Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 10:00 AM
I promised to say more about this survey.
In many respects, white working class Americans take a view of our current economic circumstances that lines up reasonably well with conventional Republican wisdom. They are more likely than their college-educated fellow citizens to think that the causes of our current economic problems can be traced to too much government regulation of business (69 percent, as opposed to 59 percent) and to Barack Obama’s policies (64-56 percent). They are less likely to blame our problems on Wall Street (69-80) and on George W. Bush (62-64). To be sure, Republicans would like these last two numbers to be lower, but they do better with the working class than with the college-educated.
Like the college-educated, white working class Americans are not big fans of business exporting jobs; unlike them, they’re more likely to be worried about illegal immigration (57-37). Both of these positions are at least somewhat problematical for a party that seems to be devoted to free trade and the interests of business.
Life gets more complicated for Republicans with this constituency when they’re asked about things like equality of opportunity. A majority (53 percent) of white working class voters assent to the following proposition: “One of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” Only 40 percent affirm that “[i]t’s not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.” By contrast, college-educated respondents break 44-48 on these two propositions. A substantial majority (70 percent) of white working class Americans thinks that our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy. (more…)
Monday, September 24, 2012, 4:43 PM
I read this survey report with some interest over the weekend.
Entitling the report “Beyond Guns and God,” the authors clearly want us to cease clinging bitterly to our caricatures about the white working class. To that end, they “challenge five myths” about their subject.
- There’s really no difference between working class and college-educated Americans in their identification with the Tea Party.
- Religion and the work ethic remain alive and well.
- There’s nothing the matter with Kansas. While members of the white working class who earn more than $30,000 per year support Romney over Obama 51-38 percent, those with lower incomes or who have accepted food stamps in the past two years, dispaly somewaht different preferences (42-39 for Romney in the first instance, 48-36 for Obama in the second).
- White working class voters care much more about the economy than about social issues, regarding which they’re pretty evenly divided.
- There’s a strong strain of economic populism in this group, and less support for the free market.
There are all sorts of nuggets buried in the report, and not entirely captured by the executive summary. For example, on social issues, there are significant regional (and religious) differences within the working class. Northeastern members of the working class take liberal stances on same-sex marriage (57-37) and abortion (59-33), while their southern brethren are significantly more conservative (32-61 and 42-54). Stated another way, Catholic members of the working class (well-represented in the Northeast) are more liberal, Protestant (especially evangelical) members of the working class (well-represented in the South) are more socially conservative. Class is less important than religious affiliation here.
Virtually across the board, white working class respondents evince a preference for Romney over Obama (48-35). The most pronounced preferences come from Southerners (62-22), those over 65 (56-31), Protestants (56-27), and men (55-28). Women are evenly divided (41-41), while working class whites in the Midwest actually favor Obama (44-36). The authors don’t attempt to explain this last outlier, but I’d guess that some combination of lower income, use of food stamps, and labor union membership might be factors connected with it.
On the basis of what I’ve said so far, I can offer no good short-term political advice to Republicans. I suppose that if there were fewer labor unionists and more evangelicals in the Midwest, Romney would be the front-runner. Both developments may well occur, but not before November. Even more likely in the long(ish) run (but also not before November) is a continued migration of people from the Midwest to regions of the country (especially the South and Southwest) where there are fewer labor unions and more evangelical churches. To the degree that migrants adapt to rather than transform their surroundings, this might well lead to a more pronounced preference among white working class voters for Republican candidates as time passes.
I’ll have more to say in another post about what sorts of lessons we can draw from this survey.
Thursday, September 20, 2012, 2:00 PM
Eboo Patel argues that colleges and universities should begin paying attention to religious diversity. I want to agree with him, but the fine print makes it almost impossible.
What if campuses took religious diversity as seriously as they took race? What if recruiting a religiously diverse student body, creating a welcoming environment for people of different faith and philosophical identities, and offering classes in interfaith studies and co-curricular opportunities in interfaith leadership became the norm? What if university presidents expected their graduates to acquire interfaith literacy, build interfaith relationships, and have opportunities to run interfaith programs during their four years on campus? What impact might a critical mass of interfaith leaders have on America over the course of the next generation?
