Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pope warns comfortable living causes ‘gentrification of the heart’
Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service

Pope Francis warned against “gentrification of the heart” as a consequence of comfortable living, and called on the faithful to “touch the flesh of Christ” by caring for the needy.

How to Change Your Company’s Culture
Jeff Haanen

“In” a city versus “engaged with” a city is a helpful distinction that can shed tremendous light on the faith and work conversation.

Modern-Day Rabbi Must Be CEO, Teacher and Spiritual Leader at Once
Anne Cohen, Jewish Daily Forward

Jewish Seminaries Scramble To Meet Myriad New Demands

Should We Let the Rich Fail?
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

In order for the free market to work, we need a sound economic and political environment in which the rules of the game are equally applied to all.

CensorUNot content to trample only the religious freedom side of the First Amendment, the federal government has decided to ignore the free speech side too.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA School of Law, says that this is telling universities to institute speech codes:

I’m a contributor to this month’s edition of Cato Unbound, on the topic of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

The forum consists of four lead essays from the panelists followed by ad hoc discussion. The first four essays are up:

Read more about the contributors and be sure to check out the pieces and follow the discussion over at Cato Unbound.

I don’t plan to update with new posts at the PowerBlog as the discussion develops, but I will add updates to this post as appropriate, so if you want to discuss, the comments here are the best place to do that.


Update (5/21/13): I follow up and ask some questions about history and liberty. As Lord Acton said, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.” But if conservatives and libertarians differ on their views of tradition, what might that mean for the significance of history?

Anyone who’s been to Detroit in recent years knows it’s a mess. Acres and acres of abandoned houses, a population decline of 25% in the past 10 years, an astronomical crime rate, and the city is literally leaking money to the tune of some $200 million in two months. Back in March, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency financial manager, and Orr has just released his report on the city’s financial state.

farrier toolsBefore we begin weeping about the death of the Motor City, there are bright spots. Fast Company did a piece in April highlighting entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of low-rent and housing prices and the need for creative work to boost Detroit’s economy. Dan Gilbert is a real estate broker working on filling office space downtown. Andy Didorosi has created a bus service that takes patrons from night-spot to night-spot in safe, fun and comfortable buses. Alicia George has opened a coffee house, and is optimistic that several new businesses have opened near-by.

Now for the bad news. The city of Detroit is paying a farrier (that’s a person who shoes horses) $56,000 in pay and benefits. Right now, in 2013. Let’s just say that he’s not really earning his pay in today’s downtown Detroit. The Detroit Water & Sewer Department is telling the cash-strapped city they need more employees – union employees. And the city’s unionized teachers? They want to cash in unused sick days for over $14 million. (more…)

Michael J. Gerson’s encomium to Jim Wallis’ book on the common good includes this curious paragraph:

Nearly every Christian tradition of social ethics encompasses two sorts of justice. The first is procedural justice: giving people what they deserve under contracts and the law. The second is distributive justice: meeting some needs just because human beings are human beings. This is not the same thing as egalitarianism; confiscation is not compassion. But distributive justice requires a decent provision for the vulnerable and destitute. And this is not just a matter of personal charity. Social justice is more than crumbs from the table; it depends on the existence of social and economic conditions that allow people to live, work and thrive.

Gerson should be applauded for grappling with such substantive doctrines as the common good and social justice. It is certainly brave to do so within the confines of a short opinion piece.

But his treatment of these in the context of this short op-ed illustrate the difficulty of doing so in a responsible fashion. For one thing, the common good is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to get a handle on in the history of Christian moral reflection. In the end, Gerson summarizes it as “the set of social circumstances that allows everyone to flourish.” We might quibble with this description as not quite getting at the common good as a telos rather than a process, but given that he quotes John Paul II in the previous line, this isn’t that large of a quibble.

We might also note that even though it is commonly associated with modern Roman Catholic social thought, as Gerson notes, the idea of the common good is much more of a catholic legacy of Christianity shared by a variety of Christian traditions. See, for instance, Gerson’s claim that Wallis’ invocation of the common good is “further evidence of the intellectual advance of Catholic social teaching across Christian confessions.” I think this is probably true in the case of Wallis and many evangelicals, and in this Roman Catholic social thought has done a great service in preserving this inheritance and serving as a reminder and inspiration for those who have forgotten the place of the common good in their own tradition’s moral reflection.

irsWhen I was a young Marine I learned that when the commanding officer says, “I wish” or “I desire,” these expressions have the force of a direct order and should be acted upon as if they had given a direct order. If our CO were to say, even in musing to themselves, “I wish there was something that could be done about that,” we knew we should jump into action. But what sort of action was called for? And should we get clarification before proceeding on our own? The peculiar custom always struck me as open to misunderstanding and abuse.

Sometimes a leader doesn’t even need to be so direct as to say “I wish” or “I desire” for subordinates to get them impression that their boss wants them to take action. A prime example is the latest political scandal in which the Internal Revenue Service admitted that some of their employees had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles. As Ross Douthat says, “the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.”

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

Some conspiratorial minded people will assume the actions of the IRS employees had to have come from direct orders from their superiors. But I think a simpler, more indirect phenomenon, like what Douthat presents, better explains such situations. Rather than attributing it to a “conspiracy theory” I’d say it is a version of what I’d call a “confederacy theory”:

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, May 13, 2013

Cronyism, competition, and finance: A discussion with Cliff Asness
AEI Ideas

After providing a definition of cronyism, Asness offered an explanation for the growth of cronyism today, which is rooted in the increasing size and scope of government. Only by limiting government’s growth can we limit opportunities for cronyism, Asness argued.

Sex trafficking: Christians called to be modern-day abolitionists
Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Raleigh Sadler says he’s just a Florida boy who wears cardigans — he has no business kicking down the door of a brothel. “It’s pretty much scientifically proven that guys who wear cardigans don’t do that kind of thing,” he joked.

How Commerce Expands Culture
Andrea Castillo, The Ümlaut

Classical music flourished in the fertile commercial culture of 19th century Germany and Austria without the meddling of the National Endowment for the Arts. Today, technological developments and growing wealth makes the case for government-subsidized culture all the more scant.

The Christian Way to Land An Airplane
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

There might be a Christian way to write a play, but is there a Christian way to land a plane? In other words, is there a “Christian way” to carry out all work?