In my last post, I rejected the contention by Michelle Goldberg and others that evangelical leaders such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are significantly influenced by the aims of the tiny Christian Reconstructionism movement. I tried to make the point that CR has a negligible political influence on evangelicals and that it is not honest to view evangelical office holders and candidates in the light of CR’s aims. The entire thing, I think, is a tar baby sort of trap in which evangelicals are supposed to come out of their corner talking very seriously about Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism and giving legitimacy to those who have tried to raise it as an issue.

There is a simpler way to get at this thing. I’ll go ahead and concede to Michelle Goldberg and Ryan Lizza that they are correct in their assumption that it is nervous-making to have someone with different ideas and values than one’s own running for political office. This raises the spectre of having that person gain power and perhaps make policies with which one would disagree. But the simple truth is that we are all in this position all the time.

The University of Texas law professor Douglas Laycock once noted that he had some concerns about the Christian Coalition gaining political power. He quickly added that he would be equally concerned about any group with an ideological agenda (such as certain types of feminists or environmentalists) gaining power. The simple fact is that power is a feature of politics and it is unpleasant to lose and have someone else use power to impose upon you. This is very much the situation many have been through in the past two years. A great many people feel that a nationalized health care system would have disastrous effects upon our society. Nevertheless, they have had to suffer through it because the side that wanted to enact such legislation won the election convincingly.

And here’s the thing . . . It doesn’t matter what Barack Obama’s motive was in pushing for national health care. It doesn’t matter if he had a religious conviction, a secular principle, a sentimental attachment to the idea, or a desire to be the first Democrat to ever achieve such a thing. He gained power through politics and enacted his agenda.

There is no difference in anything Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or any other American officeholder might do. Indeed, the likelihood is great that any laws they might enact would be far less intrusive than one mandating that every American purchase health insurance.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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As part of our ongoing engagement with the Protestant world, the Acton Institute has taken on the translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace, under the general editorship of Stephen Grabill and in partnership with Kuyper College. We’re convinced that renewed interest in the thought of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), and in fact rediscovering aspects of his thought that have been lost or misconstrued in the intervening decades, is critically important for the reconstruction of Protestant social thought.

So it’s a big encouragement to us when we see figures in the broader evangelical world echoing similar sentiments. In a recent interview with a Dutch newspaper, the PCA pastor Tim Keller spoke about how Kuyper and Herman Bavinck have served as inspirations. The translator for our Common Grace project, Nelson Kloosterman, provides a translation of the interview in English on his blog.

Keller says that the task of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer in New York City would be “unthinkable without Kuyper.” He adds, “Kuyper said many helpful things. Especially his idea of sphere sovereignty has helped me. That idea assumes that various social relationships—among persons, families, volunteers, associations, and churches—each has its own responsibility.” So here in the ministry of Redeemer in NYC we have a renewal of interest in Dutch neo-Calvinism. Maybe we can call some small part of New York by its original name of New Amsterdam again!

It’s only fair to note, too, that Keller is not uncritical of the all the developments of neo-Calvinism since Kuyper’s own day. He contends “that many churches in this tradition place heavy emphasis on living according to a Christian worldview while neglecting spiritual piety and evangelism.”

Here’s a video from a few years back where Keller makes some similar points.

Be sure to follow along as the Common Grace translation project proceeds. We’ve got some developments to announce in the coming weeks and months. You can also “like” the Common Grace page on Facebook to keep up-to-date, and sign up to receive email updates on the Common Grace project page.

On his flight to World Youth Day in Madrid this morning, Pope Benedict XVI responded to a question about the current economic crisis. Not sure what the question was, but the well-respected Italian Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli captured the reply. Here’s my quick translation of the Pope’s answer:

The current crisis confirms what happened in the previous grave crisis: the ethical dimension is not something external to economic problems but an internal and fundamental dimension. The economy does not function solely on mercantile regulations, but needs an ethical reason to work for man. This is what John Paul II affirmed in his first social encyclical: man must be at the center of the economy and the economy must not be measured by profit maximization but by the good of all, which includes responsibility towards the other. The economy works truly well only if it works in a human way, in respect for the other according to different dimensions. The first dimension is responsibility for one’s nation, and not only for oneself. The second is responsibility towards the world: nations are not isolated, as Europe is not closed in on itself, but responsible for all humanity, and must confront economic problems with this “key” of responsibility also for other parts of the world, for those countries that experience hunger and thirst. The third dimension concerns the future, we have to protect our planet, but we must also protect the working of the labor system for all, to think of tomorrow as well as today. If today’s youth do not find prospects for their lives, our today is mistaken and wrong.

