Over the past decade the neo-Anabaptist movement has been gaining ground within evangelicalism. Young evangelicals have been particularly receptive thanks to social activists like Shane Claiborne. From working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta to advocating for peace in Baghdad, Claiborne has exhibited an admirable willingness to sacrifice his personal comfort and safety to put his beliefs into practice.
But while admirable as a personal witness, Claiborne’s extrapolation of nonviolent approaches to national policy is extremely naive. For example, as Matthew Tuininga reports, Claiborne gave a lecture at Emory University in which he asked:
What if the United States had responded to the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks after the example of the Amish, declaring forgiveness towards the 19 hijackers who took 3,000 lives on that terrible day and responding to their evil not with war but with love and financial support for their families?
Rewarding the families of suicidal terrorists sounds more like something Saddam Hussein would (and did) do rather than a policy that should be advocated by a Christian peace activist. But as Keith Pavlischek explains, the neo-Anabaptism of Claiborne and his supporters doesn’t have much in common with traditional Christian pacifism:
Claiborne like most modern neo-Anabaptists, on the other hand, insists that the sword is ordained nowhere and never at all. Not only does he insist that Christians repudiate the “violence” of the sword, but that the civil authority do so as well, even in the face of evil, oppression and wickedness. The only moral option for civil authority, according to Claiborne, is some form of “nonviolence.”
Contemporary neo-Anabaptists dissent not only from Augustinian, Thomist, Lutheran, and Calvinist political theology, but from classic Christian pacifism as well. It is high time for traditional evangelical Christian pacifists to call Clairborne and other neo-Anabaptists out on this point, or explain why they repudiate the sectarian pacifism of their theological ancestors.
Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.
Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.
Q: Are the snakes big?
A: We have lots of different snakes. The quality of your work determines which snake you will fight. The better your thesis is, the smaller the snake will be.
Q: Does my thesis adviser pick the snake?
A: No. Your adviser just tells the guy who picks the snakes how good your thesis was.
What would Diedrich Bonhoeffer have to say about the HHS mandate? Eric Metaxas—best selling author of Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—explains in this brief video on the dangers to religious liberty posed by the mandate.
A few weeks ago I poked gentle fun at distributists for being utopians. They didn’t find it funny—at all. Apparently, a distributist with a sense of humor is about as rare as a distributist corporation (Long live Mondragon!). Not only did the post annoy the self-professed distributists, it inspired rants from people like Front Porch Republic’s Jerry Sayler.
Sayler wrote a lengthy rebuttal aimed at me. I know this because the words “Joe Carter” were included in his essay. If he had not included my name I don’t think I would have recognized he was attacking my ideas since they don’t resemble either anything I’ve said or believe. I would have ignored the rant completely had I not been intrigued by a not-altogether surprising statement:
Just in case it’s not clear, I am not so interested in defending Distributism – an interesting and provocative theory of which I know little – as I am in addressing Mr. Carter’s premises. The question is not whether Distributism lives up to the creed of Western liberalism but whether that creed should be our measure.
For instance – who cares if Distributism contains “a hidden coercive impulse” or not? While I can’t speak for the Distributists I myself endorse coercion quite openly, much as I endorse gravity. Yes, tyranny is a nasty business, but then so is falling down a flight of stairs.
The tagline at FPR is “Place. Limits. Liberty.” Unfortunately, over the past year the “liberty” part has been all but excised from their vision of human flourishing.
But before I delve into that, let me first provide some context and explain my mixed feelings about FPR.
[Note: I first wrote this two years ago, but I thought it might be worthwhile to post it again for the new year.]
The beginning of a New Year is an an excellent time to try something new. As you make your list of resolutions and goals I want to recommend adding a simple four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.
After reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.
This post is written for those people.
A few years ago I stumbled across a variation of the four steps in a blog post by my Evangel co-blogger Fred Sanders and implemented his recommendation that day. I later had the pleasure of meeting Sanders in person and telling him how his post had transformed my life. My hope is that at least one other person will follow this advice and experience the same transformative effect.
Before I reveal the four steps I want to reiterate that while the advice could transform your life, it likely will not. As with most life-altering advice, it is simple, easy to implement, and even easier to ignore. Statistically speaking, the odds are great that you’ll ignore this advice. But a handful of you will try it so for the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:
1) Whether power is good or evil depends on its use. Power is often abused. But in itself, power is preferable to powerlessness. It is better to have the power of sight than to be blind, better to have the power to buy food than not, better to have a way of achieving your aims than to be frustrated by insurmountable obstacles. What is true for individuals is true for political communities: Governments need power to protect people, land, and resources from foreign threats, to ensure domestic order, to provide public goods for their citizens. Even those who appear to disagree with this claim do not: Advocates for the powerless want nothing more than to empower them.
