Russell Moore on Religious Liberty

 

Keynote Address

Acton University 2017

Russell Moore heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.

His after dinner keynote at Acton University hit the power chords on the issues of freedom of conscience in a free society.

What follows is a combination of brief notes and my observations/commentary.

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Many secularists today encourage us to keep our beliefs out of the public marketplace of ideas. They have no place to put things like:

…being motivated by religious conscience…

We get the feeling that we have other motivations, such as some kind of power grab which they need to block.

We have two challenges before us:

  1. Internal. Helping religious-minded people understand why religious liberty matters. Is the state God? The final authority? What limits the state’s sovereignty? The first amendment starting with religious freedom shows a “priority of conscience” which limits the state.
  2. External. Helping secularists understand that freedom to believe is more than private thinking. It is a freedom to act in spiritually motivated ways. Helping secularists better understand spiritual motivation.

Some thoughts/points:

  • Is “majoritarianism” the solution to everything? Winner takes all?
  • Can those with exclusive truth claims exist with others? Of course, they tend to be the best at it because of clarity. Exclusivists (with deontological postulates) who believe in religious liberty don’t want to coerce others to believe what they believe. A coerced Christian message (or Gospel) is not a Gospel at all.
  • Growing secularism forces us to self-define. This is a good thing. But we have to do the work of making it happen. Intellectual laziness comes easily.
  • We don’t have more atheists today. We have more HONEST atheists.
  • A majoritarian view of politics is a problem, secular OR religious. 
  • The temptation to use state coercion (force) to eliminate OR establish religion runs totally counter to our founding DNA in America. The founders clearly opposed both. De facto elimination (from the public square) of anything supernatural is an intellectual gutter ball. The tension (and there is indeed tension) must be held, and common sense must prevail in case-to-case situations.
  • The state does not have the capacity or authority to referee between truth claims. Eliminating the Design Argument from classrooms is over-reaching.
  • Advocacy for religious freedom is an offensive (literally) act. We can’t just play defense.
  • Those of us who are religiously motivated need to claim the power to have honest discussions in the public square.
  • The state does not settle every issue. No one believes that the state does NOT equal “highest truth.”
  • A state that can pave over conscience can do anything.
  • People with vague beliefs and no real church/God often over-identify personally with a political movement (right or left).
  • We don’t want to be persecutors OR to be persecuted.
  • There is something more important than Caesar. Caesar is not God. 

 

 

“Public Choice” -Liberty Vocabulary

 

If you listen to political or economic podcasts, read blogs and journals, or go to lectures, the phrased “public choice” will be bandied about.

Once we get a working knowledge of any topic (say….econ or politics) we often stop learning terminology, because we can gather the gist of what is being said by the context.

Pubic Choice is a microeconomic tool used to critique political structures, especially constitutions and the like.

It is a peer-reviewed science, and tries to understand, in economic terms, why people do what they do and vote the way they do.

How does consensus work? And how much unanimity do you need? Does the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) affect group decisions, and if so, how? Is utility for the majority, or a sense of justice which drives most people in public decision-making?

One of the problems with “majority rules” voting is that, scientifically speaking, decisions are more often than not favored which are less beneficial and cost more, rather than the other way around. Hello, $20 trillion deficit. 

Public Choice thought has exposed the idea of rent seeking (which I will explore soon in Life & Liberty). Rent seeking happens when incentives get mixed up when the government can offer certain advantages to certain individuals or groups. These protected entities tend to become monopolies. Thus the government, rather than protecting us from monopolies, is often tempted (by self interest) to go on multiplying and creating them, knowing that people would rather earn rent (cash flow from a stake in something) than work for money.

Public Choice thought tends to have an anti-statist bent, mostly because of its ongoing critique of the misplaced incentives in public bureaucracies as opposed to those in private corporations. Bureaucrats owe their allegiance to those above them who appoint them, and they lead a large, protected class of civil servants below them. Their tendency (behaviorally) is to please their appointers rather than the public which they “swear” to serve. Whereas no one on the private sector food chain, from CEO to laborer, can afford to take her/his eyes off of the well-being of the customer for very long.

