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Templeton Project: Flannery O’Connor’s “Push Back”

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Push Back’.”

See also:

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Flannery O’Connor was a southern Catholic writer who has bequeathed to us wonderful short stories and two novels.  She has some good advice for Christians in this secular age.  “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.  What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

“Push back” may be a harsh metaphor when we Christians are striving for civil speech in a contentious, combative society.  But, let us not forget the  primary point that O’Connor is making.  We are to speak up on behalf of Christ–His redemptive sacrifice and wise teachings.  When we are conversing with a friend, talking in a group that has gathered for dinner or some such activity, or participating in a formal setting of discussion or debate, we are called on to defend the faith, no matter what the risk.  To follow Jesus is to carry a cross.

Having to make an apology, or defense, for many of us may be a frequent opportunity in our secular setting.  We must balance civil speech with a firm stand.  To be gentle and respectful does not mean to accede to falsehood.  We may be objects of ridicule and scorn.  No matter, we are to stand for the truth even unto persecution.

Our challenge in any dialogue may not only have to do with civility but also knowledge.  Do we have enough knowledge to feel adequate to the task?  We must also commit ourselves to study, especially of the Bible.

Next time we will discuss how Saint Paul comported himself before people in power.  To do this we will turn to the Acts of the Apostles.

Templeton Project: The Present Cultural Environment in America

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “The Present Cultural Environment in America.”

See also:

 

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The situation for Christians in contemporary American culture can be described as increasing pressure to conform to secularism, an ideology not only different from Christianity but hostile to it.    The circumstances did not come into existence overnight.  Read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age or a summary of his book by James K. A. Smith, entitled  How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. 

Is cultural hostility becoming a situation of outright persecution?  Are we headed toward an environment of “trials” similar to the exiles in First Peter, or worse?  We do not have too long to wait to find out.  Developments are moving at a fast pace. Secularism is an ideology that by its very nature is intensely inimical to Christian faith.  Our apostolic and catholic confession is a threat to its tenets. And, of course, theirs to ours.  But, as Christians, we are expected to react in love for our neighbor, even our enemy; but, we must also stand firm for our confession of faith.

What do we see on the cultural landscape?  A sexual revolution has taken place that contravenes Christian ethics. (see R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent).  Our government has been active in promoting laws that would limit freedom of the practice of religion.  Note the attempt to replace free exercise of religion with freedom of worship only, a change that would greatly restrict the intent of the First Amendment’s protection.  Hollywood and the media have aligned themselves with secular ways of thinking and doing. Intellectuals have directed attacks against Christian theology and ethics. Though attacks on the faith are not new, today it seems more common and virulent.  Science has become scientism–a philosophy that insists that only science provides knowledge. The humanities and theology, in this view, are not considered sources of knowledge.(See J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism).  We are moving toward a brave new world of drugs, sex only for pleasure, and laboratory production and experimentation that challenge Christian ethics  (See Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)  We have state law that allows the killing of a child outside the womb of the mother.  Our societal symbols, representing who we are, could turn out to be the condom and the joint.

In some quarters, the church has become an object of ridicule and contempt. It is in this environment that we must speak the truth and proclaim the Christian faith.

We have churches who have allied themselves, astoundingly enough, with this secular culture in the name of Christ.  The result has been bitterness and hostility within the Christian community. Are churches that renounce orthodox theology and ethics Christian? Because of our many divisions, the church has not spoken with one voice, based on orthodox theology and traditional Christian ethics. Valuable energy and positive influence are lost in these ecclesiastical and ecumenical conflicts.

What are Christians called to do in this situation?  Despite the obstacles and dangers and threats, we must speak out. We must push back, as writer Flannery O’Connor advises.  More on this next time.

Michael G. Tavella

June 1, 2019

Feast Day of Justin Martyr, c. 165

 

Templeton Project: Elect Exiles of the Dispersion–The Importance of Identity

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Elect Exiles of the Dispersion–The Importance of Identity.”

See also:

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Peter addresses his readership as “elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  The terminology comes from the Old Testament where Israel and then Judah went into exile.  The Jews are the elect people of God whose historical experience was exile and dispersion into many lands. Only in recent history have Jews returned to their homeland of Israel.

