Posts tagged with: christianity

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, December 26, 2008

One of the most thought-provoking articles I’ve read lately is Robert Louis Wilken’s “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” in the January 2009 issue of First Things. It’s accessible online only to subscribers, but you can find the publication at academic and high-quality municipal libraries and it will be freely available online in a month or two.

Wilken makes so many interesting and informed observations that I don’t know where to start. Among the points to ponder:

“In the long view of history, and especially from a Christian perspective, the Turkish conquest of Asia Minor was of far greater significance” than the Crusades. In the eleventh century, Wilken notes, the population of Asia Minor was virtually 100% Christian; by 1500, it was 92% Muslim.

“Set against the history of Islam, the career of Christianity is marked as much by decline and extinction as it is by growth and triumph.” The missionary impulse in Christianity is strong and its history impressive. But Wilken points out that Christians often view that history selectively and that Islam’s spread is equally impressive and seems at present to be more durable. (On two recent books about the early spread of Islam, see this review.)

Christianity’s fading in so many places undermines precisely those claims on which it prides itself: its catholicity, its capacity to embed itself in any culture, anywhere. “If Christianity continues to decline in Europe,” Wilken cautions, “and becomes a minority religion, its history will appear fragmentary and episodic and its claim to universality further diminished by the shifting patterns of geography.”

“By focusing on what went wrong, on Islamic terrorism, on Wahhabism, or on radical Islamists, we miss ways in which Islam is adapting constructively to a changing world.” The unparalleled success and staying power of Islam, Wilken insists, obligates us to take it more seriously–not merely as a threat, I take him to mean, but as a world view that is immensely powerful and attractive. “If we see Islam as a historical relic, incapable of change and betterment, inimical to reason and science, a form of religion that is disadvantaged in the modern world,” he writes, “we will never grasp the formidable challenge it presents to Christianity.”

For Christians, the article raises some uncomfortable questions. That’s not a bad thing. For its historical insight, for its analysis of the interaction of Christianity and Islam, and for its suggestive glance at the future, it is well worth reading.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, December 4, 2008

In this week’s Acton commentary, I researched and wrote about the danger of speech codes and the limiting of free expression on college campuses. Like many conservatives in an academic atmosphere, I have also lived through the deceit and intimidation of out-of-control ideologues on campus. It has been an issue I have been extremely passionate about since I witnessed and spoke out against administrators trying to squelch free expression while in school myself.

An important reference, and recommended reading for anybody interested in this topic is The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. The authors Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silversgate offer some essential comments:

What remain of the 60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated “progressives” to set everyone else’s moral agenda, and saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.

The authors later add:

The theory of “repressive tolerance,” or, more precisely, its practice of “progressive intolerance,” still governs the extracurricular lives of nearly all of our students. It is easy, however, to identify the vulnerabilities of the bearers of this worst and, at the time, most marginal legacy of the 60s: They loathe the society that they believe should support them generously in their authority over its offspring; they are detached from the values of individual liberty, legal equality, privacy, and the sanctity of conscience toward which Americans essentially are drawn; and, for both those reasons, they cannot bear the light of public scrutiny. Let the sunlight in.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) offered a write up concerning my piece, and since they are the experts, it was nice to receive a positive endorsement from them. The research and action they have put forth on this issue is nothing short of remarkable.

It was an incident at my alma mater, Ole Miss, which ignited a free speech discussion on campus, that brought my attention back to this important issue. I explained in my commentary:

Just last month at the University of Mississippi, the campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian reported that the University Police interrupted a staged reading of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. It was suggested that the readings be moved to a free speech zone or what the university calls “speakers corners.” An English instructor named Griffith Brownlee replied by reading the First Amendment and saying “The whole country is a free speech zone.” Once the university found out it was a department-sanctioned event they called the whole affair “a misunderstanding.” As Brownlee herself pointed out in the article, one suspects the irony of attempting to limit the words of an author who wrote against totalitarian tactics was lost on some school officials.

This week’s Birth of Freedom Video Short features Susan Wise Bauer, author of The History of the Ancient World. She addresses the question, “How did Christian slave owners justify slavery?”, describing how slave owners operated under a false (prescriptive instead of descriptive) understanding of the New Testament’s teaching concerning slavery.




Remember, if you haven’t seen the other 7 video shorts, you can check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Writing a commentary for the United Methodist News Service, J. Richard Peck encourages readers to heed John Wesley’s advice on economic policy. “In short, Wesley called for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products,” says Peck. He notes that the cure for economic troubles relating to the poor was to repress luxury.

While some of Wesley’s economc advice is certainly sound, especially his views on the danger of debt, his understanding of basic economic principles in a free economy is severely limited. Kenneth J. Collins, a premier scholar and admirer of Wesley in fact notes as much in his book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace just how far Wesley actually misses the mark. Collins declares:

Arguing ostensibly from a larger theme of proper stewardship, Wesley posited a “zero sum” world in which the maxim, “if the poor have too little it must because the rich have too much,” by and large ruled the day. As such, not only did he fail to recognize how capitalism actually works in a growing economy, even in a mercantilist one, but also his concern for stewardship, of what he called robbing the poor,” often developed upon such petty matters as the size and shape of women’s bonnets (and he forgets that poor workers often made these accessories) or upon his favorite moral foibles of censure, the consumption of alcohol.

