God's Politics

God's Politics


Brian McLaren: Fact and Friction

posted by gp_intern

I confess to being a fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I also confess that when I’m watching “normal” news shows, especially “fair and balanced” cable news, I frequently experience moments of disorientation, during which I can’t tell if I’m witnessing an intentional parody of honest reporting or an unintentional one. The old friction between reality and faux reality has been greased, so one keeps sliding into the other when you aren’t looking.

The recent stories of fictional reporting by our military intensify the oddness of a world where fake news and real news are too often equally fake.

Maybe that’s why when “serious” reporters and pundits play out the old, familiar, reactive scripts of left and right, liberal and conservative, many of us find ourselves laughing at the wrong times, not realizing they aren’t joking. Perhaps parody provides the only serious way to respond to the old paralyzing ideological polarities of left and right, liberal and conservative.

A new friend I met in my recent travels, Wendell Jones, offers a proposal that won’t allow the last laugh to go to polarized thinkers. Wendell is a career physical scientist whose personal crisis in addiction left him identifying deeply with the weak and the broken. He creates this imaginative scenario:

Imagine that it is 2020 and the U.S. is secure as the wealthiest nation in the world. Our best and most productive citizens remain the world’s wealthiest leaders. Tax burdens are at all time lows. Entitlement drains on the GDP have been essentially eliminated. Illegal immigration is a minor issue. Federal government spending is almost completely focused on defense and homeland security capabilities allowing the U.S. to proactively intersect all threats. The voting public is nearly unanimous in support of the government and its policies. Voters uniformly feel that taxation is reasonable and that policy rewards them for their productivity.

This vision contrasts sharply with the status quo he describes:

A number of observers in the U.S. have noted the peculiar characteristic of the American political structure that taxes the best and most proficient citizens to support those unable to contribute their fair share to the overall well-being. The growing recognition that this is unfair and damaging is fueling criticism of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, trends in tax and bankruptcy law reflect the awareness that non-contributors put the success of our best citizens, and the nation as a whole, at risk. This wealth redistribution through social entitlements is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. history.

If this kind of analysis rings some of your bells (one way or the other), I hope you’ll read his whole proposal – down to the last sentence. Don’t let its modesty fool you: Jones is making a deadly serious proposal. It’s a “moment of Zen,” an eagle’s soaring flight into “truthiness,” and restores some friction into fact.


Brian McLaren is an author and speaker, also serving as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His most recent book was just released in softcover and is highly rated for group studies and discussions. Nobody is sure if the title is sincere or ironic. See his Web site for more details (brianmclaren.net).



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Wolverine

posted May 29, 2007 at 10:16 pm


Having read through the “modest proposal”, there’s something that either Brian or Wendell Jones or both completely missed in the clarity of their “Zen moment”: actually establishing the rigidly graded system of evaluation and assignment to Exceptional Contributor, Full Contributor, Not Fully Contributing (probationary status), Transitional Community, and “Out Placement” will itself require a great deal of government intervention. The government would be required to evaluate and then enforce the rigid categories. These programs will require a great deal of resources and oversight, as the potential for fraud will be high. The security apparatus needed to enforce the Transitional Communities and Out Placement will be tremendous, as we cannot assume that those placed in these programs will accept their isolation from the mainstream or “go quietly into that good night”. I’m sorry, but if you take this seriously, it quickly becomes apparent that the alternative they can think of to big government is another big government. Limited government? Freedom? Never heard of of it. Responsibility? Ditto. A thought occurs to me that I would like Jones and McLaren to meditate on: The Holocaust was a government program. Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted May 29, 2007 at 10:23 pm


“The Holocaust was a government program.” That was the point. This article meant ironically. Unless you meant your post ironically, and we’re all just being ironic right now. As it stands, this was an awfully awkward comedic attempt. This goes in the “half-hour news hour” bin of comedy that has too much of an agenda to be funny. Nonetheless, your point is relevant. If the point of this piece is to suggest that small government conservatism leads to a sorting of people, then the point doesn’t make sense. Fiscal Conservatism presumes that all will contribute to society.



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Tom

posted May 29, 2007 at 10:50 pm


unimaginatively conventional = conservatism We’ve already been over this, kevin s. Source: WordNet (r) 1.7 http://dict.die.net/conservative/



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Tom

posted May 29, 2007 at 10:50 pm


“moving on…”



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Another nonymous

posted May 29, 2007 at 11:11 pm


“Fiscal Conservatism presumes that all will contribute to society.” But, Kevin, they won’t, and that’s just the point. “The poor are with you always,” and so are the weak, the dependent, the mentally and physically ill and/or challenged, the elderly, the young, the single parents, the persecuted minorities denied equal opportunities, and so on. The point of this piece is to get people to acknowledge that there’s a middle ground that we absolutely must locate, and that where we draw the line is a matter of constantly shifting interpretation. Simply doing nothing won’t do, and neither will buying into the ideologies of the left or right.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 29, 2007 at 11:19 pm


I’m trying to make sense of this thing. He proposes that we eliminate one set of state incentives and put in place another. The option of eliminating state involvement altogether is not considered. The horrible scenario of his what-if story I think is supposed to represent the conservative viewpoint taken to its extreme. I agree that it’s an awful picture. What interests me here is the whole issue of security and US superiority. I don’t see these as Christian virtues. Maybe that’s his point… In that case I agree that focusing on security is a bad idea and we ought to focus on liberty. US superiority is irrelevant to the Christian who is first and foremost a citizen of Heaven. It is wrong to secure one’s own safety at the expense of another. In conclusion, it is pretty sad when our best sources for irony and introspection are poor enough writers that we can’t discern the one from the other.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 29, 2007 at 11:20 pm


Another, The middle ground is no state.



