Category: Virtue

lanterns1Given the many warnings about the “crisis of Christianity,” the inevitable rise of secularization, and the decline of our public witness (etc.), it may not be all that surprising that the most popular verse of 2014 focuses on the key tension the underlies it all.

According to data compiled by YouVersion, the popular Bible app, that verse is none other than Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This peculiar position has confounded Christians since the beginning, and serves as the primary focus in Acton’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to live and engage and create and exchange in our current state of exile? Beyond simply getting a free ticket to heaven, what is our salvation actually for in the here and now?

We can respond to this in a variety of ways, and as Evan Koons notes early on in the series, the more common tendency is to resort to three faulty strategies: fortification (“hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, whatevs”).

Each stems from its own set of errors, but all tie in some way to an undue divorce or clumsy conflation of the “sacred” and the “secular.” We embrace one to the detriment of the other, falling prey to our own humanistic imaginations, and in the end, leaning on the very “ways of the world” we are seeking to avoid. We hide; we coerce; we blend in. We embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method.

Yet God has called us to a more mysterious obedience: to hear and heed his voice, to conform to his will and purposes, and in turn, to serve and spread the love of God in all areas. To seek the good of our neighbors, the flourishing of our cities, and the prospering of the nations across all spheres and through all “modes of operation”: our work, families, education, creativity, political involvement, and so on. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 19, 2015
By

Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.

At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.

As King puts it,

It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.

MLK UCLA
(more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
By

Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.

(more…)

money-heartI think it is important to keep in mind that it is not the world of economics that is critical to human life on earth. When I left the field of economics for what I still believe to be a more important life agenda, it was because I regarded economics as driving cross-country at 80 mph with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror.

We do, in fact, live in a world defined by economic and political realities, just as a fish lives in water. But that economic world has existed for less than 300 years and it will not last forever. When we talk of poverty or the benefits of living above poverty, it’s easy to think that the miseries of poverty are true miseries. But that misery is often only the economic part of the story. Poverty of mind, of person, and, worst, of soul are the true poverties. Comfortable affluence addresses the less important parts of being human.

I wrote my book, Integrated Justice and Equality, to rebuke the current supremacy of the trendy idea about income redistribution. But is income really the point of life? If I had not focused on biblical integration, my work would have just been a commentary on economic well-being without an anchor. (more…)

In the latest video from For the Life of the World, Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft expounds on the Economy of Wonder and how it intersects with our stewardship of God’s house.

Hipster head-bobbing is permitted:

There’s beauty everywhere. We just don’t see it…Life is a mystery to be lived continuously, not a problem to be solved suddenly…

In this life, we are so full and foolish that we appreciate only a few of these things, since we have more and more slaves that we have to take care of, and therefore we have less and less time every generation — less and less leisure. Our slaves are not made of flesh and blood anymore, thank God, but they’re made of steel and plastic and computer chips. We are happiest when we play with endlessly fascinating simple things, like the sea or sticks and stones, instead of with expensive computer games that bore us so quickly that we require new ones every month. This is an image of the human condition.

…Everything that exists has some truth, some goodness, and some beauty. Everything is divine revelation. We are creators because we are created in the image of the Creator. We are artists because God is, and it’s because we dimly know this that we weep with both joy and sorrow when we meet someone pulls up the curtain an inch — the curtain that separates the heavenly vision from the earthly.

…How do we use this to save the world? How do you appreciate beauty? You just love it. How do you appreciate goodness? You just love it. How do you find the truth? You love it. Seek and you shall find. Truth, goodness, and beauty. You just do it. It’s like, “How do you love? How do you pray? How do you live?” Just do it.

(more…)

heart-exchangeThe subject of contracts is not particularly romantic, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In some ways, we’ve come to overly ignore, downplay, or disregard contracts. Across the world, we see grandmaster politicians and planners trying to impose various “solutions” with the flicks of their wands, paying little attention to core features like trust and respect for property rights. Here in America, our government is increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or foreclosed Billy and his bank.

