A few weeks ago I was listening to a very engaging American RadioWorks documentary, rebroadcast from last October, “Japan’s Pop Power.” The show focused on the increasing cultural imports to America coming from Japan, which by some estimations will soon dwarf industries typically associated with American-Japanese trade like automobiles, technology, and electronics. Japan’s economic success is a sure sign that human creativity and inventiveness are more important factors in human flourishing than mere material concerns or natural resources.

Some of the commentary expounded the typical pattern and dynamics of a sub-culture movement becoming mainstream. A great deal of the program focused on Japanese art, film, and media products, including the form of Japanese comic known as manga. Beginning with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the growing Japanese dominance of programming oriented toward youth is especially noteworthy (I’m a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan and my wife likes Ninja Warrior).

One portion of the program interested me especially because we have been discussing the importance of narrative here lately. As Chris Farrell and John Biewen spoke with an American teenager, it became clear that in part what draws our youth to contemporary forms of Japanese storytelling, beyond the inherent exotic elements, is the disjointedness of the narrative. It’s often a challenge to figure out who the main characters are and what they are doing. Some of the attraction is no doubt the mental agility that is required to induct a logical flow from the sometimes confusing morass.

But on another level, the attraction is undoubtedly a reflection of a post-modern mindset, which isn’t so concerned with logical plot progression. Japanese shows are renowned for their emphasis on glitzy effects, explosions, and action (oftentimes at the expense of sanity) such that they’ve become a staple of American parody:


It’s always a challenge for Christians to determine when and how to engage cultural movements. Some businesses and industries are without a doubt beyond the realm of moral permissibility, and the Christian is barred from licit participation. The message to those who are involved must be only, “Go and sin no more.”

But other times keen discernment is called for, and Christians at different times and places have come up with very different answers about how to engage the broader culture. At some point soon, for instance, we’ll look in more detail at the Christian Reformed Church’s synodical reports from 1928 on “Worldly Amusements” and from 1966 on “Film Arts.”

One approach I’m familiar with in a professional capacity is the attempt by some Christian publishers to transform the manga genre into something that is a positive and constructive influence, conducive to Christian piety, rather than one that celebrates moral depravity (for which manga is infamously renowned).

Zondervan, for example, has newly available a number of new manga series aimed towards youth or “tweens” audiences (full disclosure: I provided theological review services for a number of these products). On example is a series that follows the fictional exploits of Branan, the son of the biblical judge Samson. Other series follow a team of time-travelling flies and relate the biblical narrative in the form of a Manga Bible (the latter produced by a Korean author/illustrator team).

Whether such ventures are judged to be successful depends on the standards applied by individual Christians. No doubt many will be thankful for offerings in a pop culture genre whose contents are sincerely counter-cultural.

What is certain is that there is no better place to address the needs for a new generation of readers eager for meaningful narrative than to rely upon mythopoeia and, indeed, the greatest story ever told, the “True Myth,” the biblical drama of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

After World War II, Winston S. Churchill delivered his famed address warning of the descending Iron Curtain across the captive nations of Eastern Europe. Critics said Churchill engaged in unnecessary warmongering with an allied nation. His address was given at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Churchill declared in his address:

Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by a mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement . . . From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.

Author Bruce Bawer wrote an article for City Journal titled, “Peace Racket: An anti-Western movement touts dictators, advocates appeasement—and gains momentum.” Bawer notes the dangers of many of the modern peace study programs at colleges and universities, and their transparently one sided evaluation of any armed conflict, and hatred for traditional Western world-views. Bawer notes:

We need to make two points about this movement at the outset. First, it’s opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values.

Second, we’re talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations. It is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a cabinet-level Peace Department in the United States.

The author also notes the founder of this movement to be a 77-year-old Norwegian professor named Johan Galtung, who established the International Peace Research Institute.

According to the author, Galtang is “in fact a lifelong enemy of freedom.” He goes on to cite example after example of Gultang’s hatred of Western and American values, and “denounced anti-Communists as warmongering crypto-fascists.” Bawer also says:

Galtung, who helpfully revised Lenin’s theories to account for America’s “indirect” imperialism. Students acquire a zero-sum picture of the world economy: if some countries and people are poor, it’s because others are rich. They’re taught that American wealth derives entirely from exploitation and that Americans, accordingly, are responsible for world poverty.

