Among those on the so-called Religious Right, it is common to reduce political interests to “life” issues– most notably, abortion.

But in recent months, in the midst of the financial crisis and an economic recession, I’ve gotten many letters and emails about fund-raising problems within Christian organizations.

Although such concerns don’t rise to the level of abortion, they– and thus, economics and the politics that affect those economics– are non-trivial as well.

Beyond that, there are many issues which speak to “economic justice”– another huge Biblical theme.

If you’re familiar with Acton’s work, I’m preaching to the choir. But it bears repeating: We only have so much time to invest in politics, but economics and political shenanigans within the economic sphere should not be dismissed out-of-hand.

Blog author: eschansberg
posted by on Thursday, December 25, 2008

I felt inspired by a fellow Hoosier’s blog post this morning. Doug Masson wrote:

Merry Christmas everyone. Like I’ve said probably too many times, I’m not a religious guy. But, it’s tough to argue with the message — peace to everyone, love your family. Love each other. Sounds easy enough. Looking at the world, apparently it’s harder than it sounds. Still, this is a nice reminder each year.

I’m not particularly religious either, but in a different sense than Doug means (I think). Of course, even assuming that we’re talking about Christianity, sometimes it’s “religion” that gets in the way of the message– both believing it and living it out. This was probably the most important aspect of Christ’s earthly ministry– to mess with the Pharisees who had distorted the message.

The other difficulty is that we’re selective with the message:

We like baby Jesus, but not so much the bearded Man from Galilee.

Or we like some aspects of the bearded Man’s message, but not others. And so, we practice a cafeteria Christianity that’s somewhere between an attenuated Gospel and heresy in doctrine– and in practice, somewhere between lukewarm love and destructive behavior.

Or to borrow from and paraphrase a good sermon I heard in a United Church of Christ service two weekends ago, we’re cool with the cradle, ok with the cross, and not so hot with the throne.

The cradle seemingly makes no demands. It’s somewhere between cute and quaint, warm and fuzzy, myth and Myth. The calls from the cradle are implied and easily trumped by the trappings of the holiday celebration.

The cross, in practice, is a mixed bag. It inspires awe when we focus on what Christ offered to do for us. His Sacrifice, which begins when He goes from Heaven to Cradle, is staggering– in particular, to die for the stupid things that we did, do, and will do. In a word, Christ died for bozos like you and me. As Paul writes in Romans: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

But often, we stop just there, focusing on the Gift of God’s Grace, and not the resulting call: to extend grace as Grace as been extended to us, to love as we have been Loved– not just those who love us, but beyond what is relatively easy.

The throne is left out altogether– that Jesus Christ would not only be Savior, but Lord of one’s life. The results are predictable: relationship becomes religion and ritual, the Church is tainted, God’s Kingdom is diminished. We are then incapable of loving as we were created to do, unable to be who we were created to be.

May Christmas Day be a reminder that we should strive to make every day Christmas– from the cradle to the cross to the throne.

Of course, Santa is based on a historical character. And in many (but certainly not all!) ways, he points forward to Jesus Christ. But in a broader sense, God has created a mystical, mythical, and magical world– that can be overdone or mis-imagined. That said, the more common error is to under-do or under-imagine– out of our “modern” heritage and tainted worldview.

I’ve blogged on this quite a few times– and three times in the past month, in noting the 100th anniversary of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, a connection between Harry Potter, D&D, Chesterton and Lewis, and the ultimately irrational hyper-extension of rationality.

My family and I just watched Elf the other night on TV– a charming little movie with the same message. (I’m on a bit of a Will Ferrell kick these days– after seeing Talladega Nights after this post.)

Here’s Tony Woodlief in the WSJ (hat tip: Linda Christiansen) on the same general topic– with applications to Santa Claus and our ability (&/or willingness) to believe (or not)…

After describing his 8-year old son determining that Santa was not real, “the talk” they had, and his son’s ultimate question (“He isn’t real, is he?”), Woodlief moves into deeper waters:

Perhaps a more responsible parent would confess, but I hesitate. For this I blame G.K. Chesterton [and] “Orthodoxy”…One of its themes is the violence that rationalistic modernism has worked on the valuable idea of a “mystical condition,” which is to say the mystery inherent in a supernaturally created world. Writing of his path to faith in God, Chesterton says: “I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.”

