John Luther is pierced for Jenny's transgressions.

An essay of mine on the wonderful and difficult BBC series “Luther” is up over at the Comment magazine website, “Get Your Hands Dirty: The Vocational Theology of Luther.”

In this piece I reflect on DCI John Luther’s “overriding need to protect other people from injustice and harm, and even sometimes the consequences of their own sin and guilt,” and how that fits in with the Christian (and particularly Lutheran) doctrine of vocation.

Indeed, the character’s name itself is instructive in this regard. DCI John Luther (played by Idris Elba) is a kind of present-day embodiment of the ideas present in the popular book On Secular Authority, which contains works by the reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther on the restraining power of the civil magistrate.

As I write,

John Luther is a deeply troubled man. We get no real insight into his spiritual life, and he begins the second series of episodes on the verge of suicide. There is likewise little overt religiosity in Luther. But in the vicarious representative action of the natural lawman DCI John Luther on behalf of others, we see a broken and fragmentary expression of common grace, God’s preserving work in the world.

In this way, as a force for civil justice and the restraint of evil, DCI John Luther might just be on God’s side without knowing it.

Writing on The American Spectator website, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the strange notion of European fiscal “austerity” even as more old continent economies veer toward the abyss. Is America far behind?

Needless to say, Greece is Europe’s poster child for reform-failure. Throughout 2011, the Greek parliament passed reforms that diminished regulations that applied to many professions in the economy’s service sector. But as two Wall Street Journal journalists demonstrated one year later, “despite the change in the law, the change never became reality. Many professions remain under the control of professional guilds that uphold old turf rules, fix prices and restrict opportunities for newcomers.” In the words of one frustrated advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Even when the Greek Parliament passes laws, nothing changes.”

Politics helps explain many governments’ aversion to reform. Proposals for substantial deregulation generates opposition from groups ranging from businesses who benefit from an absence of competition, union officials who fear losing their middle-man role, to bureaucrats whose jobs would be rendered irrelevant by liberalization. The rather meek measures that Europeans call austerity have already provoked voter backlashes against most of its implementers. Not surprisingly, many governments calculate that pursuing serious economic reform will result in ever-greater electoral punishment.

In any event, America presently has little to boast about in this area. States such as Wisconsin have successfully implemented change and are starting to see the benefits. But there’s also fiscal basket-cases such as (surprise, surprise) California and Illinois that continue burying themselves under a mountain of debt and regulations.

Read “Why Austerity Isn’t Enough” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

Immediately after watching For Greater Glory, I found myself struggling to appreciate the myriad good intentions, talents and the $40 million that went into making it. Unlike the Cristeros who fought against the Mexican government, however, my efforts ultimately were unsuccessful.

The film opened on a relatively limited 757 screens this past weekend, grossing $1.8 million and earning the No. 10 position of all films currently in theatrical release. Additionally, the film reportedly has been doing boffo at the Mexican box office. Clearly, word of mouth and the temperament of the times are driving folks to see a movie wherein good overcomes evil, and, more specifically, militarily enforced secularism is defeated by religiously faithful armed-to-the-teeth underdogs.

It’s not that the subject matter of For Greater Glory isn’t historically accurate and compelling.  Nearly 10 years after the Mexican Revolution, President Plutarco Calles decides to enforce the anti-clerical laws written into the 1917 Mexican Constitution.  Calles (portrayed blandly if not refreshingly free of Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling by the otherwise fine actor and recording artist Ruben Blades) forced not only the closure of Catholic schools, but also the expulsion of foreign clergy. His oppression hat-trick was completed by the government confiscation of Church property. When the archbishop of Mexico City expressed his concerns, Calles had his agents bomb the archbishop’s home and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (more…)

The Washington Post’s editorial page reminds us that today is the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s address at Westminster Hall, London. The speech, famous for its “ash heap of history line,” was Reagan’s challenge to the Soviet Union’s very legitimacy and pointed to its hollow core. Reagan’s great strength was not just America’s military posture against the Soviets, but that he truly made the Cold War a battle of moral ideas. It was a decisive pivot away from America’s policy of containment.

We probably forget now that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted his address, which simply put, was a scathing indictment of Soviet communism. Margaret Thatcher toasted the president that evening at 10 Downing thanking him “for putting freedom on the offensive where it belongs.”

