Category: Virtue

Today at Ethika Politika, I review The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha’s Path by Addison Hodges Hart:

Addison Hodges Hart, a retired pastor and university chaplain, offers in The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd a wonderful exercise in comparative religion, examining the common ground that can be found in spiritual practice between Christianity and Buddhism. Hart focuses on the ten ox-herding icons of Zen, originating in China by the master Kakuan and accompanied by his verse and prose commentary. Hart, then, adds his own Christian perspective on the spiritual journey depicted and described by Kakuan, highlighting in the end his emphasis that outer acts of compassion require a prior, inner transformation.

One such person who was inspired by an inner, spiritual conversion not only to “outer acts of compassion” but also to build a freer and more virtuous society was the Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Lord Acton writes in his address “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,”

But in all that I have been able to cite from classical literature, three things are wanting: Representative Government, the emancipation of the slaves, and liberty of conscience. There were, it is true, deliberative assemblies, chosen by the people; and confederate cities, of which, both in Asia and in Europe there were so many Leagues, sent their delegates, to sit in federal councils. But government by an elected parliament was, even in theory, a thing unknown. It is congruous with the nature of Polytheism to admit some measure of toleration. And Socrates, when he avowed that he must obey God rather than the Athenians, and the Stoics, when they set the wise man above the [civil] law, were very near giving utterance to the principle. But it was first proclaimed, and established by enactment, not in polytheistic and philosophical Greece, but in India, by Asoka, the earliest of the Buddhist kings, 250 years before the Birth of Christ.

Tantalizingly, this is all that Acton says about Ashoka (=”Asoka”). Who was he? Why does Acton single him out? (more…)

Lorde LikenessAt Reason Thaddeus Russell argues that Macklemore and Lorde embody a kind of progressive cultural critique of capitalism, captured in the attack on “conspicuous consumption” made famous by Thorstein Veblen. Russell traces the “progressive lineage” of this critique: “Their songs continue a long tradition, rooted in progressivism, of protests against the pleasures of the poor.”

Having never listened to him, I have no opinion about Macklemore. Russell’s piece makes me want to take a moment to hear “Thrift Shop.” But over at Q Ideas today, I argue that in Lorde we find some cultural resources to inoculate us against the corrosive effects of envy.

The Christian tradition has long recognized that the poor can be just as materialistic and greedy as the rich. The poor just don’t usually have the same resources to bring those vices to such “conspicuous” manifestation. And it really is a stewardship problem to spend money on luxury goods when basic necessities are given short shrift.
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coolidge bioCalvin Coolidge’s autobiography was published in 1929, shortly after Coolidge left the White House. He wrote the book in long hand completely by himself. Sales at the time were great but some commentators panned it as being too short and simplistic with little new information or juicy tidbits. In Amity Shlaes’s biography of Coolidge she notes, “Not every reader appreciated its sparse language, but the short book would stand up well to the self-centered narratives other statesmen produced, especially those who relied on dictation and, in their vanity, failed to revise.” Those who read it will find the writing style impressively clear and will easily comprehend the deep well of conservatism which shaped Coolidge’s thought.

Coolidge devoted a number of pages in his autobiography to the positive influence he received from some of his professors at Amherst College. Much of the praise was given to Charles Garman, Coolidge’s favorite professor. Garman, an alumnus of Amherst, was a professor of moral philosophy and metaphysics. Garman also studied theology at Yale and offered a high degree of religious instruction in his courses. He cultivated critical thinking and class discussion. A short overview on the Amherst College website of the Garman years, reads in part: “Garman’s teaching was considered subversive by some for he encouraged his students not to memorize or parrot what they had heard, but to think through the issues for themselves and come to their own conclusions.” In his autobiography, Coolidge said Garman “was one of the most remarkable men,” and he “truly drew men out.” Throughout his life, Coolidge leaves little doubt of the positive influence Garman had in shaping his thought and character. In this excerpt from Coolidge’s autobiography, he describes the spiritual learning that went on inside Garman’s class. It also serves as a pronounced contrast to the kind of instruction that occurs in most contemporary philosophy classes across colleges and universities in America today:
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, March 13, 2014
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liberty-wordcloud“It’s important to talk about liberty, but not in isolation,” says Samuel Gregg, Research Director for the Acton Institute. “Our language should reflect the truth that reason, justice, equality, and virtue make freedom possible.”

At some point, for instance, those in the business of promoting freedom need to engage more precisely what they mean by liberty. After all, modern liberals never stop talking about the subject. Moreover, if the default understanding of freedom in America is reduced to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s mystery clause (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”), then liberty’s meaning will be very difficult to integrate with any substantive commitment to reason. That should worry freedom-lovers, because in the absence of reason we can have no principled objection—as opposed to mere emotional unease—to unjust suppressions of freedom by the sophistical, powerful, or ruthless.

Read more . . .

Christian-EducationOne of the advantages of living in a free society is that parents have multiple options for how they can educate their children, including enrolling them in religious education. Christian education is unique in that teachers can integrate faith and learning in the classroom to unlock academic disciplines from mere materialistic or rational concerns to direct interdependence and collaboration with the providential work of the Triune God in his plan to redeem the entire cosmos.

