As against pivotal moments in the story of human accomplishment, does today’s America, for instance, look more like Britain blooming at the end of the 18th century or like France fading at the end of the 19th century? If the latter, are there idiosyncratic features of the American situation that can override what seem to be longer-run tendencies?
The author of Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, Murray amassed data from virtually all of human history, across cultures and in vast categories of human endeavor. He believes that there are patterns to innovation, creativity and advancement, and that certain cultural standards support and encourage this, while others degrade it. Murray makes the case that America is floundering, if not fading, when it comes to innovation and invention. (more…)
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.
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…)
The wrong way of understanding this insight would be to conclude that what we do on this earth really doesn’t matter. All we have to do is be “faithful,” especially in terms of our mental orientations, and that’s sufficient. But as Gilson would remind us, “Piety is no substitute for technique.” The reality that the world is not ours to save is no excuse for pursuing good irresolutely or amateurishly. (more…)
Such an attitude, worldview, and moral orientation isn’t all that appealing to someone such as myself, particularly when paired with the lovely parental advisory sign located at the counter. Yet I feel no inclination to enlist the muscle of the magistrates to manipulate them toward watering things down. I can consume their chicken blindly (not advisable), take my business elsewhere, or start a delicious chicken shop of my own.
Respond to the market signal with your own market signal. Heed your conscience. Shape and create the culture. Bear witness to the Truth. Etc.
Yet for those like Kirsten Powers, these folks should simply subdue their strident beliefs and get back to plain-old materialistic business. “Most people just want to eat a chicken sandwich,” she might say. “It’s not clear why some chicken shops are so confused about their role here.” Or, as Andy Stanley might put it, “leave gay rights out of it.”
I bring this up simply to re-affirm a point I’ve already made: businesses are culture-making enterprises, whether they or we like it or not. When we detest or disagree with particular cultural outputs of particular cultural enterprises, we should respond with healthy Christianly output, not systemic strong-arming and stifling.
This means maximizing the freedom to shape culture and maximizing it for all. That includes religious freedom for the baker, the florist, and the photographer, just as it includes the ramblings of the supposedly a-religious chicken shop.
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.
Christian’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 awaytwocopies 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.
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.
Though McCracken’s book focuses on just four areas — food, drink, music, and film — his basic framework and the surrounding discussion offers much for Christians to ponder and absorb when it comes to cultural engagement at large.
In an interview with On Call in Culture, McCracken was kind enough to answer some questions on the topic.
Early on, you explain that your book is not about “making culture,” but about “consuming culture well.” Yet you also note how consumption and creation can intersect and overlap. How does our approach to consumption impact our creative output?
In order to be a good creator of culture, one must be a good consumer of it. We will never make great films if we don’t love the greatest films, know the greatest films, and understand why they are great. The best chefs are the ones who love food the most and take the time to consume it well — to pay attention to flavor profiles, to savor tastes that go well together, to understand what cooking methods work and don’t work, etc. The great artists in history didn’t just make their masterpieces from some innate mastery of technique. They studied the masters first and did the work of understanding why one painting or symphony was a masterpiece and why another one wasn’t. They were good consumers before they were good creators. (more…)
Olsen proceeds to offer a lengthy critique of what the GOP thinks working-class whites want to hear, focusing on three key messages that fall short. Reihan Salam does us a nice service by briefly summarizing these points, pairing each with its uncomfortable counterpoint:
While white working class voters aren’t pro-government, they are anxious about their deteriorating labor market position, and so they’re not necessarily inclined to celebrate entrepreneurship and the free market. (more…)
Often many on the political right believe that reform or change in the country is just one election or another president away. Some declare another Ronald Reagan can fix America’s problems, but entirely miss that there may be no culture left to support a president like Reagan. For almost every problem in this nation, there is not a political solution that will make any lasting impact or change for the better. This point is entirely missed by so many during all the political debates and shouting matches today. Politics is becoming a mere distraction from the deeper problems. Washington D.C. is the obvious and best example of this fact.
Today we are living through the dissolution of the greater truths that once permeated Western Culture. We are living through a repaganizing of the West that was transformed and lifted up by Christendom. It’s odd to think about the fact we are living through this very monumental time in history and most people are missing it or unaware of it entirely.
Only spiritual enlightenment and a recovery of these truths can transform society and culture today. The evangelistic and holiness revivals in 18th century England completely reformed an amoral and unjust culture. Many historians have concluded that it alone prevented another bloody revolution in that nation.
Below are excerpted remarks from then Vice President Calvin Coolidge to the New York State Convention of the Y.M.C.A. in Albany, New York in 1923. The title of the address is “The Place of Religion in National Life.” There is not a full copy of the address online but you can find it in The Price of Freedom: Speeches and Addresses by Coolidge.
If you follow national politics closely today you may find it odd to hear a political leader speak confidently about universal truths when it comes to government, man, and society. Unfortunately, we don’t normally hear this kind of language from American leaders today. But it’s a valuable reminder of the significance of religious revival if there is going to be any change in the culture, institutions, or government. Coolidge powerfully makes the point that culture drives law and politics. Change and progress ultimately is born in the human heart and does not emanate from the halls or palaces of power.
When we explore the real foundation of our institutions, of their historical development or their logical support, we come very soon to the matter of religious belief. It was the great religious awakening of the sixteenth century that brought about the political awakening of the seventeenth century. The American Revolution was preceded by the great religious revival of the middle of the eighteenth, which had its effect both in England and in the colonies. When the common people turned to the reading of the Bible, as they did in the Netherlands and in England, when they were stirred by a great revival, as they were in the days of the preaching of Edwards and Whitfield, the way was prepared for William, for Cromwell, and for Washington. It was because religion gave the people a new importance and a new glory that demanded a new freedom and a new government. We cannot in our generation reject the cause and retain the same result.
If the institutions they adopted are to survive, if the governments which they founded are to endure, it will be because the people continue to have similar religious beliefs. It is idle to discuss freedom and equality on any other basis. It is useless to expect substantial reforms from any other motive. They cannot be administered from without they must come from within. That is why laws alone are so impotent. To enact or to repeal laws is not to secure reform. It is necessary to take these problems directly to the individual. There will be a proper use of our material prosperity when the individual feels a divine responsibility. There will be a broadening scholarship when the individual feels that science, literature, and history are the revelation of divine truths. There will be obedience to law when the individual feels the government represents a divine authority.
It is these beliefs, these religious convictions, that represent the strength of America, the strength of all civilized society.
This encouraging & enlightening book provides us with the direction to achieve our goals & find fulfillment while maintaining our personal freedom & integrity. Dick DeVos, President of Amway, shows us how the values that make America great can be incorporated into our daily lives.
I share Fr. Robert Barron’s concern about many of the attitudes on display in this Time magazine cover story on “the childfree life.” As Barron writes, much of the problem stems from the basic American attitude toward a life of “having it all.”
Thus, Barron observes, “Whereas in one phase of the feminist movement, ‘having it all’ meant that a woman should be able to both pursue a career and raise a family, now it apparently means a relationship and a career without the crushing encumbrance of annoying, expensive, and demanding children.” (more…)