Category: Virtue

fireIt doesn’t take much snow to wreak havoc in the Deep South. I remember one time being immediately sent home from high school on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi for the lightest dusting of snow. But yesterday, heavier snow in the Deep South left thousands and thousands of people stranded at schools, work, and on the road. Atlanta, Ga. and Birmingham, Ala. were two metropolitan areas hit hard. Unfortunately, it’s still an ongoing problem. USA Today has great images, video, and a write up on the seriousness of the situation, which has caused at least 12 deaths. Julie McKinney, of AL.Com, has compiled some great tales of good deeds and generosity in the Birmingham area. Here are just a few of the stories McKinney highlighted: 

We were pulled from the ditch twice on 36 right past the senior center by a man with a dually truck. There were 4 wheelers out pulling smaller cars too. It was scary, but so nice to see the true concern for your neighbors, to get out in the cold and rescue people when you could be inside safe and warm. Much appreciated. My church The Connection was helping collect the kids from school and also fed us last night and anyone else who could get there. – Sarah Parish Mccoy via Facebook

My daughter got completely stuck in the ice leaving EBSCO in Mount Laurel. Our #snowangel is Paige Thompson and her family in Highland Park. They took her into their home for the night! Made her dinner and hot chocolate. I can’t thank them enough. — Wayne Rogers

I thought I was going to be spending the night in my car at the Chevron on Old Springville Rd, but a nice man named Herman drove me home! If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be home safe and sound with my family. He went above and beyond and extremely far out of his way to help me. Thank you Herman!!! — Misty Murphy Westover

Stopped in Alabaster…driving a front wheel drive, left my purse at home …no money…I get to the gas station…gentleman offered to pay my gas & something to eat…this is truly my #snowangel! Grateful for blessings such as him! — Naomi Raye Rabago

Read all of the good deeds complied by McKinney here. Even more have been compiled on a Facebook page. And read about Mark Meadows, a Chick-fil-A owner, who saw an “opportunity to help” those stranded in the snow. When it comes to charitable acts and meeting the needs of your neighbor, the citizens of Alabama are well known for rallying to aid those who find themselves in a dangerous or precarious situation. I wrote more extensively about this in “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast.”

washingtonIf the American Founding got one thing right more than anything, it was its commitment to a broad and liberal religious liberty. In 1790, President George Washington told a Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation.”

Currently, the country faces a number of threats to religious liberty and America seems to be squandering its profound moral authority it can offer to a world starving for its example. On the evening of February 4, I’ll address many of these challenges at Acton on Tap in Grand Rapids. The title for the event is “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.” If you are local to the area please join us and be prepared to share your own thoughts and insights.

The weakening of religion of course inevitably leads to more centralization and government. Thus, the American Framers clearly saw the need for a strong religious and moral fabric to guarantee liberty. “The people, who are the source of all lawful authority, are inherently independent of all but the moral law,” declared Thomas Jefferson. The framers were concerned that freedom would break down and become less about restraint and more about license.

It is undeniable that one of the gravest problems we face in this country is a misunderstood and disordered view of liberty that permeates society. Lord Acton put it well when he said liberty is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

While America has dramatically changed over the centuries, I believe the founding period offers a lot of important lessons today. Religious persecution in America was an ongoing problem at that time, and would remain to degrees, but there was a deep desire to avoid the kind of devastation that fomented religious wars in Europe. I’ll address that more at Acton on Tap. One thing is certain, with all the challenges America now faces in regards to surviving as the home for a free people, it’s ludicrous to believe that is possible without a vibrant morality and a championing of religious liberty.

Coolidge In November of 1925, President Calvin Coolidge delivered an address on the topic of the proper relationship between government and business. His audience was the New York State Chamber Commerce. One of Coolidge’s main aims of the speech was to elevate the spiritual value of business.

As president, Coolidge oversaw unprecedented economic expansion and growth, but he also lived through the rise of America’s progressive era and Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. New ideas about government and society had already long been popularized in large segments of America by 1925. Coolidge, who saw himself as a civic educator, articulated a much more traditional and conservative view of American ideals. A common recurrence of his public addresses was to praise the truths and virtues of America’s founding principles. At the very end of this address, Coolidge closed with the line, “The truth and faith and justice of the ancient days have not departed from us.” Below is a poignant excerpt from his 1925 address:

While there has been in the past and will be in the future a considerable effort in this country of different business interests to attempt to run the Government in such a way as to set up a system of privilege, and while there have been and will be those who are constantly seeking to commit the Government to a policy of infringing upon the domain of private business, both of these efforts have been very largely discredited, and with reasonable vigilance on the part of the people to preserve their freedom do not now appear to be dangerous.

When I have been referring to business, I have used the word in its all-inclusive sense to denote alike the employer and employee, the production of agriculture, and industry, the distribution of transportation and commerce, and the service of finance and banking. It is the work of the world. In modern life, with all its intricacies, business has come to hold a very dominant position in the thoughts of all enlightened peoples. Rightly understood, this is not a criticism, but a compliment. In its great economic organization it does not represent, as some have hastily concluded, a mere desire to minister to selfishness. The New York Chamber of Commerce is not made up of men merely animated with a purpose to get the better of each other. It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain. It could not successively succeed on that basis. It is dominated by a more worthy impulse; it rests on a higher law. True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other. While it is not an end in itself, it is the important means for the attainment of a supreme end. It rests squarely on the law of service. It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race.