So far, so good, pretty much. I agree with him in favoring a healthy pluralism, where people who hold different beliefs encounter one another in the public square, learning to disagree civilly and to get along where they can. But the nicest way of reading this statement is to attribute to him the assumption that colleges don’t need to help people explore and come to grips with their own faith traditions, that those can get by quite well on their own, thank you very much. I’ve seen plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s not true, that our acquaintance with the learning and traditions that inform our faith is becoming more and more attenuated.
For Patel, this may well be a good thing.
Robert Putnam, who teaches American politics at Harvard, emphasizes that faith communities are the single largest repository of social capital in America, but that they operate mainly within their own restrictive networks. Certainly faith groups can continue to work in isolation. The tension among religions in America can grow, faith can become a weapon, and we can move directly into the open conflict we see in other religiously diverse societies.
In his view, cultivating one’s own religious garden seems to be a bad thing, as it leads to intolerance and conflict. Better, he seems to think, to rub the hard edges off our different beliefs and just learn to get along. In his America, the “chief characteristical mark” of religion would be toleration.
And true religion would be gone.
Thursday, September 20, 2012, 9:40 AM
Former government employee Sarah Chayes makes the case that speech–like the notorious “Innocence” video–that might likely incite a violent and deadly response could well stand outside our First Amendment guarantees.
The point here is not to excuse the terrible acts perpetrated by committed extremists and others around the world in reaction to the video, or to condone physical violence as a response to words — any kind of words. The point is to emphasize that U.S. law makes a distinction between speech that is simply offensive and speech that is deliberately tailored to put lives and property at immediate risk. Especially in the heightened volatility of today’s Middle East, such provocation is certainly irresponsible….
In the context of the easily inflamed Arab Street, she would have us pass laws to sanction and punish proverbial “fighting words.”
Good luck coming up with a law that is capable of winning a majority in any self-respecting American legislature and being drafted with sufficient care not to amount to viewpoint discrimination. I’m not about to place my liberties in the hands of any agitator, anywhere in the world, who can incite a crowd to mayhem.
This is–I’m fairly confident–a non-starter. And boy am I grateful for that.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 10:55 AM
By now, I assume that you, dear reader, have heard about Mitt Romney’s surreptitiously recorded comments, offered in response to a question at a Florida fundraising event this past May. I have a number of observations to make about them.
First of all, the context for his answer is provided by electoral politics. When he says he isn’t worried about the 47 percent who pay no federal income taxes (more about that number in a moment), he isn’t saying that he doesn’t care about them, that his fondest wish is for them to starve to death in the streets, but rather that he doesn’t think he can win their votes. He assumes that they will vote their pocketbooks, which he assumes are filled with government checks. A Republican candidate is never going to win a bidding war with a Democrat if what’s being bid is a government transfer payment.
Second, there are ways in which this number is right and wrong. He’s probably right that we’re pretty close to a 50/50 nation politically, that some substantial portion of the nation will support Obama, no matter what, just as some substantial portion will vote for Romney, no matter what. The election will be won or lost at the margins, by the side that most effectively appeals to the persuadables and/or that most effectively mobilizes its base. But he’s wrong when he assumes that the 47 percent of the population that doesn’t pay income taxes is in some sense homogeneous. His critics are quick to point out–rightly, I might add–that some portion of the 47 percent consists of retirees (most of whom likely once paid income taxes) and whose government transfer payments may come largely from social security and Medicare, that is, “insurance” that they purchased with their payroll taxes. They also point out (more…)
Friday, September 14, 2012, 1:19 PM
Cash-strapped governments in Europe are looking to properties owned by the Roman Catholic Church as a source of revenue.
This troubles me in at least two ways. First of all, the more functions the government takes on, the greater its need for revenue. If, having exhausted its individual and commercial sources of revenue, the expanded and expansive government turns to properties and income streams connected with a church, it is fueling its growth at the expense of “civil society.” Government drains old communal institutions to support its programs. There’s just a whiff of totalitarianism in all this. Just a whiff.
Second, it seems pretty clear that the government will decide which functions are core religious functions and which aren’t. (Shades of the contraceptive mandate here!) For fiscal purposes, then, religion is whatever the government says it is. While there’s talk about the separation of church and state (especially where there are long-standing cooperative relationships, let alone subsidies), the effect, ultimately, is to subordinate the church to the state. Another glint of totalitarianism.
I’m glad that we have a First Amendment and a culture that values religious liberty in the United States. But we also have elites that wish us to become ever more like our European brethren and regard our religiosity as a retrograde tendency. And we have governments looking for ever more areas of responsibility and ever more sources of revenue. When the irresistible force comes, I hope and pray that the object is indeed immovable.
Thursday, September 13, 2012, 6:27 PM
We know a lot more now than we did yesterday when I wrote my first response to the horrific events in Cairo and Benghazi. We know, for example, that Cairo embassy’s twitter post was issued before the violence unfolded in front of and on the embassy grounds. To be sure, we have to suspect that the author of the post meant to defuse or preempt a situation like the one that did in fact occur.
His pandering clearly failed.
We also know that the Cairo statement wasn’t cleared by the State Department in Washington, D.C., and that the author seems to have been freelancing against the wishes of his Foggy Bottom superiors. But as the infamous (in some circles, at least) Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, there are significant structural and thematic similarities between the Cairo post and other statements issued by our diplomats on similar occasions. Still, there’s enough of a difference to justify Kessler’s conclusion that the Cairo statement is “perhaps the weakest” (by far, I’d add) of the three statements he finds, especially because, unlike the others, it fails to offer a fulsome articulation of our commitment to freedom of speech, association, and religion. The audience at which the post was directed certainly feels a grievance and might welcome our respect for that grievance (and take it as an affirmation of the grievance), but, from my point of view, what it especially has to hear, much more clearly, is why we cannot and they ought not, to draw the conclusions from that grievance that the post’s author knows they’re sorely tempted to draw. We may condemn the offensive speech, but we will not suppress it. In the name of freedom of speech and religion, we will tolerate utterances that some may find offensive.
In this connection, Bush Administration State Department spokesman Sean McCormack (quoted by Kessler) makes a statement (more…)
Wednesday, September 12, 2012, 10:34 AM
I’m still trying to come to terms with my feelings (mostly angry) regarding the vicious attacks on American diplomatic posts in Benghazi and Cairo. Like the author of the American embassy’s twitter feed, I certainly deplore gratuitous insults directed at any religion. But I would have more forthrightly articulated the connection between freedom of speech and religious freedom. The two are intimately connected, which means that, unlike some, we have to protect the rights of error, not only those of truth.
I don’t at the moment attribute to the host governments the opinions and actions of the protestors. How they handle the messes their lax security created, how they interact with the Obama Administration (which ought to do more than issue condemnations), will go a long way toward settling the matter for me. Will they hold the attackers accountable? Will they insist that an insult directed at “the truth” is deplorable, but not cause for violence and mayhem?
As for the protestors themselves, we shouldn’t mistake their motives or the challenge they pose. The choice of September 11th, the “Osama” chants at the American embassy in Cairo, and the desecration of an American flag (and its replacement with one that is associated with al Qaeda) all make their intentions clear enough. They certainly believe that only their truth has rights, and we benighted Americans should submit to it. They continue to pose an existential threat, even if (for most of us) it’s less immediate than it was eleven years ago.
My prayers go out to the families of the murdered diplomats.
Monday, September 10, 2012, 4:10 PM
This article points to the ways in which current legal challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act rest upon assertions of traditional state authority to define marriage. Here, for example, is how New York, Vermont, and Connecticut put it in their amicus brief in Windsor v. U.S., a case in which Edie Windsor challenges the federal government’s authority to collect taxes on the estate her partner (they were married in Canada) left her.
