Archive for April, 2011

Anti-Capitalism Christians: Confusion or Hypocrisy?

capitalism, Christianity, values, American, free market, Public Religion Research InstituteAccording to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, “a plurality of Americans believe capitalism [is] at odds with Christian values.” Among Christians in the U.S., “only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds.”

This week at Common Sense Concept, I weigh in on the results, noting first that the news is not all that surprising:

Christians are well aware that greed and selfishness are absolute sins, and we are constantly told — albeit falsely — that such sins are the very drivers of capitalism. With pro-capitalism folks like Ayn Rand affirming such myths, it’s no wonder that Christians defer to the stereotype. Such a fundamental misunderstanding comes about for a variety of reasons, but from my experience, it’s typically rooted in one or more of the following: (1) an overly simplistic and all-encompassing view of greed, (2) a materialistic view of wealth, (3) a failure to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, and (4) a belief that God has something against material inequality.

Yet there is indeed something peculiar about all this. Most particularly: How do these Christians sleep at night if they are actively supporting a fundamentally un-Christian system?

Are they all homeless?

It is on this question that I focus the bulk of my critique:

Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system? Of the 61% of Americans who believe regulation is necessary to ensure “ethical” business activity, how many truly believe they need to be regulated in order to ethically trade an apple for an orange? Of the 55% of white evangelical Protestants who believe that income inequality is “one of the biggest problems in the country,” how many have a higher income than someone else? Indeed, if any of these folks are simply working in America today, aren’t they profiting from, indeed encouraging, the very capitalistic system that opposes their religious convictions?

Or, in shorter form:

Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist.

My guess is that most of these Christians are actually at peace with the capitalistic system as it plays out in their own personal lives, and I would wager that the disconnect has more to do with Read the rest of this entry »

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A Virtual Choir: Globalization and the True Community

Yeah, yeah, I know: “Globalization is tearing us apart.”

Mom-and-pop shops are shutting down, petty Facebook friending is ramping up, and people everywhere are self-destructing, resulting in an impersonal and isolated wasteland filled with self-absorbed do-nothings who are more fond of texting “ROFL!” than going to the pub for some “real” camaraderie.

Er, um…maybe you should watch this:

There’s a valid critique and concern amid all of the anti-globalization hullabaloo — not when it comes to economics (sorry, Lou Dobbs), but when it comes to community. At a fundamental level, conservatives like to take things slow for the sake of taking things slow, leading many to take up common cause with progressives on matters related to “community preservation.”

Yet as we all know, any community worth its salt is more than capable of preserving itself.

What many fail to see is that plenty of communities do Read the rest of this entry »

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Intergenerational Justice: What Is the Church’s Role?

Up until now, I have avoided any in-depth discussion about the Center for Public Justice’s Call for Intergenerational Justice, a document which “demand[s] that Washington end our ongoing budget deficits.” The document was signed by a variety of Christian leaders from across the political spectrum, and was designed to “start of a biblically grounded movement in which grandparents, grandchildren and everyone in between can join hands to promote a just solution to our debt crisis.”

The Call has garnered both praise and criticism, with much of the latter coming from friend-of-the-blog Jordan Ballor. To discuss their disagreements, Gideon Strauss of CPJ recently joined Ballor for a discussion at the Acton Institute. This week, Common Sense Concept took the conversation a step further by hosting a panel on the Christian’s role in the budget crisis. Included on the panel were Strauss, Ballor, Jennifer Marshall, Ron Sider, Ryan Streeter, and Pastor Jonathan Merritt.

Catch the conversation here:

The discussion is engaging across the board, and as Daniel Suhr has noted in his recap, there is plenty of room for consensus.

But as an evangelical, I’d like to focus specifically on Pastor Merritt’s concers, particularly his (mis)perception of how conservatives and libertarians view poverty solutions — a misunderstanding that permeates evangelicalism at large.

Merritt, himself a self-proclaimed conservative, begins his response by countering Ballor’s claim that the Call does not do enough as far as “putting the church on the hook.” In an initially shocking statement, Merritt says that he’s tired of putting the church on the hook, wrongly assuming that Ballor wants the church to ramp up its political involvement. Going further, Merritt Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Bad Machines: Economic Myths, Western Arrogance and Indian Textiles

In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I examine a recent attempt to prop up India’s handmade textile industry.

The IOU Project recently released an ad chock-full of economic myths and Western arrogance, urging us to buy their products and resist the almighty, domineering force of industrialization.

