Posts tagged with: order

If you want to see what happens when a government fails its basic responsibilities of maintaining law and order, read this fine and saddening piece by Detroit Free Press columnist John Carlisle, “The last days of Detroit’s Chaldean Town.” In it you’ll encounter the fraying of the town’s social architecture built around faith, family, work, and government.

At a conference a few weeks ago I was involved in a discussion about the ‘worst’ jobs we had ever had. Mine was cleaning the meat room at a grocery store run by four Chaldean brothers in an area just a bit further east of Chaldean Town. I worked at a “training wage” for the better part of a year, I think, while in high school. I didn’t mind transferring out to make a bit less bagging groceries.

Joseph Sunde has written a fair bit on how “hard work cultivates character.” Earlier today I was reading through a classic speech by the famed American pastor Russell Conwell, which includes this bit of wisdom: “There is no class of people to be pitied so much as the inexperienced sons and daughters of the rich of our generation.” Conwell’s point was that the rich most often attained wealth by working smarter and harder. But “as a rule the rich men will not let their sons do the very thing that made them great,” thereby depriving them of the very same experiences that enabled the creation of wealth in the first place. This is actually as true for the moderately rich as it is for the extremely wealthy. As Michael Novak has put it, “Parents brought up under poverty do not know how to bring up children under affluence.”

So even though I hated that job cleaning the meat room at the Chaldean market, which closed some years later, I was sad to see it go and I’ll always carry those experiences with me and try to pass their lessons along to my own children. The rise and fall of Chaldean Town also has some things to teach us about flourishing at the community level.

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

Untitled4“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.“ -John 1:1-3

In Episode 5 of For the Life of the World, Evan Koons wonders about the purpose of knowledge. “Is it about power?” he asks. “Man’s conquest of nature? …a means for securing a healthy nest egg for retirement?”

As he eventually discovers, knowledge is about far more than what it can do for us. “Knowledge is a gift,” Evan concludes, “and like all gifts in God’s oikonomia, it points us outside of ourselves. Certainly knowledge helps us to do more, but more importantly, it helps us to be more.”

As Stephen Grabill puts it elsewhere in the episode, “knowledge sees beyond scarcity and reveals abundance,” because, at its most basic level, it’s really about uncovering the source of all abundance — better seeing, knowing, and understanding our Creator — and sowing seeds of light and life in the world around us. (Some economists are beginning to notice this at a broader level.) (more…)

kuyper12In Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, a translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program, Kuyper sets forth an outline for his Anti-Revolutionary Party.

Founded by Kuyper in 1879, the party had the goal of offering a “broad alternative to the secular, rationalist worldview,” as translator Harry Van Dyke explains it. “To be “antirevolutionary” for Kuyper, Van Dyke continues, is to be “uncompromisingly opposed to ‘modernity’ — that is, to the ideology of the French Revolution and the public philosophy we have since come to know as secular humanism.”

Greg Forster has compared the work to Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution, calling it “equally profound and equally consequential.” And indeed, though written nearly a century later and set within a different national context, Kuyper’s philosophy aligns remarkably close with that of Burke’s.

The similarities are most notable, perhaps, in the area of social order. Kuyper expounds on the subject throughout the book, but in his section titled “Decentralization,” his views on what we now call “sphere sovereignty” sound particularly close to Burke’s, though rather uniquely, with a bit more “Christian-historical” backbone.

Kuyper observes a “tendency toward centralization” among the revolutionaries, wherein “whatever can be dealt with centrally must be dealt with centrally,” and “administration at the lower levels” is but a “necessary evil.” Such a tendency, he concludes, “impels to ever greater centralization as soon as the possibility for it arises.” (more…)

In a video selected as the winner of a contest sponsored by The High Calling, Dylan Weston, a ranch hand and wrangler from Pennsylvania, shares how his work glorifies God and adds value to others.

This is a great example of how we as Christians might begin to view our role in the bigger picture, particularly as it applies to the economies of creative service and wonder. Dylan does not view his service as a mere means to personal fulfillment or material ends, and neither does he view it in conflict with his efforts to make time and space to simply behold God’s creation. (more…)

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and LeftI recently read Yuval Levin’s new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, and found it remarkably rich and rewarding. Though the entire book is worthy of discussion, his chapter on choice vs. obligation is particularly helpful in illuminating one of the more elusive tensions in our social thought and action.

In the chapter, Levin provides a helpful summary of how the two men differed in their beliefs about social obligation and individual rights. How ought we to relate to our fellow man? What preexisting obligations do we have to our neighbors? How do those obligations come to be? What role ought the State to play in guiding or intervening in the social order?

For Paine, Levin explains, society is a “means to enable choice, or the freedom to shape our own future uncoerced—a means to the radical liberation of the individual from the burdens of his circumstances, his given nature, and his fellow man.” “The right to choose,” Levin paraphrases, is “the end toward which we aim in politics.” Or as Paine himself puts it: “The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me, and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.” We choose our obligations, and y’all best let Paine choose his.

