Posts tagged with: imago dei

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee BurtonCreative destruction can be a painful thing, particularly when you’re the one being destroyed. I’ve been-there done-that, and when things hit, I can’t say that I cared too much about Joseph Schumpeter and his fancy ideas.

Alas, even when we have a firm understanding of the long-term social and economic benefits of such destruction — that whatever pain we’re experiencing is for the “greater good” of humanity — we can’t help but feel unappreciated, devalued, and cast aside. Our work is an expression of ourselves, something we offer to society and (hopefully) believe to be of considerable worth.

Thus, when we experience such rejection, it’s only natural to react bitterly and become cynical, resentful, or fatalistic, allowing our attitudes and behaviors to correspond in turn. We’re tempted to doubt ourselves or doubt others, to sit back or plod forward halfheartedly, to feel entitled, believing that our “service” deserves a place in the economic landscape, regardless of what the economic signals might say.

Yet amidst theese competing emotions, we mustn’t forget that, in addition to concerns about productivity, efficiency, and economic progress, for the Christian, our work is ultimately service to others, and thus, to God. If someone has discovered new and better ways to meet our neighbors’ needs, it should tell us that it’s time to tweak our game and find new ways to contribute, as hard and uncomfortable as that may be. Our work is not a mere means to a paycheck, and neither are we mindless, powerless cogs in some grand machine, manufactured and predestined to spin mindlessly along only to be bypassed by the Next Big Thing and consigned to the city dump.

In her 1939 children’s book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton gets to the heart of all this, tapping into the deep and profound pain of creative destruction, while ultimately pointing the way forward — toward creativity, service, and authentic human flourishing. (more…)

On Monday afternoon, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico was a guest on “Faith, Culture, Politics: In That Order” on the Guadalupe Radio Network, which broadcasts primarily in Texas. Rev. Sirico engaged in an extended discussion of Catholic Social Teaching, with a great deal of time dedicated to Pope Francis’ particular style and emphasis in dealing with some of the more controversial matters of our time. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.

Update: The embedded audio appears to be having problems; you can go to the Soundcloud page for the interview by clicking this link.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My recent piece in The American Spectator took the left to task for its misuse of the terms justice and social justice. The piece was more than a debate over semantics. In it I noted that Sojourners and its CEO, Jim Wallis, continue to promote well-intended but failed strategies that actually hurt the social and economic well-being of poor communities. I also called on everyone with a heart for the poor to set aside a top-down model of charity that “has trapped so many humans in a vicious cycle of paternalism and dependency” and instead to focus “on cultivating political and economic freedom for the world’s poor.” Sojourners’ Tim King responded here and then emailed me to ask for my thoughts on his response. I’ll start by emphasizing a few areas of agreement, adding a caveat here and there so as not to overstate the areas of overlap, and then I’ll move on to some areas of difference.

First, it’s a matter of record that politicians and other opinion leaders from both major U.S. parties have supported various forms of government-directed charity over the past several decades. Tim King is completely justified in pointing this out, and it’s important to recognize this state of affairs, since it reminds us that transforming the way we do charity won’t occur simply by voting one party out of power. Substantive change will require cultural transformation.

A second area of agreement is that, yes, there is such a thing as smart aid. PovertyCure has a good discussion of smart aid versus damaging aid here, as well as a page here on the good, the bad and the ugly in efforts to fight malaria. And in this Acton Commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse discusses some of the lessons learned in the battle against AIDS in Africa.

Third, Tim King’s blog post gives the reader the impression that that I consigned all uses of the term “social justice” to everlasting perdition, or that I want to ban the use of adjectives from the English language or something. My position is actually a bit more nuanced than this. In my article I noted that the term social justice has “a justifiable raison d’être,” “stretches back to 19th century Catholic social thought” and “was used in the context of nuanced explorations of law, ethics, and justice.” I didn’t have space to elaborate on this in the Spectator article, so I pointed to additional resources in this follow-up blog post.

King went on to say that the adjective social in social justice “highlights that justice deals with systems and structures within a society, not just with individual people. Justice can occur through the punishment of a single person for wrongdoing, but also through ending slavery or apartheid.” Absolutely. Justice deals with those things, a point I underscored in my article.

