Readings in Social Ethics: John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, part 3 of 3. There are six sermons in this text, based on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This post deals with the third and final pair. The first four sermons dealt directly with Chrysostom’s exegesis of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. These latter two sermons were given on different occasions. References are to page numbers.

Sermon 6:

  • The sermon comes after an earthquake has hit the community: “Have you seen the mortality of the human race? When the earthquake came, I reflected with myself and said, where is theft? Where is greed? Where is tyranny? Where is arrogance? Where is domination? Where is oppression? Where is the plundering of the poor? Where is the arrogance of the rich? Where is the domination of the powerful? Where is intimidation? Where is fear?” (97)

  • Chrysostom searches out the source and cause of the disaster: “So I was not afraid because of the earthquake, but because of the cause of the earthquake; for the cause of the earthquake was the anger of God, and the cause of His anger was our sins. Never fear punishment, but fear sin, the mother of punishment” (101).
  • Chrysostom reiterates a theme from the previous sermons. We are not to judge someone as fortunate based only on their external condition: “In the same way, imagine two sinners, one being punished, the other not being punished. Do no say, this one is lucky because he is rich, he strips orphans of their property, and he oppresses widows. Apparently he is not ill, he has a good reputation in spite of his thefts, he enjoys honor and authority, he does not endure any of the troubles which afflict mankind—no fever, no paralysis, nor any other disease—a chorus of children surrounds him, his old age is comfortable; but you should grieve most for him, because he is indeed ill and receives no treatment” (102).
  • The varieties of sinners characterized as beasts rather than men: “You see, you should not examine his nature but his character, not his appearance but his disposition; and not his disposition only, but investigate his whole way of life. If he loves the poor, he is a human being; but if he is wholly involved in commerce, he is an oak tree. If he has a savage temper, he is a lion; if he is rapacious, he is a wolf; if he is deceitful, he is a cobra. You should say, ‘I am looking for a human being; why have you shown me a beast instead of a man?’ Learn what really is the virtue of a human being, and do not be confused” (107-8).
  • Chrysostom concludes by examining Abraham’s words that Lazarus received the evil that he was due in this life, and the rich man received the rewards he was due. Chrysostom understands this to mean that the evil man has done at least some good, and therefore is rewarded in this life, while the good man has done at least some evil, and therefore is punished in this life.

Sermon 7:

  • A condemnation of worldliness: “For those who are eager to go to the races and the other satanic spectacles, who have no care for self-control and give no thought for virtue, who wish to behave recklessly, who yield themselves to luxury and gluttony, who spend themselves every day in madness and frenzy for money, who strain after the things of the present life—these people walk by the wide gate and the easy road. But when they go farther along, and gather a great burden of sins for themselves, when they are all spent and come to the end of the road, they are no longer able to go any farther, because they are pressed tightly by the narrowness of the road and burdened by the weight of their sins so that they cannot go through” (129).

  • Riches are a blessing and a temptation: “Do not call these things good without qualification, O man, bearing in mind that they are given by the Master in order that by enjoying them in due proportion we may have sustenance for our life and may overcome the weakness of our bodies; but the truly good things are something else. None of these things is good, not luxury, not wealth, not expensive clothing; they have only the name of goodness. Why do I say that they have only the name? They often indeed cause our destruction, when we use them improperly. Wealth will be good for its possessor if he does not spend it only on luxury, or on strong drink and harmful pleasures; if he enjoys luxury in moderation and distributes the rest to the stomachs of the poor, then wealth is a good thing. But if he is going to give himself up to luxury and other profligacy, not only does it not help him at all, but it even leads him down to the deep pit” (136-37).

Next week: Bonaventure, A Defence of the Mendicants (selections), in From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625, ed. Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, pp. 312-19.

Here’s an interesting report from the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute on the cyclical nature of media coverage on the issue of climate change. We all know about the global cooling craze of the 1970′s, but who knew that the issue goes back more than a century?

