Category: Virtue

One of the most profound ironies in our current debates over religious liberty is the Left’s persistent decrying of business as short-sighted and materialistic even as it attempts to prevent the Hobby Lobbys of the world from heeding their consciences and convictions.

Business is about far more than some materialistic bottom line, but this is precisely why we need the protection for religious liberty. If we fail to promote religious liberty for businesses, how can we ever expect the marketplace to contribute to widespread human flourishing — economic, social, spiritual, and otherwise?

In a marvelous talk at AEI’s recent Evangelical Leadership Summit, hosted by Values and Capitalism, Dr. Russell Moore points to precisely this, arguing that we need to cultivate churches, businesses, institutions, and governments whose consciences “are not so malleable that they can be directed simply by the whims of the marketplace or…by government edict.”

Watch the full thing here, which is followed by other insightful speakers, including Brian Grim, whose research on business and religious liberty aptly complements Moore’s thoughts.

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Kid_superhero_muscle12The modern age has introduced many blessings when it comes to child-rearing and child development, offering kids ever more opportunities for education, play, personal development, and social interaction.

Yet as time, leisure, and wealth continue to increase, and as we move farther away from years of excessive and intensive child labor, we ought to be wary of falling into a different sort of lopsided lifestyle — one that over-elevates other goods (e.g. study, practice, play) to the detriment of good old-fashioned labor.

As I’ve written previously, the mundane and sometimes painful duties of day-to-day life have largely vanished from modern childhood, with parents continuing to insulate their children from any activity that might involve risk, pain, or (gasp!) boredom. Given our own newfound conveniences and pleasures, we adults suffer from this same insulation and pleasure-seeking, but especially when it comes to our kids, who are entering this peculiar world in a unique stage of development, we ought to be especially attentive of the formative fruits of productive labor.

When it comes to the cultivation of character and the human imagination, what do we lose in a world wherein work, service, and sacrifice have been largely replaced by superficial pleasures and one-dimensional modes of formation? What do we lose if our children learn only to play hard or study well, without also encountering a long day’s toil on a routine basis? (more…)

AnomalyWith Lecrae’s Anomaly album claiming number the one spot on Billboard’s Top 200, the rapper has come under fire for his recent comments about the inconsistency of those who rightly protest police abuse yet do not protest forms of rap music that glorify violence in general. The critique comes, in part, because some people believe that to call blacks living on the margins of society to moral virtue, in the midst of their protests about injustice, is “blaming the victim.” However, when we pay close attention to the Judeo-Christian tradition, what Lecrae’s comments represent is a model of a prophetic witness, a witness that speaks the whole truth to error and sin.

Lecrae is a highly skilled and creative rapper whose music has developed in recent years to contain the type of poetry that we might find in the wisdom (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and prophetic (Isaiah, Amos) literature of the Bible. Lane Whitaker over at Billboard.com reports Lecrae’s comments on the Mike Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri:
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morechickenS. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, died on Monday at the age of 93. He once said, “We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed.” Extremely profitable and popular, Chick-Fil-A has given $68 million to charity since its founding.

Cathy was a master at forging relationships and he noted in his book Eat More Chikin: Inspire More People, “Courtesy is cheap, but it pays great dividends.” The profits of Chick-Fil-A and its customer loyalty testify to Cathy’s successful life and business principles. Customers love Chick-Fil-A not just because of the quality and affordable food but because there is often a noticeable difference on how they are treated compared to rival establishments. The core statement of Cathy’s business is a simple one: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick- fil-A.”

Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sunday, bypassing lucrative Sunday sales to honor the Sabbath. He told The Atlanta Journal Constitution, “It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed.”

In his book Eat Mor Chikin, Cathy discusses the power of giving:

Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, or our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return. That’s why I am so thankful that the Lord brought foster children into my life – truly needy individuals who need love more than money, and who appreciate smiles and hugs as much as popcorn and ice cream.

Unexpected opportunities almost always carry with them the chance to be a faithful steward and to influence others positively. These were the lessons I began to learn in childhood from my mother, my siblings, and others around me who cared enough to teach me.

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French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (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.

