Relax, It’s Just Capitalism

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My review of Brent Waters’ Just Capitalism is up at TGC:

Perhaps the most important contribution of Just Capitalism is Waters’s argument that, at least on the natural level, flourishing is primarily a result of koinonia. He explains koinonia as a state in which people are holding in common or enjoying together (“communicating,” in a technical sense of that term) the goods of creation. We were made for koinonia, and our nature cries out for it.

That’s why the church is characterized by koinonia. That’s also why the life of the church, when it’s rightly ordered, offers the watching world a model for how human institutions can be arranged in a way that leads to flourishing. Waters has thought carefully about the sociology of the church and how it can indirectly influence other social structures.

People tend to have visceral, knee-jerk reactions (pro and con) to the C-word; Jonathan Haidt is writing a book about that. Whatever your reaction, I hope you give Just Capitalism a full and fair read. You won’t regret it.

A Kingdom Pure, Continued

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I’m tardy getting the latest installment of my Green Room series up here on Hang Together. This time I wrap up how fortification paradigm churches (those with fundamentalist tendencies) can grow their way out of “cultural puritanism” and into a bigger vision of God’s kingdom:

Real moral goodness is revealed by the Bible but it is not only known by the Bible. We must know nature first before the Bible can speak to us – including human nature as expressed in culture. The Bible itself constantly assumes that we come to the Bible as creatures who are already moral agents. In I Corinthians 11:14, Paul refers to culturally contingent rules of permissible hair length for men as a form of moral knowledge, knowledge gained not from the Bible but from – his word – “nature.” There are great depths to be plumbed in that; we need not assume it implies long hair on men is morally wrong in every cultural context. But at minimum it means the Bible presupposes we come to scripture already possessing valid moral knowledge taught to us by our cultures.

As always, your thoughts, comments, objections and rotten vegetables are welcome!

Christian Business for the Common Good

There’s no copyright in title, so Kenman Wong and Scott Rae won’t be able to sue the American Enterprise Institute over the subtitle of its new short documentary, “To Whom Is Given: Business for the Common Good.” But I doubt they’d want to, since it wouldn’t serve the common good to do so.

My friends in the Oikonomia Network will recognize our good friends Chris Brooks and Katherine Leary Alsdorf here, and might also be able to place such obscure faces as Dave Blanchard and Greg “Let Your Jesus Freak Flag Fly” Thornbury.

It really is remarkable the extent to which Arthur Brooks has led AEI to make the connections between religion and civic concerns like economic flourishing. In his early days at the helm, I heard Arthur give a talk at a Christian college where someone said to him how extraordinary it was to have a president of AEI addressing them and speaking frankly as a man of faith, and he replied nervously, “well, we’ll see if I’m still president of AEI when I get back to DC.”

He was, and I’m glad. If only there were more voices like his in both progressive and conservative think tanks, public policy might not be implicitly at war with religion in the way it is now.

Patriotism and Nationalism

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You will not find anything better to read today – you will probably not find anything better to read this month – than Jonah Goldberg’s urgent testimony on NRO today on the stark difference between patriotism and nationalism. (Although yesterday’s WSJ column by Bret Stephens on how Trump says America is as guilty as Putin because he aspires to rule the way Putin does is a close second.)

The whole Goldberg essay is urgently worth your time, but the final paragraph strikes me as especially important:

In a normal time, I would still have the above disagreements (and a few others I left out) with Rich and Ramesh, but they would be entirely academic. But this is not a normal time, and the decision to slap a coat of paint over the term nationalism becomes difficult not to interpret as a whitewash. If the intent is to educate the president about what nationalism, rightly understood, is, I wish them luck, but I won’t get my hopes up.

Here is a capsule summary of how Trump destroys conservatism. The attempt to influence the would-be dictator takes the form of an effort to craft a new, artificial language where the words he’s committed to (nationalism, populism) are given synthetic meanings that are less obviously at varience with the rule of law and our national traditions of justice and freedom; all that is really accomplished is the destruction of those national traditions through the debauchery of the language through which alone they can be instantiated. All attempts to manipulate politics through the construction of artificial language end in unfreedom.

This morning I listened to a recording of Martin Luther King talking about the American Dream of universal rights and freedoms, and how America had always had “a schizophrenic character” because it had always been dedicated to this dream, yet had always defaced it with various injustices. In the movie Hidden Figures (go watch it today if you have not done so) you can hear King talking about how the civil rights movement is not fighting for blacks against whites, but for all Americans and for the glory of the American experiment – and especially for those who oppose civil rights and commit oppression, whom the civil rights movement was struggling to save from their own wickedness.

That is the kind of patriotism we need.

Update: Via Jim Geraghty, here is George Orwell on patriotism v. nationalism:

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

That final phrase – “or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality” – contains great depths. See Also.

Right and Wrong Ways to Keep “Pure”

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Over on The Green Room I’ve put up my latest on different models of the kingdom of God. This time, the problem “fortification paradigm” churches – i.e. those tempted to fundamentalism – most need to watch out for:

The underlying problem here is a failure to understand that there is no expression of the gospel, or of Christian faith and life, that is not culturally contextualized.

I’m going to call the failure to recognize this “cultural puritanism.” (I hate to use that term because I actually like Puritanism when it’s seeking purity by the right standard! It’s when our own cultural instantiation of the gospel becomes the standard that puritanism goes wrong.)

Risk a little cultural contamination and read the piece, and let me know what you think!