Posts tagged with: culture

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
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I remember when I was a kid and would ask why we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. What about Children’s Day? To which I would receive the inevitable response, “Every day is Children’s Day.” I use the same response now when some smart-alecky kid pipes up with this kind of question.

That may be true, in a sense, but today (Nov. 20) is also “Universal Children’s Day.” This event is a vehicle in part for UN advocacy on behalf of the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the last issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Johan van der Vyver examined the convention, with an eye particularly toward the complications of ratification and implementation in the United States in comparison with that of South Africa, in his piece, “Children’s Rights, Family Values, and Federal Constraints.”

Van der Vyver argues, “There is strong opposition against ratification of the convention from within the ranks of evangelical Christians, based essentially on a perception that the convention undermines family values. However, this article argues that the main obstacle confronting the United States in this regard derives from the constitutional dispensation of federalism.” The basic point, says van der Vyver, is that the autonomy of the family unit is not essentially undermined by the convention, but that the particular polity of the U.S. government and the nature of the process of treaty ratification is what stands in the way of American participation.

As to a classical expression of the place of children within the family and the significance of the family as a social institution, it’s worth noting the recent translation of the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s treatise, The Christian Family. This is a wonderful book, full of insights into the nature of social relationships, the divine institution of the family, and the importance of the family to a free and virtuous society.
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Over at Think Christian I take a look at the looming fiscal “cliff,” which we are being told from every conceivable quarter represents a significant danger to America’s fragile economic recovery:

But apart from the numbers themselves, the framing of the issue by politicians and pundits ought to give us pause. The idea that returning deficit spending to 2008 levels represents a “cliff” is not just political hyperbole. It reveals something deeply broken about not only our political system, but even more of our cultural expectations. As long as we continue to expect politicians to deliver programs and policies that are not sustainable, they will continue to promise them, and what is perhaps even worse, they will continue to try to make good on them, no matter the cost to current and future generations.

Today over at CNN Money, Paul R. La Monica tries to rein in some of the hype (HT: The Transom):

Yes, we all have the fiscal cliff on the brain. Wall Street is anxious. CEOs and labor leaders have headed to Washington to try and convince President Obama that the consequences of falling over the fiscal cliff would be dire. But is the fiscal cliff panic just a wee bit overdone?

La Monica’s answer isn’t an unqualified “yes,” but his piece does give some insights as to some of the political reasons for exaggerating the potential impact of sequestration.

Writing on The Corner over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to the election and, refreshingly, tells us that, “I’m not one of those who, in recent days, have seemed inclined to indulge their inner curmudgeon, apparently convinced that it’s more or less game-over for America and we’re doomed to Euro-serfdom.”

Gregg, author of the soon-to-be-released and available for pre-order Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future (Encounter Books, January 2013), explains why there are, still, important differences between Eurotopia and the United States. For one thing:

… the strength and persistence of private entrepreneurship continues to substantially differentiate America’s economic culture from that of Europe. America remains ahead — and, in some areas, continues to pull ahead — of most of Europe when it comes to private innovation. As noted in a World Bank report earlier this year, the elements that fuel innovation, such as ease in obtaining patents and availability of venture capital, continue (at least for now) to be far stronger in America than in most of Europe.

The same report specified that it is young firms driving innovative growth in America. Among America’s leading innovators in the Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, more than half were created after 1975. They include firms such as eBay, Microsoft, Cisco, Amgen, Oracle, Google, and of course Apple. By contrast, only one in five leading innovators in Europe is young. In America, young firms make up an incredible 35 percent of total research and development done by leading innovators. Their European counterparts account for a mere 7 percent in the old continent. That’s great news for America and a major headache for Europe over the long term.

Read “Are We all Europeans Now?” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.

For next spring’s issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, we’ve planned a special issue devoted to the theme “Integral Human Development,” guest edited by Peter Heslam and Manfred Spieker. The deadline for submissions is December 1, a month away as of today. Details about submission procedures can be found on the JMM website. Check out the full CFP at the site as well, and consider the following from Caritas in Veritate:

In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.

This morning at Ethika Politika, I argue that “acting primarily for the sake of national interest in international affairs runs contrary to a nation’s highest ideals.” In particular, I draw on the thought of Vladimir Solovyov, who argued that, morally speaking, national interest alone cannot be the supreme standard of international action since the highest aspirations of each nation (e.g. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”) are claimed to be universal goods. I would here like to explore his critique with reference to the subject of international trade. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 21, 2012
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Book Note: “As If God Existed”
Maurizio Viroli. As if God Existed: Religion and Liberty in the History of Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Religion and liberty are often thought to be mutual enemies: if religion has a natural ally, it is authoritarianism–not republicanism or democracy. But in this book, Maurizio Viroli, a leading historian of republican political thought, challenges this conventional wisdom. He argues that political emancipation and the defense of political liberty have always required the self-sacrifice of people with religious sentiments and a religious devotion to liberty.