It is especially controversial right now, because of Nancy McLean’s jeremiad against libertarianism, Democracy in Chains.

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, her “bete noir,” who was prominent proponent of Public Choice thought. Buchanan and four other Public Choice scholars have won Nobel Prizes in Economics, including Vernon Smith whom I was privileged to meet in 2016 at Acton University.

MacLean sees a vast right-wing conspiracy, masquerading as science, which uses Public Choice data as a way to keep African Americans from voting. She presents no evidence for this; in fact, many Public Choice scholars were strident activists against Apartheid in South Africa.

This should be enough to get you started. But certainly not enough to explain it. Have a look around and let me know what you find.

For a great, simple slide show on Public Choice, click HERE.

For more info, check out the Wikipedia entry on Public Choice.

There is a Journal called Public Choice.

TrumpCare? ObamaCare? No thank you…

 

Both TrumpCare and ObamaCare are disasters.

Put together by politicians who have Cadillac health care plans and zero professional experience in medicine or insurance (with tiny exceptions like Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist). It’s ironic that John McCain could not make it to the vote because he was enjoying co-pay-free surgery at the time.

And what does Trump know about these things? He doesn’t even HAVE insurance because billionaires are simply self-insured by their net worth.

TrumpCare and ObamaCare are horrifically bad compromises between government control and free enterprise, somehow managing to avoid the benefits of either school of thought!

The benefits of socialized medicine:
  • It’s universal. Everyone has it and no one is left out. ObamaCare fails here, and TrumpCare leaves an even bigger “coverage gap.”
  • It’s streamlined. No layering of private/public bureaucracies which just over-feed each other and drive down efficiency and transparency, and drive up costs.
The benefits of a free enterprise health care system:
  • Competition. Which creates innovation and improvements. Look at the explosion of cell phone technology once government got out of the phone business.
  • Cost. What are the two fastest-improving segments of health care with dramatically falling prices? Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. Why? Because they aren’t under the control of government/insurance juntas.
  • The free market makes a huge effort to serve everyone (notice the dollar menu at the drive thru), and it is not incompatible with a basic social safety net for the poorest of the poor.
We end up with the worst of both systems with ObamaCare AND TrumpCare:
  • We have capitalism without competition (because of government control) which leads to price gouging and a total lack of pricing transparency. Heavy regulation favors the big boys of insurance and health care chains, because no startups can afford regulatory compliance. This is known as “regulatory capture” and monopolization.
  • We have “socialized” medicine without total coverage of the population; and so many layers of administration that the average person has no clue how to navigate the system.
  • The “Affordable Care Act (ACA)” has universally and dramatically driven up prices for both health care and insurance. It has been the polar opposite of “affordable.”
  • The truth is, it may not be feasible to administer any total-care system in a vast, continental empire of 335 million people. The necessary hierarchical layers would choke the whole thing. Poster-child examples tend to be little nations in Europe with the population of Orange County.
We have three options outside of the hideously dysfunctional non-option of ObamaCare or TrumpCare.
  1. Single-payer government health care. Even those who hate socialism can grant that it would be better than what we have now.
  2. A total free market. Don’t underestimate the power of the market to try to serve everyone, and to do it in better and better ways. The incentives are in the right place.
  3. Something way more creative which preserves competition and total coverage in a creative blend. That’s above my pay grade and certainly above the pay grade of your average senator.

The Conservative Case for Workers’ Unions

We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one pendulum swing that should happen again regards what I call voluntary workers’ unions. I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they could sometimes dictate how many companies could do business. So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations  that specifically prohibited creative ways of forming unions, and those already formed were forbidden from engaging in a number of activities. Public unions (a real problem) are a whole ‘nother issue for another time. But, Liberty-lovers should always be in favor of voluntary associations.

Times have certainly changed, but the restrictive laws have not; laws which (mostly) prohibit the formation of such things as creative “workers’ unions.” Even if not fully empowered to negotiate wages, engage in strikes, or be involved in collective bargaining issues, workers’ unions can serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers show their biggest complaint being a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace. So a workers’ union could 1) give the workers a unified voice, and 2) address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers to pursue (together with management) innovations like helping the administration of government-funded unemployment, health and benefit plans, wage insurance, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.

