The philosophical demise of socialism has caused many on the economic left to change their complaint about free-market capitalism. While it may be effective, they now say, it comes at the cost of human goods like community and social solidarity. Such claims are now commonplace in policy debates. But are they true?
In his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores the present decline—economic recession, a divisive, stagnant political climate and a deteriorating moral structure—of American civilization. Rather than citing religious excess or wide scale secularization as the problem, Douthat points his finger at what he calls “bad religion,” or, four basic heresies that present faux-Gospels contrary to the Christian faith.
Douthat’s solution, presented in the book’s conclusion, comes in the form of Christian orthodoxy, what one might call Good Religion. Without delving too far into critique, readers of all ecumenical stripes—even those without any—can profit from a quick examination of Douthat’s four points essential for traditional Christianity to reclaim a respected voice in the American public square.
First, Douthat calls for Christian engagement in the sphere of politics that is “political without being partisan,” marked by a “clear Christian difference.” He allows room for political disagreement while professing the necessity of Christian principles to mark the Christian ballot or campaign.
Second, Douthat endorses a Christianity that is “ecumenical but also confessional.” Douthat desires broader Christian discourse and unity, but vibrant doctrinal debate and a steadfast upholding of characteristic theological standards.
Third, Douthat calls for Christians to cut against the grain of contemporary society with a faith that is “moralistic but also holistic.” To present the Bible’s ethical system as a desirable path for a life, rather than a condescending rulebook, he says, is the great challenge for the Church of today.
Finally, Christian orthodoxy must be “oriented toward sanctity and beauty.” Christians occupy too sparse a share of today’s aesthetic landscape, he argues, calling for more distinctly Christian art the mirrors the novels of Marilynne Robinson or the poetry of Christian Wiman.
Douthat’s book will no doubt stimulate much discussion about Christianity’s place in politics, ethics and art. And voices like Douthat’s are an integral part of the debate. With any providence, both the Church and society will benefit greatly from a wider appreciation of Douthat’s hope:
“My hope throughout has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.”
“Anyone concerned with the future,” wrote Sergius Bulgakov,
is most anxious about the younger generation. But to be spiritually dependent on it, to truckle to its opinions and take it as a standard, testifies to a society’s spiritual weakness. In any case, an entire historical period and the whole spiritual tenor of intelligentsia heroism are symbolized by the fact that the ideal of the Christian saint, the ascetic, has been replaced here by the revolutionary student.”
Bulgakov is writing in 1909 about the young, sectarian intellectuals of Russian society, who according to Nicholas Berdyaev were “artificially isolated from national life.” They had taken upon themselves a sort of megalomania, assuming to be the heroic saviors of Russia, a sort of atheistic incarnation of Providence. The student, full of passion and idealism, had become the Übermensch for educated Russians, only barely subdued by the failed revolution of 1905. To Bulgakov, this idealizing of the youth amounted to a “spiritual pedocracy.” Russian society looked to the youth—the least experienced and therefore least wise—for spiritual leadership. Are we making the same mistake in America today? (more…)
When it comes to the issue of anthropomorphic climate change, I tend to be “acognostic”—I’m not convinced we even have the cognitive ability to determine whether climate change is occurring, much less whether it can be attributed to human activity. But I have no doubt that the responses to perceived climate change have already been disastrous for humanity.
Take, for example, the British government’s use of climate change as an excuse for population control. In 2010, a working paper published by the UK’s Department for International Development cited the need to fight climate change as one of the key reasons for supporting forced sterilization programs in India. According to The Guardian, the “document argued that reducing population numbers would cut greenhouse gases, although it warned that there were ‘complex human rights and ethical issues’ involved in forced population control.”
