Worth Reading - 9/30

Here are some links worth reading this weekend. I've decided to move the Links Worth Reading series into the regular stream of my blog to simplify the layout.

1. Bruce Ashford, Provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote about how Abraham Kuyper has influenced his thinking. A good discussion and a helpful gateway to Kuyper for those that haven't read him before.

Rarely will a reader be trampled by a herd of evangelicals stampeding toward the Abraham Kuyper section of the bookstore. Though there are a number of reasons (like the impediment caused by display stands full of Test-a-mints and Precious Moments figurines), perhaps no reason is more important than this: We Americans rarely read old books, and Kuyper’s books are old.
Kuyper lived in 19th-century Holland, served as a pastor, founded a Christian university, started a newspaper, served in Parliament and as the prime minister, and wrote influential books on theology, culture, and politics. His deepest convictions might be summed up in one sentence:Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and because of that fact, our allegiance to him should shape not only the private but also the public aspects of our lives. If Christ is Lord, he’s not just Lord over private spirituality and church attendance, but also Lord over public affairs like art, science, business, politics, economics, and education. Reading Kuyper got me started on the path toward viewing Christ’s lordship as directly relevant to public life.
I didn’t discover Lectures on Calvinism until I was living in Kazan, Russia, in the late 1990s. I was an embryonic theologue in my early 20s who’d spent my time reading books written in my own day by people just like me. Upon moving to Russia, however, I began to read old books, and Lectures on Calvinism was one of the first. It influenced decisively the way I think and live; I carry its ideas with me today each time I open my mouth to teach a class, pick up my pen to write an essay, or grab the remote to watch the news.

2. Avoiding harm to third parties is often used as the ultimate lever in moral reasoning in contemporary society. The thought is to do whatever you want as long as you don't harm others. That's the basis that people are using to argue for government restrictions on religious faith and practice in the United States. Supposedly, not purchasing potential abortifacient drugs causes irreparable harm to the person who would otherwise be out a few dollars to buy the chemical cocktail. This inconvenience is deemed by some to be sufficient harm that the conscience of people should be violated by the law. In fact, there are some that see any harm (as perceived by the victim) to be sufficient cause to condemn the conscience of others. However, in a careful analysis, one thinker argues that the mere existence of third part harm (actual, not just perceived) is insufficient to warrant curtailing the practice of faithful religion. It's a long article and tightly argued, but well worth your time.

Thus the two arguments, free exercise claims for exemptions and Establishment Clause challenges to exemptions, require looking at similar factors. Both involve examining (1) the nature and seriousness of the burden that the law in question would impose on religious exercise, and (2) the nature and seriousness of the effect on others if the claimant is exempted from the law. But identifying these two considerations does not answer the question how they should be compared with each other. How should burdens on religion and those on others be weighed? And how significant must the third-party harms be to overcome religious claims?
The chief assertion of this article is that harms to others should not be conclusive against religious exemptions under either free exercise or nonestablishment principles. Such harms can certainly be a reason to deny exemption, but they are not the end of the inquiry: a number of factors must be considered. In particular, I argue, Establishment Clause limits on religious exemptions should not be strict. An exemption is not unconstitutional merely because it has negative effects on others: the burdens on others must be significantly disproportionate to the burdens that it removes from religion.

3. Some thoughts on writing for wanna be writers like me. There's more to the writing process than just typing, but certainly not less. A well-framed discussion that's worth your time.

Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am hanging out with the English language (or the Spanish or the Korean). I get to use the word turquoise or melting or supernova right now if I want. I’m with Shelley, who says that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the universe, and I am not fracking or selling useless things to lonely seniors or otherwise abusing my humanity. Find pleasure and joy. Maybe even make lists of joys for emergencies. When all else fails, put on the gospel song Steal My Joy refrain is “Ain’t gonna let nobody steal my joy.” Nobody, not even yourself.

4. Aaron Earls discusses the outrage over the infamous Clinton group selfie. It says something about our culture, but it shouldn't be viewed just as an opportunity to castigate millennials. The disfunction goes much deeper. 

I’ll admit there is something disconcerting and unsettling about the photo: Dozens of millennials all seemingly consumed with contorting themselves so that this moment is captured and is captured with them at the forefront.
But perhaps our disgust with those selfie takers goes a bit deeper. Maybe we are just sick of our own self-absorption and pride.
In introducing the topic of pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spoke of it as the “one vice of which no man in the world is free, which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people … ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”
Pride claws at every heart, but few want to admit it. Even more than that, few have any tolerance for it the lives of others.
Again, Lewis wrote: “There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”
If that is indeed the case, I’m afraid it speaks very poorly for those of us in non-millennial generations so off-put by their apparent prideful self-obsession.

5. Here's a podcast from the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with my friend David Jones, that discusses the reality of poverty and how we view it.

Here's a couple things that I wrote recently that were published elsewhere:

1. Over at the Intersect Project, I had an article posted on the dangers of trying to become financially independent, which is often seen in the Early Retirement movement.

A lot of people want to play with FIRE. Not literal fire, but the principle of being “Financially Independent, Retire Early.”
There are vibrant communities of eclectic individuals from around the globe, though mainly in North America, who seem to dedicate their lives to getting out of the workforce so they can “be free.” You can find blogs, websites, online tools and resources galore to help you live out this principle.
On the one hand, FIRE advocates’ financial responsibility and aggressive pursuit of wealth accumulation is invigorating. The goal of financial independence inspires them to spend less than they make, work diligently and be creative. It is healthy to pursue a worthy goal.
On the other hand, FIRE advocates often see the cessation of work as a good in itself. Some advocates—though certainly not all—see work as a necessary evil, a means to an end. Once they set their sights on financial independence, they see work mainly as the way to earn a large enough nest egg to allow them to live off the passive income for life.

2. Last week, The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics posted a short piece of mine that deals with one argument (among many) against Universal Basic Income.

One obvious problem with this is that the existence of U.B.I. might encourage people who could find work to simply accept the income and stay at home. Observation of human nature seems to point in that direction, which may end up making the system fundamentally unsustainable.
Although questions abound about the economics of U.B.I., concerns for the cost should not be the primary concern for Christians. The deeper problem with U.B.I. is that it encourages people not to find ways to add value to their communities. Work adds economic value, but it also adds a deep relational value that will be difficult to replace.
The conversation about U.B.I. will certainly continue in the future, but it must be broadened to consider the nature of humans and the value of work. There are needs for community and contribution that a check from the government cannot fill.