Tuesday, November 27, 2012

John Rawls: A Theory of Justice Part 1 - The Enlightenment Experiment

Admittedly, I am late to the table concerning John Rawls, but I am becoming quite the fan. I am currently reading "A Theory of Justice" having read, earlier this year, "The Law of Peoples".

What I will be doing is journaling my thoughts as I read this monumental work of moral philosophy. My audience for much of what I write is the American evangelical but also more broadly the American electorate. Having studied a bit of Rawls this year, I am coming to the conclusion that Rawls should be mandatory reading for all Americans, probably best as college freshmen. Of course, such a suggestion is merely wishful thinking, but one can hope that the American electorate could become well informed and thoughtful in light of the irrationality that marked the 2012 election cycle.

Rawls is a Newtonian figure in the realm of political philosophy. What Newton was to modern physics I believe Rawls is to moral and political philosophy. Rawls makes all things clear when considering how political life ought to work, which brings me to my first point. Johns Rawls is a pillar in the endless line of splendor that is the enlightenment tradition.

The enlightenment is based on the idea that through reason mankind can discover the path to ever increasing peace and prosperity. The works of John Rawls and especially "A Theory of Justice" lays forth a methodology by which men and women of reason may discover a conception of justice upon which they can agree. Such a conception of justice becomes the foundation of a well ordered society and, thus, such a program becomes a step forward in the enlightenment experiment. I find such an appeal to reason glorious and dignifying. The vision of the enlightenment can be quite motivational, but likewise, to lose the vision and quest of the enlightenment can be quite disheartening. Such a cynicism rooted in a rejection of the enlightenment principles that assume solutions to fundamental problems can be solved at least partially leads to political and social apathy. The study of Rawls can be a means to overcome such apathy, but it seems that to find inspiration from Rawls, we must first address two obstacles.

First, the enlightenment experiment involves faith in reason. There then is the problem of man's political nature. In our current political and social environment, partisanism appears to be undermining the role of reason in the decisions of the various political actors. Would a reading of the likes of Rawls by the American electorate tip the scales from purely political considerations in the decisions of political actors to a more principle-based problem solving founded on a common conception of justice. Needless to say, a more principled and thoughtful politics would be welcomed. A reading of Rawls can help us embrace such a quest for public reasoning based on a common conception of justice.

While the obstacle of our political tendencies poses a threat to a more enlightened approach to our political life, our cultures post-modern tendencies likewise poses an obstacle. By post-modern, I mean the belief that all opinions are equal. Ought not an opinion which is based in fantasy as opposed to fact be discredited in the marketplace of ideas, yet it appears of late that such a naive proposition is not a given. In fact, the reality that a fantasy based opinion can survive public discourse is a threat to the enlightenment experiment that is liberal democracy. But maybe just maybe, an appeal to education, indeed an education in the writings of John Rawls and the like, might just give a shot in the arm to our ailing experiment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Need for a New Theological and Political Wineskin

Last night, I heard a theologian teach at our church. He started by saying he was very depressed because we are losing the war for evangelical Christianity in America. Needless to say, his depression had to have something to do with the election. He tried to hide his partisanship but it leaked through.

He was absolutely horrible, but I am heartened. He was an old man, and I think he represents an old way of thinking. At least I can hope.

This theologians point was that Christians need to learn how to think and persuade people to our way of thinking. He decried the anti-intellectualism in the church. He completely missed the point. The problem is not that we do not think enough. The problem is that the conservative evangelical theological system makes people anti-intellectual. The problem is that any theology which purports that the earth is 10,000 years old cannot be intellectual. What is needed is a new theological framework, a new wineskin to hold the wine of scientific FACTS. If we cannot reasonably and elegantly address the facts, then we cannot be intellectual or thinking people. The problem is that the 20th century conservative hermeneutic is not capable of addressing scientific fact. Therefore, a new hermeneutic is needed, a new wineskin.

This theologian was forlorn about the votes on homosexual marriage. If we cannot support equal rights and liberty for ALL, then we cannot have a place at the table of democracy. We need a new political philosophy that shows a compassionate and grace filled face to the Church in the political arena. It is so obvious that Christians are supposed to be the voice for the poor in America. Instead, we are seen as people who believe that what is on God's mind is the idea that homosexuals want rights under the law. In a democracy, it is fine to believe that BUT it is not the basis of a political philosophy. The American political system is founded on the motto of e pluribus unum. The American experiment is an experiment centered on belief that the a diversity of peoples can become one people. This political philosophy by definition must not bring our religion into our politics. Unless we develop a political philosophy based in a commitment to civil liberties and a passion for justice, we cannot be intellectuals in the realm of politics.

What this theologian didn't realize is that what created the anti-intellectualism is the inability of his generations theology to incorporate scientific facts and to understand the relationship between religion and politics under our constitutional democracy. What is needed is better ideas not doubling down on the failed ideas of 20th century evangelicalism.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Presidential Debate Obama / Romney: What President Obama Should Have Said

I am a firm believer that democratic ideas are the solution to the current economic problems. That democrats have the solution to economic problems is certainly not always the case. To articulate the democratic ideas on the economy, this is what President Obama should have said.