It’s pretty clear that the Pope is referring to the economic problems particular to Spain, where youth unemployment is over 40 percent, and also where protesters known as los indignados are blocking the reform attempts of the Spanish government. The same indignados who’ve attempted to start riots in Madrid with World Youth Day pilgrims. The Holy Father is clearly a gentle and patient man.

The Pope also addresses ethics, the central role of the person, our responsibility to others and to the future of our planet. Nothing he said was at all different from what he or his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, has indicated as a morally correct understanding of the market economy. And as he has previously said, dealing with our failings and weaknesses is the price of human freedom and responsibility. The more freedom we have, the greater the risk of our misusing it. But this is not a reason to restrict that freedom; doing so would actually replace the person from the center of the economy with cold, impersonal regulations.

Perhaps the Pope was referring to the record profits of some banks and other companies while unemployment remains high. Much of this is of course due to government policies to “stimulate” the economy in times of uncertainty, regardless of how that money is spent. Was the Pope questioning the results of Keynesian stimulus spending?

The real challenge for economists and policy makers is how do we move from the good intentions of providing ever-increasing, ethically-sound prosperity for all to actual results. Part of that challenge is the fact that our prosperity is the result of constant competition and rapid change, which can also endanger our current standard of living. It is unlikely we’ll ever be able to “guarantee” a stable, prosperous future for everyone because no one actually “controls” the global economy. The cost of putting someone in charge would effectively cut off the competition and innovation needed to create wealth, and would most likely be a force for evil rather than good. The most we can do is to expand opportunities for all, which is difficult enough for today’s local and national leaders, let alone for any global authority.

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.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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Michelle Goldberg has a column up at the aptly named Daily Beast letting us all know that we really need to worry about something called “Dominionism” which supposedly prevails among Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and folks who support their campaigns. Reinhold Niebuhr once warned of the dangers of religious illiteracy. Here we have exhibit A.

Goldberg claims Bachmann and Perry are “deeply associated” with this “theocratic strain” of Christian fundamentalism. Yes, they are probably so deeply associated with it that neither one of them has ever heard of R.J. Rushdoony (whom Goldberg tags as the father of this theocratic movement).

I have been part of organizations of Christian conservatives for many years and can assure Ms. Goldberg that Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism (making Hebraic law obligatory upon the broader society) exert very little influence. In fact, I think I can probably argue empirically that Rushdoony has captured the attention of many more liberal reporters with an axe to grind than it has evangelicals. For those of us who spend so much time thinking about political theology as to even have heard of CR, it is primarily a novelty. To view standard issue evangelicals in the same light as Christian Reconstructionists would be like taking rank and file Democrats and comparing them to the most extreme and exotic atheistic socialists.

The overwhelming majority position of Christians around the world is that forced religion is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God. Instead, Christians give their money to sustain people called missionaries. We support their efforts to persuade those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ that he is the son of God and that they should enter into a relationship with him. If those people subsequently refuse to believe in Jesus, missionaries pray for them and move on to other people. Those engaged by missionaries join churches or just keep on doing what they were doing before. It’s actually a pretty non-threatening business. This is the Christian idea Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann would endorse, not some fever dream of journalists hoping to bring down candidates for office.

Now, is it true that Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann would like to get elected and attempt to pass some of their aspirations for the good society into law? Certainly. This is a process called politics. It is a feature of democracies. And I suspect what Perry and Bachmann would like to do is reduce the size of government, which, incidentally, is not all that great a danger to individual freedom.

Of course, both are pro-life and would like to protect unborn children from being killed in the womb. If that position is so extreme as to warrant exclusion from the political process and raving condemnations in print . . . well, in that case I’m afraid I can’t do much to help.

My contribution to this week’s Acton News & Commentary:

TV Bias Book Not Ready for Primetime

By Bruce Edward Walker

Reading Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV is similar to time traveling through the pages of a TV Guide. Dozens of television series from the past 50 years are dissected through Shapiro’s conservative lens – or, at least, what passes for Shapiro’s brand of conservatism – to reveal his perception that the television industry is – gasp! – overrun by social liberalism.

Trouble is, Shapiro finds signs of liberalism in nearly everything he’s viewed on the boob tube, and wields this bias indiscriminately against programming that may or may not possess a “liberal agenda.” His book may or may not be retaliation for a rejection the young author received for having his Hollywood aspirations dashed after producers vetting his background discovered Shapiro has authored a syndicated conservative column since his Harvard Law School days. This anecdote prefaces his lengthy jeremiad against the liberal establishment in the television industry.

