November 07, 2004

Wesley's "I Want a Principle Within"; Sensitivity to Sin

We sang the Wesley hymn, "I Want a Principle Within," at church today. It's a good one, because its theme is that it is good for us to be sensitive to sin, not calloused. "I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near." A contrary desire is also common: to numb oneself to sin. Mark Twain had a funny story on this topic, "The Facts Concerning The Recent Carnival Of Crime In Connecticut," in which he meets and strangles his conscience, after making it heavy enough to sink to the floor and catch. But it is usually not so funny. We want to do evil, but we dislike guilt and shame.

There is another danger, too: losing sensitivity to sin in other people and in the world. I feel this loss keenly. I do not think I am a better person for having grown more calloused in my maturity, even though I am perhaps better able to deal with the world. I have grown much harder to shock. Perhaps my children will teach me how to again be sensitive.

I Want a Principle Within

Words: Charles Wesley, 1749
Music (via here: Louis Spohr, 1834; adapt. by J. Stimpson, but there's a better "Welsh melody" tune we sang at ECC)

I want a principle within
of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin,
a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will,
and quench the kindling fire.

From thee that I no more may stray,
no more thy goodness grieve,
grant me the filial awe, I pray,
the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
awake my soul when sin is nigh,
and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love,
to me thy power impart;
the mountain from my soul remove,
the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain
my reawakened soul,
and drive me to that blood again,
which makes the wounded whole.

I'll repeat a post from June 12, 2004 that is related.

06.12b. Pope: "Vice is a monster of so frightful mien". . Alexander Pope makes a good argument for not talking too much about vice, even to condemn it, as Pastor Timothy Bayly said to me at lunch yesterday at Noodle Town. From Essay on Man (ep. II, l. 217) (1733):

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated need but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

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October 24, 2004

A Home Church Service

Today I was at my parents' farm and we had church at home, using Luke
16:19-29 and I Corinthians 1:20-27. Luke 16 is the story of Lazarus and
the Rich Man, and I Corinthians 1 is about "The Foolishness of This
World". I've copied both at the end of this post. The order of service was like

Invocation >
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"
Reading I Corinthians 1:20-27 (Uncle Scott) .
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Prayer (Grandpa)
Reading Luke 16, Lazarus and the Rich Man (Grandma)
Acting out Luke 16 (Elizabeth as the Rich Man, Grandma as Lazarus, Amelia as Abraham, Benjamin as the Dog, Jacob as the Angel and the Gravedigger, Uncle
Eric narrating.
Sermon: "Simple Faith" (Uncle Eric)
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"

It worked out well. Lazarus and the Rich Man is easy to dramatize, and the two passages work well together for a sermon on the Gospel and Pride. Two things I'd remember for next time are: (a) Prepare a passage for a benediction, and (b)Sing hymns like "Trust and Obey" out one line at a time, with the congregation then repeating them. That's better for kids who can't read, and eliminates the need for hymnbooks.

I Corinthians 1 says

20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?
hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it
pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the
Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of
God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is
stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the
flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;
and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which
are mighty;

Luke 16:19-31 says

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and
fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate,
full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table:
moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels
into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good
things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that
they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us,
that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to
my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come
into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead,
they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will
they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

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October 17, 2004

Faith-- A Decision Theory Analog

I thought of an analogy for faith today that may be helpful to people who think in terms of economic models.

Imagine that you have 100 hours to devote to a project that will yield a million dollars if successful. If you devote 0 hours to the project, it will have a 10% chance of success. Spending an hour on the production side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0% or 0.4%, with equal probability. Spending an hour on the marketing side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0.1% or 0.2%, with equal probability.

What should you do? You should spend all 100 hours on production, for an expected 40% increase in the probability of success, compared to 15% for marketing. You should resist the temptation to "split the difference" and spend some time on production and some time on marketing. You may be wrong-- and production time may be completely useless-- but you need to make that leap of faith.

The same goes for religious faith. I have my life to spend on attaining The Good. If I just avoid thinking about Big Things, I might still succeed. If I think a little, I will realize there are certain paths which are most likely to help. Christianity has, perhaps, a 0% or a 40% chance of being correct. Atheistic hedonism has, perhaps, a 10% or 20% chance of success. I must make a decision, though, and compromise is not a sign of wisdom. Rather, I should be willing to be brave, and put my efforts where my mind directs them (and heart-- if my heart is helpful), even knowing that I cannot be sure of what is true. That, indeed, is the key reason for faith: that lack of certainty should not paralyze us, and in the case of the Big Things, reason will not take us anywhere near Certainty.

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October 10, 2004

Does Christian Libertarianism Make Sense?

Summer 2004 posts by Jay Caruso and Josh Claybourn express their opposition to the Family Marriage Act as Christian libertarians. That bill is not the best example to use, though, since it involves lots of federal issues. Even someone who believes in criminalizing homosexuality might oppose a federal bill forbidding homosexual marriage, on the grounds that marriage is matter for state legislatures, not the federal government.

So let us use a different example-- an extreme one, to sharpen the issues. What should the Christian position be on whether there should be a state law forbidding a parent from killing his children? Is such a law legitimate, or is it an undue intrusion on people's rights?

The first response will no doubt be, "It is an intrusion on the rights of children." That begs the question. Why does a child have the right not to be killed? He would like having such a right, of course, but the parent would like to have the right to kill him. Different societies judge these things differently. Modern America does not allow a father to kill his child, but ancient Rome did.

The reason America differs from Rome is, I think, Christianity. Christians, unlike other people in the Roman Empire, thought it was sinful to abandon infants to die. It was a religious issue. I don't know how other non-Christian societies come out on this issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if tolerance of parents killing children was the norm. It really is quite rational, if we put aside the modern morality we all have inherited from Christianity. Suppose your baby is born crippled. Why should you have to ruin your life raising it, instead of smothering it and having another baby? Indeed, modern America comes close to this in the routine eugenic practice of aborting babies with Down's Syndrome. Since we can diagnose birth defects in the womb now, we are not so tempted by waiting till the child is born to kill it, and there has been less pressure on the cultural norm that post-birth killing is wrong.

