Worth Reading - 9/22

1. Civil Asset Forfeiture is particularly bad news for the poor, who are often unable to muster funds for legal recourse. This FEE post helps explain why it is such a bad policy:

Asset forfeiture primarily targets the poor. Most forfeitures are for small amounts: in 2012, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that has focused heavily on asset forfeiture, analyzed forfeiture in 10 states and found that the median value of assets seized ranged from $451 (Minnesota) to $2,048 (Utah). Given that law enforcement routinely takes everything they find in a forfeiture case, these small values suggest the relative poverty of the victims.

The procedural hurdles for challenging asset forfeiture also mean that poor people are less able to get their money back. The average forfeiture challenge requires four weekdays in court; missing four days of work can be a prohibitive expense for Americans living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, claims are challenged in civil court, where the right to counsel doesn’t apply, meaning that claimants need to hire their own lawyer.

Asset forfeiture is especially dangerous for the unbanked, because police and federal agents consider high amounts of cash to be suspect.

In 2013, half of all households with incomes of less than $15,000 were either unbanked or underbanked. In a report on non-criminal asset forfeiture, the Center for American Progress argues that “low-income individuals and communities of color are hit hardest” by forfeiture.

2. My friend, Maria Estes, was interviewed about her vocation as photographer for the Intersect Project. It's worth reading her discussion of how she serves God by delighting in beauty through her work:

Some people have a hard time understanding how their faith connects with their vocation. What encouragement would you give them?

In some ways what we do is less significant than how we do it. Of course we need to be doing what God has called us to do, but he’s called us to do it well. From the high-powered business person to the missionary to the stay-at-home parent and everyone in between, we all have different things we must do every day. Some of these things might seem less important or impactful than others, but God hasn’t called us all to be overseas missionaries; he’s called us all to be Christ-like, faithful and obedient.

If you’re a Christian business executive, the way you do your job should be different than the way your co-workers who don’t know Jesus do theirs. Work cheerfully. Be kind. Think about money differently than the world. Strive for excellence, knowing that you’re an ambassador for Christ, not just your own reputation. These things glorify God in and of themselves, but they may also open doors to share the gospel.

If you’re a stay-at-home mom, be the best stay-at-home mom you can be. Take time to talk about the gospel as you discipline your children even when time and tempers are short. Work hard to be content and thankful. We can’t, and shouldn’t, all be doing the exact same thing, so whatever God has called you to do, do it well for His glory.

3. Mental disorders are a real thing. Our feelings sometimes deceive us (often, really), but that doesn't mean that, for some people, false feelings are not driven by physiological realities. This engaging post by Adam Ford, the man behind the Babylon Bee, illustrates the indubitable reality of his anxiety disorder.

For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

4. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute responds to a recent article in First Things, which explained why the current editors are promoting socialism. Gregg's response affirms the value of the discussion, but corrects several of the critiques offered by First Things.

In a recent First Things column, editor R.R. Reno confirmed that the magazine founded by Father Richard John Neuhaus has substantially revised its hitherto generally positive view of the market economy.

This formal shift toward what I’ll call “One Reluctant Cheer for—and Many Doubts about—Capitalism” was no surprise for regular First Things readers. In recent years, some First Things authors have expressed considerable criticisms of global capitalism’s social, economic, and cultural impact, and reservations about the thinking underlining various free market positions. One 2016 article, entitled “Mammon Ascendant: Why Global Capitalism is Inimical to Christianity,” even claimed that possessing private wealth was an intrinsic evil.

Reno’s recent piece contains several observations about Western societies with which few religiously informed conservatives would disagree. Examples include Reno’s warnings about how authoritarian liberalism is now crushing freedom in the name of “diversity,” his criticisms of a transnational political class that can’t disguise its contempt for non-members, and his highlighting of corporate America’s intellectual feebleness and moral cowardice in the face of liberal social agendas.

5. A recent opinion piece in USA Today argues that engagement across political lines is essential for the future of the nation and simply developing a healthy empathy for others.

As I settled into life in the Midwest, I heard the same assumptive questions: “Did everyone you know vote for Donald Trump?” “Are there African-American, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ people in Indiana?” “Do people make fun of you for listening to National Public Radio?”

Never does one ask about Indiana’s history as a blue state (Indiana cast its electoral votes blue for President Barack Obama in 2008). Never does one ask how the Indiana public schools provide many opportunities that have been cut from California’s public schools because of one budget crisis after another. Never does one ask about the low cost of living that is allowing us to pay off the mountain of debt we accrued in California. And never does one ask about my fellow community members, who are running successful businesses, enriching the city’s arts and making a difference for the local environment.

As I got to know my new Midwest home, I realize how living in a bubble and subscribing to the Middle America stereotypes is truly damaging to this country.

While it is true there are far fewer African-Americans living in Terre Haute than San Diego, that doesn’t mean the city is a bastion of racism either. In fact, very few people know the Lost Creek community in Terre Haute was a stop on the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves enter the free state of Indiana before the Civil War. The diversity may not be as evident, but the city has a history of activism.

Worth Reading - 9/15

1. Scott Sauls writes about the danger of 'Outrage Porn,' which is the condition of being excited by being (perpetually) upset about something.

New York Times writer Tim Kreider coined the term, “Outrage Porn,” to describe what he sees as our insatiable search for things to be offended by. Based on hundreds of comments and letters to the editor, Kreider says that many contemporary people feed off of feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. Outrage Porn resembles actual pornography. It aims for a cheap, orgasmic thrill at the expense of another human being, but without any personal accountability or commitment to that human being.

Outrage Porn often escalates into the public shaming of groups and persons. Labeling, caricature and exclusion occur as offended parties rally together against a common enemy.

There are many forms of online shaming. There is passive-aggressive shaming via the non-responsive ignoring of personal emails, comments and tweets. A person gets singled out via an unflattering photo shared without permission and intended to mock. Another is left out of a group selfie that says, “You are not one of us.”

2. An interesting post by an author reflecting on the question whether Michael Foucalt, a founding-father of sorts for the deconstructionist left, could have become a fan a capitalism in his later decades. This goes along with the various conspiracy theories about why his estate will not allow his last book to be published, with speculation that he might have rejected some of the far-left stances of his earlier writings.