- Since the founding of our Nation, the whole subject of domestic relations, including the determination of marital status, has been committed to state law and state policy judgments.
- It is, and always has been, the role of the States to determine who is married and who is not.
While these arguments are deployed on behalf of states that regard DOMA’s federal “definition of marriage” as anathema and that employ very strong language to characterize those who don’t recognize same-sex marriage, it remains the case that they affirm each state’s authority to define marriage for itself. Those states that wish to adhere to a traditional definition of marriage are free to do so.
To be sure, I suspect that this affinity for federalism is more strategic than principled. I fear that these particular friends of the state authority to define marriage will soon insist that what Congress cannot do in defense of traditional marriage, the federal courts can do on behalf of “marriage equality,” with a warrant, perhaps, from the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Traditional state authority in this arena may not survive the next Supreme Court appointment by a Democratic president. But we can always argue, citing these decisions, and the briefs giving rise to them, that this is a state matter, to be determined by the states, resting upon the kind of prudential and policy judgments state legislators are qualfiied to make.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 10:00 AM
…yet. But it could, if the recent Supreme Court health-care ruling is exploited a certain way. So says my friend Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.
He is concerned, as are others, about the long-range consequences of NFIB v. Sebelius, which reaffirmed the power of Congress to use its power of taxation to influence individual behavior.
Of particular concern, the ruling opens the way to the adoption of measures such as limiting charity tax exemptions to groups that provide direct benefits to the poor and allowing tax deductions only for donors to those groups, proposals that have gained growing support in recent years among some members of Congress and other lawmakers.
This may have consequences for churches, which some people believe aren’t real charities.
And no one has yet mentioned what might happen to organizations that find themselves out of step with a potential consensus favoring same-sex marriage. Will churches that adhere to the traditional teaching regarding marriage at the very least lose their tax-exempt status? That this is a very real fear was one of the arguments in the very chilling Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty.
I’m not arguing that the Chief Justice had these considerations in mind when he wrote his decision, or that critics of the tax-exempt status of churches need the Court’s permission to walk down this path. But the Court’s reaffirmation of the non-revenue purposes to which the tax code can be put offers some cover to those who aspire to the role of “engineer of human souls.”
Tuesday, August 28, 2012, 11:07 AM
The current issue of Cathedral Age, the magazine of Washington’s National Cathedral, has interviews with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney addressing the subject of faith and public life. The questions are not hard and the answers mostly anodyne. Here’s an example:
CA: How do you view the role of faith in public life?
President Obama: There are many ways to approach this question, but two clear aspects of the role of faith in public life come to mind immediately. First, faith has always provided a moral framework and vocabulary for this country to come to terms with its most pressing challenges. One of the great things about this nation is that it is a place where people from all walks of life can advocate on behalf of their faith and beliefs and be open about what drives and motivates them.
From slavery to the suffrage movement to civil rights, faith—and the moral obligations that derive from our faith—have always helped us to navigate some of our greatest moral challenges with a recognition that there’s something bigger than ourselves: we have obligations that extend beyond our own self-interest. We face big challenges in this country, and we’re coming to the point where we will decide if we’re truly in this together or if each individual ought just to fight for what serves them best. For me, and I think for many other Americans, faith tells us that there is something about this world that ties our interest to the welfare of a child who can’t get the health care they need, or a parent who can’t find work after the plant shut down, or a family going hungry.
Second, faith motivates people to do incredibly compassionate and good work that helps our nation thrive. Now, I’ve been familiar with this for a long time. One of my first jobs was as a community organizer where I was funded by a Catholic Church grant to help families on the South Side of Chicago who were struggling after the local steel plant closed. But I must say this has become even more real to me during my time as president. Through the letters I’ve read from individuals whose faith led them to serve in Joplin or Colorado Springs in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and the work of my faith-based office (which has done incredible work to strengthen partnerships between the federal government and faith-based non-profits to serve those in need), it is more apparent to me now than ever how integral faith is as a motivating factor for so much of what keeps our country moving forward.