Christians are those chosen by God,  who are found in many nations and whose identity is one of exile from the homeland of heaven.  The communities of Christians found in several provinces of the Roman Empire, located in what is now the nation of Turkey, were experiencing “various trials.”  Persecution was an everpresent danger. Their experience was one of exile, an unpleasant and difficult reality, from the heavenly country for which they longed.

The post-New Testament Letter to Diognetus takes up the theme of Christians as aliens in this world.  The sender of the letter writes, “They (Christians) live in their own countries, but only as aliens.  They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.  They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring.  They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,”  but they do not live “according to the flesh.”  They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”  (Cyril Richardson, translator and editor. The Library of Christian Classics. Early Christian Fathers, Volume I. Westminster: Philadelphia,1953, p.217).  Christians are not distinguishable from others in many things, but they are set apart by their moral practice.  For example, they shun adultery and the exposure of their children unto death, as pagans sometimes did.

Christians consider themselves as exiles or aliens here on earth.  Our permanent home is in heaven.  These characteristics are primary to Christian identity in the world.  We are separate from the unethical practices of the world, even though sometmes Christians fail in this.

Peter also characterizes Christians as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own (God’s) possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2: 9-10 ESV)  We who have had God’s mercy shown to us through Jesus Christ are an elect peole who are to proclaim the mystery of our salvation so that others may also become a part of God’s people.

This way of looking at life, determined by our redemption in Christ, sets us apart from the world; and, as a result, causes conflict with the world.  Our interface with the world has all the possibility of inspiring anger and hatred in us as it does with those who are not Christians.  Our path, though, should be one of gentleness and respect.  Hard as it is to practice, we are called to address the world in the love of Christ.  But we are also to be separate from the corruption of the world.  Relying on texts from the Old Testament, Paul instructs the Corinthians with these words: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them says the Lord, . . .

Michael G. Tavella

June 1, 2019

Feast Day of Justin Martyr, c. 165

Templeton Project: With Gentleness and Respect

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “With Gentleness and Respect.”

See also:

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We are to make our defense “with gentleness and respect.”  These words are found in I Peter 3: 13ff in the text that has been and will be the focus of this blog. Different English versions of the New Testament provide different translations of the words under consideration.  The Greek word, translated gentleness (ESV) in English, has also been translated as meekness (ASV, KJV) and humility (WEB and Word Biblical Commentary, I Peter). The word is translated gentleness in NCV and NIV, as well as ESV.

The noun, translated gentleness (ESV), is used in I Peter only in Verse 15 of Chapter 3.  Another form of the word is used as an adjective in I Peter 3: 4, and only there in the letter, where wives are instructed, “Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear–but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (I Peter 3: 3-4 ESV) A woman who behaves in this way has the approval of God.

What can we say about the meaning of gentle/gentleness in I Peter?  How we say what we say in the event of making a defense must be without harshness, contempt, courseness, rudeness, and violence.  It would include mildness by our avoiding threat or anger and certainly avoiding profanity.  Body language would conform to mild speech. Ad hominem arguments would be unacceptable.  More on this later. Make no mistake gentleness does not mean a lack of determination to make one’s defense as a witness to the opponent.  Gentleness does not mean giving up one’s conviction out of timidity. To accede to the others’ threat is to fail to make a defense.

In his commentary on I Peter, J. Ramsey Michaels observes, “Gentleness is “. . . an inward quality or attitude of mind (cf. 3: 3-4), a profound acknowledgement of the power of God, and of one’s own poverty and dependence on Him (cf. Matt 5: 5). Yet this God-centered quality of the heart finds expression also in one’s behavior toward others’” (J. Ramsey Michael. I Peter. Word Books, Word Biblical Commentary,  Waco, Texas, 1988. p. 189).

The second word is translated respect in the English Standard Version.  Elsewhere it is translated fear or reverence. Michaels raises the question of whether respect has to do with God or other people.  Before citing his view, let’s see how the word is utilized elsewhere in the epistle.

The Greek word, phobos, means fear.  We have borrowed it into English in many instances–arachnophobia-fear of spiders; agoraphobia–fear of open places; hydrophobia–fear of water.  The noun is used five times in I Peter.  Its first use is found in I Peter 1: 17:  “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  (I Peter 1: 17-19 ESV).  The fear is reference to the fear of God.  The word is tranlated repect in our central text in Chapter 3  The “time of exile” is this earthly life.

