Posts tagged with: ethics

justpoliticsIn the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty (22.3), I review Just Politics by Ronald Sider (read the full review here). While the book has much to commend it, my review ultimately ends up being critical. I do not believe it succeeds in constructing a solid social framework for Evangelicals comparable to Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, as is its stated goal. I write,

Just Politics may be a guide in the same sense that a field guide to birds can rightly be called a guide, but it does not succeed at being “a methodology”—like, for example, the scientific method—as is its stated goal. Or more to the point, unlike the Roman Catholic framework of subsidiarity, solidarity, and natural law or the neo-Calvinist framework of sphere sovereignty, the antithesis, and common grace, Sider’s framework (Part 3 of the book and the vast majority, nearly 140 pages) resembles more the things one would hang upon a framework than a framework itself.

Among the many things Sider highlights in field-guide-to-birds style (between “Starvation” and “Capital Punishment”) is this peculiarity under the category of the sanctity of human life:

Smoking

Smoking kills an estimated 438,000 Americans every year. Around the world, the death toll from smoking rises to 5 million each year.

The social costs are enormous. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that smoking costs the nation $75.5 billion each year in medical bills and $92 billion in low productivity. Lung cancer snatches fathers and mothers away prematurely.

Given the devastation caused by smoking tobacco, it is especially ironic that senator Jesse Helms, long heralded as one of the great pro-life supporters, strongly supported government funding to send American tobacco to developing countries under our “Food for Peace” program.

Christians must insist that the sanctity of human life applies to everyone, including people seduced by clever cigarette advertising. Christians must work for effective laws that prevent tobacco advertisements, forbid smoking in most public buildings and facilities, and educate the public on the dangers of smoking. American experience over the last thirty years demonstrates that this mix of government programs can reduce smoking and the deaths it causes.

I find the above statement both challenging and confusing. Let me explain…. (more…)

Rick-Warren-PhotoIn response to the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church, has released a statement at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:

…The government has tried to reinterpret the First Amendment from freedom to PRACTICE your religion, to a more narrow freedom to worship, which would limit your freedom to the hour a week you are at a house of worship. This is not only a subversion of the Constitution, it is nonsense. Any religion that cannot be lived out … at home and work, is nothing but a meaningless ritual.

Some flippantly say ‘A business cannot be a Christian’ but the truth is, every business is either moral or immoral, ethical or unethical, depending the values they base their business on. When the government starts coercing businesses to violate their religious, moral, and ethical values, that is a flagrant violation of our Constitution.

I predict that the battle to preserve religious liberty for all, in all areas of life, will likely become the civil rights movement of this decade…Regardless of your faith, you should pay attention to this landmark case, and pray for a clear victory for freedom of conscience.”

Read the full statement here.

Earlier this month I attended the First Kuyper Seminar, “Economics, Christianity & The Crisis: Towards a New Architectonic Critique,” in Amsterdam.

One of the papers presented was from Jan Jorrit Hasselaar, who discussed the inclusion of non-human entities into democratic deliberation in his talk, “Sustainable Development as a Social Question.” I got the impression (this is my analogy, not Hasselaar’s) that there was some need for a kind of tribune (for plants instead of plebeians), who would speak up for the interests of those who could not speak for themselves.

The framing of the issue of the dignity of animals, plants, and the natural environment more broadly connected the integration of these interests into our public discourse as analogous to the civil rights revolutions concerning race and sex in the West over the previous century. The following video makes an argument in similar terms:

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Conservatives should embrace the cause of equality of opportunity, says David Azerrad, not sameness of opportunity.

[W]e must not confuse equality of opportunity with sameness of opportunity. Equality of opportunity is a moral imperative and a requirement of just government. Spending money on programs that aim to expand opportunity for the poor is a charitable pursuit to which some may aspire but which government is not bound to deliver. Justice demands that we uphold the rule of law, secure the rights of all, and oppose any legal barriers to advancement. It does not demand that we ensure that everyone be given all they need to fulfill all their dreams. As a political community, we are obliged to tear down artificial barriers to opportunity and are morally bound to provide a minimum safety net, but we are under no categorical imperative to ensure that all reach their maximum potential. We should not confuse the army’s recruiting slogan with our national motto.

