Today over at Think Christian I explore how Christmas relates to material goods, and specifically how we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).
In the latest edition of his monthly newsletter, Economic Prospect, John Teevan offers three keys to cultivating a flourishing middle class, as excerpted below:
- Income and Jobs: America looks at jobs and incomes alone and can only explain fading middle class by blaming rich people. We can do better than just focus on money. Isn’t life more than your job and what it will buy? …
- Marriage and Family. The middle class would swell and poverty would be decimated if all people were married. The endless single-parent homes are poor almost by definition. It’s practically a rule that you can’t be middle class if you have a child and are not married. Marriage makes it possible to attain other middle class values such as upward mobility, a house…filled with “nice” things, along with pleasant home life, free time, and feeling successful. Whether you ask CNBC’s Larry Kudlow or Rainbow Coalition’s Jesse Jackson they agree: the one thing that would help individuals and the nation with respect to poverty is for most people to get married. Kudlow recently said that, “…marriage gives people a reason to work, a home one hopes is stable, and children for whom two parents feel responsible” (Nov 11,2014 T-U).
- Values and Morals. Middle class morals and values may seem like a quaint topic, but you can’t have a middle class without them. At one time the middle class was divided between blue and white collar jobs. What’s crucial is that (a) both collars valued work for income and also as proof of competence and responsibility. (b) The middle class values education. Literacy was essential in 1900, by 1950 it was a high school degree, and now you need at least an Associate’s Degree to have the education needed for joining the middle class. (c) A sense of civic responsibility is another middle class value so that parents are involved in their children’s schooling, local government, church, and other not-for-profits. Shouting NIMBY at a zoning meeting does not count. (d) Decency. Decency didn’t mean that there was no bad behavior but that bad behavior was not considered the norm; decency was the norm, but no longer. You can have an income of $25,000 or 85,000, but without these values you are not middle class. Why do middle class people tend to be decent, moral, educated and civic? Because it makes a real difference to them and their families.
Echoing some of the key themes of his latest book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, Teevan proceeds to critique the modern tendency to focus only on #1 (income and jobs) to the detriment of family and values/morals.
As Teevan explains, “a robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home”:
We can’t have a middle class just by juicing incomes; it takes middle class values as lived out in families as well. Is this obsolete thinking? The alternative is to wonder if the middle class itself is obsolete. And what if it is? Then the world will be divided into well-educated high income people and all others who do basic service, construction, transportation, retail and manufacturing. One drawback of our high focus on business and economics is that it is accompanied by the idea that ethics and family are secondary or even optional. A robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home.
For more of Teevan’s views on inequality and justice, see his book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, which is now available from Christian’s Library Press, an imprint of the Acton Institute.
The above excerpt is from Teevan’s monthly email, Economic Prospect, which you can subscribe to by sending him a request.
The Education Department has concluded an investigation at Princeton University, and determined that the school violated the Title IX gender equity law in its handling of sexual assault cases.
What did Princeton do wrong?
Part of the problem, says the Education Department, is that the university violated the rights of rape survivors by using a standard of proof for sexual assault cases higher than the federally recommended standard, which requires a “preponderance of evidence” for responsibility.
At this point you may be thinking, “Wait, I thought the standard of evidence for crimes was ‘reasonable doubt’?” That is indeed the standard. But that is only if you treat sexual assaults as crimes. And as Ashe Schow notes, “Rape and sexual assault are crimes, unless they occur on college campuses.”
Then, the federal government believes untrained college administrators only need to be 50.01 percent sure that an accuser is more believable than the accused to brand a student as a rapist for life.
In a federal probe of Princeton University, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights faulted the Ivy League university for violating the federally recommended standard of proof for cases of rape and sexual assault. Read that again: the “recommended” standard of proof, not an actual law.
Princeton was using the “clear and convincing evidence” standard for its proceedings, which is a higher burden of proof than the federally recommended “preponderance of evidence” but not as high as the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If you steal a stack of textbooks at State U., you’ll likely be arrested and face criminal proceedings. If you bash a student over the head with a beer bottle at Commutersville Community College, you can go to prison. So why if you rape or sexually assault a fellow student at an Ivy League school do you face a college administrative hearing?
The fact that such hearings violate both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim should horrify anyone who cares about justice. Why then are serious crimes being adjudicated by the same people who handle charges of plagiarism? Why aren’t colleges and the federal government treating rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses like actual crimes?
In his reflections on art and common grace, Abraham Kuyper affirmed that “the world of beauty that does in fact exist can have originated nowhere else than in the creation of God. The world of beauty was thus conceived by God, determined by his decree, called into being by him, and is maintained by him.” Beauty is, in this deep sense, a creational good, and even though beauty is often pressed into the service of evil, beauty, like all good things, is a creation of God.