The Theology of John Wesley will be reviewed in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty.

Curiously, Peck also highlights Wesley’s advice for less reliance upon pharmaceuticals. However Peck does not add that Wesley was at war with some healers or physicians in his own time who were taking advantage of the poor with faulty and expensive cures. Wesley published Primitive Physic, or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases in 1747. He generously distributed copies for free for the poor to fight back against those taking advantage of them. In Wesley’s account there are certainly improvements in medical suggestions, and his tips on healthy living are fairly standard even today. Wesley did not pull these cures and suggestions from thin air, much of his tips came from doctors he trusted. Still there were suggestions like rubbing your head with raw onions for curing baldness and holding a live puppy on the abdomen as a recommendation for intestinal obstruction. The point is that we would not take medical advice from Wesley over more advanced modern medicine, nor should we take economic advice from somebody with little economic understanding. It’s important to note that Wesley’s passionate assistance to the poor is certainly an effort to emulate.

The best advice Methodists can take from Wesley is to be rooted in the Good News he so passionately preached and spread across the globe. When United Methodism as a whole fully recaptures Wesley’s chief suggestion to his followers which was to “preach Jesus Christ and him crucified,” his followers will then again be aligned with the ancient truths.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I make the case that persecution of Chinese Christians has increased since the government’s preparation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Freedom House is really leading the way in compiling a wealth of information to substantiate China’s recent crack down on freedom and human rights.

Jimmy Lai, who was featured in The Call of the Entrepreneur, has a great quote on the makeup of China’s moral failings and its relation to the Olympics. I included his words in my commentary. Lai says:

When the Olympic Games begin in Beijing, China will show the world its physical strength, but also its moral poverty. This is unavoidable because the Olympics are more than just a sporting event; they are an expression of the human drive for greatness in all pursuits.

I also cited an excellent piece in The Washington Post titled “Beijing Curbs Religious Rights.” This article offers a more detailed perspective on specific crackdowns by the government on house churches in China’s capital city.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the July/August issue of Touchstone, which features a cover story by Acton research director Sam Gregg, “The European Disunion,” a bit of wisdom is passed along to us by senior editor Anthony Esolen in the magazine’s section, Quodlibet:

If you have a virtuous people, you don’t need quite so many laws, and the laws you do pass will have a lot less to do with restraint than with man’s creative participation in God’s governance of the world.

This statement captures well the sentiments I expressed regarding the relation of Christianity to political freedom, which appear in Kevin Schmiesing’s post, “Freedom and Christianity,” at American Creation.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, July 11, 2008

My commentary from last week (“Christianity and the History of Freedom”) elicited a thoughtful response from a blogger named Jonathan Rowe, who subsequently invited me to join his blog, American Creation. Rowe and his colleagues debate the concept of a “Christian America,” especially focusing on the question of religion and the Founding. If you’re interested in the issues raised by my commentary and by Acton’s film, The Birth of Freedom, you might enjoy American Creation. My first post is a direct rejoinder to Jonathan’s comments.

In his new commentary, Anthony Bradley tells us that there is a “serious disconnect” in the hip hop community that allows rappers to evoke the name of God in thanks while producing music that celebrates evil. Could there be a connection to the declining rate of church attendance in the black community and a shift toward a more “deistic” understanding of Christianity?

Based on a new study released by Radio One and Yankelovich, a Chapel Hill-based research firm Dr. Bradley elaborates:

The new study, the most comprehensive in decades including blacks ranging in age from 13-74, reveals that while 83 percent of blacks call themselves Christians, only 41 percent attend church at least once a week. Even worse, among black men, 47 percent say they are not as religious as their parents (36 percent of black women confess the same).

This disconnect in the hip hop community has resulted in many people claiming to follow God while at the same time promoting evil with their behavior and lyrics. Anthony Bradley takes a deeper look into this startling issue.

In the other new commentary, Kevin Schmiesing looks at the role of faith in history’s long march toward a free society. “The rise of Christianity did not smother the flame of liberty burning brightly in Greece and Rome only to be rekindled as medieval superstition gave way to the benevolent reason of Voltaire, Hume, and Kant,” he writes. “Instead, Christianity took the embers of freedom, flickering dimly in an ancient world characterized by the domination of the weak by the strong, and—slowly and haltingly—fanned it into a blaze that emancipated humanity from its bonds, internal and external.”

Dr. Schmiesing writes about the history of the church as well as its impact today:

In our own day, we find the Church again serving in this capacity. It is the foremost voice defending those whose rights are threatened by neglect or direct attack: religious minorities, vulnerable women and children trapped in slavery, the infirm and the unborn. In education, health care, and family life, religious individuals and organizations resist the tyranny of state aggrandizement.

During this time when liberty is celebrated, Kevin Schmiesing helps to expand our understanding of Christianity’s role in the history of freedom.

Earlier this month “Red Letter Christian” Tony Campolo wrote a blog post for Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog that criticized the American government for not properly taking into account the effect its foreign policy has on fulfilling the Great Commission.

Here’s a bit concerning the Iraq war:

It doesn’t take much for Red Letter Christians to recognize that the hostilities between Muslims and Christians have increased greatly as of late because of certain geopolitical events—particularly as we consider what has been happening in the Holy Land and the consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Mark Tooley of IRD does a thorough job fisking all of the faulty assumptions and oversights in Campolo’s piece.

One of the things Campolo is right about is the victimization of Christians at the hands of militant Muslims in Iraq. He writes,

For the first time in a thousand years, churches in Baghdad are being burned down. The Coptic bishop of Iraq was kidnapped and later found dead. Christians, facing persecution, have fled Iraq by the tens of thousands, so that a Christian community that once numbered more than 1.3 million is now down to 600,000.

The problem is that Campolo is acting as if the proximate cause of Muslim violence against Iraqi Christians is anger at American occupation. As Tooley notes, in the Iraq conflict as in so many other genuine Muslim-Christian conflicts around the world, Campolo fails to see the belligerent militancy of Muslim extremism. Campolo, among others, “can never admit that radical Islam itself is innately violent and spiteful, and would remain so, even if the United States were to curl up and die a quiet death.”

A much more plausible explanation for the suffering of the Iraqi church is that the protections of minority groups, including Sunnis and Christians, that were in place under Saddam Hussein disappeared during and after the invasion, and have not yet been adequately reinstated. As Robin Harris writes, “With other (still smaller) religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Mandaeans, Iraq’s Christians are suffering sustained persecution. While constituting less than 4 percent of the population of Iraq, Christians constitute 40 percent of the refugees leaving the country. Most of these have found refuge in Syria and Jordan, where they are living in utterly degrading conditions.”

The plight of Iraqi Christians in post-invasion Iraq is an important reminder that all government actions, whether domestic or international, have unintended consequences. Again, Robin Harris:

Unfortunately, until now there has been a conspiracy of near-silence. Some in the U.S. administration have been unwilling to have public attention drawn to the problem, for fear it would undermine support for the surge strategy. Other countries — with the notable exception of Germany — do not wish to do so either, for fear that they will be expected to take in more refugees. (Britain has a particularly shameful record in this respect). Meanwhile, diplomatic circles have a politically correct repugnance against any initiative directed towards helping a particular religious group — especially, of course, a Christian one. At an international level, only the pope has called for urgent action to avert the tragedy.

The best thing the U.S. government can do for Christians in Iraq is not to beat a hasty retreat and withdraw, as so many “Red Letter Christians” desire, but rather to acknowledge the unintended consequences of its foreign policy, including the increased persecution of Iraqi Christians. This also means taking responsibility for those unintended consequences. As so many have observed regarding the invasion of Iraq, once you decide to invade a sovereign nation, you take on all kinds of responsibilities for what happens afterwards. This applies in no small measure to the suffering of minority groups, including especially the Christian church in Iraq.

Blog author: berndbergmann
posted by on Thursday, April 24, 2008

In the April 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi focuses on the origins and lessons of the global financial crisis. In a previous article, Gotti Tedeschi argued that the downturn is an opportunity for Italy to reform its economy and cut down on unnecessary public spending.

He now examines what the crisis means for the state of international finance and draws some unusual but noteworthy conclusions. In his view, the principal answer for improving global financial architecture cannot be provided by more government regulation.

Instead, Gotti Tedeschi interprets the crisis as a wake-up call to return to “other rules – older rules which restore the priorities of the banking profession.” These rules of sound economics have been partly eroded by an excessive lowering of interest rates by central banks, inducing other actors to take excessive risks in their financial operations.

The over-stimulation of markets led bankers and business leaders to abandon the path of solid long-term growth in favor of short-term gain: “Too often managers with a poor sense of responsibility have created the illusion of realizing miraculous growth and profitability.” They abandoned the search for “concrete results and above all, long-term sustainability.” His advice is to return “to what is real, responsible and durable.”

He suggests that what is needed is a spiritual refreshment to deepen the understanding of how a successful bank or business is run. This would enable people to resist temporary financial fashions and evaluate real risks and possible gains adequately.

Gotti Tedeschi is in a good position to combine the practical insights of the world of banking with a profound theoretical grasp of business ethics. While he is one of the most well-known bankers in Italy, he has also found the time to write books about the relationship between Christian values and economics.

His advice deserves to be taken seriously. As politicians around the world propose a whole range of new regulation in response to the credit crunch, it must not be forgotten that public authorities provided the markets with cheap money and excessive stimuli. The result was a widely distorted perception of risk and profitability. It would be unfortunate if a period of over-stimulation was followed by a period of over-regulation.