Monday, March 28, 2011

Christian book recs

Someone asked me for a list of recommended books (if not classics). Here it is (in no particular order):

Thomas: Saving Life of Christ

Nee: Normal Christian Life; Sit, Walk, Stand; Changed in His Likeness; Love not the World

Foster: Celebration of the Disciplines

Willard: Spirit of the Disciplines; Divine Conspiracy (a post-DC study every summer)

Tozer: Knowledge of the Holy

Packer: Knowing God

Piper: Desiring God

Crabb: Inside out

Sanders: Spiritual Leadership

Murray: Two Covenants

Chesterton: Orthodoxy; The Everlasting Man

Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Great Divorce; Grief Observed

Hurnard: Hind’s Feet on High Places (a poor man’s Pilgrim’s Progress—that I like a lot more!)

Norris: Amazing Grace

Buechner: Wishful Thinking

Kass’ commentary on Genesis

Gregg’s commentary on Revelation

Any commentary by John Stott

Rob Bell's questions about heaven and hell: "Love Wins"

I haven't read Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived or seen him preach. I have a number of good, solid-Biblical/Christian friends who are fans of his.

Someone sent me the trailer on the book for feedback-- and I found it provocative but not at all over-the-line. It was mostly comprised of questions. In this, Bell follows in good or dangerous steps. After all, the ministry of Jesus featured questions as a dominant form of teaching and discipling. Then again, the devil's first words are in the form of a question!

Given the controversy, I would be careful with Bell. But I would be careful with his critics as well. Michael Youssef's response is very disappointing. In particular, a comparison to Bishop John Spong (if you know his work) is outrageous and slanderous. (Youssef also trashes The Shack-- when a more nuanced view would be much preferred.)

Al Mohler's review is far more thoughtful. Even so, I wonder if this is an example of exclusivists labeling inclusivists as universalists and liberals. (You might also notice that Mohler conflates "eternal punishment" with "eternal punishing". I don't know if Bell deals with any of the various forms of annihilationism in his book.)

I also wonder if Bell is saying that X doctrine is wrong OR that X doctrine is what we're known for, but not in balance with the related doctrines Y and Z.

It looks like a book that I'll have to read...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

one more reason why Newt for President is a bad idea...

Given his support of corn ethanol (hat tip: an interesting way for them to advertise, by the way)...

Cornfields vs. Oilfields

Thursday, March 17, 2011

defining Libertarian (vs. Conservative or Liberal) Morality

Excerpts from a long and interesting article by Ronald Bailey in Reason...

When it comes to morality, libertarians are often typecast as immoral calculating rationalists who also have a somewhat unseemly hedonistic bent. Now new social science research shows that libertarians are quite moral, just not in the same way that conservatives and liberals are.

University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done considerable previous work probing the moral differences between American liberals and conservatives, but came to recognize that a significant proportion of Americans did not fit the simplistic left/right ideological dichotomy that dominates so much of our political and social discourse. Instead of ignoring outliers, Haidt and his colleagues chose instead to dig deeper.

The result: A fascinating new study, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology”...involving moral surveys of more than 10,000 self-identified libertarians gathered online at the website

So what did the study find to be the basis of libertarian moral thinking? It will not surprise Reason readers that the study found that libertarians show (1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle and correspondingly weaker endorsement of other moral principles, (2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional intellectual style, and (3) lower interdependence and social relatedness....

In his earlier work, Haidt surveyed the attitudes of conservatives and liberals using what he calls the Moral Foundations Questionnaire which measures how much a person relies on each of five different moral foundations: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. Typically, conservatives scored lower than liberals on the Harm and Fairness scales and much higher on Ingroup, Authority, and Purity scales. In this case, libertarians scored low on all five surveyed moral dimensions....

The Schwartz Value scale measures the degree to which participants regard 10 values as guiding principles for their lives. Libertarians put higher value on Hedonism, Self-Direction, and Stimulation than either liberals or conservatives and they put less value than either on Benevolence, Conformity, Security, and Tradition. Like liberals, libertarians put less value on Power, but like conservatives they value Universalism less....Haidt and his colleagues eventually recognized that their Moral Foundations Questionnaire was blinkered by liberal academic bias by failing to include a sixth moral foundation, Liberty. They developed a liberty scale to probe this moral dimension....And guess what? The researchers found that libertarians dramatically outscored liberals and conservatives when it came to putting a high value on both economic and lifestyle liberty. Most dishearteningly, liberals scored two full standard deviations below libertarians on economic liberty....