Governor Romney: We should acknowledge the Creator, as did the Founders—in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests.
It’s hard, on this level of generality, to disagree with either answer. Surely, (more…)
Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 10:01 AM
Early this year, in a course in cross-cultural psychology at the University of Central Florida, some Christian students bore witness to their faith in a way to which the professor objected. I doubt that their expressions were mature and winsome, but I also doubt that I would have reacted in the way the professor did in a subsequent email to students:
Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
Here is what, for want of a better term, I’ll label his presupposition:
Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.
Here’s my question: when he defines the critical thinker as he does, is he doing anything more than pounding his chest and proclaiming that his view is valid? Is there evidence for the view that only evidence (presumably of a certain sort, i.e., “empirical” or measurable evidence) matters? Or does that view itself rest on a foundation other than the evidence it claims as the only valid foundation of a view?
I don’t expect a professor of psychology at a state university to be fully conversant in the rich literature–both contemporary and historical–on faith and learning. I just expect him to be a model of the humility that he rightly demands of his students and that he be slower to level charges of bigotry.
Monday, August 20, 2012, 11:35 AM
The Chronicle of Philanthropy has just published a major study on charitable giving. The study tends to reaffirm a commonplace–that religious people (or at least people who live in regions where religion plays a larger role in people’s lives) are more generous. Thus folks in the more religious South give more than folks in less religious New England (5.2% vs. 4%). That religion accounts for the lion’s share of that difference is clear, for by itself religious giving accounts for 4.3% of Southern income, as opposed to only 2.6% of New Englanders’ income.
In an article on this study in the Huffington Post, prominent sociologist Alan Wolfe is paraphrased and quoted to the following effect:
[I]t’s wrong to link a state’s religious makeup with its generosity. People in less religious states are giving in a different way by being more willing to pay higher taxes so the government can equitably distribute superior benefits, Wolfe said. And the distribution is based purely on need, rather than religious affiliation or other variables, said Wolfe, also head of the college’s Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life.
Wolfe said people in less religious states “view the tax money they’re paying not as something that’s forced upon them, but as a recognition that they belong with everyone else, that they’re citizens in the common good. … I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they’re being altruistic.”
I wonder if Wolfe has any actual evidence for his account of people’s opinions regarding their taxes. I especially wonder if–given the distribution of the tax burden–there’s much connection at all between the level of taxes people pay and the kind of support for a higher tax burden that he alleges.
But even if I were to grant his dubious claim that people in high tax states actually “altruisitically” support that level of taxation, I would challenge his claim that the government distribution of benefits is “equitable,” based purely upon need. Is Wolfe so naive as to believe that those who are politically connected (campaign donors, public employees’ unions) don’t get more than their “fair share” of public money?
Our system of government arguably encourages that kind of behavior. One alternative would be to have a philosopher-king like Professor Wolfe distribute benefits in accordance with his disinterested view of what’s right. Another would be to encourage a plurality of different sources of giving, each addressing the needs brought home to it by those who appeal to their sense of what’s just or appropriate. I know which I would choose.
Friday, August 17, 2012, 9:30 AM
The study described in this article found that among the residential college students queried, “egalitarian sexual conservatism” was the modal position. Fully 48% of the respondents disapproved equally of men and women who engaged in the collegiate “hook-up” culture. By contrast, only 27% were “egalitarian sexual libertarians.” Another 25% held some version of a double standard, with 12% losing more respect for women who frequently hooked up and 13% losing more respect for men who did so. The last bastions of the traditional double standard are male athletes and fraternity brothers, but even there only 38% winked at the guys and frowned at the girls. The libertarian avant garde can be found among gay and lesbian students.
