Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine “The Truth about Tithing.”

“Whatever benefits we claim to receive from tithing, whether spiritual, emotional, or financial, these are not to be the reason that we give. We give out of obedience to God’s word,” I write.

Here’s a link to a Marketplace Money report from last Friday that was the proximate occasion for the piece, “Tithing can be a good investment.” It’s a pretty disgustingly caricatured picture of tithing we get from the Marketplace report.

One more bit of evidence that the press just doesn’t “get” religion.

Last Saturday a brief op-ed commentary of mine ran in the weekly Religion section of the Grand Rapids Press, “Chandler case exemplifies need to repent.”

The occasion for the piece was the sentencing over the last few months of those convicted of involvement in the rape and murder of Janet Chandler in 1979 (more details about the case can be found in the Holland Sentinel’s special coverage section.) Chandler was a student at Holland’s Hope College at the time of her death. (Here are two of the stories that form the background for my article’s argument: “Swank: ‘No excuse’ for role in Chandler death” and “Lives built on dark secret crumble.”)

In the op-ed I make the claim that the work of the criminal justice system in the conviction and sentencing of those involved provides a necessary context within which forgiveness, or more precisely a form of restorative justice, might be sought. “For criminals who are in denial about what they have done, the power of the state to punish crime stands as public and objective testimony to the wrong that has been committed,” I write.

Swank: “No excuse…” (Sentinel/Dan Irving)

That’s exactly what has happened in this case. Earlier in December four men were sentenced to life in prison in connection with Chandler’s murder. After the four men were sentenced, Janet’s father Jim said, “As a Christian, I thought of saying we should forgive, but you have to ask for forgiveness. None of these arrogant people ever felt remorse or asked for forgiveness.”

Jim Chandler touches here on the critical difference between a forgiveness that is merely offered, and forgiveness that is sought out and received. Forgiveness that is merely offered is described as the “weak” form of forgiveness by Victor Claar, a professor at Hope College, and John N. Oswalt, a professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Miss., in an article appearing in the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Can Neoclassical Economics Handle a Scriptural View of Forgiveness?”

Claar and Oswalt also describe the “strong” form of forgiveness: “This strong form follows the biblical view that forgiveness cannot be granted unless the victimizer has repented. Apology is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the strong form of forgiveness. Further, only the strong form holds the possibility of reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation without apology.”

Much of the reflection that lies behind the GR Press article is the fruit of the study behind a piece on restorative justice and the Christian tradition that is due to appear in an issue of next year’s Ave Maria Law Review. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how so-called “retributive” justice and “restorative” justice relate.

One way of putting the question is to inquire as to how to put together the instructions in Romans 12, such as, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,” and Romans 13, including the statements referring to the civil magistrate, “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

For more on how restorative justice can work within the context of the criminal justice system, see this story about the work of Celebrate Recovery, a prison ministry at work in Michigan and around the country, “Pastors baptize 33 at St. Joseph County Jail” (HT).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 24, 2007

“O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

“An Additional Collect for Christmastide,” Scottish Book of Common Prayer (1912).

Malika Worrell’s review of The Call of the Entrepreneur is a perfect storm of distorting prejudice, muddle, and simple factual errors. First, she says, “Much of Call’s 58-minute runtime is taken up with talking heads, most of whom are affiliated with the Acton Institute, affirming the film’s ideology that unfettered capitalism is inherently righteous.”

This is incorrect, and I told her it was incorrect in our interview. The majority of interviewees in the film, from Brad Morgan to George Gilder, Michael Novak, Jimmy Lai, and Peter Boettke, are not affiliated with Acton. Moreover, her description of the film’s “ideology” (why not say “argument”?) seems to be describing some other film. What little was said about the free market and capitalism in our film focused on the importance not of “unfettered capitalism” but of private property and rule of law. Such government-enforced “fetters” are preconditions for a successful capitalism. These are the lessons of economic history, not the deliverances of some kind of irrational faith, which Worrell suggests.

She also comments, “The film’s single-minded focus on the virtues of the free market is accompanied by a Calvinist streak. The entrepreneurial impulse contains elements “of God’s original creative act.” This is a quote from the film by Samuel Gregg, a Roman Catholic. The film is based on a book by a Roman Catholic priest, Robert Sirico, which Worrell elsewhere notes. Catholics aren’t Calvinists. Moreover, the idea that human beings are created in God’s image to be creators is a broadly Judeo-Christian idea, one shared even by deists like Thomas Jefferson.

On several occasions, Worrell criticizes the film because, apparently, it isn’t the film she thought we should have made: “Viewers hoping to learn more about the businesses Call’s featured entrepreneurs created will come away frustrated; the film is more interested in ideology than the actual logistics of entrepreneurship.” Again, she prefers the prejudicial word “ideology” to describe a perspective she simply disagrees with. In any case, this isn’t a valid criticism. The film is a response to the ubiquitous stereotype of business entrepreneurs as greedy misers that persists in both the entertainment and news media. It’s not a training film for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Today’s post will look at the Georgetown University Press Religion & Ethics catalog and the Westminster John Knox Academic Update (series index):

Titles from Georgetown University Press:

Titles from Westminster John Knox:

Ramsey Wilson provides a thoughtful and valuable post on my previous entry on Christmas consumerism. Upon reflection, Wilson provides an important insight that makes explicit what was perhaps only implicit in my previous post.

