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Christianity in Politics

This category contains 16 posts

Peace Must Be Dared: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call for true, insecure peace

“How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety.” (DBWE 13:308)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words continue to resonate prophetically into our own times. As war seems to loom around every corner, and the potential for armed conflict increases, fear mounts and we turn to our weapons and armies to bring us peace. But Bonhoeffer’s words correct this fleeing to violent means of security, and he challenges us to realize that there is a huge difference between peace and security. Arming ourselves for war does not bring peace but rather confuses the security we feel from our weapons with peace. Bonhoeffer explains:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. (DBWE 13, 308-309)

Our rush to mistrust the national “other” leads us not to peace but to confusing safety with peace. Peace, as Bonhoeffer says, must be dared. It demands vulnerability and, yes, trust of the other. And though this may seem foolish, we have been told that as we walk with Christ, we will be seen as fools to the world. God makes the supposed wisdom of the world, a wisdom which seeks security and safety, foolishness as we seek peace. Next, Bonhoeffer offers one of the most powerful calls to international peace that has perhaps ever been uttered or written:

Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless, and for that very reason protected by “a bulwark never failing”? (DBWE 309)

These words are worth reading and re-reading and reflecting upon. Think about what Bonhoeffer is saying, particularly in context of his total corpus. He famously wrote that “When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die” (Discipleship). But if that’s Christ’s call; if the way of the cross is a bid to come and die, do we truly, really think that Bonhoeffer is asking us to spiritualize that call to death, that call to the cross? Or is Bonhoeffer truly saying, radically, that the call from Christ is a real call for peace, a call that asks us to set aside our securities and safety and be willing, yes, to lay down our lives for the sake of our neighbor and even our enemy; a bid to come and die to know the peace that surpasses all human understanding?

Yes, it may seem foolish. Yes, it may seem unwise. But a true, radical call to peace as a call from Christ is a call to come and die. It sets aside all securities; it sets aside the fear of the other; and it asks us to truly, radically, follow where the way leads to the cross of Christ.

Peace and Security and the “Other”

Bonhoeffer’s words are relevant to more than war, too. More than once, as I’ve talked about refugee crises around the globe, people questioned me on whether it was safe to have potentially dangerous people around. Now, I vehemently disagree with any notion that the “other” is inherently violent, or that we as Christians should turn away from the passages in Scripture which so clearly state we ought to care for the sojourner in our land and the refugee. But even more, Bonhoeffer’s insight here makes clear that those who live in fear of the “other” and use that as justification for their turning away the sojourner or refugee are living by making security their goal rather than peace. Peace, Bonhoeffer states, is the opposite of security. The appeal to the security of our home forsakes love of neighbor and true, lasting peace in favor of the idolatry of security. In fear, we demand the closing of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our borders to the “other.” In fear, we blasphemously turn aside from the words of God and turn them into spiritualized texts that we use to soothe our consciousness as we watch the least of those among us get thrown into camps; get turned away; get sent to die; starve; die of thirst; and more. Our demands for peace, which we have conflated with security, have turned into a fearful rejection of the peace of God and the way of the cross.

Peace Must Be Dared
(DBWE 309, capitalization mine)

Bonhoeffer’s Context, and Ours

Bonhoeffer spoke these words during an ecumenical conference that sat in recent memory of the Great War and with the seething political forces moving towards the Second World War. He ends his demand for peace at this conference with the question: “Who knows if we shall see each other again another year?” It would be four years until Germany would take over Austria and have parts of Czechoslovakia ceded to Hitler. But Bonhoeffer issued his call for demanding peace, a call that would be ignored, as the German Christian church capitulated to the Nazis. It was a call that some may look back upon and see as naive. But in our own world, in the here and now, what wars can we prevent? What tragedies and miscarriages of justice continue for the sake of our false security-oriented “peace”? What would happen if we answered the fears of the “illegal,” the “refugee,” or the “enemy” with a call for daring peace–by praying and setting ourselves, defenseless, to fight against injustice with the power of God? What if we did dare peace?

SDG.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon demands we hear him today– Bonhoeffer’s prophetic words resonate in more than peace; here, find some analysis of what he said about the poor.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– A collection of my posts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and reviews related to him (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” by Aviva Chomsky- immigration, legal status, and personhood

Immigration is an extremely messy issue. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, “law and order” has been a cover for making the “other” unwanted and “illegal.” Every human being has basic human rights. Those do not need to be earned. Aviva Chomsky’s book, Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal provides both historical background to how immigration came to be viewed in such a negative light as it now is as well as arguments for the basic human rights and dignity of all.

