushee may find, however, that as his realization of the connection between responsible stewardship and sound economics really sinks in, the positions of the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network are in need of some modifications…such that “when economics tells us that there are much more imminent threats and opportunities than global warming, the proper approach to Christian stewardship is to heed these priorities and work to effect changes in the most pressing areas.”

Related: “Study: Organic Farming More Efficient”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor, discusses libertarian attitudes toward war in this OpinionJournal piece (HT: No Left Turns):

While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly.

Barnett notes that “The point of this essay is not to debate the merits of the Iraq war but to inform those who may be unaware that libertarians can come down on either side of this issue.”

See also: “Classical Liberalism, Foreign Policy, and Just War”