Category Archives: Reflections / Family


Inspirational Spots, January & February 2005

  • Hallowed be Thy Name, not mine. Thy kingdom come, not mine. Thy will be done, not mine.
  • Can you feel God’s encouragement? Can you sense in creation or in the presence of loved ones,
    or just in your heart, that your Creator knows you and approves of you?
  • The right amount of light we receive doesn’t depend on the voltage in the lines. Usually,
    it’s the size of the bulb we use that makes the difference.
  • God has given us unlimited power through His Son. But we cannot give His Light to the world
    through small bulbs.
  • Without charity, without adequate time for worship, without a dedication to service,
    we have no right to expect great results.
  • We are the light of the world! Do we expect God to give us the light to illuminate the earth,
    but we’ve only plugged a 15-watt bulb into His power line?
  • A voyage of discovery involves not seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes.
  • Because God loves you, you never stand alone. You can go beyond yourself.
    You can ask forgiveness of those you’ve hurt. You can care for the weak.
    You have the power to touch hearts with compassion. The power of God’s Love lies within you.
  • Love sees through a telescope, not a microscope.
  • There is nothing as strong as gentleness, or as gentle as true strength.

June 2005:

  • Hope is putting Faith to work when doubting would be easier.
  • Does someone in your life aggravate you? Does one of their habits frequently irritate you? Has a friend recently put you down? Does someone you know wish you harm? Jesus said an amazing thing: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Great and wonderful things happen when you do. It’s impossible to feel anger toward someone you’re praying for. God will improve your attitude and intensify your forgiveness.
  • We go through life collecting bricks and steel bars of sin, hurt and doubt. This world tells us that we’re free to collect these thing, so long as we’re not hurting anyone. But the reality is that these bricks and bars add up. They build a priso cell arond our soul, keeping us from others, keeping us from God. We can see great beauty beyond those walls with a surrender to the Peace of Christ.

July 2005:

  • Keep this thought handy to help brighten your day: God is absolutely, without a doubt, head-over-heels in love with you. He sends you flowers every spring, and a sunrise every morning. He could live anywhere in the universe. But he chose your heart.
  • Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If we add more worry, it can cut a deep channel through which all our other thoughts drain. Let your stream of worry trickle out of your mind — to God.
  • Time on your knees will improve your standing.
  • Remember the three R’s: Respect for yourself, regard for others and responsibility for all of your actions.
  • Nothing to be thankful for? Check your pulse!

Inspirational Spots – Christmas 2005 and  The conclusion of 2005

  • God of Love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth has given way to the bright dawn of Your Word made flesh.
  • There must be some one to whom I could reach out, someone whose life I can bring a little Christmas joy.
  • Make us a people of this light. Make us faithful to Your Word, that we may help bring Your Light into the darkness of waiting world.
  • Not just family or friends – someone else will be remembering. It would be a nice Christmas gift for Our Lord on His birthday.

Suggestions for a happy Christmas celebration:

  • Keep Christ in Christmas;
  • Pause to consider the immensity of God’s gift of Christ to humankind;
  • Be generous in giving to the needy;
  • Plans for the happiness of those who are outside of your family and friends;
  • Give gifts for the simple joy of sharing;
  • Be patient and understanding with those who bear a burden at Christmas;
  • Remember that just as Jesus the Christ is God’s Gift to us, we can make our celebration of His birth a gift to God.
  • Born in a stable. A choice He made. Simplicity and poverty. A choice no temporal power or influence would have ever suggested.
    A choice – God became man in a way no one would have ever guessed. Do you suppose He was trying to tell us something?
  • Dear God, help me see that this is not just another day. Open my eyes so I can clearly see the unique promise that this day holds. Open my mind so I can clearly understand the message and messengers You send my way. Open my heart so I may lovingly accept the challenges, blessings and surprises that You so lovingly will provide me today.

Taken from Station KNOM’s 4-page newsletter published each month

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Inspirational Spots to November 2005

Samples of Inspirational Spots
used in the last three months of 2004
and the first six months of 2005:

  • How far you go in life depends on how tender you are with the young,
    how compassionate you are with the aged, how sympathetic you are with those who are striving,
    and how tolerant you are of both the weak and the strong.
    Because someday in life, you will have been all of them.
  • On this day: mend a quarrel. Dismiss a suspicion and replace it with trust.
  • Write a letter to someone who misses you. Encourage someone. Keep a promise.


The New Pope as Theologian by Richard P. McBrien

“The New Pope As Theologian – I”

“In a recent article in Commonweal magazine (“The Church in Crisis: Pope Benedict’s Theological Vision,” 6/3/05), Father Joseph Komonchak of The Catholic University of America insists that there is a “deeper continuity in the new pope’s basic theological approach and vision” than some commentators have recognized.

Father Komonchak argues that Joseph Ratzinger’s theological stance before and during the Second Vatican Council did not subsequently change from progressive to conservative mainly because of student unrest at the University of Tubingen in 1968.

Biographies of the new pope do point out that the future pope left Tubingen for the more sedate atmosphere of Regensberg, where his priest-brother Georg was the cathedral choirmaster. Undoubtedly, Father Ratzinger’s decision to resign from his more prestigious professorship in Tubingen had something to do with the harassment he increasingly experienced from students there.

Komonchak situates the new pope’s theological vision in the context of the frequently-cited division between theologians who interpreted the conciliar renewal as primarily one of returning to the sources of Scripture, early Christian writings, and the dogmatic decrees of the first few ecumenical councils (an overall approach known in French as ressourcement), and other theologians who saw Vatican II and the theological and pastoral developments it inspired primarily in terms of church reform.
In Father Komonchak^s reading of the matter, Pope Benedict XVI did not later switch sides, as it were, abandoning his previous support of the council, where he had been a theological adviser to the late Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, Germany, and before that a close collaborator of the influential Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner.

The former Cardinal Ratzinger had been consistent in his view that the council was essentially a work of resourcement, of overcoming the limitations of the then-dominant neo-Scholastic theology by returning to the biblical, patristic, and doctrinal sources of the earliest Christian centuries.

What had upset him, Komonchak insists, was not the council as such but some of the developments that occurred after the council and in its name, particularly those affecting the Churchs’ liturgy.

Anyone familiar with my own writings (whether in this weekly column or in other venues) will not be surprised that, while I find Father Komonchak’s analysis very helpful indeed, I would not situate the matter in an either/or framework.

Authentic reform presupposes a return to the sources. True reformers, as the great Dominican theologian, Cardinal Yves Cougar, once reminded us, are those who call the Church not to a complete break with the past, but to a building upon the past in response to new theological and pastoral challenges.

Accordingly, it is not a matter of resourcement or reform, but of a resourcement that provides the foundation for ongoing reform, and of reform grounded in the authentic tradition of the Church rather than in one of the Church’s historical periods, as if frozen in time.

Impatience with neo-Scholasticism, Father Komonchak suggests, led the young theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, to “resist the nearly exclusive emphasis placed on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas,” which he found “too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.” He “far preferred” the personalism of St. Augustine (d. 430) and the more ascetical approach of St. Bonaventure (d. 1274), himself a neo-Augustinian.

But what young Joseph Ratzinger seems to have opposed was not so much Aquinas’s “closed-in,” “mpersonal” theology as his readiness to seek common ground and enter into dialogue with the newly translated works of Aristotle and his Arabian commentators.

In his second dissertation, qualifying him to lecture as a theologian,the future pope showed how St. Bonaventure, a contemporary of Aquinas, set himself against this development. He continued to insist on the unity of Christian wisdom for which Christ was the center of all knowledge.

Father Komonchak acknowledges that “Bonaventure ended in an anti-Aristotelianism that came close to anti-intellectualism, and he was among those who urged ecclesiastical authorities to intervene and censure the Thomist position.”

This seemingly theoretical dispute came to a practical head at the Second Vatican Council, in the historic debate over the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes, “Joy and hope.”)

The division between the return-to-the-sources side and the reform side at Vatican II and beyond, Father Komonchak suggests, is really a division between those who regard the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium, “Light of nations”) as the key conciliar document and those who favor Gaudium et spes.

Again, however, it is not a matter of either/or, but of both/and. Either/or represents a sectarian vision; both/and, a Catholic one.

One assumes that the new pope’s theological vision is Catholic in the fullest sense of the word.”

“The New Pope As Theologian – II”

By the time this week’s column appears, more of the dust may have settled on the enforced editorial change at America magazine and additional information may have become available.

As of this moment, however, it seems clear that there had been pressure on the Jesuits, applied from both sides of the Atlantic – in the Vatican and among a handful of U.S. bishops – to correct perceived imbalances in the editorials and articles that have been published in the Jesuits’ highly respected weekly magazine over the past few years.

When the news first broke via an e-mailed press release from the America offices, those who had been completely out of the loop, including this writer, did not even suspect that Father Thomas Reese’s departure as editor-in-chief was other than voluntary.

But the word quickly spread as phone calls and e-mails from various media outlets began coming in. ] expressed surprise and astonishment when informed of the reports that Father Reese had indeed been sacked, as the British are fond of putting it.
I can think of no Catholic in the public sphere who is more moderate, more responsible, or more restrained in his judgments and statements than Father Thomas Reese. Indeed, he often bent over backwards, as it were, to avoid even the appearance of opposing official church teachings and policies.

But as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. For all of his care and judiciousness in educating the public about the Catholic Church, Father Reese reaped not a vote of thanks from church officials, but a pink slip.

Some years ago, one of the best-read columnists in the Catholic press, a prominent priest-sociologist, used to complain about clerical envy. If memory serves, the columnist was referring to the sentiments that many parish priests might have felt toward highly visible priests like himself – author of many books, popular on the lecture circuit, frequent guest on television, and oft-quoted in the press. There may well have been priests who would have liked to see him taken down a peg or two.

One suspects that there is at least some measure of clerical envy involved here. Father Reese has been one of the most public faces on the U.S. Catholic scene, not only as editor-in-chief of America magazine but also as an author of several books, a much sought-after source for major newspapers and magazines, and a frequent contributor to network and cable television programs. He was all over television during the month of April, from the time of Pope John Paul II’s final illness through the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

By any reasonable standard, Father Reese’s public comments have always been fair, informed, balanced, and consistently respectful of the Catholic tradition. The last adjective that few people would have attached to him was “controversial.”
But perhaps it wasn’t the “controversial” part that was most bothersome, but the “public” part. Why is it that, when the major media outlets need some objective and straightforward illumination of breaking developments in the Catholic Church, they seek out people like Father Reese rather than bishops?

