Posts tagged with: responsibility

boss-tweed2Mike Coyner, who is the Bishop of the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, penned a thoughtful essay reflecting on the dysfunction in our federal government. His main point: It’s our fault and our defective culture is the engineer of the political rot. Coyner declared:

All of the traits in Washington that we decry are actually an outgrowth of the messed-up values in our whole culture.

We complain about over-spending by Congress, but the average American household is spending 103% of their income.

We complain about the rising debt level, but the typical American is increasingly in debt (and that is even mirrored in our churches which are increasingly in debt).

We complain about the culture of entitlement, but the typical American has an “entitlement” attitude (just watch the way people drive over the speed limit, cut off others in lanes, and ignore simple traffic rules – all of that reflects an attitude which says “I am entitled to break the rules that I don’t like.”).

We complain about the rising cost of healthcare, but most Americans are over-weight, out of shape, and in poor health by virtue of lifestyle choices.

We complain that the politicians are not able to work together, but Americans seem to be more and more disagreeable and unruly (If you don’t believe that, just go to a Little League baseball game and watch the behavior of the parents. Or watch a local school board meeting and listen to the inability of people to listen politely to those with whom they disagree. Or you can even see that unruly behavior in some church meetings.)

In “Churches & Government Shut-Down” by Mark Tooley, he focuses on Jim Wallis’s insatiable appetite for more government and contrasts his views of the government shutdown with more measured responses by other church leaders. Joe Carter addressed Wallis yesterday too on the PowerBlog. Tooley points out a few errors in Coyner’s essay but praises his larger point as the kind of faithful and responsible witness needed in the Church.

“How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?” asked Alexis de Tocqueville. Instead of parroting partisan talking points and shifting even more power away from personal responsibility and virtue, leaders in the Church need to be asking the deeper questions why the government is broken in the first place.

Today there is a severe lack of unity and leadership in America that can speak clearly to our culture and address the root problems. In truth, we are infested by sin and sin by its nature is divisive and separates us from our true purpose. And if you know anything about theology, you know that unredeemed sin, in the end, always gives us what we deserve.

"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”

800px-Livingood_Obama_State_of_the_Union_2011It was William F. Buckley who said “conservatism takes into account reality.” Reality has become the giant political obstacle for conservatives when it comes to governing, campaigning, and political messaging. It seems too many Americans still love their freedoms but eschew many of the responsibilities that come with it. That’s the crisis we face, the lack of responsibility and our collective grasp on reality.

In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama predictably fatigued those looking for real cuts, a limiting of the federal government, and the courage to tackle the federal debt and spending crisis. The president set the agenda on the sequester issue by calling decreases in the rate of growth, “cuts.” It’s not even close to the reality we face as a nation when it comes to the need for real cuts to address our federal debt.

Obama even offered new government spending initiatives such as pre-kindergarten, climate change legislation, and more federal “jobs” programs. Obama called for tax reform too, embracing further tax increases for the productive sector and the savers and investors. It’s a far cry from the president’s promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office. Instead, it has increased by $6 trillion under his watch.

Our federal spending is increasing poverty and government dependence. It is making us poorer and crippling future economic opportunities for Americans. The president missed the grand opportunity to address the reality of the crisis we face. He intoned that, “deficit reduction alone is not a spending plan.” True enough, but increased government spending and the inability to deal with spending is the grand failure of Washington and both political parties.

In the GOP response, it may be that Marco Rubio struck a much too partisan tone and appeared just to be reacting out of opposition to the president. I thought Rand Paul, with his tea party response, struck the right chord and spoke the truth about the monumental crisis we face. He cut through the spending problem directly stating, “Every debate in Washington is about how much to increase spending – a little or a lot.” He directly addressed the deeper obligations of government within the constitution and should receive credit for laying out the problem, even if you don’t agree with how he wants to address it.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Governor, made a powerful point too after the president’s remarks about the shifting of greed to the government sector. The larger point is that the private sector is dwindling in significance, and being swallowed by government growth and strangulation. Unfortunately, as a nation, right now, there is not enough collective courage and responsibility to deal with the reality in Washington.

This past weekend in Chicago a luncheon was held for the kickoff of college football’s Big 10 Conference. Michigan State University quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was featured at the conference, giving an honorary talk on his journey through four years in college football, and the important lessons he took away from his experience.

