Posts Tagged America

For Unto Whom Much Is Given, Less Shall Be Required

President Obama recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he furthered his usual conflation of Christian charity with progressive policies.

From the speech:

[W]hen I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

Such “shared responsibility” can, of course, make economic sense—e.g., if rich folks aren’t already paying their “fair share,” if we actually can increase government revenues by further squeezing the rich, if government revenues are actually being used in ways that help poor/middle-class families, etc.

But particularly after a State of the Union address in which the President promised to ramp up spending across the board, it is ever more difficult to swallow the notion that spelunking the pockets of the rich will somehow alleviate the plight of “ordinary Americans.” Let us remember: This is a President whose solution for economic collapse is to inflate skill-heavy industries such as energy and high-tech manufacturing (the uneducated poor are likely unenthusiastic). This is a President whose solution for inflated tuition costs is doubling the number of minimum-wage work study jobs. You can tax the rich all you want, but until you cut your blind addiction to counterproductive spending, such an approach will make little “economic sense.”

But it gets worse. Obama then moves to argue that forced economic redistribution also makes spiritual sense:

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.

Setting aside the President’s peculiar tendency to use “I am my brother’s keeper” as an imperative for Christian service (“I really do know what happened to Abel!”), he is falling prey the most typical of progressive tendencies: (1) confusing Jesus’ call of radical obedience to God with a call of radical obedience to the State, and (2) debasing Jesus’ parables to be wholly materialistic in their scope.

God requires plenty from us, but he wants us to obey him, not the arbitrary dictates of political rulers. Just as he gives us much more than stuff, he also expects us to do much more than give our stuff away (or have it seized away). I have commented on these errors time and time again.

The irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies. When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for Read the rest of this entry »

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Obama’s Fatal Conceit: Top 10 SOTU Pride Trips

This year’s State of the Union address was particularly painful for anyone who understands that human knowledge has its limits.

Fantastical utopian scheming was aplenty, and thus, I was continuously reminded of Hayek’s marvelous bit from The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

And oh. my. goodness. Our dear, dear President has quite the imagination, no?

In my latest post at AEI’s Values of Capitalism, I pick my top 10 favorite pride trips from the speech, analyzing omniscient Obama’s “blueprinted” approach to prosperity with Hayekian skepticism.

Here’s #4:

[Obama:] “I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that –- openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.”

Of course we do! All we need to do is, like, double our workers in the most popular industries. (Don’t mind the “how,” because “we know how to fix it.”) Is Little Jimmy content to live in Mommy’s basement until he’s 38 years old? There’s an app for that.

But what if those industries aren’t going to have twice as many openings in, say, 5 years? What if a new industry is birthed right when Obama’s grand old plan finally gets passed (or right now)? Yeah, yeah, yeah … we’ll just pump up the jams on the next crop of growing industries and it’ll all work itself out. The federal government isn’t just smart; it’s quick.

And another goodie:

[Obama:] “Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.”

How does the President know that twice as much work will exist in the next five years (or that it exists now)? Or are we talking about “shovel-ready” work-study jobs? Like “free” room service for the dorms? More research assistants for the Chair of Transgender Post-Colonial Literature? Or perhaps you’d prefer to help Librarian Betty pick her nose when her hands are full? Double up!

Read the rest here.

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Tougher Questions for Dogmatic Secularists

Al Gore, prophet, secularismThe presidential election is nearly a year away, and the race to secure the GOP nomination is already in full swing. Yet despite a rather hum-drum assortment of candidates, media pundits everywhere are bewildered to once again behold that most quizzical of creatures: the conservative Christian.

Aside from the now-infamous “submission” question lobbed at Michele Bachmann during a recent debate, Ryan Lizza’s hatchet job on the Congresswoman serves as Exhibit A. Using a mix of hyperbole, misrepresentation, and pretentious grandstanding, Lizza drags Bachmann’s supposed politico-theological skeletons out of the closet in an attempt to “inform” the rest of us of this perplexing woman and her confounding beliefs.