But let us think now of the Christian libertarian. He will oppose the killing of crippled children by their parents as a matter of morality, but should he say that despite the immorality of the practice, he does not want to inflict his morality on other people and so opposes a government law against such murder?

Yes, it seems to me, if he is to be consistent. As a matter of secular prudence rather than religious morality, he could support laws against murdering adults. Such laws are convenient for keeping a society prosperous and orderly, arguments which cannot be made in favor of making infanticide illegal. We could imagine the voters all agreeing out of pure self-interest to a pact under which they are not allowed to kill each other. But banning infanticide would be the voters each giving up a right for nothing in return except the pleasure of thwarting someone else's right to kill children.

This last pleasure is, I think, the key to why we have infanticide laws in post-Christian societies. Even if the father wants to kill the child, the grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and schoolteachers might feel unhappy, and they are willing to impose their preferences on the father. This consideration, however, is one which gives ground to all kinds of morality laws: even if I want to engage in homosexuality, drug use, bear baiting, and cannibalism, my activities might make my relatives and neighbors unhappy.

So I think ifyou are to be a Christian libertarian, you must oppose laws against infanticide if you are to be consistent. If you are one who does not, you should rethink your opposition to other kinds of morality laws. Remember, to say that "Infanticide is different because the child's rights are being violated" is begging the question. Where do you get that idea of rights? In any case, why do you think you are justified in imposing your notion of children's rights on other people?

My hope here is that the Christian libertarian will decide there is something wrong in his position, and favor laws against infanticide, and thereby other morality laws. I'll have to wait till another day to address the Christian libertarian who sticks to his guns and says that although infanticide is immoral, ti should nonetheless be legal, to keep government intrusion to a minimum.

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October 03, 2004

A History of the Work of Redemption

I was just reading about Jonathan Edwards's A History of the Work of Redemption, which was a history of the world from the point of view of God's plan. I haven't seen the book itself, but I like the idea. There's a lot of study of God's plan in the part of history covered by the Bible, but what about the 2,000 years since then? Just because we have not had prophets and apostles in that period does not mean its history is unimportant, or even that it is less important than the history in the Bible. It seems unlikely that God would have put such a long period between the Resurrection and the Last Judgement without some purpose, and since the world has changed so much in that time, should we not deduce that that change is part of God's plan?

I'll muse a little about how such a history might be structured. It would be a life's work, but I'll give it about half an hour.

That Israel was located in what is essentially the center of the world cannot be accidental, under either a religious or a secular view of history. Christianity was poised to take off, as a new religion that appealed to both the head and heart of those dissatified with both paganism and philosophy in the Roman Empire. That Empire was the breeder for Christianity. When the Church was old enough to survive without the peace of the Empire, the Empire collapsed under the barbarian invasions.

The barbarian invasions set the scene for the next phase of Christianity. It ended the stagnation of the Empire, which had made amazingly little progress in the arts and sciences during its 450 years of prosperity. And it prevented the Church from becoming a mere state religion under the thumb of the Emperor. The cost was high, of course-- the Dark Ages, with a heavy decline in prosperity and learning. Christianity, however, prospered, as the barbarians were one by one converted-- a surprising success, given that it was not Roman power that brought about the conversions.

The Middle Ages were a period of both savagery and piety, of illiteracy and theological development. They also saw the institutionalization of the Church, and its corruption. To what end? I don't know.

The Reformation clearly improved the Church, both in Protestantism and via the reforms it brought to the Roman Catholics. It also set the scene for the strong Church in America, which I suppose is due to the Puritans and the frontier Baptists and Methodists setting the tone for other denominations.

The next phase of history saw the rise of Christianity in the United States and its decline in Europe. Despite some valiant rear-guard actions, the Church in Europe again became corrupt, while in America a decline in some denominations was matched by a strengthening in others.

The main story of the 20th century was the rise of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, a rise which is in full throttle now. History is pointing towards a replacement of both Europe and America as the strongholds of the Church-- unless, that is, those continents are infused with new strength from the Third World.

As to what happens next, that is a mystery. The history I am thinking of would not be like the Dispensationalist books on the present signs of the End of the World. I see no such signs-- indeed, as I said, we seem to be in the middle of important developments, not near the end of some phase. I don't think we can know if the Last Judgement is going to be next year or 2,000 more years from now, but there might actually be some clue in the developments of the first two millenia of the Church, if only some wise man were to study them.

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September 29, 2004

Roman Catholic Encyclicals on Church and State

At the end of my post, "The Just Wage-- A Christian Approach to the Market" I wrote,

It is worth keeping in mind that Rerum Novarum comes from the era in which the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable not just with free markets but with other modern things such as secular governments and elected governments . See my old post ofAugust 2003 , which I ought to update some day (it doesn't talk about elections vs. monarchies, on which seeIMMORTALE DEI (1885), just about whether church and state should be separate). Anyone citing papal encyclicals of that era in support of government regulation had better be ready to support other encyclicals less appealing to the modern mind.

Those old papal encyclicals on politics are actually worth looking at. ....

...For one thing, they show why voters used to be apprehensive about having a Roman Catholic as President, back in 1928 with Al Smith or 1960 with John Kennedy. It wasn't mere prejudice; it was the fear that Smith or Kennedy might actually take Church doctrine seriously and consider it their duty to use the power of government to suppress other denominations and religions. This was a bit of a joke even in Kennedy's time, and certainly nobody worries about Kerry doing that.

For another, it is worth taking the old Catholic ideas seriously. They are heresy in our modern American tradition (though not for Puritans), but they are ideas we moderns need to consider and refute. In particular, I find the last document I quote-- the 1885 Immortale Dei-- well written and challenging. These ideas are, in fact, similar to what Islamists believe now, and if we can understand Pius IX we will be better able to understand Bin Laden. I do not mean this at all pejoratively; though Bin Laden's methods are evil, his idea of a reformed and worldwide Islam rule is not ridiculous in theory, no more than Pius's ideal of a worldwide Roman Catholic rule, and both are as likely (or unlikely) to be attained by peaceful persuasion as by violence.

Anyway, here are some selections from old Popes. The Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX (1864) condemned a large number of propositions, some political, including

55. The Church ought to be separated from the State , and the State from the Church.-- Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.