Christian pacifism is of course a legitimate part of Christian history and practice, even if not the dominant position traditionally held by ministers and theologians. These defenders and guardians of peace are however not working from any Christian understanding. In fact, the author cites an example of the peace study programs that work from and prop up new age philosophies.

One should obviously lean to uplifting the powerful witness and practice of peace, which was so perfectly modeled in the incarnate Christ. This article at the same time will surely be disturbing for those who believe in faith and freedom, and that it is a value and gift worth defending. Furthermore the article addresses the students in the university who are turned into socialist converts, who can no longer distinguish between good and evil. After reading the superb article by Bawer, I wondered if it was truly peace these so called gatekeepers of justice valued, or rather a dismantling of spiritual and economic liberty, democracy, private property, and the rule of law.

There is a profound moral difference between the use of force for conquest, and the use of force for liberation. The author easily notes how this distinction is not made among many in the “peace studies” arena. And that is fundamentally why this author can write so clearly about the dangers of those who believe America’s so called capitalist system is the cause for so much oppression and blood shed in the world.

What do you call titans of industry who influence governmental regulation to provide them with tax and subsidy incentives to make a business venture profitable?

They used to be called robber barons…now apparently they’re “eco-millionaires.” The NYT piece gives a brief overview of four such figures:

Bruce Khouri “did not found Solar Integrated until 2001 once tax and subsidy incentives made the market more attractive.”

Pedro Moura Costa says he “saw the carbon market could be big business and the Kyoto Protocol confirmed my views.”

According to David Scaysbrook, “tax breaks, subsidies and emissions caps had prompted even more conservative investors ‘to finally move off their perch.'”

And “Neil Eckert, chief executive of Climate Exchange, which runs the main European exchange for carbon trading, has shares worth about 18 million pounds ($36 million). He is also non-executive chairman of Trading Emissions and Econergy, both involved in emission-cutting projects and generating revenue from carbon credits.”

More here on how not only individual investors but also nations are cashing in on artificially-created carbon schemes.

Readings in Social Ethics: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” References below are to page numbers.

  • A warning on the dangers of riches: “‘There was a certain rich man.’ And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression. Therefore, I remind all of you that are of this number, that have the conveniences of life, and something over, that ye walk upon slippery ground. Ye continually tread on snares and deaths. Ye are, every moment, on the verge of hell. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Who was clothed in purple and fine linen.’ And some may have a plea for this: our Lord mentions them that dwell in kings’ houses, as wearing gorgeous, that is splendid apparel, and does not blame them for it. But certainly this is no plea, for any that do not dwell in kings’ houses. Let all of them, therefore, beware how they follow his example, who is lifting up his eyes in hell: let us follow the advice of the Apostle, being ‘adorned with good works, and with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit'” (316).

  • A condemnation of gluttony and indulgence: “‘He fared sumptuously every day.’ Reconcile this with religion who can. I know how plausibly the prophets of smooth things can talk, in favour of hospitality, of making our friends welcome, of keeping an handsome table, to do honour to religion, of promoting trade, and the like. But God is not mocked: He will not be put off with such pretences as these. Whoever thou art that sharest in the sin of this rich man, were it no other than faring sumptuously every day, thou shalt as surely be a sharer in his punishment, except thou repent, as if thou wert already crying for a drop of water to cool thy tongue” (316). Great wealth does not make vice permissible.
  • A sermon illustration intended to motivate us to do good works: “At Epworth in Lincolnshire, the town where I was born, a beggar came to a house in the Marketplace, and begged a morsel of bread, saying, ‘She was very hungry.’ The master bid her be gone, for a lazy jade. She called at a second, and begged a little small beer, saying, ‘She was very thirsty.’ She Lad much the same answer. At a third door she begged a little water, saying, ‘She was very faint.’ But this man also was too conscientious to encourage common beggars. The boys, seeing a ragged creature turned from door to door, began to pelt her with snow-balls. She looked up, lay down, and died! Would you wish to be the man, who refused that poor wretch a morsel of bread, or a cup of water?” (317)

Next week: Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty.

A number of comments have been floating around the blogosphere related to the news coming out of Colorado last week that a professor at Colorado Christian University was terminated because “his lessons were too radical and undermined the school’s commitment to the free enterprise system.”

