26 February 2021

Dois livros recebidos

Esta semana eu recebi dois livros de Editora Monergismo, Brasília: Thiago Moreira, Abraham Kuyper e as Bases para uma Teologia Pública (2020) e Derek C. Schuurman, Moldando um Mundo Digital: Fé, Cultura e Tecnologia Computacional (2019). Schuurman é um bom amigo meu, e eu tive o privilégio de escrever o prefácio para o livro dele.

Trent University Conservative Club

Last evening I was privileged to speak remotely to the Trent University Conservative Club at the invitation of a former student currently enrolled there. Trent University is in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. I spoke on the subject of "How Socialism Suppresses Society," on which I have spoken before elsewhere. The gist of my argument is that, while socialists rightly esteem communal ownership of property, they err in three ways: (1) they see it as the solution to the so-called social question, that is, the age-old existence of poverty; (2) they fail to recognize that communal ownership of property already exists, and in multiple forms; and (3) they seek to consolidate all of these into a single form, which generally leads to state absolutism, especially in its Marxist-Leninist version.

Here is an earlier version of this talk which I delivered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. Naturally last evening's version was adapted to a different audience, but the substance was the same. This one includes Portuguese subtitles for my Brazilian readers.

22 February 2021

February tidbits

Here are links to three articles that have come to my attention in recent weeks. All have to do with religion's influence on public life.

The American Exception: How faith shapes economic and social policy, by Benjamin M. Friedman, in the January/February 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine. Excerpt:

Because it is true that economics emerged from the Enlightenment, and because the conventional image of the Enlightenment downplays the importance attached to religion in favor of humanistic thinking, the commonplace assumption is that economics in turn likewise stands apart from religious ideas. This is not true, nor has it been, ever since the inception of economics as a modern intellectual discipline. Taking account of the influence of religious thinking is essential to a full understanding of one of the great areas of modern human thought.

If evangelical Christians are called to live in truth, why do so many believe political conspiracies?, by Peggy Wehmeyer, in The Dallas Morning News. Excerpt:

People I know and care about still hold a shocking but unshakable belief that a deep state, involving the Supreme Court, federal judges, election officials and mainstream media, stole the White House from Donald Trump. But evangelical Christians are people who are called to live as though the truth is true, no matter the cost. I share my friends’ conservative moral values as well as their disdain for some of the progressive policies of the Democratic Party. But my fear of where President Joe Biden might take us doesn’t tempt me to swallow a web of conspiracy theories whole.

How the Civil Rights Movement Converted Liberal White Protestants to Secularism, by Daniel K. Williams, at Anxious Bench. Excerpt:

After the 1960s, mainline Protestant denominations experienced a decades-long continuous decline in membership. While the causes of the decline are complex, most analyses have pointed to one central factor: the failure of mainline Protestant churches to retain their children, first with the Baby Boomers, and then with Gen-Xers and millennials.  And while a few of these youth left mainline Protestantism for conservative evangelical or Catholic churches, most became nonreligious. Yet in many cases – especially if they pursued graduate education – they retained the progressive political commitments that some of their pastors had acquired in the civil rights movement. But now that they had the moral commitment that came from the civil rights movement, they no longer saw the need for organized religion – especially organized religion that was not quite as fervent in its social justice commitments.

18 February 2021

The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution

The Cateclesia Institute has published my review of Carl Trueman's recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution: The Enthroned Self: Carl Trueman’s Account of a Revolution. An excerpt:

In exploring the Revolution’s architecture in part one, Trueman draws on three twentieth-century figures—Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre—whose categories he believes help us to understand recent history. Rieff, whose Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966) anticipated current trends, analyzed western history in terms of three successive worlds. The first world is pagan, and its ethic is rooted in myth, such as the predictive power ascribed to the Delphic oracle. Human beings are subject to an impersonal fate that prevents them controlling the outcomes of their lives. Man in a first-world culture is political man (Trueman, 44). The second world is characterized by faith rather than fate—a faith in a God who has revealed himself in specific ways to specific peoples. Human laws are in some sense based on the will of this God, who underpins the customs and mores of entire societies. In a second-world culture, political man gives way to religious man. Both the first and second worlds justify themselves by reference to a transcendent sacred order.