During last week’s symposium at Calvin College on common grace and business, Dr. Vahagn Asatryan of Redeemer University College presented on marketing and common grace. To open his paper, Dr. Asatryan used this advertisement. Be sure to watch to the end and pay special attention to the message at the conclusion of the commercial:
Asatryan noted the deep beauty of the story told in this piece, and yet ultimately it depicts a situation that conflicts with God’s will for human social life. In the old days it was referred to as “living in sin.” What might a marketing piece that is more affirming of God’s common grace as reflected in his will for the human institution of marriage look like?
Earlier this month the city of Houston sent out a subpoena to five area pastors demanding to see:
All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.
Houston mayor Annise Parker even appeared to support the measure, saying on her Twitter account, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been criticized recently for its handling of the Ebola cases in the United States, and for its lax suggestions regarding travelers from countries where Ebola is rampant. In today’s City Journal, Heather Mac Donald suggests that the CDC’s lack of leadership has more to do with political correctness in the public health arena and their version of “social justice” than with science.
Science would assert that people make choices that have an effect on their health. For instance, if you have high cholesterol, you will need to cut down on fatty foods. We know we need to exercise daily to maintain a healthy body. If you choose to drink alcohol to excess, it will harm your liver. Mac Donald says that the public health establishment ignores personal responsibility in the name of political correctness. (more…)
Over at The Federalist today, I ruminate on a conversation I overheard at an airport recently. I was an innocent auditor, I assure you. In the words of Sam Gamgee to Gandalf, “I ain’t been droppin’ no eaves sir, honest.”
The conversation had to do with the prices of goods and services on offer at airports. To simply blame (or credit) capitalism with the situation is misleading. As I conclude, “We should try to understand the words people are using, the way they are using them, and the assumptions underlying such uses.” After all, capitalism means different things to different people in different contexts.
At the conclusion of the English translation of Niels Hemmingsen’s The Way of Life (1578) (Latin: Via Vitae) is a series of short prayers. The selection includes one “for the aid of God in the needful businesses of our vocation.” The (modernized) text reads:
“Give me understanding, O Lord, and assist my endeavors, that I may faithfully and diligently perform the works of my vocation, to the glory of your name, the edification of your church, and the commodity of my neighbor.”
Hemmingsen was a significant Danish theologian in the sixteenth century, and a selection of his work on natural law is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Fall issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality. Subscribe today to get your copy when it becomes available.
Last Saturday The Imaginative Conservative published my essay, “Let’s Get Back to Robbing Peter: The Welfare State and Demographic Decline.”
To add to what I say there, it should be a far more pressing concern to conscientious citizens that the US national debt has risen from $13 trillion in 2010 to nearly $18 trillion today. That is an increase of $5 trillion in just four years, or a nearly 40 percent increase. It is becoming more and more clear that, at our current rate, our nation’s entitlement programs represent the injustice that people today feel entitled to spend the tax dollars of tomorrow on benefits that we cannot realistically continue to afford. John Barnes wrote in 2010 that “the total value of all debt and unfunded promises made by the U.S. government is $61.9 trillion over the next 75 years.” I don’t know how much that figure has changed in the last four years, but I doubt it has shrunk, to put it lightly.
As any student of the Old Testament should know, God is very concerned about each generation leaving a proper inheritance to the next (cf. Numbers 27:8-11). No doubt many readers in their private lives have made provisions for their children after they pass. But as a nation, we are doing the reverse: paying for our provision today with the resources of tomorrow.
The German economist Wilhelm Röpke, commenting on the expansion of European welfare states in 1958, wrote, “To let someone else foot the bill is, in fact, the general characteristic of the welfare state and, on closer inspection, its very essence.” While he did not argue that, therefore, such state assistance should in all cases be stopped, he put the question in sober terms: “[T]he welfare state is an evil the same as each and every restriction of freedom. The only question on which opinions may still differ is whether and to what extent it is a necessary evil.”
In the interest of carrying on that same sobriety of analysis, I believe the picture is far bleaker today. Röpke, in the title to the essay quoted, characterized the welfare state as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But Sts. Peter and Paul were contemporaries. If only we would simply rob our peers! Then we could have a lively discussion regarding “whether and to what extent” such robbery is “a necessary evil.” Instead, it is our children and grandchildren who must “foot the bill.” Yet on our current course, when the time comes to pay up there will be much less welfare available to them.
Mike singled out Hollywood as a particularly egregious offender:
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?
Mike’s a great breaker of idols, whether they’re “Follow your passion,” “Do what you love,” or “Work smarter, not harder.” And while I generally concur with the thrust of Mike’s commentary here, I have noted in the past a Hollywood exception that proves the rule. Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech at last year’s Teen Choice Awards was remarkable in this regard. In Get Your Hands Dirty, I explore the wisdom in Mike’s approach, and I’ve also written about the fundamental coherence of perspective shared by Mike Rowe and Chris Ashton Kutcher (a coherence Mike himself recognized).
Like most slogans, “Follow your passion!” can lead to extremes. As I’ve argued along these lines elsewhere, true vocational discernment requires a bit of triangulation. It’s not just about you and your passion, and it’s not just about others and their wants. It is also about God and his plans for you.
And although I missed the premiere, I’m looking forward to checking out Mike’s latest effort, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”