Category: Publications

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
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TriangleIn a remarkable letter last week, noted by Joseph Sunde, Mike Rowe inveighed against the sloganeering that passes for vocational discernment in today’s popular culture.

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.”

exile-supply-pack-how-god-makes-(2)The Acton Institute’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, was released earlier this year, and in the months since, has garnered heaps of praise from a variety of corners, most recently in Christianity Today, where Andy Crouch described it as “Christian popular culture that embodies theological and spiritual maturity—and childlike humility.”

Now, in addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack (which is on sale for only $35), you can expand your FLOW experience with a new Exile Supply Pack, which includes a host of additional resources, books, and tools for hosting or exploring the series with your friends, church, or organization.

The series itself does a fine job of setting up and kicking off a discussion about our role as Christians in the “the now and not yet,” but with these resources, you’ll be equipped with discussion and study guides, additional books on the topic of stewardship and discipleship, and other tools that will serve to promote and enrich that discussion on into the future.

You can order your Exile Supply Pack here. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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City Summer 2014In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.

In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,

We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).

We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….

You can read the full article online here.

And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.

get-your-hands-dirtyIn a review by Micah Watson of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) earlier this year at The Gospel Coalition, Watson described the book as “akin to a social event with heavy hors d’oevres served throughout the evening.”

There were, however, some offerings in this tapestry of tapas, so to speak, that Watson thought deserved an entree presentation. For instance, Watson wonders about distinguishing principle from prudence, a framework that runs throughout the book and broader Christian social thought. What distinguishes, for instance, the biblical view of marriage, abortion, and poverty and the various ways to respect these teachings in practice?

Thus, argues Watson,

Christians must often determine what the genuinely Christian position is in a given context, taking stands on particular issues and even legislation—as they did during the struggle to end racial segregation in the American civil rights movement or in affirming the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Exercising such discernment may or may not require identifying who is in and out of the tent, but it surely requires determining what moral stands constitute authentic Christian witness.

He goes on to observe that “a season of uncomfortable but necessary clarification will be necessary” in today’s world.

I’m happy to add a bit here to that season of clarification, or what might better be called a season of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), a season of searing away the dross from our life and witness, which is just another name for sanctification.

How might this distinction between principle and prudence work out in particular cases?
(more…)

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German, and former journalist for United Press International, covered much of the conflict in Vietnam. He has a new and excellent book titled, Triumph of the Absurd: A Reporter’s Love for the Abandoned People of Vietnam. Siemon-Netto is a Lutheran theologian and his extensive background in journalism and theology gives him tremendous credibility in discussing today’s media and culture, a big part of this R&L interview. I admire him for the relative ease in which he stands for truth, and in my opinion I believe students of Luther’s teachings will see a lot of Luther’s best qualities in Siemon-Netto.

David Urban, an English professor at Calvin College, authored a piece on John Milton, liberty, and virtue for Religion & Liberty. It was of course Milton who stressed the notion that true liberty stems “from real virtue.” A longer version of this article appears in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Mark S. Latkovic reviews The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray and Matthea Brandenburg reviews The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk. The book by Munk, which has received considerable attention, is a thorough examination of the problems with aid and high minded theories for ending poverty in Africa. Writing in Barron’s, William Easterly titled his review “The Arrogance of Good Intentions.”

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik [1906-1986]. Malik drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and served as the president of the thirteenth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Rev. Robert Sirico offers us his thoughts on the need to lighten our burdens and Kris Mauren, our executive director, gives us an update on the Acton capital campaign.

Rousseau Geneve

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Earlier this Spring at The Gospel Coalition I reviewed Moisés Naím’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.

Naím explores in a variety of fields and with a great diversity of examples the way in which, as he puts it, “the powerful are experiencing increasingly greater limits on their power” and “power is becoming more feeble, transient, and constrained.” I think there’s a real sense in which Naím has identified a real phenomenon. Power is becoming more and more diffused.

But as I argue in my TGC review, that’s really only half the story. Naím often has to provide a caveat that in spite of much of the centralization that we see, power really is eroding full stop. My contention, however, is that what we’re really seeing is the eroding of power in civil society, an evacuation of the power and place of mediating institutions, in two directions: toward centralized structures and authorities and toward individuals. The inability to see this leads to conclusions that would only hasten and exacerbate the evacuation of power from such mediating structures.

Some of this echoes what Ross Douthat has been saying recently about individualism, following Nisbet in particular: “In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias.” I take my own proximate inspiration from Röpke and his identification of “enmassment,” but there are certainly resonances with Nisbet as well as older thinkers like Tocqueville.

I should note in response to Douthat’s observation that “from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together,” this dialectic certainly cannot be explained solely in terms of the Reformation, as perhaps Brad Gregory would argue. The role of the Renaissance more generally, and particularly the renewed engagement with the varieties of ancient and pagan philosophy has as much, if not more, to do with the Enlightenment project of the liberated individual constrained by the collective than the Protestant Reformation.