77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship .--Allocution "Nemo vestrum," July 26, 1855.

78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship. --Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

The encyclical QUANTA CURA (Condemning Current Errors) (1864) says:

And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that "that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require. " From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an "insanity," viz., that "liberty of conscience and worship is each man's personal right , which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way."

IMMORTALE DEI (1885) says

18. In political affairs, and all matters civil, the laws aim at securing the common good, and are not framed according to the delusive caprices and opinions of the mass of the people, but by truth and by justice; the ruling powers are invested with a sacredness more than human, and are withheld from deviating from the path of duty, and from overstepping the bounds of rightful authority; and the obedience is not the servitude of man to man, but submission to the will of God, exercising His sovereignty through the medium of men. Now, this being recognized as undeniable, it is felt that the high office of rulers should be held in respect; that public authority should be constantly and faithfully obeyed; that no act of sedition should be committed; and that the civic order of the commonwealth should be maintained as sacred.

23. But that harmful and deplorable passion for innovation which was aroused in the sixteenth century threw first of all into confusion the Christian religion, and next, by natural sequence, invaded the precincts of philosophy, whence it spread amongst all classes of society. From this source, as from a fountain- head, burst forth all those later tenets of unbridled license which, in the midst of the terrible upheavals of the last century, were wildly conceived and boldly proclaimed as the principles and foundation of that new conception of law which was not merely previously unknown, but was at variance on many points with not only the Christian, but even the natural law.

24. Amongst these principles the main one lays down that as all men are alike by race and nature, so in like manner all are equal in the control of their life; that each one is so far his own master as to be in no sense under the rule of any other individual; that each is free to think on every subject just as he may choose, and to do whatever he may like to do; that no man has any right to rule over other men. In a society grounded upon such maxims all government is nothing more nor less than the will of the people, and the people, being under the power of itself alone, is alone its own ruler. It does choose, nevertheless, some to whose charge it may commit itself, but in such wise that it makes over to them not the right so much as the business of governing, to be exercised, however, in its name.

25. The authority of God is passed over in silence, just as if there were no God; or as if He cared nothing for human society ; or as if men, whether in their individual capacity or bound together in social relations, owed nothing to God; or as if there could be a government of which the whole origin and power and authority did not reside in God Himself. Thus, as is evident, a State becomes nothing but a multitude which is its own master and ruler. And since the people is declared to contain within itself the spring-head of all rights and of all power, it follows that the State does not consider itself bound by any kind of duty toward God. Moreover. it believes that it is not obliged to make public profession of any religion; or to inquire which of the very many religions is the only one true; or to prefer one religion to all the rest; or to show to any form of religion special favor; but, on the contrary, is bound to grant equal rights to every creed, so that public order may not be disturbed by any particular form of religious belief.

26. And it is a part of this theory that all questions that concern religion are to be referred to private judgment; that every one is to be free to follow whatever religion he prefers, or none at all if he disapprove of all. From this the following consequences logically flow: that the judgment of each one's conscience is independent of all law; that the most unrestrained opinions may be openly expressed as to the practice or omission of divine worship; and that every one has unbounded license to think whatever he chooses and to publish abroad whatever he thinks.


31. The sovereignty of the people, however, and this without any reference to God, is held to reside in the multitude; which is doubtless a doctrine exceedingly well calculated to flatter and to inflame many passions, but which lacks all reasonable proof, and all power of insuring public safety and preserving order. Indeed, from the prevalence of this teaching, things have come to such a pass that may hold as an axiom of civil jurisprudence that seditions may be rightfully fostered. For the opinion prevails that princes are nothing more than delegates chosen to carry out the will of the people; whence it necessarily follows that all things are as changeable as the will of the people, so that risk of public disturbance is ever hanging over our heads.


By the words and decrees just cited, if judged dispassionately, no one of the several forms of government is in itself condemned, inasmuch as none of them contains anything contrary to Catholic doctrine, and all of them are capable, if wisely and justly managed, to insure the welfare of the State. Neither is it blameworthy in itself, in any manner, for the people to have a share greater or less, in the government: for at certain times, and under certain laws, such participation may not only be of benefit to the citizens, but may even be of obligation.

Note that Immortale Dei, despite its stinging criticism of the idea of popular rule, does allow that elected governments are not bad per se. Rather, it is an attack on the notion that if the people want something, they should get what they want, a notion which even the modern liberal has abandoned (in favor of a liberal Supreme Court blocking the popular will). The constructive part of the argument goes logically from the premise that God cares about human society to say that if we care what God wants then we will want a polity that reflects His desires. Then follows what I think is the weakest step-- that God wants a polity which suppresses bad religous teaching.

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September 19, 2004

The Just Wage-- A Christian Approach to the Market

I was just reading Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, edited by Michael McConnell Cochran, and Carmella. I found it disappointing, but it did make me think about how the questions of a Christian's attitude towards laws might be more crisply raised. Two exemplars that should come naturally to lawyers are Aquinas's Summa Theologica, with its assertions, objections, and answers, and the various Restatements of the American Law Insititute, which assert rules for subjects such as Tort, Agency, and Contract, and then show how they apply to hypotheticals. My style here will be more like the Restatements, but I'll start with the hypothetical and then go to analysis....

...1a. Market Wages. Andrew is thinking of hiring Paul to pick apples for him. For each hour of Paul's labor, Andrew will earn $25/hour after paying for materials, capital, and so forth, but before labor costs. Paul is willing to work for no less than $12/hour, because that is what Sam would otherwise pay him. Thirty other people are willing to work for as little as $10/hour.

Should Andrew hire Paul, and if so, at what wage?

1b. Hiring Christians. To Situation 1a, add that Paul is a Christian, and the other 30 people are not. All 31 will make $25/hour for Andrew, though, and Paul does not know Andrew.

1c. Bargaining. Take Situation 1a, but change it so that nobody else but Paul is available to work for Andrew. Paul is a very bad bargainer, as Andrew knows, so Andrew will be able to make him one take-it-or-leave-it offer.

My first point is that I'd like to see scholars tackle narrow, precise, situations like these rather than vaguely discuss whether corporations have social duties or employers should be generous to their employees. But I have substantive thoughts too.