The thing is, though, that’s not how the religious left generally uses the term social justice, a reality that Tim King himself demonstrated by immediately pointing to the Circle of Protection statement as an embodiment of social justice principles. The statement is about preserving top-down government spending programs on behalf of the poor.

Another way to see how ordinary justice is being leeched out of Sojourners’ brand of social justice is to look at its official position on abortion. On the organization’s Issues page, under “What is Your Position on Abortion?” Sojourners emphasizes that “All life is a sacred gift from God, and public policies should reflect a consistent ethic of life.” Sounds like justice, plain and simple. But then look at their specific recommendations for how to protect the sacred gift of unborn human life:

Policy
Dramatically reduce abortion. Our society should support common ground policies that dramatically reduce the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing meaningful alternatives and necessary supports for women and children, and reforming adoption laws.

Notice what’s missing from the list: A call to extend the most basic human right to unborn babies by making it illegal to kill them. What’s missing, in other words, is a call to extend ordinary justice to the unborn. In its place is a call to prevent “unwanted pregnancies” and to create attractive alternatives to killing unborn babies.

Sojourners and its leader say that laws against abortion are unattainable and ineffectual. But these laws wouldn’t be unattainable if the religious left joined religious conservatives in the fight to extend the right to life to the unborn. And as for ineffectual, University of Alabama professor Michael New studied the question and came to a very different conclusion in State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Here’s how he summarized his findings:

Planned Parenthood and many groups on the Catholic Left often argue that pro-life laws are ineffective. They claim that contraception spending and more generous welfare benefits are the best ways to reduce abortion rates. In reality, however, there is virtually no peer reviewed research, analyzing actual abortion data, which finds that more spending on either contraception or welfare has any effect on the incidence of abortion.

Conversely, this study adds to the sizable body of peer reviewed research which finds that legal protections for the unborn are effective at lowering abortion rates …

The study is now part of a substantial body of academic literature showing that such laws are effective in cutting abortions — and back up the anecdotal evidence seen in states like Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri and others where abortions have been cut by half from their previous highs thanks to the passage of several pro-life measures limiting abortions.

What Sojourners and many others on the left support for the unborn is more of their ineffective brand of redistributionist “social justice,” and never mind about the most basic form of justice for the unborn — a right to life protected by the law.

I’ll close by calling attention to one other thing in Tim King’s response, and that is Sojourners’ whole post-partisan meme. It’s a little surreal that they keep trotting this dog out after the George Soros funding fiasco. As my old colleague Jay Richards and others have reported, Sojourners had already received significant funding from the ultra-liberal, ultra-secular George Soros when Jim Wallis denied it in a public interview, going so far as to answer the charge by saying that World magazine editor and Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky “lies for a living.” Then it came out that Sojourners has in fact received major funding from Soros, along with major funding from a who’s who list of left and ultra-leftwing organizations.

Sojourners keeps trying to hunt with the “we’re deep, not left” meme, but the dog won’t hunt anymore. A better approach would be to simply identify themselves as members of the religious left and forthrightly make a case for the specifics of their position. An even better approach would be to rethink that position from top to bottom, looking not at just the immediate and obvious effects of various government wealth transfers, but also at those long-term effects that are less obvious and often destructive.

In the mean time, if you are looking for a clear alternative to A Circle of Protection, one that emphasizes the dignity and creative capacity of the poor and the role of Christian worldview in promoting human flourishing, take a look at PovertyCure’s Statement of Principles or PovertyCure’s Facebook page. To sign a letter that directly answers the Circle of Protection, go here to Christians for a Sustainable Economy.

Friedrich Hayek called it a weasel word. The American Spectator has my new essay on it here.

More on social justice as it appears in Catholic social teaching here. And more on social business here.

Paul Krugman made the mistake of over-sharing this past weekend when he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he thinks that the United States economy would benefit from a military build-up to fight made-up space aliens. He’s been defended as being fed up with Republican obstructionism, being desperate to make a point, or even being wholly and completely correct. He’s entirely wrong though, and his thinking (what there is of it) is an example of the kind of depersonalized economics that has cost this country so much.

You’ve probably seen the video by now. If not, your sides will ache through the rest of this post:

Economics is more than just the manipulation of balance sheets, which is how the hyperinflation trillions-in-stimulus crowd see it. Professor Krugman does not accept that essentially, economic activity is the production of something valuable, and he does not believe that human labor has intrinsic worth, besides its taxability. Therefore what people do does not matter; in fact, if lying to them makes the economy function more smoothly, that’s fine.

