In a bit of an addendum to my review of the HBO series Deadwood in the current issue of Religion & Liberty, “A Law Beyond Law: Life Together in Deadwood,” I couldn’t help thinking of this bit from Clement of Alexandria when describing George Hearst, the über-robber baron of the Old West.

In that piece I write, “Hearst fancies that he is doing his fellow man a service in his devotion to mining gold, to acquiring ‘the color.’” There’s a patina of “other-directedness” in Hearst’s self-understanding. Indeed, Hearst’s influence isn’t entirely without its merits, but at bottom his explanation of his task seems more like self-rationalization to cover for a deep-seated greed than the righteous employment of a man divinely called.

Aunt Lou, who is Hearst’s cook describes him thusly: “George Hearst, he do love his nose in a hole more and ass in the air and back legs kickin’ out little lumps of gold like a badger.”

Clement of Alexandria describes that same human condition with a bit more theological insight: “But he who carries his riches in his soul, and instead of God’s Spirit bears in his heart gold or land, and is always acquiring possessions without end, and is perpetually on the outlook for more, bending downwards and fettered in the toils of the world, being earth and destined to depart to earth,—whence can he be able to desire and to mind the kingdom of heaven,—a man who carries not a heart, but land or metal, who must perforce be found in the midst of the objects he has chosen? For where the mind of man is, there is also his treasure.”

George Hearst: ‘The-boy-the-earth-talks-to’

The Pew Research Center released a new report stating: “African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.”

Here are the key findings:

• Asked whether blacks can still be thought of as a single race, given the increasing diversity within the black community, 53% of blacks say they can, but 37% of blacks say they cannot.

A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don’t get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.

• Blacks and whites concur that there has been a convergence in the values held by blacks and whites. On the popular culture front, large majorities of both blacks and whites say that rap and hip hop have a bad influence on society.

• Blacks and whites express very little overt racial animosity. As they have for decades, about eight-in-ten members of each racial group express a favorable view about members of the other group. More than eight-in-ten adults in each group also say they know a person of a different race whom they consider a friend.

The most newsworthy African American figure in politics today – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama – draws broadly (though not intensely felt) favorable ratings from both blacks and whites. But blacks are more inclined to say that his race will detract from his chances to be elected president; whites are more inclined to say his relative inexperience will hurt his chances.

• Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater numbers say this about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%), who are the most highly regarded by blacks from among 14 black newsmakers tested in this survey. By contrast, just 17% of blacks say that rap artist 50 Cent is a good influence.

• Over the past two decades, blacks have lost some confidence in the effectiveness of leaders within their community, including national black political figures, the clergy, and the NAACP. A sizable majority of blacks still see all of these groups as either very or somewhat effective, but the number saying “very” effective has declined since 1986.

• On the issue of immigration, blacks and whites agree that most immigrants work harder than most blacks and most whites at low-wage jobs. Also, blacks are less inclined now than they were two decades ago to say that blacks would have more jobs if there were fewer immigrants.

This report is not telling us anything new. Here’s why:

(1) Blacks have always been heterogeneous. In previous generations blacks were all forced to live in the same neighborhoods during segregation so the profound diversity among the black community was masked. This Pew report should remind America of the fact that all blacks do not think alike and never have. Therefore, using language like “the black vote” is as silly as using a phrase like “the white vote.”

(2) The report should awaken us to the fact that blacks are so heterogeneous that to talk about “black leaders” is brutish and primitive. Are there “white leaders?”

(3) The only people who seem to pimp the idea the lack of black progress in 2007 is due to white racism are the black elite. It seems that people on the street, Juan Williams, Bill Cosby, and others seem to understand that the lack of black progress, in some sectors, is the fault of individuals not taking advantage of the freedoms granted by the blood, sweat, and tears of their ancestors.

(4) The black middle-class are analogous and have the same materialistic worldview as middle-class whites but more hypocritical in some ways. While middle-class whites seem to despise “white trash,” middle-class blacks despise “ghetto” black folks, doing nothing to help them other than writing occasional checks during black history month or during the holiday season–as they live in gated communities, drive luxury vehicles, and send their kids to private schools– many middle-class blacks are oddly the first to come out and defend communities and lifestyles that they refuse to embrace themselves. Many middle-class blacks who defend the 6 boys in Jena, Louisiana would never live in the neighborhood from which the boys came.

Overall, this report confirms what many of us have always known: black America is divided by class just like the rest of America.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A recent survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that “religion is less likely to be central to the lives of individuals in richer nations than poorer ones” (HT).