Despite such concerns, the British government funded the program—which has led to miscarriages, botched operations, and even death:
Thank you to our friends at The High Calling for excerpting this passage of Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, recently republished by The Acton Institute and Christian’s Library Press. DeKoster, the former professor and director of the library at Calvin College and Seminary, also edited The Banner, the Christian Reformed Church’s monthly publication. Acton is grateful for its relationship with both The High Calling and DeKoster, who left his 10,000+ book library to the Acton Institute upon his passing in 2009.
A public memorial for Chuck Colson is slated to take place Wednesday, May 16, at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. The event is open to the public and will also be streamed live at nationalcathedral.org. Additional information can be found in this DeMoss News news release. For more information on Colson’s life and relationship to the Acton Institute, please visit our Chuck Colson resource page.
“Each generation needs to re-own the rationale for Christian education,” says philosopher James K.A. Smith, “to ask ourselves ‘Why did we do this?’ and ‘Should we keep doing this?’” In answering such questions, Smith notes, “it might be helpful to point out what Christian education is not”:
First, Christian education is not meant to be merely “safe” education. The impetus for Christian schooling is not a protectionist concern, driven by fear, to sequester children from the big, bad world. Christian schools are not meant to be moral bubbles or holy huddles where children are encouraged to stick their heads in the sand.
Rather, Christian schools are called to be like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: not safe, but good. Instead of antiseptic moral bubbles, Christian schools are moral incubators that help students not only to see the glories of God’s creation but also to discern and understand the brokenness of this fallen world.
While the Christian classroom makes room for appreciating the stunning complexity of cell biology and the rich diversity of world cultures, it’s also a place to understand the systemic injustices behind racism and the macroeconomics of poverty. Christian schools are not places for preserving a naive innocence; they are laboratories to form children who see that our broken world is full of widows, orphans, and strangers we are called to love and welcome.
In short, Christian schools are not a withdrawal from the world; they are a lens and microscope through which to see the world in all its broken beauty.
Is ‘fair trade’ more fair or more just than free trade? While free trade has been increasingly maligned, The Fair Trade movement has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Many see this movement as a way to help people in the developing world and as a more just alternative to free trade. On the other hand, others argue that fair trade creates an unfair advantage that tends to harm the poor.
During last year’s Acton University—have you signed up for this year yet?—Nelson Kloosterman gave a lecture on the subject of school choice and private education. In the latest issue of Comment magazine, Kloosterman expands on his claim that parental choice is “the next civil rights movement“:
Let me begin with some contextualizing comments designed to set up the discussion that follows.
First, and most importantly, I believe that the fundamental issue in this matter involves parental choice, even though the far more popular phrase is school choice. Parental choice underlies and undergirds school choice, and forms (or should form) the heart of the debate on accessibility to and support of education today. I am assuming the right of parents to raise and educate their children in ways consistent with their parental convictions.
Susan Jacoby and Dinesh D’Souza met here in Grand Rapids at Fountain Street Church on Thursday, April 26, to debate the merits of religion in public discourse. The debate, co-sponsored by The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, was titled, “Is Christianity Good for American Politics?”
Susan Jacoby is program director at The Center for Inquiry and author of The Age of American Unreason and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History. She argued for the total removal of religious matters from the public square to avoid any tendency toward establishment of a particular religion.
Dinesh D’Souza is president of The King’s College in New York and author of What’s so Great About Christianity? His argument repeatedly returned to the difference between recognition and establishment and the contested meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.”
Here’s a sample from their exchange:
Jacoby: The first amendment was intended to protect religion from government … Our whole tradition prohibits supporting an establishment of tradition. What would happen in this society, if the government were forced to consider every religion? It would require absolutely equal treatment … We are not allowed to make judgments about which religions to favor or not.
Dinesh: You can’t simply chant separation of church and state and declare the matter settled. What we’re trying to figure out is why we have a prejudice against religious figures who have had an historical, moral, political, and even lawful impact, while we don’t have that prejudice against secular figures similarly situated. You keep chanting the same phrase from the constitution, when it is the meaning of that phrase that is up for discussion … My question is the meaning of the word establishment.