Chomsky provides historical data to understand how immigration became illegal. This is extremely valuable and important because too often, people just say that their ancestors came to the United States the “right way” and make the assumption the process was similar to what it is today. However, there was very little regulation of immigration whatsoever until racial bias began to lead to quotas for people coming in. The Chinese were some of the earliest people targeted, as exceptions and quotas were made to prevent Chinese from becoming citizens. Mexicans were, historically, another national group that was seen either as non-immigrants (not because they were here illegally–no laws governed such migration until relatively recently–but because it was simply taken as a given Mexicans would not stay in the United States) or as a group to be suppressed in its immigration status. Nationality was used to allow for colorblind laws that would simply restrict immigration on one’s nation. As Chomsky writes, “Once status is inscribed in the law, this becomes an automatic justification for inequality: ‘it’s the law!'” (25). The movement to national exclusion of immigrants allowed racist policies to be enshrined in law. After all, countries are not races. Once race could no longer be allowed to deny citizenship, “nationality stood in for it, and citizens of countries like China lost their right to immigrate” (35).

Laws had to be made in order to restrict immigration. Chomsky notes the inequality of movement of people: a United States citizen can, generally, get their passport and unlock travel to virtually any country in the world. Some travel may require a visa with an extra fee, but there aren’t many total restrictions on travel. Contrast this with attempting to enter the United States: here, we have laws that restrict people of other nationalities from entering our country. Similarly, though Chomsky’s book was written before the current administration under President Trump, there have been arguments for and actions banning travel to the United States purely based upon one’s religion. Such restrictions are social, legal constructs that allow the definition of human beings to be tied to national or religious affiliation. Feasibly, this could be expanded almost indefinitely. Thus, immigration law is not an unchanging, immutable thing but rather something that has changed and continues to change. It is mistaken simply to write off the “other” as illegal or even as “other” purely based on laws that have not even been in effect for more than a few decades.

Chomsky delves into the questions related to undocumented status and alleged eligibility for various benefits (it is almost certainly more complex than any reader may think). Then, she moves into undocumented status and working. What is of interest is that labor laws that target undocumented immigrants has, in several cases, led to economic hardship. The exploitation of undocumented laborers helps drive the standard of living citizens of the United States have become used to. One example is in agriculture. “Farm work is so marginal, strenuous, and low paid, that if workers achieve legal status, they quickly move to other sectors… True, for many Mexicans… low-wage, temporary, migrant labor in the United States offers a viable or even hopeful alternative to poverty at home. But this merely means that the US agricultural system depends upon the existence of a lot of extremely poor people in Mexico” (127-128). Furthermore, by making migrant workers “illegal,” this allows citizens of the United States to benefit from their low-cost labor while also not having to provide them with any benefits in turn. “Although the current system benefits many people in the United States, we must also recognize its fundamental injustice and think seriously about how it works and what steps could make it more just. If immigrants are being exploited by the current system, and if undocumentedness is one of the concepts that sustains inequality and unjust treatment, then we need to question undocumentedness itself” (150).

The impact of immigration laws and changing ideals about documentation has tremendous impact on families as well, dividing families and forcing cruelty upon some of the people in the greatest need. The laws that exist in our present situation have come from both Republicans and Democrats, so neither party can claim a high moral ground when it comes to immigration reform. However, such reform is needed, and Chomsky provides several suggestions. Comprehensive reform is a difficult goal to aim for, but Chomsky suggests we ought to instead perhaps question the very basis for immigration law to begin with. A longer quote helps illustrate her points:

[W]e have become accustomed to the notion that controlling the border is a basic prerequisite for security, safety, and sovereignty… The entire immigration apparatus is based on the presumption that we know where people belong and we need to legislate their mobility.
It’s also based on some unquestioned assumptions about countries. It is not OK for a public park… to discriminate regarding who is allowed to enter its space. But it’s OK for a country to do that… US immigration laws do just that: discriminate, on the basis of nationality, regarding who is allowed to be where.
If we really want to address the problem of undocumentedness, or so-called “illegal” immgiration, we need to look more in depth at why the United States made some immigration illegal to begin with… It’s just the latest stage in a centuries-long process of legislated inequality, a process both global and domestic. (205-206)

That is, we need to question the very basis for the need for such strong immigration laws rather than accept public assumptions about them. Reform includes a reformation of our minds and thoughts: a questioning of assumptions and looking at facts instead. Since immigration does contribute to our economy in numerous ways (some of which Chomsky documents), we ought to question why there is such a push to restrict it. “In the most immediate terms, we as a society created illegal immigration by making immigration illegal” (208). Is such a move actually something that is necessary? If so, why? These questions need to be answered not by knee-jerk reactions or platitudes such as “a nation without borders is no nation.” After all, nations may still have borders while allowing for immigration. The United States managed to do so all the way until 1882 when immigration laws targeted Chinese people!