Academic leftists consider Michael Foucault an intellectual giant. His writings on the repressive power of modern institutions dominate our university departments, from literary studies to political science, anthropology, and geography. By the end of the 1980s, he had acquired a saint-like authority in Western academia. As Belgian sociologist Daniel Zamora stressed—in an interview tellingly titled “Can We Criticize Foucault?”—“he’s become...an untouchable figure within part of the radical left.”

Yet at some point in the 1970s Foucault caught a “neoliberal virus.” The first signs of this emerged in 1975, when he began revisiting the radical ’60s activities that he himself had molded. A few years later, he developed an interest in “neoliberalism”—progressive social scholars’ pejorative term for the renewed interest in individual liberty and free markets that emerged following the welfare state’s crisis and socialism’s decline.

Starting in 1978, in interviews and lectures, Foucault used modern libertarian and libertarian-leaning thinkers like F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Wilhelm Röpke, Milton Freedman, and Gary Becker to challenge the Left’s orthodoxies, especially their veneration of a benevolent welfare state. Foucault stunned his acolytes by suggesting that these writers rewarded serious study. Worse still, he castigated democratic socialism’s failures and challenged his students to apply cost-benefit analysis to governmental bureaucracies.

Many left-wing academics downplayed Foucault’s libertarian interests as misunderstood episodes in an otherwise nobly progressive career. But publication in 2005 of his 1978-1979 lectures sparked a debate within Foucault scholarship about whether, and to what extent, he had come to favor capitalism.

3. Plagiarism is a high crime of the writing world. Sometimes it can happen by accident if you don't cite your sources even in informal writing.

As I devoured her books so many years ago, I had quoted her in my journals, prayed her prayers in my own voice. In my silent hours of crying out to God, I had copied her passages and doodled her quotes, weaving them into my own. After all, she had given me words when I was too sad to find my own. But in my stream of consciousness journaling, I didn’t quote my sources. (Because who footnotes in the privacy of their own journals?) Years later, when it came time to write this new book, I revisited those journals that had chronicled the stages of my journey. I rediscovered words and prayers and ideas and themes, all in my handwriting. And I simply pulled from my journals, and I wrote them into a new manuscript.

Yes, she had found her words in a blog post that could be easily fixed, but the greater concern is that the blog post was an excerpt from a book. And that book was now out in the world. Such things are not as quickly fixed.

I called my agent immediately. It happened to be on his birthday. First, I told him happy birthday, then I told him I had accidentally broken the law in a book that was out in the world. I prepared myself to be sued, to lose my credibility, and worst of all, to never write again. It felt unprofessional, and unprofessional is never something I want to be known for. I didn’t want to draw anyone’s integrity into question, certainly not mine, and definitely not my publishers’.

4. Carl Ellis talks about the importance of doing theology for activist Christians. He's a voice that we can benefit from listening to.

As the cultural ground shifts under our feet, the church often gets caught up in these tectonic quakes — unnecessarily so. Much of our stress is due to an inadequate theology. Not that our theology is wrong as far as it goes. It’s just that it has further to go. Most Christians I talk to define theology as, “The study of God.” While I affirm this definition, it leaves out the cultural and historical context in which we study God. A broader, more comprehensive definition is, “The application of God’s Word by persons in every area of life.” (Dr. John Frame) This includes the study of God.

In our Western context, several valuable methods of doing theology have developed such as Exegetical theology and Systematic theology. However too often I have seen a tendency to think that all theology that can be done has been done. This is a short step from relying on theology more than on the Word of God itself. The scope of the Bible covers all of reality while the scope of theology is limited. If the Bible can be compared to a movie, our theology would be one frame from it.

5. The intolerance of the faithful in politics and the public square is an issue in the US and the UK as this post at the Acton Institute outlines:

Last week eruptions of anger greeted the MP’s appearance on Good Morning Britain, a lightish chat show. When asked about abortion, he said it was “morally indefensible” under any circumstances. Rees-Mogg added that he opposed gay marriage, because “marriage is a sacrament, and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with Parliament.” However, he said that as prime minister, he would not interfere with the legal availability of abortion, because his private faith “wouldn’t be the law of the land.”

The commentariat were, of course, outraged. Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry. He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life.”

Perhaps they smelled blood. Earlier this year Tim Farron was driven from his role as leader of the country’s moribund centrist party the Liberal Democrats over his views on same-same relationships, although the evangelical Farron answered with not quite Thomas More-like courage.

Worth Reading - 9/8

1. Life in our digital, social media age has changed drastically. One area is in our ability to be anonymous and to even make mistakes publicly without being hunted down and pilloried. This account of a man who was doxxed and then financially destroyed due to an admittedly stupid moment is worth considering as we evaluate the consequences of our age.

That single instance of reckless fan exuberance turned Pagan’s life upside down. It led to public humiliation, loss of employment, a nine-month court case and a temporary ban from every stadium in Major League Baseball.

But there’s a disconnect here, because the Ken Pagan who threw that can seems to have almost nothing in common with the actual man.

The first thing that strikes you about Pagan in real life is his politeness and mild manner. He speaks with a calm, measured voice that barely rises above a whisper, and in the hours I spent with him, I never once heard him curse (even when talking about this year’s Blue Jays).

When you meet him and look back on the life he has led, you can’t help but come to one conclusion: This is no hooligan.

2. The cruelties of capitalism are being heralded by the rising socialist tide, but many of the concerns the Left raises have already been addressed by advocates for a socially oriented capitalism. One example is of the German economist, Wilhelm Röpke:

Though conservatives are often portrayed as strong supporters of the free market, not all of them are. Now and in the past, many individuals have happily embraced the conservative label while expressing strong reservations about, if not outright rejection of, market economies.

Even so I’ve noticed, as someone who identifies very much as a conservative, that skepticism of markets among conservatives has swelled in recent years. The financial crisis of late 2007 to 2009 and the subsequent recession have hardened an attitude—including among conservatives— that free markets are essentially unfair, facilitate unhealthy cultural trends, and leave many people on life’s economic margins.

