Posts tagged with: Cultural anthropology

ruins kenyaAs a mother of five, there have been times when I was pretty sure “civilized” meant a dinner where no one called a sibling a name, everyone ate with utensils, and whoever got assigned dish duty did it without grumbling. Maybe I was setting my sights a tad low.

Joseph Pearce thoughtfully and concisely tackles the rather large question, “What is civilization?” While Pearce does the obvious (heads to Wikipedia for an answer), it’s clear that “civilization” is more than a complex state that communicates, domesticates both animal and human, and has nice buildings that also have some sort of function. If this is all civilization is, why fight for it? Why bother defending it? Why try to save it?

If those heady thinkers of the Enlightenment had their way, we wouldn’t. You see, even Wikipedia “knows” that “civilization” is simply a construct of the Enlightenment. (more…)

The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political LifeChristian’s Library Press has now released The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life by Hunter Baker, a collection of reflections on the role and relevance of Christianity in our societal systems. You can order your copy here.

Challenging the notion that such systems are inevitably ordered by the “ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy,” Baker reminds us of the role of the church in culture and political life. Rather than simply deferring to and relying on the “internal logic” of various societal spheres, Christians are called to contribute something distinct and transcendent in its arc and aim — whether in business, politics, science, academia, or otherwise.

“The church is the soul of the system,” Baker writes, and springing from that root is a notion of freedom and the good that “transcends our worldly instrumentalities and principalities.”

As Baker explains:

Why not just leave out the church? Why not leave out that Christian particularity that you insist is so important to culture? Why can we not just have the freedom and democracy and ignore the rest? Fine, the faith may have helped us reach this point, but I do not know why we need it now. We have evolved socially and politically.

The simplest answer is to invoke Elton Trueblood’s magnificent metaphor of the cut-flower civilization. A flower grows and becomes beautiful because it is rooted in the ground where it can access the things it needs to live, such as nutrition and water. The roots are life. If you cut the flower at its stem and put it in a vase, it will remain beautiful for a time, but it will die and decay. What was beautiful will be lost. (more…)

hobbylobby1On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, both of which will have a profound impact on the future of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America.

Thus, Hobby Lobby supporters across the country have been invited to offer their prayers in support of the company, and I encourage you to participate. You can help spread the word by changing the avatar on your social media accounts and posting with the hashtag #PrayForHobbyLobby. Although the Court will be hearing arguments tomorrow, I would encourage us to begin our intercession today.

Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission explains:

The government is telling the Hobby Lobby owners, the Green family, that their free exercise rights aren’t relevant because they run a corporation. They’re telling these Anabaptist woodworkers and the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor and ministries of all sorts all over the country that what’s at stake is just the signing of some papers, the payment of some money.

Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress … (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 20, 2013
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Newburgh, ME Piper Mountain Christmas tree farm1

A couple of further points in reply to Micah Mattix’s response on buying Christmas trees, based on his original post here.

1) I think Mattix’s characterization of the buyer as “selfish” goes a bit too far, and is not an accurate characterization of a good deal of market activity. “Self-interested” would be more accurate, and would allow for selfish actors, but would also allow more generally for benevolent actors. For instance, a nun who runs an orphanage has decided that her wards need spiritual as well as material sustenance, and has allotted a portion of the budget to purchase a live Christmas tree. But for every dollar she spends on the tree, one less bowl of gruel will be served. Is she acting selfishly if she gets the best deal on a tree that she can get? She may not be regarding the interests of the seller on the same level as her own (which include the interests of her wards), but it seems to bias the discussion too much to simply describe all the players involved as necessarily selfish. The same would apply mutatis mutandis to the father providing a tree for his family. In fact, buying a Christmas tree is usually a pretty unselfish activity.