Magic-talk gets under the skin of many, like renowned scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins. This is doubly so when it is what the Christ-figure Aslan, in C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” calls “the deeper magic,” an allusion to divinity. Mr. Dawkins is reportedly writing a book examining the pernicious tendency of fantasy tales to promote “anti-scientific” thinking among children. He suspects that such stories lay the groundwork for religious faith, the inculcation of which, he claims, is a worse form of child abuse than sexual molestation.

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being….

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine! Oh night when Christ was born!
Oh night divine! Oh night! Oh night divine!

Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the lord, that ever, ever praise we.
Noel! Noel! Oh night; oh night divine!
Noel! Noel! Oh night; oh night divine!
Noel! Noel! Oh night; oh night divine!

In this season of giving, Kevin Schmiesing looks at another form of exchange — trade. He observes that ethical commercial activity “is not an exercise in selfishness, but the practice of properly ordered self-interest, which is of necessity tempered by the wants and needs of others.”

Read this commentary over at the Acton website and then come back to share your comments.

Catching up on “Revisiting the 1986 economic pastoral”, an article from October in the National Catholic Reporter:

The bishops’ point “that Catholics’ moral life cannot be separated entirely from their economic life has relevance for what we’re going through now,” said Kevin Schmiesing, research fellow for the Acton Institute, a proponent of free markets. “Unless you believe there is no moral component to this, that there’s no failure of responsibility, that there’s no greed at work, that those kinds of moral issues have no impact. … If you’re willing to concede that they do, then I think you can also concede that the bishops have a point.”

Read more >>>

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In “Betrayed by Madoff, Yeshiva U. Adds a Lesson,” the New York Times interviews students and teachers at the New York University which was closely linked to Bernard Madoff, the financier who has been charged by federal prosecutors with orchestrating a $50 billion Ponzi scheme fraud.

In Intermediate Accounting I, undergraduates analyzed how he seemingly tap-danced around the Securities and Exchange Commission. In Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s philosophy of Jewish law course, students pondered whether Jewish values had been distorted to reward material success.

“This overrides everything else,” said Rabbi Blech, who has taught at Yeshiva for 42 years. “It is an opportunity to convey to students that ritual alone is not the sole determinant of our Judaism, that it must be combined with humanity, with ethical behavior, with proper values, and most important of all, with regard to our relationship with other human beings.”

The rabbi and some students are also torn by “pressures to achieve material success as well as religious devotion” at a school that combines secular and Jewish studies.

Rabbi Blech, who teaches the philosophy of law course, said he, too, worried that community expectations had steered students away from public-service professions like teaching and toward more lucrative jobs.

“In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation,” he said. “We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.”

Read more …

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You can view the most recent list of those companies that have received bailout assistance from the federal government via the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA), executed through measures like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), here (PDF updated 12/16/08).

I’m thinking about adding these companies to my own personal “naughty” list.

Visit the EESA homepage, where you can sign up for EESA e-mail updates as your tax dollars are spent for you. “How is this money being spent?” you might ask. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the government has not required any special reporting for how the bailees are using these funds.

Remember that rush to push the bailout through right before the election, when the government and the media were telling us that Congress needed to hurry up and authorize the use of more money than has been spent on the entire Iraq war? The legislation appears to be so sloppy that it allows the executive branch to distribute the funds as it pleases, without any accountability for how the funds are being spent, and without any restrictions on what sort of industry qualifies.

I guess it’s more important that the money gets spent rather than how it gets spent.

Since government is now in the business of rewarding failure (call it a “demeritocracy”), nominate those most deserving of money from the bailout in the comment boxes below. Here’s a list to get you started:

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ramesh Ponnuru says Social Security is worse than a Ponzi scheme.

He’s right. It’s more like an inter-generational pyramid scheme, a pyramid tipped on its side…


To be sustainable, over time (T) it has to take more from more people (thus a three-dimensional pyramid rather than a two-dimensional triangle. It’s really exponential rather than multiplicative).

Social Security. In case you forgot, it still needs fixing. This Christmas, think about the rather unpleasant gift we’ll be leaving the generations that follow in the form of unsustainable and unfunded “entitlements.”

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Friday, December 19, 2008

It’s the end of the year, so the book lists are out. I’m thinking about conservative icon Russell Kirk.

If you want a really enjoyable and edifying read, I recommend you begin with The Roots of American Order. That book will give you an understandable and historically grounded sense of what “ordered liberty” means. It will also open the mysteries of Kirk wide to the uninitiated reader. The prose is lively. Highly readable.

Kirk is more widely known for the book that made his reputation, The Conservative Mind, but I think The Roots of American Order is a better read for the vast majority of people.