Wilson writes, “I hope and trust that the fellowship and exchange of gifts would point us toward reflection and remembrance of Who made possible such delights, and to take yet another step in the direction of knowing Him.”

Amen.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 20, 2007

One element that came out in the aftermath of “Romney’s religion speech,” an event highly touted in the run-up and in days following, was the charge that Mormonism is essentially a racist faith (or at least was until 1978), and that in unabashedly embracing the “faith of his fathers” so publicly (and uncritically), Mitt Romney did not distance himself from or express enough of a critical attitude toward the official LDS policy regarding membership by blacks before 1978.

One example of a person who raised this concern quite vociferously is political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who as a guest on the McLaughlin Group on the episode immediately following Romney’s speech, said this of Romney (among many other things):

Here’s the problem. He dare not discuss his religion. And he fools people like Pat Buchanan, who should know better. This was the worst speech, the worst political speech, of my lifetime, because this man stood there and said to you, “This is the faith of my fathers.” And you and none of these commentators who liked this speech realize that the faith of his father is a racist faith. As of 1978, it was an officially racist faith. And for political convenience, in 1978 it switched and it said, “Okay, black people can be in this church.”

Mitt Romney was 31 years-old in 1978 when the LDS church altered its policy toward “priesthood” membership for black males, citing a new revelation. You can check out the entire exchange between O’Donnell and the other members of the McLaughlin Group panel here:


It seems to me that Pat Buchanan misses O’Donnell’s point in the exchange. Buchanan cites scandalous examples from Christianity’s past, such as the condoning of slavery for 1,500 years, in effect to say that all religions have their problems, and that doesn’t mean that we associate every historical evil from a religion’s past with its contemporary adherents. But what O’Donnell’s charge is meant to show is that folks like Pat Buchanan and other Christians are inclined to judge their tradition’s own past, and pronounce that such and such a practice was an objective evil and upon reflection ex post facto, incompatible with the fundamental beliefs of their faith.

From O’Donnell’s perspective it’s precisely this criticism that is lacking in Romney. As Byron York puts it,

But now, Romney is faced with the simple question: Was the church policy before 1978 wrong? This morning, he wouldn’t say, and it might be difficult for him, as a former church leader, to get out in front of the LDS leadership on that. And he certainly can’t cite McConkie’s advice to forget everything that was said before 1978. Given all that, it’s an issue that’s likely to pop up over and over again.

It did pop up on Romney’s Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert the following Sunday morning:


Part of Romney’s defense is his claim that his family’s practices point to their beliefs about race in America: “My dad marched with MLK.” Now there’s controversy surrounding that claim. (more…)

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is spreading the Christmas cheer by posing as Santa Claus and handing out government programs to the taxpayer. Also, it looks like she is promising to deliver on the promised middle class tax cuts from the first Clinton administration. Universal health care and universal pre-K are part of her gift package. She’s certainly not a stingy Santa Claus.


I’m really proud of this essay. The history is very interesting; the philosophical and religious links are provocative; and the contemporary applications are important and wide-ranging.

Enjoy! eric


We observed a dubious centennial this year. In 1907, Indiana became the first state in America to pass a eugenics law.

Eugenics is the study of the hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled, selective breeding. The word derives from its Latin components — eu meaning “well” or “good” and genics meaning “born” or “birth.” Eugenics, then, seeks the products of “good birth” or being “well born” (better human beings or a better human race) through selective breeding.

From there, two categories emerge: Positive eugenics is the study of “good” outcomes achieved through breeding; negative eugenics is the study of “bad” outcomes, when undesirable characteristics are lessened or eliminated through selective breeding.

Beyond mere study, eugenics typically leads to a set of recommended practices. Beyond mere science, eugenics has always been connected to various worldviews and related to other theories. And beyond what we knew about science a century ago, we now have a greater understanding of the extent to which genetics affect such outcomes. In sum, eugenics is a pseudo-science loaded with philosophical and ethical baggage.

For more on the history of eugenics and the current applications of eugenics, click here…

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Drudge Report yesterday featured a screen shot of a new television ad that’s playing currently in Iowa for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Next to the image was this quote from primary opponent Ron Paul: “When fascism comes it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.” Paul said the Huckabee ad reminded him of the quote, which he attributed to muckraking novelist Sinclair Lewis.

Huckabee’s television ad steps back from politics, reminding the voters that the birth of Christ is the meaning of Christmas. Some critics and talking heads have attacked Huckabee for pandering too much to evangelical voters. In addition, a mini controversy surrounding the ad has emerged over what some are calling a ‘subliminal cross’ that appears on a bookcase in the background. Huckabee has dismissed the controversy with humor saying, “I was also signaling evangelical voters with Morse code, with all the blinking I was doing.”

Paul addresses the controversy by saying he wasn’t quoted correctly, and linked the comment to the war issue, criticizing super patriotism. He criticized Christians for not following the Just War Theory. He did not seem to adequately address the implied link he made with Christianity and fascism, which of course are polar opposites.

To his credit, Paul did talk about the opposition to free markets in this country, and the danger it imposes. Paul spoke about a kind of economic fascism, which he called “corporatism to the extreme.”

“Also, economically speaking this country is moving rapidly towards fascism,” Paul said. “We’re not going to end up with socialism of the old fashioned type. Like in medicine today, we don’t have free market medicine. We don’t have government medicine, we have corporate medicine. That is fascism in the economic sense.”

Updated: Ron Paul Charges Huck Implies He’s The Only Christian

The two clips are provided below.