There are two reasons. First, many bishops are uncomfortable with the media and limit their availability to carefully crafted press releases. Second, when bishops do speak to the media, they tend to be guarded to a fault. They engage in what media people call “spin.” One rarely if ever hears a fresh, personal opinion, much less a respectful question raised about a particular Vatican initiative or pronouncement.

A major exception was the response of some high-ranking members of the hierarchy – but not in the U.S. – to the document, Dominus Jesus, issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in September, 2000.

Many people mistakenly charged that this document repudiated Vatican II’s teaching on salvation outside the Catholic Church. In that instance, however, there were bishops who, while defending the basic teaching of the document, openly criticized it for its tone and for its failure to incorporate important post-conciliar developments regarding ecumenism and relations with non-Christian religions.

Will any U.S. bishops or Father Reese’s brother Jesuits express their own concern about the meaning and impact of this latest action, which not only reflects upon the integrity of an individual Jesuit but also the Society of Jesus in the United States and one of its flagship publications?

Among the possible fallouts from this action are these two: first, the U.S. Catholic Church may lose one of its most credible and effective spokespersons with the capacity to explain and interpret developments in the Church to a wider public; and second, others like him may be less inclined to step into the breach.”

This essay, Part I and Part II, is provided by the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity. Please share it. Your comments and contributions are welcome. To be added to their mailing list write to: Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity; P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL 62222.


Freedom From Religion VS. Freedom of Religion

A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance No Longer Tolerates Religion.

The Faith That Gave Birth to Tolerance is No Longer Tolerated!

Intolerance of traditional Judeo-Christian values is easing, as seen by a sampling of news headlines:

  • How did America go from Pilgrims seeking freedom to express their Judeo-Christian beliefs to
    today’s discrimination against those very beliefs in the name of tolerance?
  • Ten Commandments taken down, “Under God” removed from Pledge, Prayer prohibited, Nativity Scenes
    banned, Boy Scouts sued, Religious Art & Music censored, Salvation Army defunded, Christmas
    Carols stopped, Bible called “hate speech,” Religious symbols erased off City Seals
  • New Orleans, LA- ACLU sued to stop student led prayer. (12/11/01 AP)
  • Virginia- ACLU sued to stop student moment-of-silence. (10/29/01 FoxNews)
  • Santa Fe, NM- ACLU sued to stop student-led prayer before a football game and, in Adler case,
    sued to stop a student-led message. (12/13/01 Liberty Counsel,
  • Virginia Military Institute- ACLU suit ended the 50-plus year tradition of meal prayer.
  • New York- Kindergartner told she could not pray out loud before snack time. (4/12/02
  • Balch Springs, TX- Seniors told they could not pray over their meals at senior center.
  • Seward, NE- Superintendent threatened to fire teacher who asked for prayer at a private
    meeting because school was anticipating lay-offs. (7/02 Liberty Counsel
  • USA- The IRS said churches can’t pray for Bush victory. (10/04
  • Cf., BACKFIRED, by author William J. Federer, p. 187ff

Discover How Tolerance Evolved:

From Puritans to Protestants to Catholics to Liberal Christians to Jews to Monotheists to Polytheists
to all Religions to Atheists to only Politically correct.
Reference: Backfired, by William J. Federer.

“From its beginning, the new continent seemed destined to be the home of religious tolerance.
Those who claimed the right of individual choice for themselves finally had to grant it to others.”
–Calvin Coolidge, May 3, 1925.

“The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name
of tolerance.

Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion?”

–Ronald Reagan, August 23, 1984.



Right S.T.A.R.T. And Pornography

Dear Parents,

This past school year the Right S.T.A.R.T. teachers found a very disturbing trend among the students that we taught. To be blunt, pornography is becoming an increasing problem due to our changing world of internet, cable, videos* and mass media. With the summer, (and unmonitored free time) quickly approaching we want to share some information on this subject for you to share with your sons and, in some cases, daughters. First, make sure you know how to check the history of what websites your children are using. The history icon is usually in the top row, although sometimes it is hidden and you need to press on an arrow to get to it. It looks like: [History Icon].

Below is a compilation of thoughts from experts. All of the complete articles were given to the principals and the resources are given in the text.

First, Dr. Robert Furey in the  St. Louis Review wrote: “Pornography is out of control in the United States… .The damage done to teens and pre-teens by exposing them to pornography can be severe and lasting.” Healthy sexual development occurs over time …Gradual exposure allows him to digest and process what he is learning. When a young person is flooded with sexual material, however, this balance can be lost….The symptoms that emerge after a young person is exposed to pornography are in some ways, similar to those that surface after sexual abuse….Among the other possible consequences of early exposure to pornography are feelings of fear and/or disgust toward sexuality. In this case, a young person may come to feel ashamed of his own emerging sexuality. Nothing good comes from exposing young people to pornography.”

Second, in A Case for Chastity Peter Vlahutin gives five succinct reasons why pornography is harmful to our sons, as well as to our daughters, and ultimately to all of us:

  1. “Pornography substitutes fantasy for reality….There is no relationship, the person displayed becomes an object, a thing, used to satisfy the viewer’s desires… She is not a real woman with desires, wishes, preferences, opinions, ideas, thoughts, feelings-she is always just an object….Any sexual arousal that results is outside the context of a committed relationship.”
  2. “Pornography affects how we view our sexuality. What enters our minds affects the way we think. Men, if we spend hours looking at naked women/it is difficult to look at real women and not wonder what they look like without clothes… .Instead of seeing sex as the intimate union of husband and wife-a physical sign of the self-giving love they share-pornography presents sex as arousal and self-gratification. Pornography always switches the sexual focus from the other to oneself.” (A “me” activity instead of a “we” commitment)
  3. “Pornography is addictive. Pornography and its accompanying arousal are like eating hot sauce. If we use a mild hot sauce regularly, we will eventually get so used to it that it no longer has the same ability to flavor our food as before. So we will use a hotter sauce until we become used to it. Then we will move on to an even hotter one. Pornography has the same effect, What was arousing yesterday is not today, and the viewer needs more of it or something different… Viewing does not satisfy the appetite, but increases it.”
  4. “Pornography exploits sexuality for the purpose of profit. It especially exploits the women who are photographed; their bodies and sexual vulnerability are turned from a gift for their spouse into a commercial product. Exploitation exists even if someone agrees to pose. All women are exploited by it because it presents an image of physical-sexual-beauty and perfection. Women do not need another reason to focus on their bodies and worry about their appearance.”
  5. “The use of pornography is often coupled with the practice of masturbation, which also leads to a devaluing of our sexuality. Instead of a self-giving love as the foundation for sexual activity, self-seeking arousal and pleasure become the drives. As such, pornography destroys our ability to have intense, passionate sex.”

Jason Evert in If You Really Loved Me has some worthwhile thoughts that show the danger of pornography to the individuals and to all of society. “The problem …is that it 1) emasculates men, 2) degrades women, 3) destroys marriages, and 4) offends the Lord.”

  1. “The essence of manhood consists in readiness to deny oneself for the good of a beloved.”
  2. “It denies the woman her dignity in order to satisfy his lust…Wouldn’t it infuriate you if a guy looked at your daughter in the same way he looked at pornography?”
  3. “For the person who indulges in porn, the purpose of sex becomes the satisfaction of the erotic ‘needs,’ not the communication of life and love. Porn drives a man to value a woman only for what she gives him rather than for the person she is…. (Also) his fantasies will have robbed him of the ability to be truly intimate with his wife.”
  4. “We owe it to God to honor the Lord in all our actions and thoughts. To lust after his daughter is a grave sin.”

Jason also adds some interesting statistics to show that “When men learn their ‘love’ from videos and magazines, they accept the idea that a woman’s ‘no’ is
actually a ‘yes’ and that she enjoys being used.”

In Oklahoma City, “When 150 sexually oriented businesses were closed, the rate of rape decreased 27% in five years, while the rate in the rest of the country increased 19%. In Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods with porn outlets had 500% more sex offenses than neighborhoods without them.”

Therefore parents, we have a moral obligation to our sons and daughters to monitor where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. Summer is a wonderful time to relax, play, and become rejuvenated, but we also need to be mindful of too much “free time” for all of our youth.

May God Bless each of you and your families!

Resources to address the addiction of pornography which afflicts
one of every three men and one of every six women:

  1. My House –
    – Resource List and Family Video available
  2. My House Women’s Group –
  3. National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families & Marriage
    Scott Hahn & Jerry Kirk
  4. As For Me and My House – Recapturing homes for God – See prayer below
  5. Speaker: Chris West, November 8th, Rolla, MO

“”As For Me and My House” God of glory and majesty, you have clothed
your creation with the raiment of beauty and the mantle of dignity, and have created man and woman in your own divine image and likeness.

Forgive those who have distorted the gift of human love, and offer them the grace to turn away from their sins, and embrace the gospel of life.

Liberate those imprisoned by addiction, and provide them the wisdom to seek help and break the chains of despair and shame.

Soothe the suffering of those who have been exploited by pornography, and enable all families and individuals to live in a peaceful and just society.

May we embrace your gift of chastity as a means of giving you glory, and of sharing in your loving plan of salvation. Amen.

Choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15




Subversive Virginity, An Anidote
By Sarah Hinlicky

—The length of the following article may tempt you to pass on it. However, if you will
take just five minutes to read it, the wisdom and the common sense it contains will astonish you.
Virginity will seem so logical and worthwhile you will wonder why anyone would choose any other

“Okay, I’ll admit it: I am twenty-two years old and still a virgin. Not for lack of opportunity, my vanity hastens to add. Had I ever felt unduly burdened by my unfashionable innocence, I could have found someone to attend to the problem. But I never did. Our mainstream culture tells me that some oppressive force must be the cause of my late-in-life virginity, maybe an inordinate fear of men or God or getting caught. Perhaps it’s right, since I can pinpoint a number of influences that have persuaded me to remain a virgin. My mother taught me that self-respect requires self-control, and my father taught me to demand the same from men. I’m enough of a country bumpkin to suspect that contraceptives might not be enough to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or disease, and I think that abortion is killing a baby. I buy into all that Christian doctrine of law and promise, which means that the stuffy old commandments are still binding on my conscience. And I’m even naive enough to believe in permanent, exclusive, divinely ordained love between a man and a woman, a love so valuable that it motivates me to keep my legs tightly crossed in the most tempting of situations.