WhitePrivilegeIn 1988, Peggy McIntosh gave us “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to expand our thinking about the reality that being born white in America means that one is free from a host of pressures and burdens that racial minorities have no choice but to face. In 1989, UCLA Law professor Kimberlé W. Crenshaw coined the phrase “intersectionality” to help us see that American life is best understood from an integrative perspective, emphasizing the intersection of several attributes like gender, race, class, and nation. There is not one aspect of our lives that defines who we are. For nearly 25 years, “white privilege” and “intersectionality” have been standard categories in discussions of race in American life. After reading about these ideas I am wondering why Christians do not use these themes when talking about “racial reconciliation.”

Perhaps the cause of this reticence is that progressives see inequality and privilege as something to be remedied–as something abnormal — whereas a more virtuous understanding of these issues in an imperfect world sees privilege and inequality as a opportunity to practice charity and spread shalom.

Since the release of my book Aliens In The Promise Land in 2013, I am bringing to a close my work on race and evangelicalism. If the goal is to demonstrate that being made in the image of God and having equality in the gospel (Gen 1:26-28; Gal 3:28) has implications for daily life, there needs be a more dynamic discussion beyond “racial reconciliation.” In fact, it seems to me that evangelicals will not make progress on race until the discussion advances integrative concepts like “white privilege” and “intersectionality.” “Racial reconciliation” does not cut deep enough and often ignores the intersections and the roles of class and social power.
(more…)

logogqOne of the most popular blog posts at Gentlemen’s Quarterly Magazine (GQ) in 2013 was a commentary giving men 10 reasons to stop viewing pornography. On GQ’s website the piece registered 24,000 thousand “like” on Facebook in just a few weeks. The popularity of the post could be a signal that Americans really are interested in discussing moral issues and perhaps GQ should take advantage of this opportunity to include more posts that offer moral direction even if some might ultimately disagree.

GQ is at least aware that the virtues that make a man emanate from his heart and not simply his wardrobe, to a certain degree, hence magazine’s motto, “Look Sharp, Live Smart.” Sadly, over the past 2 or 3 generations in America an emphasis on character has lost its role as the chief element of style. You can be a man of impeccable dress, taste, and flare and sabotage it all with unsavory character. In modern America, the symbiotic relationship between style and virtue is too easily poisoned by the cultural production of narcissism and moral relativism.
(more…)

a-cold-morning-on-the-range-frederic-remingtonSeveral years ago, the Catholic intellectual Joseph Bottom observed that American literature has entailed a substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary.”

In other words, we don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes. And these geographical tropes survive well into our own era of indistinguishable shopping malls from Maine to California.

Why did the collective literary imagination take this turn? I suspect it may have something to do with our country’s democratization of civic virtues.

Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen. Not surprisingly, American literature appears to have revived (albeit unconsciously) the citizen virtues of ancient Rome.
(more…)

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Friday, December 13, 2013
By

Today at Ethika Politika, I look at the busyness of the Advent season through the lens of Orthodox Christian asceticism in my essay, “Busyness and Askesis: An Advent Reflection.”

The Advent season in the United States is typically ransacked by shopping, parties, visits with family, and the like. Perhaps worst of all, it can seem impossible to avoid the bombardment of holiday and Christmas-themed advertisement. People work overtime in order to earn a little extra to buy gifts for friends and family (and themselves). The ethos of the season can seem to be emite et labora, buy and work. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to affirm the understandably natural, knee-jerk condemnation of busyness as such.

Drawing upon the story of “difficult Father Nathaniel” from the recent Russian bestseller, Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon, I describe how, though busyness can be a spiritual distraction, “sometimes busyness itself can be askesis.”

I write,

Busyness can be the adversary of Advent, but it need not be. Instead, the Advent season can be a time for us to examine and practice how our busyness itself can be transfigured by the life of the Church, how our worldly work also may be liturgical labor, how when transfigured by the kingdom of God our busyness can also serve the common good.

The story of difficult Father Nathaniel, however, is worth visiting in further detail here as well. Hand in hand with complaints about the busyness of the season come complaints about the business of the season. (more…)

TCC Banner

Dan Clements, an American student studying at the University of Leuven, and I help greet conference attendees

Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”

What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.

The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.

When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”

“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”
(more…)

AOTDid you miss Acton on Tap? You really shouldn’t miss Acton on Tap. That’s a bad idea. For instance, if you missed last night’s event, you passed up an opportunity to hear Jordan J. Ballor, Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality and author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), speak at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the topic of the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism. He focused on Lord’s Days 50, 42, and 38 as the origin, essence, and goal of economic activity, and it was a really worthwhile talk.

But we’re nothing if not forgiving here at Acton, so if you weren’t able to be there, we’re posting the audio of Jordan’s talk below. Enjoy, and watch this space for info on our next Acton on Tap event!

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks on the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism