Posts Tagged spirituality

Prophet Motive: Islam and Economic Growth

The Silk Merchant, Islam, painting, merchantsThis week at Common Sense Concept, I take a closer look at John Cassidy’s recent piece in The New Yorker on Islam and economic growth (“Prophet Motive”).

Cassidy’s piece provides a good overview of Islamic economic history (or, at least, one side of it). His eventual conclusion, however, does not exhibit the degree of critical curiosity that one would hope for. In the end, I think his approach is largely limiting to our discussions about the relationship between religion and economic growth.

According to Cassidy, we are not to analyze Islam itself as a religious belief system. Instead, we should focus on more “predictable” indicators of economic activity.

Here’s an excerpt:

[Cassidy points to] more “traditional methods” of analysis, such as focusing on “the way beliefs are codified and institutionalized,” rather than dwelling on theology, philosophy or moral doctrine (as Weber and Novak do). For Cassidy, the matters related to the religion itself —the “spiritual stuff” — are largely unreliable. To make real progress in analyzing religion and economic growth, Cassidy believes we should look toward firmer, more measureable developments in the politico-religious (e.g. usury laws, business partnership, limitations or inheritance practices, etc.).

I disagree with this view and think that religion is indeed a valid investigation tool.

Here’s my response:

If we are going to analyze the merits of a particular religion as it relates to an economy, it makes little sense to toss out the fundamental features that define religious institutions and set them apart from those in the socio-political realm.

Whether formally codified/institutionalized or not, our religious beliefs and convictions fundamentally transform our perceptions, and thus they largely impact our visions. Regardless of whether the specific religion, god, or authoritative text is actually true, Islam has just as much potential to instigate such an effect as Christianity.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Judges of Judgmentalism: Discerning Truth vs. People

The thesis of Rob Bell's forthcoming book ignited a theological firestorm.

There has been quite a bit of hullabaloo over Rob Bell’s upcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The book’s thesis, according to the publisher’s description, argues that “a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

Since the book is indeed an upcoming title, the chatter has largely focused around its marketing materials, particularly a promotional video in which Bell does what Bell does best: talks like a universalist. (emphasis on “talks like”)

After perusing the available materials, as well as some advance chapters, Gospel Coalition blogger Justin Taylor concluded that Bell may indeed be a universalist, after which John Piper chimed in with a simple, “Farewell Rob Bell. These remarks spurred retorts from across the Web, resulting in a cacophony of Bell-centered banter.

Oddly enough, many of those who have been defending Bell seem to care little about the actual validity of his views and beliefs, which, although relatively vague, make some startling absolute statements about the nature of God’s love. Instead of arguing over whether Bell’s views do indeed mesh with true Christianity (and/or oppose universalism), many of his followers have backed away from matters of theology altogether — grounding their defenses in verses like “judge not lest ye be judged.”

The message seems clear: Bell’s beliefs should not be up for scrutiny because criticism is not the Christian thing to do.

This brings us to some larger questions about the role of judgment itself, particularly when it comes to Christians. Since there is already plenty of healthy debate over the contents of Bell’s book, it is here that I would like to focus our discussion.

How are we to respond to others when we disagree with them? More specifically, how are we to respond to Christians when we think they depart from the Read the rest of this entry »

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The Immateriality of Wealth: Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty

Jay Richards recently wrote a fascinating piece for The American, in which he argues that many of the “preconditions of wealth creation” are immaterial and spiritual, contrary to many of our materialistic assumptions.

Alas, humans have long been ignorant of what is necessary for wealth creation to occur, and  modern-day perceptions have unfortunately leaned toward the common materialistic superstitions of the past.

As Richards explains:

For most of human history, discovering the sources of wealth creation would have been devilishly hard, since most economies, such as there were, tended to be static. If a Mesopotamian farmer or Greek shepherd in the second century BC ever asked, “Where does wealth come from?” he would have assumed that wealth came from rain, common labor, good luck, or some combination of these. He probably also would have assumed that to get really wealthy, you need to plunder other people.

Thankfully, we don’t need to plunder other people in order to create wealth, whether on our own or through the government. In fact, plundering people doesn’t achieve much of anything in the long run.

Instead, we should focus on getting the proper immaterial preconditions in place. When that is the case, wealth creation will begin foster in a way that is truly beneficial for all (…even for the would-be plunderers).

Richards provides a list of ten specific items that he believes lead to healthy preconditions for wealth creation. “The more of these a culture has or does,” says Richards, ”the more likely it is to be prosperous.”