This is a vision in which Man has no dignity—in which Man is not made in the image of God or anything else. The study of human interaction, then, is nothing more than moving numbers around on a page, and people are no different than plastic cars to be shifted across a traffic jam board game. (It’s telling that Krugman turns to space aliens to save our economy.) Contrast this view with what the Pope said this morning at World Youth Day.

What does have value? The state, which for progressives like Krugman is the engine of historical progress. Enter Keynsian economics, and this weekend’s gibberish.

Courtesy Evangelical Outpost and the always-interesting 33 Things, here’s a video on the strangeness of the economics of incentives and punishments:



The lesson here is that people in real life, body and soul, are not simple rational economic actors who respond only to material realities.

We exist in the context of social webs and relationships. But we also have non-material faculties; consciences, free choice, creativity, speculative reason.

Homo economicus is useful as a partial model of human behavior, but it is not exhaustive, comprehensive, or reliably predictive. Why do economists try to universalize this model?

My theory is that it is in part a response to the post-Englightenment subversion of the unified field of learning. Theology was displaced, albeit briefly, as the queen of the sciences. Philosophy could not hold on, and was torn down by the clamoring crowd of other disciplines. Now each discipline seeks to place itself upon the throne, thus we get tyrannizing and universalizing claims from every academic discipline. Everyone tries to explain everything in the terms of their own discipline, and these explanations are therefore by necessity reductive.

For a bit more, see “Requiem for Homo Economicus,” from the Journal of Markets & Morality 10, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 321-38, in which Edward O’Boyle argues, “Burying homo economicus and substituting homo socioeconomicus brings the basic unit of economic analysis out of the individualism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into the personalism of the twentieth century.”

To these models, we ought also add homo religiosus, all the while recognizing the each are models and therefore limited, partial, and provisional relative to the comprehensive picture of humanity in imago Dei.

A recent Fox News piece on President Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, makes for spooky reading, dramatizing where well-intended intellectuals can end up when they take a zero-sum view of our planet’s resources.

In a 1977 course book that Holdren co-authored with environmental activists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the three make an extended case for aggressive global population control. As the Fox News article explains:

Holdren and the Ehrlichs offer ideas for “coercive,” “involuntary fertility control,” including “a program of sterilizing women after their second or third child,” which doctors would be expected to do right after a woman gives birth.

“Unfortunately,” they write, “such a program therefore is not practical for most less developed countries,” where doctors are not often present when a woman is in labor.

The Most Dangerous Game

The article provides a pdf of the relevant pages of the 1977 course book (go here). Reading these several pages makes it difficult to take seriously a statement by Holdren’s office that Dr. Holdren “does not now support and has never supported compulsory abortions, compulsory sterilization, or other coercive approaches to limiting population growth.” At best, a passage at the end of 788 and the beginning of 789 suggests that the three authors would happily opt for less coercive measures, provided those measures work to their satisfaction.

Holdren and the Ehrlichs are not alone. There’s a long history, dating back at least to the 1700s, of doomsters insisting that population growth coupled with a scarcity of natural resources will very soon ruin civilization.

What’s behind this pessimism, a pessimism apparently immune to contrary historical evidence? In Acton’s new Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum, soon to be released by Zondervan (go here), Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico puts the matter in philosophical and theological context. There he argues that the problem is rooted in a false anthropology, one in which the doctrine of the imago dei is eclipsed, and with it the powerful role of human creativity:

There are many people, including religious leaders, who say that the essential problem is a problem of resource, and that if it’s a problem of resource then it’s a problem of population. This is what I call humaniphobia.

The image in the humaniphobe’s mind is that the human person is one big mouth that is constantly ingesting, and then polluting.

On such a view, humans are the problem rather than the solution. The takeaway question is this: Do we really want to hand our health care over to the U.S. government when a science adviser like Holdren has the president’s ear?

Readings in Social Ethics: Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Love for the Poor. The source is the translation of selections from the piece in an out-of-print anthology: Social Thought, ed. Peter C. Phan, Message of the Fathers of the Church, vol. 20 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier).

