Recent high-profile examples of the combination of violence and technology, such as “happy-slapping,” bring into sharp focus the need for moral judgment in the marketplace. The social nature of violence and sin mean that “no government, economy, family, or society can survive if a critical mass of citizens do not exercise a particular level of self-government and restraint.”
Rapper and actor Will Smith urged rappers to serve as role models for black communities at the annual BET Awards. "The kids that are making these trends, making these songs, don’t understand the level of effect that black Americans have around the world," Smith said in an interview. "Black Americans are so elevated, it’s almost worship." The gangsta lifestyle is celebrated in black communities for its portrayal of strength, Smith said. "That’s the image of survivors. The dude that sells the drugs or has the guns or is most willing to kill somebody is the dude that has the greatest potential for survival, or at least that’s the perception. So that’s what people strive for."
At the awards, hip-hop artist Kanye West won "Video of the Year" for the hit "Jesus Walks." This raises several issues. For example, what incentives do rappers have to view themselves as role models? Is a "gangsta" rapper really likely to see himself in that role anyway? Are entertainers the best role models for black kids? Are not black entrepreneurs, professors, pastors, teachers, and the like, better role models?
In my years of observing and participating in the legislative process both as a voter and as a legislative aide, I have noted a number of tendencies common to politicians of all political persuasions. High on this list are two items: first, politicians have a deep desire to be seen by their constituents as helpful problem-solvers. If that means bringing the full force of the federal or state government down on an issue that should be solved at the local level, well, so be it. Re-election beckons.
Unfortunately, another common trait of legislators is the fact that they are extremely busy individuals. Between legislative sessions, committee meetings, constituent calls, dealing with the press, district events, fundraising, campaigning, and traveling between all of the above, there simply isn’t much time to spend deeply pondering the probable outcomes of all of the various actions a legislature can take.
As a result, legislative “problem solving” often is relegated to the appropriations process. In other words, well-meaning politicians throw money at perceived problems and needs and hope that the problem goes away.
The end result of such activity is often the opposite of the legislative intent. And it’s not strictly an American problem. In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company, Dr. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute talks about the negative effects on local voluntary organizations when government tries to “help.” (4.3 mb mp3)
AMD is suing Intel, claiming "freedom of choice and the benefits of innovation…are being stolen away in the microprocessor market," says Hector Ruiz, AMD chairman, president and chief executive.
This case raises concerns over at Fast Company Now, as Kevin Ohannessian writes,
I worry that this could start a new trend. Is a competitor trouncing you? Sue him. Do you feel your product is underperforming due to unfair opposition? Take your rival to court. It does seem at times that America is a nation built on litigation, but capitalism is about competition. Such lawsuits should make competition more fair, and not replace it altogether. Let us hope the next year proves this to be the case.
Tort reform policy is an important part of addressing the litigious mind-set of America. Ohannessian’s comment brings out the critically important role of the courts, as arbiters of justice. But they should be arbiters of the last resort, not replacing other structures and spheres of reconciliation.
In Trial by Fury, the latest volume in the Christian Social Thought Series, law professor Ronald J. Rychlak makes the argument that the tort system needs to be oriented to the common good in order to maximize justice. And part of realizing the common good is appreciating the role of essential mediating institutions.
The battle over public displays of the 10 Commandments indicates to me just how much ground Christians have given up in recent years. Radical secularists have attacked any and all public expressions of Christian faith, most often by means of the “T” word (theocracy) and appeals to the “wall of separation.” What Samuel Gregg calls “doctrinaire secularism” is winning.
It has gotten to the point that identifiably or uniquely Christian expressions have been all but expunged from, or at best have become impediments to, public life. So evangelical and other concerned Christians have been reduced to squabbling over generically theistic or broadly religuous symbols. How far the mighty have fallen.