The Greek word in I Peter 2: 18 is translated as respect in ESV, the same translation as in our primary text in Chapter 3.  Servants are instructed to obey their masters with respect, whether good and gentle or unjust.  Note that the antonym in this context for gentle is translated as unjust.  In 2: 17., the verse immediately before this passage, the community is exhorted to “Fear God,” The word is a verb, used three times in the letter.

Michaels concludes that both words have a reference both to our relationship to God and also our relationship to our neighbors including the hostile ones. (Michaels, p. 189)  Michaels’ own translation of these two words is “humility and reverence,” a translation that seems to emphasize our relationship to God.  We are commanded to proper conduct with our neighbor but also proper attitude toward God. Proper conduct in making a defense applies both to formal debate as well as to informal encounters.

In our conversations with unbelievers we are always to be guided by a relationship with God that has certain ethical consequences., Unbelievers do not have the same foundation as Christians. However, even unbelievers may be influenced by factors leading to conduct similar to Christians, but not with the same motivation. We will follow this thought in future posts.

Michael G. Tavella

March 23, 2019

Templeton Project: Apology in the New Testament III

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Apology in the New Testament III.”

See also:

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The previous article ended with a quotation from First Peter.  “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame, For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  (I Peter 3: 13-17 ESV)

Let’s summarize the letter of which this extended passage is a part.  Peter writes to the “elect exiles in the dispersion,” a specific reference to Christians’ living in several Roman provinces of what is today the country of Turkey.  By God’s mercy in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are “born again to a living hope,” fulfilled in end time salvation. Though the recipients have been through various trials, they are to rejoice in their salvation.  Persecution is always a possibility and may have been experienced by the recipients of the letter..

Peter calls on Christians in their exile, not to be conformed to the passions, but to be holy as God is holy.  The exiles are to remember that they were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.  The apostle continues with admonition to put away deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander and yearn for the “pure spiritual milk.”

Peter reminds the exiles that they are a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a chosen race, a holy nation that “proclaim the excellencies” of God who called them out of darkness into his light.  They are to avoid the passions of the flesh.  Among the Gentiles they are to be honorable in their conduct.  Though non-believers speak of them as evildoers, the result will be that on the day of God’s visitation, they will glorify God.

Peter continues by exhorting them to submit to human authority, respecting the emperor and the governors sent by him.  Their doing good will silence foolish people.  It is of no benefit to be punished for doing evil and endure, rather it is good in God’s sight to endure for suffering for the good.

Christ is the example of suffering for Christians to follow.  He suffered, though He committed no sin, on the cross so that we may “die to sin and live to righteousness.”

Peter continues with a section on the proper conduct of husbands and wives and servants, followed by an admonition to the churches to “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” The exiles are not to respond to evil with evil but respond with blessing.   After some relevant quotes from the Old Testament, Peter writes the words that were quoted at the beginning of this article.  In our defense of the faith, Christians are to be gentle and respectful.

It is better to suffer for good than evil.  Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Christians are to live for the will of God, not for evil passions.  The end is approaching for which we are to prepare.  He exhorts the recipients of the letter to live self-controlled lives and love one another in the the community.

Peter returns to the theme of the trial of the exiles.   They are not to be surprised that trials are happening.  They should rejoice in the sharing of Christ’s sufferings as they will rejoice when Christ returns and are to glorify God in their suffering.  Judgment begins in the household of God and then among those who do not believe the Gospel.  The elders are instucted on how to lead the flock and the young are reminded of their proper duty.

The exiles suffer now but will inherit the eternal glory of Christ.  Finally the apostle calls the exiles to stand firm in their belief.

Chrisitans are to suffer for the good, never for the evil.  Our conduct is to be good as a witness to others.  This includes a respectful and gentle way of speaking and conducting themselves with those who ask for an account of their  faith.  The appropriate way to present a defense of the faith is very important as is its content.

What can we learn from theis text?

1. The Christian community consists of elect exiles in this world and also is a holy nation and royal priesthood. Christians are elect exiles, because of God’s choosing us as His people in a world hostile to the Gospel.  Our true home is heaven, an imperishable inheritance.