In spite of all this, I still think of myself as something of a feminist, since virginity has the result of creating respect for and upholding the value of the woman so inclined. But I have discovered that the reigning feminism of today has little use for it. There was a time when I was foolish enough to look for literature among women’s publications that might offer support in my very personal decision. (It’s all about choice, after all, isn’t it?) The dearth of information on virginity might lead one to believe that it’s a taboo subject. However, I was fortunate enough to discover a short article on it in that revered tome of feminism. Our Bodies, Ourselves. The most recent edition of the book has a more positive attitude than the edition before it, in that it acknowledges virginity as a legitimate choice and not just a by-product of patriarchy. Still, in less than a page, it presumes to cover the whole range of emotion and experience involved in virginity, which, it seems, consists simply in the notion that a woman should wait until she’s really ready to express her sexuality. That’s all there is to say about it. Apparently, sexual expression takes place only in and after the act of genital intercourse. Anything subtler-like a feminine love of cooking or tendency to cry at the movies or insuppressible maternal instinct or cultivation of a wardrobe that will turn heads or even a passionate goodnight kiss is deemed an inadequate demonstration of sexual identity. The unspoken message of Our Bodies, Ourselves is clear enough: as long as a woman is a virgin, she remains completely asexual.

Surprisingly, this attitude has infiltrated the thinking of many women my age, who should still be new enough in the web of lies called adulthood to know better. One of my most vivid college memories is of a conversation with a good friend about my (to her) bizarre aberration of virginity. She and another pal had been delving into the gruesome specifics of their past sexual encounters. Finally, after some time, my friend suddenly exclaimed to me, “How do you do it?”

A little taken aback, I said, “Do what?”

“You know,” she answered, a little reluctant, perhaps, to use the big bad V-word. “You still haven’t… slept with anybody. How do you do it? Don’t you want to?”

The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. Of course I want to – what a strange question – but merely wanting to is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct. I assured my concerned friend that my libido was still in proper working order, but then I had to come up with a good reason why I had been paying attention to my inhibitions for all these years. I offered the usual reasons-emotional and physical health, religious convictions, “saving myself till marriage – but nothing convinced her” until I said, “I guess I don’t know what I’m missing.” She was satisfied with that and ended the conversation.

In one sense, sure, I don’t know what I’m missing. And it is common enough among those who do know what they’re missing to go to great lengths to insure that they don’t miss it for very long. In another sense, though, I could list a lot of things that I do know I’m missing: hurt, betrayal, anxiety, self-deception, fear, suspicion, anger, confusion, and the horror of having been used. And those are only the emotional aspects; there is also disease, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. As if to prove my case from the other side, my friend suffered a traumatic betrayal within a month or two of our conversation. It turned out that the man involved would gladly sleep with her, but refused to have a “real relationship” – a sad reality she discovered only after the fact.

According to received feminist wisdom, sexuality is to be understood through the twin concepts of power and choice. It’s not a matter of anything so banally biological as producing children, or even the more elevated notion of creating intimacy and trust. Sometimes it seems like sex isn’t even supposed to be fun. The purpose of female sexuality is to assert power over hapless men, for control, revenge, self-centered pleasure, or forcing a commitment. A woman who declines to express herself in sexual activity, then, has fallen prey to a male-dominated society that wishes to prevent women from becoming powerful. By contrast, it is said, a woman who does become sexually active discovers her power over men and exercises it, supposedly to her personal enhancement.

This is an absurd lie. That kind of gender-war sexuality results only in pyrrhic victories. It’s a set-up for disaster, especially for women. Men aren’t the ones who get pregnant. And who ever heard of a man purchasing a glossy magazine to learn the secret of snagging a wife? Sacrifice and the relinquishing of power are natural to women – ask any mom – and they are also the secret of feminine appeal. The pretense that aggression and power-mongering are the only options for female sexual success has opened the door to predatory men. The imbalance of power becomes greater than ever in a culture of easy access.

Against this system of mutual exploitation stands the more compelling alternative of virginity. It escapes the ruthless cycle of winning and losing because it refuses to play the game. The promiscuous of both sexes will take their cheap shots at one another, disguising infidelity and selfishness as freedom and independence, and blaming the aftermath on one another. But no one can claim control over a virgin. Virginity is not a matter of asserting power in order to manipulate. It is a refusal to exploit or be exploited. That is real, and responsible, power.

But there is more to it than mere escape. There is an undeniable appeal in virginity, something that eludes the resentful feminist’s contemptuous label of “prude.” A virgin woman is an unattainable object of desire, and it is precisely her unattainability that increases her desirability. Feminism has told a lie in defense of its own promiscuity, namely that there is no sexual power to be found in virginity. On the contrary, virgin sexuality has extraordinary and unusual power. There’s no second-guessing a virgin’s motives: her strength comes from a source beyond her transitory whims. It is sexuality dedicated to hope, to the future, to marital love, to children, and to God. Her virginity is, at the same time, a statement of her mature independence from men. It allows a woman to become a whole person in her own right, without needing a man either to revolt against or to complete what she lacks. It is very simple, really: no matter how wonderful, charming, handsome, intelligent, thoughtful, rich, or persuasive he is, he simply cannot have her. A virgin is perfectly unpossessable. Of course, there have been some women who have attempted to claim this independence from men by turning in on themselves and opting for lesbian sexuality instead. But this is just another, perhaps deeper, rejection of their femaleness. The sexes rightly define themselves in their otherness. Lesbianism squelches the design of otherness by drowning womanhood in a sea of sameness, and in the process loses any concept of what makes the female feminine. Virginity upholds simply and honestly that which is valuable in and unique to women.

The corollary of power is choice. Again, the feminist assumes that sexually powerful women will be able to choose their own fates. And again, it is a lie. No one can engage in extramarital sex and then control it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the moral nightmare of our society’s breakdown since the sexual revolution. Some time ago I saw on TV the introduction of the groundbreaking new “female condom.” A spokeswoman at the press conference celebrating its grand opening declared joyously the new freedom that it gave to women. “Now women have more bargaining power,” she said. “If a man says that he refuses to wear a condom, the woman can counter, fine, I will!” I was dumbstruck by her enthusiasm for the dynamics of the new situation. Why on earth would two people harboring so much animosity towards each other contemplate a sexual encounter? What an appealing choice they have been given the freedom to make?

The dark reality, of course, is that it is not free choice at all when women must convince men to love them and must convince themselves that they’re more than just “used goods.” There are so many young women I have known for whom freely chosen sexual activity means a brief moment of pleasure – if that – followed by the unchosen side effects of paralyzing uncertainty, anger at the man involved, and finally a deep self-hatred that is impenetrable by feminist analysis. So-called sexual freedom is really just proclaiming oneself to be available for free, and therefore without value. To “choose” such freedom is tantamount to saying that one is worth nothing.

Admittedly, there are some who say that sex isn’t nearly so serious or important, but just another recreational activity not substantially different from ping-pong. I don’t believe it for a second. I learned most meaningfully from another woman the destructive force of sexuality out of control when I myself was under considerable pressure to cave in to a man’s sexual demands. I discussed the prospect with this friend, and after some time she finally said to me, “Don’t do it. So far in life you’ve made all the right choices and I’ve made all the wrong ones. I care enough about you that I don’t want to see you end up like me.” Naturally, that made up my mind. Sex does matter, it matters a lot; and I can only hope that those who deny it will wake up to their error before they damage themselves even more.

It is appalling that feminism has propagated lies so destructive to women. It has created the illusion that there is no room for self-discovery outside of sexual behavior. Not only is this a grotesque lie, but it is also an utterly boring one. Aside from its implied dismissal of all the world’s many riches outside the sexual domain, this false concept has placed stultifying limitations on the range of human relationships. We’re told that friendships between men and women are just a cover until they leap into the sack together. While romance is a natural and commendable expression of love between women and men, it is simply not the only option. And in our sexually competitive climate, even romantic love barely deserves the title. Virginity among those seeking marital love would go far to improve the latter’s solidity and permanence, creating an atmosphere of honesty and discovery before the equally necessary and longed-for consummation. Where feminism sees freedom from men by placing body parts at their disposal in a bizarre game of self-deception, virginity recognizes the equally vulnerable though often overlooked state of men’s own hearts and seeks a way to love them for real.

It is puzzling and disturbing to me that regnant feminism has never acknowledged the empowering value of virginity. I tend to think that much of the feminist agenda is more invested in the culture of groundless autonomy and sexual Darwinism than it is in genuinely uplifting women. Of course, virginity is a battle against sexual temptation, and popular culture always opts for the easy way out instead of the character-building struggle. The result is superficial women formed by meaningless choices, worthy of stereotype, rather than laudable women of character, worthy of respect Perhaps virginity seems a bit cold, even haughty and heartless. But virginity hardly has a claim on those defects, if it has any claim at all. Promiscuity offers a significantly worse fate. I have a very dear friend who, sadly, is more worldly-wise than I am. By libertine feminist standards she ought to be proud of her conquests and ready for more, but frequently she isn’t. The most telling insight about the shambles of her heart came to me once in a phone conversation when we were speculating about our futures. Generally they are filled with exotic travel and adventure and PhDs. This time, however, they were not. She admitted to me that what she really wanted was to be living on a farm in rural Connecticut, raising a horde of children and embroidering tea towels. It is a lovely dream, defiantly unambitious and domestic. But her short, failed sexual relationships haven’t taken her any closer to her dream and have left her little hope that she’ll ever attain it. I must be honest here: virginity hasn’t landed me on a farm in rural Connecticut either. Sexual innocence is not a guarantee against heartbreak. But there is a crucial difference: I haven’t lost a part of myself to someone who has subsequently spurned it, rejected it, and perhaps never cared for it at all.

I sincerely hope that virginity will not be a lifetime project for me. Quite the contrary, my subversive commitment to virginity serves as preparation for another commitment, for loving one man completely and exclusively. Admittedly, there is a minor frustration in my love: I haven’t met the man yet (at least, not to my knowledge). But hope, which does not disappoint, sustains me.”

—This article originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of First Things, a journal published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. It is reprinted with the permission of the publisher.


On Profiling Muslims
by John Byorth
Celebrating Augustine 08(28)2006

John responded to the following e-mail with the article that follows.

Subject: MUSLIM

“Please read the following carefully and pass it on if you care to. Is there more than a thread of truth below? You decide for yourself!

Interesting article….. Can A Muslim Become A Good American Citizen? Can a good Muslim be a good American? I sent that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his reply:

Theologically – no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia. Religiously – no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Koran, 2:256) Scripturally – no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran). Geographically – no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. Socially – no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews. Politically – no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.

Domestically – no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34). Intellectually – no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt. Philosophically – no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic. Spiritually – no. Because when we declare, “one nation under God,” the Christian’s God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called Love in The Quran’s 99 excellent names.

