persuasion-postAs an evangelical who is extremely sympathetic to natural law theorizing, I’ve struggled with a question that I’ve never found anyone address: Why aren’t natural law arguments more persuasive?

We evangelicals are nothing if not pragmatic. If we were able to recognize the utility and effectiveness of such arguments, we’d likely to be much more open to natural law theory. But conclusions based on natural law don’t seem to be all that useful in compelling those who are unconvinced. Indeed, not only do they not seem to change the minds of non-believers, they often fail to sway believers. For instance, nominal Catholics, a group that should (at least theoretically) give them a fair hearing, don’t seem to take such arguments all that seriously. Why is that?

We evangelicals, of course, have our own explanation for such arguments are inefficacious. As Al Mohler said after an interview with Robert George:


Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 30, 2013

“Why not dictate that every employee earn several hundred thousand dollars a year?” asks Hunter Baker in this week’s Acton Commentary, “We could end every social problem with nothing more than political will.”

During a recent visit to Twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: “Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.

The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage. First off, there is a vigorous, unsettled debate over the effectiveness of the minimum wage. Economists differ substantially over whether it helps poor people, hurts them by reducing entry level job opportunities, or exerts little effect. It would be entirely possible for a proponent of family values to rationally conclude that the minimum wage is counterproductive and to therefore take the position the aforementioned prominent Christian academic presented as completely at odds with a “family values” perspective. This academic failed to take account of the fact that arguments about the minimum wage are not like arguments about something like gravity. There are respectable and even compassionate arguments on both sides.

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

haiyanManila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the convenor of the Philippines’ Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, is expressing increased concern about human trafficking due to the “chaotic environment” brought about by typhoon Haiyan.

Internal trafficking has long been a concern in the Philippines, for men, women and children. According to,

People are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao, as well as within urban areas. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
Monday, December 30, 2013

2popes2013 certainly had its fair share of religion in the news. Despite the fact that most major news sources know little-to-nothing about religion, they still report on it with gusto. Jeremy Lott, editor-in-chief at RealClearPolitics has put together a list of the top 14 religion news stories of the past year. (You can read them all here.)

Here are some highlights:

  • The Tale of Two Popes. Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by abdicating, and the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, was a huge story. The fact that Pope Francis seems to have a knack for saying and doing provocative things keeps him in the headlines.
  • The Final Sermon of Billy Graham. America’s preacher, now 95, gave his last sermon this year. “He warned, ‘our country’s in great need of spiritual awakening.'”


Related to some recent discussions about the market for Christmas trees, an irreducibly commercial aspect of the holiday, I ran across this delightful post about a little-known poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.”

In this piece, Eliot introduces the Christmas tree as a source of wonder for children, a source which can be cultivated into maturity so that at the end of times the fullness of the Christmas message might be harvested. As Maria Popova introduces the verses, they “speak to a very secular concern: our struggle to hold on to our inborn capacity for wonder, that same essential faculty that fuels both science and spirituality.”

Thus, for Eliot, as the poem opens,

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish — which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder…

Read the rest at “T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.'”

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 30, 2013

Americans turning to ancient music, practices to experience their faith
Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post

“It’s the recognition that Christianity didn’t start when someone got an electric guitar,” said Ed Stetzer who runs Lifeway Research

Conservatives and Poverty
Peter Wehner, Commentary

According to Myers, while those in ancient Rome did participate in alms giving, in Roman and Greek culture there wasn’t the compassion for the poor that was present in Jewish and Christian understanding because “there was nothing like Yahweh’s love for the oppressed in their moral imagination.”

What Francis can do on anti-Christian persecution
John L. Allen, Jr., National Catholic Reporter

Maybe Francis can be to the early 21st century what John Paul was to the late 20th, meaning a pope who genuinely changes history.

Westminster and Economic Justice
Steven Wedgeworth, The Calvinist International

The Westminster Larger Catechism has a comprehensive treatment of the moral law, and its treatment of the eighth commandment is particularly interesting. With certain small modifications, these statements are representative of the older universal Christian tradition.

a-cold-morning-on-the-range-frederic-remingtonSeveral years ago, the Catholic intellectual Joseph Bottom observed that American literature has entailed a substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary.”

In other words, we don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes. And these geographical tropes survive well into our own era of indistinguishable shopping malls from Maine to California.

Why did the collective literary imagination take this turn? I suspect it may have something to do with our country’s democratization of civic virtues.

Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen. Not surprisingly, American literature appears to have revived (albeit unconsciously) the citizen virtues of ancient Rome.