It would be unwise to dismiss the conservative critique of capitalism as resulting solely from either insufficient knowledge of economics and economic history, or from the embrace of romantic visions of pre-industrial life. Certainly, these and other elements play a role. So too, I suspect, does personal experience of the turmoil associated with recent economic upheavals, invariably blamed as they are on allegedly unfettered markets.

But surely another cause of this rising anti-market sentiment is many free marketers’ inadequate responses to these and other concerns. Rejoinders like, “If you only understood economics, you’d just know that everyone’s better off in the long-term” may be true—if one is primarily thinking in aggregate terms about material prosperity, lifespans, and overall levels of human health. It is a reckless soul who would trivialize such things. Such reasoning, however, fails to answer legitimate questions that many conservatives have long pondered, such as where markets fit into accounts of the good life that go beyond an emphasis on individual autonomy.

3. The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics republished an article I wrote a few years ago about the internal problem with consumerism:

Free markets have the potential to lead to consumerism. In fact, all economic systems do because consumerism is an attitude.

To be fair, consumerism is more likely to be visible in a relatively free market. In systems where prosperity is less prevalent, consumerism is less visible.

The attitude may still exist, but if goods and services are not available or discretionary resources are more limited there is less opportunity for obvious demonstrations of greed.

A relatively free market allows for the demand for varied shoe styles to result in customers buying them. There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing or wearing a pair of shoes that fits.

There is, however, something wrong with buying an excessive number of shoes and disposing of shoes before they are worn out; this is consumerism, which is a form of idolatry.

4. A Venezuelan man writes an Op-Ed for the New York Times about being a political prisoner due to his resistance to the dictatorial socialism of the Venezuelan government. If you wonder where economic tyranny (like socialism) leads, this is a prime example.

I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

5. Jay Richards gave a helpful lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years ago on why capitalism is the answer, not the problem:

Worth Reading - 9/1

It might strike you as bizarre that the government spends billions on nutrition and housing programs for the poor while simultaneously encouraging poor people to move their own money away from these necessities and toward the state’s gambling monopoly. In fact, that $70 billion in annual lottery revenues is strikingly close to what the government spends on food stamps. Is there any set of policies more contradictory than pushing lotto tickets on poor people, and then signing them up for welfare programs that make them financially dependent on the government?

Politicians who profess a desire to alleviate poverty often lament how few levers they have to pull. So here’s a novel idea: Stop selling poor people a mirage of the American dream at the end of a convenience-store line.

2. Tim Challies published an interesting post on changes in reading in our digital age:

The latest casualty of our digital technologies is reading. Many people have expressed how there was once a time when they loved to read, but today they find it grueling. There was once a time reading came easy, but now it seems to be hard. The difference, they say, is all these new technologies. So it must be technology’s fault, right?

Maybe. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Let me offer a few thoughts on the rise of digital technologies and the decline of reading.

3. From Bruce Ashford, an explanation of why Antifa is not good for our nation and should not be considered so.

“Antifa” (an-TEE-fah) is not an organization, but a loose coalition of independent groups of anti-fascists who devote their energies to monitoring fascists and racists, resisting them, and exposing them to their local communities.

Some antifa limit themselves to non-violent resistance, but many of them endorse violence. They pursue vigilante justice because they believe democratic politics and conventional law enforcement are either unwilling or unable to deal with the perceived threats posed by fascists and racists. “In the name of protecting the vulnerable,” political scientist Peter Beinart writes, “antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not.”

Once antifa have identified a group or an individual as racist or fascist, they often use physical force to oppose the group or individual. The emergence of left-wing violence should not be surprising. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were an era of Left wing violence, including groups such as Weather Underground and the United Freedom Front. Similarly, in the 1980s, leftist extremists committed the vast majority of all acts of terrorism in the United States.

4. From the Radical blog, a very good post on having confidence in past decisions, even when we end up in a much different spot than we intended:

We may have ended up somewhere way longer than we ever thought we would, or the path to where we thought we were headed may have forked (dramatically) in another direction. If we’re in the middle of a messy struggle, we may think, Did I mess this up? But the thing is, right where you sit today reading this, God sees your every breath. You can proclaim Him right where you are, just like Paul did, whether you’re floating on a piece of a wrecked ship or you’re on trial for something you didn’t do. You can proclaim him for those two years you end up in Rome, even if that’s not where you ever meant to be.

God’s mission for Paul’s life was so much bigger than a map.

The fact that Paul’s call to Jerusalem took him in a different direction than Jerusalem wasn’t outside of God’s sovereignty. And it doesn’t necessarily mean Paul misheard God—it just means God had a much bigger design at play than getting Paul from point A to point B.

This is the same God who directs your life. So don’t let the detours wreck your faith.

Simply let them put different people in your path. And let God show you a whole different glimpse of who He is.

5. David Whitlock, President of Oklahoma Baptist University, delivered an important convocation address on working to overcome racism in that institution:

Worth Reading - 8/25

1. An article at the website Forward, a website that intends to deliver "incisive coverage of the issues, ideas and institutions that matter to American Jews," speaks of the need to befriend racists for the purpose of ending hatred.

The subject of our third remarkable story is Derek Black, the scion of famous white supremacists. His father, Don Black, was the brains behind Stormfront, the Internet’s first and biggest white nationalist site with 300,000 users. His mother, Chloe, had been married to David Duke, who was Derek’s godfather. “They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him ‘the heir’,” the Washington Post reports ,

Black was outed on his college campus as an anti-Semite. But one of his classmates, Matthew Stevenson, the only Orthodox Jew on campus, decided to invite Black to a Shabbat meal.

“It was the only social invitation Derek had received since returning to campus, so he agreed to go,” writes the Washington Post. Stevenson told the other guests, “Let’s try to treat him like anyone else.”

Pretty soon, Black became a regular at these Shabbat meals. And eventually, Black, like Phelps-Roper and the two hundred men (and women) Davis befriended, renounced the ideas that had once filled him with such hatred.

2. Amid the voices that call for the legalization of prostitution (normalized by calling it "sex-work") the Spectator notes that the vast majority of sex-workers are actually enslaved.

One of the most disturbing discoveries I made was that the loudest voices calling for legalisation and normalisation of prostitution are the people who profit from it: pimps, punters and brothel owners. They have succeeded in speaking for the women under their control. The people who know the real story about the sex trade have been gagged by a powerful lobby of deluded ‘liberal’ ideo-logues and sex-trade profiteers.