  • The basis for our responsibility to help others is our shared human nature, the identity as created in the image of God: “We must, then, open the doors to all the poor and all those who are victims of disasters, whatever the causes may be, since we have been told to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:12). And since we are human beings, we must pay our debt of goodness to our fellow human beings, whatever the cause of their plight: orphanhood, exile, cruelty of the master, rashness of those who govern, inhumanity of tax-collectors, brutality of blood-thirsty bandits, greediness of thieves, confiscation or shipwreck” (6).

  • A prayer of supplication: “May God preserve me from being rich while they are indigent, from enjoying robust health if I do not try to cure their diseases, from eating good food, clothing myself well and resting in my home if I do not share with them a piece of my bread and give them, in the measure of my abilities, part of my clothes and if I do not welcome them into my home” (19).
  • The true natural and primal state of human beings is freedom and plenty: “Freedom and wealth were the only law; true poverty and slavery are its transgressions” (25).
  • Our task is to look at this primal state as normative, rather than the state of human society as marred by sin: “You, however, look at the primitive equality, not at the later distinction, not at the law of the powerful, but at the law of the Creator. Help, as much as you can, nature; honor the primitive freedom; respect yourself; cover the dishonor of your family; assist those who are sick and aid those who are needy” (26).

Albert Mohler weighs in on the chimera phenomenon, “The Chimeras Are Coming.” He links to a WaPo article from yesterday, “Making Manimals,” by William Saletan.

Saletan, a writer for Slate.com, concludes with this advice: “If you want permanent restrictions, your best bet is the senator who tried to impose them two years ago. He’s the same presidential candidate now leading the charge against evolution: Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He thinks we’re separate from other animals, ‘unique in the created order.’ Too bad this wasn’t true in the past — and won’t be true in the future.”

Mohler, for his part, also passes on comments from Dr. Nancy L. Jones of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, including her words on “how Christians should think about the development of transgenic animals (chimeras).” She points especially to the first chapter of Genesis as a basis for created “species integrity.”

I won’t repeat a lot of what I’ve said about this issues in this and other forums over the past few years, but I will pass along some relevant links for interested parties. Of particular interest is the last item, which is a series devoted to articulating a biblical-theological framework for evaluating chimeras:

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 9, 2006

A week ago, The CBS Evening News with newly installed host Katie Couric featured the father of one of the victims of the Columbine school shootings in their so-called ‘freeSpeech’ segment. In this ninety-second spot, Brian Rohrbough said,

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

As Gina Dalfonzo at The Point writes of the reaction to the segment, “CBS received bushels of mail from people who acted as if Rohrbough had gone on the air to advocate the drowning of kittens.” Dalfonzo links to a WaPo story that summarizes some of the complaints, including this gem, which referred to Rohrbough’s remarks as “the biggest load of hogwash I have ever witnessed. How could you use an unspeakable tragedy to give a rightwing flat earth nut job a podium?”

So much for the absolute moral authority conferred on the family members of the victims of tragedies. Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion notes, “Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said.”

Count me among those in agreement. Moral education matters. Here’s what Herman Bavinck has to say about the importance of the dignity of the human person created in the image of God:

The acceptance or rejection of this point of departure is decisive for education and upbringing. Whoever maintains the divine origin, divine relationship and divine destination of man arrives naturally to another theory and practice of upbringing than he who rejects all that and knows only the dumb power of nature. If anyone says what he thinks of man’s origin and being, it is easily shown which pedagogy, at least in principle, must be his.

One specific way in which we can see which pedagogical principle is in play is by measuring a person’s view of the value of human beings relative to that of other creatures.

In this way, Bavinck writes that in light of the unique dignity of the human person,

there is no other conclusive reason thinkable why the killing of an animal is permitted and that of a man is unlawful, than that which lies in the background that man, separated essentially form the animal and related to God, is God’s offspring. He who, with the theory of evolution, obliterates the boundary between man and animal, making both the same kind, must also, as a matter of principle, think lightly concerning the killing of a man. Or, out of fear of this consequence, he must seek support with Buddhism, and respect as inviolate all life also in the animal, and as much as possible in the plant. It is noteworthy that both these trends find innumerable spokesmen in our day. On the one hand it is cynically taught by some that in our day men spend too much care upon the weak and ill, and ought rather to cooperate with the strong to improve our generation; while on the other hand, a sentimental sympathy is preached which has more pity for animals and plants than for man.

What better identifiers of the “moral vacuum” and godless secularism to which Rohrbough refers than these?