Since many readers of this blog are students of Western Seminary I thought I’d link over to the first “vlog” done with one of our professors. We asked Gerry Breshears how one can avoid burn out while engaging in social justice issues. See his answer here. If you have a comment don’t be shy. Gerry is anticipating some interaction.
“Governments should protect the people,” John declared, pounding the table for emphasis. “I’m tired of hearing about Americans struggling to make ends meet. I wish there were enough jobs and money for the whole world, but that’s a pipe dream. The hard reality is that we need a government that will protect Americans and American jobs. That’s what government is for.”
Alex was already shaking his head. “You just don’t get it. That kind of protectionism will destroy us.”
He pointed out the window to the small store across the street. “You see that? That’s a great little business. What if we could create four more? Or ten? Or a hundred? Think about all the jobs that would mean. We need to do more than protect existing jobs, we need to create more jobs. And to do that, we have to be fully and freely involved in the global economy.”
He hesitated briefly and then said, “And, we need to support the banks so we have enough money to invest in these new businesses.”
John and Alex both jumped slightly at this outburst from the third person at the table. Visibly agitated, Tom glared at Alex. “You want to give even more power to government and the banks? That’s insane! They’re the ones who got us into this mess to begin with.”
He took a deep breath before continuing, “You’re both missing the point anyway,” he said. “Our problem is that we’re too focused on money and jobs in the first place. It’s not a question of how many jobs we need, but what kind of people we should be. Jobs, governments, banks, all of that is secondary. We need them, of course. But they can distract from the real task of living fully human lives.”
He looked sadly out the window at the bustling city street. “We need to get back to simpler ways: less government, less busyness, more humanity.”
What is government for? What does government have to do with business? And, how does any of this matter for life and ministry today?
These are some of the questions that I’ve been chewing on since attending John Pinheiro‘s paper at Acton University on “The Political Economy of the American Founding.” The point of Dr. Pinheiro’s paper was that economic realities lay at the heart of early American history. And, I was fascinated to see how economic factors drove so much of the story. You really can’t understand the American Revolution, the development of the Constitution, or the factors leading up to the American Civil War, without understanding the economic dynamics at work.
But, as I listened to the lecture, I was struck by how competing views on government and economics are really competing views of human flourishing. That is, they are really arguments about what true human living looks like, what factors are necessary to sustain it, and what role (if any) government has in promoting those factors.
3 Views on Politics, Economics, and Human Flourishing
Consider the fictional conversation above. One one level, it was a discussion of government and economic policy. But, as Tom argued, these should be means to a greater end. So, their perspectives were really just different views of the goal, the means, and the proper relation between them. And, these three views have been with us for a while.
John (John Adams) argued for a form of mercantilism, the dominant economic model of the British Empire. On this view, wealth is a relatively fixed commodity, and everyone (individuals and nations) compete over this finite wealth. So, the role of government is to establish economic policies that will keep as much wealth as possible within the nation to promote the well-being of its own citizens. So, in this model, human flourishing requires wealth, and the government promotes human flourishing by increasing their share of the world’s limited resources.
Alex (Alexander Hamilton) offers a perspective more influenced by Adam Smith, who argued for economic policy based on creating wealth through the astute investment of capital. For Smith, wealth is not finite, but can be increased through economic policy. As in mercantilism, this approach believes that human flourishing requires wealth and that governments should, therefore, work to increase the wealth of its citizens. But, it has a different view of how governments should do this. Rather than establishing protectionistic policies aimed at retaining wealth, this view promotes open policies aimed at creating wealth.
Tom (Thomas Jefferson) represented the approach of the French physiocrats. They were much less concerned with creating or even retaining wealth. Instead, they focused on promoting the kind of living that would produce free and virtuous citizens, their view of human flourishing. And, for many of these thinkers, the best way to do this was through simple, agrarian, productive living. The growth of urban industrialism and wealth-oriented business practices were problems to be countered, not positive developments to be protected or (heaven forbid) increased. So, on this view, human flourishing does not require wealth creation. Instead, human flourishing requires stable, productive living. The role of government, then, is to make whatever policies necessary to facilitate such living, and nothing more. .
Idealism, Greed, and Human Flourishing
I don’t want to go into which of these is right, or even what it means for an economic system to be ”right.” But, to each of these systems I want to say “yes” and “no.” On the one hand, I’m deeply sympathetic with Jefferson’s notion of a simple life that focuses more on becoming the right kind of person than on creating and/or protecting the right amount of wealth. Jefferson’s ideal appeals to me: the simple farmer, intimately tied to the land, unencumbered by governments, banks, and big businesses, and growing into human flourishing in small, local communities. But, at the same time, Jefferson’s ideal seems overly idealized. Most of the “simple farmers” I know work far too hard and rarely know if they’re going to have enough money to make it to the end of the season. And, that’s just in America. Move outside this country, and the life of the simple farmer is even more difficult. When you spend all day just trying to get enough food to survive, it’s difficult to find much time for human flourishing. Jefferson’s view of the simple life was probably colored by his experience as a wealthy plantation owner. It’s easy to say that wealth-creation is unnecessary when you already have more than you need. And it’s easy to tell government to get out of the way, when you already have the resources necessary to do what you want.