1a. Market Wages. I think Andrew should pay $10/hour and Paul should keep working for Sam, which is the pure market solution, maximizing social wealth. Consider the possibilities.

First, Andrew could pay less than $10/hour. He would get no workers though (unless they are generous because altruistic, a point we'll pass by), so the $25/hour opportunity would be lost, poor stewardship of the opportunity God gave Andrew.

Second, Andrew could pay exactly $10/hour, the market wage. Many workers would be willing to work for him, though none would be eager and though Paul would stay with Sam. He would earn $15/hour in profit.
Third, Andrew could pay between $10/hour and $12/hour. He would have many workers eager to work for him. This is equivalent to paying $10/hour and donating a little extra. The best recipient for charity, however, unlikely to be the worker he hires instead of one of the thousands of other people in the community, many with no job at all. Thus, this wage is worse than paying $10/hour and giving the extra profit to a carefully considered charity.

Fourth, Andrew could pay $12/hour and hire Paul. This would be a bad thing, because Paul was earning $12/hour with Sam already, whereas the other 30 applicants's outside opportunities were only worth $10/hour. They would would have been delighted to get the job at the $12/hour wage; Paul is merely indifferent. It is wasteful, therefore to give the job to Paul-- it fails to maximize social wealth.

Or, Andrew could pay more than $12/hour to one of the thirty-- which is bad because of the charity argument above-- or to Paul-- which is bad both because of the charity argument and because of his good alternative job with Sam.

1b. Hiring Christians. It should make no difference that Paul is a Christian. It is still wasteful to give him the job. Note that it is not even doing him a favor to give him the job at $12/hour instead of to someone else at $10/hour-- Paul still gets no positive benefit from moving.

Here, note that in the method of hypotheticals we cannot change the hypothetical in midstream without comment. It might be that Christians are more productive than non-Christians, for example, but if that were the case we need to change the hypothetical to say that Paul would generate not the usual $25/hour revenue for Andrew, but $28/hour. Or, it might be that if you pay a worker more he is more productive-- but that's not the current hypothetical; it is introducing an entirely new consideration. You can do that, but answer the questions for the current hypothetical first.

1c. Bargaining. This is the interesting case, because efficiency is not at stake. Any wage between $12 and $25 will induce Paul to take the job, and will maximize social wealth. Tentatively, I say Andrew should make an offer of $12/hour to Paul-- the bare minimum. An offer of $25/hour would result in the same creation of wealth-- the surplus of $13/hour that arises from switching Paul from working for Sam to working for Andrew-- but it would give Paul control of the $13 instead of Andrew. If Andrew thinks he will spend the money better than Paul, he should therefore act to get it for himself.

Here we are depart from the realm of conventional economics, which does not question the value of spending and only tries to maximize the amount people have to spend. What would "spend the money better than Paul" mean?

What is decisive is whether Andrew thinks he would spend the money better in furthering God's work than Paul would. Andrew, for example, might donate it to his church, whereas he might know that Paul will spend it on fast cars and fast women. Or, Andrew might know he will spend it in good ways, but he does not know how Paul will spend it. Or, we could even consider the extreme case, in which Andrew knows that he himself tends to misspend money-- perhaps he is impulsive, or susceptible to con men-- but Paul is also a Christian and very good with money. Even in that case, Andrew is just indifferent about bargaining hard and getting the $13/hour for himself and bargaining soft and leaving it with Paul, because even if he bargains hard, he can just give back the money after the bargaining process is over.

It is very important to start with cases like 1a to 1c, cases of individual ethics, because society is built on top of individual decisions. Ethics before politics. Possibly the biggest single problem in the literature I've seen on Christian economics is that it jumps, instead to the political questions, questions such as whethere there should be a minimum wage. But we are now ready to go there, with hypotheticals 2a, 2b, and 2c.

2a,b,c. Andrew is not a Christian, but Charles, the king of this country, is. Should James force Andrew to pay a particular wage in any of the above scenarios?

I think King Charles should not force Andrew to pay any particular wage to Paul, because what I concluded above was ethically best for Andrew was also what he would do as a non-Christian pursuing self-interest. The only way in which Andrew's behavior depended on his being Christian was in how he would use the profit he earned-- donating it to his church, or to a poor person, or whatever. King Charles might want to intervene in that spending-- by imposing taxes on Andrew and diverting his money to a worthy recipient-- but not in the wage he pays.

Someone who does not think the Christian Andrew should pay the same wages as a selfish employer, however, cannot jump immediately to the conclusion that King Charles should force Andrew to do the Christian thing. It will take some extra reasoning to get there. This is like the distinction between an ethical requirement that a person be faithful to his wife and a legal requirement. Even if you conclude that adultery is sinful, it requires more argument to reach the conclusion that it should be a crime, and a crime even for those who do not believe it is sinful.

Liberals, in particular, will have to squirm a bit, I think, in explaining why King Charles should require the non-Christian Andrew to pay high wages on pain of imprisonment but not require him to attend church regularly. (Catholic conservatives are more likely to be consistent and accept mandatory church.)

It is worth noting that King Charles has, in fact, imposed laws affecting the hypotheticals. Minimum wages are clearly relevant. There might be a minimum wage of $27/hour, in which case a profit-maximizing Andrew will hire nobody. Or there might be a minimum wage of $12/hour, in which case he will hire someone, but as far as profit goes he would as willingly hire Paul-- an inefficient outcome-- as one of the other 30.

An interesting wrinkle is that if there is a minimum wage of $12/hour and Paul is a Christian, like Andrew, Andrew, though indifferent between Paul and the other thirty as far as Andrew's profits are concerned, should not use Paul's Christianity as a tie-breaker and hire Paul. It is still inefficient to hire Paul; Paul still gets no gain compared to staying with Sam, and the pagan thirty still love to get the $12/hour job. When price controls are imposed, employers often switch to using things such as race, religion, good looks, etc, as tie-breakers, but from a Christian point of view they should not.

Speaking of which, however: American law also forbids hiring Paul just because he is a Christian. That is part of "civil rights" law. If you are hiring people because they are Christian brethren, and you are not a religious organization (churches are exempted from the law), then you are in violation of discrimination law. This kind of discrimination is very common, of course, just as it is common for Jewish employers to give breaks to Jewish workers and for Moslem employers to give breaks to Moslem workers, and it is innocuous, but it is illegal.