In other ways, however, we are excessively contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. We want guarantees to ensure the maximum reward for the minimum amount of work. We want legislation that protects our jobs and locks in our wages and retirement. We want to put in our 40, return to our couches, grab one from the cooler, and say, “that’s that.” We want to give our effort insofar as we receive our due, insulating ourselves from risk, sacrifice, and discomfort wherever possible.  (more…)

solitudeLord Acton famously said that, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Joseph Pearce finds that comfort can play a similar role in our lives and that “absolute comfort corrupts absolutely.” That is why we tend to numb ourselves with distractions, from mood-altering drugs to social media:

Shortly after Odysseus and his men leave Troy, heading home after the interminable siege and ultimate destruction of that City, they land on the island of the Lotus-Eaters. After the horrors of war, with its blood-letting and blood lust, these peaceable folk seem very attractive, at least at first glance. They remind us perhaps of proto-hippies, choosing “peace” and “love” over war and hatred. They certainly seem attractive to Odysseus’ war-weary men who, like disillusioned veterans returning from Vietnam, embrace a lifestyle based on the use of soporific drugs. They desire to be “comfortably numb.” The problem with such a lifestyle choice, as the perennially wise Homer reminds us, is that those who choose it “forget the way home.” The problem is not primarily the drug itself, nor is it the apathy that it induces; the problem is that it distracts us from our ultimate purpose, which is to get home. To reiterate, the problem is not principally the drug, nor the drug-induced torpor; it is the distraction.

This point is made clear when we realize that we can substitute all manner of other things for the Lotus-plant. Other natural and synthetic drugs will spring to mind but so will drug-free addictive pursuits, such as pornography or the obsessive-compulsive way in which many of us engage in social media. The things with which we choose to distract ourselves are variable and therefore in the philosophical sense accidental; the thing which is common to all these multifarious means of distraction is the distraction itself, which is therefore, literally and philosophically, of the essence.

Read more . . .

23692407_BG1To end the 2014 on an incredibly dehumanizing note, CBS aired an episode of Undercover Boss that stirred up protests from all walks of life. Undercover Boss is usually a wonderful program that allows CEOs to see what is happening on the ground in their companies and reward hard workers accordingly. However, this particular episode profiled Doug Guller, the CEO of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, who fired a bartender after she decided not to dehumanize herself by wearing a T-shirt instead of a bikini top on television and “rewarded” another employee for her loyalty by promising to pay for her breast enlargement surgery. (See videos below.)

The episode was so bad that Cosmopolitan released as scathing review saying, “what’s also crazy is that CBS aired all this as if it were good fun and zany reality TV, not horribly misogynistic workplace discrimination.” Writers like Rebecca Rose observed that Guller “has always been totally tone deaf about the sexism he enthusiastically promotes and frankly seems to enjoy having offending people with his business practices.”
(more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
By

nativity1We know how God approached mankind: the surprising incarnation as a baby at Christmas. But how ought we to approach Him? Here is a wide range of 14 ways we often try, along with a benefit for each:

  1. Love the right things and you will find your way home to God
  2. Think the right things and you will know the sovereign God
  3. Believe the right things and you will live at peace
  4. Obey, obey, obey and you will not go to hell
  5. Withdraw from the world and you will know God best
  6. Keep these sacraments and you will be part of the kingdom of God
  7. Feel the right things and you will be blessed in your spirit
  8. Follow these steps and you will prosper
  9. Serve the Lord your God by serving people and you will honor God
  10. Once you have suffered enough you will know God
  11. Meditation is the path to knowing God
  12. Go with the culture and God will go with you
  13. There is no God, but there ought to be one, so I’ll “believe”
  14. We are all God’s children so let’s be nice to everyone

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 19, 2014
By

noun_6905_ccJames K. A. Smith reviews Cass Sunstein’s Valuing Life over at the Comment magazine site. It’s a worthwhile read for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it should move Sunstein’s latest up in the queue.

It seems self-evident that everyone should favor “good” regulation, but the trick is getting some consensus on what defines “good” vs. “bad” regulation. A “people” or “person” centered regulation is a good starting place, perhaps. Or as Smith puts it nicely: “Regulation is made for people, not people for regulation.” Maybe what we need is a personalist revolution in regulation, to say nothing of governance more broadly. A political economy for the people? Yes!

I would insist on some clarifications, though, and note that regulators are often the ones most inclined to get that formula mixed up. Who, after all, will regulate the regulators? (I think the rapper Juvenile asked something like that.) So one distinction I would insist on is that the rule of law is not reducible to or coterminous with the minutiae of regulation. In fact, the latter can often conflict with, rather than support, the former.
(more…)