According to the ad, if we lose the battle against the machines, we will quickly descend into poverty, unemployment, and sameness. (LOL)

This is typical fair-trade manipulation: flooding markets that would naturally subside, retract, or level out, resulting in long-term stagnation, price confusion, and plenty of other things.

In my post, I take a look at six of the ad’s main assertions, arguing that more machinery, freedom, and energy consumption is exactly what India needs.

Here’s an excerpt of my response to the anti-machinery talk:

According to the theories in this video, we [industrialized] Westerners should be helplessly enslaved by now, forced to do the bidding of modern machinery. But perhaps we have been! Here we are, destined to work in high-rise buildings and air-conditioned offices, pining away on the internet and dabbling in ideas when we could be sewing our own clothes, hand-washing our own laundry, growing our own food, and thatching our own huts. Dang machinery!

Here’s my response on the handmade industry being (supposedly) emission free:

The cavemen of yore were certainly more environmentally friendly than we are, but they filled their days hunting for food, trying to stay warm in the winter, and hoping they’d have time to come up with a written language. Such a life might sound like paradise to the idealist sitting in the front row of Eco-Imperialism 101, but at what point are we willing to Read the rest of this entry »

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Monopolies and Competition: Mom! Dad! AT&T’s Not Sharing!

AT&T, T-Mobile, cell phone, acquisition, monopoly, competitionIn my most recent post at Ethika Politika, I comment on AT&T’s recent plans to acquire T-Mobile, a move that has garnered cries of “monopoly!” (or “duopoly!”) from all sides.

But although many see AT&T’s actions as “anti-competitive” in nature, I see no such thing. From where I stand, the acquisition has great potential to improve the company’s output, which could indeed benefit consumers and invigorate competition in the industry:

With a newly expanded network, AT&T could greatly improve its ability to expand service to rural areas. Due to increased economies of scale, it is likely that prices could decrease across the board. Additionally, although critics claim that the tightening of the market will have a negative impact on innovation, many believe it will raise the stakes (“mono y mono!”), leading to improvements on any number of company weak spots, from customer service to overall quality of service.

Yet whether the deal will be good or bad for (anyone’s) business is secondary; such matters remain debatable. The core issue, as I see it, rests in the mindset of those who adamantly oppose the deal on limited evidence, particularly those trying to prohibit it from happening altogether.

As I argue, the problems with such a mindset can be broken into three main areas: (1) a fear of competition itself, (2) a misunderstanding of the company-consumer relationship, and (3) a corresponding pessimism and all-around static view of human ingenuity and potential.

I expound on each, but regarding the third (and most important), here’s an excerpt:

Do we really believe that markets are that unmovable, or that we as innovators, explorers, and dreamers do not have what it takes to meet whatever challenges and needs may arise? Are we really so short-sighted that we Read the rest of this entry »

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It Takes a Market: Hillary Clinton, Milton Friedman, and the Family

family, market, grocery, shoppingThis week at Common Sense Concept, I use Hillary Clinton’s popular premise as a launching pad for discussion about the role of family and the subsequent role of the market in enabling it.

First, here’s my quick re-cap of Clinton’s view, which is not particularly unique in the scope of human history:

Clinton’s main argument is that we need a society which meets all the needs of all its children (“Just imagine, bro!”). For Clinton, however, such ends are not to be reached by encouraging freedom, instilling dignity, or teaching the importance of self-government and charity. Instead, children are only to reach their ultimate state of nirvana if the State becomes the family itself. After all, much like those other pesky private institutions — churches, schools, businesses…that kind of thing — the private family simply cannot be trusted (fascism alert).

To illuminate the errors within such a view, I lean on economist Milton Friedman, whose widely circulated exchange on the distribution of income vs. wealth provides some good insights.

Here’s Friedman in his own words:

The thing that is amazing that people don’t really recognize is the extent to which the market system has in fact encouraged people and enabled people to work hard and sacrifice — in what I must confess I often regard as an irrational way — for the benefit of their children. One of the most curious things to me in observation is that almost all people value the utility their children will get from consumption higher than their own.

As for where I stand, I take a view quite similar to that I made in my recent post on WALL-E vs. the Jetsons:

When the material needs are met by utilizing the proper socio-political framework, we can then more easily progress as a society toward a proper spiritual orientation. If we take a different path, and attempt to Read the rest of this entry »

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Functional Universalism: Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

The Rob Bell controversy has yielded several important lessons, but David Platt offers one of the best in a new video on the dangers of functional universalism in the Christian church (as opposed to intellectual universalism).