The result? Another fault-ridden portrayal of the “extremists” who just so happen to make up about half of the country (anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution, anti-”science,” yadda yadda yadda). As usual, the folks who are supposed to be schooling us on what politicians really believe (“keepin ‘em honest!”) display an uncanny knack for being completely oblivious to Christian culture and digging only where they want and only when they’re in the mood to play “pretend.” (see Joe Carter’s full-throttle takedown of the piece here).

For Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, Lizza’s piece is a different kind of Exhibit A. “Enlightening,” he calls it, for its illumination of Bachmann’s batty side, namely, her “spiritual and political mentors” who believe “homosexuality is an abomination” (gasp!) and who preach “the literal ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible” (as opposed to the inerrancy of An Inconvenient Truth).

“This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them,” says Keller. “We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans [i.e. the editorial staff of The New York Times].”

We must press these candidates in the areas where they might go too far, Keller says. It’s fine and dandy if such folks believe in silly things like transubstantiation (a doctrine Keller calls “baggage”…seriously), but when they believe in the authority of the Bible and the supremacy of God in public life, ya’ll better hold on to your trousers, cause it’s time to defend our democracy:

…I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises. And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

Wait, “divine instructions” as in, like, divine instructions, or divine instructions as in a copy of the IPCC report?

(“Prophet Gore…Paging Prophet Gore…”)

Where was I? Oh yeah: those kooky, Bible-believing weirdos.

To help us unlock the “mysteries” of such peculiar people, Keller provides Read the rest of this entry »

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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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The Real Radical: In Defense of the American Dream

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, David PlattI have previously commented on David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which I outlined a preemptive critique of his ideas based on David Brooks’ assessment.

Now that I’ve actually read the book, I have written a full review. Unfortunately, much of what I anticipated was proven to be true. Platt is far too broad in his condemnation of the American church, and his solutions are narrow-minded and sloppy.

The full review is posted over at Common Sense Concept.

Here’s an excerpt:

For Platt, American culture promotes the antithesis to radical abandonment. It relies heavily on individual ingenuity and prosperity, and thus it is automatically low on grace and generosity (in truth, the two go hand in hand). In order for the American church to reach widespread abandonment, Platt argues, it must instead strive toward extinguishing any “non-sacrificial” pursuits therein and ensure that its participants are engaging in more “acceptable” activities.

Here’s my general response to Platt’s criticisms:

Having the freedom to pursue one’s own goals can certainly be a bad thing, particularly when such dreams are merely one’s own goals. But God has intended for our hearts to be aligned to his mission. When that is the case, the society that promotes individualism becomes one that has great potential for enabling God’s plans through individuals.

To read the full review, click here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Melting Pot (or Not?): Democracy and Cultural Diversity

Melting PotI’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 »

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City of Man: Defining the Future of the Religious Right

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New EraIt’s hard to deny that the religious right has been on the wane. Need some proof?

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 »

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The Economics of Hipsterdom: An Interview with Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken“Is Christianity cool in today’s culture?” asks Brett McCracken. “And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord?”

McCracken explores this question (and more) in his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I outlined some of the book’s major themes in my recent review, but there are some other areas I found particularly pertinent for readers of this blog — namely, the societal systems and cultural institutions that influence and steer hipsterdom.

How should the church respond to “cool” in a capitalistic society? How does competition jive with Christianity? How do we avoid the artificial and attain the authentic in our pursuit of cool?

Although McCracken touches on these matters in the book, he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with Remnant Culture. If you’re intrigued by his answers, I highly encourage you to pick up the book. Enjoy!

Q: In your chronicling of the history of hip, you call America a country that was “born to be hip.” What about America makes it stand out in the evolution of hipsterdom?

