Category: Virtue

stranger-dangerMy mother would be mortified by my behavior.

Since before I could walk she warned me about “stranger danger”: Don’t get into a car with strangers; don’t accept candy from strangers; don’t’ go into a strangers house, etc.

What would she think if she knew I had taken an Uber to an Airbnb?

Growing up in the 1970s parents and teachers drilled into my young brain the idea that the most dangerous people in the world (aside from Commies) were “strangers.” People that you didn’t know were out to do you harm, so just stay away from them. The message took sunk in; I became leery of any interactions with people I didn’t know. Even as an adult I maintained the impression that when I walked out my front door I was entering a low-trust environment.

So it was with some hesitancy that I took my first Uber. But when I did a new world opened up to me. It wasn’t just a ride with a stranger (I had, after all, been in a taxi before) it was an expansion of my “circle of trust.” As economist Tim Hartford says, “One of the underrated achievements of the modern world has been to develop ways to extend the circle of trust by depersonalising it.”
Trusting strangers not only makes my life easier, it makes our country more prosperous. Hartford adds,
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Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

“We see immediately that grace is inseparably connected with nature, that grace and nature belong together.” –Abraham Kuyper

grace-renewsIn their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo offer a robust vision of Christian political engagement, one that neither retreats from the world nor accommodates to its ideological whims.

While many have sought to construct such a vision by trying to align “Christian values” with particular political programs, Ashford and Pappalardo begin by focusing on a more basic theological foundation. Before we even proceed with such questions, we ought to ask ourselves what the Gospel actually implies for all of public life. (more…)

Untitled1Throughout our debates over foreign policy, trade policy, immigration policy, and otherwise, the 2016 election has seen increasing concentrations and divides between nationalism and globalism, each blind in its own way.

Those who promote a (supposedly) “America first” agenda, ignore the impacts to our neighbors across the globe, each created in the image of God and deserving of the same rights and freedoms we enjoy. Meanwhile, the globalists ignore the benefits of local community and national sovereignty, promoting inclusion to the detriment of distinction.

This needn’t be an “either-or” divide, and for the Christian in particular, the choice is particularly ill-suited to our basic theological vision. (more…)

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of The Clark.

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of The Clark.

In a recent article titled “George Washington’s Constitutional Morality,” Samuel Gregg explores the views of the first President on the founding principles and guiding influences of the United States. Gregg identifies three key elements of Washington’s political wishes for the new nation:

Washington identified a distinct set of ideas that he thought should shape what he and others called an “Empire of Liberty”—classical republicanism, eighteenth-century English and Scottish Enlightenment thought, and “above all” Revelation.

Washington, like many of the Founders, had a great deal of admiration for Greek and Roman philosophers and statesmen. In drawing from “Greco-Roman concepts of morality,” he emphasized the importance of good citizenship and virtue in public service. Comments Gregg:

The prevalence of civic virtue among politicians and citizens doesn’t of course guarantee society’s liberty. Nonetheless, Washington clearly doubted whether a republic awash in vice could endure.

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suspensionIn Dothan, Alabama, school officials are meeting to make changes to the Dothan City Schools suspension policies because of disparities between the rates of suspensions between black and white students. Across the American South, these suspension disparities are among the greatest. The terms for how students are punished are largely subjective, and this punishment increasingly falls harder on minority students compared to their white counterparts. An August 2015 report published by the University of Pennsylvania highlighted some of the disparities in punishment and brought to light some of the disproportionate impact these harsh discipline policies have on black students in the Southern states in particular.

The report found that across the country in one academic year there were 1.2 million black students suspended from K-12 schools. More than half of these suspensions occurred in Southern states (55 percent). Southern school districts also accounted for half of the expulsions of black students in the nation. Overall black students were punished at disproportionately high levels across Southern school districts. In 84 school districts black students accounted for 100 percent of all suspensions, and in 181 districts black students accounted for 100 percent of expulsions. Those numbers only represent the districts where all of the harsh discipline was entirely directed at black students — in hundreds of other districts punishment was directed towards black students 50 or 75 percent of the time.
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tyson-chambers1“Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.” –Whittaker Chambers

The vain self-confidence of high-minded planners and politicians has caused great harm throughout human history, much of it done in the name of “reason” and “science” and “progress.” In an information age such as ours, the technocratic temptation is stronger than ever.

As the Tower of Babel confirms, we have always had a disposition to think we can know more than we can know, and can construct beyond what we can construct. “Let us build ourselves a tower with its top in the heavens. Let us make a name for ourselves.”

America was wise to begin its project with active constraints against age-old conceits, but we have not been without our regimes of busybody bureaucrats seeking to plan their way to enlightened equilibrium and social utopia.

Such attitudes emerge across a range of specialties, but a recent proposition by popular scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson captures the essence rather well.

Thomas Sowell is fond of saying that “the most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best,” and for Tyson, his preferred pool of “evidence” hustlers offer a very basic answer. (more…)