Undocumented is a book that is worth reading no matter your political persuasion. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered a holistic view of personhood that allows us to adequately view the rights of all humans as equal. This is something we ought to address. Particularly for Christians, there is no question that all people are equal and deserving of our protection. Chomsky has provided historical perspective and even a way forward in thinking on this complex issue.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores” by Dominique DuBois Gilliard

People from across the political system have called for reform of the penal system in the United States. With Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, Dominique DuBois Gilliard delivers both a bevvy of information for those curious about the penal system alongside a call to work for higher justice.

The book is arranged around two parts: “The Roots and Evolution of Mass Incarceration” and “The Church’s Witness and Testimony.” These parts have much interplay with each other. The first part lays the groundwork for understanding how the United States has become the world’s largest prison system. He grounds this in a slew of historical details, starting with an examination of the “War on Drugs” and how it led to a massive upturn in numbers of incarcerated. Gilliard notes how Black Codes paved the way for “Neoslavery” and the use of the penal system to effectively make slaves once again. He notes these historical perspectives alongside discussion of the “pipelines” (to prison) of mental health, privatized prisons for profit, and immigration. Each of these has clear justice issues that cannot be ignored. The School-to-Prison pipeline, something I had only heard referenced but not really dug into before, seems quite clear to me after reading this book. Essentially, by allowing police presence into schools, we have criminalized delinquency at an alarming rate. Things that may have earned detention or suspension before now yield prison sentences to minors. Frankly, this seems insane. I was blown away by learning that very few states have any special training for the “resource officers” that are put into schools to watch our children is equally disturbing. There is no requirement for any kind of child psychology, de-escalating situations with minors, and the like whatsoever in most places.

After establishing this historical basis for the increase in incarceration rates, Gilliard turns to seeing what the church might do about this plight. He does not ignore historical perspective here, either. One of the most moving and interesting chapters in the book is “The Prisoners’ Pastor: Chaplaincy and Theology’s Institutional Impact.” Therein, Gilliard uses chaplains at the notorious Sing Sing prison in New York as a case study. It was thought by some that sending chaplains to the prisoners was pointless because they were “too far gone” to be impacted by such a ministry. The impact of the persistent chaplains in the face of serious opposition–including by those who ran the prison–is a wonderful tale, but not one without stumbling blocks either. It is also clear that when the chaplains become tools of the system, it can be incredibly damaging.

Another chapter examines the nature of punishment and how a Christian view of the penal system ought to be oriented towards not just punishment but also bringing people back into community. He argues this through an analysis of biblical justice and showing that restoration is a major theme. One of the major ways we can help to cut down on the system of mass incarceration is to educate rather than resort to exclusion and punishment every single time.

Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores is a fascinating, heart-rending, and immediately applicable book. Agree or disagree with Dominique DuBois Gilliard’s positions, it should be read by Christians who wish to think discerningly about our penal system. I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against the Idolatry of the State – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

dietrich_bonhoefferThere is virtually nothing so nefarious as putting our trust in the state or in patriotic hope that our nation will be our savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man executed by the Nazis for his religious opposition to their totalitarian regime, spoke frequently on the great danger of putting our hope in nations or organizations. One of the nefarious ways that patriotism or statism can become idolatry is when people put their hope in individual leaders:

If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. (DBW 12, II/9 cited in Schlingensiepen, 117)

We have a way of rushing to put our hopes or trust in individuals. Bonhoeffer recognized this and even acknowledged that the leader-as-idol is not necessarily something the leader does unilaterally; often it is something that we people want ourselves. We want to be led–we want our leaders to be perfect. Such devotion can lead to our leaders mis-leading by taking up the praise we offer and becoming our idols. Woe to a church that is afraid to call out leaders for wrongdoing.

Individuals are not the only way we make idols of our nations. We can put our hope in nations rather than just in individual leaders. We may begin to speak of the righteousness of the nation, the honor of a people, or the holiness of the state. We may not use these words, but when we dismiss wrongdoing of our own nation, or when we argue that one nation is to be put above all others, we have effectively done just these things. Responding to the question asked in 1932 of why the church is afraid, Bonhoeffer said these convicting words:

Because it [the church] knows there is a commandment to peace, and yet with the clear vision that is given to the church, sees the reality that is full of hate, enmity, violence. It is as if all the powers on earth had conspired together against peace, as if money, the economy, the drive to power, even the love of one’s fatherland have been dragged into the service of hate…

How could it be anything but blasphemous mindlessness, if we were to declare ‘No more war!’ and think with that, and a new organization–even a Christian one–we could exorcise the devil? Such organizations are nothing…

Christ must be present among us in preaching and sacrament, the Crucified One who made peace between God and humankind. The Crucified One is our peace. (DBW 11, 354-355, cited in Schlingensiepen, cited below)

The message is clear: putting hope in any institution is itself idolatry and blasphemous. That institution may be a para-church group, a church, or even a nation-state. The only true hope–the only possibility of hope–is found in Christ alone. Whenever we cease to acknowledge that–whenever we put our hope in anything else–we have committed blasphemy and are called to repent.