For Burke, however, this lopsided emphasis on choice amounts to “a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition,” as Levin summarizes: “The most essential human obligations and relations—especially those involving the family but also many of those involving community, the nation, and one’s religious faith—are not chosen and could never really be chosen, and political and social life begins from these, not from an act of will.” We may think we can escape or subvert certain obligations, but for Burke,  they are “nevertheless binding.” Therefore, in structuring our society and acting therein, we ought not pretend otherwise. (more…)

protestOffering yet another contribution to a series of recent discussions about the religious liberties of bakers, florists, and photographers, Jonathan Merritt has a piece at The Atlantic warning that the type of protections Christians were fighting for in Arizona “could come back to hurt the faithful.”

“These prophets of doom only acknowledge one side of the slope,” Merritt writes. “They fail to consider how these laws could be used against members of their own communities. If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter.”

Merritt sets things up with the following hypothetical:

“I’d like to purchase a wedding cake,” the glowing young woman says as she clutches the arm of her soon-to-be husband. “We’re getting married at the Baptist church downtown this coming spring.”

“I’m sorry, madam, but I’m not going to be able to help you,” the clerk replies without expression.

“Why not?” the bewildered bride asks.

“Because you are Christians. I am Unitarian and disapprove of your belief that everyone except those within your religion are damned to eternal hell. Your church’s teachings conflict with my religious beliefs. I’m sorry.”

Would conservative Christians support this storeowner’s actions? (more…)

wedding1In a recent column for USA Today, Kirsten Powers uses some legislation in the Kansas state legislature as a foray for arguing that, for many Christians, the supposed fight for religious liberty is really just a fight for the “legal right to discriminate.” Pointing to recent efforts to protect a florist, a baker, and a photographer from being sued for their beliefs about marriage, Powers argues that these amount to the homosexual equivalent of Jim Crow laws.

Powers, herself a Christian, reminds us that Jesus calls us “to be servants to all,” which is, of course, correct. Yet, as many have already observed, those involved in these lawsuits have no qualms with serving gay customers. Their conflict, rather, is with the particular ends that such services would support. As Andrew Walker explains at First Things: “What’s at stake in this context is when individuals who provide material and artistic craft for weddings are then forced to take their talents and their creative abilities and use them for purposes that go against their consciences.”

Setting aside any differences over sexual ethics or the particular legislation at hand, it’s worth noting how Powers so decidedly divorces work from religion, and in turn, work from ethics. Are we really to believe that the ends of our economic activity are of no consequence?

Powers writes that most of those planning a wedding would be shocked to learn that their vendors and suppliers had some kind of religious principle or transcendent ethic driving their efforts. “Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service,” she writes. “It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.” Reinforcing this view, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is quoted, advising Christians to “leave Jesus out of it” when it comes to discerning the shape of their economic output. Later, in a tweet responding to her critics, Powers still fails to see it. “Of all the pushback I’ve gotten on my column,” she writes, “not one person has explained when Jesus taught that baking a cake is an affirmation of anything.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, February 14, 2014
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heart mosaic1In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I offer this wonderful bit from Jennifer Roback Morse’s transformational book, Love and Economics, in which she observes a particular vacancy in modern discourse and policymaking:

Economics has been a successful social science because it focuses on things that are true: human beings are self-interested and have the capacity for reason. But it is equally true that we have the capacity to love. This capacity is no less human, and no less defining of who we are. Too much of our public discourse has proceeded as if these two great realities of the human condition, reason and love, were in conflict with each other. The Right favors the cold, calculating, tough-minded approach of the intellect: man is essentially a Knower. The Left favors the warm, fuzzy, emotional approach of the heart: man is essentially a Lover. Yet the Left at its most extreme has given us the cold, impersonal state and its bureaucracy as the answer to social problems. At the same time, the Right at its most extreme has given us the irrationality of trying to reduce man to the sum of his bodily needs…

…It is time to cross this divide in the sphere of public discourse as well. The consequences of going off the deep end into either the direction of Love or Reason and ignoring the other can be grim indeed.

Noting the French Revolution’s bloody altar to the “Goddess of Reason,” and, somewhat inversely, the Russian Revolution’s chaotic attempt to unite humanity under “one giant family,” Morse argues that the American Revolution was distinct because it preserved the “underlying social and cultural order.” It unleashed the powerful forces of freedom and individualism, but did so in a way that kept love for the other in focus. (more…)

Dietrich BonhoefferWhile imprisoned by the Nazis at Tegel military prison, and shortly after learning of the last failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a short poem for his friend, Eberhard Bethge, titled “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”

I’ve come across the poem before, but in recently reading Eric Metaxas’ fine biography of the man, I was reminded of its power and potency in describing the essence of Christian freedom. It becomes all the more compelling given its context, serving as a “distillation of his theology at the time,” as Metaxas describes it.

Though we must be careful to appreciate the time and place from which it sprung, it brings with it plenty of implications for the ways in which we order our lives and allegiances. Indeed, in his prodding toward obedience, discipline, and submission to God — features many would find contradictory or in opposition to freedom — Bonhoeffer’s embrace of this profound paradox dovetails quite nicely with Lord Acton’s famous notion of “defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

(more…)