Therefore after much study and deliberation….perhaps we should be more suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. At the very least, we should be more aware of what a Muslim is, and what a Muslim believes. They obviously cannot be both “good Muslims ” and good Americans.

Call this what you wish….it’s still the truth.

If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future.

Pass it on Fellow Americans if you care to. The religious war of Islam is bigger than we know or understand.

John’s Response:

“It is with heavy eyes and skepticism that I read the original email message above as it alludes to the condemnation of an entire religion’s capability to conform to the ideal of a “good American citizen.” This sort of immediacy in a such a complex topic is short-sighted and intellectually vacant. It reminds me of the anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiments here in the United States during WWII–not all Germans were Nazis, not all Japanese supported the Emperor. Perhaps my shirttail relatives, the Blindauers and Schneiders, have some memory of this sort of discrimination in their pasts.

Critical thought and consideration are healthy qualities in arriving at a well conceived opinion, and to that end, the original email can contribute to a breadth of literature. But taken alone, it is an abysmal representation of the matter. It is my gut feeling that few of you who received the email have the time or inclination to pursue further study of Islamic culture and its reconciliation with American ideals to balance it with. If you do, I apologize for the assumption and would invite meaningful discourse on the subject as I am vested in the topic. But knowing, for example, that my own siblings are chin deep in their careers, marriages, elementary school and church activities, their own graduate studies, yard work, and rare moments of recreation that it is not likely. So let me share some insight from my own experiences and research.

To categorize “ALL MUSLIMS” as one in the same is a damaging generalization to understanding a multifarious religion in the same way speaking of all Christians as one united “people” convolutes an understanding of that western religion. As we all know, there are a multitude of divisions within Christianity with diverging views, beliefs, dogmas and sub-cultures: Eastern Orthodox v. Roman Catholic v. Protestant, and then a family tree of sects beyond these. The Muslim community is similar, broken between two major sects who have not agreed since the death of Mohammed in 632 on much of anything. Nearly immediately there were divisions, identifiable today by the two major sects: Sunni and Shi’ites. The hatred between them is prolific, as voracious as the Catholic/Protestant wars in the 16th century, and easily seen in the oppositional relationships pervasive throughout Iraq’s current civil war, etc. Superimposed on these divisions are ethnic tribes. Arabs v. Persians. Turk v. Kurd. Pashto v. Tajik. Uzbek v. Turkmen; whose animosities go back so far in time that most of our Anglo-Saxon relatives were still going Viking. Today, retribution for ancient family and tribal skirmishes trump even religious unity. These two facts alone, sects and ethnicity, make the statement “ALL MUSLIM” incredibly ignorant. Muslims living in America come from more countries alone than make up the whole of European-American backgrounds, and have a diversity of beliefs and cultures that further negate any sort of Muslim generalization.

Theologically, Muslims see Islam as the succession of previous monotheistic religions-Judaism and Christianity. Their Allah is the Allah of Abraham, the ancestor of all three of these major monotheistic religions. This was not lost on Mohammed. In the early years after his revelations, his first order of business was not to divide and conquer the world, but to unify it and its tribes, Arabian and otherwise. In order to do so, he offered considerable tolerance toward non-Muslims. In fact, the Quran commanded Muslims to protect “people of the book,” Jews and Christians who possessed a revealed scripture. Remember that it was the angel Gabriel who revealed God’s word to Mohammed, the same angel who revealed to Mary of her blessing. Unfortunately, whomever authored the email below sites the Koran Sura II verse 256. It is completely way off in their usage of it. Here is what that passage says taken from my Quran bought on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan: “God! There is no God but He; the Living, the Eternal; Nor slumber seizeth Him, nor sleep; His, whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth! Who is he that can intercede with Him but by His own permission? He knoweth what hath been before them and what shall be after them; yet nought of His knowledge shall they grasp, save what He willeth. His throne reacheth over the heavens and the earth, and the upholding of both burdeneth Him not; and He is High, the Great!”

As can be plainly seen, this passage has nothing to do with discrimination of other religions, but affirming Islam’s monotheistic foundation, which, by the way, reiterates our own first Commandment. Sura 259, however, makes some nod towards those who do not believe in God, which excludes, obviously, Jews and Christians, but includes the pagan gods popular in the 7th century Arabian desert.

Indeed, Sura II verse 59 reads: “Verily, they who believe (Muslims), and they who follow the Jewish religion, and the Christians, and the Sabeites–whoever of these believeth in God and the last day, and doeth that which is right, shall have their reward with their Lord: fear shall not come upon them, neither shall they be grieved.”

Religiously, Islam is by nature understanding and tolerant. However, it is the beliefs of but a few radical religious teachers that abnegates tolerance. Doesn’t it seem suspect that ALL MUSLIMS would miss this teaching and subscribe to the teachings of the most radical?

Scripturally, there is no doubt that Muslims ignore the Pentateuch (Torah) and the New Testament as the final word of God. However, by the reasoning of the author, Muslim allegiance to the Five Pillars of Islam precludes their ability to conform to the same natural laws of mankind that have trickled down into our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I might suggest that while there is some dogmatic absolutes, the fact is that the Five Pillars are hardly different from our own Christian teachings in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, and hence, their differences are interpretative by nature. If you practice the Five Pillars, with the exception of the Haj or pilgrammage to Mecca, it is parallel to practicing the Ten Commandments and fulfilling Jesus’ teachings. Both are amenable to living under the Constitution of the United States and by the guarantees of the Bill of Rights.

I’m not sure how the significance of Mecca in prayer detracts from one’s ability to be a good American, and am interested in the author’s ideas. I do know Jews pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as do some Christians, and Catholics also have Rome, which is much more of a political entity than Mecca. Indeed, should we hold Roman Catholics to the same standard as Muslims? While we don’t point toward Rome to pray, many hold allegiance to the Papacy and his directives on abortion, homosexuality, and fornication. The significance for Mecca is much different than that. Previous to Mohammed’s revelations, Mecca was the trade center of Arabia and a significant place of worship at the Ka’ba shrine for animist cults. When Mohammed’s new Muslim army defeated the Quraysh tribal army outside Mecca, he knew of the cultural significance of the Ka’ba shrine to locals (which he was one), and maintained it out of strategic need for smooth conversion of these people. Today, Muslims point that direction because it signifies submittal to Allah. We do the same as we kneel before the cross.

Perhaps the greatest cleavage in Islam today is the rectification of church and state. For Muslims in America, however, this cleavage is not as prominent because of the existing separation between the two. In developing Muslim countries, ie. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc., the tensions are self-evident and being worked out, although again, complicated by tribal divisions and variations in tribal law. In America, however, one should consider the fact that many Muslim-Americans (one figure is 13 million Americans) immigrated here because of their desire to live freely from strict interpretations of Shari’at (religious social laws) and Purdah (laws governing women) Laws, and made considerable sacrifices to realize this dream. One article of a mullah in Brooklyn was striking to me in this way. I believe it was the New York Times, and if you do a search of around March 3 (I think the 5th, if memory serves me) I’m sure you will find it. The mullah is young, in his 40s, and spoke of the problems he faces rectifying Islamic law and American culture. His prerogative was that Muslim-Americans struggled with fidelity in their relationships, divorce and behavior (drugs, alcohol, pre-marital sex). His feeling was that it was the degradation of adherence to Islamic social norms because of an immersion in a much more liberal American culture. The thing is, I think that many of us would agree these things are the rot for all who strive to lead a moral life, and at that, one that makes us good American citizens.

Domestically, there is another cleavage between more modern Muslims and those who subscribe to traditional interpretations of the Quran. In much of the Islamic world, this translates into a cultural difference between urban and rural people. The norm in urban centers IS NOT polygamy. This is a tribal characteristic. Urban Palestinians, Lebanese, Afghans, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc. do not have multiple wives, perhaps because they understand that it is hard enough to please one woman much less four (ha!). Seriously, urban dwellers look down on such archaic interpretations of polygamy.

Sura IV Verse 34 does not prescribe four wives or beating and scourging and all the rest. It reads: “And whoever shall do this maliciously and wrongfully, We will in the end cast him (emphasis added) into the Fire; for this is easy with God.”

The verse is in relation to the 33 verse: “O believers! Devour not each other’s substance in mutual frivolities; unless there be a trafficking among you by your own consent: and commit not suicide: of a truth God is merciful to you.”

As you can see, the verse calls for the eternal damnation for anyone meets wrongdoing with wrongdoing or complicity. Note that it is this verse that damns suicide, hence suicide bombings. This is a seriously held belief among Afghan Muslims. The verse that talks of four wives is as follows: Sura IV Verse 3: “And if ye are apprehensive that ye shall not deal fairly with orphans, then, of other women who seem good in your eyes, marry but two, or three, or four; and if ye still fear that ye shall not act equitably, then one only; or the slaves whom ye have acquired: this will make justice on your part easier. Give women their dowry freely; but if of themselves they give up aught thereof to you, then enjoy it as convenient, and profitable:”

The verse does NOT command Muslims to marry four women, but only as many as a man can support equitably. This is common among many tribal cultures. Granted that was a long time ago for many cultures, and it is a bit weird for us monogamists of modern day. But consider that there are sects of LDS in Utah that still grasp at some straws to legitimize their bigamy. I don’t think this makes them bad Americans, just bad husbands.

Intellectually and philosophically, much of the Islamic world is diametrically opposed to western thought and culture, as the author writes, but not all. For one, we arrived at our Constitution through an evolutionary tract that included 1000 years of darkness, ie, the Dark Ages. We had to rebirth those classical ideas of ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, the Reformation, and finally the Enlightenment, which gave birth to a multitude of social ideas; communism, socialism, liberalism, republicanism and transcendentalism among them. But we had to work at it, and it took revolution, the hapless deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and not so innocents. So it is perhaps an unnecessary judgment to say that much of the Islamic world is living in its own Dark Ages-it is evident. The Ayatollah of Iran recently said as much in his defense of scientific progress for nuclear energy-his point was that Persia was once the leader of the world in science, literature, architecture, etc., and had a responsibility to return to that greatness. Now, as much as that scares the hell out of me, it does point to the backward nature of Islamic countries at this point in time. However, I wonder if this is the choice of the oppressed masses or the queer authoritarian and dictatorial Islamic regimes, like the Taliban, that have made this decision. I’d guess not. The aegis of totalitarian regimes is not to allow choice, so even our own “intellectual” ability as modern Americans to quantify universal Islamic belief in democracy is replete with holes.

