counting-penniesIn the Federalist Papers James Madison noted that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

Madison’s observations continues to be proven correct. Even factors such as whether a person has a checking or savings account is strongly correlated with nearly every measure of political engagement, including which dominant political “faction”—Democrat or Republican—they’ll identify with.

But as a new Pew Research study finds, those who are financially insecure are tending to opt out of the political system altogether. In 2014, only about half (54 percent) of the least financially secure were registered to vote while almost all of the most financially secure Americans (94 percent) were registered. Financially insecure Americans are also far less likely than those at the top of the security scale to be politically engaged in other ways:
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Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, January 8, 2015
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A Syrian refugee tries to keep her newborn infants warm

A Syrian refugee tries to keep her newborn infants warm

It is currently 3 degrees where I am. That is without the wind chill. (If you do not know what “wind chill” is, consider yourself blessed.) It is literally too cold to be outside for any length of time without danger of frostbite.

And yet, I’m not complaining. Syrian refugees in the Middle East have it much worse. Some three million Syrians are trying to cope with life in Lebanon refugee camps: tents with no heat, no wood to burn, little or no food, all in the midst of cold and snow. They have fled civil war in Syria, which began with the Arab Spring of 2011 and continues with military sieges and rebellion. (more…)

heart-exchangeThe subject of contracts is not particularly romantic, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In some ways, we’ve come to overly ignore, downplay, or disregard contracts. Across the world, we see grandmaster politicians and planners trying to impose various “solutions” with the flicks of their wands, paying little attention to core features like trust and respect for property rights. Here in America, our government is increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or foreclosed Billy and his bank.

In other ways, however, we are excessively contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. We want guarantees to ensure the maximum reward for the minimum amount of work. We want legislation that protects our jobs and locks in our wages and retirement. We want to put in our 40, return to our couches, grab one from the cooler, and say, “that’s that.” We want to give our effort insofar as we receive our due, insulating ourselves from risk, sacrifice, and discomfort wherever possible.  (more…)

persecuted church2014 was a terrible year for persecution of Christians. In Syria, North Korea and Somalia, Christians are routinely imprisoned and killed. In Iraq, 2014 saw the passage of a law requiring Christians to convert or pay an exorbitant tax. The other choice for Iraqi Christians is to flee.

Open Doors has been tracking persecution of Christians around the world for 60 years. They have just released their latest report, and it makes a grim prediction: 2015 may very well be the worst year for Christians since Open Doors began its work. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, explains:

Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.

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John Couretas’s link today to the recent Christianity Today article on how Russian evangelicals “thank God for Putin,” reminded me of this excellent post last month from Joseph Pearce on the complexities of religious tribalism in the Ukraine crisis. As ought to be expected, despite the Cold War posturing of both Western and Eastern media, the situation is not as simple as East vs. West or, for that matter, good vs. evil:

Regardless of the relative merits of each side’s claims in the Ukraine, it struck me as unfair to blame the Catholic Church for the actions of western Ukrainian forces. It is true, of course, that the people of western Ukraine are mainly Catholic whereas those in the east are mainly Orthodox. In this sense, it can be conceded that the war is “ethnic,” in the sense that two different cultures are struggling for dominance or for separation. It is, however, not fair to categorize the war as “religious.” It would be much more accurate to describe it as political in the sense that it is a clash of nationalities: ethnic Ukrainians in the west and ethnic Russians in the east. The western Ukrainians blame their eastern neighbors for their suffering under the Soviet system; the eastern Ukrainians blame their western neighbors for their collaboration with the Nazis and the hated SS during the second world war. There are communist “conservatives” in eastern Ukraine who long for the patriotic “glories” of Soviet imperialism, and there are many neo-Nazis in positions of power in the western Ukrainian government.

It is, however, not fair or accurate to describe the struggle between the two warring parties as religious, except in the decidedly irreligious sense of its being a sectarian struggle in which religious affiliation is little more than a badge worn in the service of tribalism.

I happen to be particularly sensitive to this crucial distinction between that which is genuinely religious and that which is merely tribal. Many years ago, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was heavily involved in the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between the so-called Catholics and the so-called Protestants. In those days, long before my conversion to Catholicism, I was on the side of the Protestants, even though I had no religion. I was technically, I suppose, an agnostic. I was not an atheist because God was not important enough to me. Frankly I did not care whether He existed or not. I was a Protestant, not because I cared about the way that Luther or Calvin differed from the Catholic Church but because I hated the IRA.

Read more. . . .

Putin in ChurchIn Christianity Today, Mark R. Elliott offers an interesting and balanced report that goes a long way to explaining why “evangelicals in Russia have become ardent fans of President Vladimir Putin because of Russia’s efforts to maintain its influence in Ukraine, its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and the widespread Russian belief that the West is to blame for the present economic woes on the home front.” I’m not a fan of Putin, but neither am I suffering from Russophobia. Can 85 percent of Russians — those filling the nation’s pews — be wrong about the Russian president? I’ll have more to say in another post to follow about the regrettable business of an Eastern Orthodox “jihad” and the unholy mystical-magical alliance of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church that we read about here on the PowerBlog.