-Judge Jim Gray, from his “Two Paragraphs for Liberty” series. Slightly edited.

Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012 on Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party ticket. 

The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.

Daryl Charles: Natural Law in our Post-Consensus World?

 

What do you get when you listen to a spry little guy with a Duck Dynasty beard (who was a street mime) whose topic is Natural Law?

J. Daryl Charles PhD, of the John Jay Institute, may just be one of the most gifted lecturers on the Acton University circuit.

What follows are my notes on his presentation with some of my own thoughts thrown in…

Today’s prevailing thought patterns:
  1. Metaphysical Naturalism. A rigorous denial of the transcendent, placing the burden of proof on everyone else.
  2. Fixation with rights divorced from duties or common good.
  3. Denial of morally fixed reference points. (However, these same people complain that things are not “fair” or “just.” Where did they get such “absolute” ideas?)
How should we respond to these trends?
  1. Resign to the impossibility of countering this thinking. Why polish the deck on the Titanic. Enter permanent “grievance mentality.”
  2. Isolation. The “Benedict Option.” Amish. Monastic thinking. Circle the wagons.
  3. Get absorbed into the culture. If you can’t beat them, join them.
  4. Being committed to the task of engaged citizenship. Be stewards of this cultural moment. To whom much is given….
Of course, Charles is advocating for door #4….

We must cultivate the art of translating our moral convictions in the public square. This is hard work and will require almost infinite creativity. We can call this BRIDGE BUILDING.

What are our resources?
  1. Abraham Kuyper (see my previous post on him) was ambidextrous. He articulated and affirmed general revelation and common grace which are available to all people, regardless of worldview. He could operate deftly in the public arena, cooperating with all as needed, but not forgetting who he was and why he thought differently that the “world.”
  2. The IMAGO DEI. We are all (believers, ‘other’ believers, and non-believers) created equally in the image of God, according to the way we see the universe.
  3. Commonly held beliefs on human nature and “self-evident truths.”
  4. The acknowledgment that all thought systems, sacred and secular, have quite a few unprovable postulates/axioms (see Euclid) at their foundation. At least 5 and more like 20 even in the leanest of epistemological skyscrapers.
Why is general revelation so important?
  1. There is reasonable evidence to see order and beauty in the creation, a sense of solidarity with all people, and at least some moral common ground.
  2. Universal possession of minimal moral knowledge.
  3. General revelation gives knowledge of creation, the self, and moral truth
The challenges before us
  1. We are not the first to face this. Every generation must polish up Natural Law, and re-present it to the human race.
  2. We must keep an eye on the progress of religious freedom (un-coerced conscience and corresponding action upon it) throughout the world. The first freedom without which the others are meaningless.
  3. Resist the temptation to “opt out” of the current political climate. There is a growing tendency to become disenchanted with the tone out there. Netflix and chill becomes more and more tempting as escapism.
  4. Content of our social ethic is important. It must contain charity, in the broadest sense of the word. People (left and right) often use “justice” as an excuse to be an a**hole.
  5. Manner of persuading (tone) is important. Religious faith is no guarantee of good manners. Let the message, not the method, offend. Then we will be focusing on real issues.
  6. C.S. Lewis was a master at moral persuasion. Adapting to the host culture. Learning the lingo. Read his works The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity (chapter 1) to see this kind of persuasion at its finest. Lewis: Why do we ALL (without exception) react when we are slighted by others? Because there is a natural moral law….
  7. Ask others: On what basis can you argue for justice? We may draw the line in different places, but we all draw the line. A law has to be the same for both you and me for it to be just.
  8. Abortion issue. At conception, the DNA of a human is set. All other “lines” that are drawn are arbitrary and thereby plagued by inaccuracy.
  9. Sexuality. A good question: On what basis is your homosexuality natural? Is human nature based on design or passion? If our sexuality is based on biological design, then what constitutes disordered sexuality? Can rejection of created order ever be normative?
  10. Thoroughgoing pacifism. Does extreme pacifism make the world unsafe for all? Is force not proportional and relative? Can pacifism lead to the innocent being punished?
  11. Euthanasia. Is life extrinsically (value to others) or intrinsically (“an sich”) valuable?
  12. John Paul II: Only with some fixed norms is freedom and justice possible. Jefferson also: “These truths we hold to be self-evident….”
You can catch Daryl Charles surfing on the East Coast if you want to discuss this with him…

 

 

Why hate the Koch brothers?

