Bartók's ethnomusicological efforts
There is much to be commended in VanDrunen’s book, and insofar as it merely seeks to defend the position that the Reformation stands in continuity with concepts of natural law, and that it taught the two kingdoms, he is certainly correct. The book repeatedly makes two fundamental confusions, however, and since these are guiding assumptions throughout, the contemporary two kingdoms theory eventually finds itself at considerable distance from the basic social vision of earlier thinkers like Luther and Calvin. These two confusions are 1) identifying the two kingdoms with the modern institutions of “Church” and “State” and 2) setting the contrast between the two kingdoms as one between “redemptive” rule on the one hand and “creational” rule on the other. Both confusions seem to stem from equivocation, allowing for the possibility of closing the gap between “neo-Calvinist” views and modern two kingdom views with regard to the contrast of rule. The first confusion is more serious though, effectively rendering VanDrunen’s larger project incompatible with the older Reformed doctrine.
Define justice. How does it differ from public justice and social justice?
In the biggest sense, justice is when all God's creatures receive what is due them and contribute out of their uniqueness to our common existence. We are called to do justice in every sphere of our lives: how I love and educate my daughters, collaborate with my colleagues, interact with neighbors. Public justice is the political aspect—the work of citizens and political office bearers shaping a public life for the common good. Social justice is the civil society counterpart—nonpolitical organizations that promote justice (emphasis mine).
At Redeemer University College we have seen an increasing interest amongst our students in social justice. In fact, we now have a social justice major, an annual social justice conference and a course in the Religion Department devoted to the topic. Although I am happy to see this enthusiasm develop, it is not necessarily clear to me that everyone knows how the adjective social is intended to modify the noun justice. I quite like Strauss' definition, as it nicely captures the truth that all of us are called by God to do justice, not only within the context of the state, but within the various communal settings for which we bear responsibility.
Labels: center for public justice
An ancient Egyptian city believed to be Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos people who ruled 3,500 years ago, has been located by radar, Egypt’s culture ministry says. . . . A team of Austrian archaeologists used radar imaging to find the underground outlines of the city in the Nile Delta, a now densely populated area. The Hyksos were foreign occupiers from Asia who ruled Egypt for a century. Avaris was their summer capital, near what is now the town of Tal al-Dabaa.
With a little research, I discovered that Quebec had made the greatest economic and social progress in its history under Duplessis and that his era was the only one in which the average per capita income of Quebec actually gained on Ontario's. He had the most advanced pension regime and daycare system in Canada, and built most of Quebec's universities, 3,000 schools, and the autoroute system, while reducing taxes and provincial debt. He extended electricity to rural Quebec, and, of course, took back from Ottawa, Quebec's rights over direct taxes.
Today's French team is populated with players of Arab and African origin; star forward Franck Ribery is a Muslim convert reborn as Bilal Yusuf Mohammed. The German squad features Turkish starters, the Dutch squad finally has a black striker. Argentine Lionel Messi has lived in Spain for most of his life; Brazil's Kaka and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo play together—for Spain's Real Madrid. Nine of the U.S. players live and play in Britain—and seven more are first-generation Americans. Italy—perhaps by virtue of its lousy colonial record—is the least diverse of these squads. But even stiff-lipped England has embraced the new norm: An English commercial for football company Umbro features the polyethnic masses in contemporary Britain—an elderly man in dreadlocks, a young South Asian woman—clad in St. George's red, singing, lustily, "God Save the Queen."
Joseph Bottum reflects on the forthcoming execution in Utah of double murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, and wonders whether there is justification for this punishment. These paragraphs — especially the sections I have put in boldface — stand out for me:
A government has two legitimate goals in its justice system: the protection of the state’s existence, and the maintenance of ordinary, common justice for its people. And sometimes these may require the death of criminals—as in treason, for example, or when citizens cannot be protected from someone except by that person’s death.
But where comes the other kind of justice, the particular kind of justice that would justify the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner—not the ordinary justice of the social contract but high justice, the justice of God, the balancing of the cosmic scales? We want to see good people find good ends and bad people find bad ends. And God, and God’s agents, could carry out this justice.
Of course, the foundation of a modern democratic state, born of a social contract, is exactly that the state is not God’s agent. The early modern thrones got around the problem with a theory of the Divine Right of Kings, but we rejected all that. The ancient pagan cities held the sword of punishment because, in however confused a way, they believed in the supernatural foundation for the earthly city, but that, too, we dismissed. Ancient Israel had direct revelation, but modern nations refused to hold revelations for themselves.
Without some form of the divine, who has the right to pay blood with blood? Who has the authority to undertake high justice? Not us.
I myself am not necessarily a proponent of capital punishment, due primarily to its irrevocability in the not unlikely case of a miscarriage of justice. However, I strongly disagree with Bottum’s reasoning above. True, we may live in democratic states claiming to be based on a social contract, but there is ample reason — both biblical and otherwise — to question this claim. St. Paul writes to the believers in Rome:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:1-7, emphases mine).
With all due respect to Mr. Bottum, those who believe, with the church of the ages, that our world belongs to God cannot simply accept at face value the foundational claims of democratic theories of governance. We may very well agree that democracy as a mere form of government is the best currently on offer, yet this need not entail a rejection of the Pauline understanding of government as servant of God, which it continues to be irrespective of the changed procedures for attaining public office. Nor does it call for acceptance of a contractarian understanding of government, which I would argue is an inadequate account of its origins. (See my 10 March post: Unlocking Locke.)
