Archive for August, 2008
Here’s my recent comment at Econtalk.org about statements made in today’s podcast with Russ Roberts and Arnold Kling:
Drs. Kling and Roberts,
Excellent podcast, as usual…
I’ve found Russ’ comment about the religious commitments of “free-market believers” to be remarkably true. Some writers whom I’d consider my ideological soulmates are my exact religious opposites.
As Russ said, there are those who see evidence of design in nature and are led to believe in a Creator, but who also acknowledge the wonderful emergent orders produced by a free market. I would place myself in this category, and I see no inherent logical contradiction between these ideas.
The two key differences between the two ideas are the rules of the systems in which “agents” live (institutional constraints, I suppose), and the participants in the systems themselves.
The constraints in which a “free market” produces order are principles like private property, protection from involuntary imposition of cost, individual liberty, etc. The participants are human beings with rational and creative capacity.
I find it more difficult to believe that the constraints (laws of chemistry and physics) and the participants (matter itself, with no rational capacity) in the natural process could produce such biological order as Darwinian evolution would predict.
I don’t want to debate the scientific merits of different evolutionary theories. I do assert that the aforementioned principles and institutions that make the free market work come from a broadly Christian-theistic worldview. When human beings behave rationally and creatively, they reflect the nature of the God in whose image they were created.
At the very least, one must acknowledge the significant difference between random movement of atoms producing macroevolution across species, and the free, rational choices of human beings producing desirable social outcomes.
P.S.: This is partially a response to some statements made in the podcast with Bryan Caplan as well.
Today’s EconTalk features Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU on the political economy of Iranian leadership. The podcast is both informative and provocative (as usual).
Bueno de Mesquita brings up an interesting idea he first posited in 1982 article with William Riker. If, as we found out during the Cold War, mutually-assured destruction (MAD) is a deterrent to “hot” war, then we really should support conflicting nations’ quest for nuclear arms. As has been observed recently, since both India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear tests, the two nations have been much more intentional about pursuing peace, particularly in the Kashmir region. The real reason the US government opposes nuclear proliferation, Bueno de Mesquita alleges, is that it wants the position of the world’s policeman, so that it can gain influence on and concessions from nations that need us.
I’m not sure that handing out nukes like candy will solve the world’s problems. Then again, I am in favor of less restrictive concealed-handgun legislation. But a handgun in the hands of a nut, while dangerous, does not pose the same kind of threat that a nuke would. MAD only works as a deterrent if self-destruction bothers both parties involved. Bueno de Mesquita would probably say that the leaders of Iran and other countries who want nukes could only have gotten to the top of their governments by being rational; therefore, we have less to fear than we think.
Thus YHWH said to me, “Go and stand in the public gate, through which the kings of Judah come in and go out, as well as in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, `Listen to the word of YHWH, kings of Judah, and all Judah and all inhabitants of Jerusalem who come in through these gates:
‘Thus says YHWH, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction. But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares YHWH, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it, then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of YHWH. “But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.”‘”
As near as I can tell, there are at least four reasons to keep the Sabbath. First, it reflects simple obedience to YHWH. Second, YHWH himself, as Creator, sat enthroned over his creation and rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3). Third, it reflects a creation principle for mankind: battle for dominion followed by rest and order. Finally, as YHWH’s vassels on earth, we acknowledge our fealty with praise and offerings as he commanded.
Keil writes of this passage, “Safety appointed to the people lies in the Decalogue” (289). YHWH promises prosperity and protection if they will only obey. Obedience is something I need to take more seriously. Maybe I’ll rest here for a day and think about it….
Echoing Psalm 1 (or perhaps the other way ’round), the prophet writes about that which he knows cognatively is true:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in YHWH
And whose trust is YHWH.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.” (vv. 7-8)
However, the prophet’s own experience as a lonely proclaimer of YHWH’s truth does not seem to square with his own prophecy. He has been mistreated and cast out from society–the classic case of “blaming the messenger.” He continues:
Heal me, O YHWH, and I will be healed;
Save me and I will be saved,
For You are my praise.
Look, they keep saying to me,
“Where is the word of YHWH?
Let it come now!”
But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You,
Nor have I longed for the woeful day;
You Yourself know that the utterance of my lips
Was in Your presence.
Do not be a terror to me;
You are my refuge in the day of disaster.
Let those who persecute me be put to shame, but as for me, let me not be put to shame;
Let them be dismayed, but let me not be dismayed.
Bring on them a day of disaster,
And crush them with twofold destruction! (vv. 14-18)
A prayer for salvation is also a prayer for judgment. What else is salvation but victory over oppressors? I once heard Brian Toews say that the “Lord’s Prayer” contains implicit imprecation, because whenever we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are asking for the last day to arrive and judgment to come. We are confident of the verdict in our case, as we plead the blood and work of Jesus in our defense. This should urge us to proclaim YHWH’s truth, because many will hear and believe, and many will hear and reject it, but our message will be vindicated when we are saved in the end.
