Posts Tagged relationship

You Didn’t Build That: The Logical Ends of Collectivist Idolatry

In a recent campaign speech, President Obama doubled down on what has become a streak of denigrating business and pooh-poohing individual initiative.

The quote in question:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back…If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen…The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Although the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe, more fundamentally, that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go.

On a more practical level, the notion of “giving back” through increased taxes assumes that any funds we have “given” to the government are somehow being over utilized—that we are getting too big of a bang for our buck, particularly if we go do something leechy like start a business. For Obama, it seems as though rich people and business owners in particular are getting above and beyond what they have contributed to our bloated federal bureaucracy, so how dare they push back when asked to “give back”? By this logic, our federal deficit is really a deficit of “giving back.” The federal government has not overpromised and under-delivered; we citizens have overly devoured and under-“given.”

Talking this way quickly becomes problematic, particularly because the word “give” is being used to describe something that “giving” is not (thus my excessive use of quotation marks thus far—my apologies). President Obama is not talking about business owners “giving something back” through charity, community service, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or, God forbid, value creation. He is talking about business owners submitting to his coercive political agenda, a primary plank of which happens to be making rich people pay for things they don’t want to pay for by getting non-rich majorities to throw stones at them.

Sounds like a good model for “giving something back.”

Yet I’m not one to say that we can’t give something back through government, or even that we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for the successes of government—for the positive achievements it has made toward maintaining social order and creating conditions for human flourishing. Plenty of people gave something to make these achievements possible, material or not. Indeed, as an example of purely material “giving,” Warren Buffett and Rep. Scott Rigell have participated in just that, donating freely and willingly to the IRS. If this is what Obama is advocating—voluntary contributions to the federal deficit—it would be far less problematic, though perhaps still inadvisable (show me the cuts).

So yes, we can and should give back to our communities and institutions, including government, and we should recognize that others have contributed to our successes through their own generosity and commitment (a point aptly made by Jordan Ballor).

But Obama is saying something quite different, for when this notion of “giving something back” is wielded as Obama wields it—toward his own narrow, explicitly coercive purposes—we should recognize that Read the rest of this entry »

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The Individual & the Family: Connecting the Dots

In a recent CNN debate between contenders for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum initiated a brief spar with Ron Paul over the notion of individualism as it relates to the family.

Paul began by emphasizing that “we need to see everybody as an individual,” after which Santorum retorted that the “basic building block of a society is not the individual. It’s the family.”

Yet whether he knows it or not, Santorum is perpetuating a false dichotomy, affirming to conofused Americans everywhere that placing the proper emphasis on the individual diminishes the family, rather than enhances it.

In my recent post at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I explore the misconception further, drawing on Ryan Messmore’s wrap-up of the same event to demonstrate the need for clarity in the interrelationship of individualism and authentic community. My point, however, should be noted by Paulites and Santorumistas alike.

No matter how obvious we “liberty buffs” think the connection may be, Santorum’s all too common knee-jerk insertions of “family!” should indicate that confusion still persists, even (or especially?) among conservatives. More importantly, it should inspire us to give the individual-family connection the prominence and proper placement it deserves:

Whether or not Paul was leaving such an impression will depend on who’s listening, but Santorum obviously didn’t get the memo. As Messmore seems to understand, this is indicative of a larger misunderstanding in the public at large. Far too often, proponents of individual rights assume that everyone else will connect the dots between the individual and community. Indeed, some of our very own fail with pride.

But in doing so, or rather, in not doing so, we risk leaving the impression that the lines do not exist in the first place. We may think it’s obvious that the family and other essential private institutions are natural byproducts of individual liberty, but the connection is far more misunderstood than we realize.

Such distinctions are (also) particularly important at a time when collectivists promote a false sense of “community” and “family” in their own PR with vigor (“It takes a village!”). Which is why the consequence of inaction is Read the rest of this entry »

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Working and Keeping the Garden: The Human Body in Earthly Engagement

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our FaithI have previously examined the ways in which sociability and strong relational bonds can impact societal health and economic prosperity. Likewise, I have persistently emphasized that spiritual transformation through Christ and subsequent obedience to God play crucial roles in strengthening such bonds.

Without recognizing and embracing such an alignment, I have argued, we will be severely impaired in identifying real value as God sees it, and will be ill-equipped to pursue our proper mission.

