Archive for November, 2010
I’m in the middle of reading Kenneth Minogue’s new book, and so far it is all-around brilliant.
The basic premise is that democracy has wrongly evolved from a mere process to a supreme ideal. More and more, Minogue argues, the West is substituting individual moral responsibility for a superficial form of collective salvation. In short, decisions at the ballot box have subtly become the supreme authority on moral truth.
I’ll be reviewing the book in the near future, but at the moment I wanted to focus on a point Minogue makes in a chapter called “Democratic Ambiguities.” In the chapter, Minogue highlights various elements we need to understand before holistically evaluating democracy. One of Minogue’s many points therein centers around the social conditions necessary for successful democracy. One of those conditions, in Minogue’s view, is cultural homogeneity.
As Minogue writes:
…[T]he ideal of democracy has little purchase on plausibility unless “the whole people” is a relatively homogeneous set of people who “speak the same language” (even if it is only in a metaphorical sense, as in states such as Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium).
But what about the claim that there is no definitive “American culture”? Minogue apparently disagrees:
The United States established its cultural homogeneity as virtually a condition of admission to its shores. A pays politique can hardly exist unless individuals share similar sources of information and talk to each other in mutually comprehensible terms.
To prove his point, Minogue offers several examples where democracy has failed due to competing cultural (or “tribal”) forces. By examining situations in Lebanon, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Africa (no country in particular), Minogue concludes that some degree of cultural Read the rest of this entry »
Once-prominent religious leaders like Pat Robertson are now viewed as fringe radicals by many conservative elites and “ordinary people” alike. Social issues like gay marriage and abortion have been largely dismissed as secondary by tea partiers and Republican politicians. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican voters preferred the irreligious “pragmatism” of John McCain to the Bible-belt fervor of Mike Huckabee.
As author Brett McCracken recently said in an interview with yours truly, aligning oneself with the religious right has become increasingly “unhip.”
But some don’t see such a change as an overall indictment of the movement itself. For Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, authors of the new book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, such a change is “less a value judgment than a fact of life.” Despite some fundamental flaws in the religious right’s approach, Gerson and Wehner see the energetic movement of yore as a highly positive, right-time-right-place kind of thing.
But the times they are a-changin’.
We are in a moment of transition, say Gerson and Wehner. The same Christians who aligned themselves with the Religious Right now find little use or relevance in its tactics or execution. Strict conservative political theology has been by and large replaced by universalist political activism. Social conservatism has been subtly supplanted by a blurry, left-leaning social justice. The cutting, careless words of Pat Robertson has been overshadowed by the moderate tone of Rick Warren.
But although the political scene is changing (and necessarily so), Gerson and Wehner see more confusion in the shift than they do clarity. For them, this is a prime opportunity for conservatives (and everyone else) to reexamine the proper relationship between religion and politics. Now, they argue, is not only a time for adaptation, but also for introspection.
The aim, therefore, is to crystalize a proper Christian approach to politics — one that takes full account of theological fundamentals, proper Read the rest of this entry »
I was recently laid off from my job, and along with the resulting chaos and emotional disarray has come a personal reflection about the meaning of work itself. The question is this: Is destruction always creative?
Here’s an excerpt:
There was plenty on my mind after all was said and done – my family, our health insurance, my professional future. But there was something else that I couldn’t let go of – a lingering fear centered on that most dreaded and uncomfortable of questions: “Was this all for nothing?”
So how do we wrap our heads around such destruction? Destruction may not always be creative in the material sense, but is there some kind of deeper, non-material creativity that occurs in and throughout our work?
The question of whether our loss is creative in a tangible, material sense is an important one, but the answer is far too often unknowable in the immediate aftermath of destruction…Which is why the more answerable (and optimistic) question for the destroyed is this: Even if our destruction is indeed destructive in the material sense, is all truly lost?
To read the full article, click here.
Whether morality can or should be legislated has been a common topic of this blog, and Micah Watson has some insightful thoughts on the matter over at The Witherspoon Institute.
Here is the opener:
“You can’t legislate morality” has become a common turn of phrase. The truth, however, is that every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral. Those who think such a chimerical understanding is possible could hardly be more wrong. For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality.
When speaking of these matters, I think a certain distinction needs to be made. Many would read Watson’s words and take away an argument about the inevitability of moral entrance in the realm of political decision making. But while such inevitability is indeed a reality, Watson is pointing to something beyond mere inevitability.
What is often missed is that morality is inherent in all legislative decisions. It is not a matter of this or that, but of this and this (and so on). Morality is not confined to matters of gay marriage and torture, but is equally involved in those of taxation and sanitation.
Thus, the distinctions we pursue are not to be found in the moral inherence within particular decisions but in the moral consequences thereof.
As Watson continues:
Not every decision has profound moral consequences. But even drawing the line between morally innocent choices and morally culpable choices demonstrates our Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s an excerpt from the post:
In this post, I hope to offer a bit more illumination as to how we as Christians are to process such a “payoff” in our own lives. But take note: I am not advocating a give-and-take mindset by which we throw our lives at the altar while begging for goodies from heaven. For any of these “payoffs” to occur, our heart motive must be properly aligned to what Jesus calls us to. That’s the tricky part. For us to be able to enjoy the blessed life, our sacrifice has to be genuine and steadfast. Our motives have to be pure and properly aligned to a desire to perform God’s will. Without such an alignment, our sacrifice is in vain.