Democracy requires an educated public, John Dewey once argued when the US government was wavering on free public education. The inability for Muslim people to adhere to democratic principles is not the Quran, but ignorance. You see this in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq at this very moment. They are struggling with democracy not because of their religion, but, in the case of Afghanistan, because of the “brain drain” that has occurred after thirty years of regime changes, war and oppression. All the smart people have left and are in the United States, in Virginia, the Bay Area, and in Germany, etc., leading productive, democratic lives. Give these people left behind opportunity and their potential to become good American citizens is endless (of course, some have no chance so long as they adhere to strict 7th century interpretations of the Quran). For perspective, forget not that two of the greatest philosophers in the history of mankind were Rumi and Hafiz, and were from Central Asia and under considerable Islamic influence. Only through education and opportunity can people of oppressive Islamic countries realize such greatness as the freedoms of America, and rise to our standard of a good citizen.

The author of the email below is correct in pointing out one possible interpretation of incompatibilities between the secular/Judeo-Christian West and Islamic East, but there is so much more to it than what I read below. To me, this email suggests that ALL MUSLIMS are fundamentalists and radical, and implies a certain discrimination that seems to be based on ignorance and misunderstanding-the very traits that demarcate Islamists from moderate Muslims. There are a great many good Muslim-American citizens, I’ve met some, and to ignore their accomplishments of overcoming despots, narrow minded mullahs, and oppression only to come to the United States to realize religious freedom, growth and opportunity-pursuit of the American Dream-only serves to perpetuate this horrible division among people who believe in the same God; none of which I imagine Jesus would condone, but I am not authorized to make judgments on His behalf.

I urge anyone who has read the email below not to succumb to unbridled suspicion of Muslims, nor to judge their ability to be “good American citizens.” Instead, learn more about their religion, culture and communities, and reach out to them. Strengthen ties with them, because they are our first line of defense against radicals, not our supposed Intelligence. Indeed, it was a Muslim who tipped the Royal Police off to the planned airline bombings in London a few weeks ago. That person is an ally, a quintessential citizen, and someone I’d like to shake hands with and thank.”

—John Byorth


Religion and Public Life – Russell R. Reno
“RUSTY RENO is the editor of First Things, a journal of religion in public life. He received his B.A, from Haverford College and his Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale University, and taught theology and ethics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, for 20 years, He is the author of Fighting the Noonday Devil, Sanctified Vision, and a commentary on the Book of Genesis, as well as a number of other books and essays.”

“The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Professor Reno on February 20, 2013, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Bonita Springs, Florida.”

“RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is being redefined in America, or at least many would like it to be. Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp. In America, “religion” largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women-which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life. And in the short run this view is likely to succeed. There will be many arguments urging Christians to keep their religion strictly religious rather than “political.” And there won’t just be arguments; there will be laws as well. We’re in the midst of climate change-one that’s getting colder and colder toward religion.

Recent court cases and controversies suggest trends unfriendly to religion in public life. In 2005, a former teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan, filed an employment lawsuit claiming discrimination based on disability. The school fired her for violating St. Paul’s teaching that Christians should not bring their disputes before secular judges. The subsequent lawsuit revolved around the question of whether a religious school could invoke a religious principle to justify firing an employee. The school said it could, drawing on a legal doctrine known as the ministerial exception, which allows religious institutions wide latitude in hiring and firing their religious leaders. It’s in the nature of legal arguments to be complex and multi-layered, but in this case the Obama administration’s lawyers made a shockingly blunt argument: Their brief claimed that there should be no ministerial exception..

The Supreme Court rejected this argument in a unanimous 9-0 vote. But it’s telling nonetheless that lawyers in the Justice Department wanted to eliminate this exception. Their argument was straightforward: Government needs to have broad powers to address the problem of discrimination-in this case disability-as well as other injustices. Conceding too much to religious institutions limits those powers. Why should the theological doctrines of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, or of any other church, trump the legal doctrines of the United States when the important principle of non-discrimination is at stake? It is an arresting question, so say the least-especially when we remember that the Left is currently pushing to add gay marriage to the list of civil rights.

Concerns about the autonomy of religious institutions are also at work in the Obama administrations tussle with the Catholic Church and her religious allies over the mandate to provide free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs. After the initial public outcry, the administration announced a supposed compromise, which has been recently revised and re-proposed. The Obama administration allows that churches and organizations directly under the control of those churches are religious employers and can opt out of the morally controversial coverage. But religious colleges and charities are not and cannot. To them, the administration offers a so-called accommodation.

The details are complex, but a recent statement issued by Cardinal Dolan of New York identifies the key issue: Who counts as a religious employer? It’s a question closely related to the issue in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which asks who counts as a religious employee. Once again the Obama administration seeks a narrow definition, “accommodating” others in an act of lese majeste, as it were. The Catholic Church and her allies want a broad definition that includes Catholic health care, Catholic universities, and Catholic charities, The Church knows it cannot count on accommodations- after all, when various states such as Illinois passed laws allowing gay adoptions, they did not “accommodate” Catholic charities, but instead demanded compliance with in elite culture. A great deal of higher education is dominated by Nones, as are important cultural institutions, the media, and Hollywood. They are conscious of their power, and they feel the momentum of their growth. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they go to church every week has remained strikingly constant over the last 50 years, at around 35 percent. Sociologists of religion think this self-reported number is higher than the actual one, which may be closer to 25 percent. In any event, the social reality is the same. As the Nones have emerged as a significant cohort, the committed core of religious people has not declined and in fact has become unified and increasingly battle tested. Protestants and Catholics alike know they’re up against an often hostile secular culture-and although a far smaller portion of the population, the same holds for Jews and Muslims as well.

These two trends-the rise of the Nones and the consolidation of the committed core of believers,-have led to friction in public life. The Nones and religious Americans collide culturally, and politically, not just theologically.

For a long time, the press has reported on the influence of religious voters, especially Evangelicals. Polling data shows that religiosity has become increasingly reliable as a predictor of political loyalties. But what’s far less commonly reported is that this goes both ways. In their recent book, American Robert Putnam and William Campbell focused on the practice of saying grace before meals as an indication of religious commitment and found a striking correlation. Seventy percent of those who never say grace before meals identify as Democrats, compared to slightly more than 20 percent who identify as Republicans. Nones are extremely ideological. Meanwhile, among those who say grace daily, 40 percent identify as Democrats and 50 percent as Republicans. Religious people are more diverse, but they trend to the political right, and the more religious they are the more likely they are to vote Republican.

Other data also suggests avowing divide between the irreligious and religious. A recent Pew study confirms that Nones are the single most ideologically committed cohort of white Americans, rivaled only by Evangelical Protestants. They overwhelmingly support abortion and gay marriage. Seventy-five percent of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and they played a decisive role in his victory in 201.2. In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by three percent: and the Catholic vote by eleven percent-and both numbers rise if we isolate Protestants and Catholics who say they go to church every week. But he won the Nones, who make up 12 percent of the electorate in Ohio, by an astounding 47 percent.

I think it’s fair to say that Obama ran a values campaign last fall that gambled that the Nones would cast the decisive votes. For the first time in American political history, the winning party deliberately attacked religion. Its national convention famously struck God from the platform, only to have it restored by anxious party leaders in a comical session characterized by the kind of frivolity that comes when people recognize that it doesn’t really matter. Democratic talking points included the “war on women” and other well-crafted slogans that rallied their base, the Nones, who at 24 percent, of all Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters have become the liberal coalition.

This presents the deepest threat to religious liberty today. It’s not good when the most numerous and powerful constituency in the Democratic Party has no time for religion. This is all the more true when its ideology has the effect of encouraging the rest of the party to view religion-especially Christianity-as the enemy. And when law professors provide reasons why the Constitution doesn’t protect religious people.

Religious Liberty Under the Gun

From the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, the wealthiest, best educated, and most powerful Americans remained largely loyal to Christianity. That’s changed. There were warning signs. William F. Buckley, Jr. chronicled how Yale in the early ’50s could no longer support even the bland religiosity of liberal Protestantism, Today, Yale and other elite institutions can be relied upon to provide anti-Christian propaganda. Stephen Pinker and Stephen Greenblatt at Harvard publish books that show how Christianity pretty much ruins everything, as Christopher Hitchens put it so bluntly. The major presses publish book after book by scholars like Elaine Pagels at Princeton, who argues that Christianity is for the most part an invention of power hungry bishops who suppressed the genuine diversity and spiritual richness of early followers of Jesus.

One can dispute the accuracy of the books, articles, and lectures of these and other authors. This is necessary, but unlikely to be effective. Experts savaged Greenblatt’s book on Lucretius, The Swerve, but it won the National Book Award for non-fiction. That’s not an accident. Greenblatt and others at elite universities are serving an important ideological purpose by using their academic authority to discredit Christianity, whose adherents are obstacles not only in the fight over abortion and gay rights, but to medical research unrestricted by moral concerns about the use of fetal tissue, new reproductive technologies, doctor-assisted suicide, and in general to liquefying traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed according to the desires and needs of the Nones, Books by these elite academics reassure the Nones and their fellow travelers that they are not opposed to anything good or even respectable, but rather to historic forms of oppression, ignorance, and prejudice. I cannot overstate the importance of these ideological attacks on Christianity. Our Constitution accords us rights, and the courts cannot void these rights willy-nilly. But history shows that the Constitution is a plastic document. When our elite culture thinks something is bad for society as a whole, judges find ways to suppress it. The First Amendment offered no protection to Bob Jones University, which lost its tax-exempt status because of a policy that prohibited interracial dating. As the Supreme Court majority in 1983 wrote in that case: “Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education, .. which substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.”

In recent years the Supreme Court has been largely solicitous of religious freedom, sensing perhaps that our cultural conflicts over religion and morality need to be kept within bounds. But the law professors are preparing the way for changes. Martha Nussbaum, who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, has opined that the colleges and universities run by Catholic religious orders that require their presidents or other leaders to be members of the order should lose their tax exempt status, because they discriminate against women. She allows that current interpretations of the First Amendment don’t support her view, but that’s not much comfort. All Nussbaum is doing is applying the logic of the Bob Jones case to the feminist project of eradicating discrimination based on sex.

Former Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum-who is also a current Obama appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-has written about the coming conflicts between gay rights and religious liberty. With an admirable frankness she admits, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” Again, the Bob Jones case is in the background, as are other aspects of civil rights law designed to stamp out racial discrimination. For someone like Feldblum, when religious individuals and institutions don’t conform to the new consensus about sexual morality, their freedoms should be limited.