Cousin’s stresses the opportunity given to him at MSU was one of privilege. Unlike most haughty star athletes, Kirk Cousins seem to understand what it truly means to be privileged in the world of sports, he says:

“It is in this place of privilege where danger lies. I have been taught that human nature is such that the place of privilege most often leads to a sense of entitlement.” He goes on to say, though, that “Privilege should never leave to entitlement. In fact, I have been taught to believe that privilege should lead to responsibility. “

 
After these impressive words spoken from the quarterback Kirk Cousins, he then goes on to quote from Scripture; a verse that the Acton Institute has heavily used in informing the position that businessmen, politicians, and educators in our world hold today. The passage comes from Luke 12:48, “Any person that has been given much will be responsible for much. Much more will be expected from the person that has been given more.”

This message, reiterated to us from a college football quarterback, should teach those of us who hold positions of leadership- that it is a privilege, and the privilege comes with a responsibility given to us by the grace of God. Those of us, who are given the great responsibility of leadership, have the freedom to choose what we will do with this great gift; but we should pray and hope we will choose what we ought to.

 

Thrift almost seems like a lost virtue among much of our governing class. It is also true of the general population. We don’t have to just look at our staggering public debt, but consumer credit card debt tells the story too. In a past post on the virtue of thrift, Jordan Ballor reminds us that “thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, we had a lot of second-hand office equipment. The boss was always serious about saving tax dollars. I know there are still representatives out there that take thrift seriously. However, we should also let the illustration provided by Amity Shlaes on Calvin Coolidge over at National Review sink in, especially given some of the lavish entertainment we hear about in Washington:

For Coolidge, no savings was too small to overlook. Recently William Jenney, the archivist for the state of Vermont at the Coolidge homestead, pulled out for me an old looseleaf notebook. It contained the White House housekeeper’s journal of outlays for White House entertainment. The White House, even then, received tens of thousands of visitors a year; the Coolidges hosted Col. Charles Lindbergh and Ignacy Padereweski, the pianist and politician. There were many days when Coolidge shook 2,000 hands. But he also kept an eye on the budget. For 1926, the housekeeper itemized each purchase for each event; the total was $11,667.10. For 1927 she managed to get the amount down to $9,116.39. The president reviewed this and wrote her a note: “To Miss Riley, very fine improvement.”

Shlaes, who has a forthcoming book on Calvin Coolidge coming out soon, was interviewed in Religion & Liberty’s 2009 fall issue. She discusses her book The Forgotten Man and the Great Depression in the interview.

I have also touched on Coolidge on the PowerBlog. In a post titled “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” I linked to a great recording on Coolidge talking about the cost of government spending. Have a listen:

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s great emphases in his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is the idea of gift. A gift is something that we have received without earning. As the Pope wisely notes, “The human being is made for gift,” even though man is often “wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society.”

The truth is that we are not the authors of our own lives. We did not earn or create the conditions that make our lives what they are. We did not merit our genetic code, and we are not worthy of the parents that we had growing up. Neither do we have ourselves to thank for our societies and the opportunities that they hold. To some degree, hard work, creativity, and self-cultivation can enable us to better ourselves and our lives. That this is even the case is not because of our own efforts, though. We are not the reason that merit can lead to success.

We live lives gifted to us in a world gifted to us by God. God is not random, and He has reasons for giving each of us the gifts that He has. We do not by any means know what those reasons are much of the time, but we can use our reason to search for them. Reason shows us that we as humans are social beings, meant to live in coexistence with one another and to seek the common good and the wellbeing of everyone. The gift of our lives and our own particular gifts are meant to benefit the whole of humanity and not just ourselves. As Caritas in Veritate puts it, gift “takes first place in our souls as a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us.” Gift, then, is the basis for duty. We have not earned what we have and are or the world in which we live; therefore, we do not have license or entitlement over our gifts. We have duties to use them for the common good.

What, then, is the best way to organize society such that the gifts given to each are used for the benefit of all? One possibility is to empower a central authority to identify the gifts of each person, then to have that authority determine how we are to use our gifts. This is the totalitarian tendency, the desire for an authority to have total control over the resources gifted to persons and to all people. (more…)

Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.

When the Pope said these words at Vespers on Sunday, perhaps he had Bernie Madoff in mind.

Today, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding his investors of nearly $65 billion over the course of 20 years. His corruption and crimes ruined the livelihoods of thousands of businesspeople, charity workers, and families that trusted his sterling reputation to protect everything that they had worked to earn.

Unfortunately, Madoff is not the only man to have betrayed his financial responsibilities to others. The last few years saw financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom shake the public’s trust in corporations. Just two weeks ago, Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was arrested by the FBI on charges that he used a bank in Antigua to mask his $8 billion fraud, stealing from his investors.