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Conference: “Global Commodities: The Material Culture of Early Modern Connections, 1400-1800″

Global History and Culture Centre – University of Warwick – 12-14 December 2012. This International conference held at the Global History and Culture Centre of the University of Warwick seeks to explore how our understanding of early modern global connections changes if we consider the role material culture played in shaping such connections. In what ways did material objects participate in the development of the multiple processes often referred to as ‘globalisation’? How did objects contribute to the construction of such notions as hybridism and cosmopolitanism? What was their role in trade and migration, gifts and diplomacy, encounters and conflict? What kind of geographies did they create in the early modern world? What was their cultural value vis-à-vis their economic value? In short, this conference seeks to explore the ways in which commodities and connections intersected in the early modern world.

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When I watched Eric Metaxas deliver his remarks at this year’s national prayer breakfast, I was awed with the way he challenged the president on the issue of life and religious liberty. His words were wrapped in humor and informed by a powerful history that gave an edge to his remarks.

Metaxas challenged the president and the audience with the witness of historical figures such as William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He invited them to live out their faith and to defend the innocent and our religious freedoms. “Wilberfoce suddenly took the Bible seriously that all of us are created in the image of God, to care for the least of these. You think you’re better than the Germans of that era? You’re not,” said Metaxas. He asked: “Whom do we say is not fully human today?” If you haven’t heard his address it’s well worth your time.

In the new issue of Religion & Liberty, Metaxas defends religious liberty and offers insight into the challenges facing the culture and nation. He will keynote Acton’s Annual Dinner in October of this year.

Three great book reviews can be found in this issue. Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse offers an analysis of Leon Aron’s Road to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991. Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics and Jonathan Witt reviews Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. All three reviews uplift universal truths about God and man, something we are proud of and strive to do in the pages of R&L.

The issue also includes an excerpt titled “Desiccated Christianity” from Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book Defending the Free Market . The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Acton’s good friend Charles W. Colson (1931-2012). Acton had the privilege of conducting the last media interview with Colson. It’s a powerful testimony.

There is more content in the issue and be sure to check out my editor’s notes for additional comments and insight.

One of the most basic forms of entertainment that friends and families share together is playing board games, such as Monopoly or Risk. While we may not realize is how much these games are teach us about economic ideas such as trade or scarcity.

I must confess I’m a bit of a board game snob. I don’t really care for common games like Monopoly as I prefer so-called “designer” games such as the Settlers of Catan or Power Grid. In an article for the Washington Post, Blake Eskin calls Settlers the “board game of our time.”

Eskin explains that Monopoly had an appeal in the depression-era because it allowed poor kids the opportunity to feel rich and successful for a day. He also mentions several of the reasons I do not care for Monopoly: It takes several hours to play; the outcome is too dependent on luck; it can often become clear who is going to win far before the game actually ends, etc. It is also an elimination game, meaning that an early loser can be stuck with nothing to do for hours while their friends finish the game.

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Cranach, autoritrattoDaniel Siedell, Director of Cultural and Theological Practice at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a fine review of Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation in the latest issue of Books & Culture.

As Siedell observes, “Ozment liberates Cranach from the confines of art history by offering a broader cultural framework within which to evaluate Cranach’s historical significance.”

One of the merits of Ozment’s study is that he thus situates Cranach in the context of his position in the royal court of Frederick the Wise:

His duties included decorating the Elector’s castles, designing and painting festival tents and uniforms, documenting hunting trips and his extensive relic collection, as well as making cake molds for birthday parties. This kind of workshop production has struck art historians as unbecoming of a fine artist.

Indeed, there is much in the modern approach to art that disdains such worldly and workaday considerations. As Siedell writes, noting a piece on the entrepreneurial aspects of early modern art, “most artists, especially those working at the highest echelons of culture, are obsessed with getting paid, in part, because at those levels, payment is much more sporadic and asking for it much less becoming.”

Indeed, “Art does not exist without some kind of market. The task of any artist is to find—or create—it, yet art historians have been slow to accept the market as a defining feature of artistic practice.”

As for the theological and religious aspects of his life and work,

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

For more on Ozment’s book on Cranach as well as more generally on the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and its relevance for today, check out the eponymous blog of Gene Edward Veith.

And for more on art, culture, and the Christian calling, check out Abraham Kuyper’s newly-translated work on common grace in science and art, Wisdom & Wonder (also reviewed in the latest issue of Books & Culture).