Patience, long-suffering, compassion, trust in YHWH–I’m not very skilled at these tasks.
Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bureaucrash:
I’ve commented at EverydayLiturgy:
Some more thoughts following the Emergent podcast on social justice…
I’ve become disturbed by the growing trend to define “social justice” or “economic justice” as equality of outcome. I dispute this, both principially and pragmatically.
Doubtless, there are millions of oppressed people in this world who deserve justice. But their poverty is the consequence of injustice, not the basis. There is nothing inherently unjust about some individuals having more than others. I think of great heroes of Scripture, rulers or mighty men who were called just: David, Solomon, Boaz, to name a few. These great men did not renounce their wealth as loathsome inequality; they used their power to protect the rights of the widow, orphan and sojourner, and to reward the righteous. That is true social justice.
As Christians, we are not simply called to have good intentions when it comes to pursuing justice and charity, we are called to act wisely as God’s stewards. As such, we must take care that we pursue truly helpful policies. I am often labelled as uncompassionate because I oppose such policies as nationwide universal health insulation, and third-world debt cancellation. I oppose them because it can be demonstrated that these policies will, at best, not help the people they are intended to help, and at worst, perpetuate and exacerbate the existing problems.
Good intentions are not enough. I sympathize with the Jim Wallises and Tony Campolos of this world, but I wish they could see the world as it is, rather than how they would like it to be.
My friend Thomas (with whom I was at one time the rhythm section of a band, believe it or not) over at Everyday Liturgy has linked to this Emergent podcast on social justice. There are many fascinating comments–some with which I agree, many with which I take issue.
An interesting conversation was with TJ, a soldier who had regained his faith through some Emergent writings while serving in Japan. He’s now headed to Iraq on what will be his final tour (he does not plan to reenlist).
TJ has become increasingly aware that his identity as an American must take a backseat to his identity in Christ. I empathize; I have squirmed in various pews during patriotic displays on Memorial or Independence Days. How can we celebrate the anniversary of our founders refusing to “submit to the governing authorities,” as per Rom. 13? For a while, my inner Anabaptist surfaced, and I refused to say the pledge or salute the flag. I still don’t, but I can now celebrate Independence Day in the same way that I can celebrate the birthday of a friend conceived out of wedlock.
TJ spoke of the difficulty of coming to terms with his responsibility to defend his comrades and country (whether the Iraq War can be considered “national defense” is debatable), contrasted with Jesus’ command to love enemies. Can a Christian be a soldier or police officer?
Bishop Tom Wright does an interesting interview with Time about heaven. Christians need to rethink theirlanguage when referring to loved ones who have passed on. To speak of heaven as our telos is to minimize the wonder of the resurrection and all its implications for our present lives. To speak of our dead as having “met Jesus,” and have that be the end of it, is to understate the glorious future kingdom of Jesus on earth, in our renewed bodies.
Corrie and I have decided that if we can’t be married in the resurrection, we’re at least going to shack up.
“The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus;
With a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart
And on the horns of their altars,
As they remember their children,
So they remember their altars and their Asherim
By green trees on the high hills.
O mountain of Mine in the countryside,
I will give over your wealth and all your treasures for booty,
Your high places for sin throughout your borders.
And you will, even of yourself, let go of your inheritance
That I gave you;
And I will make you serve your enemies
In the land which you do not know;
For you have kindled a fire in My anger
Which will burn forever.”
We’ve all been at points in our life at which, wherever we turn, something reminds us of sins past and present. Fortunately, when my previous relationship ended, my ex had transferred to another school. It was much easier to heal and deal with the past when she was not chillin’ with my friends or sitting at my table in the cafeteria or the library.
The people of Judah had sinned in the most horrific of ways: not only leaving the covenant with YHWH, but worshiping other gods by child-sacrifice. Rather than worshiping YHWH on the mountain of the temple cult, they worshiped Ba’al and his consorts, the Ashterot, on hills, under trees, in the valleys.
In this passage, the punishment promised Judah is that they will be plundered and taken into exile. This does not seem to reflect YHWH’s grace, does it? However, when we consider this passage, we remember three truths. First, YHWH takes sin seriously–he cannot let it go unpunished. Second, to do so would be to leave us wallowing in our own filth. YHWH chastened his people to drive them back to himself. Third, the prophet here appears to be speaking hyperbolically, since he promises restoration elsewhere (see 16:14-15; 31:31ff.).
If I had not been part of a selfish, destructive, manipulative relationship, I myself would have transferred, as was my original plan, so I wouldn’t have been part of a wonderful, YHWH-glorifying marriage. Or maybe she would have found me anyway. Who knows….