PowerLine has an excellent ten minute clip which I have posted below:

In the context of commentary on protests like those in Quebec and the Occupy movement more broadly, it’s worth reflecting on the dangers of democratic tyranny.

The “people” can be tyrannical just as an individual sovereign or an oligarchy might. That’s why Aristotle considered democracy a defective form of government, because it too easily enshrines the will of the majority into an insuperable law. As Lord Acton put it, “It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.” For this same reason Tocqueville worried about the tyrannical power of the will of the majority, once settled:

So, what is a majority taken as a collective whole, if not an individual with opinions and quite often interests, in opposition to another individual whom we call a minority? Now, if you admit that and all-powerful man can abuse his power against his opponents, why not admit the same thing for a majority? Have men, united together, changed their character? Have they become more patient of obstacles by becoming stronger?

Of course not. As Tocqueville goes on to observe, the self-righteous assurance of the majority makes their impatience even more striking. They will brook no dissent because of the assurance that they are correct and that the majority rules, as it ought to.

When the majority (99%) can simply decide to take what they decide they “deserve” from the minority (1%), you have the recipe then for deep injustice. What I don’t see, however, is any unified majority (yet). The student protesters in Quebec might have some sympathy, but whatever the political fallout will be, it is unlikely that the younger generation is going to be politically successful in their bid to protect their economic interests against the entrenched interests of the boomer generations. In part this is because as much as they might protest, or complain, or start Internet petitions, young people don’t vote and they don’t have powerful lobbying groups.

The dynamic is likely to be the same here in the US. As the share of federal spending is increasingly dominated by entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, you’ll end up having recipients of various entitlements fighting it out. And no matter how upset college students and recent graduates are, I don’t see their political interests holding more sway than say, the retired. The AARP will beat the student union six days a week and twice on Sunday.

We can see this dynamic playing out all over the world. As Bill Frezza writes (HT: The Transom) in the context of Greece and the EU crisis, “Democracy becomes a cancer if its powers are not limited. That is because a sustainable democracy requires not just votes, but also governing institutions that protect the rights of minorities against predatory majorities. The disease of voters voting themselves benefits at someone else’s expense has infected much of the world.”

He concludes, “Greece provides a stark example of what happens when a government runs out of other people’s money. If the rest of us don’t take heed while there is still time, we will all end up like you.” And if the Greek leftists have their way, it may not matter what the rest of the world does: “…if you want to send us to the bottom, we will take you to the bottom too.”

Suzy Khimm points out an interesting study from the UK’s Spatial Economics Research Centre:

Our fixed-effects estimates show that purchasing a house reduces the likelihood of starting a business by 20-25%. … This result is driven by homeowners with mortgages and persists for several years after entering homeownership. … We argue that this finding can be rationalized by the fact that homeowners typically have to overinvest in housing (Brueckner, 1997; Flavin and Yamashita, 2002) and therefore cannot adequately diversify their portfolio. As a consequence, individuals choose not to start-up their own business venture at the same time as becoming homeowners since this would imply taking on significant additional risk. Stated differently; investments in homeownership crowd out entrepreneurial engagement.

The findings aren’t all that surprising, of course. Many major life events—getting married, having a baby, etc.—are likely to lead a person to become more risk averse and thus less entrepreneurial (at least in the short term). But it’s a reminder that the inordinate emphasis Americans place on home ownership can have broad-ranging (and potentially negative) effects on the economy.

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, June 7, 2012
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“I do my religion on Sundays.”

That was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s answer to a press conference question on the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, according to The Washington Examiner. Pelosi has consistently backed the Obama administration’s call to force employers to offer abortion, sterilization and birth control as part of employee health care, despite many organizations’ ethical, moral and religious objections (Acton’s PowerBlog offers more here on this topic.)

Pelosi’s answer is telling: Her faith should not affect (or infect) her work life, or even her daily life; it’s reserved for one day of the week only. Is that what Christians are called to? It hardly seems so. One of Acton’s initiatives, On Call In Culture, speaks directly to this: You can put in your hours, do the things you like to do on your own schedule, but what opportunities are you missing by not putting yourself in the hands of God? The fact is, Christians believe certain immutable truths and those truths don’t disappear when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday, when one walks out the church doors or when one sits down at the computer on Monday morning.

