Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 26, 2007

Readings in Social Ethics: 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. The references below are to section number.

  • Bonaventure cites a number of authorities in his exposition, including Augustine, Jerome, Bede, Rabanus Maurus, Gregory the Great, and Bernard of Clairvaux.

  • The apostolic way of life is described as consisting in “models of perfection,” and therefore imposing “no obligation on those who have not freely professed this pattern of life and taken vows.” [7]
  • There are four kinds of “community of goods,” corresponding to four different sources of right [10].
    1. The right of natural necessity: “anything capable of sustaining natural existence, though it be somebody’s private property, may belong to someone who is in the most urgent need of it. This kind of community of goods cannot be renounced. It derives from the right that naturally belongs to man as God’s image and noblest creature, on whose behalf all other things on earth were made.” This right functions at the personal level, and is the basis for the moral judgment that in certain extreme circumstances, what would otherwise be theft of necessary life-sustaining goods may be morally justified.

    2. The right of brotherly love: “everything belongs to the righteous, and the private property of individuals is common to all by virtue of sharing which is natural to love…. This kind of community of goods absolutely may not be renounced. It derives from a right poured into us by God, the right by which ‘the dove’ (i.e., the universal church) is assured its unity, a unity of sharing, from which no one can depart without defiance of the law of God which enfolds all things in love.” This right functions at the level of social responsibility to care for those who belong to the universal church. See Paul’s command to do good to everyone, “especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
    3. The right of worldly civil society: “there is a common political identity within a single empire, kingdom, or city-state; there is a common profit and loss within a single association, e.g., of merchants or wrestlers; there is a common inheritance within a single family that has not split up. This kind of community of goods must be renounced to attain evangelical perfection, because this kind of community implies individual property. It is derived from a humanly instituted right which contains provisions that may incidentally prove an obstacle to good or an encouragement to evil, and is therefore incompatible with evangelical perfection.” This right functions on the level of political society. The right to private property may be given up voluntarily in pursuit of the model of apostolic perfection. The emphasis here is on the temptation to covetousness that private property occasions.
    4. The right of ecclesiastical endowment: “All goods bestowed upon the churches are dedicated to the Lord to provide for the ministry and for the poor. This kind of community of goods, which is found in all collegial churches with possessions, need not be renounced to attain perfection since it can be maintained without prejudice to perfection, as is clear in the case of bishops and religious who are holy and perfect…. Yet this kind of community may be renounced without prejudice to perfection – in pursuit of it, rather – since it springs not only from divine right but human, it is not only spiritual but temporal, too; and since, though it excludes individual property, collegial property is allowed, and the share of every member of the college must be understood not merely as use but as ownership.” This right functions at the bridge between the second and third types of right. The administration and use of goods falls to those who are in places of responsibility in the church. Insofar as these goods are defined as “ecclesiastical” and not of more common worldly ownership, there is a distinction at the level of “worldly civil society.” The individual Christian may pursue the model of apostolic perfection in renouncing this sort of collegial ownership, but since the apostles themselves administered the property of the church, this responsibility need not be renounced to be perfect.
  • “There are four possible relations to temporal goods: property, possession, usufruct, and simple use. The life of mortals may be sustained without the first three, but the last is a necessity. There can, then, be no profession of renunciation of temporal things which extends to their use.” [11]

Next week: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59; Book II, Chapter XIV, “The Sixth Law: Poor Relief,” pp. 306-15.

The National Urban League forgot to invite me to be one of the keynote speakers at their annual conference meeting in St. Louis this week, July 25-28. I’m not mad. I’m sure it was just an oversight. I would have been much cheaper than Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. But, if had a platform at the conference I would make the case that black America will self-destruct if we don’t address the following issues immediately:

(1) The marriage and family crisis–nearly 70 percent of all black kids are born to single parents; 43 percent of black women and nearly 53 percent of black men will never marry

(2) Abortion–over 43 percent of all black pregnancies end in abortion

(3) Education–almost half of the black kids in urban schools don’t graduate and of those who do they are primarily female.

(4) Nearly all black colleges and universities have become women’s colleges–most black colleges average 60-67 percent female populations

(5) The declining significance of the black church among the hip hop generation (those 40-years-old and under).

(6) HIV/AIDS–Black women make up almost 70 percent (7,586 out of 11,859) of all new AIDS cases among women.

(7) Ghetto culture and misogyny in some segments of hip hop culture.

(8) Rhetoric vs. Reality–Do massive government programs help poor blacks in the long run?