Clearly, libertarians are not amoral. Rather, standard morality scales do a poor job of measuring their one central and overriding moral commitment.”...

the State against Blacks

Excerpts from Jason Riley's WSJ interview with Walter Williams-- on the occasion of the release of Williams' auto-biography, Up From the Projects.

The title of the blog post and the article is the title of Williams' first book and a summary statement of his most famous work.

'Sometimes I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I'm glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people...By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn't hesitate to criticize me—sometimes to the point of saying, 'That's nonsense.'"

Mr. Williams, an economist at George Mason University, is contrasting being black and poor in the 1940s and '50s with today's experience. It's a theme that permeates his short, bracing volume of reminiscence...

Williams recounts being raised by a single mom and then says this:

Even in the antebellum era, when slaves often weren't permitted to wed, most black children lived with a biological mother and father. During Reconstruction and up until the 1940s, 75% to 85% of black children lived in two-parent families. Today, more than 70% of black children are born to single women. "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do," Mr. Williams says. "And that is to destroy the black family."

Walter Williams was a libertarian before it was cool. And like other prominent right-of-center blacks—Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele—his intellectual odyssey began on the political left...

Mr. Williams distinguished himself in the mid-1970s through his research on the effects of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931—which got the government involved in setting wage levels—and on the impact of minimum-wage law on youth and minority unemployment. He concluded that minimum wages caused high rates of teenage unemployment, particularly among minority teenagers. His research also showed that Davis-Bacon, which requires high prevailing (read: union) wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects, was the product of lawmakers with explicitly racist motivations.

One of Congress's goals at the time was to stop black laborers from displacing whites by working for less money. Missouri Rep. John Cochran said that he had "received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics." And Alabama Rep. Clayton Allgood fretted about contractors with "cheap colored labor . . . of the sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country."...

Hoping to end our conversation on a sunnier note, I pose a final question about race. "A Man of Letters," Thomas Sowell's fabulous book of correspondence, includes a letter the Stanford economist sent in 2006 to Mr. Williams, whom he's known for four decades. "[B]ack in the early years," writes Mr. Sowell, "you and I were pretty pessimistic as to whether what we were writing would make an impact—especially since the two of us seemed to be the only ones saying what we were saying. Today at least we know that there are lots of other blacks writing and saying similar things . . . and many of them are sufficiently younger that we know there will be good people carrying on the fight after we are gone."

Asked if he shares his friend's optimism, Mr. Williams responds that he does. "You find more and more black people—not enough in my opinion but more and more—questioning the status quo," he says. "When I fill in for Rush, I get emails from blacks who say they agree with what I'm saying. And there are a lot of white people questioning ideas on race, too. There's less white guilt out there. It's progress."

if Kentucky is going to give taxpayer money for tourism, why not religious tourism?

Wilfred McClay in the WSJ on Kentucky's taxpayer-subsidized-ark-to-be...

When state governments cause controversy by offering money to local businesses, the story usually involves corruption, kickbacks, log-rolling, or insider favors. Rare is the scandal that centers on a proposed full-sized, "biblically correct" replica of Noah's Ark—but that's the situation today in Kentucky.

On Dec. 1, Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced that the state would provide tax incentives to support the construction of Ark Encounter, a sprawling theme park on 800 acres of rural Grant County. Under Kentucky's Tourism Development Act, the state can compensate approved businesses for as much as a quarter of their development costs, using funds drawn out of sales-tax receipts. It's a considerable sweetener to promote development and jobs.

But in this case, say critics, it may pose a constitutional problem. The developers of Ark Encounter have close ties to a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis, which promotes "young-earth" creationism—the belief that the account of creation provided in Genesis is scientifically accurate and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

The ministry has already established a Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, Ky., that has proven a major tourist attraction. Ark Encounter, a more commercial enterprise, plans to offer an array of animals to serve as ark-dwellers, a 10-story Tower of Babel, a recreation of a first-century Middle Eastern village, high-tech simulations of Old Testament stories, and a petting zoo. Designers say that every detail, down to the construction techniques of the Ark itself, will plausibly reflect the biblical account.

...civil libertarians' are concerned that the park would involve an unconstitutional advancement of religion. But over the past two decades federal law has moved toward nondiscrimination against religious organizations. This began with the "charitable choice" provisions in Bill Clinton's welfare-reform package, which sought to allow religious groups to receive government-funded social services. The trend continued with the Bush administration's promotion of faith-based initiatives, which the Obama administration has extended in barely modified form. The constitutional argument therefore seems tired, supporting a form of discrimination that the government is abandoning in other quarters...

Should the promotion of tourism be subject to this kind of discrimination? The legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has stated that he objects to the park receiving state funds because it "is about bringing the Bible to life." But why is that different, legally speaking, from Disneyland bringing Pirates of the Caribbean to life?...

Or are we dealing with a different problem entirely, the kind that inevitably arises when we allow the government to inject itself into the economy, supporting some businesses and not others, designating winners and losers, micromanaging and botching incentives...

America's robust commitment to religious liberty means allowing the widest possible latitude to such undertakings—and allowing criticism of them to flourish as well. Let the deluge begin.

McClay closes with an interesting discussion of evangelicalism, fundamentalism and the embrace of secular culture for godly ends. He also questions whether this is a good idea from a Christian perspective. But he has some useful things to say about government decisions to support business of any type.


A clever/awesome poem by Mark Amorose as printed in First Things...

Consider the fierce stone features of its face
a vaccination of demonic strain,
a backfire lit on purpose to contain
hell's wildfire outside this glade of grace.
For if the tale is true, it's put in place
to scare the scarer-- a sort of devil's bane
that guards the Lord Christ's castle and domain,
protecting teaching seat and sacred space.

But subtler, more clever than that tale,
the architect who realized the course
of rain from roof to street below could flow
through mocking masks avenged the first betrayal:
Making downspouts of demons, he would force
Satan to carry water for his Foe.

Jonathan Alter postures while complaining about (supposed) posturing by pro-lifers

From Jonathan Alter as reprinted in the C-J...

Do so-called pro-life activists want to posture about abortion or actually reduce the number of aborted fetuses each year? If it's the latter, they should be trying to expand Planned Parenthood, not kill it.

Nice pun, Jonathan! But what does he mean?

It's clear Capitol Hill conservatives now see defunding the organization as a top priority...Last month, the House of Representatives approved the Pence Amendment. The bill, sponsored by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, would prevent 830 Planned Parenthood health centers from distributing birth control and offering pregnancy tests, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, breast exams, and cancer screening, among other health services, unless the venerable family-planning organization refuses to discuss abortion as an option.

First, kudos to the GOP for finally stepping up on this issue. It's still disappointing that they didn't do this when they controlled the entire government, but better late than never-- and it's on the table now.

Second, if Alter is pro-choice, he should recognize that PP is pro-choice and that includes whether they choose to accept taxpayer money. You'd also think that he'd be happy to give voters a choice on this issue-- should their money go to fund abortions indirectly or not?

Planned Parenthood doesn't explicitly advocate abortion, but can help arrange for one if the woman so chooses.

Uhhh...Now, he gets to the finances of PP; check this out:

There was a time when Planned Parenthood could survive without federal funds. But today, out of an annual budget of about $1 billion a year, about a third of Planned Parenthood's support comes from the government, a third from co-pays and a third from private donations that couldn't possibly make up the difference.

So, if all of the pro-choice people in America contributed $3/year, they could finance all of this and more? C'mon! Quit being so cheap with something so important!

While funding for abortions constitutes only 3 percent of her budget, Richards says there's no discussion inside the organization of jettisoning that portion of the operation in the name of maintaining federal funding. With the $500 cost of an abortion beyond the reach of poor women and with abortion clinics closing all over the country under pressure from anti-abortion activists, Planned Parenthood will stand on principle that women should have the full array of legal choices.

Well, sometimes, we have to stand on some sort of principles, right? I appreciate her tenacity-- but sometimes you have to pay a modest (or even a steep) price for those principles.

Monday, March 7, 2011

my two recent papers on health care

The first just came out in Cato Journal-- Envisioning a Free Market in Health Care.

I'm still shopping the second paper around-- The Economics of Health Care and Health Insurance.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

WWJC: what would Jesus cut (out of the budget)?

From John David Dyche in the C-J...

Sojourners is an organization of “Christians who follow Jesus, but who also sojourn with others in different faith traditions and all those who are on a spiritual journey.” It describes its mission as being "to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world."

They are people who avidly follow the Bible in its insistent calls to pursue justice. But they're also people who generally ignore what the Bible says and implies about government as a means to godly ends.

