SUBVERSIVE VIRGINITY, AN ANIDOTE

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
lifestyle.






“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.

HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, Johnson CSJ

Honor Your Father and Mother, Johnson CSJ

“When you whispered a prayer this morning while sipping your coffee and eating your toast, to whom exactly did you pray? An old man with a beard somewhere beyond the clouds? Sophia, otherwise known as Holy Wisdom? The Holy Spirit? Jesus?

Elizabeth Johnson wants to know. In her new book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (Continuum, 2007), she examines how Christians the world over have experienced the presence of God in new ways since the last half of the 20th century. Theologians agree, she says, that we´re in a “golden age of discovery.”
Even before her groundbreaking 1992 book, “She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse” (Crossroad), Johnson has been fascinated by how believers view God. “This might sound a little archaic,” she told Fordham Online, “but I take my cue from Thomas Aquinas-the study of God and all things in the light of God. That articulates for me what theology is about.”
A sister in the Congregation of St. Joseph who hails from Brooklyn, Johnson has been president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society. Winner of the U.S. Catholic Award in 1994, she served as a member of the national Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, a consultant to the Catholic bishops´ Committee on Women in Church and Society, a theologian on the Vatican-sponsored dialogue between science and religion, and on the Vatican-sponsored study of Christ and the world religions.

We´re hearing a lot from atheists today who want to persuade us that God doesn´t exist.
What do you as a theologian think about that?
Atheists are rejecting the old images of God that don´t really work that well even for Christians anymore. Just who is the God in whom Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), doesn´t believe? I found a great quote from a review of his book, in which the reviewer said that Dawkins envisions God “if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized.” This is not the Christian God.
Also a lot of the atheists writing today are scientists who just want to clear the deck of God so they can do their science. They´re primarily opposed to the fundamentalist approach.

You´ve said that Christians today have many “stale, worn-out images of God that no longer satisfy.” What are they?
We might be a bit beyond Michelangelo´s image from the Sistine Chapel of the old man with the beard, but nevertheless, God is too often still a “chap.” It´s just assumed that God is this single individual with more power than anyone else, who intervenes now and then to get certain things done, and whom you need to satisfy on a number of levels. Again, this isn´t the God of Christian revelation. When you hear talk radio or people in the press talking about God, this is the God they´re talking about. This image is so unworthy of us.
My daily bread is teaching college students and graduate students, and I find among them that this image just doesn´t work. Especially as they rebel against their parents, which one tends to do at that stage, it´s even less attractive to have the super-parent idea of God. Both in this and other countries, I see a terrific hunger for a mature faith, but that´s not being fed by much of the preaching that people hear, most of which also uses this stale idea of God.

Where did this image come from?
In the Middle Ages, or even at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, ideas about God were drawn mainly from scripture and sacramental practice and from people´s spirituality. Once the Enlightenment started in the 17th century, as Western philosophers began to throw off authority and to sort out ideas on their own, theologians adapted that method as well. They began to reason toward the fact of God´s existence on the basis of natural phenomena, and they came up with the idea of a superior being at the apex of the pyramid of being. We call it the God of theism.
What is forgotten in this image is that this God became incarnate, that God is everywhere present in the Spirit, that God is filled with compassion. It became a much more distant God, while at the same time ironically not distant enough because God became just a more powerful player than we are.
This theistic God is also in competition with the world. It´s a zero-sum game: more of God, less of me; more of God, less of the natural world; more of God, less of my own freedom. That is an aberration from the Christian understanding of God, which is that God set the world up in its own integrity and gives us our freedom. The more we have of God, the freer we are. All of this got lost after the Enlightenment.
Before the Enlightenment, were biblical images more alive in the church?
I don´t want to paint any age as the golden era, including our own, although I think we´re in a renaissance right now. If you look at the Middle Ages, you see God spoken of as “the fountain fullness overflowing.” Richard of St. Victor speaks of the deep relationality that is at the heart of God.