It is precisely the possibilities evoked by Nussbaum and Feldblum that now motivate the Obama administration’s intransigence about, allowing places like Notre Dame to be classified as religious employers. In the Bob Jones case, the justices were very careful to stipulate that “churches or other purely religious institutions” remain protected by the First Amendment’s principle of free exercise. By “accommodating” rather than counting. Notre Dame and other education and charitable organizations as religious employers, secular liberalism can target them in the future, as they have done to Catholic adoption agencies that won’t place children with homosexual couples.

A recent, book by University of Chicago professor of philosophy and law Brian Leiter outlines what I believe will become the theoretical consensus that does away with religious liberty in spirit if not in letter. “There is no principled reason,” he writes, “for legal or constitutional regimes to single out religion for protection. “Leiter describes religious belief as a uniquely bad combination of moral fervor and mental blindness, serving no public good that justifies special protection. More significantly-and this is Letter’s main thesis-it is patently unfair to afford religion such protection.

Why should a Catholic or a Baptist have a special right while Peter Singer, a committed utilitarian, does not? Evoking the principle of fairness, Leiter argues that everybody’s conscience should be accorded the same legal protections. Thus he proposes to replace religious liberty with a plenary “liberty of conscience.”

Leiters argument is libertarian. He wants to get the government out of the business of deciding whose conscience is worth protecting. This mentality seems, to expand freedom, but that’s an illusion. In practice it will lead to diminished freedom, as is always the case with any thoroughgoing libertarianism.

Let me give an example. The urban high school my son attended strictly prohibits hats and headgear, It does so in order to keep gang-related symbols and regalia out of the school. However, the school recognizes a special right of religious freedom, and my son, whose mother is Jewish and who was raised as a Jew, was permitted to wear a yarmulke. Leiter’s argument prohibits this special right, but his alternative is unworkable. The gang members could claim that their deep commitments of loyalty to each other create a conscientious duty to wear gang regalia. If everybody’s conscience must be respected, then nobody’s will be, for order and safety must be preserved.

The Arabic word dhimmi means non-Muslim. Under Muslim rule, non-Muslims were allowed to survive only insofar as they accepted Muslim dominance. Our times are not those times, and the secularism of the Nones is not Islam. Nevertheless, I think many powerful forces in America would like to impose a soft but real dhimmitude. The liberal and libertarian Nones will quarrel, as do the Shi’a and Sunni, but they will, I think largely unify against the public influence of religion.

What can be done to prevent them from succeeding?

First and most obvious–defend religious liberty in the courts. Although I have depicted deep cultural pressures that work against religious liberty, we live in a society governed by the rule of law. Precedent matters, and good lawyering can make a substantive difference.

Second–fight against the emerging legal theories that threaten to undermine religious liberty. This is a battle to be carried out in the law schools and among political, theorists. For decades, legal activists on the Left have been subsidized by legal clinics and special programs run in law schools. Defenders of religious liberty need to push back.

Third–Fight the cultural battle. The U.S. Constitution flexes and bends in accord with the dominant consensus. This Brian Leiter knows, which is why he does not much, worry about the current state of constitutional law. He goes directly to the underlying issues, which concern the role of religion in public life.

We must meet the challenge by showing that religion is indeed special. Religious people are the most likely Americans to be involved in civic life, and the most generous in their charitable contributions. This needs to be highlighted again and again. Moreover, we need to draw a contrast with the Nones who tend to outsource their civic responsibilities and charitable obligations to government in the form of expanded government programs and higher taxes.

“There is another, deeper argument that must be made in defense of religion: It is the most secure guarantee of freedom. America’s Founders, some of them Christian and others not, agreed as a matter of principle that the law of God trumps the law of men. This has obvious political implications: The Declaration of Independence appeals to the inalienable rights given by our Creator that cannot be overridden or taken away. In this sense, religion is especially beneficial. As Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI emphasized on many occasions, it gives transcendent substance to the rights of man that limit government. Put somewhat differently, religion gives us a place to stand outside politics, and without it we’re vulnerable to a system in which the state defines everything, which is the essence of tyranny. This is why gay marriage! which is sold as an expansion of freedom, is in fact a profound threat to liberty.

Finally, we must not accept a mentality of dhimmitude. The church, synagogue, and mosque have a tremendous solidity born of a communion of wills fused together in obedience to God. This gives people of faith the ability to fight with white fury for what they perceive to be a divine cause which is of course a great force for righteousness–but also a dangerous threat to social peace, as early modern Europe knew only too well.

In conclusion? I want to focus not on fury but on the remarkable capacity for communities of faith to endure. My wife’s ancestors lived four generations in the contested borderlands of Poland and Russia. As Jews they were tremendously vulnerable, and yet through their children and their children’s children they endured in spite of discrimination, violence, and attempted genocide. Where now, I ask, are the Russian and Polish aristocrats who dominated them for centuries? Where now is the Thousand Year Reich? Where now is the Soviet worker’s paradise? They have gone to dust. The Torah is still read in the synagogue.

The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago.

Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. It I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.”

A publication of IMPRIMUS, of Hillsdale College, over 2,600,000 readers monthly, April 2013 . Volume 42, Number 4

Permission to reprint in whole or m part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis a publication of Hillsdale College.” Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Imprimis trademark registered m U.S. Patent and Trademark Office #1563325 Subscription Free Upon Request – ISSN 0277-8432 ”


Faith-Based ECONOMICS, A Keynes’ Comeback? by Alan Reynolds

Keynes makes a comeback, but his ideas are still wrong

A recent Wall Street Journal article describes “the new old big thing” in economic policy: “Around the world . . . policy makers are invoking the ideas of British economist John Maynard Keynes … who argued that governments should fight the Great Depression in the 1930s with heavy spending.” In the New York Times Magazine, Robert Skidelsky appoints Keynes “”man of the year.”” Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, praises the “rebirth of Keynes.” Long before Keynes published The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936, he was a highly persuasive  and witty writer on economic issues, often appearing in London newspapers and talking on the radio. But that was very long ago, and Keynes died in 1946. Economics has since become less reliant on armchair theorizing and more deeply grounded in statistical fact.

Using quaint Keynesian arguments to rationalize heavy spending is nothing new. But its resurgent popularity is somewhat surprising. Democrats and their favorite economists spent the past 25 years bemoaning the “twin deficits” of the 1980s and then claimed that the strong economy of the late 1990s was the result of President Clinton’s fiscal restraint-the precise opposite of “fiscal stimulus.” Also working in the anti-Keynesian mode, former treasury secretary Robert Rubin co-authored a 2004 paper with forecaster Allen Sinai and Peter Orzsag of the Brookings Institution, who now has been tapped by Obama to lead the Office of Management and Budget. They argued that “budget deficits decrease national saving, which reduces domestic investment and increases borrowing abroad.” Big budget deficits, warned Rubin, Orzsag, and Sinai, would “reduce future national income” and risk a “decline in confidence [which] can reduce stock prices.”  Democrats´ anxieties about future deficits had abated only slightly by January 2008, when the incoming head of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, co-authored a Brookings paper with Jason Furm an, nominated deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council. They strongly favored monetary stimulus over fiscal stimulus, and they warned that “it is critical that efforts to fight a recession do not end up increasing the long-run budget deficit and thus harming long-run growth.” Elmendorf and Furman rightly noted that “the idea that Congress should make legislative changes to tax or spending policies in order to counter the business cycle has fallen into disfavor among economists.”

In November 2000, for example, Skidelsky wrote in The Economist that “what survives today of Keynesian economics is … Keynes’s intuition that… the source of instability lies in the logic of financial markets.” In other words, not much. Skidelsky noted that “monetary policy has supplanted fiscal policy as a short-term stabilizer.” And he concluded that deep experience with governments´ “capacity for error and folly suggests that discretionary policy should be used very sparingly.”

Many of the economists who repeatedly prophesied in ominous fashion about the dangers of relatively trivial deficit spending during the Reagan and Bush years have inexplicably become enthusiastic supporters of deficits likely to exceed 10 percent of GDP during the Obama administration. If asked about this remarkable political agility, they would probably say their change of heart comes because (1) some forecasters now say this recession is going to be extremely long and deep, and (2) the Fed doubled the monetary base (bank reserves and currency) from September to December, but that action did not produce instant recovery.

John Kenneth Galbraith had advice for the first point: “Never base policy on a forecast.” As recently as August, some prominent forecasters were warning of runaway inflation and urging the Fed to tighten. Forecasters failed to predict the financial crisis in September and today have no idea how long or how deep the recession will be. They’re making guesses.

On the second point, the lagging effects of monetary policy can take some time to become apparent. The U.S. economy does not turn on a dime. Some are arguing that what the Fed is doing will be both ineffective and inflationary, which is contradictory.
My advice: Never underestimate the Fed.

Keynes was not quite as skeptical of the efficacy of monetary policy as many of his followers have become. He wrote that the effect of increasing the quantity of money is “not nugatory,” and that “the terms on which the monetary authority will change the quantity of money enters as a real determinant into the economic scheme.” But by the 1960s, Keynes’s apostles were minimizing the role of monetary policy and exaggerating the apparently magical properties of government borrowing. Inflation was considered a useful lubricant in the machinery of full employment. In the late 1960s and 1970s, rising inflation was routinely described by a thermal metaphor (“overheating”), and regarded as a social problem to be endlessly fought with fiscal policy (a surtax) and with income policy (wage/price controls), but never with monetary policy.

Milton Friedman’s 1967 address to the American Economic Association described how Keynesian theorizing had come to underestimate the power of the Federal Reserve: Keynes offered simultaneously an explanation for the presumed impotence of monetary policy to stem the Depression, a non-monetary interpretation of the Depression, and an alternative to monetary policy for meeting the Depression, and his offering was avidly accepted… . The wide acceptance of these views in the economics profession meant that for some two decades monetary policy was believed by all but a few reactionary souls to have been rendered obsolete by new economic knowledge. Money did not matter. Its only role was the minor one of keeping interest rates low, in order to hold down interest payments in the government budget, contribute to the “euthanasia of the rentier,” and maybe stimulate investment a bit to assist government spending in maintaining a high level of aggregate demand.

Unlike Keynes´s 1930 Treatise on Money, his General Theory offered no coherent theory of inflation or the price level but instead treated nominal and real income as the same thing. He suggested that “an increase in the quantity of money will have no effect whatever on prices, so long as there is any unemployment.” That idea was later formalized in the Phillips Curve tradeoff, whereby lower unemployment could supposedly be achieved through higher inflation. The results of that policy bias were the disastrous inflationary recessions of 1974-75 and 1980-82.