It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.

The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”

Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.

It appears that we’re reaching the “outright hysteria” part of the current coverage cycle, considering that Al Gore can get completely credulous coverage for statements like this:

“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We have to go far quickly,” former Vice President Al Gore told a packed, rapt house at the Benedict Music Tent Wednesday. With many scientists pointing to a window of less than 10 years to moderate the effects of global warming, he said, meaningful change is still possible, but “It is a race.”

…”What we’re facing worldwide really is a planetary emergency,” Gore said. “I’m optimistic, but we’re losing this battle badly.”

…”The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk,” he said.

I don’t know about you, but my BS detector is going crazy at the moment. I’d say that we’re about as likely to be in a 10 year race for survival today as we were to be in a 10 year race to save the oceans back in 1988 (according to the then-popular TV star Ted Danson). Apparently Cristopher Hitchens isn’t the only one prone to wild overstatement these days. And while we’re on the topic of overstatement

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, July 19, 2007

How do you “end poverty” in the developing world? Well, certainly not by promoting a “poverty agenda” that has proven to be a failure again and again. The two items below both appeared yesterday. The first is from a review of “The Elephant and the Dragon,” a book by Robyn Meredith, a Hong Kong-based correspondent for Forbes magazine. The second is from a commentary by the chairman of Microsoft India in the Wall Street Journal (reg. req’d).

As Ms. Meredith shows, comprehensive, market-oriented reforms — China’s began in 1978, India’s in 1991 — have sparked a new dynamism and remarkable economic growth. In the 1990s alone, more than 200 million people escaped poverty in the two countries, lifting the per-capita standard of living beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations. “We got more done for the poor by pursuing the competition agenda for a few years,” says one of India’s former finance ministers, “than we got done by pursuing a poverty agenda for decades.”

“The Boom Beyond Our Borders”. By Matthew Rees. OpinionJournal.com

Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty cannot happen through “corporate social responsibility.” Important as these initiatives are, they are neither sustainable nor scalable, and therefore achieve limited impact. Nor will poverty be overcome through the “bottom of the pyramid” initiatives that seek to make the poor into bigger consumers of shampoos and televisions by enabling them to pay per use.

We need a new approach driven by innovation. We need to focus less on doing small, nice deeds for the poor, and less on selling them affordable versions of what rich people consume. Instead, we must marshal the best resources of big, innovative corporations to think freshly about the shackles that keep people poor and invent solutions that break these shackles.

“Innovate for India’s Poor”. By Ravi Venkatesan, Wall Street Journal

Readings in Social Ethics: John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, part 2 of 3. There are six sermons in this text, based on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This post deals with the second pair. References are to page numbers.

Sermon 3:

  • A summary and introduction to the series of sermons: “The parable of Lazarus was of extraordinary benefit to us, both rich and poor, teaching the latter to bear their poverty with equanimity, and not allowing the former to be proud of their wealth. It taught us by example that the most pitiable person of all is the one who lives in luxury and shares his goods with nobody” (57).

  • Those who are involved in worldly affairs are not exempt from studying the Scriptures: “What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them [monks]. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those who are involved in many occupations” (58).
  • The redemptiveness of punishment: “For punishment is not evil, but sin is evil. The latter separates us from God, but the former leads us towards God, and dissolves his anger” (65).
  • Suffering in one form or another is unavoidable in this life: “So if human beings do not persecute us, yet the devil makes war on us. We need great wisdom and perseverance, to keep sober and watchful in prayer, not to desire others’ property, but to distribute our goods to the needy, to reject and repudiate all luxury, whether of clothing or table, to avoid avarice, drunkenness, and slander, to control our tongue and keep from disorderly clamor…to abstain from shameful or witty talk” (68).
  • The question of the theodicy of suffering is raised: “‘But why,’ someone asks, ‘are some punished here, but others only hereafter and not at all here?’ Why? Because if all were punished here, we would all have perished, for we are all subject to penalties. On the other hand, if no one were punished here, most people would become too careless, and many would say there is no providence” (71).
  • The right view of suffering: “In summary, every punishment if it happens to sinners, reduces the burden of sin, but if it happens to the righteous, makes their souls more splendid. A great benefit comes to each of them from tribulation, provided that they bear it with thanksgiving; for this is what is required” (73).

