… the way we give the Internet a soul isn’t simply Christian presence there, but it’s by making sure that there is a “true, integral, humanity expressed on the Internet. That there is space for spirituality, for questioning, for doubt, for learning. By our receptivity to those, we create a space for the Internet to have a soul, but we’re not the soul. Every human being has deeper questions and we need to create the forum, a framework, and a lack of fear that will allow people to do that meaningfully.”
An interesting take by Ray Nothstine on the recent American budget crisis.
As our nation’s $17 trillion debt spirals out of control, and spiritual disciplines decline in the West, we need to face the reality of America’s inability to collectively sacrifice. Even the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg seemed to pass this year with scant attention, as if such extreme sacrifice is alien and distant to our way of life today.
After tracing out some of the causes and consequences of this he conclude by arguing on behalf of an idea near and dear to Orthodox Christians, the foundational role of asceticism:
To recapture a deeper sense of personal and political liberty, Americans must collectively embody sacrifice now. “Redemption comes only through sacrifice,” Calvin Coolidge once reminded Americans. Failure to sacrifice now will in the end require a different variety of sacrifice. It will be for and in the name of the state. That kind of sacrifice will prove more costly, and will come at the expense of our political and spiritual liberties.
While we can disagree about the various causes and solutions to the recent budget battles, we need to not lose sight of the fact that the way forward is not simply a matter of public policy but first and foremost virtue–both public and personal. We can’t, for example, cut government aid programs without also a greater commitment (both personal and from religious communities) to care for those in need.
As a pastor, I’ve been struck by the hostility, or at least suspicion, that some Orthodox Christians reveal in their discussions of private property. While there are no doubt many reasons for this disconnect, I think a central factor is a lack of appreciation for the role that private property can, and does, play in fostering human flourishing. It is through the wise and prudent use of our property that we are able to give ourselves over in love to the next generation and so give them the possibility of likewise transcending a purely material way of life through an act of self-donation. Economists Terry Anderson and Laura Huggins, in Property Rights: A Practical Guide to Freedom and Prosperity (Hoover Institution, 2009), are right when they remind us that while not a panacea, “property rights to oneself (human capital), one’s investments (physical capital), or one’s ideas (intellectual capital), secure claims to assets” and so “give people the ability to make their own decisions, reaping the benefits of good choices and bearing the costs of bad ones.” In part, I think the hesitancy among some Orthodox Christians to embrace a robust understanding and application of property rights reflects an uncritical reading of the patristic witness. I have in mind here specifically the homilies of St. John Chrysostom in which the saint is often critical of how some abuse their wealth. But as recent scholarship has demonstrated, his argument is more subtle than we might at first think. As with other Church fathers, Chrysostom is not a proponent of abolishing private property but of its morally right use.
As I say at the end of the essay,
…property rights are not a panacea – protecting and enhancing private ownership will not cure all that ails us personally or socially. Nor can we separate the exercise of our right to property from the moral law or, for Christians, the Gospel. But Orthodox social thought does I think allow us to make a convincing case that property rights are a key element of human flourishing, a necessary ingredient of a just society, and an aid to Christian ministry. Rooted as it is in human nature, it is also a right that can help us see the dignity of all members of the human family and of the ability that all of us – rich or poor, male or female, young or old – have to serve the flourishing of those around us, our society and the Church.
If you have a moment, I’d be grateful if you read the whole essay on Acton’s site.
Organization is an association based on authority, organism is mutuality. The primitive thinker always sees things as having been organized from outside, never as having grown themselves, organically. He sees the arrow which he has carved, he knows how it came into existence and how it was set in motion. So he asks of everything he sees, who made it and who sets it in motion. He inquires after the creation of every form of life, the authors of every change in nature, and discovers an animistic explanation.
The point here is not to suggest that social organizations arise apart from human beings. It is rather to say that social institutions are more complex than other human activities such as carving an arrow. As I mentioned in an earlier post (here), the challenge is allowing for a diversity of views and actions within the limits of the concrete community. What’s the moral harm in the top down approach that von Mises is criticizing? Just this,contrary to what I imagine deference to even legitimate authority (whether for technical or social or even theological reasons) doesn’t absolve me of my own obligations as a moral actor. The top down approach too easily allows me to abdicate my personal responsibility and to lose myself in what Heidegger calls the herd (or the “They”). Authority does have its role to play but as the guardians of the conditions that foster personal responsibility.
Authority is a necessary element of community life but it is not the source of that life. Put in more theological terms, authority serves love by protecting the limits within which love is possible. Even the wisest ruler can’t impose these conditions from above or outside. Rather the ruler’s task is to be attentive to those moments when the freedom love requires is threatened. It is only then that the ruler can, and must, intervene.
Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most of the Acton Institute/Liberty Fund conference I attended emphasized the work of thinkers foundational to the contemporary views of social justice. This isn’t to say that the presentations and conversations weren’t critical in nature–they certainly were–but the point of our sessions was not for the speakers to present their own theories. A delightful exception was the session led by Nicholas Capaldi Legendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
Capaldi began by outlining what he calls the two compelling narratives about social capital that have informed modernity from the Renaissance to the present day: John Locke’s liberty narrative and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s (and Marx’s) equality narrative. Though a narrative contains arguments and an appeal to facts, it is not an argument as such. Rather it is a commitment about how we will habitually engage the world of persons, events and things. For many Christian–including Orthodox Christians–such a focus might seem of little value since (so their thinking goes) neither narrative is Christian and so of no interest to those who are in Christ.
This way of thinking is more than unfortunate; it is self-deluding. The fact that neither narrative is explicitly Christian doesn’t mean that one or both of them don’t influence (for good or ill) the Church’s life. In fact, to the degree that we don’t come to a critical appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the narratives that inform modernity, we are likely controlled by them in ways about which we unaware. Continue reading →
A central challenge in fostering a more just society, as I suggested in a previous post, is the general lack of a cultural consensus on what justice actually is and so isn’t. Forget for a moment the practical questions involved. How do we decide if the redistribution of income by way of the tax code, to name a point of popular contention, is just or unjust? What standard do we use? Returning to the practical dimension for a moment, in the absence of an agreed upon understanding of justice how do we decide how money is to be shifted or who receives what? Or putting aside this question how could we, as some have, say that such redistribution is morally justified as long as the benefit received by person “B” for every dollar outweighs the pain caused to person “A” for every dollar taken? Not only how we answer these questions, but even the questions themselves assume a particular understanding of the nature of justice and so what it means to live as a member of a society.
This is why, to give him his due, the economist Fredrick Hayek objected on both grammatical and linguistic grounds to the term “social justice.” Absent at least well delineated and mutually agreed to anthropology, the term simply means nothing and so everything. Moreover though his criticism of the political implications of the term opens him to charges of cynicism, we need take seriously his argument that appeals to social justice on behalf of the poor don’t necessarily benefit the poor themselves as much they benefit those making the appeal in the name of the poor. Continue reading →
“Wishful thinking will not fix our nation’s spending and debt problem,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The longer we procrastinate, the harder it will be for us to actually do it.”
In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of wise stories and sayings from the first Christian monks, the following is attributed to one Abba Zeno: “Never lay a foundation on which you might sometime build yourself a cell.” This saying has at least two possible applications: 1) Do not start something you do not intend to see through. 2) Do not put off for tomorrow the asceticism you can do today. Unfortunately, both of these lessons are lost on our federal government when it comes to financial responsibility, and it is our children who will pay for the sins of their fathers.