Read more . . .

On Tuesday, the Acton Institute co-sponsored, along with Regent University’s College of Arts & Sciences and School of Divinity, To Fail or To Flourish: Does My Life and Work Really Matter? The purpose of the event was to initiate a conversation on campus on the topic of human flourishing involving students, faculty, staff and administration.

The day started with a session by Dr. Corné Bekker entitled, “Does the Bible Say Anything About Flourishing?” Dr. Bekker leads the Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership Ecclesial Leadership major, teaches in the doctoral programs of the School of Business and Leadership, and is actively involved in research on the use of Biblical hermeneutics and spirituality to explore leadership.
Dr. Bekker examined the question, “What does it mean to be fully alive?” He cited St. Iranaeus’ quote (“the glory of God is man fully alive”) and explained how it is often misquoted and/or misused, oftentimes in the context of flourishing. David Kelsey, in “On Human Flourishing,” says, “Christian theology has a large stake in making it clear that its affirmations about God and God’s ways of relating to human beings underwrite human beings’ flourishing.” Flourishing is not simply being happy or feeling fully alive. Human flourishing must start with Christ Himself. Kevin Cronin in his book Kenosis: Emptying Self and the Path of Christian Service describes three relationships important to flourishing: God and self, others and self, self and self. Dr. Bekker described these three relationships in the remainder of his lecture.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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During the electoral season of 2004, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a provocative essay titled, “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November.” In the essay he writes,

[T]he only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between [X’s] conservatism and [Y’s] liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

Andrew Haines, founder of the Center for Morality in Public Life, helpfully distills the essence of MacIntyre’s argument:

In a nutshell—if I can be free to ‘summarize’ MacIntyre’s (or perhaps better, what I take to be a “purist” Aristotelian) position on the matter—refusal to vote coincides with our basic human responsibility toward fostering virtue. Voting, or any political or moral action for that matter, isn’t primarily about fulfilling codified duties, but rather about freely seeking out what is highest and most perfect. The act of voting, in this case, isn’t something we can assess under a utility-driven approach to social welfare (e.g., sorting out the lesser of two political evils). Instead, voting is a reflection of right reason in action—and because of this, it can only engage positively (i.e., we can only cast an unspoiled ballot) when the intellect is given enough fodder to make an informed judgment.

I despise “utility-driven approaches” to moral issues so I’m sympathetic to the argument. But my moral intuitions also tell me that voting is a duty for Christians in a democratic republic. Am I wrong? How should we respond to MacIntyre’s case for not voting?

Review Essay: “Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?”
John M. Vella, Homiletic & Pastoral Review

Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated.

Conference: “Sister Reformations II: Reformation and Ethics”

The Theological Faculty of the Humboldt University organizes a symposium on Sisterreformations II, Reformations and Ethics, September 13-15, 2012 in Berlin. In the light of the fruitful collaboration between Reformation historians trained in the German and Anglo-Saxon academic traditions during the 2009 Berlin symposium ‘Sister Reformations: The Reformation in Germany and in England’, a second gathering will now take place in 2012 to examine the theme ‘Reformation and Ethics’. For, although all parties in the Sixteenth Century accepted moral renovation as intrinsic to the Christian life, the exact place of ethics in this process, especially in relation to faith, was one of the most disputed points not only between the Reformers and their adversaries but also between the different strands of the Reformation itself. Consequently, this new symposium, jointly planned by the chairs of Reformation History in Berlin and Durham (UK), shall consider the principal ethical and theological questions involved as well as the actual moral decisions and patterns of behaviour associated with the English and German Reformations.

Lecture: “An Occasional Lecture: Capitalism and the Family”
Steven Horwitz, Institute of Economic Affairs

In this talk, Steven Horwitz will argue that the enhanced freedom with respect to family choices that has characterised the modern family and is celebrated by those on the political left, is largely a product of the economic system, market capitalism, which they often reject. At the same time, those on the right who are troubled by these changes in the family, including the demand for same-sex marriage, need to realise that such cultural changes are an inevitable by-product of the economic freedom they claim to celebrate. Steven will argue it is capitalism that is the main driver of the evolution of the western family and the wider array of family structures, which characterises the 21st century, representing an increased cultural freedom brought on by the freedom to engage in capitalist acts between consenting adults and the wealth it brings in its wake.

Book Note: “Theology and Public Philosophy”
Kenneth Grasso and Cecilia Rodriguez Castillo, eds., Theology and Public Philosophy: Four Conversations

This volume brings together eminent theologians, philosophers and political theorists to discuss the relevance of theology and theologically grounded moral reflection to contemporary America’s public life and argument. Avoiding the focus on hot-button issues, shrill polemics, and sloganeering that so often dominate discussions of religion and public life, the contributors address such subjects as how religious understandings have shaped the moral landscape of contemporary culture, the possible contributions of theologically-informed argument to contemporary public life, religious and moral discourse in a pluralistic society, and the proper relationship between religion and culture.

Book Note: “Reckoning With Markets”
James Halteman and Edd S. Noell, Reckoning With Markets: The Role of Moral Reflection in Economics

Undergraduate economics students begin and end their study of economics with the simple claim that economics is value free. Only in a policy role will values and beliefs enter into economic work; there can be little meaningful dialogue by economists about such personal views and opinions. This view, now well over 200 years old, has been challenged by heterodox thinkers in economics, and philosophers and social scientists outside the discipline all along the way. However, much of the debate in modern times has been narrowly focused on philosophical methodological issues on one hand or theological/sectarian concerns on the other. None of this filters down to the typical undergraduate even in advanced courses on the history of economic thought. This book presents the notion that economic thinking cannot escape value judgments at any level and that this understanding has been the dominant view throughout most of history. It shows how, from ancient times, people who thought about economic matters integrated moral reflection into their thinking. Reflecting on the Enlightenment and the birth of economics as a science, Halteman and Noell illustrate the process by which values and beliefs were excluded from economics proper. They also appraise the reader with relevant developments over the last half-century which offer promise of re-integrating moral reflection in economic research.

The new issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality

The Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (15.1) has been posted at www.marketsandmorality.com and should be arriving in print to our subscribers sometime soon in the coming weeks.

In this issue, Jordan Ballor addresses Christian attitudes toward business across confessional lines and throughout history in his editorial. Sam Gregg and Philip Booth respond to Daniel K. Finn’s Controversy contribution from last issue. In further exploration of the convergence (or lack thereof) between libertarian philosophy and Roman Catholic social teaching, Bridget Kratz and Walter Block argue for common ground on the topic of immigration. Charles McDaniel and Marek Tracz-Tryniecki engage the all-too-relevant subject of financial crisis, the former pointing to insights from the Austrian, post-Keynesian, and Distributist schools of thought and the latter in the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville. Edward O’Boyle and Walter Schweidler (translated by Philip Harold) each offer contributions on the subject of human development. Johan van der Vyver examines federal and family barriers to children’s rights. Hunter Baker reflects on social justice, government, and society. Michael D’Emic demonstrates the logical identity of the sixteenth-century, Spanish scholastic Saravia de la Calle’s understanding of just price and modern equilibrium theory. Matthew McCaffrey engages three recent works on the morality of the marketplace in his review essay. We have another installment of our Symposium, offering papers from the Evangelical Theological Society’s Theology of Work and Economics consultation. This issue also has yet another stellar Reviews section (if I do say so myself). And lastly, this issue’s Scholia offers an update and translation (respectively) of two works of the English bishop John Jewel on the moral issue of usury, a selection from his commentary on 1 Thessalonians and some private notes that were written in Latin and never before translated into English.