Someday our grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to sitting in college classroom learning about the early 21st century and wonder how a society so seemingly advanced could have such primitive ideas about mental health.They will no doubt be shocked and appalled that our major diagnostic tool for psychiatry is a book full of subjective checklists—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM versions I-IV).
I became all too familiar with the DSM in my college days, first as a psychology major and then as a behavioral science major (I switched because I believed behavioral science would be more scientifically rigorous. It wasn’t.) I was constantly shocked that such an utterly absurd book could be considered our primary mental health tool. The diagnostic criteria is often so vague that it is virtually impossible to determine if a patient truly has a mental disorder. Yet almost every diagnosis in America is made based on comparing a patient against the DSM’s checklist of “symptoms.”
In November 2011, I visited two classes at a Christian university in North America. I asked both: “How many of you would still believe Christianity if you found out tomorrow that Christianity was not true. That is: God never became a man; Jesus did not die for our sin; or, that he did not rise from the dead?”
Twelve hands went up in each class of about 25 and 45 students. These sincere and devout students had grown up in Christian homes, gone to church all their lives and studied in Christian schools. Some had been in that Christian university for three years! They respected their elders who taught them that Christianity was all about faith with little concern for truth.
Christianity lost America because 20th-century evangelicalism branded itself as the party of faith. Secularism (science, university, media) became the party of truth. This is one reason why 70% Christian youth give up meaningful involvement with the church when they grow up.
In the second class, only one in four students perceived Christianity as disconnected with truth. This was because my host professor had taught them to believe because Christianity is true. Some professors and pastors do teach that, yet the “truth-less” brand is common perception because it is reinforced by most pastors, Bible teachers, and some Christian professors.
I asked both classes if they thought secular universities knew truth. Overwhelmingly the answer was positive. When I asked them to name one secular professor who claims to know the truth, both classes named Stephen Hawking. (No student, however, had read Hawking’s latest book which demolishes the God of Western logic but not the God who has revealed Himself.) Secularism acquired the “Truth” brand by default because evangelicalism began defining Church’s mission as cultivating Faith, not promoting knowledge of Truth (compare 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; Titus 1:1, etc.).
Yet even if Pinker is right that the ratio of violent to peaceful deaths has improved over time (and he probably is), his metric of progress deserves a bit more attention than he gives it. His argument about decreasing violence is a relative one: not that more people were killed annually in the past than are killed in a given year of recent history but that more people were killed relative to the size of the overall human population, which is of course vastly larger today than in earlier eras. But ask yourself: Is it preferable for ten people in a group of 1,000 to die violent deaths or for ten million in a group of one billion? For Pinker, the two scenarios are exactly the same, since in both, an individual person has a 99 percent chance of dying peacefully. Yet in making a moral estimate about the two outcomes, one might also consider the extinction of more individual lives, one after another, and the grief of more families of mourners, one after another.
The great literary scholar Ernst Robert Curtius reflected on this absence in his 1948 magnum opus, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. “What strikes me most is this: The American mind might go back to Puritanism or to William Penn, but it lacked that which preceded them; it lacked the Middle Ages,” Curtius wrote. “It was in the position of a man who has never known his mother.” Yet he saw this lack as an opportunity for American scholarship. “The American conquest of the Middle Ages,” he observed, “has something of that romantic glamor and of that deep sentimental urge which we might expect in a man who should set out to find his lost mother.” That “conquest” began, in his view, with the “cult of Dante” that sprang up among the New England poets of the nineteenth century, above all Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who translated the Divine Comedy.
DOML can be seen as the latest stage in the American conquest of the Middle Ages, offering the best introduction the general reader has ever had to the “mother” of Western Christian civilization.
“The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America,” says Mark Silk, a professor of religion and public life, “is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.” As USA Today notes, research is beginning to reveal just how big the “So What” set might be:
•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19% said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”
•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.
•28% told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18% scoffed that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.
•6.3% of Americans turned up on Pew Forum’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular — unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives.
Last month I stirred up a bit of ill will by poking fun at advocates of distributism (see: Who Gets To Be the Czar of Aesthetic Consumption?). As I said at the time, I like and admire them but get annoyed by their habit of taking their philosophy very, very seriously. What I didn’t explain is why I find it so annoying. The short answer: Because it causes otherwise smart people to miss obvious points of reality.
A prime example is calling distributism a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. The problem with that, as Matt Perman notes, is that once the definitions of capitalism and socialism are properly understood it becomes obvious that there is no third way (though, as Perman notes, there can be degrees). Fortunately, a third way isn’t needed since capitalism can do everything that distributist want their system to do.
For instance, one aspect of how capitalism can create a more “people-centered economy” is to increase the amount of capital that is dedicated to non-profits. As Perman notes:
The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world.
And with 3 Bibles sold or given away every second a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future. In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever.
I am a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.
But what I do believe is this. The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history. And none of us should be frightened of recognising this.