Forms of government come and go, but the divine mandate that government do public justice is a perennial one that is part of the very created nature of government and thus does not change with the times. This mandate on occasion may call for the shedding of blood, e.g., in cases of justified warfare and of the restraining and punishment of criminals. Again there may be good reason not to shed blood, and one hopes it will not be done too often. Nevertheless, one ought not to deny government the legitimate power of the sword based on a highly disputable contractarian account of democratic government.
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).
Labels: Canadian politics
Even before 9/11 there was little doubt that winning the propaganda war can turn the tide in a real war. This should be kept in mind as we assess the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. An excellent place to start is by reading George Friedman’s Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion, published by Stratfor Global Intelligence. The Turkish NGO that organized the aid flotilla was apparently doing more than to assist innocent Palestinians suffering from an unjust blockade. Its leaders sought to provoke an Israeli over-reaction that would bring down the world’s condemnation, damage Turkish-Israeli relations, alienate the United States from Israel, and possibly provoke an internal political crisis in Israel itself. In so doing, the flotilla’s organizers were borrowing a strategy employed by Zionists against the British in the late 1940s in the run-up to Israeli independence.
The current Israeli government has played along with this strategy, seemingly falling into the trap set for it and willingly suffering the consequences hoped for by its enemies. I will not leap to Israel’s defence here. Given that virtually all my Cypriot relatives lost their homes in 1974, I have considerable sympathy for the plight of Palestinian refugees. At the same time, the complexities of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian standoff should rule out any rush to judgement against Israel. A functioning Palestinian state could have got off the ground long ago, if Palestinians had been better served by their own leadership.
How have North American Christians responded to the events of a week ago? As indicated on the National Council of Churches website, the major protestant denominations and the World Council of Churches have condemned the Israeli attack. On the surface it is difficult to disagree with these assessments. Israel’s blockade has caused hardship for the innocent residents of Gaza, and it has had next to no impact in loosening Hamas’ hold on that troubled territory. The principles of the just war do not countenance a military strategy aimed at civilians.
That said, Hamas and similar groups do not shrink from hiding amongst civilians to achieve their goal of antagonizing Israel. When Israel strikes back as expected, and when civilians die, virtually the entire world blames Israel and not the cowardly terrorists who initially provoked that country into its action and, in effect, used innocent Palestinians as hostages. The churches chime in along with these others, offering no distinctive insight that might flow from their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not particularly enamoured of churches as institutions pronouncing on complex issues of public policy and international relations, at least partly because of their tendency to assume that all such issues can be viewed as cosmic struggles between a good side and an evil side, the line between which can be easily identified. However, real-life politics does not admit of such facile categorizations. Few political issues see an obvious division between justice and injustice, oppressor and oppressed. One is far more likely to see conflict between two different conceptions of justice — between two groups pursuing competing but plausible visions of the public good.
This is not to say that Christians should not be involved in the political process. They should indeed, but not as representatives of church institutions, which have their own God-given task in his world. Christians should organize as members of the corpus Christi, a global community manifest in every walk of life. They should, moreover, do so politically and not as moralistic preachers. This calls for acquiring a deep knowledge of real-life political practice and refraining from building ideal cities-in-speech, along the lines of Plato’s famous republic. To work for justice is not to try to construct the “just society,” as the late Pierre Trudeau put it. It is rather to listen to the day-to-day appeals for justice issuing from all quarters; to weigh them carefully in the balance; to recognize, where present, the legitimacy of the competing claims; and to assess these claims fairly.
I will not pretend to point the way to a resolution of the long Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, which has eluded three generations of foreign policy officials in many countries. That said, one-sided condemnations do nothing to advance justice and are far more likely to play into the hands of those who have an interest in obstructing reconciliation. Well-meaning churches should not put themselves in the position of being used by terrorist groups for their own purposes.
I would be willing to bet that even residents of the smallest Nigerian villages have heard about the Gulf oil spill. By contrast, I know few people in the United States who have heard about the oil spills in the Niger Delta. Yet Nigeria is among the top five suppliers of oil to the U.S.
The Niger Delta, which is home to more than 30 million people and is considered one of the world’s most important ecosystems, produces almost all of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. Dead fish and oily water are part of daily life for Niger Delta residents, as are gas flares. Some middle-aged Niger Delta residents have never had a night of total darkness. There is a law against gas flaring in Nigeria, but it continues to be widely breached. Oil companies operate in Nigeria with little or no oversight from the government. It must be noted that the government has part ownership in the subsidiaries of all the oil multinationals which operate in Nigeria.
A year ago, Amnesty International published a report, “Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta.” The report focused on Royal Dutch Shell because Shell is by far the largest operator in the Delta. According to the Oil Spill Intelligence Report, a 10-year study commissioned by Greenpeace, although Shell operates in more than 100 countries, 40 percent of all its oil spills happen in Nigeria. That’s simply staggering. The Greenpeace and Amnesty reports tell of spills that had been continuous for years and many that had never been cleaned up (despite claims by Shell to the contrary).
According to the Amnesty report, “Oil spills, waste dumping and gas flaring are notorious and endemic in the Niger Delta.” Residents of the Niger Delta “have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water, and eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins.” The fish that is not polluted is killed by the oil and toxins, making earning a livelihood impossible for many who depended on the sale of fish.