Andrew Paquin, who taught global studies, reportedly assigned texts by Jim Wallis and Peter Singer. That in itself shouldn’t be enough to get someone fired. The context within which such authors were assigned and how the professor led the discussion could potentially be enough, however. If Wallis’ politics were presented as Gospel truth, by the professor, that would be problematic.

Ted Olson at the CT Liveblog takes this occasion to ask whether there is an “evangelical view of economics.” In a post titled, “A Capitalist Creed?” Michael Simpson similarly says the CCU story is “quite bothersome.” I’ll note in passing that Christians with an explicitly conservative view of economics and political matters would have difficulty getting into the place of even being hired, much less fired, from teaching positions at any number of secular, mainline, and liberal institutions.

But aside from the particulars of the CCU case, of which there are precious few pertinent details available, I’ll attempt to answer the question that both Olson and Simpson seem to be getting at: is there a uniquely evangelical Christian view of economics? Yes and no.

The answer is no if what you mean is there a single, coherent, overarching and exhaustively detailed economic system that is unequivocally endorsed by the evangelical tradition’s view of Scripture.

From the fact that there is no single evangelical economic worldview, it does not follow that every economic option is equally valid. There are economic systems or worldviews that are unequivocally excluded by evangelical views on these matters.

One such set of excluded views would be economic materialism, exemplified for instance in Marxism. And as I’ve said before another economic worldview incompatible with biblical Christianity is anarcho-capitalism.

So, is there (or ought there be) an (unofficial, unstated) evangelical creed on economics? Again, it depends on how you view creeds.

If you see them as doctrinal statements that define the parameters of orthodoxy, setting up the boundaries beyond which is heterodoxy, but within which there is freedom for diverse expression and thought, then sure, there is and should be an evangelical economic creed. It should exclude economic positions that are incompatible with the basic tenets of Christian faith and practice.

But if you think that a creed is a statement of “rigid” orthodoxy that only validates a single, univocal position, then no, there is no single “evangelical economics.” But I happen to think that view of creeds and confessions is itself defective.

Update: Mark Tooley from IRD weighs in here, and a piece by Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed is here.

STAND, the Student Anti Genocide Coalition, is discussing Kaylin Wainwright’s Acton commentary about Darfur and campus activism on its blog.

STAND, which says it has founded 700 chapters, answers Kaylin’s criticisms about campus “slacktivism” by pointing to its effective engagement on the Darfur issue. The PowerBlog takes no stand on STAND. We’re just glad that considerations about effectiveness are being discussed by activist groups.

Read Kaylin’s “Darfur: Taking Student Advocacy beyond the Wristband.”

From today’s NYT: “CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from some $45 million a year in federal financing, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but also may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.”

“If someone wants to help you, they shouldn’t do it by destroying the very thing that they’re trying to promote,” said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

International aid needs to get more economically savvy, and in a hurry, lest unintended consequences like the ones moving CARE to wean itself from the government teat continue to undermine well-intentioned efforts across the globe.

Some charities are accused of supporting the government’s practices because it keeps them afloat.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Mr. Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.” In other words, NGOs have effectively been bought off.

“Sure it’s self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested,” said Avram E. Guroff, a senior official at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in such sales last year. “We’re not lining our pockets.”

But, as Augustine would say, and as CARE seems to be realizing, economic self-sufficiency ought to be the goal, rather than creating cycles of dependence by destroying entrepreneurial viability abroad:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy! (Confessions 3.2.3)

As you may already know, Acton’s Samaritan Award and Samaritan Guide recognize charities who take little or no government funding and are committed to moving those toward independence.

Update: There’s a brief summary of CARE’s decision in this Marketplace piece: “The issue will be part of the congressional Farm Bill debate next month.”

Jeff Jacoby, writing yesterday in the Boston Globe, takes a pleasant stroll down memory lane:

INTRODUCING Newsweek’s Aug. 13 cover story on global warming “denial,” editor Jon Meacham brings up an embarrassing blast from his magazine’s past: an April 1975 story about global cooling, and the coming ice age that scientists then were predicting. Meacham concedes that “those who doubt that greenhouse gases are causing significant climate change have long pointed to the 1975 Newsweek piece as an example of how wrong journalists and researchers can be.” But rather than acknowledge that the skeptics may have a point, Meacham dismisses it.

