Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Genuine giving can be a very hard thing to do, especially when talking about money and finances. The Gospels make this abundantly clear with the story of the rich young ruler. I remember attending a church where the tithes were brought forward to the altar and being tempted to come carrying an empty envelope on several occasions.

Getting ready for my move to Grand Rapids, I had the opportunity to give away some things which were valuable but I no longer really needed. Upon arriving of course I realized I could have and should have given more.

John Armstrong in a blog a couple of weeks ago pointed out, “65% of individual giving comes from homes with less than $100,000 in annual income… That’s an important nuance. Importance nuance for sure!”

In fact for a long time I lived in Mississippi, a state which is rather well known for being poor. But Mississippians have consecutively ranked among the most generous givers on several occasions (figured by amount given as a share of income).

The apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians is saying something important in that giving should be done with considerable design and reflection. A well informed and thoughtful giver can help develop a cheerful giver. Seeing your money and capital empowering people can be powerful, and seeing it mismanaged can be disheartening.

As Christians we know we are created and made in the Image of God. God is of course by nature love and compassion, and his revelation and grace is made evident by his Triune character. In trying to be like the image of God we should be cheerful and faithful in loving other humans. God certainly models perfect love and relationship and we are called to model the imago Dei. When Christ fed the multitudes and healed the sick he was not only meeting physical and spiritual needs but was filled with compassion.

Likewise we should be giving in like manner, cheerful and filled with compassion. I remember working in D.C. and experiencing anguish with some of the nastiness and loneliness on Capitol Hill. I was doubting a lot of things in general and, while walking through the famed Statuary Hall, I saw the statue of Father Damien of Molokai who literally gave his life for the lepers on the island of Molokai. My eyes welled with tears and I was once again reminded there are servants who greatly contrast other servants.

In the words of Isaiah, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Here’s a great story by Jennifer Brea touching on a lot of favorite Acton topics. Brea observes that many Africans are getting wise to the fact that Western direct aid may be hurting more than helping their continent. We’ve long decried government-to-government aid and advocated expanded trade instead. More pointed is the article’s indictment of private charitable aid as well. Brea concedes the positive dimensions of such charity, but argues convincingly that Africans’ welfare really lies in the hands of Africans themselves—and in the creativity and entrepreneurship that can only be fully realized when full responsibility is also theirs.

Another interesting piece of the story: Treating Africans as “partners” in the global economy rather than as beneficiaries of global charity is what has helped China take a leading role in the region. That’s a theme that Anthony Bradley broached in his commentary last month.

I ran across this review essay by J. Daniel Hammond responding to S.J. Peart and D. Levy’s The Vanity of the Philosopher: From Equality to Hierarchy in Postclassical Economics over at SSRN, “In the Shadows of Vanity: Religion and the Debate Over Hierarchy.”

In Hammond’s words, he wants to fill in a gap in Peart’s and Levy’s account: “The purpose of this paper is to make a start at casting light on the role of religion in the debate over race and hierarchy in 19th century England.”

One of the key turning points in Hammond’s argument is the following supposition: “Catholicism may have played a larger role in the debates over racial hierarchy than would be suggested by the Roman Catholic proportion of the English population and clergy.” Rehearsing the history and nature of the English reformation, Hammond, who is an economist at Wake Forest, writes that in the late nineteenth century, religious liberty for Catholics in Britain increased.

Here’s where Hammond’s analysis gets somewhat strange. He writes that “the brotherhood of the entire human race was a Catholic doctrine. This principle is repeated over and over in papal encyclicals, and having been forcibly removed from the Catholic Church by the English reformers under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, the English people were for 300 years outside the ambit of the Catholic magisterium.”

Hammond relates a litany of papal statements against slavery. His conclusion: “If Englishmen were to conclude that slavery was wrong, or that African Blacks and Irish were their brothers, this would be on grounds other than exhortation from the Catholic Church. Not being in communion with the Church of Rome, Anglicans were without doctrinal protection from the very human temptation to treat only those humans who are like us as our brothers.” This absence of Catholic influence on Britain apparently opened up the nation to increasing support for racism.

Although Anglicans and British Protestants were not influenced to any great extent by papal teachings, it does not follow that they “were without doctrinal protection” from racist social forces.

Let me give just one example. The Puritan Richard Baxter, writing in the late 17th century, articulates an argument for the essential similarity shared by all human beings.

He writes, “It’s well known, That the Natives in New England, the most barbarous Abassines, Gallanes, &c. in Ethiopia, have as good natural Capacities as the Europeans. So far are they from being but like Apes and Monkeys; if they be not Ideots or mad, they sometime shame learned men in their words and deeds.”