The authors seem to be more interested in the erosion of the double standard, of which they (as feminists) disapprove. As a father of two teenagers, I’m hoping and praying that the ranks of egalitarian sexual conservatives are growing. I realize that this isn’t the same as “fidelity in marriage, chastity in singlehood” that a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a mainline Protestant denomination held as a standard for ordination, but it’s better than many contemporary alternatives.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 11:00 AM
My apologies for being late to this iteration of the conversation. The charms of my parent’s home, my sister’s pontoon boat, and my lovely little grand-niece (is that the proper term?) have distracted me over the past few days.
Here’s only one of the latest salvos fired by those who seem to wish to excommunicate Mr. Ryan:
Ryan has set himself up as a distinctively Catholic candidate who is making a major effort to ensure that his policy decisions are in accord with the will of the Almighty as explained by the teachings of his Church. That’s a high bar to set and, to Ryan’s credit, he has not shrunk away from answering specific questions about how he sees that happening….
But a “faithful Catholic” is also supposed to follow the guidance of the Bishops. In the Catholic hierarchy, unless the Pope or the Vatican speaking in the Pope’s name has weighed in, the Bishops are the designated authentic explainers of the official line….
So if Ryan claims to be speaking in the name of his Church and the Bishops continue to have sharp and specific disagreements with much of what Ryan is saying, aren’t the Bishops morally and theologically obligated to shoot Ryan down again? And with greater specificity?
This is wrong in so many ways I don’t know exactly where to begin. But the best place, it seems to me, is at Ryan’s Georgetown speech, (more…)
Wednesday, August 8, 2012, 12:05 PM
I’ve heard so much about the WinShape Foundation’s “anti-gay” contributions that I decided to do a little checking. Here’s what I learned, beginning from the Equality Matters site, which tells us the following:
WinShape Gave Over $1.9 Million To Anti-Gay Groups. In 2010, WinShape donated $1,974,380 to a number of anti-gay groups:
- Marriage & Family Foundation: $1,188,380
- Fellowship Of Christian Athletes: $480,000
- National Christian Foundation: $247,500
- New Mexico Christian Foundation: $54,000
- Exodus International: $1,000
- Family Research Council: $1,000
- Georgia Family Council: $2,500
Please note that the most frequently mentioned contributions–to the Family Research Council and Exodus International–amount to roughly 0.1% of the foundation’s gifts.
The largest gift went to the Marriage and Family Foundation, which seems to be a Cathy family charity. This becomes sinister through a bit of innuendo tying the foundation to the Marriage CoMission, which has been “supported by anti-gay activists.” From where I sit, the Marriage CoMission looks like an organization devoted to helping couples have successful marriages. (more…)
Tuesday, August 7, 2012, 10:15 AM
Mark Juergensmeyer is a distinguished sociologist of religion, but if this piece is an example of his reasoning, I don’t for the life of me know why. Here’s the core of the argument:
It is fair to call [Wisconsin mass murderer Wade Michael] Page a Christian terrorist since the evidence indicates that he thought he was defending the purity of white Christian society against the evils of multiculturalism that allow non-white non-Christians an equal role in America society. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Norwegian militant, Anders Breivik, Page thought he was killing to save white Christian society.
Though there is no evidence that Page was a pious Christian, that is true of many religious terrorists. If the hard-talking, swaggering al Qaeda militants can be called Muslim terrorists, certainly Page can be called a Christian terrorist.
There’s plenty of evidence linking Page to white supremacism, but, as Juergensmeyer concedes, none pointing to his Christian piety.
Every orthodox Christian teaching with which I’m familiar condemns racism and white supremacism. Consider, for example, this, from St. Augustine: (more…)
Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 11:00 AM
My wife and I will have lunch at Chick-fil-A today. It’s not an uncommon experience in our family, since our son works there. (For the record, he and his sister are on a mission trip this week, working with immigrant kids, so they won’t be joining us. Also, for the record, my son is a Boy Scout, so he’s about as politically incorrect as it’s possible for a teenager to be.)