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Elmo

posted May 29, 2007 at 11:23 pm


Something has to be said: There’s nothing wrong with ideology. Nor is there anything wrong with the ideas and ideals that lead to it. Where are we without them? Ideology does have it’s downside, but so does everything else in this world. As far as this “proposal”, I almost made it through the first page before my suspicion turned to certainty that this was a fraud. It was pretty weak, too. It didn’t even devolve into Nazi allusions, it was the entire point. You can do better, guys. There are some good ideas out there that could result in the 2020 vision Jones mentions, that can be done without using internment camps and indentured servitude. Fair Tax, anyone?



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nad2

posted May 30, 2007 at 12:32 am


http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-161510320.html nonymous, here is where i think the middle ground is, an article by kent van til in the christian century a few issues back called ‘just deserts – beyond the free market.’ it is a wonderfully thoughtful piece that hopefully will blow everyone out of their respective ideological corners & into this comprehensive thinking. i posted it at the tail end of a blog post earlier in the month. i think neuro nurse & justintime were the only ones left at the time who cared to read it. sorry, van til is not as dicey as that karen armstrong i recommended!



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Another nonymous

posted May 30, 2007 at 12:44 am


Another, The middle ground is no state. jurisnaturalist | Homepage | 05.29.07 – 5:25 pm | #No, “no state” is what I meant by simply doing nothing. The other extreme is totalitarianism, either leftist or rightist. nad2, that’s a very good and thoughtful article, and it outlines exactly what I have in mind when I talk about a middle ground.



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Wolverine

posted May 30, 2007 at 1:43 am


nad2, I read your article, which was quite interesting. Some thoughts: On the Yankees vs. the church softball game — I’ll avoid the obvious wisecrack about the Yankees record so far and simply observe that baseball is a game, competition is the point of the whole exercise, and “justice” means fair rules and fair umpires. As long as you have those you have justice within the realm of sports even if the Yanks win handily. This analogy just doesn’t get us anywhere worth going. The question of what “authority” government has isn’t as important as how that authority should be used. Ultimately government authority rests on force. Now I’m not a pacifist, so I won’t tell you that this makes everything a government do wrong. But it does make government dangerous, and something that should not be relied on too much when there are realistic alternatives. The other distinction is between justice and the role of the state. Going back to the example of the Yankess versus the church softball game — suppose there was such a game and the rules were rigged so that the Yankees were bound to lose. That would be unfair, but would the government need to be involved? When God talks about the absolute moral imperative to care for the poor, it has to be recalled that God is bigger than government. When God speaks of justice, I’m not convinced that this must automatically must translate into state action. Finally, your essay doesn’t touch on the practical concerns with redistribution. First, you don’t really know what the government is going to do with the money — it could go to the poor or it could go to graft. Second: you don’t really know what I’d do with the money if you’d let me keep it. Maybe I’d give it to the church. Or maybe I’d blow it on a silly luxury, like a boat. But even if I blew it on a boat, maybe that boat would make the difference between some guy at the boatyard keeping his job and losing it. You can’t always tell these things. That isn’t to say there isn’t a place for international aid or domestic welfare. But it has to be remembered that every dollar taken in taxes is a dollar taken out of the economy that provides jobs, food, clothes, homes, and everything else that people might need or want. Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:42 am


“But, Kevin, they won’t, and that’s just the point. “The poor are with you always,” and so are the weak, the dependent, the mentally and physically ill and/or challenged, the elderly, the young, the single parents, the persecuted minorities denied equal opportunities, and so on.” So, was this a serious piece, then? This is not the place to have a conversation about the relative merits of fiscal conservatism. Or maybe it is, if this piece is intended as criticism. If it is, then your point runs counter to the point made by the article. ” it could go to the poor or it could go to graft.” Go to graft? “Something has to be said: There’s nothing wrong with ideology. Nor is there anything wrong with the ideas and ideals that lead to it. Where are we without them?” Here’s a hint w/r/t semantics. Ideological = fervently disagreeing with the person using the term. It’s a bit like throwing out the Nazi card. Once you call someone ideological, there is no more discussion to be had. That said, I get every joke on Stewart and Colbert. Funny stuff. I’m a fan as well. I do not have any idea what McLaren is doing here. This dude needs an editor.