Source

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: Continuum, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Policy, or, Why I’m not voting for Donald Trump

white-houseI try to avoid straight-up politics on this blog, but I think it is important to discuss the election this year. Too often, as I’ve voiced my intention to not vote for Donald Trump, I’ve been told that we aren’t voting for a moral leader, but a President or something of the sort (a President, not a pastor… however you want to put it). But apart from the fact that separating morals from policy is impossible, the fact is that the reason I’m anti-Trump was, from the beginning, a matter of policy. Here are just a few of the policy-oriented reasons I’m not voting for Trump. Period. And they’re based, in part, on conservative values.

Religious Liberty

What is one of the most important thing for most conservatives? Freedom of religion. I find this a paramount part of our country’s greatness, myself. The fact that you may freely believe and practice your faith, whether it be Pentecostal, Calvinist, Lutheran, Hindu, or Buddhism is an ideal that is beautiful and necessary. Conservatives across the board point to the importance of religious freedom. Thus, with conservatives telling people they ought to vote for Trump based on policy, it is worth asking: do Trump’s policies support religious liberty?

The plain and clear answer is: no, obviously.

Think about it. Suppose Donald Trump had come out saying “We need a total and complete ban of all Christians entering the United States.” How do you think conservatives would have reacted? As they should have: by exploding. Such a statement would be a direct violation of religious freedom. It would be seeing someone’s faith as the sole reason for denying them entry into our country. But because he said it about Muslims, suddenly it’s seen as okay. Here’s the thing: religious liberty is, and always has been, religious liberty for all religions. Yes, if someone decides that their religion is to kill everybody, that would be a religion that could not be allowed liberty, but Islam is demonstrably diverse, with several distinct factions and offshoots, many of which denounce violence in the name of their faith. It’d be like banning all Christians because of the Branch Davidians or banning all Lutherans because the BTK killer happened to be, ostensibly, Lutheran.

But the point of this is not to debate whether Islam is violent or not (it’s not, inherently; with 1 billion Muslims in the world, if Islam was automatically violent, why are not all of these 1 billion Muslims killing people?). The point is that Trump explicitly made a statement in which religion was the single reason for exclusion from our country. That is a terrifying reality to think about, because as many conservative beliefs begin to be seen as oppressive, it is not very hard to see how conservatives could be next on the list of those banished from the country.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Pastor Martin Niemöller speaking of the Nazis

*Note: I realize Trump has somewhat scaled back this talk to having “extreme vetting,” but it is important to take into account the fact that his initial position of simply banning people based on religion.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech and the freedom of the press stand alongside religious freedom as some of the most important parts of our constitution and, frankly, our country. Yet, once again, we find that Donald Trump is no defender of such a freedom–a freedom that is put forward by conservatives as vastly important.

Donald Trump, frustrated with the media coming after him, Tweeted his frustration suggesting that “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”

Um, yes it is, actually. That’s one of the things freedom of the press explicitly permits. Moreover, Trump has suggested libel and slander laws ought to be opened up to allow him to more easily sue and defeat others who speak badly of him. This is a terrifying reality in which we have a candidate who doesn’t respect freedom of speech because he doesn’t like what others say about him.

So here we have a Presidential candidate who believes it is acceptable to suggest changing the Constitution because he doesn’t like when people speak ill of him. I think that’s a real problem, and would suggest freedom of speech is yet another policy that should have conservatives fleeing from Trump, not flocking to him. For more on this topic, see this article from Red State, a conservative web publication.

Fiscal Policy

“The free market works–it just needs leadership, not dictatorship… We need legislation that gives American companies the tax priorities and financial support to create more of their technology and redirect more of their manufacturing here at home.” –Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 81, 86-87.

“Nobody can build a wall like me. I will build a great wall on our southern border… Construction of the wall needs to start as soon as possible. And Mexico has to pay for it… Mexico will pay for it. How? We could increase the fees on temporary visas. We could even impound remittance payments derived from illegal wages. Foreign governments could tell their embassies to start helping, otherwise they risk troubled relations with America. If necessary we could pay for the wall through a tariff or cut foreign aid to Mexico…” – Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 23-25.

Each of these quotes demonstrates that Trump is by no means a conservative when it comes to fiscal policy. One of the cornerstones of conservative fiscal policy is free trade. Yet in the first quote, Trump encourages protectionism in economics, which is the opposite of free trade. In the second quote, he supports tariffs as a possibility for paying for his projects. Again, raised tariffs are the opposite of free trade. Moreover, Trump has been vocal in opposition to NAFTA and other free trade agreements. Each of these shows beyond any question that Trump is not a conservative when it comes to fiscal policy.