This is essentially a rearguard action. The emphasis placed on the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, perhaps the most representative instance of a generic civil religion, speaks well to this. In the fight over the Decalogue some Christian leaders have attempted to emphasize the historic and legal importance of the code, rather than its explicitly religious nature, in the attempt to keep a place for public religious expression.
The radial secularists have been so successful in their campaign that orthodox and traditional Christianity (“Jesus is Lord”) is no longer a real target or threat. They’ve moved on to mop-up maneuvers, targeting the last bastion of public religious expression: the generic God of American civil religion.
The Detroit News included a statement from me, along with two of their Faith and Policy columnists, reacting to a Washington Post story by Alan Cooperman about cooperation between religious leaders from the political left and right. Here’s my bit:
The Washington Post’s article about the prospects for rapprochement between religious conservatives and liberals gets to the heart of the “cold war” that has existed between these groups for so long. The historic intractability of both sides has led to gridlock, polemic and communication breakdown.
On any number of issues, partisan politicking and loyalty has trumped theological and ecclesiastical unity. And with the increasing politicization of churches, oftentimes prudential policy issues become a new “shibboleth.” Demonization of the religious opposition obscures the agreement of intent that often exists, overemphasizing the discord over how that good intention is to be actualized.
What both sides need to realize is that the political process inherently involves dialogue, debate, give-and-take and compromise. A religious perspective that views the perfect society only as an end-time reality ought to understand and embrace this. For conservatives and liberals, this means recognizing that in politics the perfect is the enemy of the good.
The common ground between religious liberals and conservatives is just that: religion. Religious and theological commitments must remain more important than politics if there is to ever be a measure of accord. This will also ensure religious dialogue in the public square is authentic, prophetic and relevant.
Samuel Gregg, director of Acton’s Center for Academic Research, wrote “One nation under God?” appearing in tomorrow’s The Tablet:
To European eyes, America seems a remarkably united religious country. But the United States is as prey to disputes over secularism as other Western nations.
Rev. Richard Cizik of Viriginia is being hailed as “in the vanguard of a striking new movement: evangelicals prodding President George W Bush to take action on global warming. And his stance cannot easily be dismissed as radical nonsense, as the Green cause is traditionally mocked by the Right.
He is the Washington representative for the National Association of Evangelicals, America’s largest evangelical group. With 30 million members, the NAE is possibly the most powerful voting bloc in the country.”
On the heels of a National Association of Evangelicals call for heavier involvement in politics, the Acton Institute reflected on the role of Christians in politics, and urged caution lest the moral authority of clergy be exploited.
Earlier this year (March 18), Rev. Gerald Zandstra (then director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Stewardship, currently on leave from Acton) was interviewed for a BBC News program about the role of evangelicals in the formation of American public policy. Click here to view video (wmv) of the story, and here to hear the audio (mp3).
From the press release:
A new Web-based resource providing detailed information and evaluation of more than 200 nonprofit organizations in the United States is now available for use by charity managers, philanthropists and the public. The Samaritan Guide, developed by the Acton Institute’s Center for Effective Compassion, is a searchable database composed of applicants for the annual Samaritan Award and has organized the directory according to location and area of service.
The guide focuses exclusively on U.S. charities that accept little or no government funding and are geared toward serving individuals. These organizations are rated on program results and how they are achieved, with detailed examinations of such things as the integration of faith into services and programs.
The Samaritan Guide is intended both as an information tool and an improvement program for charities rather than just a simple rating system, said Karen Woods, Director of the Center for Effective Compassion. “Poverty and neighborhood needs are complex issues requiring a multidimensional approach,” she said. “Another unusual aspect of the guide is that it provides a level playing field for charities of all sizes. Charities with $10,000 annual budgets that serve two people are just as able to receive strong ratings as charities with multi-million dollar budgets, serving thousands.”
The Center for Effective Compassion is accepting applications for the 2005 Samaritan Award through June 30, 2005. All applicants are entered into the online Samaritan Guide. More information can also be found at www.samaritanguide.org.