17 February 2021

Biden's Burden

The new issue of Christian Courier carries my monthly column, "Principalities & Powers," titled, Biden's Burden: Will the new American president be able to make good on his promises? An excerpt:

I’ve often said that an American president must function as both king and prime minister, and that few have played each role equally well. I believe that Biden’s address was a suitably regal speech, laudably attempting to unite a divided nation – something that his immediate predecessor seemed altogether incapable of doing. But what sort of prime minister will he make? Presidential promises to bridge divisions too often falter over the reality of divisive policies pursued in the Oval Office and in Congress. And these will inevitably hamper his efforts towards unity.

Historically Biden has been a moderate Democrat, shunning the more radical elements in his own party. But over the decades he has also shown himself to be flexible, or, to put the matter more negatively, irresolute, changing his convictions as the times and his party appear to demand. This makes Biden’s actual discharge of his duties somewhat difficult to predict. Will he expand and harden the Democrats’ non-discrimination regime, even at the expense of religious liberty? Or will he refrain from unduly interfering in the institutions of civil society and the standards they maintain as part of their core identities? How he approaches this will determine whether he is genuinely capable of reaching out to his political opponents.

Read the entire column here.

11 February 2021

Christianity and Political Life

Just over a year ago, in November 2019, I spoke at the Indonesian Reformed Evangelical Church (IREC) Trinity in Toronto, pastored by the Rev. Joshua Lie, on the subject of "Christianity and Political Life." Here is the video of my talk, which I've also posted on my RECENT ACTIVITIES page. You may need to turn up the sound to hear it.

WSJ on Catholic social teachings

On 5 February this article by Francis X. Rocca appeared in The Wall Street Journal: Can Catholic Social Teaching Unite a Divided America? Subtitle: "President Biden, Sen. [Marco] Rubio and many non-Catholic thinkers see a way forward in the church’s long tradition of public discourse, even as they disagree in interpreting it." The article is behind a pay wall, but here is a brief excerpt:

What is Catholic social teaching? And why should it matter to the nearly 80% of Americans who do not belong to the church?
A body of doctrine on law, politics and economics developed by popes since the late 19th century, Catholic social teaching has historically been more influential in Europe and Latin America than in the U.S. But some on both sides of the aisle, not all of them Catholic, say its concepts are especially needed at this fractured moment in American politics. “If you’re looking for a way to bridge differences and find some unity and healing, Catholic social teaching offers a path forward that challenges both right and left and calls us to work together for the common good,” said John Carr, a former adviser to the U.S. bishops who teaches at Georgetown University and who endorsed Mr. Biden last fall. “In a society with very few strong moral paradigms left, Catholic social thought is a well-organized tradition that has something for both left and right,” said Adrian Vermeule, a conservative professor of constitutional law at Harvard University. “Catholicism, despite or because of our polarized age, is becoming something like an organizing common language for a great deal of American public life.” . . .

10 February 2021

Schuman Talk

Yesterday Jeff Fountain interviewed me for the latest episode of Schuman Talks, under the auspices of the Schuman Centre for European Studies. Robert Schuman (1886-1963) was a French statesman born in Luxembourg and one of the founders of the European Union in the 1950s.

The Last Caravan

In November of 1950, when he was 22 years old, my father travelled with a camel caravan from Kano, Nigeria, where he was living at the time, to Timbuktu, then in French West Africa. He seems to have stayed in the latter city through January of 1951, apparently growing a beard at a time when beards were far from fashionable. Timbuktu is a fabled city at its height during western Europe's late Middle Ages, when it was a centre of learning and commerce in the heart of Islamic west Africa. Today it contains a huge number of ancient manuscripts which residents have kept safe from invaders for centuries, most recently during the troubles of the second decade of the 21st century. It's still a largely Muslim city, with its glory days behind it. But my father was determined to see it, recounting his experiences in the form of a lengthy epic poem, mostly in a very rough iambic tretrameter in 660 quatrain stanzas in English. The accompanying photograph is one he took during his trek through the Sahara.