Given the Bible’s many warnings about the danger presented by wealth, specifically the temptation to no longer rely on God and his providential care, that probably isn’t surprising. But what might be more surprising is that “the United States, the wealthiest nation, was ‘most notably’ an exception, scoring higher in religiosity than those in Europe. The level of religiosity in the United States was found to be similar to less economically developed countries such as Mexico. Americans tend to be more religious than the publics of other affluent nations, the survey stated.”

But what upsets the seeming iron law connecting wealth to irreligion?

If wealth is less of an idol in the United States than elsewhere, it’s due in large part to the penetration of the Gospel message into people’s hearts and minds. An example of this message is clearly evident in a recent CT column by John Piper, “Gutsy Guilt.”

Piper takes apart the myth of prosperous comfort that Satan propagates. Piper writes with regard to sexual sin, perhaps the most difficult class of sins to conquer, “The great tragedy is not masturbation or fornication or pornography. The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have. In their place, he gives you a happy, safe, secure, American life of superficial pleasures, until you die in your lakeside rocking chair.”

Material prosperity can be an occasion not only to stop relying on God for the provision of earthly goods, but can also be an opiate that dulls our awareness of even greater grace, the gift of justification. “Therefore, God, out of his immeasurable love for us, provided his own Son to do both. Christ bears our punishment and performs our righteousness. When we receive Christ as the Savior and Lord and Treasure of our lives, all of his punishment and righteousness is counted as ours (Rom. 4:4-6; 5:1; 5:19; 8:1; 10:4; Phil. 3:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). Justification conquers fornication,” writes Piper.

Here we hear echoes of Martin Luther: “At once a righteous one and a sinner! Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”

If the Pew survey is reliable, it speaks greatly to the cause of Christ in America that great wealth has not resulted in the level of apostasy and practical atheism present in other countries. Only when rightly and appropriately valued does wealth occupy a morally praiseworthy place in the world, as a means of glorifying God through service to our neighbor.

Folks like John Piper and Craig Gross (whose efforts in an anti-pornography ministry is profiled at length here) have done a great deal to keep American Christianity from accommodating sexual guilt that lies unforgiven in cultural appeasement. We are of course and by no means blameless or perfect, and our “success” relative to other countries is less important than our failure relative to God’s demands of holiness.

But what these things do show is that the Gospel and the extent to which God remains a vital reality in the lives of people does matter greatly in this world, not least of which in how it affects the way we relate to the culture around us and begin to use penultimate things rightly.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In this edition of GWCW: Brian Williams gets all syrupy sweet; so what are you going to do to stop AGW?; yet another bought-and-paid-for shill for big oil; Al Gore vs. the IPCC; and Anak Krakatoa vs. the Climate. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

After attending GodblogCon last week, largely due to the efforts of Rhett Smith, “New Media Ministry to the MySpace-Facebook Generation: Employing New Media Technologies Effectively In Youth Ministries” (a podcast of his talk is here), I started a Facebook page.

But I also urge you to read the experience of Agnieszka Tennant, a relatively new columnist at CT with whom I’m quite impressed, who writes that she “yielded to peer pressure and have begun to lead a modestly active Facebook life.” It’s a real temptation, as she points out, perhaps a greater one in virtual reality, to reduce people to means and consider only their utility for your own pursuits. “Social capital” can be a dangerous thing.

As persons, true sociality respects the personhood of the other. That’s the only kind of “social capital” really worth having.

More on technology and the Gospel: “Plugging the Planet Into the Word” (HT).

More on BlogWorld & New Media expo: Mark Cuban, who gave one of the keynote addresses, is profiled in this lengthy Fortune magazine piece, “Mark Cuban wants a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007

A while back I made note of the upcoming beatification of the Italian Catholic liberal (in the old European sense) priest, Antonio Rosmini. Rome-based Church-watcher Sandro Magister has a fuller treatment today at his site.

On offer in the Acton Bookshoppe is a new translation of Rosmini’s reflection on natural law, the market, and society, The Constitution Under Social Justice.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007

I stumbled across this article at David Thompson’s blog, where he notes that the article’s author, Jay Rayner, is pondering “…the whereabouts of dramatic radicalism in an age of state subsidy”:

The actor Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for the Oscar-winning country house whodunit Gosford Park and the book for the stage musical of Mary Poppins, is a good place to start. He’s professionally posh. He has a son called Peregrine. His wife is a lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent and a descendant of Lord Kitchener. He is, unsurprisingly, a Conservative Party supporter, and like all good Conservatives he takes the long view. ‘Very simply put,’ he says, ‘after the Second World War the avant garde became the establishment. That meant that no one was poking fun at the establishment any more because they approved of it.’