Sermon 4:

  • Why the theodicy of suffering is important: “Nothing tends so much to disturb and scandalize the majority of people as the fact that rich people living in wickedness enjoy good fortune while righteous people living with virtue are driven to extreme poverty and endure a multitude of other troubles even worse than poverty. But this parable is sufficient to provide the remedies, self-control for the rich and consolation for the poor” (82).

  • On corruption and the conscience: “But the court of conscience cannot yield to any of these influences. Whether you give bribes, or flatter, or threaten, or do anything else, this court will bring forth a just judgment against your sinful intentions. He who commits sin himself condemns himself even if no one else accuses him” (88).

Speaking of the “priestly” voice of science,

Given all the atheist militancy raising a ruckus lately, I suppose it isn’t too surprising that I am stumbling upon more regular and more baldly dismissive declarations these days about the ineradicable incompatibility of science and religion among Science’s self-appointed Elite Champions online.

I’ve been a perfectly convinced and rather cheerfully nonjudgmental atheist for well over twenty years at this point, but I must say that I think it is arrant nonsense to claim that scientific and religious practices or scientific and religious beliefs are incompatible, given the overabundant evidence of people who weave them together in their lives every day so conspicuously. A little respect for the facts you claim so to cherish, people?

Check out the rest of “Priestly ‘Science’ and Democratic Politics” from Dale Carrico, Ph.D., a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Edwards formally kicked off his poverty tour in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward this week and of course blamed the president for the government’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Edwards also played up symbolism by visiting some of the samel cities Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy visited during their famed poverty tours. Edwards may not significantly differ from other Democratic front runners for the White House, although some say he is the only candidate with a truly universal health care program.

Edwards does however stand out from the field of Democratic front runners in terms of actually visiting impoverished locations, although not always to the delight of everybody in the region. In addition, there is not a lot of vote power or political contributions likely to emerge from the places he stopped on his poverty tour. He is often accused of orchestrating a well crafted political strategy for trying to draw attention to the nation’s poor, while attempting to distance himself from recent criticisms of his own affluence and lavish spending. Even in the age of overly scripted politicians he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledged for raising awareness to a critically important moral issue, although his solutions lack the right method for addressing poverty.

While the language and symbolism of his tour is recycled Great Society rhetoric, it adds a dynamic reminder of the failed attempt at combating poverty through massive federal spending and initiative. Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intention but he helps us recall these failed policies.

Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union Address declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.” The same president vowed to “not rest until that war is won.” The War on Poverty in fact institutionalized poverty by trapping people in a vicious cycle of dependency. No doubt, there won’t be any talk of meaningful tax cuts, deregulation, and economic freedom in the Edwards poverty tour. If there is one legacy the Great Society left, it is that the government is not a job or wealth creator — the entrepreneur creates jobs and wealth. Jesus himself proclaims the “poor shall always be with us,” and so shall well meaning but misguided poverty tours.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Samuel Gregg examines the nature of equality in democratic society. “Though Tocqueville held that democracy’s emergence was underpinned by the effects of the Judeo-Christian belief in the equality of all people in God’s sight, he perceived a type of communal angst in democratic majorities that drove them to attempt to equalize all things, even if this meant behaving despotically,” he writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: blevitske
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I would say I met Jeremy Jerschina by chance on the campus of Calvin College, except that nothing ever happens by chance on the very Reformed sidewalks, hallways, and parking lots of Calvin College. So I’ll say I met him by Providence.