2.  The churches and the people in them have gone through and will continue to go through various trials, not because we are evildoers, but because of doing good.  Persecution is always a possibility for Christians.

3.  We are not to conform to the passions, but remember that we are a holy nation.  Our lives should be one of self-control.

4.  Christ, who suffered for our salvation, is the model for our own suffering.

5.  To respond to others with an apology, or defense, is a witness to Christ.

6.  Our defense should be with gentleness and respect, no matter how the challenger behaves.

7.  We are to rejoice in our trials.

(All quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version)

Michael G. Tavella

March 18, 2019

The Day of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, 386

Templeton Project: Apology in the New Testament II

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Apology in the New Testament II.”

See also:

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The word, defense or apology, is found twice at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The letter starts out with mention of sender and recipients, followed by a greeting.  Paul continues by giving thanks for the Philippian Christian community. He speaks of his defense and confirmation of the Gospel in partnership with the Philippians.  Paul is in prison when he writes this letter. A little bit later in the thanksgiving, Paul mentions that his imprisonment has served to advance the Word.  Furthermore, the Philippians have become bolder to share the Word as result of Paul’s situation and example.  He emphasizes that he finds himself in prison for the purpose of defending the Gospel.

The defense of the Gospel involves its proclamation so that others may believe.  To defend the Gospel is to witness to Christ.  When Christians are witnessing, they are proclaiming Christ so that people may believe.  To defend the Gospel is not a defensive measure in response to hostility, though hostility may be the case, but is an opportunity to share its power and truth boldly and humbly.  An apology is not an “I’m sorry,” the primary use of the word in English, but is a “Let me tell you about Jesus Christ and why He is the truth.”  Challenges to this witness will require answering questions and clearing up misunderstandings.  The Christian response should be respectful of the antagonist, rather than coarse, crass, and caustic.  The disciple is called to conduct oneself courteously both  in word and action without a deference that compromises the sharing of God’s powerful Word. Saint Peter puts itwell:  “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (mine) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” ( I Peter 3: 14-17 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

Templeton Project: The Biblical Foundation–Apology

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “The Biblical Foundation – Apology.”

See also:

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In English the word apology most often means an expression of regret or sorrow for one’s lapse in behavior in word or action; but, it can also be used according to its meaning in ancient Greek, which is a defense of a point of view, opinion, idea, philosophy, religious belief, etc. In the New Testament the word is used in this latter sense in both its nominal and verbal forms.

Apology is used most often in Luke-Acts and Paul.  The verbal form appears two times in Luke, six times in the Book of Acts, and once in Romans and 2 Corinthians.  In Luke 12: 11 Jesus counsels the disciples, “And when they bring you before synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12: 11-12 ESV) The parallel passage in Matthew does not utilize the verb apologeomai, defend oneself, as does Luke.  The same is true when comparing Luke 21: 14 with parallels in Matthew and Mark.  Here again, only Luke employs the verbal form of apology while Matthew and Mark use a verb meaning to speak.

Luke 12: 11 pertains to the witness of the disciples at a time of persecution.  The Greek verb, apologeomai, in the English Standard Version of Luke 21: 14 is translated “to answer.”  The whole verse reads, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (Luke 21: 14 ESV) In persecution the disciple has the opportnity to witness to the Gospel.  Both passages in Luke where apologeomai is used refer to persecution and martyrdom of Jesus’ disciples. The meaning in both contexts is the same.  The Christian replies to the charges of the opponent and, at the same time, testifies to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts the verb is used six times.  Paul makes his defense before Felix in Acts 24; before Festus in Acs 25; and before Agrippa in Acs 26.

Luke does not use the noun apologia but Acts, written by Luke, does.  In Acts the word is used two times toward the end of the book, as is the case with the verbs.  The word refers to Paul’s defense of his ministry in public.  In Acts 22 Paul must defend himself against the Jews’ false accusation that he was teaching against the Law and bringing Gentiles into the Temple. In Acts 25 Paul makes his case before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice.

In Acts 22 Paul gives an account of his conversion. Paul’s defense also served as opportunities to witness to Christ.  He insisted that he was not preaching against His people, the Law, or the government.  In Acts 26 Paul gives yet another account of his conversion.