As Autumn Burris, a former prostitute from California, who escaped in the late 1990s, told me: ‘I had to tell myself lots of things, lots of lies, in order to keep my brain from splitting into a million pieces and me going crazy with the continual abuse that was happening over and over and over, and the violence that goes along with prostitution.’ Autumn now campaigns for an end to the sex trade, and she runs training courses for police officers and other professionals on the realities of prostitution.

A survivor of the sex trade in Germany, Huschke Mau, put it this way: ‘Every time I met a john I had to drink not just one glass of wine but a bottle. If you’re sober and not doing any drugs you cannot make a (date) with a john. Once I stopped drinking, I couldn’t do it any more.’

3. An article at Acton Institute discussing the morality of free market capitalism, particularly concerns over income inequality.

For me, as a Christian, I do not see the ability of some to make much larger incomes through open markets as a problem for everybody else; I see it as a problem for those who have the grave responsibility of handling high levels of wealth.

Christians should focus public policy, not on reducing inequality, but on ensuring that the barriers to the advancement of the poor are removed. This might, or might not, reduce inequality as a side effect. If we are willing to make the rich much worse off simply to reduce inequality – without making anybody better off – then we are succumbing to the temptation of envy.

Envy is a harmful basis for public policy. It is not difficult to decrease inequality. Consider what happened in Ireland after the financial crisis. Unemployment tripled, to 14 per cent. There were savage wage cuts in the private and public sectors. Poverty rose rapidly. In 2009, nearly one-quarter of the population were in arrears on utilities or other bills. All this happened, and yet inequality fell, because the wages of high earners were slashed.

But the fact that we should not be concerned about inequality as a matter of principle does not mean that the position of the poor should not be a major concern for us. This is true when it comes to both international and domestic policy.

4. George Weigel at First Things points out the danger that socialized healthcare poses to the weak an infirm when the population has been trained to view people through a utilitarian calculus.

Canada’s vulnerability to the culture of death is exacerbated by Canada’s single-payer, i.e. state-funded and state-run, health care system. And the brutal fact is that it’s more “cost-effective” to euthanize patients than to treat secondary conditions that could turn lethal (like H’s infection) or to provide palliative end-of-life care. Last year, when I asked a leading Canadian Catholic opponent of euthanasia why a rich country like the “True North strong and free” couldn’t provide palliative end-of-life care for all those with terminal illnesses, relieving the fear of agonized and protracted dying that’s one incentive for euthanasia, he told me that only 30 percent of Canadians had access to such care. When I asked why the heck that was the case, he replied that, despite assurances from governments both conservative and liberal that they’d address this shameful situation, the financial calculus had always won out—from a utilitarian point of view, euthanizing H and others like him was the sounder public policy.

But in Canada, a mature democracy, that utilitarian calculus among government bean-counters wouldn’t survive for long if a similar, cold calculus were not at work in the souls of too many citizens. And that is one reason why the Church must engage the culture war, not only in Canada but in the United States and throughout the West: to warm chilled souls and rebuild a civil society committed to human dignity.

5. Firefighters in the UK saved some piglets from a barn fire. Six months later, the farmer bought them sausage from those pigs as a thank you gift. This has animal rights activists up in arms. It also makes for a highly ironic, somewhat humorous read.

Way back in February, a band of English firefighters rescued 18 baby pigs and two sows from a burning barn. If Charlotte had been around, she’d probably have woven “Some Firefighter!” into her web.

She wasn’t, but grateful farm manager Rachel Rivers promised she’d soon send along a little thank you gift.

Just about six months later, she followed through, offering up a collection of sausages made from the meat of the very pigs the firefighters had saved. The grateful public servants of the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service celebrated with a barbecue.

“Exactly six months and one day since firefighters rescued 18 piglets from a fire, we got to sample the fruits of our labors from that February night,” the crew wrote in a Facebook post. “Huge thank you to Rachel Rivers for dropping them off for us to sample.”

Worth Reading - 8/18

1. Tim Keller wrote a helpful post on the sin of racism at The Gospel Coalition in the wake of last week's rally:

First, Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, “But on the other hand.” The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, “See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.” The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.

Second, this is a time to present the Bible’s strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country—again, full stop. In Acts 17:26, in the midst of an evangelistic lecture to secular, pagan philosophers, Paul makes the case that God created all the races “from one man.” Paul’s Greek listeners saw other races as barbarian, but against such views of racial superiority Paul makes the case that all races have the same Creator and are of one stock. Since all are made in God’s image, every human life is of infinite and equal value (Gen. 9:5–6). When Jonah puts the national interests of Israel ahead of the spiritual good of the racially “other” pagan city of Nineveh, he is roundly condemned by God (Jonah 4:1–11). One main effect of the gospel is to shatter the racial barriers that separate people (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14–18), so it is an egregious sin to do anything to support those barriers. When Peter sought to do so, Paul reprimanded him for losing his grasp on the gospel (Gal. 2:14).

Racism should not be only brought up at moments such as we witnessed in Charlottesville this past weekend. The evil of racism is a biblical theme—a sin the gospel reveals and heals—so we should be teaching about it routinely in the course of regular preaching. Which brings me to a final point.

Twentieth-century fascist movements that made absolute values out of “Blut und Boden” (“Blood and Soil”)­—putting one race and one nation’s good above the good of all—also claimed to champion traditional family values and moral virtues over against the decadence of relativistic modern culture. Even though they were no friends of orthodox Christianity (see Adolf Hitler’s heretical “Positive Christianity” movement), they could and can still appeal to people within our own circles. Internet outreach from white nationalist organizations can radicalize people who are disaffected by moral decline in society. So it is absolutely crucial to speak up about the biblical teaching on racism—not just now, but routinely. We need to make those in our circles impervious to this toxic teaching.