Yet throughout all such considerations, I have rarely (if ever) contemplated the role of the body in the spiritual and intellectual workings that drive our stewardship. This is strange, to be sure, for despite the great importance of all the other inputs to our actions, it is the body that actually does the doing.

But alas, even this basic realization does not go far enough, says Matthew Anderson, editor of Mere Orthodoxy and author of the new book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith.

For Anderson, the body is much more than some tool we use to move our spirits from here to there; it is an essential and inextricable part of what it means to be human, a truth affirmed and amplified by the reality that have we been created in the image of God. For Anderson, the connection is crucial, but has been largely ignored by an increasingly dualistic culture. For many of us, the body has become nothing more than a mere means for pleasure or a “prison for the soul.”

Yet for those of us who over-emphasize the spiritual side of man, Anderson argues that any such transformation will never be complete without a full understanding the bodies position therein:

The gift of God in Jesus Christ is a gift for and to human bodies, and as evangelicals, we need to attend carefully to the ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes our flesh. In a world where the body’s status is in question, we have an opportunity to proclaim that the God who saved our souls will also remake our bodies; that the body is nothing less than the place where God dwells on earth.

Anderson proceeds to tackle a number of issues through this approach, from tattoos to homosexuality to death (and beyond), yet throughout each revealing insight, my mind consistently flashed back to his chapter on how our bodies more simply relate to the other (Chapter 4). It’s easy to understand how an appropriate body-faith orientation might improve our marriages or our churches, but what about our larger socio-economic engagement and overarching earthly stewardship?

“We are social even in the womb,” says Anderson, and that sociability “is inextricable from the structure of our bodies.”

When we score a goal, we like to bump chests and give high-fives, the act of which is sometimes followed by hazardous, celebratory dives into a large piles of teammates. When socializing with friends and family, we often prefer to do so over a cup of coffee or a meal, sharing in the most basic bodily necessities as we relate to each other, pour out our hearts, and foster social bonds. These shared bodily pleasures and activities “not only curb our loneliness,” says Anderson, but are “a manifestation of our gratitude for the goodness of the created order that God has placed in us.”

Yet, as is the fundamental premise of the book, Anderson believes the distortion of the body’s place in such interactions has by and large distorted God’s created order in the process. Thanks to the rise of a self-absorbed, short-sighted, and materialistic culture, the social ties necessary for a healthy and flourishing society have largely vanished, and our views of the human body have corresponded accordingly. No longer are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, but rather, we have perverted them into serving as temples unto ourselves.

As Anderson explains:

In our late-modern world, the body’s basic dependency upon the world for both its sustenance and its pleasures has been distorted to the extent that what we consume has become central to our identity as persons. What we wear, what we eat (or don’t eat), what we endorse—these become the means by which we construct ourselves…

….In a consumerist society, the world is flattened out as everything becomes an instrument for the individual’s well-being. Things only have value when a consumer desires  them, which means that there is no order of goods to which our desires should confirm.

At the root of this, then, is a sort of “degraded” individualism, as Anderson calls it — the type of misaligned, atomic hedonism that submits to no authority other than its humanistic God of Autonomy. Edmund Burke railed against such an approach back when we Read the rest of this entry »

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Responding to Economics Through Wonder, Heartbreak, and Hope

We need to be careful when discussing the intersection of economics and religion, lest we improperly conflate the two or segregate them altogether.

One goal of this blog has been to push toward achieving and discovering the proper approach: to determine the real questions Christians should be asking and proceed to tackle them head on. Far too often our debased disposition gets the best of us and we approach such matters legalistically and/or materialistically, as if there is a sanctified list of dos and don’ts for general economic activity paired with Biblical prices, a God-ordained wage, and an easily discernable end-game equilibrium.

Such an approach impacts our entire view of value — both temporary and eternal — and in turn, is likely to distort our personal economic decisionmaking, our responses to basic economic activity, and our overall attitude and orientation toward the economic sphere at large. This is likely to also impact our view of God, whether directly or indirectly.

Our discussion needs to press toward a deeper tension, and in a recent piece at Cardus, Gideon Strauss lays forth the types of questions that will challenge us toward getting there. Although the piece is geared toward “business leaders” — the likes of which are certainly a relevant audience — the questions therein also apply to your average minimum-wage worker (or whoever else).

Indeed, if Christians did so much as simply struggle with these types of questions from the very beginnings of their work experiences, we could probably get more things right earlier (and probably get a lot more true “business leaders” overall). Our answers will surely bring disagreement, but I’ll leave that for other discussions. For now, I would simply submit that we be attentive to respond to each with a transformed mind.