Foreign Policy

“If we’re going to continue to be the policemen of the world, we ought to be paid for it. …There is another way to pay to modernize our military forces. If other countries are depending on us to protect them, shouldn’t they be willing… To pay for the servicemen and servicewomen and the equipment we’re providing? …We defend Germany. We defend Japan. We defend South Korea. These are powerful and wealthy countries. We get nothing from them.” –Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 32, 34.

Whatever Trump has said about nuclear missiles and the like aside, this quote shows that Trump has very little grasp of foreign policy. He sees the United States as a mercenary that hasn’t been paid. He sees our military forces as dollars and cents. More astonishingly, he sees American lives lost defending allies as price tags. How much is the life of one soldier worth? Trump would put a price on it, and then sell that to the highest bidder. I’m not making that up: just read what he himself wrote in his election book!

Later in the same chapter he asks rhetorically why we didn’t make a deal with the leaders of Kuwait “that outlined how they would pay for us to get their country back for them…” (35) before Desert Storm.

Effectively, Trump here suggested we should have extorted money from the leaders of another sovereign nation before we went into military action. Thank goodness he wasn’t in charge of our country during World War 2! We would have had to negotiate with the Allies on the price of our help before we sent our brave soldiers to the shores of Normandy!

Trump has also been vocal about his opposition to NATO, an immensely important military alliance. The dismissal of many of our closest allies by Trump, often accompanied by accusations that the United States must pay too much money, once again shows that Trump’s foreign policy is based upon nothing but the bottom line. But of course foreign policy based purely on flawed economic theory (see “Fiscal Policy,” above) is not the best way to practice foreign policy. Neither is dismissing allies as though they have done “nothing” for us (see his quoted comments above on Germany, South Korea, and Japan).

Time and again, we see Trump’s foreign policy largely can be summed up by dollars and cents. When those dollar signs are set alongside the lives of Americans, as they clearly are in Trump’s mind, there’s a huge problem with his foreign policy.

SCOTUS

Look, simply appealing to the Supreme Court as the reason to select a President shows already how broken the system is. First of all, one’s alleged Supreme Court nominee list is not a “policy,” per se, so I’m confused by my conservative friends continuing to say that policy is the reason, and then citing SCOTUS as the only reason. That said, I don’t for a minute believe that we, conservatives or not, want Donald Trump selecting SCOTUS nominees. For one thing, as already mentioned, Trump believes the constitution should serve his whims when it comes to freedom of speech. Think he doesn’t know that the Supreme Court could help him achieve that if he can appoint judges he wants? Think again.

Of course, Trump has also said his pro-choice sister would make a great Supreme Court justice. He may have changed his mind about that–and it seems some are very willing to believe anything that Trump has changed his mind on–but for conservatives, that should have warning sirens blaring at full.

This article explores this difficulty further.

Abortion

It’s no secret that Trump is repeatedly on record voicing pro-choice ideals throughout his life. Only once he began to run for President–ostensibly as a conservative Republican–did Trump begin to say he was pro-life. But time and again, Trump has been blindsided by pro-life basics. When asked about what should happen if abortion were made illegal, he waffled his answer, saying there should be “some kind” of punishment for women who have abortions. More recently, in the third Presidential debate, he botched an explanation of partial birth abortion and failed to nail Clinton to the wall for her radically pro-choice perspectives that go against both science and logic.

Let’s be honest here, anyone who is truly convinced of the pro-life position ought to be able to articulate it, right? But Trump has demonstrated time and again that he cannot do exactly that. It should be extremely easy to expose Clinton’s talk about abortion for what it is: euphemism. But Trump could just repeat what seemed a memorized piece of rhetoric.

So we have an allegedly conservative Presidential candidate who can’t even articulate and defend the pro-life view beyond some catch phrases, and who fails to press the attack against what should be a fairly easy target.

Conclusion

There are many other reasons I would refuse to vote for Donald Trump, but I hope this post makes it clear that policy is one of those reasons. If my conservative friends and family and acquaintances–and I love you all, don’t let this sound any different–really, truly are conservative, they need to provide for me answers to all of the above. How is it that any of the above policies are conservative?

Grace and peace.

SDG.

Women in Combat? “Sending” women, women pastors, and feminism- a response to Issues Etc. on Women in Combat and Selective Service

As a Lutheran, a podcast I frequently enjoy is “Issues, Etc.” It continually offers a Lutheran perspective on current events, theological issues, and more. However, there are times where its approach to theology or current events reflects less a Lutheran understanding than a specific brand of theological conservatism. The recent podcast (2/11/16) featured Pastor Hans Fiene discussing “Women in Combat and Selective Service.” I found it to be deeply mistaken on a number of issues, and would like to address just a few of those here.

“Sending” your daughter or wife?