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Beyond 'Beyond Left and Right'

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:58 am


I confess that when I m [reading anything by Brian McLaren], I frequently experience moments of disorientation, during which I can t tell if I m witnessing an intentional [caricature] of honest [ideas] or an unintentional one. The old friction between [‘left and right’] and [‘beyond left and right’] has been greased, so one keeps sliding into the other when you aren t looking. . . . Maybe that s why when serious [Sojourners] play out the old, familiar, reactive scripts of [‘left and right’] and [‘beyond left and right’], [‘liberal and conservative’] and [‘beyond liberal and conservative’], many of us find ourselves laughing at the wrong times, not realizing they aren t joking. Perhaps parody provides the only serious way to respond to the old paralyzing ideological polarities of [‘left and right’] and [‘beyond left and right’], and [‘liberal and conservative’] and [‘beyond liberal and conservative’].



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Another nonymous

posted May 30, 2007 at 3:02 am


“If it is, then your point runs counter to the point made by the article.” I would hope so. As for McLaren, nobody seems to be sure if he’s being serious or ironic. He says so himself.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 30, 2007 at 3:14 am


Another, Let the state do nothing, let the Church take responsibility.



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Another nonymous

posted May 30, 2007 at 3:22 am


Another, Let the state do nothing, let the Church take responsibility. jurisnaturalist | Homepage | 05.29.07 – 9:19 pm | #Ah, but will it? For everything? Absolutely everything?



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l'etranger

posted May 30, 2007 at 6:52 am


This is very reminiscent of the Jonathan Swift piece about letting the Irish eat their babies as a way of solving famine, or Julie Burchill’s rather less precise theory of compulsory amphetamine consumption (everyone dead by 55 but really productive before it) … proves there’s nothing new under the sun? I think nads piece was excellent, and I’d recommend reading Michael Schluter’s work for a biblical view of economics which moves beyond reliance on, or distrust of, markets.



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Mike Hayes

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:10 pm


If the budgets for charitable giving by households in the wealthy nations were available for assistance to persons who need help, maybe there would no longer be a need for government assistance.



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Wolverine

posted May 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm


Kevin, Graft, corruption, kickbacks, envelopes full of money, you know, all that good old-fashioned Chicago ward-boss stuff. Wolverine



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JimII

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:16 pm


I notice a tough love quality to the article, then I got to this. “Wendell Jones is working as a spiritual director and friend to men in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as an avocation while he finishes his working career in one of the national security laboratories of the Department of Energy. His life journey began with worldly success as a scientist, church member (Deacon and Elder), and officer in the US Army.” I don’t know if it does anything to his credibility, but it his background suggests the roots of his thinking.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:52 pm


nad2, That article was great, but I cannot agree upon his premise of government intervention. It is the church’s responsibility alone. Unless we want to make America a Christian nation – which I think is a bad idea, in rejection of the dominionists – we have to acknowledge our role as a nation within a nation, as Mark Driscoll points out. Some responsibilities belong to the church, others to the state (though I argue these are a precious few) to mix the two is to taint justice with coercion. The anti-statist message is so seldom articulated, that it is not considered in our examination of policy. We end up with statist programs to solve problems caused by the state. Poverty, as Jesus said, will always be with us. So, the appropriate action is NOT to respond to the NEED, which ultimately justifies “Whatever seems necessary” policies; but to respond to the prompting of the Spirit individually, telling each of us what WE should do to glorify God in full view of the circumstances. Carefully consider each issue and whether it is really a matter of the state’s intervention, or a matter of individuals accepting responsibility which can really make a difference. Consider the non-statist approach and realize how much more righteously conclusions are achieved.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:54 pm


Another, “Ah, but will it? For everything? Absolutely everything?” Or, should it? Yes. Should the state? No. Also, can the state be successful in this? NO! Mises proved this at the advent of socialism and the prognosis is still the same!



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Mick Sheldon

posted May 30, 2007 at 7:10 pm


Since the 60’s and Johnson declaled war on poverty we have spent something like 10 trillion dollars in tax money on poverty . Not really a good return on the money . Poverty among children is quite high still . From what I understand , poverty hits the most people who are single parents , there fore kids seem to get the brunt of our problems . So their are social issues effecting poverty , generational , education , etc .Government safety net is something both sides I believe can support . I believe we all hope that the poor will be one day set free from poverty , or at least given the tools and support to climb out of poverty if they so wish .I liked when Bush originally set up the Faith Based links with government , the separation of church and state indeed is sensitive . But there is also an arguemnt giving money to private organizations that are secular to help should be treated equally with Faith based . Preference should not be given to either one . Being secular should not mean special treatment , but that is more complicated I agree . Especially now with religion in politics.The Gospel Mission in most cities have much better track records then government agencies of lifting people out of poverty . The Organization my denomination supports has a great track record for helping those climb out of drug dependence . But the opponents would say but you are promoting a faith to help that . So the other side will say , I want fewer taxes and less government policies so I can use my money to help where my Faith and common sense does more good . the fact is churches should be doing more either way , but that is another issue .I know that sounds simple , but that is how I see it .