(9) The need for promotion of Black Enterprise Magazine’s “Declaration of Financial Empowerment“–A wonderful savings and investing tool!!

(10) Saving Black Men–Black men in America are in trouble. Low high-school graduation rates, fatherlessness, high incarceration rates, lack of moral and spiritual formation, and, worst of all, black men have no venue to discuss personal pain and heal from deep woundedness (physical or psychological). The League has a “Women of Power” workshop and that’s part of the problem. What is needed is a “Men of Power” workshop. There’s been such an emphasis on developing black women that black men are being left behind.

There are wonderful workshops this year as well ranging from entrepreneurial activities, to professional development, to health. Maybe I’ll get to speak there next year.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I was thinking this morning about the moral calculus that goes into discussions about climate change policy. It’s the case that for any even or action, there are an infinite number of causes (conditions that are necessary but not sufficient for the event to occur).

But only a finite number of causes, perhaps in most cases a single cause, can have any moral relevance. For a cause to be a moral cause, it has to have be related to a moral agent. So, for instance, if the earth is warming, one of the contributing causes is the energy output of the sun. Since the sun isn’t a moral agent (as far as I know), solar activity isn’t a moral cause of climate change.

But if human activity is changing the makeup of the earth’s atmosphere so that it retains relatively more of the solar output of energy, that’s a cause that has moral relevance. Even though the sun’s activity is a prior cause (both logically and temporally) to any human activity, only human activity has any moral bearing. This might be a major reason why folks in not only policy circles, but also in more popular discourse, tend to focus on what humans are or are not doing that is affecting the climate.

It’s a truism that the perspective of human beings is essentially anthropocentric, but this truism is valid even for those who like to think of themselves as more enlightened. So, environmentalists and other activists instinctively focus on the moral causes of various policy issues. For climate change, that means the focus is almost exclusively on the human contributions to climate change, even if these are objectively a rather small contributing cause compared to other factors.

This holds true in the most recent reaction to the flooding that has hit London. One commentator observes that “The prophets of Biblical times, who warned of the misfortune that would befall those who turned away from God, have been replaced by computer-generated models which apparently conclusively prove that ‘The End is Nigh!’”

Climate change prophets point directly to the “sin” of emitting carbon. There is a real reason to question the validity of this moral reasoning, not least of which because it resembles Pharisaical moral calculation. When a man born blind came to Jesus, the spiritual authorities inquired as to the direct moral cause of the blindness. Had this man sinned or had his parents? Jesus rejects their attempts to find individual or personal moral cause of the blindness.

If the London floods are a case of God’s judgment, it’s likely that the divine reaction isn’t exclusively, or even primarily, to the chosen mode of human transportation. When John Chrysostom preached a sermon following a huge earthquake, it did cause him to reflect on the moral causes of the disaster.

What Chrysostom didn’t do was point to specific human actions that would naturally occasion an earthquake. He wondered instead, “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?”

Following Chrysostom’s lead, which better follows the biblical precedent than the latest eco-prophets, would lead us to question a far greater range of moral failings than filling up an SUV: “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.”

It’s also important to note that Chrysostom links punishment to love, in the sense that the punishment is intended to bring repentance and reconciliation. Divine wrath is one form of treatment for sin, and in this way can actually be an expression of God’s love. So, God’s love and God’s wrath might not be so easy to juxtapose as some others have done in the wake of the recent flooding.

More reading: “Blaming the Victims: An Ecumenical Disaster”

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

…But far be it from me to make it. Fortunately, Spiegel Online does all the joking for us. Headline: Tiny Brain No Problem for French Tax Official.

The commonly spouted wisdom that people only use 10 percent of their brain power may have been dismissed as a myth, but one French man seems to be managing fine with just a small fraction of his actual brain.

In fact the man, who works as a civil servant in southern France, has succeeded in living an entirely normal life despite a huge fluid-filled cavity taking up most of the space where his brain should be.

Be sure to read the whole thing – it’s pretty remarkable. But the headline is just too good not to post.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I like to think of J. Gresham Machen as the American Presbyterian Chesterton — though he is sometimes more explicit in his societal commentary than his British Catholic counterpart. In my Sunday reading, I keep coming across interesting lines from his selected shorter writings (edited by D.G. Hart) that call to mind current campaign rhetoric, especially from senators Obama and Clinton, about the need for expanded or universal preschool and state-subsidized education in general. Here are a few quotes from Machen’s 1933 address titled, “The Necessity of the Christian School”:

…The tyranny of the scientific expert is the most crushing tyranny of all. That tyranny is being exercised most effectively in the field of education. A monopolistic system of education controlled by the state is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword. Against this monooply of education by the state the Christian school brings a salutary protest; it contends for the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and not in the manner prescribed by the state.

Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.

Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest….The only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised.

A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But…the bearing of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian….True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life — those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa has been hailed as the standard for working for restorative justice in the contemporary world.

One of the misunderstandings surrounding the work of the commission, however, involves the relationship between the forgiveness, reconciliation, and amnesty offered by the commission in relation to the coercive power of the state.

David Schmidtz, in his recent book Elements of Justice, writes,

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out in 1995 to document human rights abuses between 1960 and 1994. Part of its mandate is to grant amnesty to those who cooperate in documenting relevant facts. Now, these crimes were not ancient. It was not a situation where innocent people were being asked to pay for crimes of their ancestors. Many of apartheid’s perpetrators were very much alive, and by no means beyond the reach of the law. Yet, even so, Mandela’s goal (like Desmond Tutu’s) was reconciliation, not revenge. He wanted to prevent the legacy of apartheid from continuing to hang over future generations (214).

It is important to note that the cooperation of many these witnesses was accomplished by means of the threat of punitive action. The offer of amnesty was a carrot only in relation to the overarching threat of the stick.

Where the carrot wasn’t taken, the stick must still be used. And so we find that some South African apartheid-era officials who did not cooperate with the commission are now being charged with crimes.

These officials “will be tried for a 1989 attack on the Rev. Frank Chikane, who, at the time, was the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, an organization at the forefront of the struggle against minority white rule.”

This news is noteworthy for two reasons. First, “This is the first case of the prosecution of apartheid-era atrocities in which alleged perpetrators were denied or did not seek amnesty from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

And second, it shows just how dependent on the threat of force the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission really is. This is why Christopher D. Marshall, in his work Beyond Retribution, notes that the TRC occupies a mediating position between the proceedings of war crimes tribunals like Nuremberg and complete offers of amnesty among some Latin American nations.

It’s my hope to explore the theoretical connections between reconciliation and punishment in a paper on restorative justice that I’m currently researching.

I will make no friends with this post but some parts of black America are trapped in a moral crisis. The crisis will be on display this Wednesday when B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television) debuts a new show called “We Got To Do Better” which is based off of a website called “Hot Ghetto Mess.” It’s time to stop playing words games and be honest: blacks (and others) who embrace a “ghetto” mentality are in deep trouble and, by extension, so are the rest of us.

The NAACP should be marching against the worldview on display on this show much more than fighting a crusade against the “N-word.”

The Washington Post describes the show:

Since 2004, [Jam Donaldson's] Web site, http://Hotghettomess.com, has featured a motley assortment of gangbangers, hip-hop poseurs and strutting hoochie mamas, set off by quotes and comments that suggest Donaldson’s disapproval. The featured “Mess of the Month” for June is an unnamed plus-size woman wearing a halter top split almost to her navel. Her accessories are arm and chest tattoos and an oversize necklace with a cross. The caption beneath her photo is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in [all] the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

[The show] features video clips of young African Americans (as well as folks of the Caucasianpersuasion) engaged in various acts of idiocy (random street brawls, gratuitous booty-shaking, etc.). It also puts cultural ignorance on display (people are asked in man-on-the-street interviews whether they know what “NAACP” stands for; they don’t). The tone, Donaldson says, is more or less in keeping with the same finger-wagging critique embedded in the Web site’s slogan: “We Got to Do Better.”

I have mixed emotions about the show. But it’s good to expose this for the following reasons:

(1) The shows puts on display for the world to see the moral crisis in some parts of black American culture. Perhaps many in the black community will take notice.

(2) The show will validate the concerns of many blacks like Bill Cosby, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Starr Parker, John McWhorter, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, LeShawn Barber, Shelby Steele, and others.

(3) The show will expose how the “ghetto mentality” is sabotaging significant portions of American culture, of all races. Perhaps the show will highlight a point made in the movie Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”

(4) Hopefully, this will rally some black pastors to deal with issues in the black community instead of building names for themselves and trying to build the largest churches possible. The “ghetto” culture is completely void of any moral voice or authority.

(5) The show will highlight the fact that for much of black America the largest obstacle to overcome in the 21st-century is not racism but the adopted norms of “ghetto” culture.

(6) The “ghetto” life must cease to be glamorized and normalized in the entertainment industry. Sadly, there is a huge demographic of Americans who are medicating their own personal pain through self-sabotaging, “ghetto” behaviors. The show represents a massive cry for help!

