Archive for November, 2012

Africa for Norway: The Patronizing Power of Poverty Porn

In a new video crafted to inspire the type self-righteous do-gooderism we Westerners have all grown quite accustomed to, a group of concerned Africans tells us that the “tables have turned,” urging that it’s “time for us to care” (HT).

Prime your Prius for the bumper sticker:

From the Africa for Norway web site:

Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?

If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.

The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.

The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to Read the rest of this entry »

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#MyManThursday: Reading and Tweeting G.K. Chesterton Together

The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. ChestertonMy good friend RJ Moeller has conceived of a fun little project he’s calling his Social Media Book Club. For those following me on Twitter, you may have already noticed that I participated in the first go-around, reading and tweeting through C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. The goal is to share the experience over social media, particularly Twitter, bounce questions, quotes, and observations off of each other, and develop a fun little community.

Today (11/29/12), we’ll begin reading our second title, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. The themes of the novel are highly relevant to topics commonly discussed here at Remnant Culture —the limits of human knowledge and the allure of rationalism and materialism — and it’s a short book, so don’t be intimidated. We’ll be aiming to tackle a couple of chapters each day, and you can share your thoughts or questions any time of the day you like.

I encourage you to join us and share the experience on Twitter using the hashtag #MyManThursday. Some initial folks to follow are Hunter Baker, Joy Pullmann, Brandon Smith, Daniel Suhr, and, of course, RJ Moeller. You can download a free PDF of the book here, or read it in your Web browser here. For more about how the book club works, visit RJ’s blog.

If you’re still unsure about participating, I encourage you to whet your appetite on the poem that Chesterton uses to kick things off:

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay.
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us.
Children we were—our forts of sand were even as weak as we,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent our cap and bells were heard.

Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Mattress Merchants Reach Beyond Economic Exchange

Urban Mattress, Christian businessOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I discuss a recent article at Christianity Today on a mattress business whose Christian owners seek to transform what many see as “one of the sleaziest industries in the world.”

From the article:

Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….

…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”

There is plenty to admire about Urban Mattress, but one of the most striking features in the article is the intimate nature of many of their customer interactions. Here, I argue that Christians should pay close attention. The social, moral, and spiritual implications of Christian business – nay, all business – stretch beyond philanthropy and sound business practices:

On this, Urban Mattress provides a good lesson not only on the broader implications of our economic transactions, but also on the broader potential of Christian business in general. Far too often we confine our thinking about Christian business to areas like philanthropy or “corporate evangelism.” By going further and offering this type of personal customer service, these owners show us how there can be more exchange in exchange than we allow for or recognize, whether social, psychological, or spiritual.

When we engage in the marketplace, whether as producers or consumers, there is something transcendent Read the rest of this entry »

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Post-Election Reminder: Politics Is Not Where Life Happens

Russ Roberts, economist, Cafe HayekLast week at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I offered some suggestions as to what a newly elected President Obama might do if he wishes to unify the country and restore American confidence —  namely, affirm the value that each person brings to the table, male or female, rich or poor, and “appeal to more than material welfare,” as President Coolidge once did.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I discuss how we as Christians should respond after the election—but regardless of what the President does or doesn’t do.

For this, I rely heavily on economist Russ Roberts, who recently reminded us that politics isn’t “where life happens,” and thus, we should remember that our best opportunity to sell a political ideology of individual liberty is by building and cultivating the very communities and institutions — the “voluntary emergent orders” — we seek to protect.

As Roberts writes:

My other source of cheer is to remember that politics is not where life happens. Policies affect our lives, but we have much to do outside that world. Yesterday I helped my youngest son learn Python, learned some Talmud, played with my photographs on Lightroom, had dinner with my wife, and went shopping with my oldest son for his first nice blazer. Lots of satisfactions there. Nothing to do with politics.

Toward the end of the campaign, I saw an ad where Obama looked into the camera and said something like “look at my policies and those of my opponent and decide which one is best for you.” Those of us who believe in voluntary emergent order and civil society as a way to make the world a better place, reject Obama’s calculus. We believe that our policies aren’t just good for ourselves but allow everyone to reach their potential and serve others through the marketplace and the communities we choose to join and build. That’s a world I want not just for my children to but for your children, too. Being nice to your neighbor helps your neighbor imagine the possibility that the policies we pursue are not just about ourselves.

My response:

For both the Christian and the Jew, this “voluntary emergent order” begins with loving God and loving neighbor. We certainly need to make clear the state’s persistent attempts to intrude and subvert that order, but throughout such a struggle, particularly after a battle as aggressive and exhausting as this past election, we would do well to re-energize ourselves when it comes to pursuing the very callings and Read the rest of this entry »

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How Conservatives Can Win Every Person of Every Creed from Every Corner of the Planet

No. Not really. But putting our best foot forward shouldn’t be all that complicated. Thus, here are four basic steps conservatives can take to get back on track in the fight over political ideals.

  1. Love people. All people. Love your neighbor violently and sincerely. If you think you can check this box, try harder.
  2. Pursue truth. And not just narrow, political, “conservative” truth. Believe in something beyond politics. Start there, or your political ideology will quickly subvert the very life that government was meant to protect.
  3. Care about how you articulate the truth. “Speaking the truth in love” doesn’t just mean speaking the truth (surprise, surprise). It means putting every effort imaginable into expressing love alongside the truth. Good news should sound like good news. If you continue to have trouble with this, revisit numbers 1 and 2.
  4. Stop reading articles on what conservatives need to do to win Ethnic Group X, Age Group Y, and Economic Class Z. Just stop. Move along now.