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nad2

posted May 30, 2007 at 8:25 pm


wolverine & jurist, i am glad you read that article & i apologize for the transcription, i read several times where ‘rights’ turned into ‘fights’ which made both for comical & confusing departure from a well-reasoned piece. briefly in response on government: i think the yankees / church league analogy is highly relevant for the reason wolverine stated – the goal is competition, as is one of the stated goals of the free market. having consistent rules & umpires doesn’t make it just when the underlying exchange is so offensively one-sided. and your point of rigging the game to where the yankees lose is a bit unfair i think because the farthest thing from this approach’s point is to turn the market on its head; it simply says the market doesn’t take account for human need & it is our obligation to do so.secondly, i see a place for government in making sure everyone is looked after. what other mechanism is there that can express our collective will the way we do through (democratic & republican forms of) government? sure god is bigger than the state & we don’t want to be a theocracy, but god is also bigger than the church(es) you want to wholly replace it & we as christians should support all mechanisms that assists in caring for the least of these the way the government (& the churches dually) can. because it is inefficient doesn’t mean we should scrap it, we just need to do it better. i get back to two of the thrusts of the article i posted – the boundaries between distribution & redistribution are nowhere near as defined as we like to think of them, & given that, our belief in a god that cares for everyone equally and acts through us, & our immense unearned privilege as being born 20th & 21st century americans, why not support massive joint governmental & nonprofit aid to end poverty? this is the 13th y in the tracks between the car & the child, the church & indivuduals & government collectively and independently have not pulled the lever to save the child, why don’t we do it now? we can wax on about which is more effective,government or churches, but why not use both radically and monumentously to get things done now?!



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nad2

posted May 30, 2007 at 8:26 pm


ok, so it wasn’t ‘briefly in response,’ my apologies.



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Carl Copas

posted May 30, 2007 at 9:54 pm


nad2, very interesting article. thank you.



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jerry jurries

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:23 pm


brian; if you think, as jones does, that welfare is being eliminated and that jones is deadly serious with his proposal, then you may need some counsuling. and you think jones experienced a zen moment. the constant reference to darwin and the obsession about taxes and wealth seem to fit the sojo mojo. but i think jones is way ahead of you and sojo. i don’t mind spending taxpayer money to support jones, he sounds like a fun guy.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:24 pm


nad2, I oppose the state as a mechanism for distribution for two simple reasons: 1. It requires the use of force. Any good done under threat of force loses its virtue. 2. The state is a pagan institution. We are not to make use of pagan methods for achieving the gospel. For me it is not a matter of efficiency. I am less motivated by the need because I stared it in the face for 8 years already and realized the need was not going to go away. My only motivation, and the Christian’s only motivation must be imitation of Christ.



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jerry jurries

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:35 pm


that was great jimll. “his background suggest the roots of his thinking.” as in timothy leary?



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nad2

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:40 pm


juris, correct me if i am wrong – given the choice between 1.) eliminating world poverty by forcing (by vote of course) everyone who can to pay $200/yr toward that end & 2.) not doing so, you’d choose not ending world poverty? pagan institution? are we not supposed to support the united way or other non-religious aid organizations? government like we have it is collective action, i am included in it w/ my vote – pagan doesn’t quite seem like the right concept to me, though i empathasize with your concerns given our imperial tendencies.



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Wolverine

posted May 31, 2007 at 12:34 am


nad2, I guess I should explain my problem with the Yankees analogy better. It seemed to me that the writer was arguing that justice requires equal outcomes: the church softball team and the Yankees must be a relatively even match-up. But that strikes me as silly. The Yankees are professional athletes, while the church team is a group of amateurs and not necessarily very serious amateurs at that. Now, if we were talking about a pair of professional baseball teams, then competitive balance over the long term is a genuine concern, but major league baseball has managed to address that without a whole lot of interference from Uncle Sam. A few years back the Detroit Tigers were awful but nobody considered it a crisis that required government assistance. And now they’re World Series contenders. All of which goes to the main point: you’ve conceded that a sane society will leave at least some economic decision-making to the market. Well, in the market you are going to have winners and losers. Abolish that and you’ve abolished the market. Now society should address extreme poverty, but there are ways to do that without relying on the state. I’m still not sold that government ought to take the lead here, for the reasons I described earlier. Wolverine



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 31, 2007 at 1:23 am


nad2, What makes majority rule more ethical than theft? Or are all ethics situational? The state is a pagan institution. The United way and other philanthropies are legitimate collective organizations because they are voluntary. The state is a monopoly on force for the purpose of preserving rights. It has no place intervening in charity. The state makes arbitrary rules contrary to the natural law. Each of these rules sets itself as a law without natural foundation. In ancient cultures we would recognize these extra-natural laws as idols. “The Mainspring of Human Progress” by Henry Grady Weaver is an excellent source for this discussion after reviewing I Samuel 13. All unprovoked force is illegitimate.