The Koch brothers are the devil incarnate to many progressives.

But do you actually know their positions on immigration, prison reform, drug legalization, police violence, war in the Mideast, and urban education?

These two podcasts are from the Freakonomics Radio Show. Live interviews with Charles Koch.

I guarantee they will surprise you….

The Most Influential Man About Whom You Have Never Heard. #AbrahamKuyper

The Social Vision of Abraham Kuyper

Insights from a lecture given by Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College at Acton University 2017.

Abraham Kuyper (b. 1837 in Holland) is one of the most influential practical theologians of all time.

A parish pastor who ran for congress (Tweede Kamer), transformed Dutch society, and ended up prime minister, Kuyper (pronounced, BTW, COW-puhr, not KY-phur) enlisted almost superhuman dynamic energy to create space for Christians and others to thrive alongside one another.

He’s really only well-known in the Netherlands and in circles worldwide made up of enthusiastic Reformed/Gereformeerde/Hervormde theologians.

He was a progressive, “modern” theologian and pastor as a young man, who underwent twin conversions:

  1. Ethical. Became more humble and teachable.
  2. Confessional. Kuyper started attending prayer meetings of church members who were staying away from his “revisionist” sermons and discovered something of true substance there. He ended up aligning himself with the “kleine luyden” (the marginalized, less-socially-important people, many of whom could not vote). He ended up seeing himself as their leader and champion.

He eventually stepped away from vocational church life to run for congress, finding himself in the “Anti-revolutionary Party.” They were fighting against the secularist/laicist aftermath of the French Revolution (100 years prior).

You might say: “Why fight against something that happened 100 years ago?” Well, a Chinese historian was asked recently what he thought of the French Revolution. His answer (in 2015): It’s too early to tell (!).

Kuyper landed a seat in the Tweede Kamer (lower house), and began re-making the country. His writing output was beyond prodigious. He wrote daily and weekly columns for De Standaard and De Heraut. Much like Martin Luther, he used waterfalls of the printed word to bathe his nation in new ways of thinking. It led to several nervous breakdowns.

A parishioner, early on in his career, asked Kuyper: “Why can’t I send my child to a school with the bible?” This “School met de Bijbel” idea never left him; subconsciously, he turned it into brick and mortar, opening the Free University of Amsterdam (Conservative Christian) in 1880, and fighting for radical school choice for all (not just the rich) throughout his life, culminating in the 1917 educational pluralism law in the Netherlands, which has produced thriving primary schools of all ideologies to this day, all on an equal playing field, and at a cost of about half per student of what American taxpayers pay.

SPHERE SOVEREIGNTY

This will be the topic of another post, but AK developed sophisticated thinking around what he called sphere sovereignty. At the risk of over-simplifying, family, government, and church should stay out of each other’s business. The rules vary from sphere to sphere and one sphere doesn’t tell the other sphere what to do–thus it is fundamentally anti-totalitarian. Kuyper’s concepts around this idea had a huge effect on the large “Christian Democrat” political parties in Europe, and in a way, led to the welfare state which developed after WW2.

There are two kinds of Kuyper fans, in the 21st Century, and yes, they sometimes wear Kuyper T-shirts:

  1. Common Grace fans.
  2. Antithesis fans.
COMMON GRACE

A major theme in AK’s thinking, common grace is available to everyone. Dutch: gratie (rhymes with “Yahtzee”). Because God rules over all creation and all humankind, he gives them grace to live in his world and carry out their calling. God shows all men favor by holding their sin in check so that they are able to live together in society and so that His church can live and grow in the world (a quote from Charles Terpstra).

AK had practical reasons for creating the common grace canvas on which to paint his public engagement in politics. It gave him backing for working with all kinds of groups, Christian and secular, since everyone has access to gratie. He needed allies in order to form a coalition government and get some of his ideas passed into law.

