Michael Miller at ALS

“Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” – Ronald W. Reagan, Moscow State University 1988.

Today I attended my first Acton Lecture Series event which featured Michael Miller, Acton’s Director of Programs and Education. I felt very blessed somebody is speaking my language for a change.

I included this quote from our former president because Miller touched on the subject of Christians believing that all life has inherent value. This was contrasted with the totalitarian understanding of relativism, which stands in opposition to the belief in absolute truth. Miller even noted how totalitarianism seeks “men and women with blank slates – because they can be shaped.” A classic example in my mind would be the Khmer Rouge “Year Zero” campaign which tried to end the ideas of religion and private property ruthlessly.

A couple of great quotes I wrote down of Miller’s concerning the Church vs. the power of the state are:

“The Church by definition limits the state.”

“If you are under God’s authority the state is automatically limited.”

One would easily be aware of in this context of the power of some of the spiritual leaders in the fight against totalitarianism such as John Paul II, Whitaker Chambers, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The central theme of Miller’s argument: “Freedom and tolerance can only be sustained in a society where a robust commitment to truth exists.”

This may have been one of the greatest strengths of some of the above mentioned leaders. I think one of the qualities President Reagan embodied in terms of the presidency was raising the moral language and arguments against totalitarianism.

What was so powerful concerning the lecture was Miller’s warning of the extreme dangers of an absence of truth, and the slide towards what he called a “thinly veiled totalitarianism.” He also noted, “We defend the weak through commitment to truth and justice.”

He offered the audience a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is good because its people are good.” One can easily see the dangers Miller warned against that have emerged, especially in the last 40-50 years. He noted the secularization of Europe and the emerging secularization of our own country. I remember being criticized in seminary for “Constantinianism” for writing about the emergence of democracy out of Western Christianity and the Presbyterian form of church government.

Very importantly Miller also noted that scores of young people have rebelled against the “whatever” culture. He mentioned the many young Roman Catholics and Protestants who have committed their lives to a deeper purpose and especially the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told. I am now fortunate to work beside and with many of these people.

Here’s a new NBER working paper, “Why are Immigrants’ Incarceration Rates so Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation,” by Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl.

Here’s the abstract:

The perception that immigration adversely affects crime rates led to legislation in the 1990s that particularly increased punishment of criminal aliens. In fact, immigrants have much lower institutionalization (incarceration) rates than the native born – on the order of one-fifth the rate of natives. More recently arrived immigrants have the lowest relative incarceration rates, and this difference increased from 1980 to 2000. We examine whether the improvement in immigrants’ relative incarceration rates over the last three decades is linked to increased deportation, immigrant self-selection, or deterrence. Our evidence suggests that deportation does not drive the results. Rather, the process of migration selects individuals who either have lower criminal propensities or are more responsive to deterrent effects than the average native. Immigrants who were already in the country reduced their relative institutionalization probability over the decades; and the newly arrived immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s seem to be particularly unlikely to be involved in criminal activity, consistent with increasingly positive selection along this dimension.

Some Christian churches are joining the New Sanctuary Movement, an organization that vows to “protect immigrants against unjust deportation.” But what about the laws of the land? Brooke Levitske looks at the highly charged immigration issue and concludes that “the New Sanctuary Movement’s lawbreaking solution is neither a prudent civic response nor a necessary act of compassion.”

Read the complete commentary here.

Children in a summer program in the Atlanta Public School System.

Jonathan Kozol misses the point again in his op-ed in today’s New York Times. Last month’s Supreme Court decision is not a dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education but a continuation of it. It continues in the spirit of Martin Luther King that children will not be educated according to race.

One wonders if Kozol, and others, actually like racial minorities. What’s so wrong with predominantly minority schools that represent the real demographics of the neighborhood the school is actually located? Predominantly black and Latino schools are not the problem. Poor performing schools are, regardless of the racial make-up. This is the point that Kozol misses entirely.

Kozol says nothing about ways to improve failing schools. His well-intentioned concerned is only located in getting a small group of minorities away from other minorities. This is not what Brown vs. Board of Education corrected. Brown vs. the Board of Education prohibited districts from using race to prevent children from attending schools in their own district. Remember, Linda Brown was denied admittance to a school in her district because of race.

Kozol is correct that educational choice provisions should be enhanced to give parents more freedom to make decisions about where their kids go to school. Parents should be free to remove their kids from failing schools if they choose. However, we have a duty, as a nation, to do more than shift people away from bad schools but to improve low-performing schools so that parents do not have to make geographic decisions that introduce additional stress into already overburdened lives.

Sadly Kozol remarks, “In the inner-city schools I visit, minority children typically represent 95 percent to 99 percent of class enrollment.” Kozol sees all minority schools as a problem that needs to be solved by getting minority kids in the same building as white kids. What’s so special about white kids that minorities will suffer unless they are in the same building them? Kozol actually intimates an unbelievably weak correlation that minority kids at white, suburban schools perform better.