Let us move, though, to a third set of hypotheticals. Even though this has been quite lengthy already, it is quite important to keep in mind that every market has two sides, supply and demand, and we should check to make sure that our ethical rules don't result in contradiction when we apply them to both sides of the market. So now let us look at Paul, the employee's decisions.

3a. Market Wages. Paul is thinking of working for Andrew, to pick apples for him. For each hour of Paul's labor, Andrew will earn $25/hour after paying for materials, capital, and so forth, but before labor costs. Paul is willing to work for no less than $12/hour, because that is what Sam would otherwise pay him. Thirty other people are willing to work for Andrew as little as $10/hour.

At what wage should Paul be willing to work for Andrew?

3b. Hiring Christians. To Situation 3a, add that Andrew is a Christian, and Sam is not. Andrew does not know Paul.

3c. Bargaining. Take Situation 3a, but change it so that nobody else but Paul is available to work for Andrew. Andrew is a very bad bargainer, as Paul knows, so Paul will be able to make him one take-it-or-leave-it offer.

These are the same numbers as in (1a) to (1c). My answers would be that in (1a), Sam should not quit his current $12/hour job to work for Andrew for $10/hour or less, just out of charity to Andrew. If he thinks Andrew is deserving of charity, he should keep his current job and pay him cash. This remains true even if Sam is non-Christian. And in (3c), Paul should be a tough bargainer and hold out for $25/hour, just as Andrew would have held out for $12/hour in (1c), and by the same reasoning.

If, however, you went with a non-market decisions in (1a) to (1c), you may have a problem in (3a) to (3c). If, for example, you think that Andrew should have offered to hire Paul at the above-market wage of $15/hour in (1a), then do you also think Paul should have offered to work for Andrew at the below-market wage of $8/hour? How do they reconcile their contradictory desires? I think people have an impulse to say that the wage should be above the market level, at $15/hour, rather than below, but do you still believe that if Paul is much wealthier than Andrew? (Employers are not necessarily richer than employees- just think of pro baseball players whose employers are small shareholders in a corporation.)

I was inspired to think on this topic by the chapters by Stephen Bainbridge (in favor of wealth maximization) and George Garvey (not in favor) in the McConnell book. Professor Garvey quotes quite a bit from Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1891). I'll excerpt a little here from that encyclical:

40. The working man, too, has interests in which he should be protected by the State; and first of all, there are the interests of his soul. ...

From this follows the obligation of the cessation from work and labor on Sundays and certain holy days.

Daily labor, therefore, should be so regulated as not to be protracted over longer hours than strength admits.

45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. In these and similar questions, however-such as, for example, the hours of labor in different trades, the sanitary precautions to be observed in factories and workshops, etc. - in order to supersede undue interference on the part of the State, especially as circumstances, times, and localities differ so widely, it is advisable that recourse be had to societies or boards such as We shall mention presently, or to some other mode of safeguarding the interests of the wage-earners; the State being appealed to, should circumstances require, for its sanction and protection.


57. To sum up, then, We may lay it down as a general and lasting law that working men's associations should be so organized and governed as to furnish the best and most suitable means for attaining what is aimed at, that is to say, for helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property.

It's interesting that Pope Leo seems a bit dubious about the free market, but his favored solution seems to be Catholic labor unions rather than government regulation. Perhaps he was thinking of pre-industrial economies, not free, but dominated by power struggles, so he didn't trust the government (which might well be captured by employers), and wanted to strong labor unions to equalize the bargaining position of workers against monopsonistic employers.

It is worth keeping in mind that Rerum Novarum comes from the era in which the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable not just with free markets but with other modern things such as secular governments and elected governments . See my old post ofAugust 2003 , which I ought to update some day (it doesn't talk about elections vs. monarchies, on which seeIMMORTALE DEI (1885), just about whether church and state should be separate). Anyone citing papal encyclicals of that era in support of government regulation had better be ready to support other encyclicals less appealing to the modern mind.

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September 12, 2004

Jonathan Edwards on True Virtue

Last Spring I posted a couple of times from Perry Miller's book, Jonathan Edwards: "Making God in Our Own Image; God's Morality versus Ours; The Mystery of Suffering and Predestination" and "Perceiving God's Excellency" I've read more, and find that Edwards's ethics is really very much like an economist would think. Miller is talking about Edwards's book, The Nature of True Virtue. My thoughts are in italics.....


Edwards' conclusion is that what Hutcheson and the rationalists conceive as a natural possession of all mankind, the criterion of disinterested benevolence, is actually only a compounding of pleasure against pain, nothing more than an extension of the principle of uniformity through wider and wider variety, a long-term instead of a short-term calculus. (p. 286)

I think Adam Smith has a similar notion later in The Theory of Moral Sentiments-- that we are grieved by oppression because of sympathy that makes us wince, for example.

... the old Puritan disposition to expect the worst from mankind while demanding the best... (p. 287)

Just the sentiments of an economist asking for efficiency when it is not in self interest!

... the greater part of this concentrated essay is a tracing out, with no rancor, as from an incalculable height of observation, of the manifold masquerades that self-love can resort to in the endless effort to simulate benevolence.

I wonder if there is a category to match Dan Rather's self righteousness?

What the natural man calls virtuous and beautiful-- social justice, the mother's love for her child, the happiness of those he happens to love, a regard for the public good which includes himself even when it calls upon him to sacrifice himself, ultimately even the approbation of an inward conscience that gives him invincible pleasure despite the censure of his fellows ... -- all these, analyzed into elementary terms, are no more than "the order and proportion generally observed in the laws of nature." They are reactions, like the cry of the anvil hit by the hammer... (p. 289)

This is the economist's tautology: if I choose A over B, it is because A give me greater utility. Knowing my utility function, you can perfectly predict what I will do. I don't have the free will to do what I don't want to do.

[of "virtuous" human actions] They can be formulated into rules as objectively beautiful, but as utterly irrelevant to moral worth, as incommensurate with the dignity of suffering and the agony of decision, as the insensate laws of motion.