Today’s edition of Prufrock (subscribe here!) notes the forthcoming release of Paul Hammond, Milton and the People (Oxford, July 29):

Who are ‘the people’ in Milton’s writing? They figure prominently in his texts from early youth to late maturity, in his poetry and in his prose works; they are invoked as the sovereign power in the state and have the right to overthrow tyrants; they are also, as God’s chosen people, the guardians of the true Protestant path against those who would corrupt or destroy the Reformation. They are entrusted with the preservation of liberty in both the secular and the spiritual spheres. And yet Milton is uncomfortably aware that the people are rarely sufficiently moral, pure, intelligent, or energetic to discharge those responsibilities which his political theory and his theology would place upon them. When given the freedom to choose, they too often prefer servitude to freedom. Milton and the People traces the twists and turns of Milton’s terminology and rhetoric across the whole range of his writings, in verse and prose, as he grapples with the problem that the people have a calling to which they seem not to be adequate. Indeed, they are often referred to not as ‘the people’ but as ‘the vulgar’, as well as ‘the rude multitude’, ‘the rabble’, and even as ‘scum’. Increasingly his rhetoric imagines that liberty or salvation may lie not with the people but in the hands of a small group or even an individual. An additional thread which runs through this discussion is Milton’s own self-image: as he takes responsibility for defining the vocation of the people, and for analysing the causes of their defection from that high calling, his own role comes under scrutiny both from himself and from his enemies.

In the latest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality, David V. Urban provides a thorough examination of “Liberty, License, and Virtuous Self-Government in John Milton’s Writings.”

A famous representative quote representing Milton’s anthropology of liberty, particularly as expressed in the distinction between liberty and license, comes from his 1649 treatise The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates: “For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.” As Urban writes,

Milton’s understanding of license inevitably includes the idea of abusing freedom to pursue some sort of fleshly indulgence, whereas his concept of genuine liberty focuses on the freedom for the moral person to live a virtuous life and pursue virtuous goals under the strictures of his own conscience in spite of the temptations and roadblocks offered by intemperate persons, stifling custom, or an interfering state. Significantly, Milton’s explicitly Christian ideal of genuine liberty emphasizes the need for virtuous self-government to characterize the truly free individual.

Subscribers can read the rest of Urban’s article now, and if you aren’t a subscriber to JMM, become one today.

JMM_17 1As a new feature for the Journal of Markets & Morality, the folks at Journaltalk have helped us create discussion pages for the editorial and each of the articles of our most recent issue, vol. 17, no. 1 (Spring 2014). The issue is forthcoming in print in the next few weeks but already published online. While all articles require a subscription (or a small fee per article), this issue’s editorial on the state of academic peer review is open access.

Just another reason to sign up for or recommend a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Subscription information can be found here.

Our most recent issue (17.1) can be found here.

And be sure to check out discussions on other articles and publications at Journaltalk here. It looks to be a promising forum for continuing discussion of academic research and scholarship.

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 17, no. 1, has been published online at our website (here). This issue features an array of scholarship on the foundations and fabric of free and virtuous societies, ranging from David VanDrunen’s examination of the market economy and Christian ethics, offering an unique synthesis between pro- and anticapitalist perspectives, to David Urban’s examination of liberty and virtuous self-government in the works of the seventeenth-century English poet John Milton.

In addition to our regular slate of articles and book reviews, our Scholia special feature offers, for the first time ever in print, a selection from the English jurist Matthew Hale’s treatise on natural law. In his introduction, David Sytsma highlights Hale’s importance in the common law tradition:

The legal history of England and the United States of America is commonly recognized as following a unique path distinct from the rest of Europe. Whereas continental European nations followed the Roman civil law (Corpus iuris civilis) compiled by Justinian, England developed its own body of customary law known as common law. Among legal historians of English common law, Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) ranks as one of the most familiar names along with Sir Edward Coke and Sir William Blackstone. After an early career as a lawyer, during which time he served as counsel for the defense at the famous trials of Archbishop Laud in 1643 and Christopher Love in 1651, Hale was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas (1654–1658), and at the Restoration was appointed successively as Chief Baron of the Exchequer (1660–1671) and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (1671–1676). In the judgment of one historian, he was not only “accounted by his contemporaries the most learned lawyer of the age” but was so well received over the course of centuries of scholarship that he is now known as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.”

Given his importance, it is an honor to be able to offer this selection of his work now published for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the editorial for this Spring’s issue, I offer a primer for peer review in the face of a bit of often not-so-honorable etiquette in academia. The Journal of Markets & Morality has added new policies and practices in order to better serve our authors and reviewers and, where possible, minimize instances of misconduct. I write,

It is in light of this practice that the editors of the Journal of Markets & Morality conceived the idea for this peer-review primer. In the course of research, we have also reevaluated and reaffirmed our policy of double-blind peer review for reasons to be detailed herein. Additionally, certain structural issues enable and can even encourage the poor etiquette in question as well as other issues of quality that have come to our attention. In light of all this, we have added a few procedures with the hope of achieving higher quality reviews, streamlining the review process for everyone involved, and discharging our editorial responsibility with regard to maintaining a cordial and professional academic environment.

As is our standard practice, this issue’s editorial is open access (here).

Furthermore, with the publication of our Spring 2014 issue, our Spring 2013 issue (here), which was a theme issue on the subject of integral human development, is now open access.

Subscription information and prices for the Journal of Markets & Morality can be found here.