The truth already belongs to all people. If we’re truly loving, truly honest, truly sincere, truly conservative, and truly correct, we will win a majority of those willing to listen and can stop blaming ourselves for those who don’t care and never will.

Now, please, can we get back to loving our families and eating hot dogs?

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Have Faith in America: Calvin Coolidge on Restoring Confidence

Calvin CoolidgePresident Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.

Over at the Acton Institute, I contemplate how President Obama might go about reuniting the country, using President Calvin Coolidge’s famous speech, “Have Faith in Massachusetts,” as an example:

I’m currently reading President Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography, and in it, he describes a situation quite similar to our own. In the 1910s, Coolidge was a state senator in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, yet even in his local community, he witnessed severe conflict and division among his fellow citizens, including the now-famous “Bread and Roses” strike and the accelerating split in the Republican Party toward Teddy Roosevelt’s emerging progressivism

…It would be January of 1914 that Coolidge was sworn in as President of the Massachusetts Senate. He would now have a louder voice, along with more opportunity to change things: to face the tide of radicalism and class warfare and restore confidence and unity in the Commonwealth.

Coolidge responded by giving an inauguration speech for the ages (now known as “Have Faith in Massachusetts”), one that downplayed the power of government as the primary agent of cultural and economic change, avoided divisive distinctions of class, gender, or race, and instead elevated the redemptive, restorative power and potential of the human spirit. Instead of promoting a zero-sum view of human engagement, Coolidge emphasized and romanticized the type of cooperation and collaboration that the market provides and prosperity demands.

Here’s a sample of the speech:

This Commonwealth is one. We are all members of one body. The welfare of the weakest and the welfare of the most powerful are inseparably bound together. Industry cannot flourish if labor languish. Transportation cannot prosper if manufactures decline. The general welfare cannot be provided for in any one act, but it is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and the neglect of one is the Read the rest of this entry »

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Affirm the Sacred: Sign the Manhattan Declaration

My friends at the Manhattan Declaration recently unveiled an attractive new web site, along with some valuable tools for spreading their message (1, 2, 3).

For those not already familiar with the project, the Manhattan Declaration is a proclamation seeking to “build a movement of Catholic, Evangelical, and Eastern Orthodox Christians who will stand together alongside other men and women of goodwill to advance the sanctity of life, rebuild and revitalize the marriage culture, and protect religious liberty.”

Read the full text of the Declaration here. Sign it here.

Remnant Culture has consistently sought to draw attention to the fundamental drivers of human flourishing from a Christian perspective. In illustrating the strong connections between issues like life, marriage, and religious liberty and the broader concerns of the church and society at large, whether religious, cultural, social, economic, or political, the Manhattan Declaration provides a way for Christians to affirm and proclaim the fundamentals of human flourishing. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Celebrating Bono’s Pro-Capitalism Conversion

Bono, ONE Campaign, capitalismI recently wrote about Bono’s recent comments on capitalism, arguing that although I’m not overly optimistic about the trajectory of his interventionist efforts, it marks a healthy development in any do-gooder’s evolution from hasty top-down planner to careful ground-up cultivator.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster urges us to have more optimism about the Goggled One, arguing that even rhetorical developments are cause for encouragement:

Here’s my thinking. A big change has been slowly percolating for a while in the Christian international aid space. On-the-ground practice has not changed yet. But their social system of legitimization – the network of gatekeepers who anoint what’s good and what’s bad – are increasingly embracing the need for the kinds of changes we want. Bono is only the most recent example.

And it’s getting harder and harder to dismiss this as partisan rhetoric or libertarian ideology as more and more people who self-identify as progressives are getting on the bandwagon. Again, Bono is only the most recent example.

The big aid organizations have responded by adopting the rhetoric of change. I recall seeing promotional materials from World Vision that talked about helping people develop economic independence. Of course they’re not actually doing that, but the fact that they have to say they are is a canary in the coal mine for them.

It’s a little like how Democratic judicial nominees now have to clothe themselves in the rhetoric of judicial restraint in a way they never had to fifteen years ago. Or how the teachers’ unions have had to adopt the rhetoric of teacher performance and even choice. Or how President Obama has had to adopt the rhetoric of free enterprise and even pick up Arthur Brooks’ “earned success” language. As in those fields, so in this one: it’s an early sign that we’re winning. The gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.

They key for us now, as I see it, is to capitalize on this change without falling into either of two pitfalls. On the one hand, we don’t want to drive away our new friends. Joe Sunde’s skepticism in the post I linked above, while reasonable, needs to be tempered somewhat. We don’t want to punish people for moving in our direction, we want to reward them! (We believe that incentives affect behavior, right?)

Forster makes a good point about celebrating when there’s cause for celebration. I have no desire to punish folks like Bono for any movement they make in the direction of markets. My intent was merely to offer a cautionary qualification amidst the balloons and streamers. But perhaps I could’ve tooted my kazoo a bit louder up front.

I also think Forster’s point on rhetoric is a good one: “the gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.” School choice and judicial restraint are good examples of this, but I still think we need to call out mere rhetoric as mere rhetoric and guide people to an understanding of what real solutions look like beyond and before the rhetoric.

“Before the rhetoric?” you ask? Indeed, in my own thoughts on the matter, I was actually aiming to celebrate something preceding Bono’s words, particularly his new humbled attitude about the limitations of his own human hands, quite apart from any specific endorsement of this or that political or economic solution.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that this humbled approach to development and poverty alleviation has led him where it’s led him: to capitalism.

Read Forster’s full post here.

Also, read Ryan Anderson’s comments here.

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