But I’m not writing this to announce our family’s fast food preferences or habits. Rather, I’m writing to suggest something about the limits of markets, disagreeing ever so slightly and subtly with my friend Jordan Ballor. Here’s what he says:
One of the great virtues of the free market system is that the customers get to decide what they value and why….
So if you don’t care one way or another about this issue, or don’t care about your service provider’s position (or lack thereof) and are “hungry for a chicken sandwich,” you, like Parler, will “eat at Chick-fil-A.” Such action just tells us that you don’t care to consider such things in making your decision to engage in a particular economic exchange.
But that doesn’t mean it is inherently wrong, or worse, indicative of an unchristian worldview, to take into account such things if you are moved by conscience to do so. This is, after all, why many people are motivated to buy fair trade or organic goods, or take into account any other number of subjective considerations in their valuation of a good or service. This is the same motive that is behind much of the impetus to pursue socially responsible investing (SRI).
In Jordan’s view, the free market enables consumers to base their preferences on whatever considerations they wish, to value what they wish to value in whichever way they wish to value it. If I wish to express my political or cultural support for my son’s employer, not just my appreciation of its product, I can do so. (more…)
Thursday, July 26, 2012, 9:30 AM
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s ringing endorsement of the traditional family has caused quite a stir. More than a few of my Gen X and Millennial former students have vowed (on Facebook) never to darken the doors of their erstwhile favorite chicken restaurant again. I can’t help but wonder if they’re so scrupulous about the political views of the owners of all the businesses they patronize. (For the record, I doubt it. Also for the record, so far as market behavior is concerned, the consumer is sovereign and can make his or her decision on the basis of any information–or misinformation–he or she chooses. Of course, I’d prefer information to misinformation, but markets are imperfect.)
But various politicians–among them, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno–have also jumped into the breach on behalf of their offended constituents. To be sure, like their constituents, they’re entitled to say whatever they want. And they can even refuse as individuals to patronize Chick-fil-A. But when they make the move from voicing their opinions to denying a building permit, business license, or contract on the basis of Dan Cathy’s views, they have, as Eugene Volokh observes, run afoul of the First Amendment, which doesn’t permit viewpoint discrimination.
Does Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel really want to spend his city’s scarce resources defending this aldermanic act against a plaintiff with strong convictions, deep pockets, and a solid First Amendment claim?
My advice to the political leaders out there: Use this as a proverbial “teachable moment” about toleration and the limits of government. My advice to the aggrieved proponents of same-sex marriage: politicians with the courtier spirit displayed by Mayor Menino and Alderman Moreno are not your best friends. They’ll pander to anyone loud enough and powerful enough.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 1:15 PM
President Obama’s remarks last week about the dependence of American businesspeople have provoked quite a bit of controversy. In case you’re living in a bubble, here’s what the President said:
“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back,” the president said. “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” he said. “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, “you know what, there’s some things we do better together.” That’s how we funded the GI Bill, that’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet, that’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president, because I still believe in that idea: You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
As Yuval Levin points out, the President is in part arguing with a hyperlibertarian straw man who rejects any role for government whatsoever. Au contraire, Levin avers, Obama’s opponents concede that there are certain things government does well: (more…)
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 1:15 PM
O.K., I’ll admit it up front. I haven’t yet read the decision, so I’m going entirely by what I’ve read about decision, which amounts mainly to half-digested reactions. My first thoughts are subject to massive revision, after I’ve had the time to read and think.
Nevertheless, here goes nothing….
First, according to this Court, it seems that the federal government’s taxing and spending authority is more extensive than its authority under the commerce clause. The mandate was upheld as a tax, not as a regulation of interstate commerce. Those who want to expand the reach of government–and they are legion–now have to phrase it in these terms. Since we have (for better or worse, more often than not the latter) used the tax code to offer all sorts of incentives and penalties for behavior, this isn’t necessarily anything new. I would have preferred a narrower reading of the taxing and spending authority, but that would probably have required a much greater judicial “revolution” than any majority on the current Court would have been willing to countenance. (more…)
Thursday, June 21, 2012, 4:43 PM
What was it that Cicero said? There is nothing so absurd that Peter Singer hasn’t said it? Something like that.