Indeed, given the appropriate occasions for the actualization of their capacities, these people have proven themselves capable of the equal intellectual feats. After all, says Baxter, “I have known those that have been so coursly clad, and so clownishly bred, even as to Speech, Looks, and Carriages, that Gentlemen and Scholars, at the first congress, have esteemed them much according to your description, when in Discourse they have proved more ingenious than they. And if improvement can bring them to Arts, the Faculty was there before.”

While the “brotherhood of the entire human race” is a Catholic doctrine, it is certainly not exclusively a Catholic doctrine, as cases like Baxter and William Wilberforce show. Hammond’s instinct to better integrate religious contexts into the historical account is laudable. The execution of this idea could be done in a much more nuanced and historically responsible way, however.

With a background in ministry and journalism (complementary vocations?), Ray Nothstine joins the Acton Institute this week as Associate Editor. He will be working on Acton’s Religion & Liberty (new issue just out) and shepherding the monthly Acton Notes publication. And, of course, weighing in on the PowerBlog.

Ray Nothstine (pronounced NOTE-stine) holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, which he received in 2005. He gained ministry experience at churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. Earlier, he was a staff assistant for Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of an Air Force officer, Ray has lived in such places as Okinawa, Egypt, Hawaii and now … Grand Rapids.

He began his writing career as a student and has continued as an intern and free-lancer for a number of publications and organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD, you may recall, recently elected PowerBlogger John Armstrong to its board. See some of Ray’s work on the IRD site here and here.

Welcome Ray!

The NAACP held a mock funeral yesterday for the N-word. That’s nice. Many would argue that it’s a horrible word and should never be used under any circumstance.

“Today, we’re not just burying the N-word, we are taking it out of our spirit, we are taking it out of our minds,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said to a crowd gathered at the city’s riverfront Hart Plaza. “To bury the N-word, we’ve got to bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let’s bury all the nonsense that comes with this.”

I wish that the “N-Word” was the biggest problem in black communities (or a big problem at all). There are far more important words and phrases that the NAACP should be holding mass funerals because maybe these other areas would make the use of “N-word” inapplicable.

Here are a few suggestions of words and phrases that the NCAAP needs to bury soon:

(1) “Bitch”
(2) “Ho” and “pimp”
(3) “My baby’s daddy (or mama)” or “I take care of all my kids, I buy them what they need”
(4) “It’s because of racism”
(5) “I’m gonna have a baby even though I’m not married”
(6) “School is whack”
(7) “I didn’t get in because I’m black”
(8) “It’s white people’s fault”
(9) “Who cares if I graduate from high school?”
(10) “The government will save us”
(11) “All blacks must think like white, liberal elitist democrats”
(12) “Mysogynistic hip hop is art”
(13) “I don’t need a man, I can take care of myself”
(14) “Sports (and Entertainment) is my only way out”
(15) “It’s because of slavery”
(16) “Church? That’s for my grandma”
(17) “My car needs rims now”
(18) “What’s a savings account?”
(19) “Do yo’ chain hang low”
(20) “Open up ya mouth, ya grill gleamin”
(21) “What’s wrong with strippin’?”
(22) “Blacks can’t achieve without government forced affirmative action”
(23) “He ain’t real he’s just ‘acting white’”
(24) “Only focus on developing black females”
(25) “I got arrested because of the racist criminal justice system”

Readings in Social Ethics: Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms.

  • Perseverance a work of divine providence: “But, moreover, what is that providence, and how great the clemency, that by a plan of salvation it is provided for us, that more abundant care should be taken for preserving man after he is already redeemed! (1).”

  • The order or law of life for the believer: “For when the Lord at His advent had cured those wounds which Adam had borne, and had healed the old poisons of the serpent, He gave a law to the sound man and bade him sin no more, lest a worse thing should befall the sinner (1).”
  • Do works of themselves purge the stains of sin? How do works committed by the regenerate relate to baptism? “And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labour, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God (2).”
  • What does Cyprian promise will happen to the wealth of the giver? (9-12)
  • Do the poor have a lesser responsibility to give than the rich?
  • A summary of the blessedness of charity: “An illustrious and divine thing, dearest brethren, is the saving labour of charity; a great comfort of believers, a wholesome guard of our security, a protection of hope, a safeguard of faith, a remedy for sin, a thing placed in the power of the doer, a thing both great and easy, a crown of peace without the risk of persecution; the true and greatest gift of God, needful for the weak, glorious for the strong, assisted by which the Christian accomplishes spiritual grace, deserves well of Christ the Judge, accounts God his debtor (26).”
  • Is there occasion given here in Cyprian’s work for a doctrinal deviation in the form of works righteousness or a prosperity gospel? Might these not be deviations but rather what Cyprian intended? Why or why not?