My father died in August of last year at the good old age of 92.

09 February 2021

Order of Malta

I've long been fascinated by the Order of Malta, formally known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, because of its unusual status as a holdover from a much earlier era and its one-time connection with my father's native island of Cyprus. Established almost a thousand years ago in 1048, it was once headquartered successively in Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta. As such it functioned as a sovereign territorial entity with its own military, led by a grand master. Sovereignty over Malta ended when Napoleon captured the islands in 1798 during his Egyptian expedition. Now located in the Grand Magistral Palace, on Via Condotti in Rome, the Order of Malta still retains some of the trappings of statehood and maintains diplomatic relations with 110 states. It mints its own coins, produces its own stamps, and issues its own passports. However, without territory many would judge that it cannot be considered a state, as James Kerr-Lindsay concludes in this video:

In 2008 the Order established diplomatic relations with Canada, although the two did not exchange ambassadors as such. Canada's contact with the Order is through this country's ambassador to the Vatican.

04 February 2021

Laymen's Lounge interview

My recent conversation with Mike Wagenman has been posted at The Laymen's Lounge: Civil Society in a Time of Cultural Division. An excerpt:

I would love to see Christians and other likeminded citizens mobilize to launch a public justice movement. What would it look like? Unlike liberals and socialists, it would unequivocally affirm the institutions and communities of what collectively is often called civil society. Rather than attempt to have government solve every problem, it would recognize that a healthy society requires a variety of communal formations to function according to their respective callings. Businesses take seriously their stewardship of the limited resources of the earth. Families nurture the next generation and care for the aged. Schools educate children and youth. Churches gather people together to worship God and serve their neighbours. Labour unions protect workers in the workplace. Political parties formulate policy agendas seeking public justice and the common interest. You get the idea. Government would be less about solving problems and more about maintaining the legal space for a variety of agents—both individual and communal—to do what they do best.

Read the entire conversation here. Learn more about The Laymen's Lounge.

03 February 2021

Joseph's 'Little Bible'

My January column for Christian Courier was just posted online two days ago: Joseph's 'Little Bible'.

As I was preparing a chapel meditation on Job some weeks ago, I read a commentary that described Job’s story as a microcosm of the entire biblical redemptive narrative. It begins with an idyllic life of one of God’s servants, takes him through the darkest valleys of affliction, brings in his friends’ proposed solutions to his plight, and ends with God restoring Job’s fortunes. This prompted me to look at other examples of “little bibles” in the Scriptures, and I believe several can be found in the first book of the Bible, one of which I will explore here.

The story of Joseph always moves me emotionally when I read it, as it recounts a tale of reconciliation and forgiveness in a severely dysfunctional family. Yet it has some peculiar features which make for a complicated relationship with the larger biblical narrative. Joseph is the hero of the story. Or is he?

Read the entire article here.

02 February 2021

Cristianismo e ideologias políticas

 As minhas aulas para o Seminário Jonathan Edwards agora estão disponíveis.

Schuman Centre talk coming up

The Schuman Centre for European Studies will be hosting this online event next week. The time will be noon EST in North America. I'll be speaking with Jeff Fountain.

01 February 2021

Electoral reform at last? The case for representation

The institutions of democracy are supposed to represent the citizens' political convictions, but all too often they fail at this central task. The chief problem is that elections are more about winners and losers than about representation. And this could be exacerbating the current political crisis in the United States.

Both Canada and the United States operate according to what political scientists call a single-member-plurality (SMP) system, or what the popular media call first-past-the-post. In a single-member constituency candidates compete for one office, the winner being the one receiving the largest number, or plurality, of votes. Where three candidates are evenly matched, it is possible for one to win with only slightly more than a third of the total number of votes cast. In the last Canadian federal election in 2019, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party received 33.12 percent of the votes cast--just under a third of the total! Yet Trudeau remains prime minister leading a single-party minority government against the preferences of two-thirds of Canadian voters. That this is considered acceptable in a democratic country skirts the edges of insanity.


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