Theologians in the Middle Ages wrote tomes on these ideas. We didn´t have anyone doing that during the Enlightenment, with the exception of Cardinal John Henry Newman in England, but he went back and read the Fathers of the church, which caused the whole God question to open up for him again.
The Enlightenment didn´t touch the East in the same way. Even today if you read Christian Orthodox theologians, you get a much different sense of the fullness of God´s trinitarian life, inviting the world into communion. It´s so different from this monarchical, solitary ruler God that we have, the God about whom we ask questions like, “Why is God letting this illness happen to me?” What did I do that´s wrong?
What is attractive about this idea of God?
This all-powerful God can bless you or curse you; therefore you better please him to get the blessing and not the curse. That´s a pattern of relationship that people have with their parents. It´s familiar. It brings a certain measure of security. Also many people don´t know any other God. They haven´t been exposed to any other understandings.

There are some exceptions: You see some wonderful renewed parishes, for example, where people are living a more biblical approach to God. And this image of God is not widespread in the Hispanic community, where people have the sense of God walking with them. Their home altars and other expressions of their popular religion all indicate the closeness of God, a whole different sort of relationship.
Hispanic theologians today say that their community did not go through the Enlightenment. Conquistadors brought with them to the Americas late medieval Catholicism, which blended with indigenous religion. While Europe went through the Enlightenment, the believers in the Americas did not.
But in general I think the image of the theistic God is very widespread in our country. You hear it in sermons. And it´s not just me saying this: The U.S. bishops have said that preaching in our country is in a very bad way in terms of the Catholic tradition. The late German theologian Karl Rahner, S.J. was saying the same thing back in the 1950s and ´60s. He said that the words of the preacher fall powerlessly from the pulpit “like birds frozen to death and falling from a winter sky.” I sit and listen to some sermons and I think, “Come on, think of all the wonderful things you could say with this text.”

How does one´s theology of God affect one´s everyday life and faith?
If you´re a believing person, you draw your deepest values from that. How you make moral decisions and vocational decisions, how you treat other people – it all flows from how you see God working.
None of the newer theologies of God are innocent in terms of politics. Every one of the ideas I explore in my book has political implications. They are concerned with power and who uses it and the powerless and how they are affected. So if you let any one of those theologies get into your understanding, you´re going to vote differently, you´re going to volunteer differently, you´re going to use your money differently. Theology, I think, can be very powerful as a tool. It´s my conviction that we all have a theology, so how it shapes your life depends on what it is.
What are some of the theologies of God that you´ve been investigating?

They include images from feminist theology, from Latin America and from Latinos in the United States, as well as the God who emerges from encounters with religious pluralism. Also God as envisioned in Europe after the Holocaust, God as seen through the African American experience, and several others.
Each of the new images of God I studied has biblical grounding, each refers in some way to the Trinity, each of them is oriented in some way to religious practice. All of them support the idea that God is deeply involved, deeply concerned with what happens in the world. If you love God, then your heart needs to be conformed and configured to God´s heart. You have to feel that way toward the world as well. There will certainly be differences of opinion about how to do that.
You mentioned the Trinity. This solo God of the Enlightenment doesn´t seem to have anything to do with the Trinity.
The Trinity has been just about lost forever in the West. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican, says the Holy Spirit is the Cinderella of theology in the West, in the kitchen doing all the work while the other two get to go to the ball.
The view of God in classical theism also does not see God through the lens of Jesus Christ, which is basic to the Christian understanding of God. Therefore it leaves out everything that is beautiful and attractive and that makes people want to be Christian. Jesus and his life, death, and Resurrection just don´t factor in.
The new theologies from Africa and Latin America, on the other hand, are examples of a new kind of trinitarian theology. They don´t let Christ and the Spirit drop away. They´re rooted in an understanding of God related to the world. These understandings are so basic to Christian faith and tradition, I call them a gift to all the rest of us.