One comment made in the episode labeled any man who would “send” his wife or daughter to investigate a noise downstairs to see if it might be a burglar as a “coward.” There are a number of problems with this statement. First, anyone who “sends” anyone else into a potentially dangerous situation because they don’t want to go themselves might be labeled as cowardly. The way the phrase was said already begs the question. If the situation were reversed, would Fiene say that the wife is “sending” her husband to investigate, or is the husband simply investigating?

Second, suppose that a man is married to a woman who has extensive martial arts training, is a weapons specialist, sleeps with a pistol under her pillow, and immediately leaps into action to investigate such a noise, while the man works a desk job, is of average build and has never used a weapon before. Is it really reasonable to think that the man is cowardly if he allows his wife to investigate the noise? Well, absurdly, others who share Fiene’s view argue that yes, that man has shirked his duty, is cowardly, and probably a wimp. In other words, men are to be shamed and emasculated if a woman is stronger or better at fighting than they are.

The absurdity of such a position knows no bounds. Men are stripped of their manhood if women are perceived as better at things we arbitrarily label “manly.” It gets curiouser and curiouser, as assertions are made that a man ought to intentionally die even if a woman could save him. A reductio ad absurdum is not even required for this kind of position: it demonstrates for itself that it flies in the face of reason.

Women Pastors?

Fiene could not resist the urge to take a jab at those who are for women in the ministry in this discussion, either. He drew a comparison between woeful ignorance of the horrors of war and ignorance of the spiritual warfare that pastors must engage in. In a stunning non sequitor, he stated that “If we lived in a world where pastors were routinely murdered by Pagans who were storming into churches and putting them to death or… where pastors were having to stay behind while everyone was getting the Plague and dying while everyone who was healthy fled… I don’t really think we’d be having an argument over whether or not women should be pastors.”

It is hard to take this kind of statement seriously, and the statement itself is clearly condescension. Fiene assumes that he knows more about his opponents’ sincerity of believe than they do. After all, if only those silly egalitarians really knew what war was like or really believed in spiritual warfare, then they’d clearly change their minds. This leaves no room for sincerity of belief on the part of the egalitarian, and that is extremely problematic. Frankly, I don’t know of anyone who calls themselves an egalitarian who would recant their stance if women pastors were being killed by Pagans or had to deal with Plague. No one wants women to have those things happen to them; indeed, I hope no one wants men to have them happen to them either! The same applies to combat–no one wants soldiers to have to go kill people, I hope. But if difficult spiritual warfare, even death, is what pastors are to endure, and someone genuinely believes women ought to be allowed to be in the ministry, then those are the types of risks that must be taken. And to assume that egalitarians didn’t even think about that possibility or are too timid to even consider it is offensive, to say the least. The only way Fiene can make such a statement is by assuming without any argument that his opponents are insincere.

As an aside, does Fiene completely discount the work of women like Mother Theresa, or Mother Maria Skobtsova (who was murdered by the Nazis), or the countless other women who have done exactly what he thinks egalitarians are silly to think women can do? A lack of integrating church history into an overall worldview might be shown here.

Feminism?

Complementarian (and other conservative) commentators continue to equivocate on the term “feminism.” Instead of acknowledging that there can be any diversity within the group who self identify as feminists, the label is assumed to mean any number of things that many feminists do not put forward. For example, it was not just implied but implicitly stated that “feminism” demanded equality for women by arguing for abortion rights in order to free women from having to deal with childcare. This, of course, ignores the fact that the feminist movement started as strongly pro-life, not to mention the continued existence of groups like Feminists for Life who are out there making a real difference for the pro-life movement.

The use of the term “feminist” as a clobber-word to induce fear is a straw man of the worst kind. It demonstrates either ignorance–a complete lack of knowledge about the breadth of views held by those who call themselves “feminist”–or intentional deceit. Moreover, to lump egalitarianism–the Christian movement for equality of women in the church and home–with this blanket statement of “feminist” as pro-choice, etc. is to obfuscate the issue even further.

Natural Law

I wanted to add a brief note about natural law as well. Fiene and others continue to just throw out “natural law” in an undefined way as though it unequivocally supports their position. Yet one could just as easily appeal to “natural law” to support women in combat roles, for a natural law might just be a threshold of strength and mental endurance that could be seen as suitable for combat roles, and then anyone who meets that threshold is permitted to do so. I don’t want to delve into the deep waters surrounding natural law theory, but the point is that a bald appeal to “natural law” doesn’t do much to support Fiene’s position.

Conclusion

I believe the discussion here has broader application to the discussion over so-called gender roles as well as the debate between egalitarians and complementarians. Fiene’s arguments are the same kind of arguments that are continually trumpeted by opponents of egalitarianism. But, as we have seen here, those arguments are fallacious, they fail to take the opposition seriously, and they rely on ill-defined terms and obfuscation. There is are no reasons provided by Fiene to support his position. Bare assertions, jabs at opponents, and absurdly irrational statements are put in the place of argument.