In yesterday’s WaPo, George F. Will assesses FDR’s domestic legacy, “Declaration of Dependence.”

It’s not a pretty tale: “The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics.

This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.”

In a previous issue of Religion & Liberty, Prof. Steven Gillen writes that FDR helped to

redefine freedom and liberalism in America. In speeches throughout the 1930s the president declared, ‘I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of a privileged few’ and called for a ‘second bill of rights’ that included governmentally-guaranteed rights to remunerative jobs, decent homes, and adequate health care. Not surprisingly, FDR’s neo-liberal justification of his ‘New Deal’ expansion of the economic role of the federal government enormously appealed to the heavily poor Catholic base of his Democratic Party during the Great Depression and still dominates much of the ‘liberal’ thinking with respect to liberty, rights, and the role of government in America today.

Acton research fellow Kevin Schmiesing also discusses the history and legacy of the New Deal in his book, Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II.

A review of Schmiesing’s book by Thomas E. Woods notes of Schmiesing’s reappraisal of Catholics and the New Deal, “Schmiesing has made an important contribution because he reminds us that a great many considerations, including the dangers posed by political centralization and broad construction of the Constitution, may inform the Catholic conscience on economic matters.”

Welcome to the ultimate compilation of Live Earth links and commentary on the Web!*

Click on the "read more" and scroll on down for dozens of links on individual venues, news, great quotes, reports, religiously-related stuff, and Goregasms.

Check here for updates over the next couple of days. (more…)

Well, I just got back from the Transformers movie (mini-review: it’s completely ridiculous, but it has Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime and lots of stuff blowing up, so it’s worth at least the matinee price, if you’re into that kind of thing), mowed the lawn (sorry – not carbon-neutral), and now I’ve stumbled upon the broadcast of Live Earth on Bravo. According to Al Gore, the concerts are not about fundraising, but are occurring simply to “raise awareness” of the issue of climate change.

A couple of points here: first, does awareness of climate change really need to be raised? Am I the only one that notices the ridiculous amounts of coverage that this issue gets every time a member of the IPCC so much as clears their throat? Is it possible for any reasonably informed person to be unaware of the issue? I tend to think that if you’re not aware of the issue at this point, no amount of awareness raising is going to do much good.

Second: isn’t it a bit odd that this big spectacle on behalf of the planet is going to end up needlessly causing a whole lot of damage to the planet, at least by the standards of the organizers?

It has been estimated that between the actual concerts, web streaming and television broadcasting, the Live Earth concert series could produce as much as 200,000 metric tons of carbon, after the conversions from electricity have been calculated. In other words, the Gore concerts could produce more carbon dioxide than was produced by all of Afghanistan in 2006.

Or put another way: “The concert will produce more CO2 in one day than the total daily fossil fuel emissions for Austria, Chile, Finland, Greece, Iraq, Kuwait, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Sweden, the Virgin Islands, and a dozen other countries combined“.

If only there was a way to harness the combined power of Optimus Prime and Shakira to defeat the climate change menace and drive up PowerBlog traffic…

As for what I’ve seen so far of the music – John Mayer is Waiting on the World to Change, Melissa Etheridge is making the musical statement that “Truth is of the people, by the people, for the people” and praising Al Gore as a great truth teller, and Shakira reminded us all that Hips Don’t Lie. (I’m sure her performance raised awareness of something, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t the climate. Yusuf Islam – the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – is performing at the same Hamburg venue; I wonder if he caught that performance?)

Well, perhaps raising awareness isn’t such a bad thing after all, considering that the people that already know about the “climate crisis” think it’s a pile of crap – literally:

The public believes the effects of global warming on the climate are not as bad as politicians and scientists claim, a poll has suggested.
The Ipsos Mori poll of 2,032 adults – interviewed between 14 and 20 June – found 56% believed scientists were still questioning climate change.

There was a feeling the problem was exaggerated to make money, it found…

The survey suggested that terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change.

Hmmm. I just saw Al Gore introduce the Foo Fighters. I think that might be a sign of the apocolypse. I’m off to take shelter as best I can…

From Luther’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Treatise on Good Works (1520), alluding to King Manasseh’s actions in II Kings 21:

What else is it but to sacrifice one’s own child to an idol and burn it when parents train their children more in the love of the world than in the love of God, and let their children go their own way and get burned up in worldly pleasure, love, enjoyment, lust, goods, and honor, but let God’s love and honor and the love of eternal blessings be extinguished in them? (LW 44:83)