Both verb and noun refer to Paul’s defense in various contexts that were of a juridical nature.  He defends himself against false charges, gives account of his conversion, and witnesses to Christ.  The crowd opposed to the Apostle interpreted his defense with loud threats aginst his person.  The government officials listem more sympathetically.

The next article will consider Paul’s use of apology in Philippians and then in I Peter, its only use outside of Luke-Acts and the Pauline correspondence.

Templeton Project: Grounds for the Project

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Grounds for the Project.”

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The environment in America for debate on controversial subjects is replete with incivility, exemplified by politicians and news media. As a result, greater understanding on important matters has been lost in the turmoil.  No less has dialogue concerning topics of religion, especially those pertaining to Christianity, been caught in a Charybdis that inevitably leads to the disappearance and destruction of an environment in which the hearers could learn more about the subject at hand and the issues at stake.

This project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, seeks to promote greater understanding and civility among Christians and atheists as they dialogue on matters pertaining to the Christian faith. The blog and response will test our ability to foster mutual respect on a subject that delves deeply into what is most important to human beings, the meaning of our lives in this world. It is not assumed that this is the first attempt to do this. But, it is a fresh undertaking that may or may not result in new insights.  If it fails in this,  it is hoped that it will at least provide a forum for the respectful exchange of views.  A small guide book for those in dialogue or seeking it will be produced as a result of this blog. Its primary purpose is to advise Christians.  But, atheists intent on positive dialogue will hopefully find it beneficial.

The Scriptural basis for this endeavor is found in I Peter:  “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (I Peter 3: 13-17 ESV)

Here are the specific goals of the project, susceptible to revision.

We will endeavor

1. to foster greater civility and understanding on matters pertaining to the Christian faith and atheism.

2. to avoid contempt and, at all times, to show respect for one another.

3. to acknowledge our lapses of civility and to pledge to do better.

4. to reduce misunderstandings that come from lack of knowledge of the subjects of religion and atheism and to clarify what participants believe.

5. to commit to research on matters we know little about.

6. to explore religious and non-religious views of the world.

7. to emphasize the importance of accurate historical, scientific (natural science), philosophical and theological knowledge.

8. to commit ourselves to promoting understanding and civility among friends and family.

9.  to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A committee has been formed to develop the resources to meet the above goals.  You will be hearing from them on this blog.

By: The Rev. Dr. Michael G. Tavella

What is the Global Economy?

Whenever the topic of the local economy is brought up, economic pundits quickly remind us that we live in a “global economy,” but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that economic activity now takes place across the globe whereas it previously did not? Does it mean that economic activity occurs much more rapidly than it previously did? Does it mean that human society has changed to the point where the economies of different countries with different cultures are irrevocably linked together? The answer to each of these questions is no.

Global economic activity has been around for over 2,000 years. The speed at which economic activity takes place is certainly faster, but this increased speed is of little to no consequence to the small and medium-sized business—in other words the overwhelming majority of businesses in the world. In what way have our economies become linked together that the failure of a small percentage of the mortgages in the USA resulted in a world-wide economic crisis, the consequences of which are still affecting us after four years? Is this link something that is irrevocable? What does it really mean when economists talk about the “global economy,” and why is it brought up as some sort of argument against supporting the local economy?

I submit that the global economy is really nothing more than the fact that the banking industry and some very large companies have expanded to the point where they don’t really have any national loyalty. Any claim to a national identity is merely a facade; they hold no national allegiance and their only interest in any country is the ability to make a profit. The large international companies make claims of nationality, their headquarters have to be somewhere, but their operations, offices and factories span the globe. Their national claims often appear to nothing more than marketing in their countries of origin. They love free trade agreements because these allow them to lay off more expensive workers in their country of origin and replace them with less expensive workers in another. This increases their profits without regard to the impact in their home country or to their employees.

The only interest the international banks seem to have in any country is the ability to give it loans. It is true that some of them perform a specific function within a country that is integral to that country. The U.S. Federal Reserve controls the currency in the United States. Likewise with the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. However, all of these institutions participate in the funding of governments all around the world. When they do not do so directly, they act through an intermediate financial institution like the International Monetary Fund. They do not function for the benefit, even in a primary sense, of their supposed country.