So is it a conspiracy? ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s some plot going on. It’s just become impossible not to be a socialist within the artistic community these days.‘ He recalls emerging from drama school in the Seventies and realising he didn’t fit in. ‘Suddenly being young meant being left-wing, because if you were to the right you were a boring old fart.’ And that, he says, has not changed despite changes in government. The problem, he says, isn’t too much theatre from the left: it’s a simple lack of it from the right. ‘There’s something profoundly non-intellectual about it. Any reasonably free society must allow for a range of views, and we don’t have that.’

Interesting stuff. And reminiscent of an article penned earlier this year by David Michael Phelps for Religion and Liberty:

But here we reach a very crucial point, the point where we see that handing ideas to the Artist is not the same as handing them to the Propagandist. For the Propagandist, the message is the focus, the party line is towed without falter, and as a result, the Propagandist seldom produces Art of lasting persuasive power. For the Artist, the vehicle of the message – that is, the Art itself – is the focus, and this is precisely why Artists are so much more convincing in their work than Propagandists: Propagandists so concentrate on the water that they attend less to the holes in the bucket. Artists concentrate on making great buckets, often concerning themselves less with the contents.

Likewise, conservatives may be more apt to produce propaganda when they attempt to create Art because their ideas are often more sound than the liberal (in the modern sense) alternative and they have less need for – and therefore less incentive to learn – Story. Liberals can indulge themselves in shoddy Syllogism, because they make up for the lack with good Storytelling. But this doesn’t excuse conservatives from falling off the other side of the horse.

There a popular saying that suggests “If you are a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative when you are old, you have no head.” But I see no reason why must we lack one to have the other. We should have, and must communicate with, both. We must add Story to our Syllogism, adding emotional punch to our reason. After all, Socrates taught with syllogisms, and Jesus with parables.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007

I’m not typically a big fan of litigation. But that option needs to be there for some cases that can’t be solved in other ways. It’s a big stick that should only be used when absolutely necessary and only when appropriate.

I’m glad that option was there for Stephanie Hoffmeier of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia. When Stephanie applied to register a student club at the school, the administration denied her request, “on the grounds that it was not tied to the school curriculum.”

What was the club proposal? “The Pro-Life Club,” thought to be the region’s “only anti-abortion club in a public high school.” After filing suit in federal court, the educrats at Colonial Forge had to rethink and reexamine their position: “Even some advocates of strict separation of church and state say religious speech is protected under the Constitution and federal law.”

One of the basic rights that is consistently tread over by the public education bureaucracy in the United States is the right to integrate religious faith and intellectual learning, fides quarens intellectum. And even in a case like this, in which faith is brought into an extra-curricular activity, the first and most basic instinct is to squash it.

Thankfully, “School officials, conceding they were wrong, officially recognized the club on Oct. 24, and Hoffmeier dropped the suit.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 2 marked the end of GodblogCon 2007. A highlight of the day was LaShawn Barber’s talk which provided both concrete advice for clear and concise writing, as well as testimony to how blogging can become a profession. The latter depends on the former, of course. She closed with the mandate: “Be bold, confident, and passionate.”

We concluded the day with a large roundtable discussion including the forty or so Godbloggers who persevered to the end. John Mark Reynolds facilitated a lively discussion about the promises, perils, and the future of blogging and new media. We closed the roundtable by going around and having each person make a bold statement or prediction. Mine was “Bloggers will soon be the new webmasters: everyone is going to need one on staff or have ready access to one’s expertise.”

Much like the practice of blogging itself, GodblogCon is a meeting, or fellowship, rather, that is still in its infancy. The conference went very smoothly and was excellently coordinated. But much like the new media itself, GodblogCon has a great deal of promise and potential. I hope that I personally and Acton as an institution can become more involved as the “Godblogosphere” continues to mature.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 9, 2007

This Sunday, November 11, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

A prayer “For the Persecuted” (BCP 1928):

O blessed Lord, who thyself didst undergo the pain and suffering of the Cross; Uphold, we beseech thee, with thy promised gift of strength all those of our brethren who are suffering for their faith in thee. Grant that in the midst of all persecutions they may hold fast by this faith, and that from their stedfastness thy Church may grow in grace and we ourselves in perseverance, to the honour of thy Name, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost art one God, world without end. Amen.

For more on how you can help the persecuted church, visit The Voice of the Martyrs.