But for now, here’s Elliott explaining “Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin.” It gets very complicated, very fast:

People are suffering in eastern Ukraine at the hands of both Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian army units, and Western media often overlook the dual cause of suffering. A pastor friend in Moscow has a new member in his congregation, a recently widowed pastor and tent evangelist from Lugansk, eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian artillery shell took his wife’s life as she was standing on their apartment balcony. This grieving father of two shared, “After that, we almost immediately moved to Moscow. There are difficulties with citizenship. By God’s mercy there will be a job for me.”

To date, fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed over 4,700 lives and wounded more than 9,900. Refugees displaced by the fighting number nearly one million. Separatists in eastern Ukraine who see Russian Orthodoxy as the only legitimate faith have closed dozens of Protestant and Catholic churches and the Protestant Donetsk Christian University.

Rogue pro-separatist units have kidnapped, tortured, and killed evangelical pastors. At the same time, in central and western Ukraine, some Orthodox parishes and priests loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate have been harassed and pressured to switch their allegiance to one of the two Ukraine-based Orthodox jurisdictions. Piecing together a balanced picture of the Ukraine tragedy can only be achieved with a careful, inclusive reading of Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, January 8, 2015
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Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale
Naftali Bendavid , Wall Street Journal

Hundreds of Churches Have Closed or Are Threatened by Plunging Membership, Posing Question: What to Do With Unused Buildings?

Green Policies a Cold Comfort to Britain’s Poor
The American Interest

Britain just hit an ignominious milestone: new figures show that more than a million families with children live in “fuel poverty,” unable to afford their basic power needs.

Congress is still really religious and really Christian
Domenico Montanaro , PBS Newshour

Despite a growing number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, Congress is dominated by those who identify with a religion.

Making Money To The Glory Of God
Timothy J. Trudeau

Both the prosperity gospel and the anti-prosperity gospel are over-reactions—possibly as a response to each other. Both are wrong. Neither is the gospel.

aimthesolution“You have never met a mere mortal.” – C.S. Lewis

God has called each of us to redemptive stewardship, crafting us in his own image that we might assume this calling in boldness and love. Thus, as we approach complex issues of poverty alleviation and seek to empower others on this path, we must be careful that our efforts affirm the dignity and destiny of the human person.

As noted in the Acton Institute’s core principles, “the human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator,” possessing “intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons.” A brief perusal of Genesis 1 will confirm as much, yet far too often we distort and confuse this framework, defining those in severe need according to their present station and developing our “solutions” in turn.

Such attitudes can manifest subtly (our vocabulary) or severely (coercive measures), even or especially among the boots on the ground and the “experts” that fuel them. “Anti-poverty(!)” programs and policies may indeed abound (even the Millennium Development Goals nod to “human dignity”), but little of that matters if the promoters or measures themselves treat others as inferior, incapable, or altogether dispensable. (more…)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.

As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.

Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.

This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.

Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).

For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.

 

Blog author: ken.larson
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
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I’m not one of those folks who are glued to the tube, but some things on television grab and hold my attention. One is Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey, that just began its fifth season in the United States this past Sunday night. I was one of millions watching according to trade journal reports. As a promotion to the new season the producers created a supplemental trailer so to speak – oldsters might call it a “double bill” – titled Manners of Downton Abbey. You can see it online here.

The manners as depicted in portrayals of either Victorian or Edwardian England do clash quite abruptly with what most of us encounter and or display in our lives today. In the Manners Special we are allowed to view and listen to the various actors and actresses in the show as they comment with gestures and expressions that coincide with the major contradictions in the behavior they present on screen and the one they live in their private lives. Expressions like stiff formality, odd set of rules, no slouching, sitting up straight, wearing gloves at the dinner table, tend to characterize the dialogue.

Our tour guide for this show is a guy the producers hired at the start to make sure that the actors accurately portray their parts. Alastair Bruce is an “expert on British Royal Ceremony” and has a resume and Royal Order of the British Empire to prove it.

Nearly eight minutes into the Manners Special I heard Mr. Bruce say something that knocked me back. In describing the dining room etiquette he puts things in context with,

They say Grace at the beginning [of the meal] and that makes it the Lord’s table and all the detail and sumptuous display and the manners reflects the struggle they all have to achieve a similarly perfect moral approach to life. An immaculate presentation was a statement of moral correctness to all.

Granted, we do not – I don’t recall, ever – see the Crowley’s or for that matter anyone else actually say Grace in these Downton Abbey episodes. After all, this is public television, not Duck Dynasty. But it is comforting to know that Mr. Bruce has grounded intentions. Something to think about the next time you sit down with the family or have guests for dinner.