Because so many countries have relinquished their sovereign right to control their own currencies to these international entities, and have become so indebted to them, they have become completely dependent on them. The claims that these banks have become “too big to fail” raises the question of why they are too big to fail. If they fail, the governments dependent on them fail with them. Without the seemingly endless lines of credit to fund them, governments would have to stop making promises to provide programs they cannot afford. That is a reality no politician wants exposed to the public. If a government had its loans called, it would be shown to be bankrupt. This is why the giant banks, rather than small businesses, had to be bailed out. In the case of global corporations, the ones “too big to fail” were those with extensive ties to the government through contracts and political influence (lobbying and economic power) that they could exert.

The “global economy” is nothing more than near complete dependence of governments on the global banks and international corporations. No State is prepared to operate without them. In other words, the “Global Economy” is not about providing for the economic needs of the community, the region, or even the state. It is not about the production of wealth for the people of a country. It is mainly about finance, which is only one part of economics, and maintaining the consolidated state of wealth on which governments depend so that they can redistribute that wealth through social programs. This may explain why the efforts to solve the economic crisis are ineffective and inadequate for the average family and business. Interest rates are not kept artificially low so that people can get out of debt, but so that they can remain in debt to the banks.

This situation, regardless of how emphatically the economic pundits would like us to believe otherwise, is not a necessary one, and it is certainly no argument against advocating for the local economy. After all, why should the cost of the groceries in your local market be influenced by something that happens in another country? The reason is that we have forgotten the value of the local economy, and, consequently, have lost the local economy itself. I am not discussing city planning and budgeting, that is not “the local economy.” The local economy is the ability of the local community to be self-sufficient and to support its own productive economic activity. It is the next logical expansion of the root meaning of economy in general—which is home management.

Take a look at the typical large city of today. From where do the products needed for daily life come? How would the families and businesses cope if a disaster in another region cut off their normal supply chain for food? For example, The city of Seattle is surrounded by smaller cities (urban areas) and suburban areas which do not produce anywhere near the amount of products used by its population. Seattlites sit in chairs and work at desks made in other cities and even other countries. They drink from cups, use pens and pencils, and wear clothes that are all made somewhere else. The surrounding rural areas do not produce anywhere near the amount of food needed to support the area. Seattlites are dependent upon remote suppliers, typically large industrialized farms which are the central providers for many large cities around the country and the world. When a production problem occurs on one of these giant farms, the ramifications are wide-spread. When another city experiences a disaster, the extra resources sent to assist them can create a shortage in other regions. The widespread dependence on centralized providers of basic necessities creates a situation where continued access to those necessities is more tenuous than most of us would like to believe.

Another example of widespread dependence on centralized production can be seen by a recent issue for the computer industry. Global free trade was supposed to make the market more diverse and ensure that we had a ready supply of needed items from anywhere in the world. What actually happened is that production of parts needed around the world became centralized, not just to single countries, but to single regions in those countries. The case to which I am referring is the manufacture of hard disks for computers. Flooding in one region of one country resulted in a worldwide shortage of hard disks, which impacted the ability of businesses around the world to maintain existing servers or install new ones.

In the past, a city viewed the surrounding rural community as an integral part of its life. The city provided goods and services for the rural community, and the rural community provided the basic necessities of food and other agricultural products needed by the city. In other words, each functioned as the primary market for the other and their combined economic activity established a complete, self-sufficient community in which families were able to provide for their needs and wants. Every producer and service provider in the community viewed the other members of the community as their primary customers. Rather than looking for cut-throat prices, they understood it was in their best interest to give their custom to local businesses. The best way to ensure their own economic success was to ensure the economic success of their customers. This works to make the local economy stable because most economic activity ends up being circular and self-supporting. I buy from you and you buy from me. By being each others’ customers, we keep each other in business, which allows both of us to remain each others’ customer.

Am I, by saying this, arguing against global trade, or trade in general? Not at all. The merchants in the city engaged in trade, which not only brought in desired goods from distant lands, but also opened up those distant markets to any excess production of the local community. Because most economic activity was local, it was also resilient. Not only would a problem in another community have little impact on the overall local economic situation, but the local community could more directly assist that other community. This could circumvent the need for state or federal assistance for all but the most wide-spread of disasters.