So, on the other hand, I also appreciate the goal of wealth creation promoted by the other two views. “Wealth” and “greed” are not synonymous. If we define “wealth” as the material goods that promote and sustain human flourishing, then we can see that wealth itself is not the problem, and promoting wealth can be helpful, even necessary, for promoting human flourishing. But, there are problems here as well. First, both of these systems can easily make wealth an end in itself. This isn’t necessary to these systems, but so much attention gets paid to increasing the wealth of a country and its citizens, that the broader questions of human flourishing easily get lost. If asked, I’m sure they would say, “Well, of course all of this wealth is for human flourishing.” But, by sidelining human flourishing and focusing on wealth creation, they’ve made a fundamental mistake that disorients the entire system. And, when that happens, both end up promoting greed. As I said earlier, wealth and greed are not the same. But, a system focused on wealth creation as an end in itself can only encourage greed as the system strives for “more,” either by taking from others (mercantilism) or by creating more (Smith). Either way, separated from a higher goal, wealth-creation lapses into a constant drive for more that can never be satisfied. And, as a result, both tend to promote competition over cooperation. Rather than highlighting human flourishing as the cooperative production of human communities, wealth-creation untethered from a higher goal creates the perfect context for the most destructive forms of economic competition.
All three of these systems, then, have something valuable to say about how government, economics, and human flourishing relate to one another. But, each manifests some limitations as well. And, they’ve been competing for primacy in American identity from the very beginning. There was no “winner” in the debate among the Founding Fathers. Instead, they compromised by including elements of each in our founding documents and policies. So, like me, many Americans have a conflicted, and possibly contradictory, view of these issues.
Two Fundamental Questions
In the end, I found this all to be very helpful in highlighting the need to press beyond discussions of economics and governmental practices to more fundamental questions:
- What is human flourishing?
- What factors are necessary to promote and sustain human flourishing?
These are core questions that should interest any human, but especially those of us involved in Christian ministry, because they’re the same questions that we’re asking. Only when we’ve offered our answers to these questions will we be in any position to have meaningful discussions about the best economic and political policies and practices for fostering them.
This one’s too much fun. Take a few minutes to watch this video and see how creepy Facebook behavior really is – in the real world at least.
Today marks Dorothy Sayers‘ 118th birthday (June 13, 1893). Writer, theologian, poet, essayist, and playwright, Sayers did it all. And, she did it amazingly well.
To commemorate her birthday, here are some excerpts from her essay on The Lost Tools of Learning. Regardless of whether you agree with her argument that we need to return to medieval models of education (and the way this argument has been used by the classical and home schooling movements), her comments on the importance of learning to think are outstanding:
Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?
Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer.” Why do I say, “as though”? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this—requiring a child to “express himself” in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to “give himself the feel of the tool.”
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education—lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
I hate getting drawn into these discussions. Normally I would just ignore the small uproar surrounding Sarah Palin’s comments on Paul Revere, since that’s rather far removed from my normal blogging interests. But, I did post the video as part of our normal Saturday morning fun, so now I fell compelled to comment on recent reports that Sarah Palin was right.
No she wasn’t. Just stop it.
According to the LA Times, Sarah Palin’s version of Paul Revere’s ride was correct, and the media’s response is yet another example of the media reacting quickly and ignorantly to politicians’ statements. So, like Al Gore, George Bush, and Dan Quayle, Palin has been unfairly branded by this unfortunate response.
Now, at least part of the LA Times story is correct. Some have focused almost exclusively on Palin’s claim that Paul Revere warned the British. Since many people were not aware that Revere was captured by the British and that he did warn them about the colonial militia, they assumed that she had gotten the story exactly backwards. So, they were mistaken in focusing on this part of Palin’s claim.
But, that doesn’t mean she was right.
Here’s what she said:
He warned the British that they weren’t gonna be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells, and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free.
So, she has Paul Revere warning the British by riding through town, ringing bells, and apparently firing off warning shots. This is the part of her story that was so wrong. First, he didn’t ring any bells or fire any warning shots. He probably didn’t even yell. The whole idea was to spread the word without getting caught (which didn’t work very well anyway). So, secrecy was more important than noise.
But, more importantly, he certainly wasn’t riding around and making as much noise as possible to warn the British. The purpose of his ride was to warn the colonists. He didn’t warn the British until after he was captured. So, his warning to the British had nothing to do with his historic ride (regarding which so many myths have been spread).
So, Sarah Palin was wrong. She wasn’t as wrong as people have suggested. But, she was still wrong. It happens all the time. And, it probably happens with popular history more often than anywhere (except religion). As James McGrath pointed out, though, the issue isn’t whether you or the people you admire make mistakes, but whether you’re willing to recognize and admit those mistakes when they happen. Apparently, a lot of people aren’t.