For me to be cruel to my children would be as hard as for a stone to drop up instead of down; it just doesn't come naturally. So is my kindness virtue, or just the ordinary course of nature?

The book is not so clear on what Edwards *does* think is virture. It is something along these lines: that true virtue is to depart from our natural inclinations to do what God desires, because that is beauty of a higher order than the laws of nature (though those laws in themselves do have *some* beauty). We cannot depart from our natural inclinations without God's grace, however, which shows us this higher beauty, upon which sight we begin to yearn for it.

This is a neat way to address the question of The Damnation of the Virtuous Heathen. How could God burn the benevolent Hindu in Hell forever? --Because his benevolence is just the natural result of a benevolent disposition, no more deserving of reward than the gentleness of a sheep or the loyalty of a dog. And if that natural benevolence is put aside, why should he not be burned, as being just as selfish as a violent lecher, just with more neighborly tastes in recreation?

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September 05, 2004

The Retreat to Scripture; Legalistic Antinomianism

This post by Pastor Bayly touches on a special problem for modern evangelicals, what I call "The Retreat to Scripture". By this, I mean a timid though firm defense of beliefs that seem peculiar to the world by saying, "Well, this is pretty weird,
and we won't try to defend it as rational, but Scripture forces us to believe
it." This is firm, because it does confront the world with unpopular beliefs,
but timid, because it hides ashamedly behind Scripture and, more importantly,
because it leads to extreme narrowing of our unpopular beliefs....

Why does it lead to narrowing? Because if you defend nothing that Scripture
does not absolutely force you to defend, you've lost a lot of what God wants
from us in daily life. You are stuck in an interesting sort of "Legalistic
Antinomianism": the principle that unless Scripture explictly prohibits
something, God permits it. This was one of the problems of the Pharisees, and a
big theme in the Sermon on the Mount. See Matthew 5:31-32:

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a
writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his
wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and
whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

The Pharisees were wrong to take their ethics directly from Scripture. They
were not supposed to contradict Scripture, but they were supposed to go beyond
it. We should not violate the letter of divine law, but we should not violate
its spirit either.

The form this takes nowadays is for evangelicals to shamefacedly say, for
example, that Scripture prevents us from ordaining women as elders, much as we'd
like to, but at least we can elect a woman as mayor, since Scripture doesn't
prohibit it.

I don't object to women as mayors-- I haven't thought it through, so I pretty
much accept the conventional wisdom-- but I object to the reasoning I just gave.
We should not say that the Christian position is obvious just because Scripture
is silent. It is something that needs thinking through, just as Christians need
to think through whether heroin use, unmentioned in the Bible, is morally
acceptable and prudent.

The Retreat to Scripture also closes down what would be the most useful
discussion of many issues: *why* God commands things. On the issue of women as
elders, for example, the discussion is diverted to the meaning of particular
Greek words and away from the actual effect of having women as elders. Not
ordaining women becomes like not eating pork--- a mysterious and arbitrary
divine command that looks stupid but that we trust is for our own good.

Note, too, that Legalistic Antinomianism has a tendency to be a one-way filter,
allowing practices of which the World approves but banning practices of which
the world disapproves. Thus, I think most churches would say that racism is bad,
even though the Bible says nothing on the subject. Here, rather than saying that
we must only condemn that which Scripture clearly condemns, I think people
would either (a) consider Scriptural support unnecessary or (b) search out
passages or principles from Scripture that while not directly on point do show
that God is displeased if we refuse to associate with somebody simply because
his skin is black. And method (b) is correct-- I just wish it were applied more
to beliefs at odds with the World's beliefs.

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August 23, 2004

The Christian Duty of Skepticism: Galatians 1

One thing about Christianity is that it requires that its believers think independently. Paul said in Galatians 1:7-9,

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another [gospel] only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.

Who is to decide whether the leader is preaching the original gospel, or a new, perverted one? The believer must decide for himself. It is not that he gets to choose which gospel is correct; that is not up to him. Rather, he must figure out which gospel is correct, with woeful consequences if he gets it wrong.

This goes against a strong tendency in human nature, which is to pick someone as an authority and just trust him. That tendency is quite sensible-- it saves a lot of effort-- but it is dangerous, whether applied in religion or in personal finance.

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August 16, 2004

Thanking God, How to Dress in Church; The Role of a Pastor

The Evangelical Free Church denomination seems to be pretty sound. I attended the White Rock Community Church this morning. The sermon was on thankfulness, with attention to the marvels of daily life. The opening example was the best. The pastor had decided on a Friday at 3 to go camping by himself. He got his stuff together, went to Canadian Tire for supplies, and so forth, and set off in the early evening towards Squamish. He got to the campground at 7 or so-- and it was full. He went on to a bigger campground-- and they laughed and said it had long been full. They said he could keep going north-- and he might find a campsite, or might not. The evening temperature was great, with a warm breeze and a beautiful sunset in the making. What did he do? He drove back home, slowly, enjoying the sunset and thanking God.

I liked that. I didn't like the opening though, where he asked, "All in favor of the pastor *not* wearing a coat a tie occasionally?" and got an enthusiastic anti-tie response.

Why should a pastor wear a tie? The main reason is that he should be a figure of authority. It is harder for someone wearing a T-shirt to tell a congregation of people older than himself that they are behaving badly and need to reform their lives. It is even more difficult if he has occasion to tell that to an individual person caught in sin. Detestation for the marks of authority is usually a sign of detestation of authority. This is natural in all of us, because we want to be free to do what we want without comment from Man or God, and we want authorities to be scared to challenge our behavior, *especially* when we know we are in the wrong.

A second reason is that lack of formal dress indicates lack of respect for the position of pastor. Important men wear neckties and leather shoes. If a pastor wears ordinary clothes, that shows he doesn't think his position is any better than that of a plumber or a factory worker, and is rather less important than that of a doctor or a lawyer.