You frequently use the term “the living God.” What does that mean??
It´s a term found all through the Bible. I love it. The living God is always ahead of us, always surprising, always calling us to come ahead. Wherever “the living God” is used, it indicates a life of fullness, of flowing water, new reality, new justice, new peace. The different theologies I studied use different words for it: getting back to the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of life.
These new theologies of God start with human experience.
What´s the significance of that?

When I was writing She Who Is, it dawned on me that our original approach to God, where God first reaches us, is through our experience-and that´s the Spirit. The Spirit is present in nature, in our human interactions, in the depths of our own soul, at the end of our reaching out in love.
Take the Catholics of Latin America. Where did they get the idea of God as liberator? They didn´t just say one day, “Let´s have a new idea of God.” It started in the struggle for justice, for a well that had clean water so babies wouldn´t die before their first birthday. In that work, and in their prayer and reflection over that work, people said, “This is what God wants us to do.” Then when they read the Book of Exodus, they read it with new eyes because of their new experience.
In every single one of these theologies, it is experience that opens the door, that leads the way in. Then theologians come along and think about it, but they couldn´t do that without the experience of the Christian people first. We believe, as St. Anselm said a thousand years ago, that theology is faith seeking understanding. You have the church–the community–and theologians reflect on what the community´s faith means. The experience is there as a primary source.

What is revelation then?
In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, revelation became highly intellectualized. It came down to doctrine: We knew certain truths, certain beliefs. You´re a Christian if you believe this. I would say Vatican II´s Dei Verbum, The Constitution on Divine Revelation, changed all that. Its opening sentence says, “In his goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will.” In the gift of God´s own self comes understanding something of who God is, so revelation becomes much more experiential right from the start. That experience is then articulated in words and finally it is written down. We call it revelation.
I always regret that word, revelation. It sounds like an object, but it´s a relational dynamic that has brought to birth wisdom in the Christian community about God and fidelity in the way people live.

What we are called to believe is actually a mystery, God´s own giving self. Rahner uses the image of the horizon: You see it, but you never get there. You can´t control it or comprehend it, because then it wouldn´t be God.
How can different images of God all work together and still be Catholic?
There can be many theologies among people who still believe in one Creed.
Theology is simply an articulation of what faith means in this time and place for this people, so that will change over time. The Creed is a point of unity. We come together over the heart of the confession of faith and the reception of the Eucharist that unites the community.
Isn´t there the potential for so many different theologies to get out of control?
Yes, but whose control, exactly? Certain theologians who wrote in every one of these theologies have been criticized by Rome. This approach can be threatening to a hierarchical power structure, because it says that truth also resides among the baptized, that those who are filled with the Spirit have a wisdom.
I don´t mean to knock the institutional church. Rahner wrote that the church has its charisms and its offices, and that often there´s tension between the two. Theology is a charism, and the office is often in tension with that. The good function of the church office is unity; it keeps everybody from losing the heart and soul of what we believe, from falling into fads and trends and that sort of thing. I would never not want to have a central authority that functions as a uniting factor.
Let´s talk about “God acting womanish,” as you call it.

Where does this theology stand today?
There are major images of God in a female form in scripture and in our mystical tradition especially. Maternity is the main one, but the wisdom texts about Sophia are another. Some theologians make the case, too, that the Spirit has a female name in Hebrew and acts in feminine ways.
Then come the questions of why aren´t we using those images of God in our liturgies, why aren´t we teaching young people that this is an approach to God that can be used as well? The three major words for God are still Father, King, and Lord in Christian hymns, prayer, and liturgy. What that sets up unconsciously, whether you want it to or not, is the assumption that men have more in common with divinity than women do. Those three particular images also are very patriarchal because they refer not just to a male but to a ruling male, somebody who is dominating or being father in a patriarchal sense. Now that isn´t, of course, what scripture means or what Jesus meant when he called God Abba.
If you combine Father, Lord, and King with the God of theism, then you´ve got a problem. That´s one of those static ideas that does not feed the souls of a lot of people, men as well as women.
Why?
It´s very simple. Women are no longer relating to men in their lives as lord and king, and father no longer has that sense of control and domination that it had in a previous era. Women are no longer relating to their own fathers that way, let alone marrying men who act as fathers that way. Look at the partnership concept in marriage. Fathering is much more nurturing than it used to be.