Mr. Kozol should visit the dozens of predominantly minority private and parochial schools to be introduced to a law of education: students perform well in challenging and affirming academic environments with involved parents regardless of race.

Kozol has confused race and class. Public schools in America are separated by class not by race. The black and Latino middle-class (and up) put their kids in good schools because they live in school districts with quality public education or pay for private education. As long as our neighborhoods are segregated by class (which may appear racial) we will have education disparities between school districts. Government cannot force mixed classes to share the same neighborhoods.

Common sense thinking about our public schools should focus on two areas: (1) improving the education culture at low-performing schools which includes teachers, administrators, parents, and students; and (2) giving parents greater and greater control over their education choices for their children.

I wrote about this nearly five years ago here. I write this as a former high school teacher and administrator.

This is a not-so-compelling argument that “information should be free.”

Logos Research Systems Inc., which produces Libronix biblical and theological research software, was vandalized this past weekend by “a man throwing Froot Loops cereal and pieces of paper out of an apartment window in the shipping department building Saturday morning.”

The Bellingham Herald reported that he “told officers he felt the company was charging him money for Bibles when he could get them for free.”

Readings in Social Ethics: Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved?

  • The soteriological status of the rich: “So also let not the man that has been invested with worldly wealth proclaim himself excluded at the outset from the Saviour’s lists, provided he is a believer and one who contemplates the greatness of God’s philanthropy; nor let him, on the other hand, expect to grasp the crowns of immortality without struggle and effort, continuing untrained, and without contest” (III).

  • The absence of the necessities of life drive people to consider only material needs: “For although such is the case, one, after ridding himself of the burden of wealth, may none the less have still the lust and desire for money innate and living; and may have abandoned the use of it, but being at once destitute of and desiring what he spent, may doubly grieve both on account of the absence of attendance, and the presence of regret. For it is impossible and inconceivable that those in want of the necessaries of life should not be harassed in mind, and hindered from better things in the endeavour to provide them somehow, and from some source” (XII).
  • Wealth is a precondition for charitable giving: “And how much more beneficial the opposite case, for a man, through possessing a competency, both not himself to be in straits about money, and also to give assistance to those to whom it is requisite so to do! For if no one had anything, what room would be left among men for giving?” (XIII)
  • The good of affluence: “Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument” (XIV).
  • The internal condition is of primary concern: “So also a poor and destitute man may be found intoxicated with lusts; and a man rich in worldly goods temperate, poor in indulgences, trustworthy, intelligent, pure, chastened” (XVIII).
  • Lofty claims about the results of giving: “One purchases immortality for money; and, by giving the perishing things of the world, receives in exchange for these an eternal mansion in the heavens!” (XXXII) Could such language be construed in a negative way? In what way is it right to say that one “purchases” eternal life? In what way is it not right?
  • Promiscuous giving: “How then does man give these things? For I will give not only to friends, but to the friends of friends. And who is it that is the friend of God? Do not you judge who is worthy or who is unworthy. For it is possible you may be mistaken in your opinion. As in the uncertainty of ignorance it is better to do good to the undeserving for the sake of the deserving, than by guarding against those that are less good to fail to meet in with the good. For though sparing, and aiming at testing, who will receive meritoriously or not, it is possible for you to neglect some that are loved by God; the penalty for which is the punishment of eternal fire” (XXXIII).
  • How does charity relate to baptism? “Forgiveness of past sins, then, God gives; but of future, each one gives to himself. And this is to repent, to condemn the past deeds, and beg oblivion of them from the Father, who only of all is able to undo what is done, by mercy proceeding from Him, and to blot out former sins by the dew of the Spirit” (XL). Recall Cyprian of Carthage.

In today’s Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses free trade and the conditions it creates for peaceful and flourishing societies.

Every few years, a new round of trade negotiations hits the news, and the same debate takes place on the merits of free trade. But this time around, as we discuss a new round of trade relaxations between the U.S. and Latin America, there is an added element.

The religious left has entered to argue against free trade on grounds that it is incompatible with humanitarian concerns. Somehow, they argue, free trade rewards large corporations at the expense of all workers in all countries. They say that free trade amounts to a kind of American imperialism.

For example, a number of Catholic clerics in Costa Rica have weighed in against a free trade agreement with the U.S. on grounds that the agreement as it stands does not have a “human face.”

I admit that I can’t follow their logic. The case for free trade between nations is no different than between you and your local grocery store. All parties to the exchange benefit. What is to be gained by preventing exchanges that people want to make from taking place? Who could possibly benefit from that?

Read more on the Detroit News editorial page.

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.