The content of the website is pathetic, disturbing, sad, and frustrating. The burning question remains: what must happen to turn blacks, and others, away from “ghetto mess” onto the journey of healing, virtue, dignity, and human flourishing?

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Monday, July 23, 2007

This weekend’s Midwest Emergent Gathering, held July 20-21 in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, was an event that I enjoyed participating in immensely. I was invited, by my friend Mike Clawson of up/rooted (Chicago), to answer several questions in a plenary session. I was billed as a friendly “outsider.” We laughed about this designation since many of my critics now assume that I am a “heretical insider” to Emergent. The truth is that neither is totally true. I am not so much a part of this movement, at least not in any recognizable or formal way, as I am a real friend of all things missional that sincerely address the basic questions that I feel very strongly must be faced by Christians within Western culture.

It is a basic fact that the church regularly reduces the gospel, to something less or other than than the gospel, in its various attempts to translate the good news into a faithful witness within any culture. This is true in Asia, Latin America and Africa as well. (Witness the cover story of the current Christianity Today on the impact of the prosperity gospel in Africa, where the greatest church growth is also taking place.) This does not mean the church is no longer the church. It does mean reformation is always necessary, thus the faithful church must be semper reformanda, always reforming. This realization grows out of a sober view of the humanity of the church. (The church is a divine organism with the life of Christ in it but it is also very human at the same time.) But many conservative Christians, especially if they are over forty, tend to think serious criticism of the church, or questioning the ways Christians think and believe (epistemology), is tantamount to arrogance and undermining the faith itself. Because I want to open a wide discussion of epistemology (i.e., the ways that we know what is true and not true) I am routinely questioned about whether I still believe in truth at all. When I say that I clearly and strongly do believe in the truth then I am then called a liar, or given some similar flattering insightful response.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the John H. Armstrong blog…)

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 23, 2007

Over at the Becker-Posner blog, the gentlemen consider the question, “Do National Security and Environmental Energy Policies Conflict?” (a topic also discussed here.)

Becker predicts, “Driven by environmental and security concerns, more extensive government intervention in the supply and demand for energy are to be expected during the next few years in all economically important countries. Policies that meet both these concerns are feasible, and clearly would have greater political support than the many approaches that advance one of these goals at the expense of the other.”

Posner observes the difference between a gasoline and a carbon tax, noting that the former would “have a direct effect in reducing demand for oil, thus reducing, as Becker points out, the oil revenues of oil-producing nations.”

But for a policy that addresses both national security and environmental concerns, “a gasoline tax would be inferior to a carbon tax from the standpoint of limiting global warming, because producers of oil, refiners of gasoline, and producers of cars and other products that burn fossil fuels would have no incentive to adopt processes that would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per barrel of oil, gallon of gasoline, etc. A carbon tax would create such an incentive and would also have a strong indirect negative effect on the demand for fossil fuels.”

There’s a lot more to these posts worth mulling over.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, July 20, 2007

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama has gained support from some Evangelical Christians. I recall some students and faculty at the Wesleyan Evangelical seminary that I attended supported Obama. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, when on the lecture circuit, constantly compares Obama with famed British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.

This week, Obama spoke to a Planned Parenthood gathering where he reinforced his support for sexual education for kindergarteners. To be fair, Obama said the education should be age appropriate and that he “does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten.”

However, let’s keep in mind the audience to whom Obama was speaking — Planned Parenthood. When I attended public school in the state of Hawaii, I was introduced to Planned Parenthood in my mandatory health class in 7th grade. Planned Parenthood tried to teach us how to use condoms with cucumbers and instructed the class about spermicidal jelly, dental dams, and other birth control devices and methods. I was 13 years old.

I remember taking a survey which Planned Parenthood brought to my class. The group wanted to gauge our sexual knowledge and experience. I remember wondering if I was abnormal because I had not experienced the depth of extensive sexual activity that Planned Parenthood was asking me about. I recall one of the questions was, “How many times are you laid in a week?”

This survey information was taken by Planned Parenthood workers and was never seen by students again. I also specifically recall one Planned Parenthood worker reminding the girls in the class that, if they became pregnant, they could tell or visit them before informing their parents.

The problem that arises from “age appropriate sexual education” is who decides what is appropriate? Is it parents, public school administrators, Senator Obama, or Planned Parenthood? When Planned Parenthood is involved, all of the concerns about social engineering and radical sexual agendas should be taken seriously.

[Ed. note: See also Acton's Jennifer Roback Morse, "Get the Government Out of Sex Ed."]