When reading Primetime Propaganda, one is reminded of Harvard University professor Irving Babbitt who railed so much against Jean Jacques Rousseau that his students speculated he checked under his bed each evening to ensure the French philosopher wasn’t hiding there.

Like Kevin McCarthy warning against the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Charlton Heston discovering the little crackers in Soylent Green are made from people, Shapiro casts himself as a lone voice crying in the wilderness about the prevalence of liberalism in television, portentously outlining the thesis for his work:

After reading Primetime Propaganda, you’ll be awakened to what’s really going on behind the small screen, and you’ll be stunned to learn that you’ve been targeted by a generations of television creators and programmers for political conversion. You’ll find out that the box in your living room has been invading your mind, subtly shaping your opinions, pushing you to certain sociopolitical conclusions for years.

That Hollywood is predominantly liberal is no surprise to anyone and there are plenty of examples to support this. But that doesn’t prevent Shapiro from hammering as hard as he can to fit pegs of all shapes into an ill-defined liberal hole. Such an approach amounts to nothing more than buckshot as he fails from the outset of his enterprise to define adequately the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” Read without this crucial critical perspective, I suppose anything that offends the author’s sensibilities is deemed the former and anything he enjoys must fall into the latter realm. However, Shapiro confesses to enjoying such programs as Friends and The Simpsons, which he also classifies as promoting social liberalism. Apparently, he reconciles this inconsistency by possessing immunity to the sociopolitical mind control to which the rest of us without Harvard Law degrees are susceptible.

Further, Shapiro takes the too easy path in many instances to declare programs such as All in the Family as liberal indoctrination. On this in particular, I beg to differ. The 1970s program was indeed created by liberal producer Norman Lear and featured the outspoken activist actor Rob Reiner in a featured role, but to malign the program for this and its admittedly intermittent liberal subject matter is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Lear’s All in the Family might have accomplished more for the civil rights movement than any number of protests, documentaries, and marches simply by creating a lovable, bigoted curmudgeon whom viewers loved despite his innumerable prejudices. Shapiro writes that the program made fun of blue-collar conservatives through its depiction of a racist dockworker. If an unreformed Archie Bunker represents the type of conservatism Shapiro advocates, I’ll take a pass. The under-30 Shapiro may not recall the rampant racism of the early 1970s, but this writer certainly does.

By listening to Archie Bunker’s stridently offensive and indefensible rants, millions of 1970s television viewers – some possessing similar if not identical views – witnessed the absurdity of his intolerance, and warmed to the black Lionel Jefferson and Italian house-husband Frank Lorenzo far more quickly than did Archie. This may not adhere to Shapiro’s version of conservatism, but it certainly tracks with conservative Judeo-Christian principles of loving one’s neighbor regardless of race, creed, or color.

Additionally, viewers also witnessed the hypocrisy of Rob Reiner’s avowedly counterculture character, Michael “Meathead” Stivic, who mooches off his in-laws and behaves chauvinistically toward his wife. In at least one episode, Stivic was revealed to be as intolerant in his countercultural views as Archie was in his bigotry. I hardly perceive of this as an affront to conservative values.

It’s undeniable that television programming is antithetical to many true conservative values, as it repeatedly attacks Judeo-Christian traditions, attacks religious beliefs at seemingly every opportunity, and promotes statist policies and alternative lifestyles. But what’s called for isn’t Shapiro’s broad-brushed approach but a far more incisive analysis of the television industry’s promotion of secular liberalism.

It’s terribly sad, but you just can’t make this stuff up:

Thousands of sacks of food aid meant for Somalia’s famine victims have been stolen and are being sold at markets in the same neighborhoods where skeletal children in filthy refugee camps can’t find enough to eat, an Associated Press investigation has found.

As much as half of the food aid going into Somalia is stolen and sold in markets. Militants that control of large parts of the country and those who run refugee camps interdict the aid and sell it to free agents. Last week we warned about rampant corruption and theft in the country, but passages like this from the AP story are still heartbreaking

The aid is not even safe once it has been distributed to families huddled in the makeshift camps popping up around the capital. Families at the large, government-run Badbado camp said they were often forced to hand back aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it.