“On global cooling,” he writes, “there was never anything even remotely approaching the current scientific consensus that the world is growing warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Really? Newsweek took rather a different line in 1975. Then, the magazine reported that scientists were “almost unanimous” in believing that the looming Big Chill would mean a decline in food production, with some warning that “the resulting famines could be catastrophic.” Moreover, it said, “the evidence in support of these predictions” — everything from shrinking growing seasons to increased North American snow cover — had “begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”

Yet Meacham, quoting none of this, simply brushes aside the 1975 report as “alarmist” and “discredited.” Today, he assures his readers, Newsweek’s climate-change anxieties rest “on the safest of scientific ground.”

This appears to be the first article in a two-part series. Go on and read it in full.

Acton Alum, Andrae McGary, recently launched a blog to offer some perspective on hip hop for the hip hop community. It’s called Street Soul Arts. His latest post discusses Princeton University religion professor, Cornell West, and the release of West’s second rap album. I’m glad to see this blog because he knows this world far better than I ever will.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 16, 2007
By

Stanley Cohen, the Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, is quoted as saying that “good intentions become bad practices.”

In his critique of rather lame attempts to realize justice in the world (related to faulty definitions of justice), Herman Bianchi writes, “Even more dubious is another frame in which the formula is often couched: ‘Justice is the constant intention to give everyone his due.’ Never is it said, ‘See to it that everyone really gets his due!’ No, the constant intention apparently suffices; the result of the action is not worth mentioning. As Ovid suggests, ‘though strength may fail, intention should be praised.'” Bianchi concludes that there are many such examples of this kind of thinking in the modern world.

In searching out the source for the disconnect between intentions and consequences, Bianchi has provided us with one classical source (Ovid). I’d like to point to some others, particularly within the Christian tradition, as possible sources for this phenomenon.

One place to look, I think, for a source of the contemporary (typically liberal) valuation of intentions over outcomes is the perfectionist doctrine of John Wesley. One strategy for those who teach that perfect moral action or sinlessness is possible in this life is to restrict the notion of sin into some smaller category than it is generally taken. So, for instance, a literal interpretation of the Decalogue could allow the rich young ruler to claim that he had kept the law from his youth.

Jesus’ presentation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount radicalizes these commandments, to include not only the external aspects of the commandment, but the internal spiritual condition and intention as well. This is where Wesley’s strategy is the precise mirror of that of the legalistic ruler. Where the ruler focused only on the literal commandments, Wesley is concerned with interior intent.

So for Wesley, “Christian Perfection is that love of God and our neighbour, which implies deliverance from all sin.” Sin is narrowly defined here to only include those acts of the will that spring from “envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper.” There is a separation here between the intellect and the will, however, so that a defect of the intellect is not to be considered sin, properly speaking. That is, perfect sinlessness consists in the Christian’s “one intention at all times and in all places…not to please himself, but him whom his soul loveth.”

But of course if there is an error in the intellect, but no defect in the will, it is still an evil, and Wesley acknowledges this: “Yet, where every word and action springs from love, such a mistake is not properly a sin. However, it cannot bear the rigour of God’s justice, but needs the atoning blood.” So there are deeds that are not considered sins but still need to be atoned for.

Clearly the great emphasis here is on the purity of intentions and the valuation of motives over consequences. In an extreme version, intention is completely disconnected with effect and consequence. This is what I’m calling Wesley’s ditch, although Wesley is not alone in the Christian tradition on this score. Compare, for instance, Reinhold Niebuhr: “Nothing is intrinsically immoral except ill-will and nothing intrinsically good except good will.”

You do not need to be a consequentialist in order to care about consequences. I submit that Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount, in radicalizing the nature of sin to include intentions, motives, and will, do not abandon concern with the intellect, consequences, or external effects. So, says Augustine, “there are two reasons why we sin, either because we do not see what we ought to do, or because we do not do what we know we ought to be done: the first of these evils comes from ignorance, the second from weakness.”

This is why the Heidelberg Catechism, in its description of what meets the qualification for Christian good, includes not only considerations of intentions or motives, but the external norm of God’s law. In answer to the question, “What do we do that is good?”, the Catechism answers: “Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition.”

Good intentions are not enough.