Here is the list (and I quote):

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government primarily on Read the rest of this entry »

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Weird Parents, Weird Kids: An Overlooked Perk to Procreation

Bryan Caplan has some interesting thoughts on weird people and their kids over at EconLog. The discussion centers around whether children tend to reflect their parents’ level of “weirdness.”

As far as what he means by “weird,” Caplan leaves the door open to plenty of quirky traits, including “jokiness,” libertarianism, or a mere “fascination with role-playing games.”

Here is the initial premise:

…[S]uppose that the parent-child correlation on the trait you picked is exactly zero. Then no matter what you’re like, you should expect your kids to be at the 50th percentile. If you’re normal, that’s a pretty good deal; at least on average, your kids will be just like you. But the weirder you are, the less your kids will typically resemble you. Even if you’re at the 95th, 99th or 99.99th percentile, you can expect your kids to be perfectly average. In a world of zero parent-child correlation, weird people have little in common with their children. (emphasis added)

After providing some evidence for these claims, Caplan offers the following analysis:

Now let’s look at these facts like a mad economist. There are two ways to surround yourself with people like you. One is to meet them; the other is to make them. If you’re average, meeting people like yourself is easy; people like you are everywhere. If you’re weird, though, meeting people like yourself is hard; people like you are few and far between. But fortunately, as the parent-child correlation rises, weirdos’ odds of making people like themselves get better and better. This is especially true if the parent-child correlation largely reflects nature rather than nurture, because you won’t have to ride your kids to emulate you; they’ll do it on their own initiative. (emphasis added)

The lesson?

As your weirdness increases, so does your incentive to have kids. If you like football and American Idol, you’re never really alone. You don’t need to build a Xanadu for yourself. But if you’re a lonely misfit, oddball, freak, or weirdo, then find a like-minded Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving and Government: Why Charity Belongs to Us

Offering plateDouglas Wilson recently posted a rather lengthy piece about tithes and offerings, in which he outlines a “brief theology of designated gifts.” I disagree with him on a few points, but for the most part it serves as a great resource for understanding the importance of giving, as well as the Biblical principles and instructions behind it.

Although Wilson doesn’t wade into the political realm, I think he offers some valuable lessons (or warnings) for those who think the government can or should serve as a vehicle for fulfilling our Christian calling to give.

From the social gospel of the Progressive Movement to the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, citizens and politicians have shown a fondness for using political economics to execute spiritual acts. Christian giving and government redistribution are incompatible on a number of levels, and we can see this through some of the core features Wilson highlights. Based on his post, I have built a list of essential components of Christian giving that cannot remain intact with a government takeover.

1. Giving must be voluntary. Although government and taxes may be necessary, we should not assume that any sort of coercive redistribution can somehow replace our responsibility to give. Here is Wilson on the importance of giving freely:

Give, and it will be given to you again (Luke 6:38). This is a foundational Christian principle. The foundational Christian principle is not “make sure others give,” or “make sure others give the right amounts or in the right way.” Parishioners should in fact be taught how to give the right way, but they should be taught this largely by example (Heb. 13:7,17) … [W]e are commanded to give freely because we have received freely. Further, as we give freely, more will be given. Give and it will be given to you.

2. Giving should be a lesson in faith and trust. If our charity is co-opted by government programs, we are stricken with a stifling form of security — one that prevents us from depending wholly on God’s provision and blessing. Here is Wilson on the matter:

The giver of the tithe is trusting God. “How do I know that God will bless the remaining 90%?” So also must the recipient of the tithe learn to trust God. “How do we know if God will continue to finance the work we have to do, unless we Read the rest of this entry »

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Transformation Pays: The Spiritual Benefits of Self-Sacrifice

The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Today at Common Sense Concept I add a bit more clarity to my previous post on Ayn Rand. This time, I focus more closely on the spiritual payoffs to self-sacrifice.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

In this post, I hope to offer a bit more illumination as to how we as Christians are to process such a “payoff” in our own lives. But take note: I am not advocating a give-and-take mindset by which we throw our lives at the altar while begging for goodies from heaven. For any of these “payoffs” to occur, our heart motive must be properly aligned to what Jesus calls us to. That’s the tricky part. For us to be able to enjoy the blessed life, our sacrifice has to be genuine and steadfast. Our motives have to be pure and properly aligned to a desire to perform God’s will. Without such an alignment, our sacrifice is in vain.

To launch my argument, I use John Piper’s famous book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist:

Piper discusses the many ways in which God desires for us to be joyful, arguing that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” This is the key: In order to “profit,” as Rand would say, we must not only learn to enjoy God, but we must begin to recognize how he is constantly changing us and transforming us through our selfless attempts to change the world for his glory.

The question?