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nad2

posted May 31, 2007 at 3:34 am


take out yankees & substitute wealthy wasp child born in chicago. take out church softball team & insert child born to mother w/ aids in uganda (or child born fatherless in inner city US). take out baseball & insert free market. i don’t think we really even need that extreme of examples. suffice it to say i know the home into which i was born (& over which i had no control) is absolutely critical to the ‘market success’ i have had. juris, as someone so tied to ‘natural law’ i find it difficult to engage in pragmatic discussion. a brief analogy that maybe you can relate to – as a practicing attorney & believer in the absolute right to trial by jury, i am dumbfounded & generally pissed off by arbitration jurisprudence, but i file cases in arbitration all the time now because i am stuck w/ it. i suppose i could just stop representing people in protest, or tell people to not enforce their rights in protest (or just go take back by force what they think they were cheated out of), or keep banging my head against the system (which i still do sometimes) trying to beat it in futility, but what good would that do? guess what, i am finding it is not the end of the world – it is not as fair as a trial, but it’s not the end of the world either. i think government as a mechanism of helping people is here to stay. it’s maybe not as great as the kingdom of god, but it can do some real good, especially if we work harder at it & hold it more accountable like our system allows. i can go w/ you down the road of monopoly on enforcing rights – what rights? what good is the right to be left alone or any natural laws if there is not also a right to basic sustenance? cannot government enforce that right? i thought van til would be right up your alley for someone so strongly and strangely tied to the free market & the teachings of christ (to me it is strange, what with the parables about greedy folks & the market being driven admittedly and quite proudly by greed). majority rule & theft? do we really need to go there when we are talking about $200/yr to make sure everyone has enough to live on? i have great respect for the confines of limited government, but really, you can’t get on board w/ compulsory contribution for basic sustenance? are all ethics situational? no, but the opposite i hope you would agree is also far from true.



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Charlotte Ward

posted May 31, 2007 at 5:10 pm


I trust Mr. Jones’s tongue is so far into his cheek he will have to visit his dentidt to get it out.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 31, 2007 at 10:52 pm


nad2, I empathize with your frustration at discussing with me pragmatically. You see, I care nothing for what is practical, only for what is ethical. Practicality had a fancy name once, but it has gone out of fashion since it was taken to its logical conclusion by a madman in Germany. As believers we recognize the impracticality of our ethic. It is foolish to turn the other cheek. It makes no sense to love the unlovely. It is ridiculous to love that which is incapable of returning that love. Yet, that is what we are called to do. It is the Christian’s responsibility to care for the least of these, and no one else’s. To attempt o impose this responsibility on anyone else is to strip it of its virtue. I don’t pretend that all the poor will be looked after this way, but I recognize that God is sovereign over this fact. I can also empathize with your frustration incurred working with today’s legal system. Today’s laws are so arbitrary and illogical that it is impossible to know the law and to keep it. We ought to return to the old practice of Common Law and dump all legislated law. No one has or ought to have a right to basic sustenance. Those who can work, ought to. They ought not to be shut out from work by minimum wage laws which restrict entry into the work force. Everyone ought to be paid according to their marginal productivity minus the rent they pay to their firm for managing the various risks inherent in the market. The least of these, those who cannot earn a living for themselves, are the sole responsibility of voluntary charities. The government has no place being involved in charity. It exists to protect property, liberty, and life, and to enforce contracts, functions which are all easily managed by courts alone, like in the book of Judges.



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jurisnaturalist

posted May 31, 2007 at 10:58 pm


I’d encourage you to read a famous speech given by Davy Crockett some time ago on the Senate floor. The best line is, “Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose.” http://www.fee.org/pdf/books/Not%20Yours%20to%20Give.pdf



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cecil o'malley

posted May 31, 2007 at 11:44 pm


Uh this “proposal” is a scary joke that took too much time (to write or read) to be very funny. I get it, but can’t we just let the comedy central guys do their thing (they are actually quite good at it) and keep moving in a conversation of how to fix devastating problems by living out Christ’s good news in our world?



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dan

posted May 31, 2007 at 11:57 pm


I kind of like the idea, especially when you consider that the most unproductive people in this nation, calculated by income minus outgo, are the CEO’s. There is no way they can contribute their fantastic salaries in goods and services, so they are on the short list to termination. On the other hand, the people with the “Will work for food” signs at intersections are positive contributors to society since they take out so little. Think about it.



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nad2

posted June 1, 2007 at 12:01 am


juris, i wish i had time (& acuity) to advnance this discussion but i do not at present. suffice it to say i don’t think you can seperate what is practical from what is ethical any time, but especially not if you are talking about getting on & trying to live out the gospel witness & abiding by kingdom primciples. we are using the same language but it is as though we are on different planets on this one. regards,



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dan

posted June 1, 2007 at 12:18 am


Reading jurisnaturalist’s posts, I was struck by his comment that he was interested only in what was ethical. My first impression was that this guy has some very strange ethics so I went back and reread his posts. I came to the same conclusion. It seems that he is big into definitions and word games, but kind of weak on dealing with reality beyond words. That is where ethics comes in, not with these little games that lawyers play in a courtroom, labeling something as pagan and something else as christian and trying to pretend that these labels have a real meaning. His adherence to what amounts to social Darwinism, which, by the way has nothing to do with Darwin or evolution, appears to me to be the product of an very authoritarian, strict father mentality. Sorry, bud, but that kind of an attitude has no place in any sort of co-operative society. Was it Mencken who made a comment to the effect that conservatives were merely trying to justify their own selfishness?