The Sojourners website asks readers to send the following message to their congressional representatives in connection with the current budgetary debate:

“As a person of faith, I believe that the moral test of any society is how it treats its poor and most vulnerable. Our federal budget should reflect our best national values and priorities, so in regard to your upcoming budget vote I ask myself, ‘What would Jesus cut?'

“As your constituent, I ask you to oppose any budget proposal that increases military spending while cutting domestic and international programs that benefit the poor, especially children.”

As Dyche goes on to say, it's too bad they don't get far more principled here-- and argue, explicitly and passionately, for dramatic cuts in military spending. Perhaps, likely, they do that elsewhere...

The question, “What would Jesus cut?” is quite provocative. It can be credibly contended that Jesus would not concern himself with government budgeting whatsoever. Based on the extremely sparse evidence of what he believed, did, and said, he seemingly cared little, if any, about the politics of this world.

Jesus neither confronted nor lobbied his Roman rulers. Instead, he supposedly said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.” Jesus cared more about what individual people were doing directly to help the poor....

How about the entitlement programs that now threaten the country with national bankruptcy? As to Social Security Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, says, “It will require our best bipartisan thinking and collaboration” and “should raise fundamental moral questions about government and the common good, and be an opportunity to lift up our commitment to all our neighbors.”

Nice words as far as they go, but assuming Jesus would concern himself with this massive inter-generational wealth transfer program at all would he support a higher retirement age, means-testing, raising the payroll tax? Jesus just might wonder if America is actually better off after spending billions to build an unsustainable a social welfare state as its church membership steadily receded....

I know of a good book on this topic-- and the related topic of Christian involvement in social policy. Check it out!

Memphis' K-12 and rebellion against the (racist?) govt monopoly

From the AP's Adrian Sainz (hat tip: C-J)...

A bold bid by the struggling, majority-black Memphis City Schools system to force a merger with the majority-white, successful suburban district has fanned relatively routine fears over funding and student performance into accusations of full-blown racism...

Gotta love that...

On March 8, Memphis voters will decide whether to approve disbanding the city schools system and turning education over to the county district, which is earning good grades on its own and doing everything it can to stave off consolidation.

Memphis resident and school cafeteria worker Mary Washington questioned why Memphis schools would even want to give over its students to a system that doesn't want them.

"It's just like you losing your freedom going into bondage," Washington, who is black, said after an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees meeting... "In the background, in the foreground, it is about race."

Good point!

David Pickler, the white Shelby County School Board chairman, bristles at such claims.

"To say that we don't want someone because of the color of their skin to me is the most offensive thing someone can say to me," Pickler said...

Can't blame him for that! So, what does someone who believes in prevalent discrimination do with something like this?

There's also a growing feeling among some parents and students that the children are being ignored as adults make power plays and political moves...

That's common...

The spark for the schools consolidation fight began smoldering on Election Day last November, when Republicans took control of the state Legislature and saw Republican Bill Haslam win the governor's race. Shelby County's Republican politicians finally saw their chance to forever block a merger by securing special school district status.

The special status would draw a boundary around the Shelby County school district, protecting its autonomy and tax base -- and, according to Jones, taking $100 million a year from the already underfunded Memphis schools system....

The 2010-2011 budget for Memphis City Schools is about $890 million to cover 103,000 students, 85 percent of whom are black. For the 47,000-student Shelby County system, which is 38 percent black, it's more than $363 million...

One commenter on the website made this claim: "According to the TDOE state Report Card site, Memphis spent $10,767 per student '09-10 and Shelby $8,439. It's been this way a long, long time, Memphis leading the per-pupil spending of all districts in the state. All that money - an extra 27% over Shelby - and those D's and F's don't add up..."

That differs from the numbers presented in the article. (The difference may be capital spending.) But, amusingly, the reporter blindly accepts the "under-funded" claim when his own numbers indicate higher per-student spending in Memphis City ($8,641) than Shelby County ($7,723).

Pickler, who has asked a federal judge to invalidate the Memphis school board's decision to disband, says it's unfair that county voters will not be allowed to vote March 8. He says absorbing the Memphis system, which earned D's and F's from the state in important categories last year, would hurt academics in the county system, which received all A's.

A valid concern...

Pickler also argues the creation of one huge district will overstretch resources, possibly leading to job cuts among nontenured teachers, janitors and cafeteria workers. Schools that are operating under capacity could be closed....