2. Conservative writer, PE Gobry, writes in the National Review about how the government as status grantor is negatively impacting American society:

In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, we should note that, historically speaking, there is one particular way in which America has indeed been a status society in the top-down French sense: the regime of white supremacy, which conferred status on whites simply for being white. But other than this status system — admittedly very important — the American tradition has been that one gains status through effort in civil society. French does have a word for “entrepreneur,” but it doesn’t have a word for “community leader,” since that word suggests a status granted on a purely voluntary, bottom-up basis. Here is the point: Conservatives tabulate the ever-increasing march of government in terms of dollars and cents, increased spending, debt, and the estimated costs of regulations that hamper growth. These are all very important and alarming problems, but perhaps they are merely symptoms of an underlying problem of Francification: America is evolving into a society in which status is granted by central powers, whether elites schools, media behemoths, or the halls of Congress.

3. John Mark Reynolds wrote a helpful post about the weakness in much of contemporary Children's literature. It's not (just) that the writing is bad, it's that the stories are incredibly weak. They lack compelling grandeur. He highlights several themes that need a break.

Wise kids and dumb or bad parents

I get it: there are a lot of bad parents out there. Some kids are wise beyond their years. Those stories are real and should be told

Here is something else real: many of my students have great parents. When I ask them to write a “realistic” story about family, they do not write about their own family life. Instead, they tell the story of angry or sad families. Sometimes that is because they are not in the happy family that they seemed to be in, but usually it is because they think there own stories sound fake.

My Mom and Dad are wise. I was not when I was sixteen. Can somebody tell that story?

4. Advocates of a Universal Basic Income celebrate the supposed freedom that would bring, but they typically ignore the massive downsides it necessarily brings along. This post in the Wall Street Journal highlights some of those downsides.

UBI would also weaken American democracy. How long before the well-educated, technocratic elites come to believe the unemployed underclass should no longer have the right to vote? Will the “useless class” react with gratitude for the handout and admiration for the increasingly divergent culture and values of the “productive class”? If Donald Trump’s election, and the elites’ reactions, are any indication, the opposite is likelier.

Rapid technological advancement is already presenting American workers with unprecedented difficulties. Facing this challenge is going to require creative approaches from the government and the private economy. UBI is a noble attempt. Perhaps it could work as only a supplement to earned income. But as currently envisioned, UBI addresses the material needs of citizens while undermining their aspirations.

In the same Harvard commencement speech in which Mr. Zuckerberg called for a basic income, he also spent significant time talking about the need for purpose. But purpose can’t be manufactured, nor can it be given out alongside a government subsidy. It comes from having deep-seated responsibility—to yourself, your family and society as a whole.

5. Tim Challies issues a plea for people to read beyond the headlines to understand the news.

Your eyeballs are the most important resource in the world to news outlets. They need your eyeballs on their ads so they can turn a profit. More than ever, they get eyeballs on ads through bold, catchy, hyperbolic headlines. Whether those headlines are true or whether they accurately describe the content of the articles is beside the point. The headlines matter more than the content that lies behind them. What matters to them is not whether you read the article, but whether you open the page and see all those ads.

Our opinions and convictions are being shaped by words designed not to convey truth, but to generate clicks.
Meanwhile, we are so inundated with news and information that we respond by reading widely but shallowly. We skim a hundred headlines rather than study one article. Our eyes flit over articles in moments but we rarely pause to read, to consider, to apply. We are being pummeled with more headlines than at any other time in history, but deep-reading less than ever before. This means we are gaining our knowledge through headlines—clickbait headlines. Our opinions and convictions are being shaped by words designed not to convey truth, but to generate clicks.

Worth Reading - 8/11

1. One of the failures of contemporary society is the reduction of all thinking to economical terms. In this helpful essay from 2010, economist Paul Heyne relates the dangers and limitations of thinking in only economic terms:

As already stated, I am a devoted practitioner of the economic way of thinking. I am also, as anyone can readily infer from this essay, a staunch defender of markets. Nothing in this essay should be interpreted as a call to replace either one. I would prefer that we learn to celebrate their strengths. I ask only that we do so with a clear consciousness of their limitations. Market systems and the economic way of thinking are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the nurture of a free, prosperous, and just society.

We must also learn to nurture social institutions about which economics can say relatively little that is interesting or important, face-to-face institutions as distinct from the largely impersonal institutions that respond to monetary signals. These are often the very same institutions that the market system tends over time to displace: the family, the church, and the neighborhood.

The operative word is displace, not replace. The market cannot be a complete substitute for the family, but it can and does provide family members with attractive opportunities that make participation in family activities less important. Time spent eating dinner together becomes too costly to prolong when the television set is calling.

2. An ongoing debate about the relationship of sexual revisionists to the orthodox tradition that has festered into childish insults of credo-baptists by figures like James K. A. Smith, but has produced some helpful thinking about the nature of orthodoxy. One example is this essay by Matthew Emerson:

A sentiment with which I sympathize and which I hear often is that “Nicaea is enough.” By this people seem to mean that, when trying to articulate boundaries for orthodoxy and, thus, for who is and who isn’t a Christian, the Nicene Creed, or more often the Apostles’ Creed, serves as the arbiter. In this model, someone who affirms historic Christian teaching on the Trinity, the hypostatic union, the necessity of Christ’s work for salvation, the church as the people of God, and the expectation that Christ will return in glory should be considered a Christian. I sympathize with this approach because, well, look at that list! It covers many issues that are vitally important for the Christian faith.

But often when I hear or see people say, “Nicaea is enough,” it appears to me that what they mean is that we don’t need to hold others to doctrinal or ethical standards beyond what was laid down in the fourth through eighth centuries. On the former, I am not talking about those working toward an evangelical ecumenicity, like Timothy George; I am referring, rather, to those who seek to elide and escape doctrinal convictions beyond what is taught in the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed. So, for instance, bibliology is not addressed in the Creeds; therefore, according to this “Nicaea is enough” way of thinking, Christians can believe a whole host of different positions about Scripture. The latter rationale for “Nicaea is enough,” the ethical, is the more popular these days, though. In this respect “NiE” is used to say that, for instance, sexuality is not addressed in the Creeds, and therefore Christians can believe a whole host of different ideas about gender and sexuality. To be frank, it seems to me that “NiE” is used most often not as a genuine attempt at doctrinal catholicity but rather as a euphemism for giving in to our current cultural climate regarding sexuality. Rather than an attempt at a catholic (small c!) orthodoxy, this sentiment is more often used to sneak in non-traditional ethical or doctrinal teachings through a supposed creedal gap.