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jurisnaturalist

posted June 1, 2007 at 1:51 am


Dan, Which definitions do you have a problem with? I do think that there is such a thing as spontaneous order, aka Social Darwinism, and I recognize the distinction. I understand how, on this post, you might read me to be a Conservative, but if I mention that I am against subsidization of businesses, for liberalization of drugs, against the marriage amendment, and haven’t voted Republican in more than a decade, how would you read me? I think I am the opposite of authoritarian, insisting on as much liberty as possible. I merely assign responsibility for social issues to the church – apart from the state – just like Jesus did. As far as dealing with reality, after working for a subsistence stipend for eight years in Durham’s inner city for 8 years, I am well acquainted with reality and all of its flavors. I just think that good theory preceeds reality and shapes reality. We can’t change reality without a proper understanding of theory. I’d love to field actual points of contention either here or via e-mail. ndsnow@ncsu.edu Nathanael Snow



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Wolverine

posted June 1, 2007 at 3:44 pm


jurisnaturalist wrote: I empathize with your frustration at discussing with me pragmatically. You see, I care nothing for what is practical, only for what is ethical. Practicality had a fancy name once, but it has gone out of fashion since it was taken to its logical conclusion by a madman in Germany. I feel compelled to rise in defense of pragmatism, a philosphy grounded in practicality which has now been linked to a certain German madman. (What is it with Hitler nowadays? He pops up everywhere. The guy is to political debate what Kevin Bacon is to cinema. But I digress.) To say that Hitler was a pragmatist is to bury a lot under the rug. For one thing, if Herr Hitler was a pragmatist, he wasn’t a very good one. After all, less than ten years after taking power, Germany was occupied, flattened by bombings, and divided. That doesn’t strike me as a very “practical” program. But of course Hitler was not a pragmatist. He was a megalomaniac and bigot. Those things are not typically associated with practicality Wolverine



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jurisnaturalist

posted June 1, 2007 at 4:25 pm


Pragmatism, aka fascism, has as its philosophy “Do whatever seems necessary.” Hitler did this, and kept doing it, and kept doing it, until he was a totalitarian dictator, democratically elected. If we do not step outside of what seems necessary and focus on natural rights and incentives, theory, we will make the same mistakes. This was Hayek’s argument in The Road To Serfdom, and he was right. As believers we do not practice our ethic because it is practical. We do not abstain from fornication or adultery because it is practical. It is anything but. We do so because we have adopted a peculiar ethic in imitation of Christ. No other reason. Sometimes there are fair consequences for following Christ, sometimes there are dire consequences, according to His decree. We do not look at the consequences, we look at the command to follow Him. The world has no rational ethical imperative for caring for the poor. Some people are altruistic, but this is merely a residual of the imago dei in them. They are under no compulsion of duty to care for the least of these. Christ does not impose such an ethic upon them, because apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to do so with pure motives is inconsistent with fallen human nature. By calling for statist programs compelling individuals to care for the poor we impose an irrational law on top of the natural law which is part of the common grace. This natural law is able to be deduced logically and scientifically via case law, or common law. Inconsistencies are rooted out and expelled. We ought to stand up for the common law, and limited government under common grace, and assume for ourselves all the responsibilities inherent to the peculiar ethic we adopt under specific grace. Any attempt by Christians to impose responsibility for care for the least of these onto those under only common grace is to insist that they reject their minds and reason as a tool for making decisions, and instead to adopt an irrational, unrewarding form of servitude to an arbitrary law. It is also an attempt by Christians to shirk the responsibility Christ laid upon them as a condition of discipleship, and thus to reject their Lord. To think about these issues in terms of the neediness of the least of these is to say that Christ is not sovereign, or that He is uncaring in His admonition to the Church to assume full responsibility, or to lack faith that Christ can achieve His decrees through the Church.



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nad2

posted June 1, 2007 at 4:49 pm


we have entered the twilight zone



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Wolverine

posted June 1, 2007 at 5:19 pm


jurisnaturalist: I think you make some serious errors: First, fascism is not a species of pragmatism, it is a species of totalitarianism. Second, “The Road to Serfdom” is a fine book, but its chief warning isn’t about “pragmatism”, but about entrusting too much power to the state, i.e. Socialism, which taken to its extreme morphs into another form of totalitarianism. (Indeed, one can argue that all totalitarian states are inevitably socialist, because totalitarianism itself enlists all aspects of society in the service of the state.) Third, and perhaps most tellingly, you seem to want to divorce morality from practicality. But life isn’t anywhere near that simple. The practice of chastity, for instance, does come with certain benefits, among them: limited risk of STDs, more children born into stable two-parent families instead of single-parent households. And yes, there are practical reasons for charity: among them social stability and the liberation of human potential from the limitations imposed by grinding poverty. You seem to equate pragmatism with amorality, and there are those who are tempted to think that way. It is true that the “pragmatist” may be less inclined to observe the letter of the law in all cases. But much of this consists of actions that do little damage to the moral order but do shock the easily shocked. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he violated what what many of his fellow Jews understood to be the moral law. But his actions were undeniably right and “pragmatic” in the best sense of the word. The pragmatist also understands that one must think about results. “Doing the right thing” is necessary but by itself not sufficient. Good intentions are not enough, results matter too; “By their fruits ye shall know them”. To equate “pragmatism” with amorality is to ignore the fact that we live in a world with a moral order, and that ethical rules exist for a reason. Pargamatism is practicality. The practical man may not be as scrupulous as some of his companions may wish he were about every jot and tittle of law or custom, but he does understand that there is a moral order and he respects it and at least attempts to follow it. To ignore that is not practical, but suicidal. (consider the end of that certain German madman.) There are those who would deny that morality and ethics matter, if not openly then by their actions. I would not flatter them by implying that they are being either pragmatic or practical. Wolverine



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nad2

posted June 1, 2007 at 6:42 pm


thanks wolverine. perhaps juris has been wendall jonesing all along, though surely juris you would have cracked a smile by now.



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jurisnaturalist

posted June 1, 2007 at 9:42 pm


Wolverine, What is fascism? You identify totalitarianism. But how does one get to that point? Certainly not directly. It is by giving to the state a bit of power, and then a bit more until we are devoid of our liberties. What reason does socialism give for taking these liberties away? The promise of a utopia constructed from a new kind of man. What reason does fascism give? It seemed necessary. Necessary to whom? To whomever held the power. Fascism has no ideology. It just does whatever seems necessary. It does the practical thing at every turn, rather than the ethical thing. Practical for what? For holding on to power. Socialism and Fascism end up in the same place. I identify a peculiar ethic belonging only to Christians, and the dangers of attempting to apply this ethic to unbelievers. I argue that we our motivated to practice our ethic by imitating Christ, not for utilitarian purposes. If we practice our ethic for utilitarian purposes we have received our reward in full. If we do so in obedience to our Lord, we have a reward stored up for us.Chastity may reduce exposure to some risks for some individuals, but for the majority of individuals, these risks are small, and the costs of deferred pleasure are immeasurable. It is the individual s responsibility to choose for themselves. Your practical arguments for charity are empty. If individuals are so inept that they are incapable of working what threat can they pose to social stability? Where is social stability denominated a virtue anyway? And what human potentials are limited by poverty? The truly poor have no potentials. That s what makes them poor. I suppose I am using a rather narrow definition of poverty. I am using the Biblical one: Naked, starving, homeless, unable to work. If there is poverty other than this it is imposed by rather than alleviated by the state. When people are told that they may not work at all because their productivity does not match with minimum wage laws, we force them into poverty. When we tell them that they are too young, or too old to work, we force them into poverty. When we tax their income we force them into poverty. When we tax their vehicles we limit their options for finding work. Wherever there is famine in the world today there is an oppressive government limiting the ability of its people to work and own property. If there is not a rational moral imperative for acting in a particular way, then it is by definition a-moral. I count obedience to the call of Christ as peculiar, but rational if one has accepted the call of Christ. If one has not become a disciple, there are a set of ethics which are outside of the natural. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath he called the Jews out from under superstition to reason. I think we are agreed on that.



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Wolverine

posted June 1, 2007 at 11:05 pm


Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos John Goodman, The Big Lebowski What is fascism? My quickie definition would be that it’s a totalitarian government that uses nationalism as its rationale. You say that fascism does the practical thing at every turn, which might be true in theory, but not always in fact. You have yet to deal with the simple historical fact that National Socialism, the ur-fascism, was a disaster. Even if one ignores the six million jews killed and looks at it strictly from the perspective of Germans, at the end your nation is gutted, occupied, and divided. Fascism didn’t do much better in Italy, although at least Il Duce managed to avoid committing mass murder. One could make a case that the fascists in Spain succeeded — they defeated the Socialists and survived long enough to turn power back over to a constitutional monarchy. That makes Fascism’s batting average .333 in terms of actually doing practical things — which IS the ultimate point of pragmatism. That’s not particularly impressive. I’d be willing to allow that the Nazis were cold-blooded, amoral, and motivated only by pragmatic calculations of national interest, if you’d acknowledge that, in terms of actually calculating national interest they were spectacularly inept. And if we all accept that, then we have to allow that a competent pragmatism might look very different from National Socialism. For one thing, it might take moral considerations into account, something that the Nazis manifestly failed to do. Which basically saves pragmatism as a humane principle. After all, there’s no philosophy so brilliant that it can’t be screwed up by somebody. One last thing: you write that “Chastity may reduce exposure to some risks for some individuals, but for the majority of individuals, these risks are small, and the costs of deferred pleasure are immeasurable.” This strikes me as stunningly naive. The risks associated with promiscuity are quite significant. And chastity, to give one example, reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy to zero for nearly all women of childbearing age. (The only exception would be women who are already infertile for some other reason — their risk was zero to begin with.) As for poverty: It doesn’t take a whole lot in terms of marketable skills to start street fights or break windows. The average urban gang-banger is a great example of an individual with few marketable skills who still manages to do a lot of damage to society. And of course social stability is an ethical good, at least in the sense of security of person and property. One last thought. I’m really amazed that you are taken aback by the notion that there is a connection between ethical governance and practicality (or pragmatism). Your handle is itself an allusion to the Christian theory of “natural law”, the law which is revealed by human experience. Natural law is more a Catholic teaching, but St. Paul hints at such a thing in Romans 2 when he writes about how “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves. It has always been understood that applying natural law leads toward a harmonious and prosperous society. That is to say, natural law is pragmatic. “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” — that was a maxim of pagan Rome. Wolverine



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Wolverine

posted June 1, 2007 at 11:07 pm


Oh yeah, I almost forgot, when Jesus healed on the sabbath, he explained his actions by saying that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Wolverine



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Bill Samuel

posted June 2, 2007 at 2:01 am


Some of these commentators really seem delusional. I’ve got another good example. In a Sojourners email, relative to their forum promoting three consistent death ethic candidates for the President, Jim Wallis writes, “I believe we can vote out poverty.” Does Jim Wallis really believe that voting for a wealthy politician supported by monied special interests who wants to devote the bulk of government resources to wars and preparations for wars will “vote out poverty”? Hard to know if he really is so deluded or just wants to give that impression in the hopes he can become minister to a President. Jim Wallis is the type of “religious leader” the prophets and Christ warned against. It is sad to see Brian McLaren, who has contributed so much, devoting his resources to promoting this anti-prophet and his game of establishment politics, diverting himself from his true calling.



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jurisnaturalist

posted June 2, 2007 at 2:09 am


“if we all accept that, then we have to allow that a competent pragmatism might look very different from National Socialism.” Exactly, but Mises proved long ago that central planning is always inept. It can never be practical to everyone, it can only be practical to the one making the decision, who is operating without the necessary information. No one can have all the necessary information because it is always changing and it is tied up in all of the various individuals in the society. This is Hayek’s argument in The Use of Knowledge in Society. (I’m actually NOT that big a fan of Hayek’s, I’ve just been reading him lately for a conference…) “It has always been understood that applying natural law leads toward a harmonious and prosperous society. That is to say, natural law is pragmatic.” Agreed, but the argument presented to me had the direction of causality reversed. It does not flow both ways in the short run. It might in the long run, if change to the law is slow and difficult. The law in Romans 2 I will also acknowledge. But this law DOES NOT include the Christian Ethic. The Christian Ethic of caring for the least of these is peculiar and belongs only to the believer. Indeed, the various permutations of Natural Law systems by the academy often reject caring for the least of these as absurd. Objectivism in particular rejects concern for the poor. Since I move in those circles a great deal, I must constantly be reminded of the peculiarity of the calling, and how absurd it appears to worldly wisdom. I believe that a natural spontaneous order can evolve which reflects human nature and relies on natural rights. This is a slow and gradual process, which conservatives often claim as their own through tradition. While there is an element of truth to this, I deny tradition for tradition sake. I recognize the scientific process which has handed us our tradition, and the direction in which it ultimately points. It does not include concern for the poor. Meanwhile I recognize the sovereignty of God, and a peculiar eschatology which calls for the ultimate end to this earth, and the recognition of the One True Lawgiver. He called me, I responded. He gave me an example and an ethic to follow, regardless what other people might do. He demonstrated a rejection of political mechanisms for achieving His ends. I believe I am to imitate Him in this, too.



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Wolverine

posted June 2, 2007 at 6:29 pm


Jurisnaturalist: If you had criticized central planning I would have let that go. There are serious problems with central planning schemes, and centralized government-run humanitarian programs are not exempted. But you didn’t, instead you criticized pragmatism, which is a whole other animal. I disagree with you that Christian ethics are all that different from those developed by other religions. Christiantiy is certainly not unique in terms of calling for charity. This is a running theme throughout the Hebrew scriptures, and Islam calls for alms to the poor as well. C.S. Lewis wrote about this when he dismissed the notion that Jesus was a great moral teacher; Lewis observed that in terms of ethics, Jesus didn’t say anything all that terribly new. The unique insight of Christianity is not about specific ethical issues, but that mankind cannot be relied on to meet the demands of morality on his own and that all of us at some point must appeal to divine mercy if we are to be in harmony with God. As far as objectivism goes, well, that’s not what pragmatism is either. Objectivism is an intellectual plaything composed of equal parts libertarianism, intellectual conceit, atheism, and way too much black coffee. Just to be clear, I think libertarianism is a perfectly respectable way of thinking about human society — much more useful than Marxism to be sure. But in the end it’s just another model of human behaviour and human beings are just too complicated to fit into any theoretical model that we can create. Wolverine



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Malika

posted November 18, 2012 at 11:58 pm


I saw Hugh Jackman as host of the Academy Awards.He is a triple trehat: sings, dances and acts.Great talent, one of the best if not the best host of the Academy has ever hired!!He is very gifted young man.I hope the Academy brings him back next year!Kind regards,Anthony Joseph Lucchese



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