If economic activity across the country was primarily local, the overall economy of the country would be self-sufficient because the local economies would be self-sufficient. The overall economy of the country would be stable because the local economies would be stable. The overall economy of the country would be resilient because the local economies would be resilient. There would still be regional and global trade because the desire for other goods would still be present, but there would not be a dependence on those goods.

By David W. Cooney and originally published in The Distributist Review on August 18, 2012 and can be found here.

Religious baker who refused to make a wedding cake for gay couple deserves protection whether you agree with him or not

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Philadelphia Inquirer which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Our nation is seeing a surge of “corporate conscience,” where companies make decisions apart from their bottom line. This is good for all Americans. The New York Times recently described the growing “moral voice of corporate America” after a wave of companies, including Google, Airbnb, Uber, and PayPal, severed ties with white supremacist groups in response to the riots in Charlottesville.

This phenomenon is not new, nor is it limited to opposing white supremacy. For years,Pfizer has refused to sell some of its drugs to state prisons because the company doesn’t want them used in capital punishment. Chipotle refused to cater a Boy Scouts’ Jamboree because of the scouts’ then-policy about gay scout leaders. A gay coffee shop ownerrecently refused to serve a group of pro-life activists, ejecting them from his store. These business owners made moral choices about what they’re going to support.

A similar moral choice is at the heart of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case currently before the Supreme Court. The store’s owner, Jack Phillips, is a baker who is willing to sell any items off-the-shelf in his store to anyone, no questions asked. All he is asking is not to be compelled to use his artistic talent to create a custom-designed cake celebrating an event contrary to his deeply held beliefs. This is a standard that Phillips applies across the board. He does not create custom work that celebrates Halloween, divorce, profanity, or racism.

Phillips is not the first baker in Colorado who objected to using his talents to support something he disagreed with, but he’s the first one to be punished for it. Another Colorado bakery refused to create a Bible-themed cake that condemned homosexuality. But here, Colorado upheld these bakers’ rights, explaining that they shouldn’t be forced to create a cake they disagreed with. The state even said bakers have the right to decline to bake a cake for the Aryan Nations Church, or a cake denigrating the Koran.

This double standard was a cause of concern for multiple Supreme Court justices during the recent oral argument in Phillips’ case. Justice Alito called it “disturbing” that a baker could “refuse to create a cake with a message that is opposed to same-sex marriage,” but “when the tables are turned,” Phillips was “compelled to create a cake that expresses approval of same-sex marriage.” Justice Kennedy suggested that Colorado officials demonstrated “a significant aspect of hostility to a religion” and ironically, that the state had “been neither tolerant nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Critics argue that his actions should not be entitled to protection because his denial of service was offensive. But this was not a consideration when the baker turned away the customer requesting a Bible cake, or when Chipotle refused to cater the Boy Scouts, or when the gay coffee shop owner ejected the Christian group. The Supreme Court has always said that offensive expression is still entitled to First Amendment protection. Otherwise, those who need constitutional protection the most — those with unpopular views — would be protected the least.

Phillips’ opponents also exaggerate his claim and assert that a ruling for Phillips would quickly take our country back to a Jim Crow era where large swaths of businesses are allowed to deny basic services to an entire class of Americans. But the Supreme Court has already laid out factors to protect against that type of discrimination.

When First Amendment rights must be balanced against norms of equal service, the ultimate question is whether the would-be customer can freely access the market for desired services or products. That is not an issue here. Many bakers were eager for the couple’s business; they even received offers for a free cake.

This case really boils down to the following question: Do we want to have a country where the government is allowed to pick one correct view on hot topics like marriage, and to force objecting organizations to use their talents and resources to support that position? Our Constitution prohibits that result. That’s why elsewhere, we prioritize the ability of organizations to speak out with a range of viewpoints on important moral issues. The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said it best: “Not every business decision is an economic one … [W]e are fighting for what we love and believe in, and that is the idealism and the aspiration of America.” Schultz is right: These expressive rights are an ideal worth fighting for. That’s why the Supreme Court should uphold this principle for Phillips, too.

By Stephanie Barclay who is legal counsel at Becket, a public interest law firm that defends religious liberty for all faiths

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 19, 2018 and can be found here.

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