The Princeton philosophy professor’s latest effusion offers an extraordinarily limited conception of religious freedom. Taking up controversies in the Netherlands over restrictions on kosher and halal butchering, and in the U.S over the contraceptive mandate, Singer tells the pious, in effect, to get over it and subordinate their consciences to the wishes of the majority. If there isn’t an explicit religious requirement that Jews and Muslims must eat meat, that Catholics must operate universities and hospitals, then they can remain free to practice their religion in the privacy of their own homes, temples, mosques, and churches.
It’s that simple, he says. Professor Singer is quite comfortable deciding what the exercise of religion means, what genuine religious obligations are, for all the world’s faiths. We’re free so long as he says we are. In other instances, we should bend our knees before the preferences of the majority.
There’s nothing so absurd…
Monday, May 14, 2012, 10:00 AM
Increasingly, the name of the game is, according to David Gibson, “Golden Rule” Christianity: love your neighbor as yourself. This is what President Obama cited in explaining his support for same-sex marriage.
Of course, the gloss both Gibson and Obama give on this injunction is contestable. For them, respecting someone means endorsing or tolerating their choices and demands. (I recognize the difference between endorsement and toleration, but equivocate here because they equivocate.)
But cannot loving one’s neighbor as oneself also require that we hold them accountable for their sins and bear witness to them about the truth? In this context, by the way, toleration doesn’t require endorsement. It simply recognizes that in some instances the way to correct sin or error is not through punishment, but rather through admonition.
I’m tempted to argue that the position the President has taken represents the triumph of John Locke, who defined toleration as “the chief chracteristic mark of the true Church.” Locke meant in the first instance (more…)
Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 10:00 AM
Davidson College’s Board of Trustees is considering whether the institution’s requirement that its president be a Presbyterian should be upheld or abandoned. The considerations advanced are familiar: the supposed tension between excellence and an increasingly limited pool of eligible applicants; how the historic relationship contributes to present identity; and so on.
Davidson’s case is unusual and interesting because it seems to be one of the few mainline Presbyterian-affiliated colleges to have continued to uphold this requirement, while being perhaps the most academically prestigious of them all. An hypothesis: if there are “academic” difficulties in continuing to uphold this requirement, might it not have more to do with the diminution of the PCUSA than with anything else? A pool that was once probably large enough to provide an ample number of qualified prospects is indeed shrinking.
There is of course another issue, not really addressed by the article. If one defines “excellence” in purely secular terms, then it almost goes without saying that using denominational affiliation as a filter will have a cost in terms of quality. But why must one define excellence in purely secular terms?
In Davidson’s case, that ship has probably already sailed. But there remain plenty of denominationally-affiliated colleges and universities where the ship is sitll in the port (or perhaps hasn’t even been built yet). There is plenty of evidence that intellectual rigor and fidelity are not inconsistent with one another. Secularism and fundamentalism aren’t the only two options.
Thursday, May 3, 2012, 3:35 PM
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By now, almost everyone has heard or read that Vanderbilt University adopted an “all comers” policy for its student groups that has the effect of forcing some religious groups to choose between the benefits that attend recognition (access to university facilities and funding) and fidelity to their mission.
The Tennessee state legislature–which provides a non-negligble amount of financial support for the University–struck back, demnding that Vanderbilt either rescind its all-comers policy or apply it even-handedly to all groups (including those most sacrosanct of student organizations, fraternities and sororities).
But Tennessee’s governor Bill Haslam has announced that he will veto this bill.
“It is counter-intuitive to make campus organizations open their membership and leadership positions to anyone and everyone, even when potential members philosophically disagree with the core values and beliefs of the organization,” Haslam said in a prepared statement.
“Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”
David French isn’t buying Haslam’s argument: (more…)
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