In 1978, future Nobel laureate Robert Lucas Jr. wrote an obituary for these ideas, “After Keynesian Economics,” along with Thomas Sargent of the University of Minnesota. They showed that “Keynesian… predictions were wildly incorrect and that the doctrine on which they were based is fundamentally flawed.” The hubris of expert demand-management through fiscal policy should have suffered
a permanent loss of credibility 30 years ago. But memory is short.

ONE reason Keynesian theorizing never quite disappears is that our national-income model deliberately incorporates Keynesian concepts. Keynes described the overall economy in terms of how money is spent rather than how it is earned. He divided national income into a few arbitrary accounting categories, describing income (denoted by the letter “Y”) as being spent for consumption (“C”), investment (“I”), government (“G”), and net imports (“X”). Ignoring foreign trade, as Keynes usually did, this yields the famous equation:  Y=C+I+G “The decisions to consume and the decisions to invest,” he wrote, “between them determine incomes.” The theory remains much too popular–because it is much too simple. Keynes’s discussion of consumption makes no distinction between durable and nondurable goods, and regards consumption as dependent on current income alone, not wealth. Yet young people clearly consume out of human capital (expected future income) and seniors consume out of accumulated financial capital.

How many times have we read the demand-side fallacy – namely, that economic growth “depends on” consumption, because consumption accounts for 70 percent of GDP? To say that income growth depends on consumption would be absurdly circular even in Keynesian terms, because Keynes argues that consumption depends on income. In reality, Keynes attributed sudden gyrations in income to changes in investment. This is a real theory of the business cycle, which may be both the best and least understood part of Keynes’s work. Recessions arise, he said, “where investment is being made in conditions which are unstable and cannot endure, because it is prompted by expectations which are destined to disappointment.” Think of highly leveraged investments in Las Vegas condos a few years ago by those who thought they could resell at a higher price before the teaser rate on the mortgage went higher.

If such wrongheaded private investment collapsed, Keynes worried, fear could keep investment depressed for a long time. So he proposed offsetting the drop in private investment with government purchases. When it came to public works, the more wasteful the better-because unproductive investments would not crowd out private investment: “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again . . . there need be no more unemployment.”

Such reasoning lay behind the infamous “multiplier,” which the late Harry Johnson described as an “inexhaustibly versatile mechanical toy.” Because people employed in burying and digging up bottles will supposedly employ other people by spending their paychecks, the initial increase in government spending was aside from transfer payments, the sources of income are payments for producing something consumers or taxpayers are willing to pay for. Saving generally involves spending too (buying stocks or bonds), with sellers receiving what the buyers spend. The fear-driven urge to keep savings piling up in cash (rather than stocks, bonds, or property) could become deflationary. But that is why the Fed has been meeting that surge in the demand for money with additional supply, while also making it unrewarding for
potential investors to just sit on T-bills.

Today’s business press is full of Keynesian stories about the “paradox of thrift” – fretting about consumers’ saving more and therefore buying less. Yet it’s quite possible for both savings and consumption to rise at the same time if income or wealth rises. And incomes and wealth will rise if conditions become more favorable for producers, including workers. Lower inflation, for example, was already raising households’ real disposable income by October and November of 2008.

I sometimes joke about having had trouble with Keynesian accounting in school-because I always wanted to subtract G. It’s not just a joke. Government purchases of real resources absorb labor, land, equipment, and materials, and thereby raise the cost thought to have a multiple effect on total spending. And that, said Keynes, will lead to an “increase in employment and hence in real income.” But checks received for producing nothing are not real income. Real income per worker depends on real output per worker-incentives to produce, not incentives to spend.

If there is no multiplier effect, the multiplier is one–a billion dollars of government spending adds a billion to national income, but no more. Keynes offered a hypothetical example suggesting the multiplier could be ten if people promptly spent 90 percent of added income on consumer goods. That is how he came to imagine that “public works even of doubtful utility may pay for themselves over and over again at a time of severe unemployment if only from the diminished cost of relief expenditure.”

Recent research finds multipliers to be very small at best, if not negative. In 2002, the IMF published “The Effectiveness of Fiscal Policy in Stimulating Economic Activity-a Review of the Literature” by Richard Hemming, Michael Kell, and Selma Mahfouz. They found that “short-term multipliers average around a half for taxes and one for spending, with only modest variation across countries and models.”

The C+I+G rubric is a tautology-true by definition. Yet it seduces people into confusing the uses of income (spending) with the sources of income (production). One person’s spending is another person’s income, but that does not mean the mere act of spending money creates real income. If that were true, then every poor country could become rich by simply dropping money from helicopters.
of production for private businesses, damaging the profitability of private investment. Government transfer payments are a disincentive for those who receive the benefits and for the taxpayers who pay.

Alberto Alesina of Harvard published a major long-term study of fiscal policy changes in 18 economies in The American Economic Review, September 2002. What they found was that “fiscal stabilizations that have led to an increase in growth consist mainly of spending cuts, particularly in government wages and transfers, while those associated with a downturn in the economy are characterized by tax increases.” Ireland experienced miraculous economic growth after cutting spending by an amount equal to 7 percent of GDP (the equivalent of the United States’ eliminating two Pentagons’ worth of spending) in the late 1980s, then slashing marginal tax rates on profits and capital gains. As an IMF report explained, Ireland also “significantly reduced the exceptionally progressive nature of the progressive tax structure and increased work incentives.” By contrast, Japan ran budget deficits that averaged 5.8 percent of GDP from 1993 to 2005, and the economy was stagnant. In 1997, Christina Romer, Obama’s choice to head the Council of Economic Advisers, found that a U.S. tax increase amounting to one percent of GDP reduces real GDP by nearly 3 percent within three years, with employment falling 1.1 percent and housing and business investment by 12.6 percent. Explaining the persistence of the damage from tax increases, she suggests “tax changes could have large supply-side effects.”

Theory that can explain everything explains nothing. If Keynesian theorists refuse to accept any
evidence as contradicting their theory, they are practicing a secular theology, not science.

Confronted with such inconvenient facts, Keynesians spin a different theory. When the economy recovers (as it always does), they say that is because budget deficits stimulate demand. If the economy later slumps, they’re likely to say that it is because budget deficits crowd out investment. If the dollar goes up, some Keynesians are sure to argue that budget deficits attract foreign investment. If the dollar goes down, they’ll say it’s because budget deficits create fears of inflation. If inflation goes up, that will be considered proof that budget deficits are inflationary. If inflation goes down, that just proves budget deficits are not large enough. The answer is always the same; only the questions change.

A theory that can explain everything explains nothing. If Keynesian theorists refuse to accept any evidence as contradicting their theory, they are practicing a secular theology, not science. A dozen years of massive public-works spending in Japan were associated with the weakest economic performance of any major economy of the time. Yet Paul Krugman now speculates that “even in Japan . . . public spending probably prevented a weak economy from plunging into an actual depression.” That leaves Keynesians with no testable hypothesis. They predicted that more G in Japan would produce much more Y, through the magic of multipliers. Whenever their predictions fail, Keynesians insist their theory is correct but reality has gone awry.

WHEN the government spends money, or gives it away in rebate checks, that undoubtedly “stimulates” those who receive the cash. But it has the opposite effect on those who pay the bills. Karl Marx, in his 1852 critique of Louis Bonaparte, explained that “the people are to be given employment: initiation of public works. But the public works increase the people’s tax obligations… Taxes are the life source of the bureaucracy. . . . Strong government and heavy taxes are identical.”

When the government borrows from Peter to pay Paul, taxpayers then have an obligation either to pay interest to Peter (forever) or to repay the debt. Government money does not become free money simply because it was borrowed. True, the U.S. government has been able to borrow at extremely low interest rates lately, but that never lasts for long. The extra debt the new administration plans to dump on the backs of future taxpayers will have to be rolled over at higher interest rates, sooner or later (more likely sooner) and the rising cost of debt service will be borne by tax-payers unless the government defaults (which is already the subject of some speculation).

The CBO estimates that the 2009 budget deficit will be S1.2 trillion, or 8.3 percent of GDP. Obama’s “recovery and reinvestment” plan is expected to increase the deficit by $825 billion over two years. Assuming that sum is split evenly between 2009 and 2010, it would raise the estimated deficit to 11.3 percent of GDP this year and 7.6 percent in the following year. And that’s not counting another $350 billion for the TARP slush fund.

A deficit of 11.3 percent of GDP would be nearly twice the previous peacetime record of 6 percent, set in 1983. Japan’s deficit was nearly as high in 1998, however, reaching 10.7 percent of GDP. Did that jump-start Japan’s economy? No, it did not.

The Obama team must not believe their lavish spending plans will do anything useful. They have claimed that spending an extra $825 billion over two years will add or save 3 million jobs. Those had better be terrific jobs, because the cost to taxpayers amounts to $275,000 per job. Why spend so much for so little? Deep recessions are invariably followed by strong recoveries, without gargantuan federal spending schemes. In fact, a 1999 study by Christina Romer showed that the average length of recessions from 1887 to 1929 was 10.3 months-without any Keynesian spending schemes-while the average recession from 1948 to 2000 lasted 10.7 months.

After the 1975 recession, employment grew by 6.2 million jobs in two years and 10.2 million in three. After the 1981-82 recession, employment grew by 5.5 million jobs in two years and 10.1 million in three. The population was much smaller in the past, making Obama’s target of 3 or 4 million jobs appear even less ambitious.

Before rushing to add another trillion dollars in TARP and stimulus spending to a deficit already above a trillion, is it too much to ask for some shred of evidence that “fiscal stimulus” ever worked?

Paul Krugman offers only one dubious success story. He says, “The Great Depression in the United States was brought to an end by a massive deficit-financed public works program, known as World War II.” But in “What Ended the Great Depression?” Christina Romer found that “monetary developments were very important and fiscal policy was of little consequence…. Even in 1942, the year that the economy returned to its trend path, the effects of fiscal policy were small.” Sending most young men overseas to fight certainly reduced the unemployment rate, but wartime price controls and rationing exaggerated measures of real income during the war.

What about post-war fiscal policy? Alan Auerbach of the University of California at Berkeley surveyed that topic in 2002, concluding that there is “little evidence these effects [of fiscal policy] have provided a significant contribution to economic stabilization, if in fact they have worked in the right direction at all.”