When Pope Leo XIII published his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, he wrote that “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” The global economy has come a long way since then, with the rise of laws designed to fight white-collar crime, the expansion of opportunities for Third World entrepreneurship with the removal of tariffs, and the creation of enough wealth to eliminate most of the horrific working conditions of the Victorian Era. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 2, 2009
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This guy fails the ‘anthropological Rorshach’ test:

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming. He says political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue of environmental harm caused by an expanding population.

The 2 child limit that Porritt encourages is not just an attempt to limit population growth, but is instead a policy that would put the UK well below replacement levels. Even assuming everyone maxed out their 2 child ‘limit,’ that wouldn’t meet the replacement level of 2.2 children per couple.

The misanthropy of much of the radical environmental movement is becoming increasingly blatant. No longer must the “P” word be spoken in hushed tones in darkened alleys. Folks like Porritt are making sure of that.

“I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate,” Porritt said.

Couching such rhetoric in terms of “responsibility” and even “stewardship” is a powerful tool of deception. After all, who wants advocate being irresponsible?

Read more about environmental misanthropy on this side of the pond in the joint Acton Institute-IRD paper, “From Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’.”

Oh, and the “P” word? Porritt means “population,” but a better “P” word is “person.” Population is an abstraction. Personhood is a reality that can’t be so easily dispensed with. To quote a wise creature, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 1, 2008
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Yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press had an attention-grabbing feature graphic, which highlights an online interactive “game” that gives more information about each of the candidates for the “economic blame game” bracket.

Press Graphic/Milt Klingensmith


The four brackets are broken down by group, so the four major categories at fault are 1) the financial industry; 2) consumers; 3) government; and 4) inexplicable forces.

Notably absent are the media (except perhaps as personified in Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money”) and government over-regulation, including especially the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and variations on that theme in the intervening decades. To be sure, “deregulation” is a top seed on the government side, and makes the blame game Final Four. But the summary for that option manages to lay the blame on Ronald Reagan and his dictum: “Government is not the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.”

The Press’ pick for the blame game champion is “Fear and Panic.” Writes Press copy editor Dan Hawkins, “So for your consideration, we rounded up 32 suspects and arranged them in a tournament bracket, as we did for White House scandals and the presidential race. For the first time, however, we decided to declare a winner. This crisis, this worst-of-the-worst competition, is too awful to leave without a scapegoat.”

There isn’t really a good representative for what I consider to be greatly culpable, the culture of consumptive capitalism (as opposed to democratic or entrepreneurial capitalism). Consumptive capitalism adds “spend all you can” to the more stable triumvirate of flourishing: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

And today comes news that confirms that the recession of the US economy began in December of 2007. The Press’ advice for the ordinary American citizen is “Don’t panic.” If that’s true for the everyday American, how much more so for the Christian.

One reality saves us from the necessity to assign blame to others and enables us to accept responsibility. As we begin the season of Advent in 2008, it is proper for us to reflect on the ultimate “scapegoat,” our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of the world on the cross, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

This is not to say that we ignore the hard economic realities of our world. But the “fear and panic” created by material concerns need to be put into proper perspective, relativized and mitigated by hope in one whose kingdom will have no end.

Posted at the Center for a Just Society (notice courtesy the National Humanities Institute), Dr. Mark T. Mitchell asks a series of questions focused on the intersection between morality and economics in light of the recent financial crisis. In “Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal,” Dr. Mitchell invokes the institute’s namesake and this blog’s tagline.

In question number 9, Dr. Mitchell says,

Lord Acton’s hoary saying is pertinent: “power tends to corrupt.” If so, then we should make efforts to decentralize power. Such a sensibility is behind the separation of powers written into the fabric of the U.S. Constitution. We should be concerned, then, when big corporations get into bed with big government. The off-spring will be ugly and, we can rest assured, it will be big. This bailout represents a stunning consolidation of corporate and government power. Of course, we are promised that the government will regulate the corporations, but the conflict of interest is glaring. Could it be that the problem is not de-regulation but regulations that favor big corporations over small businesses?

Recent reports have placed the economic impact of a shutdown of one of the Big 3 automakers could cost 3 million jobs and $60 billion in 2009. Now Detroit automakers are apparently “too big to fail.” (Update: Ford has announced significant 3Q losses this year, and plans to cut 10% of its salaried workforce in North America.)

The other questions are prescient, as well, and Dr. Mitchell’s “modest” proposal is well worth considering: “The American way of life is sustainable only if we acknowledge that publicly and privately we are called to lives of responsibility. Hubris is only countered when we recognize limits.”