Kuyper’s famous quote, “There is not one square centimeter of creation where God does not say: That’s mine!” reflects his understanding of common grace.

ANTITHESIS

Regenerated Christians, on the other hand, are recipients of special saving grace. Kuyper: genade. This sets them apart from all the rest of the human race. All facts can only be seen from two perspectives: regenerated and secular. This antithesis means, that although we share common grace, the regenerated Christian acts differently in the world than a secular person.

As Bacote summed it up: Go ahead and get out in the world, but remember who you are (a child of God) when you get there. We Christians will come to different conclusions about everything.

CONCLUSION

Kuyper never wanted a theocracy, because regenerated Christians will always be in the minority. But we are not to separate out into monasteries. Like Jesus and Paul, we are to engage the culture.

Special grace (genade) creates regenerated Christians who engage the culture with a different worldview, and engage others with our common grace to move God’s will forward in the world.

Also, AK was down on slavery, pro-women, had a huge effect on Dutch education, and set Dutch verzuiling (sovereignty n one’s own circle) in motion. He said some very racist things, was a workaholic, never groomed a successor, and wasn’t fully aware of how overbearing he was.

But he also is among the most creative Christian leaders of all time in describing how best to be “in the world but not of the world,” and far from being an ivory tower theologian, he walked his talk and set out to transform his nation.

 

 

How Statism Keeps Poor Countries Poor

 

Acton University Talk by Stephen L.S. Smith of Hope College.

STATISM is an economic system (also called State Capitalism) which allows a private sector but in which many key industries are owned/controlled by the government.

It lies somewhere between communism and European-style social democracy on the economic spectrum.

Smith says we need a “field guide” since most statism is invisible to the casual observer.
So he took us to THAILAND via a slide show.
  • Banks: Easy to use, modern banking all over the place.
  • You need to buy a SIM card for your phone from “AIS.”
  • Transportation (air and rail) is top notch.
  • You have to leave Thailand (flying to the US) at 4am (because of the time change/dateline), and you stay in a Novotel by the airport for a few hours of sleep first.
But in fact….
  • The bank I used (TMB), upon some research is the Thai Military Bank. The army runs it. At a loss. The Siam Commercial bank is owned by the ministry of finance.
  • AIS (SIM card) is subcontracted from the Thai government to the Singapore (!) government, which sells the chip to you.
  • Both the state owned railways and airlines (each) lose over $1 million a day. Many new airliners are mothballed (over capacity). Unused capital (see the new ghost cities of China) is typical in a statist system.
  • The Novotel is owned by the government and just operated by Novotel.
So what?
  • Statism is the default system in the Global South. There are exceptions, but this seems to be the rule.
  • It is almost invisible at the street level, but has major consequences.
  • The government not only issues currency, but controls the flow of it–limiting investment which would compete with state businesses.
  • Very little revenue is left over (because government firms lose so much money) to lend to medium and small businesses. This leads to a growing black market with lots of informal street vendors. They don’t pay taxes which compounds the cycle; with a downward drag on the society.
  • Common in statist societies is weak rule of law and questionable property rights.
  • Insiders and elites benefit, which opens up patronage politics.
  • The highly educated urbanites benefit from statism because of the need for them running these bureaucratic businesses, which put a premium on education and connections.
  • Neglect of core state functions (governments are limited in capacity and spend their time running industries) such as rule of law, civil justice, non-corrupt police, property rights, basic education, and rural infrastructure.
  • State banking skews prices and and natural interest levels. Interest rates are set at a below-market level, discouraging saving. Most people want to save short term and pay off loans long term (People want fast access to their savings). Setting interest rates at an artificially low level creates tension in this natural supply/demand situation.
  • Lending is directed to favored insiders with big projects.
  • Capital is wasted (ghost cities of China where no one lives) because natural market forces are not the primary driving force of construction. State-owned firms serve political ends first.

  • Developing countries have more frequent bank failures, even with the “security” of state ownership.
  • Some countries have it way worse than Thailand. Pakistan and Egypt may be the worst. The Petrobas scandal in Brazil brought down the government.