In light this fact, if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. These four questions wed the goal of the Christian life — namely, to glorify God — with our day-to-day lives in a way that expands the scope of how we think about vocation.
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calvin

Calvin Sr. and Calvin Jr.

In reading Amity Shlaes’ marvelous biography of Calvin Coolidge, I was struck by a brief poem written by Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr., during his father’s stint as vice president to Warren Harding.

Coolidge was having a hard time adapting to life in Washington, ridiculed for a variety of things, and struggling to remain supportive of an administration which, as Shlaes puts it, boasted “a temperament wilder than his own.” As one glimpse into these matters, Coolidge’s close friend, Frank Stearns, had sent him a letter expressing his sympathies. “It makes me a little sick at heart that you should not get more comfort out of your success,” Stearns wrote. A sample of Coolidge’s reply: “I do not think you have any comprehension of what people do to me.”

“The price of their status, having it or lacking it, was becoming clear to all the Coolidges,” Shlaes explains. (more…)

scaliaSpeaking on February 14 at a Chicago event celebrating George Washington’s Birthday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s headline remark was his insistence that Chicago-style pizza is “not pizza.” But Scalia focused heavily on the abysmal state of civic education, which not surprisingly, includes law students as well.

Over at the Liberty Law Blog, Josh Blackman, offers some excellent highlights of Scalia’s words from the event. On the relationship between religion and good government, Scalia declared:

Let me make clear that I am not saying that every good American must believe in God. What I am saying, however, is that it is contrary to our founding principles to insist that government be hostile to religion. Or even to insist, as my court, alas, has done, that government cannot favor religion over non-religion.

It is not a matter of believing that God exists, though personally I believe that. It is a matter of believing, as our founders did, that belief in God is very conducive to a successful republic.

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“The definition of a good job, the meaning of work,” says Mike Rowe, Acton’s favorite blue-collar philosopher of work, “[is] the willingness to see what a lot of people might call a bad job and only see an opportunity.”

Rowe said jobs have been available since 2003, but Americans aren’t defining them as “good.” Meanwhile, employers are desperate for people willing to learn a “useful skill” and work hard.  In a TED talk in 2008, Rowe also talked about the nature of hard work, and how its been unjustifiably degraded in society today.

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differenceOne of my dreams is to meet the person responsible for introducing the charge to young adults to “go out there and make a difference.” Youth and young adults are pressured and challenged to go “make a difference” but making a difference has never been clearly defined or quantified anywhere. For a few years now I have refused to tell my students to “go change the world” or “go make a difference.” Do those phrases really mean anything?

In light of this, I was naturally confused by Neal Samudre’s article over at Relevant Magazine titled “6 Things Holding You Back From Making a Difference.” The six things include comfort, entitlement, apathy, money, time, and yourself. That is, we are often too comfortable with our current circumstances. We often feel like we deserve to have whatever we desire. We lose interest in the things that matter outside of ourselves. We often reduce life to making money. We waste a lot of time. And, finally, we talk ourselves out of getting personally involved in important issues.

Ok, great. I get that. In fact, these are all part of the human condition that keeps us from doing all the regular things Jesus commands, like loving God and loving neighbor. My suspicion, however, is that the main “thing” holding young people back from “making a difference” is that they are being sent out on a mission that has no real meaning or a mission that is solely defined by one’s individual, and likely narcissistic, interpretation.

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Today at Ethika Politika, I take issue with Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue.

The basic idea is that, due to the Enlightenment, we have lost the social conditions — in particular a shared moral and religious narrative — that make virtuous living an intelligible and shared social standard. Thus, MacIntyre claimed, “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” He concludes, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Dreher has done much to popularize this “Benedict Option,” which he defines as “an intentional and thoughtful retreat into narrativity, by which I mean a reclaiming of the church’s story, inculcating commitment to it within the lives of its members, in defiance of the narrative collapse around us.”

There is at least one major problem with this, however. I respond,

Yet as Owen Chadwick noted, it was not until the early ninth century, and that due to strong papal support, that the Rule of St. Benedict became the standard rule in the Frankish Empire. Until that time, the dominant rules were often Celtic, especially the Rule of St. Columbanus, as well as a strong influence from St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, and the fathers of the Egyptian desert.

And the Celts, importantly, were not retreating from the world but rather from Ireland in feats of what they termed “green martyrdom,” missionary exile as ascetic discipline. If Thomas Cahill is even half-right, the Irish played just as much a part in saving civilization as the Benedictines, if not far more so. Far from a retreat, their approach was quite confrontational (as was St. Benedict’s, as Goerke points out).

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Thankfully, we need not wait for a “new and very different” Irish people as the Irish are still with us. Indeed, the equal respect accorded to Roman Catholics in the United States today is the result (in large part, at least) of a hard-won, confrontational battle of Irish immigrants to carve out an equal place in American society for their children and their cultural and religious heritage (see, e.g. Dagger John). Perhaps traditional Christians looking to preserve a moral culture today have more to learn from them.

It might have been better had I written “see, especially, Dagger John,” since his story is one of remarkable social action and spiritual reform, defending the cause of religious liberty and equal rights for Irish Roman Catholic immigrants in the 19th century and emphasizing the vital role of personal responsibility. (more…)