2) Related to the above point, and developing it a bit further, certainly the buyer ought view the seller as someone to whom he or she has moral obligations. But to expect the seller to haggle up seems wrong. Perhaps the seller is perpetuating injustice by simply trying to sell trees even at a loss. Perhaps like the poet in Frost’s work they would be better off doing something else with them besides dumping. But they key here is that the buyer and the seller are in the best position to judge for themselves. It should also be noted that the tree seller isn’t just selling a single tree. Earlier sales of higher priced trees may subsidize and offset the costs of selling later trees at a discount. Mattix largely seems to want to argue for conscientious consumption, and I am all in favor of that. Let your conscience be your guide, and let your conscience be informed. But all too often things move beyond this to legislation of some kind of baseline. I realize that Mattix is not arguing for this, but the dangers of a mandated price floor for Christmas trees should be apparent.

3) We do agree “that a market economy is a good system that takes into consideration certain truths about human nature” and we also agree, as Mattix concludes, “that as a buyer price should always be the only determining factor.” I am certainly not defending an ideal of perfect prices. Prices are not perfect, and they are not sacrosanct. But they are often the best device we have for sorting out all of the complex realities that lie behind market transactions. The dynamic of this issue shares similarities with the disputes over fast food as well as, more broadly, the debates over fair trade. Here’s how Victor Claar sums things up, and I’ll close with this thought: “If you purchase ‘fair trade,’ buy it because you like the good or the service. Do not do it out of mere charity. Instead, give generously to charities that you know are effectively working for human rights, development of human and physical capital, and opportunities for the poor to discover increasingly valuable ways to serve others in the global marketplace.” Otherwise you might just be helping perpetuate the poverty-trap of Christmas tree sales.

Common Grace, Abraham Kuyper, Noah-AdamChristian’s Library Press has released the first in its series of English translations of Abraham Kuyper’s most famous work,Common Grace, a three-volume work of practical public theology. This release, Noah-Adam, is the first of three parts in Volume 1: The Historical Section.

To celebrate, CLP will be giving away two copies of the book. To enter, use the interface below. There are three ways to enter, and each will increase your odds. The contest will end Friday night at 11:59 p.m.

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Common Grace Volume 1 Part 1

Common Grace Volume 1 Part 1

Abraham Kuyper’s seminal three-volume work on the doctrine of common grace (De gemeene gratie) presents a constructive public theology of cultural engagement rooted in the humanity Christians share with the rest of the world.

$25.00

Empty marketplaceIn his latest column, Ross Douthat contemplates what a world without work might look like:

Imagine, as 19th-century utopians often did, a society rich enough that fewer and fewer people need to work — a society where leisure becomes universally accessible, where part-time jobs replace the regimented workweek, and where living standards keep rising even though more people have left the work force altogether.

If such a utopia were possible, one might expect that it would be achieved first among the upper classes, and then gradually spread down the social ladder. First the wealthy would work shorter hours, then the middle class, and finally even high school dropouts would be able to sleep late and take four-day weekends and choose their own adventures.” — “to hunt in the morning,” as Karl Marx once prophesied, “fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …”

Yet a widespread decline in work is not just an imaginative possibility. As Douthat goes on to argue, such decline has become “a basic reality of 21st-century American life,“ but without following the typical Marxist trajectory. “Instead of spreading from the top down,” Douthat notes, “leisure time – wanted or unwanted – is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.” Despite our persistent longing for rest and relaxation, however, this trend is not viewed as a positive development for society, even for the folks at Mother Jones.

Further, as Charles Murray explains in his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, our attitudes about work have also begun shifting, again, disproportionally among the lower classes. Pointing to a General Social Survey study that asked participants what they prefer in a job, Murray points out that the leading preference across all income groups during the 1970s was a job that “gives a feeling of accomplishment.” Soon thereafter, beginning in the 1990s, this preference began to shift significantly among the lower classes, who began to put higher preference on jobs with “no danger of being fired” or where “working hours are short.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
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Very often it is difficult to see in any concrete way how our work really means anything at all. The drudgery of the daily routine can be numbing, sometimes literally depending on your working conditions. What is the purpose, the end of our work?

How can we properly value that aspect of our vocations that involve daily work? How can you and I, in the words of the manager in the movie Elf, “make work your favorite”?
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