What do we risk if we reject Christ’s call to selfless self-interestedness? If we dismiss his instructions as silly contradictions (as Rand does) or exalt them as glorious masochism (as many Christians do), will we be able to fulfill God’s calling for us? Will we be able to enjoy God if we fail to glorify him through our obedience?

To read the full post, click here.

In my next post, I will focus on Read the rest of this entry »

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Claiming the Christian Label: Intellectual Ownership and the Spiritual Journey

Pew Research Center: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Source: Pew Research Center

The internet has been buzzing about a recent Pew Research Poll in which participants were asked questions about their overall religious knowledge. The study’s most publicized conclusion was that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most religious peoples (particularly Christians).

Here’s a description from the study’s Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

The immediate reaction would be to poke fun of self-proclaimed Christians — and plenty of that is in order — but there’s also an assortment of valid critiques of the study. One of the best comes from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who properly emphasizes the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I disagree with Hirschfield on a few points, but as I reviewed the Pew study for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is God really going to be that upset if Christians don’t know whether Shiva is part of Buddhism or Hinduism?”

There’s a valid point to be made on that level, namely that relationship with the one true God is overarching and all-important; all other knowledge is secondary. However, I am not persuaded that Christians shouldn’t also pursue knowledge about the one true God, or knowledge about any other gods, for that matter. Indeed, in some sense, the two pieces are necessarily interconnected. For example, how do we know if the God we are serving is legitimate? How do we know whether the Bible is really true? Or, even if we know the Bible is true, how do we know if the God(/god) we are serving actually lines up with the one in the Bible?

On some level, we need to go the next step in our spiritual decisionmaking, and that will usually include taking significant intellectual ownership. But what does the Pew study really say about the Church on this matter? Are we as Christians really not taking enough intellectual ownership in our Read the rest of this entry »

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Materialism vs. Christianity: The American Dream, the Megachurch, and the Gospel

Lakewood Church, Houston, TXI have only recently heard of David Platt, but from what I have read, I am thoroughly intrigued.

Platt has a new book out called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which he accuses the American church of manipulating Christianity to fit its consumeristic culture.

If you can’t tell already, Platt’s core criticisms are particularly relevant to the issues discussed on this blog, and thus I am looking forward to reading and reviewing his book in the near future. In the meantime, however, David Brooks has offered a thought-provoking introduction to Platt’s ideas, which I think is worthy of response.

On the whole, it seems that Platt’s main criticism has to do with materialism: American Christians have become wrapped up in wealth creation and individualistic pursuits and have in the process confused their worship of Christ with a worship of themselves.

Platt’s primary targets? Brooks explains.

Target #1: The Modern American Church

Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude.

Target #2: The American Dream

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Read the rest of this entry »

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Zhang Xin on China: We Are Only Allowed to Make Money

Last Sunday, I caught an interesting interview with Zhang Xin, the billionaire Chinese developer and CEO of SOHO China.

In the interview, Fareed Zakaria asks a lot of important questions, but what is most striking are Zhang’s opinions about what the Chinese system lacks.

Watch the interview here:

Zhang had very humble beginnings, spending much of her late childhood working in shoe and electronics factories trying to save money for her education. She eventually met her goals.

Here’s a brief bio from Bloomberg:

Zhang, 44, personifies the explosive rise of China, from the poverty of Mao Zedong’s communist rule to the riches of state-controlled capitalism in the world’s third-biggest economy. At age 30, armed with a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge in England and connections from working at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York and Hong Kong, Zhang founded Soho China with Read the rest of this entry »

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The Last Dregs of Christendom: Islam vs. Postmodernism

Twilight of Islam and Christianity

Douglas Wilson recently posted a great critique of a speech given by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism (read “The Last Dregs of Christendom”). The speech itself is well worth listening to, but Wilson directs his critique at one specific piece, namely Gingrich’s claim that our struggle with Islam is primarily about preserving “Western values.”

“So?” Wilson asks. “Who cares about that?”

Such indifference to Western values is bound to perplex a few readers. What about the Enlightenment? Scientific progress? Democracy? Capitalism? What do you mean, “so what”?

The West certainly has plenty to offer in the realm of societal order, economic efficiency, and overall justice — and these are fine things to preserve — but when we’re talking about a serious and persuasive religious ideology (i.e. a spiritual force), engaging a struggle in the name of Western values is a bit risky, if not futile.

As Wilson says:

Western values only have value if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or womens’ rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means “our values,” then why should those outrank “their values”? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle, ours sometimes loses to theirs.

In other words:

“Western values” as an appeal works only if it is a coded references to Christendom, and that only works if Christ is still there. Anything else is Read the rest of this entry »

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