Source

Hans Fiene, “Women in Combat and Selective Service,” 2/11/16 available at http://issuesetc.org/2016/02/11/1-women-in-combat-and-selective-service-pr-hans-fiene-21116/ accessed 2/13/16.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

I have been reading through the Book of Concord, which is a collection of the Lutheran Confessions. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with these documents. They are, after all, what we believe and confess. I decided to start a series of posts as I’m reading through the Book of Concord to highlight various areas I think are important.

The Fifth Commandment and Refugees

There is much fear in the world today over the question of Syrian Refugees. I’ve been reading through the Book of Concord and I ran into the section on the Fifth Commandment. I was taken back by how lucid Luther’s interpretation is there, and it has some serious application for today:

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no [hu]man, but show [them] all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

One can see these same thoughts echoed in the discussion of the seventh commandment:

…we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes (251-252)

What is particularly uncomfortable about these words is the word of law that is contained within them: “both friends and foes” are included in these commands. We ought to further their interests, “help, share, and lend to” them “when they suffer any want,” and show them “all good and love.” Luther is abundantly clear on this point: “it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.”

Could more prophetic words have been written by Luther? Surely, the times in which we fear our enemies and wish to do nothing but avoid them are legion. Today is but one example of human injustice to fellow humans. But the words of the Commandments brook no argument, and Luther’s interpretation makes this abundantly clear: “to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue…” and we are given a higher calling.

Those objections that would point to individual instances of violence, those who would alleged terrorists sneaking into our borders, and the like: the word of the law is spoken, and it is a powerful one: Christ’s calling is higher. When they suffer–even when our enemies suffer–we ought help them. If that means letting in the Syrian refugee fleeing from the violence in their homeland, if that means the “illegal immigrant” running from poverty and destitution, then so be it. There is no question here. There is no exception for fear that they will “steal our jobs” or that they speak a different language or have a different skin color or a different religion or anything of the sort. The words Luther writes here are clear: “it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no” one.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Sojourner in your Land” – A Christian perspective on immigration and refugees

The issue of immigration has been turned into a political meme. Refugees flee from Syria and other nations in the wake of violence. There are some who treat the plight of the refugee and immigrant, however, as a blight to be extinguished. What does the Bible have to tell us about these issues? A great deal. Here I will briefly draw out a few ways the Bible discusses these topics.

All Humans Share Equal Dignity

The Bible makes it extremely clear that all humans share the image of God (Genesis 2), and that the divisions we make of nation and race have no place in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).

The Sojourner in Your Land

The Old Testament has much to say regarding sojourners or exiles. There is no comment about the legality of the sojourner or exile, but rather the focus is on the plight of those who flee from their own lands.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)

The argument might be made that these are specific commands to a specific people: the Israelites. After all, we read the reasoning: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. We were never in Egypt! we might cry. The teaching, however, seems to be binding and universal.To point out that the latter part does not apply to Christians is like the teachers of the Law saying they were slaves to no one, despite being Abraham’s descendants (John 8:33).

Moreover, when we consider a verse like Exodus 22:21- ““You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (ESV), we note that the reasoning provided is not necessary for the command. You shall not wrong or oppress a sojourner; next clause: here’s a reason why. But the command itself stands whether or not the reason given directly applies to us or not. Of course, even if you don’t buy into this reasoning, there are plenty of verses that simply command us to care for the sojourner.

Malachi 3:5 states “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

God issues dire warnings “against those who thrust aside the sojourner.”

The letter to the Hebrews applies this from a New Testament perspective: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (13:2).

Commands to help the needy and poor are found throughout Scripture, such as in Proverbs: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (31:8-9)

It would be difficult to discount that “illegal immigrants” are often among the poor and needy, or that refugees could not be counted among that number.

Hope for all nations is preached throughout the Bible, calling people from all directions to God.

An Eschatological Perspective

Christians are told by Peter that we are all exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are in this world, and not of it. Such verses speaking of the nature of Christians as exiles on earth tie the thread, and bring us full circle. The reasoning that applied to the Israelites because they were sojourners in Egypt applies to us, because we are sojourners on Earth. Care for the poor and needy, do not turn aside the sojourner, for we are exiles as they are.

Drawing Conclusions

Christians have no wiggle room: the plight of the sojourner, the refugee, and/or the exile are not to be ignored. We are to care for them as we would be cared for. How exactly does this play out in a practical fashion? That is up for some debate. However, any perspective cannot be called Christian which ignores the Bible’s clear teaching and command to care for others.

It is also clear that there is nowhere in the Bible where provisions are made for some of the arguments commonly used in the political sphere. For example, there is no exception stating that if people do not want to pay higher taxes, they are allowed to turn aside the sojourner. Neither does it prescribe a specific system for providing assistance, or say that a specific form of government should be established to do so. One thing that is excluded explicitly would be any demeaning of others made in the image of God. One thing that is required is that we do care for those in need.