Needless to say, it’s a full issue.

The release of issue 15.1 means that now content from 14.1 is open access to non-subscribers. Given the current financial climate, I would highly recommend James Alvey’s article “James M. Buchanan on the Ethics of Public Debt and Default.” I would gladly detail the whole contents of this issue as well, but I think I’m out of breath.

My ongoing reflection on the Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins continues with today’s Acton Commentary, “Bread First, Then Ethics.” This piece serves as a sort of follow-up to an earlier commentary, “Secular Scapegoats and ‘The Hunger Games,'” as well as an essay over at First Things I wrote with Todd Steen, “Hope in the Hunger Games.”

In this week’s commentary, I examine the dynamic of what might be understood to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as depicted in the Hunger Games (HT to Hunter Baker for his reference to Maslow). In general, “Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” Or more succinctly: bread first, then ethics.
Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsThis dynamic is captured nicely in a brief dialogue in the film between Katniss and Peeta. Peeta expresses his frustration at their situation: “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I wanna still be me.”

To this Katniss responds bluntly: “I just can’t afford to think like that.” Survival first, then she can worry about making ethical stands or moral gestures. Bread first, then ethics.

In today’s piece, I conclude that “the pagan answer to the question of hope focuses on bread first, and only afterwards (and perhaps never) on spiritual or moral matters.” The situation is a bit more complex than this, however. What we should understand by “first” in this sense is not necessarily temporal, but rather a priority of purpose or significance.

There’s a certain element of truth to something like Maslow’s hierarchy, even if one might quibble with the details. As Bertolt Brecht famously put it, “Erst kommt das Fressen / Dann kommt die Moral,” or “First comes eating, then comes morality.” A church teaching that ignores the physical needs of people, or only on the life to come, is truncated and flawed. Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel makes this point quite well.

Indeed, as the Puritan Richard Baxter observed,

If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.

So seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added as well. Do not allow for material goods to become a distraction, or even an idol, that steals attention away from our focus on “pardon and spiritual blessings.” But don’t let our focus on “spirituality” become otherworldly and disembodied.

The gospel is good news for the whole person, body and soul. What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.

Scientific American has announced that rich people aren’t nice.  In fact, they are less compassionate, more unfair and greedier than poor people. These allegations are based on the findings of two Berkeley psychologists, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner.

There were a number of studies involved, and some significant problems are evident. For instance, Scientific American reports that factors “we know affect compassionate feelings, such as gender [and] ethnicity” were controlled. However, there is no explanation as to how gender or ethnicity affects compassion. Is there one ethnic group that is most compassionate? Is one gender always less compassionate than another?

Another study reportedly manipulated ‘class feeling’:

The researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory. Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves–leaving less behind for the children.

It is unclear as to how participants’ thoughts were measured, or whether or not participants were given some sort of indication of the neediness of the children involved. (Were the kids hungry? Malnourished? Did the kids “need” candy?)

The point of the Scientific American article is this:  ‘…the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor.’ And the assumption is that money made them this way. Even worse is the assumption that the needy and poor are in no way capable of helping themselves; they have to wait until someone comes along and gives them something – anything – to get them out of poverty. Those in need are just the poor kids down the hall without any candy, hoping someone will pass along the leftovers.

Money is not the teacher of morality, compassion, fairness or empathy. Money doesn’t supply a person with cultural or moral formation. We do that – as participants in our own culture, society, religious institutions and  government. Americans value compassion, but we also value hard work, creativity, initiative and personal responsibility. Do we want a culture of compassionate but needy folks awaiting leftover candy, or do want a culture that highlights empathy and self-reliance, partnership with the poor rather than paternalism? A free and virtuous society will be built on the latter.