To frame his approach, Strauss organizes the questions under three groupings, each of which center around human responses to God: questions inspired by wonder, heartbreak, and hope. These, Strauss says, “we may ask of a particular business or market, or a national economy, or perhaps even, of the global economic order.”

Here’s the rationale for each: 

[#1] I believe that: The whole world of making products, providing services, buying and selling, building companies, establishing relationships of trade—marketplaces filled with businesses and their customers—can be a vibrant expression of what it means to be human in God’s wonderful creation.

[#2] At the same time, given the fractured state of this world, our economic lives are often a source of heartbreak: when poverty overwhelms us; when we cannot find work, or make payroll; when our businesses fail, or governments make it hard to do business; or, when we slavishly devote ourselves to the hunt of money and discover at the end of our pursuit that all we have does not matter.

[#3] And yet, part of the good news that crested over the horizon at Easter is that also this vital but broken part of our lives is a theatre of hope: despite the evil and suffering that can make human life a misery, the original promise of business activity and market relationships is being redeemed, and we can work with courage, lead with love, and expect our efforts to bear fruit of very long-lasting value. (emphasis mine)

I encourage you to contemplate each and read his responses and explanations. For all ye lazy ones (or simply for a teaser), the main questions are listed Read the rest of this entry »

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You Can’t Plan a Market: Transforming Culture from the Bottom-Up

The White Man's Burden by William EasterlyWhy has post-Soviet Russia not panned out to be the bustling, prosperous economy that the freedom folks predicted it would be? Is this the fault of the free market, or is there something deeper at work?

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I examine the question, channeling economist William Easterly to make the case that “you can’t plan a market.”

Although many Western tinkerers wrongly ignore the structural limitations in improving developing economies, many on the opposite side make the mistake of pretending that the structural stuff is a cinch.

I argue that it isn’t:

In our modern, polished system (with the wear-and-tear steadily increasing), we are tempted to look at other countries and think their problems are simple enough to be fixed by scribbling a couple solutions on paper and circulating it through the right hands. Even for free-market types, there is a rash assumption that all it takes is a magical structural concoction and a semi-functional government to get a poor country in motion.

Forget the individual habits and beliefs of the people on the ground. Forget the spiritual and cultural factors that limit or propel that society forward. Forget the psychological damage caused by previous (or current) totalitarian rule. “Just give them a market,” we say, “and let them be.”

As I say in the piece, “spontaneous order is not spontaneous order unless it is spontaneous.” Even in America, lest we forget, our thriving economic system did not come from the wave of a magical capitalism wand. Look no further than the 19th century to behold the painful and chaotic emergence of what we know today (and appreciate it).

To demonstrate this lesson, Easterly’s book points to several key market components that are difficult to “invent,” particularly from the top down: trust, property rights, social relationships/unity, peace, etc.

Such features — what Nick Schulz and Arnold Kling call “intangible assets” — must originate from Read the rest of this entry »

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Embracing the Mundane: Radical Discipleship vs. Spiritualized Escapism

I have often argued that radical individualism — i.e. radical obedience to God — often translates into unradical earthly action: building a family, giving to others, befriending a stranger, starting a business, working at a factory, etc. Whether or not our obedience is “radical” can only be defined by the extent to which we are willing to deny our earthly sentiments for the divine.

This, of course, says nothing about what the divine is actually demanding.

Yet many seem to miss this basic point, believing that following God to the fullest should automatically translate into things like preaching to millions or giving away all our possessions to the poor (insert cherry-picked Biblical anecdotes here). The popularity of David Platt’s recent book, for example, indicates that for many, radical obedience needs to translate into action that feels radical in some tangible, earthly way (going on a missions trip, capping one’s income at $X, building a church without air conditioning, etc.).

In a recent article for Relevant Magazine, Andrew Byers does a nice job of countering such thinking, arguing that “radical can be dangerous” and “monotony can be its own mission”:

Scripture calls us into radical service — but that does not allow others to eviscerate tedious, less “spiritually” glamorous tasks of their meaning in God’s Kingdom. Scripture also calls us to embrace the mundane and ordinary as holy and beautiful: “… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Many of us want to do something awesome, something epic. We tend to think that the more normal, the less “spiritual.” So it is quite possible that our aspirations to be radical stem from dangerous ambitions to perform biography-worthy feats of global glory.