There´s little that women then can bring into a relationship with God who is going to be their lord and king or their father. It goes blank, and not only that, but women are very uncomfortable with it. It´s not just neutral, it´s negative. Women think, “I don´t want a dominating man: Go away until you grow up and learn how to treat me like a human being.” When that comes into the religious life of women, it becomes the heart of this crisis. You can have all the dictums in the world, but the old images just don´t work anymore.
What does it mean that we call God by male terms?
I have this sentence that I quote over and over again: The symbol of God functions. The male symbol of God functions to privilege a certain way of male rule in the world and to undercut women´s spiritual power, women´s own sense of themselves as made in the image of God.
We women have to abstract ourselves from our bodies to see ourselves in the image of God if God is always depicted as male. It has serious ramifications for spirituality and for the identity of believers and for the community.

Why is there so much resistance to using feminine images of God?
I think the rejection of the inclusive language lectionary, which the U.S. bishops applied for in 1992 and which was rejected by the Vatican, was a clear recognition that once you start making room for even nonsexist language about humanity, let alone feminine images of God, there´s a fear that women will want to move in socially and politically, and then you´ve got a challenge to church structure as we know it. I think there´s a great deal of fear of women´s power.
Can you imagine a church that took female images of God to heart?
Let me say, I think women and men are equal in sin and grace. I don´t think women are going to be the salvation of the church or of this country. I think we can all get on power trips. I´m convinced of it, maybe because I´ve been in a women´s religious community, and I have six sisters. I am disabused of this romantic notion of women´s greatness as compared to men.

At this moment in history, women have figured out what´s wrong with the current pattern and how their experiences have led to different ways of relating, organizing, and running things. Given the chance, they would bring that pattern into the church and let it play off and see what develops.
How do you imagine God when you pray?
Writing She Who Is was a deeply spiritual experience for me. By the time I had finished, I had migrated out of the patriarchal church and the patriarchal notion of God. I have never been able to pray that way again. The notion of God as the one who embraces us, in whom we live and move and have our being, is so much more my sense of God than the grand old man in the sky. Even when I´m at liturgy and I hear male language in prayers, I experience it differently.
You don´t revert back?
I had a very good friend who died five years ago of a brain hemorrhage, and I was the health care proxy for him. During the days in the hospital when he was unconscious and we faced a decision about removing the breathing tube, I was absolutely conscious of Sophia embracing him and me in this crisis. He was moving toward death, and I was guarding his death like a lion against the doctors who wanted to do a million procedures.
That to me was the moment I realized I could never go back. In a moment of crisis, you often revert to your childhood image of God. What I reverted to was this cosmic sense of the Spirit of God in even our dying, summoning us, walking with us.
The God who walks with us
What does God look like in the U.S. Hispanic community?
Is it different from God as envisioned by the people of Latin America?
The difference is in the local setting. In this country we don´t have civil wars, we don´t have the extreme difference between the wealthy and the poor that gave rise to liberation theology (although we´re getting there). We also have democratic processes, and Hispanic people have made it into the upper echelons of government.

The history of the Hispanic people in the U.S. is that they encountered and then became swallowed up in a Protestant, European culture, where even their language was under pressure.

Hispanic theologians in this country will say: We´re not doing liberation theology. They think liberation theology did not give enough credence to popular religion, that it neglected daily life in the family that shows itself in fiesta, and in what Hispanics call flor y canto, flower and song, a metaphor for beauty.

At a fiesta, the clergy and nuns are welcome, but they are not necessary. The people will have the fiesta anyway, which has a deep religious component. God accompanies the people, sustaining and strengthening them. Their love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Friday processions, Posadas before Christmas, all speak of a God who understands the struggles and joys of human existence.