Andrew Mountford of the University of London and Harald Uhlig of the University of Chicago have a new statistical study of the U.S. fiscal experience, “What Are the Effects of Fiscal Policy Shocks?” (It can be found at They compare their results with several of the latest studies, including one co-authored by Romer: As with Blanchard and Perotti (2002) we find that investment falls in response to both tax increases and government spending increases and that the multipliers associated with changes in taxes [are] much higher than those associated with a change in spending. This latter result also accords with the analysis of Romer and Romer (2007) who find large effects from exogenous tax changes…. Our results… are thus more in line with those of Burnside, Eichenbaum and Fisher (2003) who find that private consumption does not change significantly in response to a positive [government] spending shock… . The responses of investment, consumption and real wages to a government spending shock are difficult to reconcile with the standard Keynesian approach.

The wonderful Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street appeared a year after Keynes died. In that film Maureen O’Hara says, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” To persist in believing today, in innocent defiance of 60 years of experience and data, that Keynes devised a simple, safe, and reliable way to prevent or cure recessions requires that sort of blind faith. Given
the Left’s antipathy toward faith-based initiatives, it’s hard to imagine how Keynesian ideas endure.”

Mr. Reynolds is a senior Fellow of the Cato Institute and the author of Income and Wealth. Faith-Based ECONOMICS, A Keynes’ Comeback? by Alan Reynolds, NATIONAL REVIEW, FEBRUARY 9, 2009



How U.S. Economists Missed The Great Recession

Economists, for the most part, failed to foresee the current financial and economic crisis-the worst since the 1930s. Now they cannot reach a consensus on how to resolve it. A few-such as Nouriel Roubini and Robert Schiller-saw what was coming but were ignored. James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas, said: “It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless.” When Judge Richard Posner, a leading theorist of law and economics, was asked why the warnings about a looming crisis were ignored rather than investigated, he responded, “Many economists and political leaders are heavily invested in a free market ideology which teaches that markets are robust and self-regulating.” A reasonable question might be: Why listen to economists?

How Economics Works

Economics is a lot like theology, despite the former’s claim to be a science. Theology uses self-evident first principles from revelation or natural law and then, through the use of intermediate principles and judgments, evaluates real world issues. Economics uses an abstract model constructed from similarly axiomatic assumptions about how the world works, such as the principles that people are motivated by self-interest, that wants exceed resources or that resources are mobile and fungible. From these principles, economists then develop economic policies, with appropriate regard for real world exceptions to their models.

The problem for both theologians and economists lies in going from the general to the specific. I cannot speak for theologians, but economists are seldom trained in the specifics of how the real world works. Instead, a graduate student in economics spends all of his or her time learning mathematics, statistics and general theory. These tools are then used to develop policy by finding a data set somewhere and applying the given tools to yield an answer. Economic theory says, for example, that interpersonal wage differences are
the result of different amounts of human capital embodied in workers.

Yet how is human capital to be measured? Since no such actual thing exists, a proxy for human capital has to be used, a measurable datum, like years of schooling for a worker. Yet the result of this method is that the theory being tested is rendered self-fulfilling. If a statistical test appears to falsify the theory being tested, the test is rejected and the economist tries different proxies until the test comes out the way he or she expects. The data will be massaged and the test redone until the results “prove” the theory. Why?
Because economists believe the tenets of microeconomic theory the way theologians believe the core tenets of their faith.

Becoming an Economist

How do people become economists? David Colander writes in his delightful book, The Making of an Economist, Redux:

Were an undergraduate student to ask an economist how to become an economist, he would tell her to go to graduate school. She might demur, asking, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to Wall Street and learn how markets work?” Getting firsthand experience may sound like a good idea to her, but most economists would briskly dismiss the suggestion. “Well, maybe I should get a job in a real business – say, turning out automobiles.” The answer will be “no” again: “That’s not how you learn economics.” She might try one more time. “Well, how about if I read all the top economists of the past-John Stuart Mill, David Ricardo, Adam Smith?” Most economists would say, “It wouldn’t hurt, but it probably won’t help.” Instead, he would most likely tell her, “To become an economist who is considered an economist by other economists, you have to go to graduate school in economics.” So the reality is that, to economists, an economist is someone who has a graduate degree (doctorates strongly preferred) in economics. This means that what defines an economist is what he or she learns in graduate school.
Over the past 30 years or so the graduate economics curriculum has become more and more like a program in applied mathematics with a corresponding de-emphasis of economic history, history of economic thought, industry studies and industrial relations. This narrowing of focus gets reinforced as the student finishes the Ph.D. and gets a job in the academy. The greatest rewards go to those who make advances in theory and publish in the half dozen top academic journals. Few articles will be accepted by these journals that do not
start with the standard abstract model and then derive some new “interesting” result. Publishing in public policy journals, by contrast, is considered much less prestigious and can even count against an aspiring academic by showing that one is not a serious economist. And of course, after receiving tenure this is what one knows how to do.

Laissez-faire Meets Keynes

The microeconomic model that forms the core of economic theory is a beautiful mathematical construct. Based on the assumptions of self-interested economic actors, perfect mobility of resources, perfect competition, no externalities and so on, the model yields a Pareto optimal outcome – that is, one in which no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. Since economists rule out interpersonal comparisons of utility, there is nothing more to be said. The result is that economists learn to believe that
this is the way the world works, and students drawn to study economics are frequently those who already believe this. In addition, behavioral economics research indicates that as undergraduate students study economics, they themselves demonstrate ever more self-interested behaviors. Until the mid-1930s, most economists believed a “free-market” economy would solve whatever problems arose. If goods and services and inputs into production were bought and sold in markets, they believed, the economy would function optimally. The result was a hands-off policy of laissez-faire economics; government would not interfere with the market.

With the breakdown of the economy in the 1930s, however, laissez-faire economics seemed discredited. In its place came the activist policies of Keynesian economics, which dominated until the stagflation of the late 1970s. One of the cornerstones of Keynes’s thought was his theory of investment. He argued forcefully that investment decisions were closely linked with what he called “animal spirits,” the emotional affect that governs human behavior. The term suggested fragility and instability in markets, even when the term was, in
large measure, narrowed to refer to profit expectations or business optimism.

Keynes had ample evidence for his theory in the Great Depression, for even though investment was sorely needed then and the interest rates had fallen below 1 percent, there was still minimal investment. No sane businessperson would invest, regardless of the interest rate, if he or she was convinced that the project would incur losses in the future. Thus the psychological basis of profit expectations makes economics more of an art than a science. In addition, Keynes rejected the neoclassical notion that wage reductions would restore full employment by leading employers to hire more workers because of lower costs. Instead, he argued that wages were more than simply a cost of production, but formed a part of aggregate demand. If wages fall, he argued, aggregate demand for goods and services and sales will fall. If sales fall, profits will decline and firms will require fewer workers. The experience of the Great Depression seemed convincing to all who were not wedded to classical or neoclassical economics. A small band of economists, however, never accepted the Keynesian notion that government could play an important role in stabilizing the economy or that markets were not self-regulating. Almost from the beginning there were efforts to reinterpret Keynes to make his
macroeconomics compatible with neoclassical microeconomics. Eventually this work produced the idea of “micro-foundations,” the method in which any macroeconomics was built on individual behavior that was rational and informed. In this theory of rational expectations, in which the economic actors have perfect knowledge, they act in such a way that any governmental policy will not work unless it is a complete surprise. Thus Keynesian policy is seen as ineffective at best and most probably harmful.

This revised version of laissez-faire economics reigned in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. At the heart of the theory is a belief that markets are self-correcting. Financial economists developed this into the “efficient market hypothesis,” which argued that markets quickly and correctly incorporate all publicly available information into prices. Under the strong version of this theory, the only reason prices of assets like stocks change is that new information becomes available; thus financial markets could not
consistently mis-price assets and therefore needed little regulation.

Between their narrow technical training and their bias toward free markets, most economists failed to see the coming perfect storm of economic recession and financial crisis. In fact they paved the way for it by urging the deregulation of financial markets, which in turn allowed the creation of all kinds of dubious new debt instruments, wildly increasing the leverage of bank capital, and even allowing huge Ponzi schemes to go undetected. When the extremely low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve were added to this, the “bubble”
created in the housing industry was a natural outcome, and the spread to the financial sector was catastrophic.

Admitting Failure?

The most astonishing admission of failure of the free market model was that of former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan in Autumn 2008, when he admitted that the Fed’s monetary management regime had been based on a “flaw.” The “whole intellectual edifice,” he said, “collapsed in the summer of last year.”
Robert Schiller, an economist at Yale, thinks the failure to foresee the financial collapse is the result of fearing to deviate from the consensus of the profession. And he does not think that economists have learned the lesson: “The rational expectations models will be tweaked to account for the current crisis. The basic curriculum will not change.” Dani Rodrick, an economist at Harvard University said, referring to the free-market model, “We have fixated on one of the possible hundreds of models and elevated that above the others.” John Kay, a financial columnist for The Financial Times, wrote: Max Planck, the physicist, said he had eschewed economics because it was too difficult. Planck, Keynes observed, could have mastered the corpus of mathematical economics in a few days–it might now have taken him a few weeks. Keynes went on to explain that economic understanding required an amalgam of logic and intuition and a wide knowledge of facts, most of which are not precise: “a requirement overwhelmingly difficult for those whose gift mainly consists in the power to imagine and pursue to their furthest points the implications and prior conditions of comparatively simple facts which are known with a high degree of precision.” On this, as on much else, Keynes was right.

Encouraging Signs

I must not end without saying some positive things about economics and economists. There is much new work, even though still seldom included in the core curriculum, that is exciting and holds out varying degrees of hope for a regeneration of economics. Behavioral economics, evolutionary economics, happiness economics, economics of social capital and social norms, and the economics of asymmetric information all hold out hope of breaking through the twin constraints of methodological formalism and competitive equilibrium. Also, behavioral finance theory should provide a sounder basis than does the efficient-market hypothesis for future analyses of financial markets.

Even more encouraging is a growing recognition that economies require ethical behavior in addition to self-interest. Modern economics has selectively adopted Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand, focusing on the economically wondrous effects of the butcher and baker trading out of their self-interest and ignoring Smith’s prior description of the same deistic hand’s propelling the creation of a virtuous society. Virtue serves as “the fine polish to the wheels of society,” while vice is “like the vile rust, which makes them jar and grate upon one another.” As Jerry Evensky, an economist at Syracuse University, argues for Smith “ethics is the hero-not self-interest or greed-for it is ethics that defends the social intercourse from the Hobbesian chaos.” Indeed, Smith sought to distance his thesis from the notion that individual greed could be the basis for social good. His understanding that virtue is a prerequisite for a desirable market society remains an important lesson.”
ON THE WEB Charles K. Wilber answers readers’ questions.

CHARLES K. WILBER is emeritus professor of economics and a fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
America Magazine, September 28, 2009