But radical discipleship is not adventure tourism.

Then, in a move that leads to some striking socio-economic parallels (unintended, to be sure — see here and here), Byers describes the real Christian pursuit as a bottom-up struggle, one filled with risk, relationship, faith, and Read the rest of this entry »

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A Romantic Boom and Bust: The Opportunity Costs of Love

Last week, I explored the degree of risk and uncertainty involved in pursuing God’s ultimate will for our lives. This week, Tho Bishop has a great piece at the Mises Institute that echoes these themes from the angle of earthly love.

Bishop’s primary goal is to show the parallels between Austrian business cycle theory and what he calls an “Austrian romance cycle,” focusing specifically on the element of time.

The comparison makes for quite an enjoyable read.

Here is the gist:

Romance starts with a first move. Just as Austrians understand that it is the role of the entrepreneur to shoulder the risk of capital investment in order to potentially achieve profit, we can understand that it is the role of an instigator to take the risk in the hope of finding romantic success. Without an entrepreneur, economic growth is unobtainable; without someone making a first move, romantic growth is unobtainable.

To demonstrate the similarities, Bishop provides a brief parable about a young romantic named Adam. In the beginning of the story, Adam is interested in investing in a new relationship, and like any good investor, he is trying desperately to convince certain women that he is “worth the risk.”

Becoming a bit impatient with the slow growth of his success, Adam begins to “stimulate” his love life in the same way a government might try to manipulate an economy: by faking it.

Adam has become frustrated by romantic failure. Fed up with his lack of success in romance, Adam begins to tell every girl who will listen that he saved orphans from the rampaging cannibals of Rojinda, climbed Mount Everest, and once out debated Ron Paul on the House floor. Adam has decided to manipulate his “interest rate.” All of a sudden Adam finds himself as the center of attention.

Behold! The impressive splendor and all-encompassing prosperity of the boom! Spending for the sake of Read the rest of this entry »

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Agents of Faith: Pursuing the Pillar of Fire

Moses Crossing the Red Sea, Pillar of Fire, RaphaelIn times of uncertainty, we tend to look for the quickest path to security. We want solutions that are neat and tidy, direction that is clear and comfortable, and a future that is pretty and predictable. No one wants to be unsure about tomorrow, and no one likes to be exposed.

When it comes to looking for security in God, we are no different. Not only do we want a tangible sign that God is real, but we want a flashy display of his guidance, outlining exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to know which job will be profitable, which relationship will endure, and which parenting strategy will empower our children to the fullest.

In many ways, God has already given us the answers to these questions, and he has done so in a direct and persuasive way — through his Word. Not only does the Word take the form of written guidance for our daily lives, but it also became flesh in order to deliver us from sin and send us the Holy Spirit (aka “the helper”). In this sense, the answers are largely available. What more could we want?

The problem is that God does not answer such questions on our terms. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the following question at least once in your life:

If God is real, why doesn’t he just come down from heaven, tell me the Bible is true, and give me his phone number in case I have any questions?

The answer lies in the reality that God created us to be agents of faith, which is necessary for us to be agents of love. God yearns for relationship with us, and real relationship requires faith in the sense that real relationship requires trust.

The struggle of faith — of believing in God and doing what he says— is part of Read the rest of this entry »

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Supported by Jehovah: Why We Named Our Son Josiah

Josiah Daniel Sunde

Our beautiful boy: Josiah Daniel SundeI’ve only been a parent for a short time, but I've already been asked the following question several times:“What does it feel like to bring a child into today’s society? The economy is crumbling, culture is deteriorating, and the End Times are upon us. Doesn’t it concern you to know that you're bringing your child into such terrible a world?”Let’s ignore for the moment that modern society is pretty great on a number of levels, because the question isn’t really about modern society but about the way we perceive humanity and its role in this world.Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of evil in the world — indeed there always has been — but if spreading the Gospel is the solution to the world’s woes, don’t we need people to do that?After all, since the beginning of time, God ordained humans to steward and rule over His creation. Doesn’t this mean that our children can provide immense value to a dark world? I understand that we should be concerned for our children’s safety and well-being, but raising Godly people is one of the greatest ways we can maximize both earthly and heavenly potential.It was within this context that we decided to name our son Josiah.You may be thinking that name selection is a pretty frivolous way to go about changing the world, but this was an initial step toward instilling a proper foundation in our child. One day he will probably wonder why we named him Josiah, and we wanted to have an answer that would go beyond matters of mere aesthetics and social mobility. We wanted to have an answer that he could identify with and apply to his relationship with God and the world around him.Plus, throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again how our names can largely impact our identities. God changed Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) to signify their covenant. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel to identify Jacob’s conversion from “supplanter” to “having power with God.” He changed Simon’s name (“God has heard”) to Peter (“rock”) to remind him of his responsibility to build the Church.I am not saying that parents can replace God’s authoritative power, but we are supposed to help our children find their identities, which includes helping them find God.King Josiah rediscovers the Torah.