Jeremy was visiting from New Jersey as a prospective Calvin student, to study Philosophy or Theology or something in the humanities. He struck me as being extremely well-read, genuine, and sensitive to the call of God on his life. When I heard just a few weeks ago that he was graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, it didn’t surprise me in the least.

What did surprise me was the fact that officials at Jeremy’s high school rejected his speech because of its religious content. Jeremy wanted to pray at the end of his address to acknowledge God as the reason for his academic success, but the principal of Bayonne High School and its board of education told him he could only give the speech if he left out the prayer. So Jeremy chose not to speak at all.

Within the week, Fox News had heard about the incident and invited Jeremy on-air to read for a huge cable TV audience the prayer he could not deliver to the comparative handful of people at his graduation ceremony.

Hearing about Jeremy was a reminder to me that the increasing secularization of schools and other state-run organizations has real consequences for Christians. Most frightening is that religious expression is coming to be viewed as second-class speech. Think about it. Valedictorians across America this year were able to give self-exalting, arrogant speeches praising their own intelligence and hard work without anyone worrying they’d “offend” someone in the crowd. (We’ve all suffered through such speeches and know how distasteful they can be.) But to thank God and publicly attribute success to “a religious figure”? That was considered somehow lesser and therefore forbidden. Amazing.

It also made me think about how Christians react when Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. want to exercise their freedom of expression — we are (often rightly) accused of taking offense too easily at non-Christian demonstrations of religious sentiment. Perhaps it’s time for the Christian community to develop a tougher skin in this area. The minute we view others’ religious speech as second class, we give philosophical ground to those who would relegate our religious speech to sub-societal realms. Unless we’re prepared to retreat into the catacombs, we need to affirm the 1st Amendment’s guarantee to Americans of every creed.

And for my part, I’d be more “offended” to hear a narcissistic valedictorian praising himself than to hear a Muslim valedictorian praising Allah any day of the week.

In a recent CT column, David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, writes, “I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call “stewardship” are basically the same thing.” That’s precisely why Acton prefers the term “environmental stewardship” to “creation care.”

But this connection between stewardship and care for the environment means something else too. Gushee concludes that “economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.”

I’ve made that argument here, “Stewardship and Economics: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” where I contend, “If we hold a biblical view of economics and stewardship, we will not be tempted to divorce the two concepts but instead will see them as united.”

Gushee may find, however, that as his realization of the connection between responsible stewardship and sound economics really sinks in, the positions of the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network are in need of some modifications…such that “when economics tells us that there are much more imminent threats and opportunities than global warming, the proper approach to Christian stewardship is to heed these priorities and work to effect changes in the most pressing areas.”

Related: “Study: Organic Farming More Efficient”

On the way to the airport in Atlanta last week, I stumbled upon a radio debate between Michael Medved and Christopher Hitchens on the topic of Hitchens’ latest book – namely, whether or not religion poisons everything. It’s obvious that Hitchens is guilty of a vast overreach with that contention; at the very least, any fair minded person must acknowledge the great contributions of Jewish and Christian religious thought to the foundations of Western society, and one could spend a lot of time listing names of individuals and groups who – motivated by religious conviction – have changed the world for the better. And that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the major contributions religion has made to the world of art and culture.

That being said, one can’t dismiss Hitchens or the other atheist voices that have gained a following in our current cultural marketplace. And so it was refreshing to read this response to Hitchens and his allies by Peter Berkowitz in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Like philosophy, religion, rightly understood, has a beginning in wonder. The most wonderful of creatures are human beings themselves. Of all the Bible’s sublime and sustaining teachings, none is more so than the teaching that explains that humanity is set apart because all human beings–woman as well as man the Bible emphasizes–are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

That a teaching is sublime and sustaining does not make it true. But that, along with its service in laying the moral foundations in the Western world for the belief in the dignity of all men and women–a belief that our new new atheists take for granted and for which they provide no compelling alternative foundation–is reason enough to give the variety of religions a fair hearing. And it is reason enough to respect believers as decent human beings struggling to make sense of a mysterious world.