To be sure, a church can thrive without a pastor who wears a tie. But either this is because the pastor has such charisma that he can exert authority anyway or because having leadership is not essential to a church. The second of these is the more interesting. We think of a pastor's job as being to organize worship services, but that is where he is least essential. In fact, in many churches Sunday worship is either programmed by the denomination--- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical churches to one extent or another-- or organized by a music leader. The pastor just writes and delivers a sermon-- and it is not really very important for him to do that, as shown by the example of the Elizabethean Homilies, excellent officially approved pre-written sermons for use in the Anglican Church. For worship, a church does not need pastors or elders-- the members could take turns picking hymns, leading prayers, and delivering sermons, as happens in some Bible studies. Or, as in the case of a tie-less pastor, someone could lead worship inobtrusively and without any "pastoral" responsibilities.

Rather different is a third reason why a pastor might wear a tie: that maybe we should all dress up for church, not just the pastor. This is what comes to mind for most people, I think, since points (1) and (2) really imply that the congregation should *not* dress up, since to do so tends to elevate them to the status of the pastor. But we expect better conduct of our pastor than of ourselves, an attitude that sounds wrong but may have some justification. (A big enough topic for some future post.)

Should the congregation dress up? I don't dress up much myself. Usually I wear a coat and tie, but that doesn't really count as real dressing up. My biggest worry is from Matthew 22: 10-14:

So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

If you are going to an event to honor someone, you dress accordingly. Or, if you are going to meet an important person and talk to him personally, you dress up. If I was going to talk to President Bush, I would dress up for the occasion. Even if I was going to meet President Clinton, whom I despised for good reason, I would have dressed up. Most people would do the same. So if church is a time to honor God, or to meet with God, oughtn't we to dress up? And shouldn't this be more even than just wearing a jacket and tie, a too-easy first step? Shouldn't I wear a real suit, and make sure it is pressed, and make sure my tie doesn't have stains? (Professors often wear jackets and ties, but we never have to really look sharp, and in fact would face disapproval from our peers if we did.)

On the other hand, does God really care about the appearance of a worm such as myself? Or, if He does care about me, isn't it my thoughts and other behaviors that matter more? (I can't say, "isn't it the thought that counts," because dressing casually reflects the thought that it is ok to take no effort in my dress, so we return to whether that thought is okay or not.) I have concluded that God wants me to allocate my effort carefully, and to spend my limited energy on careful dress would be wrong. In addition, I need to consider the effect of my dress on other people. Formal dressing is easily interpreted as trying to show off, and I don't want people thinking that serious Christians show off-- though I should not be averse to their thinking badly of me personally because I am trying to show off if I am not. Worse yet, dressing up can distract other people in church, because they admire it, they are inimidated by it, or they start wondering why I'm dressed that way. So I don;t depart much from the norm. But I'm open to argument.

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August 08, 2004

Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

Pope says in his Essay on Man, 1.2:35-38,

Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,

Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,

Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less;

This casts a good sidelight on the Problem of Evil. Usually, we ask why God did not put less sin and pain into the world. Pope asks why God did not put *more* sin and pain into the world.

The answer may be that the Problem of Evil can be reformulated as, "Why didn't God make men perfect and put them in a painless world?" The alternative to the present world would not be one that is moderately less painful, because Pope's criticism is then valid-- if there's going to be a little pain, why not a lot of pain? But if we try to understand why God made a world with sin and pain rather than a world absolutely free of sin and pain, we immediately grasp Pope's deeper criticism-- that we have too little information to understand why God made the world as it is. A person may think at the micro level that it is obvious that God should have prevented the 9-11 bombing, but if you ask him to explain why God should have prevented all deaths in human history, he will become less confident.

Another way to approach what Pope said is to think about what kind of creature God ought to have created instead of Man. Men have an IQ of 100 on average, and live to about 80 years. Ought they instead to have an average IQ of 130 and live to 100? Why not, instead, an average IQ of 70 and live to 50? This is not an easy design problem, and without knowing God's objectives it is an impossible one for us to solve.

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August 02, 2004

Knowing about God

From Pope's Essay on Man, Project Gutenberg edition:

Say first, of God above, or man below
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man, what see we but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace Him only in our own.

Even so. We have very little data on God, though a considerable amount on Man.

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July 25, 2004

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

The Pew Forum and Brookings jointly commissioned this little book on what a Christian's attitude towards the economy ought to be, by a liberal and a conservative. I found it a bit disappointing. Both authors are competent at economics, and both spend a lot of time talking about what economists know already-- that markets work very well, that there is some market failure and some government failure, and that people claim to base some rather silly economic policy prescriptions on religion. Both, however, are very much establishment figures, if of different parties, and they are too respectful of each other and others. Since they both do know economics, it is quite clear that each could have said some very pointed things about the economic idiocies of their own groups-- Blank about the Naderism of the Liberal Church, and McGurn about the Namby-Pamby Socialism of the Roman Catholic Church. And of course each could have gone after the other's group.

Becky Blank points out one difference that is almost amusing stereotypical: she quotes the Bible a lot (which is actually pretty good for a liberal), but Mr. McGurn quotes Roman Catholic church documents. And it seems where they disagree is in that Blank thinks norms are important and a market economy relies on virtue, whereas McGurn thinks that somehow free markets create virtue. I'd give Blank a victory on points there. Adam Smith's point is not that free markets make people virtuous, or that selfishness is what makes markets work, but that markets work well *even if* people are selfish and bad, so long as they at least keep their bargains and don't steal from each other. If they are virtuous, that is all the better, but what is nice about markets is that they are more robust than socialism to the presence of rascals.

Neither author meets head on the hard questions for a Christian economist, most of which, I think, concern private behavior rather than government policy. Here are some I would have liked to have seen discussed more:

1. Ought a Christian to be rich?

2. Ought people to be encouraged to work hard by the use of material incentives? Such incentives are, of course, effective, but are they too corrupting?

3. Ought a Christian to force non-Christians to pay taxes to give to the poor?

4. What laws should a Christian use to restrain immorality?

5. Ought a Christian to use the law to restrain blasphemy?

6. Should Christians let the poor suffer if to help them would make them lazy or otherwise immoral?

7. Is it wrong for a Christian to put emphasis on the material well being of himself or others instead of on spiritual things?

8. What makes a Christian liberal different from an atheist liberal? What makes a Christian conservative different from an atheist conservative?

I suppose I ought to try answering these myself some day.

