The 2015 Acton Lecture Series continued on January 29th with a presentation by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks, who delivered a great talk on what really leads to happiness in life. In an era when Americans are finding less and less satisfaction with their nation while enjoying great abundance compared to much of the rest of the world and overall human history, what can we do to regain our confidence in the American enterprise system that has lifted much of the world out of poverty? Brooks explains, and you can hear his explanation via the video player below.
Last Friday at Religion Dispatches, Kara Loewentheil explored the recent story of a Denver bakery that is being “sued for refusing to bake a homophobic cake.” She calls into question the legitimacy of the request:
It’s a snappy inversion of the now-classic example of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies (or florists who refuse to provide flowers, photographers who refuse to photograph the ceremony, etc.). And that’s probably not an accident; if I were a betting woman, I’d bet heavily that a pro-religious-exemption think tank or law firm, like the Becket Fund, had come up with this plan and recruited a plaintiff to set it in motion.
Joe Carter has recently noted this case here at the PowerBlog as well, writing,
Whether the request was serious or a stunt done to make a political point, I find the viewpoint expressed to be loathsome. Assuming the words were indeed “hateful” they should have no association with a symbolic representation of the Christian faith. I also believe Ms. Silva should not be forced to use her creative skills in a way that violates her conscience.
This case is interesting, as Loewentheil put it, as “a snappy inversion of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies.” And to her credit, despite her suspicion that the cake is a lie, she goes on to consider the implications by sharpening the question with a further hypothetical situation:
But what if there was no speech involved, or even no image at all? Just a customer who comes in and says “I want to order a cake to be used at my Church prayer group, where we plan to pray that God will smite anyone in a same-sex marriage or who has had an abortion. We will bless the cake and serve it in celebration of this holy purpose.” That’s a reasonable analogy to the gay couple that requests a cake for their wedding ceremony, I think, for the purposes of separating out identity from action, although it’s an imperfect one given the social and spiritual and legal significant of a marriage. But still, it’s a worthwhile foil for thinking through the argument. So does the fact that I find the prayer service purpose hateful or objectionable, or in conflict with my own principles, change its legal implications?
She explores several possible answers, but comes down undecided in the end:
Another interesting thought experiment is to imagine that you have an anti-marriage equality baker who is willing to bake cakes for gay customers in general, even knowing they are gay, but is not willing to bake one for a gay marriage. If that is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then how do we think about a baker who would be willing to bake a cake for religious Christians in general, but just not if it is to be used at an anti-abortion or anti-marriage equality prayer service?
I’m not sure what the answer is here. But one of the things I find really interesting about this example is the way it highlights the blurry boundaries between politics and religious values.
I have been hesitant to comment on these cases myself for precisely this reason. In fact, I think the boundaries are even blurrier. (more…)
“Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons,” says Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor. “One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.”
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported on one of the most overlooked threats to prisoner dignity — sexual victimization by correctional authorities. One of the most surprising findings was that more than half (54 percent) of all substantiated incidents of staff sexual misconduct and a quarter (26 percent) of all incidents of staff sexual harassment were committed by female staff. The problem is even more pronounced at juvenile detention centers where, as Josh Voorhees points out, nine out of every 10 reporters of sexual abuse are males victimized by female staffers:
“Deadbeat Dads”—absent fathers who don’t provide financial support for their children—are one of the most significant factors contributing to child poverty in America. So why do some single women have children outside of marriage when they know they will receive little to no support from the child’s father?
A new study from the University of Georgia and Boston College attempts to answer that question. The authors created an economic model to simulate a scenario in which every absent father was forced to pay child support. As the researchers note, “Looking at the data through the lens of this ‘perfect enforcement’ scenario caused the picture to change.”
Over at the Federalist, Gracy Olmstead wonders “what happens when people bring the country to the city?” She goes on to argue that “urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.”
Is there a way to bring the city mouse and the country mouse together?
I’ve argued for the need for urban farming initiatives in the context of renewal movements in places like Detroit, and Michael Miller has cogently pointed out the entrepreneurial reality at the core of farmers’ markets.