For those who don’t know, Josiah was the 19th king of Judah, and was unique among the other kings in the extent to which He restored God’s law in the land. On the surface this may seem like a simple story, but Josiah did not begin his reign in the best of circumstances.

Josiah’s grandfather, King Manassah, had reversed all of the spiritual gains made by his father King Hezekiah. Manassah was absorbed in idolatry and witchcraft, and eventually sacrificed his own son on an altar of fire. After Manassah’s death, his son Amon (Josiah’s father) reigned in a similar fashion — building temples to Baal, worshipping idols, and continuing to “forsake the Lord” as 2 Kings describes it. After reigning for only two years, Amon was assassinated by his own servants, leaving his son Josiah to assume the kingship at only eight years of age.

In short, the Kingdom of Judah had backslidden into 57 years of spiritual adultery. When Josiah became king, he was immediately confronted with a choice that most children aren’t faced with — he could continue to perpetuate the status quo of idolatry and human sacrifice (i.e. the easy route), or he could abandon everything he knew and return to worship of the one true God — Jehovah.

For reasons related to his fear of the Lord, Josiah chose the latter. By the age of eighteen, Josiah had commissioned the priests to restore the temple to its proper place, after which he rediscovered the Book of the Law (either the Torah or the Book of Deuteronomy). Upon hearing his secretary read it out loud, Josiah was dismayed by the implications.

2 Kings 22:11 describes the incident in detail:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.

In other words, Josiah immediately had faith in the Word of God, and by applying it to the culture around him he realized how disobedient and profane God’s people had become. Remember that in this moment Josiah is hearing God’s Word for the first time and he simply believes it right away. Given how countercultural such stringent laws would be at that time, the audacity and immediacy of his faith is incredibly inspiring to me.

It reminds me of what Abraham talks about in Jesus’ parable of Lazureus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). When the rich man is burning in Hades, he begs Abraham to let him go back to earth and warn his family against continuing their wrongdoing. Abraham responds by saying they need no more warning than what they already have at their disposal.

“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “Let them listen to them.”

Josiah didn’t have the privilege of a Christian (or Jewish) upbringing. He wasn’t the recipient of “proper parenting.” He wasn’t taught to memorize Bible verses or tithe from his paycheck. He didn’t go to youth group every Sunday or attend summer camp revival services.

After all, his father was a pagan.

But when Josiah was confronted with God’s word, he simply knew it to be true. From a young age, he sought and pursued God despite his cultural disposition and “natural inclinations.” He recognized evil and realized that living righteously required faith in God and a holistic rejection of the world as he knew it.

After this realization, Josiah took many actions to reverse the wrongs of his forefathers. He restored the Temple, re-instituted the Law, destroyed the “high places” of idol worship and prostitution, and presided over the first Passover since the days of Samuel.

We can all talk the talk and say we love the Lord, but when Josiah heard God’s voice, he took immediate and extreme action. He really believed that God was true to His word.

This is what the Lord had to say to Josiah:

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.

The Hebrew translation of Josiah is “Jehovah will support,” and from the above passage it is evident God was indeed backing Josiah’s decisions. Covenants are two-way deals, and Josiah was supported by Jehovah because he made the choice to enter into relationship with God, even when the earthly systems of his day were going the opposite way.

That is what I want for my son. I don’t want him to have the fatherless childhood Josiah had, and I will try my best to protect him from the rampant idolatry of this world. But my prayer for him is that he discovers an earnest and sincere devotion for the one true God — one that perseveres the wickedness that will inevitably surround him. My son may have been born into a culture of corruption and deceit, but it can’t be any worse than the one King Josiah was confronted with.

As my wife and I continue to shepherd him toward adulthood, we will continue to pray and trust that our son will meet God intimately and realize the value that Jehovah can bring to a fallen world.

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