We are called to help the sojourner. Whether that is the refugee from Syria, the young neighbor boy who ran away from an abusive home, or an “illegal” seeking to escape from systemic poverty: no exceptions are made. We as Christians should remember that we, too, are exiles seeking scraps from the Master’s table.

Grace and peace.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Response to an Article on Welfare Recipients in Seattle

IMG_0691The purpose of this blog is to discuss things related to the Christian worldview. I tend to try to avoid political issues, but I recently saw a number of friends sharing an article entitled “Workers in Seattle Have Their Precious $15 Minimum Wage. But Now They Want Fewer Hours” and I wanted to respond. I will be analyzing the article from the Christian worldview perspective.

Summary of Article

The article in question points out that Seattle’s minimum wage was raised, but some who are working minimum wage have asked to work fewer hours so they do not lose their government benefits. The author writes:

[E]mployees of a non-profit group in Seattle who’ve achieved their glorious goal of the $15 minimum wage are actually asking their employers for FEWER hours. The reason? Now that they make more money, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing. So they figure if they work fewer hours, they’ll make less money and they can stay in their government-provided cheap apartments –

After sharing a few quotes, the author comments:

HOLY SOCIALISM, BATMAN!

Basically, they want a “living wage” (whatever the heck THAT means) AND they still want all the freebies the government gives them. Because that’s TOTALLY the point of working hard and being independent.

A Response

First, I ran the numbers given in the article regarding minimum wage and cost of living in Seattle. It’s fairly straightforward, as the author shared a quote (without disputing it) of the prices involved. According to the article, the cost of a one-bedroom apartment is 1200$ a month. The cost of child care was about 900$ a month. That adds up to 2100$. Now we do the math on the wages. $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, about 4.5 weeks per month = 2700$. Now this is basically granting the most possible money because some months do only get 4 pay checks, but we’ll go with it.

The math therefore shows that, ignoring any taxes whatsoever, there would be 600$ left over a month for utilities, food, auto/renters/life/health insurance, transportation and related costs, and the like.

Whatever else might be in question here–whatever economic theories one favors–these are the numbers the article itself acknowledges. For Christians, this is the kind of data that we should seek out and try to form our opinions around. Of course we need to have economic practices which are sustainable, but as Christians we must also keep in mind the demands on our conscience towards the “other” in need. We should seek more information and be cautious about making broad statements on either side; whether we agree or disagree. Misrepresenting liberals is just as bad as misrepresenting conservatives.

A Christian Moral Response

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no way around the biblical teaching about caring for the poor and needy–even if we don’t like their “life choices.” Thus, the tone of this article is highly inappropriate as it mocked those who were in need throughout with phrases like “I’m not addicted to government welfare…” thrown in as snide remarks towards those who are on some kind of welfare.

A Christian response to this should be to immediately shut down any kind of mockery of other persons, period. There is no space in the Christian moral system for carelessly decrying those who are in need. Regarding the exact phrase in question, suppose we take it literally–what is the Christian response to addiction? Should it be to point out how we ourselves are not addicted and move on from the one who is? I don’t think so. I believe that we must continue to help those in need–even if addicted. That said, the dubiousness of taking the meaning literally is of course clear. It, like the rest of the article, was directed as mockery of those in need and those who have rival economic theories trying to help them.

I’m not trying to favor one theory over another–whether pure capitalism or pure socialism or some mix is best is a topic for a completely different day and post–the issue involved is rather the tone we should carry even in disagreement. Rather than mock, should we not aid and instruct as needed?

A Rejoinder

The most frequent response I received when I shared concerns related to the article was that I needed to be instructed on economic theory.

Note that I have not commented on whether we need to raise minimum wage or whether we need to make it a “living wage.” I don’t particularly want to enter that debate and the quagmire that follows it. My comments have been on the ethical concerns with the article and its tone. We have looked at the numbers involved, and I suggested those should be a consideration regarding a Christian response to such issues. Other than that I think that we must at all costs avoid the kind of tone present in the article. We ought to treat others as we would be treated.

Conclusion

Finally, as a practical concern, would not a reasoned response sharing one’s own disputes about the economic theory(ies) involved in the article be more convincing than poking fun at the specifics of another’s situation? I believe so. I certainly don’t respond well when the beliefs I hold are mocked. That is a surefire way to shut down conversation rather than spur it forward. If the intent is to convince, would not a winsome approach work better?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.

It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*

Economics

The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.

Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.

I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).

Biblical/Moral Issues

Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.

The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:

When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**

Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?

Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.

One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.

Complexities

The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.

Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.

That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.

A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.

Conclusion

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.

Links

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Sunday Quote!- A biblical answer to economic woes?– I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.

**All references are to kindle locations.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

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