3. Another helpful (and longer) essay in this discussion came from Matthew Lee Anderson, writing at his former stomping groundsMere Orthodoxy:

These are sound reasons to be wary about extending ‘orthodoxy’ to ethical stances, I think. And yet, that distinction itself seems to presuppose that the ‘gay marriage’ debate within our churches is a debate fundamentally about ethics, such that the same descriptions of the doctrines which fall under the umbrella of “orthodoxy” could generate both an “affirming” and a “traditionalist” view of whether gay people can marry.

It’s this move that I think we should call into question, and that helps explain why conservatives (like me) tend to lump affirming positions under the rubric of ‘heresy.’ How one describes “sex” and “marriage” are not secondary implications of a theological anthropology, but rather essential aspects. “The Lord is for the body, and the body for the Lord” is said of the body in its sexual dimension, and expresses something like the totalizing role sexuality plays in our understanding of persons. (Paul differentiates the body in this respect from the stomach, which the Lord “will destroy.”) The sex of our Savior, the gender of his bride, the nature of their union together, the fruitfulness at stake in it: describing the scope, the content, and the means of salvation is impossible without staking out some sort of view on such matters.

But theological anthropology is also—theology. The biblical depictions of sexual complementarity and marriage demarcate humanity’s relationship in the church to God through Christ, and render the name of “Father” intelligible to us. Even in his humanity, the witness of Christ is unintelligible apart from the mother who bore him and the father who adopted him. If this familial architecture is only accidental, or inessential, or on an equal plane theologically to a same-sex familial structure, then the scope and content of what Jesus would mean when he says “Father” (of God) would doubtlessly also be very different than what he in fact discloses to us.

4. A second essay at Mere Orthodoxy deserved solid attention this week, which addressed some misrepresentations of property and John Locke at a forum a few weeks ago. The conservation has continued with a rebuttal from Elizabeth Bruenig, but this essay is fun and helpful in several ways. There are disputable aspects of the essay, but it's good to see push back on the growing number of voices that socialism is (a) moral and (b) the only moral option for Christians.

Without teleology, without a normative vision of how things are supposed to be and become, moral enquiry becomes impossible; without telos, morality is jettisoned. As myriad philosophers have pointed out, even descriptive enterprises fail without some level of telos and guiding norms. Descriptions, after all, are always bound within norms. For otherwise, what is the distinction between a war and a genocide?

More interesting, however, is whether MacIntyre is right in laying this claim about the loss of teleology against John Locke. Is Hobbes a just representation of every intellectual classified ex post facto as an Enlightenment thinker? Were the problems of the Enlightenment a miasma of which no one (perhaps other than the occasional Roman Catholic saint) could break free? And finally, is the loss of teleology a fair criticism of the whole of Enlightenment thought or is it simply a useful rule of thumb to describe the Enlightenment’s Hobbesian impulses?

5. Sociologist George Yancey continues to do research on the intersection of politics and religion. His recent study, summarized informally here, shows that theologically conservative Christians tend to value theology a great deal, while theologically progressive Christians tend to value politics more significantly. This is an idea worth engaging.

Now what do the results of this study mean? Basically when you look at what we found, it becomes clear that theological conservatism tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns theological distinctions between Christians and non-Christians. However theological progressiveness tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns political distinctions between progressives and conservatives. When I lump the results of this research with my previous study I come to a conclusion. Theological issues matter more to theological conservatives while political issues matter more to theological progressives.

Worth Reading - 8/4

1. African-American pastor, Dwight McKissic, explains why he is remaining in the Southern Baptist Convention, despite recent difficulties at the convention over his proposal to condemn the alt-right.

When the SBC is convinced to address the needs of African American communities — such as building up the black family, assisting ex-convicts with employment, removing payday loan offices from our neighborhoods, addressing disparities and inequities in the criminal justice system and addressing police brutality — it will have a huge positive impact on black SBC churches. When the SBC more intentionally includes minorities in leadership and decision-making throughout the life of our convention — especially in the president-appointed committees — we will see a real change and leave a better SBC for our grandchildren.

A common perception among African American pastors and churches is that in order to be welcomed, we have to park our brains, culture, history, politics, worship practices, critical thinking skills and autonomy at the door. The SBC needs to make it clearer that this is not the case so we can recruit more churches to cooperate with the SBC.

The SBC has its shortcomings, but churches that focus their attention on the mission of our Lord Jesus will not find a better body to cooperate with than the SBC. Not everything in the SBC is what it should be, but I am called to work within to help it become what it can be.

That’s why I remain.

2. Danny Akin briefly responded to McKissic's article to call Southern Baptists to listen to men like McKissic, who are making valid arguments about what it feels like to be a minority in the SBC.

I and many others long to see a day when our churches on earth look like the Church heaven, but that won’t happen without all of us coming together as one Body of believers. We aren’t just pursuing diversity to no end. We want to see people come to Christ from every nation, tribe and tongue. Once again let me say, we have to do it together.

It’s time for Southern Baptists to make crystal clear—no one in our ranks is “in someone else’s house!” We should not stop and we will not stop working until everyone feels that this is their home. We are brothers and sisters, we are family, and we need each other.

Yes, these conversations are uncomfortable. But sometimes we must push through the uncomfortable to get to the beautiful. If that’s where we are headed, then sign me up. I want to be on that gospel ship!

Thank you to my brothers for staying. And thank you for speaking. I hear you.

3. A long-form essay that discusses the problem of prosecutors failing to disclose evidence in cases, which leads to wrongful convictions in some cases. This is another plank in the platform for significant criminal justice reform.

In the United States, defendants gained the right to see certain evidence in the government’s possession relatively recently, in the 1960s. Before that, our rules reflected their origin in early modern Britain, where people suspected of crimes were required to speak on their own behalf, without a lawyer. In 16th-­century trials, people suspected of crimes had no right in advance to learn of the evidence against them, or even the charges, because the element of surprise was deemed crucial to ascertaining the truth. The idea of ‘‘trial by ambush,’’ as it is called, persisted throughout the 18th century, even after the accused gained the presumption of innocence, the right to hire a lawyer and the right to remain silent. In 1792, the Lord Chief Justice in Britain rejected a defendant’s request to see the evidence against him in advance of trial, saying that such disclosure would ‘‘subvert the whole system of criminal law.’’