The sense of God´s closeness can be such a benefit to non-Hispanics like myself who don´t have that religious ambiance around us in our daily lives. All these new theologies can teach us something, but especially this one.”

ON PROFILING MUSLIMS, John Byorth

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 nytimes.com 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

THE FAITH THAT SAVES, Dom Boyland

THE FAITH THAT SAVES

“Love of God… is the essential principle of the spiritual life; without it everything else is useless. But man is a rational being; one cannot love the unknown. So knowledge must precede love. And if that love is going to mean a complete abandonment of one’s own self, a losing of one’s own life, to find a new self, a new life – to find one’s all, in fact, in membership of Christ, it is still more urgent to have a sure and certain knowledge of Christ and his love. But in this world, the only way one can know God supernaturally is by faith. Reason can give us a certain, but natural, knowledge of his existence and of some of his attributes; but faith alone can tell us of the wonders of his love and his plans for us. Faith alone can put us in vital contact with him, for when we believe in God, we share his knowledge, we lean on him, and draw our strength from him… The Church insists that reason authorizes faith, and so far from asking us to deny our reason, she teaches that faith insists on being founded on reason. Once, however, the reasonableness of believing our authority is established, that authority may ask us to go beyond our reason, but never to go against it… “Faith,” as Prat points out, “is not a pure intuition, a mystical tendency towards an object more suspected than known; it presupposes preaching; it is the yielding of the mind to divine testimony. Faith is opposed to sight, both as regards the object known and the manner of knowing; one is immediate and intuitive, the other takes place through an intermediate agent. Nevertheless, faith is not blind: it is ready to give a reason for itself and aspires always to more clearness.”
Dom M. Eugene Boylan, O.C.S.O.
Dom Boylan (+1963) was a monk of the Cistercian Abbey of Mount Saint Joseph, Roscrea, Ireland

RELIGION and PUBLIC LIFE, Reno

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 ?

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 nber.org.) 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

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. americamagazine.org/qa

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


 

THE PRICE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

THE PRICE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Rights protected on a case-by-case basis soon are not protected at all.

“In his engaging new biography, “Johnny Appleseed: the Man, the Myth, the American Story,” journalist Howard Means scrubs away nearly two centuries of rumor and myth to uncover the truth about 19th-century pioneer nurseryman John Chapman, a national folk hero whom most of us know only from Disney cartoons and children’s books, Means’ meticulous research reveals Chapman as an ascetic, conservationist and pacifist well-suited to serve as patron saint of today’s faith-based “creation care” movement, it also exposes Chapman as a bona fide religious eccentric. The itinerant preacher traveled alone and barefoot across
the frontier proclaiming a peculiar twist, on Christianity known as swedenborgianism, based on the writings of Swedish scientist and self-proclaimed divine visionary Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborgianism never got much traction as American religious movements go. Its founder’s refutation of Christian orthodoxy and claims to have seen heaven and hell down to the last detail -the angels’ celestial homes have “gardens, flowerbeds, and lawns” just like ours, Swedenborg said – proved too dubious to attract a mainstream following. Yet Chapman remained a devoted disciple to the end, inspired by Swedenborg’s writings to live a life as unconventional as the theology he preached.

Chapman was an unusual religious character, to be sure, but as Means notes in his book, unusual religious characters were ubiquitous on the American frontier. Although we tend to view our nation’s early years through the rose-tinted lens of “Little House on the Prairie” reruns, real early American life – and the real religious scene during America’s formative years – was anything but orderly and orthodox. As Means notes, “a whole new horizon of possibilities was forming for religious seekers” during Chapman’s day, including mysticism, pantheism and universalism. Utopian movements flourished, Armageddon seemed just around
the corner. Religious groups splintered at alarming rates, and zealous preachers armed with little more than a Bible and a tent jostled each other for the title of leading frontier revivalist.