The camp bosses, employed by the most corrupt government in the entire world, take back the food and sell it outside the camp. The flow of aid has become torrential as Western governments take note of the famine and announce generous new aid packages. That has created what one Somali official called a “bonanza” for local charlatans. (The man spoke on condition of anonymity because, believe it or not, “monitoring food assistance in Somalia is a particularly dangerous process.”)

One man interviewed for the story seems to have read yesterday’s PowerBlog posting on the famine.

“While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster,” said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia. “You’re saving people’s lives today so they can die tomorrow.”

What Somalia needs is a PovertyCure. Instead of hosting hundreds of thousands of its people in refugee camps, which reinforces their powerlessness and encourages the country’s agricultural impotence, the country must open itself up to entrepreneurial development. And the West must focus its resources not on the indirect funding of militants, terrorists, and shysters, but on helping Somalia to build up its civil society and protect the economic freedom of its citizens.

In today’s Detroit News, Acton communications intern Elise Amyx offers a piece on farm subsidies. She looks at how Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow described this government support as “risk management protection” for farmers.

Stabenow, chairwoman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, conceded to the soybean farmers that “it’s wonderful that farming is prosperous now.” But she pointed to droughts in the South and the floods in the Midwest as proof that “you still face the same risk that farmers have always to deal with.” Some agribusinesses get paid seven digits to not farm areas of their farm in the name of “risk management,” but what sort of business person doesn’t take risks?

There is no doubt that farming is a difficult, volatile business filled with risk and uncertainty, but so are many other industries that do not receive any government handouts. Too many farmers view the government as a savior, who will reduce risk, create certainty and save the day if something bad happens. This is a dangerously dependent position to be in, and it is morally problematic when it comes at the expense of everyone else.

The glaring injustices built into farm subsidy policies explain why so many on both the political right and left routinely describe them as immoral.

Read Elise Amyx’s “Farming subsidies often do more harm than good” in the Detroit News.

In “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” investor Warren Buffett, one of the world’s wealthiest men, makes a case for upping the tax rate on the “mega-rich” in America. In a response published on National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that “this is a broken record that Mr. Buffett has taken to re-playing over the past five years.” He points out that the U.S. tax system is already heavily progressive (no pun intended) and that the label “mega-rich” may not be as obvious as Buffett would like us to believe:

It’s safe to say that a substantial number of these people operate small-to-medium-size businesses that don’t play the corporate welfare game a la General Electric, that are already subject to some of the world’s highest corporate tax rates (most of which is paid by the owners of companies), that reinvest much of their income in expanding their activities and taking on new risk, and, above all, that employ people. They are the engine of growth and employment in America today — not the United States government. Why on earth would we disincentivize them from creating value and jobs by raising their taxes?

Read Samuel Gregg’s “Taxing Warren Buffett” on NRO.

Coverage of the drought in the Horn of Africa has fixated on the amount of aid going into the region and humanitarians’ estimates of how much more will be needed. According to the U.N. Coordination of Human Affairs office, the $1 billion already committed to assistance is less than half of what will be needed—but who knows whether the final figure will be anywhere near the stated $2.3 billion.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are flooding out of their country into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia because massive refugee camps and daily high-energy rations are better than the situation at home. This migration is no different than that of the Israelites in Exodus or Ruth: surely 3500 years and half-a-dozen moon landings later we ought to have a better way of doing things?

Well we do, but the U.N. and the rest of the humanitarian establishment have lost the patrimony of Moses, and so have been wandering around the desert, dispersing aid to no effect, for a good deal more than 40 years. There is, thank goodness, a growing realization that U.N.’s materialistic solution is not working, as Ian Ernest, the chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said last week:

We would not only want to work on the immediate needs, but we are thinking, because this is becoming a chronic problem, we have got to see the root causes and fight it.

World leaders cannot help developing Africa, of course, unless they understand developing Africa, and that is hopeless if they do not understand human nature. There can be no to help for the world’s poor that does not come from a correct understanding of the human person. Modern humanitarian efforts undermine the dignity of the human person by treating the people of developing nations as mouths to be fed rather than the entrepreneurs who will pull their countries out of poverty.

Eva Muraya, a Kenyan businesswoman and one of the voices of Acton’s PovertyCure project, put it this way:

We begin to say no to poverty and begin to redeem the dignity of the citizens by virtue of creating business opportunity.

My biggest asset, I will say without a doubt, is the people who have worked with me, have worked alongside me.

As long as the U.N.’s mission in the Horn of Africa is unchanged, progress made by Somalia and other countries will be despite mainstream humanitarian efforts, not because of them.