Posts Tagged Babel

Bono Abandons Babel?

U2 singerThere’s been a bit of buzz over Bono’s recent remarks about the positive role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

I’m a bit skeptical about the broader significance of these remarks on Bono’s activism, but I do think they’re illuminating. Over at the Acton Institute, I argue that Bono’s new humbled attitude is precisely what we need in our attempts to improve economic development:

Although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.

Bono describes his realization as a “humbling thing,” and “humbling” is precisely what the foreign aid experts and economic planners could use. As Friedrich Hayek famously wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As the story of the Tower of Babel well confirms, man has a natural disposition to think he knows more than he knows and can construct beyond what he can construct—all to make a name for himself. The juice of righteous anger is a powerful enabler, and once it’s pumping through our veins it takes even less time for our human tendencies to escalate. After all, we’re only out to deliver humanity to heaven’s doorstep.

Such overconfidence in our own designs can be particularly destructive in the realm of economics, a science that’s in a constant battle over whether it should seek to explain human action, control it, or bypass it altogether. Such planners find a perfect match in eager activists such as Bono. “We can build your tower to heaven,” they’ll say, “and you can make a name for yourself. If only the right policy buttons are pushed and the right economic equilibrium is arranged, the world can be set to rights.”

Of all people, Christians should be aware of the deeper spiritual questions we should be asking, cautious not to be wise in our own eyes:

The economic engineer’s intrusion goes well beyond barging into more natural and effective social institutions. For in doing so, he treats dignified man and the unpredictable, invaluable relationships in which he engages as the mere mingling of predictable pieces in a larger static game. Such an intrusion should cause great alarm for those of us seeking restoration among the suffering. For how can we hope to improve conditions for the human person if we skip past what it means to be a human person? For the Christian in particular, God instructs each of us to do what the Lord wills. Are we really to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Kingdom of God: Building vs. Preserving

There’s a great video on kingdom building over at The Resurgence. The video features an interview with Dr. Michael Horton, a theology professor at Westminister Seminary California.

Horton is asked when humans first attempted to build God’s kingdom on this earth, and Horton’s answer is that we’ve been trying since the beginning of time. As an example, he points to the Tower of Babel. As Horton sees it, striving toward earthly kingdoms is simply part of our nature.

It’s part of our native fallenness, he says. We want to be the builders.

Horton then discusses Acts 1, where Jesus (after His resurrection) appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days. Luke writes that during this period Jesus spoke to the disciples regarding “the things concerning the kingdom of God” and then urged them to not leave Jerusalem but to simply “wait for the gift my Father promised.” Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit (which would fall on the Day of Pentecost shortly after).

There was no scheme to overtake the Romans. There was no book on how to construct a new economic system. There was no blueprint for how the Church should use multimedia and drama skits to Read the rest of this entry »

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Obama Gnosticism: Creating Heaven on Earth

Long ago, humans thought they could provide free, high-quality health care to everyone who wanted it. Actually, they thought they could build a tower to heaven.

Robert Cheeks recently wrote a piece on the prevalence of Gnosticism in current American politics. His basic argument is that our society has recently been energized and engaged by utopian heaven-on-earth fantasies, particularly those promoted by Obama’s administration.

The following excerpt sums up the piece most succinctly:

The Obama regime proffers on the basis of the immanetization of human existence, a false representation of concrete society as an eschaton, the fallacious Utopian dreamworld of a madman.

Cheeks borrows the “immanentizing the eschaton” phrase from political philosopher Eric Voegelin, who spent much of his career emphasizing the dangers of widespread Gnosticism (as manifested by Nazism and communism). Voegelin claimed that such a philosophical framework represented a “theoretical fallacy.”

Indeed, if we are trying to create heaven on earth, and we are trying to do so precisely on those terms, what exactly do we think “heaven” is in the first place?

The Gnostic mindset is founded on the premise that evil in the world is not a Read the rest of this entry »

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