Recently, Cardinal Peter Turkson wrote to business leaders on just this topic, to people who ‘ … daily strive to witness to your faith in Christ and his charity at work in the world… ‘, reflecting, as the Cardinal says ‘ …on what it means to be authentically human in history, society and culture… ‘ The Cardinal – of the Church that Ms. Pelosi believes should be part of her life only 1/7 of the time – affirms that faith should infuse the social order daily in order to create a society where all people’s beliefs are safeguarded, and a government does not dictate behavior.

Ms. Pelosi can choose to believe whatever she wishes, but being a “Sunday only” Catholic isn’t truly an option for her. One either believes – day in and day out – and acts accordingly, or one does not. There is no “religion on Sunday” for Christians.

Does being a Christian in business mean you’ll never have to fire someone? Of course not. But that’s one of the many subtexts that is detectable in the recent attention being given to this story: “CEO of Christian Publishing Firm Fires 25 Employees after Anonymous Email.”

Now I don’t know any more details than what is contained in the Romenesko report, and it may well be that CEO Ryan Tate acted in an imprudent and incorrect fashion following his receipt of an anonymous email.

One of the things that’s interesting to me, however, is the implicit sense that because you pray with someone (“corporately,” in this case), you can’t fire them. Or at least not right afterward. That’s what the lede of the Romanesko report seems to convey, at least implicitly. Or it at least communicates the dissonance between prayer at an “all-hands meeting” and then going “ballistic” afterwards. In that case, it really might really be more about the particular actions of Tate than it is about broader conceptions of how prayer and work mix.

But is there a sense in which there’s some broader assumption that Christian businesspeople do things differently? I think so. Does it mean, however, that they don’t fire people? I don’t think so. But it may mean that they pray for (or even with) people before they fire them.

Again, being a Christian businessperson probably means you don’t fire people without appropriate cause. I don’t really want to debate the cause in this particular case. But it certainly doesn’t seem to mean that you don’t fire people ever.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, June 7, 2012
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Over at Commentary Magazine, Jonathan S. Tobin remarks on the double standards liberals have about allowing politicians to promote political positions from the pulpits of churches and synagogues:

[A]llowing a religious event to become the venue for partisan politics is always asking for trouble. No one is saying, or ought to say, that synagogue buildings can’t be used for debates or forums in which politics is discussed. But there is a big difference between a Sunday morning bagel breakfast to which politicians are invited and what ought to be a purely religious event.

Far too often in this country we have seen inner city churches used as launching points for Democratic campaigns or evangelical churches employed for the same purpose by conservatives and Republicans. The willingness of some liberal Jews to use Reform institutions such as Miami’s Temple Israel in the same way is regrettable. Rather than being the rallying cry for those who wish to impose more partisan politics on helpless congregants, it should serve as a warning to all religious institutions to stay away from politicians while they are running for office and seeking to exploit them.

To this I give a hearty, but qualified, Amen. Rather than seeking “equal time” I believe that conservatives should stand for keeping partisan politics out of the pulpit. Particular social and moral issues are fair game, of course. But those should be presented by the preacher, not a politician.
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In this week’s commentary, I take a look at Calvin Coolidge and his views on government. Coolidge is important today for many reasons. Chiefly, he’s a striking contrast to our current culture of government and the bloated state.

Coolidge was sandwiched in between the progressive era and the rise of the New Dealers. And in his era of leadership, tyrannical leaders who preached the supremacy of the state rose to power abroad. Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini in Italy are two examples. Coolidge preached limited government and saw himself as a civic educator who wanted to remind America of its founding freedom.

In watching what just transpired with the recall election in Wisconsin and the debate over public sector unions, there is again a connection to Coolidge. His rise to national prominence came as governor of Massachusetts when he took on a public union. Coolidge’s firm stand against the Boston Police Strike of 1919 later led him to reflect saying, “The people will respond to the truth.” Coolidge famously declared during the strike that, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Ronald Reagan would find inspiration from Coolidge’s hardline when he terminated the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 as president.

I have enjoyed reading through the speeches and biographies of Coolidge. I have read a lot of original sources such as Have Faith in Massachusetts, which is a collection of messages and speeches delivered by Coolidge during his political career in the Bay State. After reading through that, you get a picture of the depth of his conservative thought and how he was able to articulate it so well to the citizenry.

His most brilliant speech which is really a denunciation of the progressive era and a triumphant praise of America’s Founding is his remarkable address on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. If you don’t read anything else by Coolidge, that speech is a must read. Finally, keep the forthcoming Coolidge biography by Amity Shlaes on your radar.