Category: Virtue

When divorced from God’s plan,  work is merely labor, a rudderless everyday job.

 Today May 1 is Labor Day in Italy and in virtually all of Europe. Alas, it is hardly festive. There is not much to celebrate here in terms of job growth and wealth creation. Economic figures across this Old and Aging Continent are like proverbial diamonds in the rough: there is much potential for glory, but with a lot of precision cutting and polishing still to do.

Simply read the latest statistical lampoon on European GDP in The Economist on April 14 Taking Europe’s Pulse. With a walking-dead growth of 0.3% in the first quarter of 2015,  nation after European nation is stifled by union strongholds on hiring and firing practices, crony capitalist deals born in Brussels’ backrooms, governments’ insatiable appetite for taxation to prop up bankrupt social welfare programs, and many other politico-economic and cultural tentacles holding back a not so free European Union.

Here in Rome, few are celebrating in an anemic peninsula with 12.70% unemployment and virtually no growth in the last 20-plus years. Absolutely no fist pumps are raised on this day in traditionally leftist Spain (23.78 %), nor in the communist party-run Greece (25.70%), and by no means in the rebuilding nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (43.78%).

Nonetheless today, for good measure, is a public ‘holiday’, whether the economic mood is truly merry or not. At least it is a day to put workers’ worries aside. It is a day to forget about the sorry state of many economies on this extended weekend when Europeans head to the mountains, sea and its many cities of art.


The secular ‘holiday’.


The religious ‘holy day’.









May 1 is also a ‘holy day’, the Catholic Feast of St. Joseph the Worker instituted by Pius XII in 1955 in response to the May Day communist celebrations installed across Europe. Therefore, it is no small coincidence of calendar or etymology. (more…)

??????????????????????????Amidst the hubbub surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the owners of Memories Pizza, a local family-owned restaurant, have been the first to bear the wrath of the latest conformity mob.

We knew they’d come, of course. “They” being fresh off the sport of strong-arming boutique bakeries and shuttering the shop doors of grandmother florists (all in the name of “social justice,” mind you).

The outrage is rather predictable these days, and not just on issues as hot and contentious as this. A company does something we don’t like and we respond not through peaceful discourse or by taking our services elsewhere, but through direct abuse and assault on the party in question (self-righteous tweets included). When Patton Oswalt points out these instincts in defense of an anti-semitic comic, the mob may temper its tone for a season. But alas, there are small businesses to bully, and this is about sexuality, an idol well worth the blood. (more…)

It is commonplace in Christian circles, whether Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, to appeal in public discourse to the inviolable good of human dignity.

Today at Ethika Politika, I seek to answer the question, “What does human dignity look like in real life?” It is fine to talk about it in the abstract, but what does it look like on the job or as a parent?

I write,

Real, flesh-and-blood human persons do not evoke our respect as naturally as an abstract treatise on human dignity might imply. I am reminded of one Peanuts comic in which Linus shouts, “I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!” People, as a general rule, all tend toward some form of nerdery, some weird little obsession — such as sports, video games, philosophy, music, or literature — or at least some personal (usually minor) neurosis, like an aversion to a certain smell or fear of spiders or always having to have the last word.

And, frankly, Linus is right, even if he overstates his case. It is a common if not essential feature of personhood that any given person, with enough exposure, will grow annoying to our unsanctified hearts.


screen_shot_20150330_at_12.32.27_pm.png.CROP.rtstory-large.32.27_pmFormer Oklahoma University student Levi Pettit and his friends did a terrible thing. The frustration and anger at the very racist chant about the lynching of African Americans by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is understandable and justified. However, in light of Levi Pettit’s act of public repentance, our response reveals how we understand a key aspect of Easter. Those who painfully forgive Pettit demonstrate a central pillar of the Passion of Christ whereas those who refuse to forgive Pettit inadvertently render the death and resurrection of Christ meaningless.

Torraine Walker’s op-ed at Huffington Post is a great example of an anti-Easter response to Pettit. Walker says that he is not buying Pettit’s apology. “Why are people of color expected to automatically forgive a racist who hasn’t proven themselves changed? These apologies always feel so fake and inauthentic.” Walker says that Pettit’s response is an example of a “Racial Apology Ritual” because it was manufactured and fake. Walker concludes,

This is a bit second-hand (a source drawing from another source), but I still think the following tidbit on the modern history of clergy and scientific and technological development and discovery in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile is notable:

Knowledge formation, even when theoretical, takes time, some boredom, and the freedom that comes from having another occupation, therefore allowing one to escape the journalistic-style pressure of modern publish-and-perish [sic, probably intentionally] academia to produce cosmetic knowledge, much like the counterfeit watches one buys in Chinatown in New York City, the type that you know is counterfeit although it looks like the real thing. There were two main sources of technical knowledge and innovation  in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the hobbyist and the English rector….

An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time. And, of course, optionality [i.e. freedom from intellectual strictures and the ability to change one’s mind based on new discoveries]. The enlightened amateur, that is. The Reverends Thomas Bayes (as in Bayesian probability) and Thomas [Robert] Malthus (Malthusian overpopulation) are the most famous. But there are many more surprises cataloged in Bill Bryson’s Home, in which the author found ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors. In addition to the previous two giants, I randomly list contributions by country clergymen: Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russel bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garrett invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M. J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more. Note that … the list of visible contribution by hobbyists and doers is most certainly shorter than the real one, as some academic might have appropriated the innovation by his predecessor.



Fr. Matthew Baker

Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.

Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.

The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.

As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)

lincoln-inaugural-addressThe end of the Civil War was five days away when Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865. Yet in his speech, delivered 150 years ago today, Lincoln did not gloat about the impending victory, choosing instead to use the occasion to bring both sides of the conflict together.

As Matthew S. Holland says, the speech reminds us that we must resist the poisonous temptation to see those with whom we disagree as bitter enemies even as we vigorously defend the moral truths that ought to guide our public life:

By the time of his Second Inaugural, Lincoln’s belief in a great human sameness took on an even deeper and theological dimension. Over many years, Lincoln’s early Enlightenment-inspired skepticism and rationalism increasingly gave room to a biblical, if non-denominational, religiosity as intense as any occupant the White House has ever had. By his extensive reading of scripture and long reflection, Lincoln came to conclude that God was both in control of human affairs and ultimately inscrutable by mere mortals. The view that all human beings were plagued with self-interested partialities and limited cognitive horizons produced in Lincoln a generosity toward even his most implacable foes. This also explains why, in such a short speech, and in a context that so lent itself to a Manichean narrative of good versus evil and us versus them, Lincoln employed sixteen references (“all,” “both,” “neither”) that cast the North and the South in almost exactly the same light.

In making his argument argument for mercy and humility, Lincoln’s speech was steeped in biblical language. He was not the first President to consider the place of providence in the life of the nation, notes Daniel Dreisbach, but his speech was “a more nuanced and searching reflection on the role of providence in the affairs of nations.”