But as Olmstead points to the diverse benefits of urban farming, I’m reminded of a story that pushes us beyond merely material and utilitarian calculus. The economist Wilhelm Röpke was a devotee of allotments for gardening and farming (Schrebergärten) commonly found in Europe, particularly after World War II.
In our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.
When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’t) know or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.
To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”
When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.
This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.
When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:
In an article in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr examine “The Moral Meanings of Markets.” They argue that “traditional defenses of the morality of the market tend to inadequately articulate the moral meanings of markets.” Such defenses tend to argue from practical, even pragmatic or utilitarian, grounds.
But for Langrill and Storr, “markets depend on and promote virtue.” Evidence of this virtue in the marketplace, they argue, is that “consumers are often willing to pay a premium and workers are often willing to work at a discount in order to interact with honest, trustworthy, faithful, and even loving (i.e., charitable) brokers and merchants.”
A recent study seems to contradict this finding, however, noting that at least in some circumstances rude behavior by retail clerks increases sales. Today at Think Christian in “The Paradoxical Appeal of Rude Sales Clerks,” I explore these findings and put them within the broader context of what it might mean to “ration by rudeness.”
Read more: Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr, “The Moral Meanings of Markets,” Journal of Markets & Morality 15, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 347-362
As much as progressives balk at the “imposition” of religious morality and the church in public and social spaces, secular humanism’s moral relativism is not working in America and continues to leave children vulnerable to profound evil. For example, the Urban Institute recently released a report on the economy of America’s sex industry — and the numbers are astounding.
The Urban Institute’s study investigated the scale of the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) in eight major US cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Across cities, the UCSE’s worth was estimated between $39.9 and $290 million in 2007, but decreased since 2003 in all but two cities. In the study, interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers, and law enforcement revealed the dynamics central to the underground commercial sex trade.
Here are some of the key findings regarding those who manage the sex economy:
Over at The American Culture, I have some thoughts about the first season of House of Cards ahead of the premiere of the second season today.
As many have noted, the drop of the Netflix exclusive today coincides with Valentine’s Day, and there have been some serious considerations about how to plan for the contingency that only one of the partners in a couple enjoys the show.
But the question of love is also a helpful analytic device for understanding the show’s protagonist, Frank Underwood. Early on in the show we see that Frank and Claire are well-matched. Frank professes his affection for her in one of his Shakespearean asides to the audience: “I love that woman. I love her more than a shark loves blood.” Frank has a rather curious love for Claire, however. He loves her for what she can do for him, for her shared disposition toward power. When their interests clash, we see what Frank’s priorities really consist in.
In the TAC piece, I draw heavily on Augustine to explore the depth of Frank’s pathological pursuit of power. It’s clear that despite his profession of love for Claire that what Frank really loves is himself and what he lusts for most is consolidating and collecting power. Augustine wonders at this all-too-human tendency: “There are many different kinds of lust, of which not a few have names peculiar to themselves, while others have not. Who, for example, could easily give a name to the lust for mastery, though the evidence of civil wars shows how great a sway it has over the minds of tyrants?”
The tradition does in fact name this desire, the lust for power, the libido dominandi.
At one point Frank makes clear what he seeks in another of his fourth-wall addresses. In speaking of one of his former proteges, Frank bemoans “such a waste of talent. He chose money over power – in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”
As Michael Novak has observed, this kind of lust is far more pervasive and dangerous than more mundane grubbing after money: “Lust for power–superbia–is deeper, more pervasive, and more widespread than lust for wealth–cupiditas.” Here Novak connects pride (superbia) with the lust for power, and it is Underwood’s exceeding self-love that leads to his particular brand of politics without romance.
This past Friday, I attended the Sophia Institute annual conference. I am a fellow of Sophia and presented a short paper there on Orthodox Christian monastic enterprise. The theme of the conference this year was “Monasticism, Asceticism and Holiness in the Eastern Orthodox World.” In addition to my paper, the subjects of the keynote addresses may interest readers of the PowerBlog. (more…)