The book has a couple of websites on the back cover which I might visit-- and

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July 18, 2004

Mary and Martha; Hessel Park Church, Champaign

I was in Urbana-Champaign over the weekend for the Worldwide Foursquare International Conference, or, more accurately, the 2004 Uni High Reunion for the classes of '76 to '87. I'll post more on that later, but it being Sunday, I'll try to post on a religious theme before I go to bed. We went to the Hessel Park Church (Christian Reformed), since it had a nice website and the Christian Reformed Church is fairly sound, despite its unfortunate concession to feminism a few years of allowing women to be elders. Either Pastor Bossenbroek or somebody else there has administrative talent, I deduce from numerous details such as photos on the wall, an elaborate website, the idea of people bringing up food offerings, page numbers for bible readings, a lady bringing pictures books for my girls to look at during the service, dual offering plates for church and deacon's, unusually beautiful but inexpensive art features, etcetera, all unusual in a small church with a congregation of only about 60.

The sermon was pretty good. It was on the Martha and Mary story in Luke 10:

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

This is a profound story, as worth writing a book about as the Abraham Sacrificing Isaac story that is behind Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. I hadn't made the connection with the two episodes immediately preceding it in Luke 10, which are the Certain Lawyer and the Good Samaritan:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

These are all closely connected to the fundamental issue of Faith versus Works. The first command is to love God, but the second command is to love thy neighbor, and they are both commands. Moreover, "If you listen and don't act on what is said, then you didn't really hear it," something very akin to the idea of Jonathan Edwards that communication requires not just that the Sender transmit some information, but that the Receiver care enough to receive what is sent. How can anyone tell whether the Receiver has done that? -- By how the Receiver behaves after the information is sent.

I thought about two personal applications. One is the giving of an economics seminar. Suppose I am presenting a paper at Anonymous University, and they treat me royally, picking me up at the airport, feeding me caviar, and housing me in a five-star hotel-- but although they clap after my seminar, nobody asks a single question or argues over a single point in my paper. I will feel deflated, not elated. They weren't listening. But if at Unknown University they take me to McDonald's for the seminar dinner, house me at the Motel Eight, and cut off the discussion at exactly 5 p.m. even though I'm not finished, but they argue every point and ask all the right questions, then I will feel my trip was worthwhile.

The second was to worrying about noisy kids during the service. Since this church was too small to have a Sunday School (just a nursery for the very little ones such as my Benjamin and Lily), Amelia and Elizabeth stayed with me and Helen during the entire service-- as opposed to leaving just before the sermon, their normal practice. Martha would worry about keeping control of them lest they bother everyone else. Mary would--perhaps-- let them distract, and focus on God. So perhaps I should let them bother people more.

Since they stayed for Communion, I tried explaining it to them (despite I Corinthians 14: 34-35, " Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.") I was gratified that Amelia drew the attached picture. It depicts some people who are happy because Jesus let his body be killed for them.

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July 17, 2004

Protestwarrior.Com Poster Images

Clayton Cramer refers us to a marvellous website of slogans for conservative bumper stickers and protest signs. Maybe I'll add more later, when I have more time. See the thumbnail images at

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July 11, 2004


I saw something new in this story today that I hadn't noticed before. Here is the story from II Samuel 11:

1: And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.

2: And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. 3: And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath- sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? 4: And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 5: And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.


14: And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15: And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

16: And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. 17: And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.

18: Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war; 19: And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king, 20: And if so be that the king's wrath arise, and he say unto thee, Wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? 21: Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

22: So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for. 23: And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate. 24: And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

25: Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him.

Notice two things. First, not only did David compass the deat of Uriah, but "there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also." Other soldiers died too, so that David might steal Bathsheba.

Second, Joab was rightly afraid of a double-cross. He feared that David--and others-- would criticize him for a foolish attack that got his men killed. David might have decided to use this episode to get rid of Joab as well as Uriah. Joab was perhaps reminding David that he had some dirt on David that he would reveal if David tried such a thing. But David doesn't try anything fancy: he tells the messenger-- and thus, public opinion-- that he does not blame Joab for the failed attack.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 07, 2004

Barna on the Politics of Evangelical Christians, Conservatives, Liberals

The Barna Group tells us

Evangelicals are just 7% of the national population. However, they receive an inordinate amount of coverage during major elections because of their alleged influence in the political arena. Evangelicals were one of the most prolific supporters of Mr. Bush in the 2000 election: the incumbent received 83% of the votes cast by the group. (In the 1996 election, evangelicals were less impressed with the Republican candidates, giving Bob Dole 76% of their votes.)

In the forthcoming election, an even higher proportion of evangelicals - 86% - expect to cast their ballot for the President. (Only 8% plan to vote for Mr. Kerry.) The only voting blocks of similar consensus in their choice of a candidate are conservative Republicans (94% favoring Mr. Bush), people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 (88% again supporting the Texan), liberal Democrats (95% in support of Mr. Kerry), and blacks (77% of whom expect to vote for the Democratic nominee). Gay adults, who constitute 4% of the adult population, are the population group most likely to vote (93% expected turnout) but they are comparatively less unanimous in their candidate of preference (67% to 23% in favor of Mr. Kerry).

It would not be surprising if 100% of Christians voted for one party, or that a party received 0% of Christian votes. Indeed, that is what we would expect. Suppose you are in Germany in 1930. In the election that year, would it be alarming if no Christians voted for the Nazi or Communist parties? No-- we should hope for that result, since both parties were anti-Christian. It would be improper for pastors to preach against the Nazis from the pulpit, I suppose, but outside the church they should be active. And there is nothing wrong with distributing the church membership lists. Indeed, the churches could be quite neutral on this, and distribute their lists to all parties-- but the Center Party (the Catholic one) would get the benefit. [By the way: I would not be surprised if, to the shame of Christianity, Lutherans voted heavily for the Nazis despite Nazi anti-Christianity. But that says more about the sincerity of the Lutherans of 1930 Germany than about true Christianity, I think. Just look at the secularism of the German Lutheran church now, and you'll understand. ]

Going a bit further, consider the black vote. It goes 77% Democrat. That means black churches must be going heavily Democrat too. Maybe that is because of improper partisanship from the pulpit, but we might expect it anyway.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack