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….

Talking About the Lord is not Talking TO the Lord

In this sermon today Pastor Walter Jackson looks at Job’s story in Job 1:20-22, 2;:11-3, Job 38:1-2, and how Job talked about God before he spent the time to talk TO God about his situation.  What if in our complaining about our situation, God is getting us ready for a greater blessing but we must stop, listen and prepare our hearts for what God is planning for us.

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.

 

Hamilton and Jefferson–Beyond the Musical

 

No one can get tickets to the Hamilton musical, but we can get the book and learn how their relationship affects us…

Each was a colossus whose footsteps color our daily lives…

Lecture by John Pinheiro from Aquinas College given at #Acton2017.

 

We can look at Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson through two lenses:
  • Lived Experience. How their lives and upbringing affected their philosophy.
  • Philosophy and Principle. Whom they were reading and by whom they were influenced.
LIVED EXPERIENCE

JEFFERSON: Born into a planter aristocracy. Mother’s family (the Randolphs) were stratospherically rich and remained his main patrons throughout his career. Father was an educated aristocrat.

Jefferson had a solid classical education and even spoke 8 or 9 Native American languages. In 1775 he was one of the wealthiest men in America and had 200 slaves.

HAMILTON: Very broken home in the Caribbean. Worked hard as a clerk and got a scholarship to King’s (Columbia) in NYC. John Adams called him the “bastard brat.” Saw the bad side of people and slavery. Felt that we needed order and control to curb this.

PHILOSOPHY and INFLUENCERS

JEFFERSON: The French Enlightenment. People naturally good unless corrupted by commerce. Yeoman farmers are the key to freedom because they don’t have employers. Thus, have a small and weak central government and an agrarian paradise. Disperse the population westward. Emmerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations influenced Jefferson–how sovereign states can participate in a union. Jefferson always used plural verbs and pronouns with “United States.” The Physiocrats (France) also influenced Jefferson. They stressed agriculture and coined the term “laissez-faire.” Land is the source of all wealth.

HAMILTON: The Scots Enlightenment. Especially Adam Smith. Looked not to France, but rather the British Empire. Always accused of being a royalist. Capital and division of labor, not land, are the source of wealth. Bernard Mandeville wrote the Fable of the Bees, which influenced Hamilton. Where do you look for a financial model? London! Protective tariffs. Centralized bank. Financed national debt a good thing. Hard work and ambition, not inheritance, is the path to power and wealth.

Conclusion

Jefferson and Hamilton continue to be the twin pillars of American social, political and economic thought. Jefferson’s party won most of the elections for the next couple of generations. His expansionist/agrarian vision led to the purchase of Louisiana. Enhanced by Jackson and Polk who steamrolled the country to the Pacific with “Manifest Destiny.” Homesteading and the checker boarding the Midwest USA are monuments to this thinking.

Hamilton won the economic battle however, with New York being a second London in terms of global finance, and the industrial north beat the agrarian south in the Civil War. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian and used his principles to further unite and solidify central authority.

Both believed that a virtuous society is necessary to maintain a republic.