This past Friday, I attended the Sophia Institute annual conference. I am a fellow of Sophia and presented a short paper there on Orthodox Christian monastic enterprise. The theme of the conference this year was “Monasticism, Asceticism and Holiness in the Eastern Orthodox World.” In addition to my paper, the subjects of the keynote addresses may interest readers of the PowerBlog. (more…)
Anne got her best friend, Diana, drunk. Sick-drunk. Neither was old enough to drink, and Anne didn’t really mean to, but…there it was. Diana’s mother was horrified, and forbade the friendship to go on. Anne was crushed. She really had made a mistake: what she thought was a cordial was wine. It was a hard lesson.
If you ever read Anne of Green Gables, you know this story. Things get set aright – partly by the adults, and partly by Anne. She learned a very hard lesson – and so did I. Anne’s mistake and her tenacity in fighting for the friendship gave me much food for thought, in a book I’ve read time and again since my childhood.
Someone should tell university administrators and educators that their primary purpose is to guarantee that graduates will have better incomes than those who are not fortunate enough to attend college. In addition, colleges and universities are now, it seems, supposed to be places where everyone equally becomes one of the “Joneses.”
In an article titled, “Rethinking the Rise of Inequality“, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times writes that college education is about solving the income disparity problem. Porter opens the story with this odd statement: “Many Americans have come to doubt the proposition that college delivers a path to prosperity.” What? Is that what college is about? Making people prosperous? What college has making graduates prosperous as its mission? Why would anyone go to college just to become economically “prosperous”?
Are colleges off the target then? Are they missing their new true calling? The mission of Brown University is “to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” Clemson University states, “Our primary purpose is educating undergraduate and graduate students to think deeply about and engage in the social, scientific, economic, and professional challenges of our times. The foundation of this mission is the generation, preservation, communication, and application of knowledge.” Fort Lewis College (Colorado), says that its mission is to offer “accessible, high quality, baccalaureate liberal arts education to a diverse student population, preparing citizens for the common good in an increasingly complex world.”
Do these colleges, and many others, simply not get it? It seems that these schools are primarily interested in student learning and the formation of good citizens, so when did college reduce to being a means of addressing “income inequality”?
For over twenty years I’ve spent (or wasted, as my wife would say) countless hours playing Civilization, Meier’s award-winning strategy game. Every time I play the game I enter an almost trance-like state of complete immersion. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what I’m experiencing in that moment is known as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes the mental state of flow as,
being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow:
Although Ballor’s book is very accessible, the reading is by no means “light.” I would call it “engaging heavy reading.” While the concepts are clear and the analogies riveting, Ballor has a way of putting so much into a sentence that it can take some time to work through his ideas. I found myself time and time again putting the book down for a few minutes to digest a thought, or re-reading a paragraph to make sure I followed the contours of his thought. There is a lot here, and it is thought provoking. Whether one agrees with all of Ballor’s ideas or not, he offers clarifying insights into many aspects of Christian social thought and action. Even where I disagreed with Ballor, I found his writing helpful for articulating my own positions.
A few basic assumptions underlie Ballor’s work, assumptions that would not surprise anyone familiar with Christian tradition. Central to Ballor’s thesis is the fact that human beings are created in the imago dei, the image of God. Like God, we are naturally oriented to love. Like God, we are naturally creative and industrious. Like God, we are naturally inclined to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Of course, because of the fall of humanity into sin, these naturally inclinations and orientations have been corrupted and twisted by evil. Nevertheless, there remains a natural order of things, inherent in creation and revealed in Scripture, towards which we as responsible human persons ought to strive: love for our neighbor, care for creation, industry, community, procreation, responsible use of resources (in all senses), and mutual recognition and respect of one another’s humanity.
One particularly poignant theme that Ballor strikes home again and again in the book is the nature of human beings as social persons in community, and the corresponding responsibility that we have to that community, which always was, but increasingly (and obviously) is global.
I had the opportunity today to take part in a discussion on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the recent suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limbu, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known in the German press as the “bishop of bling.” He is under investigation regarding expenditures of 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served, in part, as his residence. This story (which can be read here) served as a springboard for the broader question: Should religious leaders live a modest life?
One point I wish had been examined a little more (though it is briefly mentioned at the end) is that of redemption. Much was said of how one needs to handle one’s wealth well, but little was said of what hope there may be for someone who has misused their wealth or even who may simply be overly attached to it. While Christ warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he continues to condition this statement by saying, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:25, 27). As St. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) — rich in holiness and virtue, heavenly treasures that do not wear out.
Listen to the interview at BBC World Service here.
In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, billionaire Stan Druckenmiller discusses his recent university tour sounding the alarm on intergenerational theft. The article paraphrases his case:
[W]hile today’s 65-year-olds will receive on average net lifetime benefits of $327,400, children born now will suffer net lifetime losses of $420,600 as they struggle to pay the bills of aging Americans.
It goes on:
When the former money manager visited Stanford University, the audience included older folks as well as students. Some of the oldsters questioned why many of his dire forecasts assume that federal tax collections will stay at their traditional 18.5% of GDP. They asked why taxes should not rise to fulfill the promises already made.
Mr. Druckenmiller’s response: “Oh, so you’ve paid 18.5% for your 40 years and now you want the next generation of workers to pay 30% to finance your largess?” He added that if 18.5% was “so immoral, why don’t you give back some of your ill-gotten gains of the last 40 years?”
He has a similar argument for those on the left who say entitlements can be fixed with an eventual increase in payroll taxes. “Oh, I see,” he says. “So I get to pay a 12% payroll tax now until I’m 65 and then I don’t pay. But the next generation—instead of me paying 15% or having my benefits slightly reduced—they’re going to pay 17% in 2033. That’s why we’re waiting—so we can shift even more to the future than to now?”
One the best arguments against the growing tentacles of the social assistance welfare state into the lives of people who are suffering is the practice of the Christian practice of adoption and orphan care.
Progressives often charge classical liberals and conservatives as being heartless toward the poor because only progressives are willing to make sacrifices for the poor. Of course, the progressive method is usually to use force to solicit the help. Nevertheless, one of the ways in which Christians have stood out in their respective societies in various countries throughout the world for nearly 2,000 years is by practicing the public virtue of adopting the children that others cannot raise or do not want to raise, and caring for orphans. It is derived from a clear teaching in the book of James: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27, ESV). Adoption is simply an extension of what it means to love God and love neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).
A few days ago, a couple I know told an amazing story of adopting a newborn:
If there is one thing that humans all have in common it is the desire to make meaning out of life and to do so in a community that gives us a sense that we matter to others. We long for connection, love, and validation. We want to know that our life matters now and that we will be missed after this life. In the secularization of Western societies, wherein God has been expunged from the meaning of life, people are left to pursue confirmation of meaning and belonging through temporal, material means, because this life is all there is. This framework, combined with the hidden worldviews of individualism, moral relativism, consumerism, and narcissism, produces a society where people are consumed by a lust for fame and notoriety.
The Fall 2013 Acton On Tap series kicked off at Speak EZ Lounge in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., this evening with Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, who addressed gathered attendees on the lessons our society can learn from the history of Rome. In the interest of speedy delivery, you can listen to the raw audio of Reed’s presentation and the Q&A that followed using the audio player below.
For those not in the know, Acton On Tap is a great little periodic event that the Acton Institute presents in our hometown of Grand Rapids. It’s a free, informal gathering held at a local establishment where you can join us for a cold drink, some good conversation, and a talk on a topic of interest from a variety of interesting people. If you’re in West Michigan, you’re always welcome to join us! We’ll keep you updated as future AOT events are scheduled.