Some analogies stick with you. They embed themselves deep within your psyche. You could probably get rid of them with enough counseling or some seriously strong medication. But, short of that, they’re probably yours for the rest of your life.
I remember one in particular. My youth pastor was preaching that Sunday, and he usually started by warming us up with an entertaining story. That’s what a good
comedian preacher does, right? This Sunday was no different.
“Have you seen Top Gun?” he began. The congregation tensed immediately. My youth pastor was known for taking sermons in interesting directions. And, this certainly sounded like it might qualify. “Do you know the part where Goose bets Maverick that he has to get ‘carnal knowledge’ of a girl in the bar before the night is over?” He continued. “And, to pull it off, they end up singing ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’….”
To be honest I don’t remember anything after that. Did he really just manage to combine alcohol, gambling, and sex in one sermon analogy? That’s impressive. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he somehow managed to relate this to a Bible verse somewhere. But, I really have no idea.
How much is too much in a sermon?
A similar question came up a while back as I was reflecting on theological themes in Dexter, a TV show about a serial killer. The show does an outstanding job illustrating brokenness, loneliness, alienation, hope, longing, and sin, among other things (see these video clips). So, it’s ripe with sermon illustrations. The problem is that most of them would be pretty “edgy.” He is, after all, a serial killer. So, we’re not talking about family friendly fare.
Would you use stuff like this in a sermon? It’s real, but is it appropriate?
Should a sermon be rated R?
I found myself reflecting on the same questions a few days ago, but from a very different direction. Carl Trueman posted some thoughts on how hard it was to preach through Judges 19, in which a woman is raped, murdered and dismembered. How do you preach that story to a congregation filled with people of all ages, backgrounds, and sensitivities? Sure it’s in the Bible, but does that make it okay for Sunday morning? And, if so, does that make some of these other examples fair game? Dexter is no more graphic than Judges.
How much is too much for Sunday morning?
As always, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. But, I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those of you who preach regularly. How do you think about your analogies? Do you ever find yourself struggling over whether a particular analogy is “appropriate”? How do you decide? How do you balance the need to connect the hard and dirty realities that are part of everyday life, with contemporary sensibilities? Should we be “earthier” in our sermons? Or, would that just be capitulating to the more debased aspects of modern culture?
Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, wrote a piece for CNN today on 10 Fascinating Facebook Facts – and what they say about us, drawing on insights generated by several recent studies about Facebook users and their habits.
With more than 600 million people actively using Facebook, these studies in fact provide a deeper understanding of our evolving cultural norms: our values, our morals and our changing relationships between one another.
One of the more interesting facts:
3. People in Facebook relationships are happier than single people
In February 2010, Facebook marked Valentine’s Day by comparing the relationship status of its users to their happiness — this was surmised based on the level of positive or negative sentiment in the user’s Facebook updates.
The result: Those in relationships were found to be slightly happier than single people. Those who were married or engaged were also happier than single people on average.
However, Facebook users in an “open relationship” — where the partners are not exclusive to one another — were significantly less happy than single people. Monogamy, it seems, makes us happy.
Read the rest here.
Ok Ok!! I know everyone is tired of hearing about hell. I myself checked out about a month ago. However, since it had been a while since I checked in I thought I would see if anyone had posted anything fresh on the issue. I was optimistically hoping to find a response from Rob Bell clarifying his position. To this point I have not, but I did find a promo video for Francis (I literally almost wrote Jackie) Chan’s new book, Erasing Hell. Don’t worry he’s just asking some good thought provoking questions. The book sounds like a respectful and thoughtful response (IN WHICH I NOW MAKE A BIG DISCLAIMER THAT I HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK YET! THUS I AM NOT ENDORSING NOR DEFAMING IT!!!).
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In this video, Bill Maher takes on evangelicalism, torture, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Now, just as fair warning, if you are a supporter of any one of those three things, there’s probably going to be something in the video that you won’t like. And, if you support two or more, you’ll probably hate it.
And, I should also mention that this is Bill Maher, so the video does contain some language. Not too much, but he likes to be naughty on occasion for shock
So, if he’s just picking on evangelicals and swearing, why post the video? Two reasons. (1) It’s a clear depiction of how many non-Christians view evangelicals. (2) He gets a lot of things right. It’s a short monologue intended to be humorous, so it’s hopelessly simplistic and reductionistic in places. But, his critique of evangelicals who pay more attention to political ideology than the Bible is spot on.
He opens the video with
New rule: If you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.
And, his closing thought hits the same theme theme even harder.
If you ignore every single thing Jesus told you to do, you’re not a Christian. You’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans. And, if you believe the earth was given to you to kick a#@ on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian. You’re a Texan.
Check out the rest of the video and let me know what you think.
HT Jason Goroncy via FB