America’s founding principles were utterly conducive to a thriving culture of hip. Individualism and a “self-made-man” ethos, in which status was no longer bound to blood or land but was determined by things like ambition and cleverness, were particularly hip-friendly values. America was founded on the notion that each man is sovereign and subject to no one but himself. The republic was governed by and for the people, and thus it was your right — indeed, your mandate — to be independent and upwardly mobile. America upended the old world’s hierarchies and power classes and made democratic, bottom-up populism the new force majeuer (well, in theory at least). America amplified the dance of power between hereditary elites, upstart entrepreneurs, and newly educated bohemian/intellectual classes, which was the hallmark of hip’s development in Europe in prior centuries. Furthermore, America was just this totally new, fresh, immigrant-heavy melting pot in which ideas, cultures, and ideologies from all over the place came together in dynamic ways. Hip always thrives most at the intersection of a plurality of voices and perspectives which can freely interact under the banner of democracy, and America has been ground zero for intersections of that sort ever since its founding.

Q: If American capitalism has led to “hyperindividuation,” and if the resulting self-centeredness opposes the Christian calling, how can Christians hope to achieve authentic Christian cool in a capitalistic society?

It’s difficult. Our capitalistic society is based on feeding our human impulses to want to stand out, be noticed, and be envied. In many ways, the economy is based on status symbols — buying and selling things that help us Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Morality and Human Rights: Standing Outside the Prison of Culture

William Wilberforce

British abolitionist William Wilberforce refused to accept the cultural morality of his day.

I’ve been reading Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s new book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, and thus far it has been an enjoyable read.

I’ll write a full review in the near future, but for the moment I just wanted to highlight a few of the book’s ideas about the “morality of human rights.” There is an entire chapter on the subject, in which the authors argue that although we should be careful about how religion feeds into politics, we should also recognize that religion should play a role in shaping our political understanding of human rights.

This view is based on the following understanding about human nature and morality:

What truly marks human beings is the tendency to care for self, family, clan, tribe, race, religion, nation. To care for every human being would appear to require a moral law. To sacrifice for the rights of other human beings — merely because they are human beings — would appear to require a holy law.

Gerson and Wehner go on to explain that “the contribution of religion to this [moral law] debate is narrow but essential,” meaning that although plenty of religious beliefs may not yield to political synthesis (e.g. eschatology, ecclesiology), some of them do and must (e.g. “beliefs about human worth, human nature, and human destiny”).

As the authors explain:

The Christian ideal of human dignity is important precisely because it transcends culture. It has proven its ability to stand in judgment of many cultures, including our own. The theologian Max Stackhouse calls this “one of the greatest revolutions in the history of humanity”… Religious people have a unique ability to stand outside the prison of culture and call attention to a set of universal ideals. In other words, they can represent, in the kingdoms of this world, the values of another Kingdom.

This view obviously rejects any sort of cultural or religious relativism (note the referral to “a set of universal ideals”). For the Christian, there is a right and wrong that applies to everyone, regardless of culture, race, or Read the rest of this entry »

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Jesus Paid Taxes: Mark Dever on Rendering to Caesar

Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist ChurchMark Dever recently gave a sermon at his church in Washington D.C. called “Jesus Paid Taxes,” in which he promotes what he believes to be the proper Christian approach to politics. I came across the sermon from Justin Taylor, who came across it from Collin Hansen.

Hansen provides some great notes on the sermon and even goes so far as to call it “the best sermon I know on Christianity and government.” I probably wouldn’t go that far, but it is indeed quite good. I listened to the sermon in full and found very little to disagree with.

Dever bases the discussion on Mark 12:13-17 (“Render to Caesar!”), and although his approach leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, I think his outlook would translate pretty well in application. His main points are as follows:

  1. Good Christians are good citizens (law-abiding, tax-paying, etc.)
  2. Christianity is international (spiritual ties transcend national ties)
  3. Christians are ultimately accountable to God (“Our duty to earthly authority is limited.”)

You can listen to the sermon here:

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I don’t have anything to add, but I thought I’d post some highlights for those who aren’t up for listening to the whole thing.

One of Dever’s most fundamental points has to do with authority — how it is Read the rest of this entry »

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