MyWayYourWayI recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”
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Bellow BiographyI’m slowly working my way through James Atlas’ biography of Saul Bellow, and I came to the section where Saul Bellow returns to his birthplace in Lachine, Quebec, for the dedication of the municipal library in his name. At the dedication he gave a speech, which includes this section:

I am here as a kind of testimony to the fact that it’s possible for a child from Lachine to do some things which have been called—not by me but by others—extraordinary. It also fits very well with my own resistance to that deterministic philosophy that tells you that the place that you come from makes you absolutely; it does not. The human soul has its own way to declare its own freedom and to develop itself in its own way, and it is not true to say: “Show me where you came from and I’ll tell you what you are.” That’s not the way things really are; we are people capable of freedom, and some of us are even willing to take chances for the sake of freedom: I see the thing that way. It is not necessary to be fully determined by one’s surroundings. Your mind and your spirit have their own liberty, and each individual should be loyal to that.

Stirring stuff, that.

But lest anyone misunderstand and think that Bellow was advocating merely a libertine individualism, we might consult the conclusion of his novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which as Myron Magnet writes, includes the connection between the freedom and the moral nature of the human soul. Thus, writes Magnet:

From page one of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Bellow himself insists that, beyond the explanations we construct through Enlightenment reason, the soul has “its own natural knowledge.” We all have “a sense of the mystic potency of humankind” and “an inclination to believe in archetypes of goodness. A desire for virtue was no accident.” We all know that we must try “to live with a civil heart. With disinterested charity.” We must live a life “conditioned by other human beings.” We must try to meet the terms of the contract life sets us, as Sammler says in the astonishing affirmation with which Bellow ends his book. “The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. . . . As all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Reading through the German economist Walter Eucken’s work The Foundation of Economics (1951), I came across one of the most helpful charts for economic analysis I have yet to find. In it, Eucken gives every possible form of market in a single table:

Eucken Chart

The Foundation of Economics, p. 158

Eucken adds four qualifications that are important to keep in mind:

  1. “These forms of market are actual forms which have been or are to be found in actual economic life (often blended with one another, and existing alongside the forms of a centrally directed economy). They are not given a priori. They are discovered with their distinguishing characteristics by studying the planning data of those taking part in the market….”
  2. “Under each particular form of market a man can act according to different principles, for example, that of maximum net receipts or that of optimum output….”
  3. “Each of these forms of market can appear in four types: both open, both closed, or closed on either side only.”
  4. “Fixing of prices by the state occupies a special position, since it can follow any form of market and has different effects accordingly…. For example, the significance of coal prices being fixed by the state varies according to whether perfectly competitive, oligopolistic, or monopolistic supply, or some other form of market, exists, or whether both sides of the market are open, or whether the supply side is closed by an investment veto. Governmental price-fixing is to be treated as a variant of the different market forms and not as a special market form of its own.”

So, what does this amount to? (more…)

kid-digging-holeLast Saturday was hot and humid in our corner of the world, and thus, my wife and I quickly decreed a pool day on the front lawn. The kids were ecstatic, particularly our four-year-old boy, who watched and waited anxiously as I got things prepared.

All was eventually set — pool inflated, water filled, toys deployed — but before he could play, I told him he needed to help our neighbor pick up the fallen apples strewn across his lawn.

With energy and anticipation, he ran to grab his “favorite bucket,” and the work quickly commenced. Less than three minutes later, however, his patience wore off.

“This is boring, Daddy,” he complained. “Can I be done now?”

More than anything else, the response was comical. Within mere minutes, this simple, ten-minute task had become a heavy burden he simply could not bear.

But it also signaled something profound about our basic attitudes about work, and how early they begin to form. Our kids are only beginning to edge upon the golden ages of chorehood, but as these situations continue to arise, I’ve become increasingly aware of a peculiar set of challenges faced by parents raising children in a prosperous age.

In a society wherein hard and rough work, or any work for that matter, has become less and less necessary, particularly among youngsters, how might its relative absence alter the long-term character of a nation? What is the role of work and toil in the development and formation of our children, and what might we miss if we fail to embrace, promote, and contextualize it accordingly? In a culture such as ours, increasingly propelled by hedonism, materialism, and a blind allegiance to efficiency and convenience, what risks do we face by ignoring, avoiding, or subverting the “boring” and the “mundane” across all areas of life, and particularly as it relates to work? (more…)