Means’ description of this wild-and-woolly 19th-century religious scene makes today’s American religious marketplace sound positively tame. And it offers some historical context for the troubling ease of Terry Jones, the loose-cannon pastor in Gainesville, Fla., whose Quran -burning stunt recently sparked deadly riots overseas and much hand-wringing stateside about the dangers of religious freedom.

Commenting recently on Jones’ provocations – the pastor’s next plan is to put Mohammed “on trial” and to lead an anti-Islam protest outside America’s largest mosque – Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy.”

Actually, our freedoms of speech and religion are more than great ideas. They are bedrock principles upon which this nation was founded, the very principles for which we purportedly are fighting overseas. And they apply in times of war as well as times of peace – the former of which is looking much more like America’s normative condition these days than the latter.

Inflammatory and irresponsible as Jones’ antics are – and embarrassing as they are to mainstream Christians who know that desecrating another religion’s holy book is an exceptionally ineffective means of evangelization, to put it mildly – they fall squarely within the realm of constitutionally protected speech. In America, being an outspoken, offensive religious nut is not illegal – at least, not yet.

Muslims have a right to be angry about Jones’ offensive actions. But no one has the right to murder over such acts. If we affirm that truth in principle, yet call for the muzzling of people such as Jones in practice, we prove that America’s defense of free speech and religious freedom is just a ruse. And we open the door to exactly the sort of religious oppression we condemn in Muslim theocracies, an oppression no less dangerous because it begins with the apparently benign goal of banishing intolerance. The messy, sometimes ugly reality of religious freedom gave us the incendiary Terry Jones. It also gave us the pacifist Johnny
Apple-seed, not to mention the heroic Martin Luther King Jr. And it has given millions of Americans, from our nation’s rough-and-rugged frontier days to our own, the liberty to adopt and express religious beliefs that others consider silly, dangerous or downright vile. That’s a freedom not recognized or protected by our enemies. We should not capitulate to them by forfeiting it, even in the hard cases.”

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speech writer and television and radio HOST of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com. This POINT OF VIEW COLUMN appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch – Thursday, April 7, 2011

MISLEADING INDICATORS, The Miseducation of Economists,

by Charles Wilber

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 expe-rience 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 behavior.
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 pro-duced the idea of “microfoundations,” 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.

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

ON THE WEB Charles K. Wilber answers readers’ questions. americamagazine.org/qa

“WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE WILL SAVE IT”

“Blessed are those who die in the Lord,” and at the very time grace has touched them and converted them to God. They will not accumulate the faults and errors which lie in wait on life’s road for those who have received the rude shock of conversion, those to whom is suddenly given the superhuman precept to live “as not living.” Was it not to the first Christians, all of whom were converts, that Saint Paul said: “Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptized unto Christ Jesus, we were baptized unto his death? We were buried therefore with him through this baptism unto death…”
Every Christian is essentially a “separated” being, separated from the world by the shroud of Christ’s death; but for the convert, it is by a sudden blow – which tears apart his bonds with himself and with others – that he is separated from the world! In one instant, at the hour of grace, all values have been moved about for him. And he becomes a strange being in the eyes of his neighbor whom he loves or tries to love “as himself” – but who does not love or understand him, and looks with a surprise not unmixed with distrust upon this bizarre inhabitant of a city infinitely removed from the roads known to this world. The world is without shame because it is animal but the Christian must bend his efforts to becoming a spiritual man. The world respects greatness of quantity and strength, the spiritual man must glorify God through humility and poverty.
Eternity has descended upon a soul devoted until then to passing time; it has struck it like lightning. The divine storm has laid waste our disorder, and charity has only begun to order within us our different loves.
The intention of the convert from then on hangs suspended to the immutable and eternal truth, perceived within the faith, and the convert must now put to rights all the objects in a house made topsy-turvy by the invasion of grace.      RAISSA MARITAIN.                                             Raissa Maritain (+1960) was born in Russia. She was a convert to Catholicism and the wife of philosopher Jacques Maritain,                     Magnificat Meditation on the Feast of Frances Xavier Cabrini, November 13, 2009