During the first debate session, Romney and Obama went back and forth on reducing taxes for businesses with Romney stating the 50% of American workers work for successful small companies whose taxes would go up under President Obama’s plan. These companies, Romney strongly asserted, are the job creators. Romney then re-iterated the Republican talking point that the Obama administration is penalizing success. To this line of reasoning Obama had no answer.
Here is the correct answer which the President could have made. I would have said the following:
The problem with Governor Ronmey's one size fits all, supply side solution is that he states what appears on the surface to be a valid point but is simply bad policy in the current economic environment. Today, corporations small and large are holding onto a record level of cash. To lower tax rates on these companies will give companies better after taxes cash on hand, and only add to the record cash on hand that companies are already not spending on growth and hiring. The problem is that companies are not spending because they do not have enough demand from consumers to grow their businesses by spending more money. The reason for this is because Republican policies over the last 30 years, supply side economics, have funneled money to the top income brackets and left the middle-class squeezed and buried. Therefore, in order to increase demand for goods and services and grow the economy from the middle out ALL tax decreases need to be focused on the middle-class. We are in a economic situation, caused by republican supply side blind-ideology, which has consistently reduced the buying power of the middle-class. Therefore, let me say this again 100%, ALL, tax relief in my proposal is focused on the middle class . Again, to grow the economy from the inside out, we must focus ALL our tax relief on the middle-class so that they can energize economic growth through increased consumption.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Discipleship – Intro: Discipleship and the Need for a Spiritual Revolution

When I first started writing publically about the church, I started this blog, “21st Century Reformation”. That was 2003 or about 10 years ago. In those years, the emphasis was simply to take seriously the teachings of Jesus and to apply them in a practical way. I was pastoring a church and later participated in a church plant. Both communities evolved into something that, in light of my reading of the scripture, did not look like the early church. Many of my friends encouraged me to meet people half way and to be more “realistic”. The last few years I have tried that half-measured approach for myself, and I have found this road does not make me happy. Therefore, today I return to my first love and am beginning a new quest to walk a road of continual spiritual revolution. Personally, my heart will only find its home in the midst of a community committed to this spiritual revolution.  Let the journey and the struggle begin anew.

God Plan for Human Community Remains the Same
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed]were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
And again in Acts chapter 4, the church is described as32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

The biblical description of the early church depicts a community that is both spiritual and revolutionary. Can this be said of the church today? Is the church spiritual? Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century, described the church’s greatest problem as “superficiality”. Is not superficiality in opposition to spirituality? Spirituality seeks to heal what really ails us. A healthy spiritual community develops a spiritual program that helps others find this healing, this freedom, this truly happy and heavenly quality of life. Are today’s Christians distinctly more spiritually healthy and beautiful than the non-Christian? Are our behaviors and attitudes distinct?  Would the on-looker describe the peace and endurance of the modern Christian as stunning and awesome? If not, then, we are not yet spiritual.

Likewise, would anyone describe the church of today as revolutionary? The early church lived communally, “had all things in common”. “There was not a needy person among them, for all who had lands or houses would sell them…and they would distribute to each as any had need”. Does this describe the church today? Is not the church a staunch defender of the status quo? Is the church meeting the material needs of the world in a revolutionary way? Is materialism a problem in the church as it is in the world? Is simplicity the norm? Is our generosity extravagant? Is the church revolutionary like the early church was?

By revolutionary, I mean a community that is living by an entirely different set of ethical rules than the world around us. To be revolutionary always requires a revolutionary relationships with material goods and a revolutionary concern for others. This is exactly what is described in the early church. Plainly, poverty and inequality is a problem in the world and always has been. This problem of inequality was solved in the revolutionary lifestyle of the early church. We cannot call ourselves a biblical community unless we are similarly living a revolutionary lifestyle.
The church is neither radically spiritual nor radically revolutionary, and, unless we become both spiritual and revolutionary, we cannot be the solution to the human problem. Yet, this is exactly what it means that Jesus is the Christ and that we are His disciples. Jesus came to solve the human problem of injustice and man’s inhumanity to man, and this solution is to be shining forth in the church.

What the world needs is a spiritual revolution. Our spirituality must set us truly free, and this freedom must express itself in a distinctly Christlike ethical response to the world we encounter. Our world is drowning in injustice and in need of a people free enough to make personal material sacrifices which meet this injustice with compassion and empathy.

The early church is a description of the prototype of the church as fashioned by the disciples of Jesus. These men and women, discipled in the footsteps of Jesus, lived radically distinct lives filled with spiritual power and material generosity. The early church lived in a state of spiritual revolution bringing a revolutionary lifestyle of worship, prayer and simplicity to a world filled with violence and poverty. Until the church looks like the early church, we will not change the world like the early church changed the world. Until the church makes disciples like Jesus made disciples, the church will not look like the community of the disciples of Jesus.
It is not time to move the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is time for a spiritual revolution.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

As Clinton sounds interest rate alarm, a Warning Against a Do-Nothing Congress

As Clinton sounds interest rate alarm, will reason prevail?
The cost of politics as usual is very high. If Congress takes the stance that the best politics is to assure that the other guys fail, real people will get hurt.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fiddling at the Fire by Nouriel Roubini - Project Syndicate

After compiling all the elements of the future perfect storm leading to potential global depression, Roubini states the cause:

Ineffective governments with weak leadership are at the root of the problem. In democracies, repeated elections lead to short-term policy choices. In autocracies like China and Russia, leaders resist the radical reforms that would reduce the power of entrenched lobbies and interests, thereby fueling social unrest as resentment against corruption and rent-seeking boils over into protest. But, as everyone kicks the can down the road, the can is getting heavier and, in the major emerging markets and advanced economies alike, is approaching a brick wall. Policymakers can either crash into that wall, or they can show the leadership and vision needed to dismantle it safely.

This confirms the fundamental truth that problems can be solved. All problems have solutions, but, as is so often the case, the primary players' political agendas trump reason. Fiddling at the Fire by Nouriel Roubini - Project Syndicate