Over the next century, however, the British courts changed course, joining countries like Germany and France to require broad disclosure of the prosecution’s case before trial, including a full list of witnesses, a summary of how they would testify and other investigative material, like police and lab reports. The nascent justice system in the United States, by contrast, imported Britain’s earlier rules. Judges in this country emphasized that defendants might harm or intimidate witnesses if they knew they were planning to testify.

In March 1963, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., an Eisenhower appointee who became one of the era’s leading liberal jurists, criticized the American practice of keeping the prosecution’s case secret before trial in a major speech at Washington University’s law school. Brennan argued that it was ‘‘particularly ironic’’ that at the Nuremberg trials, conducted in the late 1940s to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, Soviet prosecutors protested the American rules of evidence as unfair to defendants. Isn’t denying access to the facts of the prosecution’s case ‘‘blind to the superlatively important public interest in the acquittal of the innocent?’’ Brennan asked.

4. An Atlantic article that argues that the advent and popularization of smartphones may be damaging the digital native generations.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

5. A common assertion among theological revisionists (sometimes also called "liberals") is that 19th century Fundamentalist Christians invented the idea that the Bible is inerrant. Historian, John Woodbridge, argues that is simply not true.

By the early 1990s, a powerful historiography had emerged that portrayed the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as “fundamentalist” and not as an “evangelical” doctrine. With this historiography in mind, the critic may have felt fully justified in labeling Dr. Henry a fundamentalist. For the critic, Henry would have been simply mistaken in identifying himself as an evangelical.

Obviously, my reconstruction of what motivated the critic’s labeling is speculative. What isn’t speculative, however, is the fact that the way historians recount the historical trajectories of various doctrines often affects our views of these same doctrines. If, for example, historians portray a doctrine as theologically innovative, a departure from what the Christian churches have consistently taught, we may suspect that the doctrine has departed from the “faith once delivered.” Evangelicals have a vested interest in studying the history of doctrine.

Identifying and adhering to central church doctrines and confessions is a very important thing for us even if we uphold Scripture as our ultimate, final authority. The enterprise can provide us with a better understanding of our own evangelical theological self-identity. Do our beliefs about scriptural authority, for example, reside within identifiable central teachings of the historic Christian church? If they don’t, we may have become doctrinal innovators regarding our views of Scripture despite our intentions to uphold orthodox Christian teaching.

Worth Reading - 7/28

1. Have you ever wondered why the hospital nursery has a window on it? Smithsonian Magazine published an interesting article explaining it and also explaining why it is going away:

Today, newborn nurseries are no longer considered best practice in American hospitals, and their use is disappearing thanks in part to the widespread adoption of the WHO’s 1991 Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). The BFHI, a global program to promote hospital practices that encourage breastfeeding, includes keeping healthy mother-baby pairs together. As nurseries have begun closing, popular press coverage and professional discussions have reinforced the idea of the nursery window as a positive space in hospitals, both for babies’ families and unrelated members of the community.

In 2002, The American Journal of Maternal and Child Nursing printed a debate on the topic of closing the nursery windows. Dotti James, PhD, RN, argued for keeping the windows open, in part because for “family members, friends, and others… Seeing one of these little miracles engenders smiles and becomes a bright spot in the day.” James also noted that, “in some hospitals the nursery window has become a destination for patients and families from other parts of the hospital experiencing a health crisis,” and that “Standing outside the nursery, seeing the babies who have their lives before them can give hope to families trying to cope.”

Also in 2002, a Los Angeles Times article echoed James’ arguments, lamenting the closure of “the popular viewing areas, where hospital visitors burdened by some of life’s darkest moments could brighten their day a little simply by peering through the nursery window.” In the same piece, Michael Baskt, executive director of Community Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, shared, “… For people where things are not going well, we recognize they would be attracted by the beauty of birth. Sometimes people need to go from the sad, depressing side of the hospital to the happy side. Babies put things in perspective.”

2. A profile of a man who has invested millions in promoting racism and has contributed to the rise of the alt-right:

How did explicit racism move from a taboo to an open, unabashed force in American politics? A loose but sprawling internet army, often called the alt-right, gave white supremacy a massive megaphone. And with the rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere at once.

In fact, that movement had an infrastructure — organizations, journals, conferences, money — that had been laid down years before. It was in large part funded by one person: a secretive and aging multimillionaire named William H. Regnery II, the most influential racist you’ve never heard of.

Despite inheriting immense wealth, having grown up in a prominent family in the conservative movement, he had managed to chalk up virtually no public success in his first six decades of life. He never graduated from college, and he floundered in his attempt at running the family business.

But starting in 1999 — when he convened a dozen other middle-aged white nationalists at an ornate seaside hotel nicknamed the Pink Palace — he has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the quest to transform America and create what he calls a white “ethnostate.”

3. Craig Bartholomew wrote a recent essay arguing that Biblical scholars should be open about their worldview when doing their academic work, since worldview impacts interpretations no matter how much one pretends otherwise:

I prefer to speak of worldviews and philosophies rather than values because a scholar always works with some ontology, some epistemology, and some view of the human person, whether consciously articulated or not. And this is where religious beliefs themselves enter the picture, not only emerging from one’s reading of the Bible but also affecting that reading. This, in my view, is as true of the believing reader as of the reader persuaded that religion is simply a cultural artifact or that Kant’s view of reason-versus-religion is the right one.

On this point I differ with Berman, who argues that a scholar’s motivations should never be seen as a threat. It is hard for me to see how that can be right. Believers, for their part, often have a vested interest in the coherence of the Bible, which they approach in a spirit of trust. They also tend to lean favorably toward the fertile work done by literary scholars like Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg who, Berman writes, “may readily admit that the text could have a prehistory . . . but also claim that [it] can still be read as a coherent work”—and who for that reason are labeled by professional source critics as “conservative” or “uncritical.” Such labeling itself—together with the practice, documented by Berman, of marginalizing and delegitimizing “conservatives”—is surely good evidence that their work is seen as a threat to the way most source critics think the Bible should be studied.