Using Northern India as an example — a country comprised mostly of Hindus, Muslisms, and Buddhists —  Platt challenges us to consider whether we really believe that the 597 million non-Christians therein are really going to hell. By asking whether we really believe it, he means to ask whether we are really doing something about it. 

Watch the video here (HT):

For Platt, the distinction between the intellectual issue and the functional one is as follows (though there can certainly be plenty of overlap):

If we believe that everyone is going to be ok in the end — if we embrace universalism, however it is cloaked — then we’re free to live our lives however we want, to sit back as easygoing Christians in comfortable churches. Because in the end, all of these masses are going to be ok. They’re going to be fine.

However, if we believe that people around around us — 597 million people in Northern India, 6,000+ people groups who have never even heard the Gospel — if we believe that they are going to an eternal hell without Read the rest of this entry »

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Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John PiperEvangelicals have long winced with suspicion toward contributions from intellectual arenas. Whether faced with critiques about the legitimacy of the Flood, the coherency of the Trinity, or the plausibility of God himself, we are well known for responding with the “faith-that-doesn’t-need-answers” refrain. Rather than confronting intellectual challenges and engaging our minds as an act of faith, we twist such faith into a shield to be held over heads, protecting us from such conflicts as we close our eyes and mumble, “I’m not listening.”

In turn, intellectuals are quick to exploit such a response, claiming that evangelicals are nothing but a bunch of mindless zombies, brainwashed by cult leaders and clouded by happy thoughts. As Mark Noll put in his book on the subject, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Oddly enough, such a scandal is evident even among those who evangelicals assume comprise their intellectual front (i.e. the postmodernists). A good example of this can be found in the ongoing Rob Bell controversy, in which supposedly “anti-intellectual” conservative evangelicals are being derided left and right for engaging Bell in an intellectual challenge. Meanwhile, the supposedly brainy and overly nuanced Bell is being defended not on intellectual grounds, but on warm-and-fuzzy, “don’t-judge-me” togetherness. In one quick swoop of a Justin Taylor post and a simple John Piper tweet, Bell was quickly diminished by his defenders to being a mere “artist” rather than an impressive mind or a “serious theologian.” He is just “asking questions” we are told — having a bit of creative fun with the Scriptures in the same way a child might draw fanciful whatchamacallits on his driveway with sidewalk chalk. (“Don’t be hatin’ on the beauty, bro!”)

Making such a topic even more timely has been the entirely different (and far healthier) discussion launched by Matthew Lee Anderson on evangelicalism and natural law. This particular discussion, however, doesn’t indicate a lack of intellectualism in evangelicalism as much as it illuminates that the movement has its own unique view of the mind itself, bringing us back to the original challenge. For the evangelical, there is a transcendental tension between our supernatural understanding and our natural reason, and as is only natural (harty har), it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around it.

(Making this yet more timely still is Donald Miller’s recent post, which argues that the church’s problem is too much intellectual engagement instead of a lack thereof. Seriously.)

To cut through such tensions and offer some clarity, John Piper has released a helpful new book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (also the topic to last year’s Desiring God conference). For Piper, the supposed faith-reason dichotomy need not be a dichotomy at all. All we need is the proper Read the rest of this entry »

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WALL-E vs. the Jetsons: Materialism and Technological Progress

Jetsons, WALL-E, technology, progress, innovation, Jeffrey TuckerIn my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I build on Jeffrey Tucker’s piece on the Jetsons and innovation, focusing on the bleak alternative to healthy modernization. As I argue, the society may very well result in the misaligned World of WALL-E.

For Tucker, the Jetsons represent a healthy view of technological progress — one in which the more important human struggles still remain largely intact, with the material stuff staying secondary:

The whole scene — which anticipated so much of the technology we have today but, strangely, not email or texting — reflected the ethos of time: a love of progress and a vision of a future that stayed on courseIt was neither utopian nor dystopian. It was the best of life as we know it projected far into the future.

Yet there is another possibility we all should be wary of.

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

This distinction about a society that “stays on course” is what separates the World of the Jetsons from the World of WALL-E, a realm in which humans assume the role of virtual robots, controlled by their possessions, consumed by their leisure, and subsequently doomed to an existence of myopic and self-destructive idleness.

Instead, the World of the Jetsons is one in which human potential is unleashed. There is a “love of progress,” but such a love is not detached from higher responsibilities and does not confuse or pervert the moral order. For the Jetsons, the stuff remains stuff and life moves on, whether that entails personal goals, family development, community engagement, or a relationship with God (one can only hope, George!).

So what separates the two?  If both worlds experience drastic technological improvements, what changes the people within them? How can we Read the rest of this entry »

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