To launch my argument, I use John Piper’s famous book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist:
Piper discusses the many ways in which God desires for us to be joyful, arguing that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” This is the key: In order to “profit,” as Rand would say, we must not only learn to enjoy God, but we must begin to recognize how he is constantly changing us and transforming us through our selfless attempts to change the world for his glory.
What do we risk if we reject Christ’s call to selfless self-interestedness? If we dismiss his instructions as silly contradictions (as Rand does) or exalt them as glorious masochism (as many Christians do), will we be able to fulfill God’s calling for us? Will we be able to enjoy God if we fail to glorify him through our obedience?
To read the full post, click here.
In my next post, I will focus on Read the rest of this entry »
The new project I’m blogging for, Common Sense Concept, is focused on exploring the morality of capitalism. They have just released a new video to promote their cause, and I think it’s pretty effective.
My favorite line is this: “It’s one thing to give the shirt off your back, but it’s no good if you’re just sitting their shirtless.”
The video tries to tap into the youthful passion inside us all — the passion to change the world. Unfortunately, what has been lost on many is that good intentions are not enough. We need to be able to ask the right questions.
The narrator offers some great examples of these types of questions:
How could we protect a neighborhood without knowing what it takes to maintain one. How could we promote stronger communities without building better families? How could we demand jobs without knowing how jobs are created? If we are going to demand food for the poor, we should know how Read the rest of this entry »
In my recent post at Common Sense Concept, I tackle some issues surrounding that most beloved of libertarian icons, Ayn Rand. More specifically, I focus my critique on her views about Jesus and his teachings.
Many people have criticized Christians for admiring Rand’s political views, primarily because Rand was an atheist who abhorred Jesus’ teachings on self-sacrifice (Rand prefers the term altruism). Christians should certainly be wary of the anti-Christian elements within Rand’s thinking, but I think examining her errors will help us better understand the implications of Rand’s philosophy, as well as those of Christianity properly understood.
I think Rand’s fundamental error is that she doesn’t think any personal good or personal profit can come from self-sacrifice, whether in the spiritual realm or in the natural. Jesus taught, on the other hand, that properly executed self-sacrifice yields gains in both.
Here’s an excerpt from my post:
The message of Christ is both self-sacrificial and self-interested all in one. The Beatitudes don’t read “cursed are the poor,” yet they also don’t read “blessed are the rich.” Likewise, Jesus constantly qualifies his demands for sacrifice with promises of reward, whether in this life or the next. For anyone who reads the Gospels in full, Jesus is consistent and intentional in the way he elevates the ideal of self-sacrifice alongside the ideal of rational self-interest.
In a sense, I am sympathetic to Rand. After all, her views about the Christian God have been reinforced by the church itself. As I have discussed recently (here and here), the church consistently paints a picture of a God that elevates the role of oppression alongside salvation:
Whether or not we want to admit it, the historical church has been complicit in painting God as Rand does — as some lofty and detached communist dictator who delights in limiting our ambitions and seizing his fair share. Like Rand, many Christians opt for a one-sided Jesus who delights in our suffering and whose heavenly Father sees oppression as a prerequisite for salvation.
To read the full post, click here.
When I first picked up Brett McCracken’s new book, I was expecting a simple, cheeky romp through the various fads and frivolities within modern Christianity. The title itself, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, sounded an awful lot like the pretentiously reflective, light-and-trite nonfiction that Christian twentysomethings flock to nowadays.
But McCracken takes hip seriously, and he has a strong message for Christians who don’t.
“[W]e have to think harder,” says McCracken. “…even with something that might seem trivial, like ideas of “hip” and “cool,” Christians need to think long and hard about what it all means for our objective on this planet.”
McCracken certainly has a lighter side, and anyone who has read his blog or his movie reviews will know that he has a great ability to write wittily and pithily on all things art and culture. But although he enjoys cracking church-culture jokes as much as the rest of us, McCracken is largely on a mission to find an answer.
The question, as McCracken sees it, is this:
Is Christianity cool in today’s culture? And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord? Or must it be cool in the marketed, presentational sense? … perhaps Christianity is hopelessly unhip, maybe even the anticool. What if it turns out that Christianity’s endurance comes from the fact that it is, has been, and continues to be the antithesis and antidote to the intoxicating and exhausting drive in our human nature for cool (for independence, for survival, for leadership, for hipness)?
Before answering this question directly, McCracken uses the first part of the book to offer an extensive history of hip, beginning in the Renaissance and proceeding all the way up to the modern church. Moving from Rousseau’s anti-aristocrat pose to Brummel’s eighteenth-century dandyism and bohemianism, McCracken eventually hangs the hat of hipsterdom on the birth of America, a country that McCracken describes as Read the rest of this entry »