In truth, different approaches are perceived as threatening for a good reason: they are threatening. Scholars work out of different paradigms, and at a deep level these paradigms are incommensurate and competitive. Because the particular paradigms are often hidden in the background, the fights often focus on particular methods or approaches, among which source criticism is the dominant model.

4. Is football violence worth the cost? New studies should raise eyebrows and concerns:

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, football was such a brutal sport that many players died due to the injuries they received on the field. Between 11 and 20 deaths resulted directly from a football injury during the 1905 season alone. As David Dayen notes, that would be the equivalent today of he 95 on-field deaths. Public opinion was turning against the sport to such an extent that the New York Times an op-ed on “Two Curable Evils,” listing football alongside lynching.

In an attempt to save the game, then-president Theodore Roosevelt stepped in by inviting the coaches of three biggest college programs—Harvard, Yale and Princeton—to the White House for a private meeting and encouraged them to make the game safer. In response to Roosevelt’s request, Harvard coach Bill Reid helped to organize the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS), now known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In January 1906, representatives of 62 Colleges and Universities meet to appoint a rules committee for college football. In an attempt to “open” the game, the IAAUS made 19 changes, including doubling the yardage needed for a first down from five yards to 10; creating a neutral zone between the two sides of the line of scrimmage; requiring six men on the line; and establishing the forward pass.

If the original Rough Rider could propose changes to football that reduced its brutality—and made the sport better—we armchair quarterbacks should be able to support modifications that strike a balance between vicious violence and safety-centric softness.

5. Here is an excellent video from The Gospel Coalition on religious freedom:

Worth Reading - 7/21

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. In the vein of the just for fun, a recent Washington Post article profiled a 101 year old woman who broke the world record for the 100 meter dash.

It was a hot and muggy afternoon when Julia Hawkins headed out for a practice sprint on the street in front her house.

She steeled her gaze on the 50-meter mark on the far end of her property line, crouched down in a starting position and took off, clocking in the 50 meters at just over 19 seconds.

Hawkins is 101 years old.

Several times a week she’s out in front of her Baton Rouge house trying to improve her time. This week, she hopes all of that practice will pay off when she competes for a gold medal in the National Senior Games held in Birmingham, Ala.

2. At Public Discourse an author rightly argues that the best defense of the free markets needs to reflect an economics submitted to a righteous ethics and a robust anthropology. Anything else will be inhumane and unpalatable. 

Capitalism has been a tremendous force for good in the world, lifting more people out of poverty than at any other time in history, because a truly free market gives more people access to real capital. The upward mobility provided by modern capitalism has been the surest path to the kind of liberty that no socialist or democrat-led order has ever provided. Increased regulation of and government intrusion into the marketplace are characteristic of stifling and oppressive social and political orders. “Crisis in the pre-capitalist era,” Brian Domitrovic has rightly pointed out, “inevitably meant not merely destitution, but famine. Famine is unknown in capitalist history.” But destitution, famine, and the shortcomings of socialism generally remain visible even today in non-capitalist economies, like that of Venezuela. Anyone worried about poverty, the narrative concludes, really ought to support capitalism.

There is substantial merit to arguments like this one; the destruction endemic to socialist regimes, indeed, should never be forgotten. The argument for capitalism, though, shouldn’t just be an argument against socialism. Before explaining away the rejection of capitalism, it would be wise to ask whether there really is something else motivating it, something that the standard narrative misses. I believe that there is. Defenders of capitalism need a more humane anthropology, sensitive to man’s social and communal nature, lest they forget to ask the crucial question of what economics is for.

3. While on the subject of economics, here is an overview of how socialism has worked out in Venezuela:

Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, but food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many to scavenge for things to eat. The cost of basic groceries is now about five times the minimum wage.

On July 1, the monthly minimum wage was raised for the third time this year, to help control inflation. Still, the increase does little to help struggling families, and the country’s inflation rate could reach 720 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

4. Samuel James wrote an interesting post about the creeping moralism of the left, which, he argues, sounds a lot like the legalistic moralism of '90's homeschool fundies. The point is that absent a relational morality, people tend to substitute a legalistic morality, no matter what the base beliefs are.

When a friend sent me the link to this essay by a progressive bookstore employee, whose aching moral dilemma is whether to sell a book he disagrees with politically, my response was simple. I said, “American progressive culture has become mid-1990s homeschool chain email culture.” Here’s what I mean by that. Growing up in a conservative, evangelical, homeschool niche, I am quite familiar with the idea that there are certain ideas, expressed in certain books, movies, or rock albums, that people who want to keep their heart pure should just not entertain. This kind of avoidance ethic doesn’t feel strange to me. It feels nostalgic. If this blogger were talking about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets instead of Hillbilly Elegy, if he had used all the same anathemas and descriptions and moral superlatives but applied them to Hogwarts instead of Vance, I would know his story immediately.

What this tormented bookseller has so helpfully demonstrated in his piece is that you can take a man out of church, but you can’t church out of a man. If God is dead, that’s not the end of the story. You have to name a successor. For what feels like a huge slice of American culture, that heir is politics. God is dead, long live politics. This writer talks of Hillbilly Elegy not as if it were a piece of cultural criticism he dislikes, but as if it were a work of heresy that his very soul might be compromised by selling. I feel for him. I know the thought process he’s going through, because it’s the same thought process that prevented from me taking that high school job at the local video rental store, knowing there’d customers who wanted the films from the “back room.”

5. People often criticize markets as unfair and inhibiting the poor from participating. In this instance, as described by Anthony Bradley, the poor are locked out of the market due to government control. The latter is more typical these days.

On a hot and humid 88-degree summer day in Washington, D.C. in June, three teenagers were handcuffed and detained for selling water.

Yes, water. The teens were not selling drugs, stolen merchandise or bootleg cigarettes. They were selling water on the National Mall.

According to the U.S. Park Police, the teens were handcuffed for illegally vending without a license. They were detained by police but eventually released to their parents without charges. While this might seem like a minor incident, it is one all too frequent example of government taking away opportunities from young entrepreneurs.

Worth Reading - 7/7

1. The world has a lot of problems. We tend to focus on those things that are wrong with the world. Nicholas Kristof points out, however, that globally there is a lot that is right with the world and better than ever that we should be celebrating.

Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be