Discussing
The misplaced faith of Obama's jobs speech

Jordan J. Ballor

Christian Bell
September 11, 2011

I’m disappointed to see this piece on Think Christian. Despite a welcome plea for unity today, we instead get a knock on the president from the Acton Institute. At the very least, could it have waited a day?<br><br><br>It’s not surprising Acton comes down against the American Jobs Act; Acton is strongly libertarian, and the AJA and the president have progressive agendas. So around and around we go again through a tiresome argument that never resolves.<br><br>Which is not to say that Jordan’s piece is driven by institutional agenda; it may simply be poorly considered. Jordan writes that a statement by President Kennedy “sounds like a pretty good paraphrase of the serpent’s promise ‘You will be like God.’” Kennedy’s statement comes from his commencement address at American University in 1963, in which Kennedy made an impassioned plea for peace with the Soviet Union against a backdrop of nuclear tension (<a href="http://www1.media.american.edu/speeches/Kennedy.htm)" rel="nofollow">http://www1.media.american.edu...</a>. When Kennedy said “Man can be as big as he wants,” he meant in the pursuit of peace.<br><br>Comparing one’s ideological opposite to the devil isn’t a particularly imaginative tactic, nor fruitful. In church this morning, we read from Ephesians 2, in which Paul reminds us we are “fellow citizens with God’s people, and also members of His household.” As fellow citizens, we can disagree; as members of His household, let’s be peaceful when we do.

Rickd
September 11, 2011

Jordan, you nailed it. This is one of the most cogent statements I have read on this site. President Obama may be a good man, well intentioned and professes to be a Christian, but I feel his problems are based in a faulty theology, in an inadequate view of the fall of man and an exaggerated view of the goodness and power of the human will. Man-made utopias gave us the gulags of the soviet union, the famines of Chairman Mao, the guillotines of the French revolution. Limited government, checks and balances, the rule of law, and competitive free markets respond best to and limit the evils present in the human heart. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only corrective for the fallen society of man.

Guest
September 12, 2011

Does the author suggest that somehow the collapse of the global financial system is God's doing? Or that human beings had nothing to do with America's escalating debt? If indeed these problems were caused by us, then we ought to take action to remedy them. <br><br>Also, I think the author's comparison of JFK's quote to the serpent's speech in the garden of Eden is clearly partisan. Haven't Republicans, Libertarians and Independents made similar comments about man's abilities that could be just as easily skewed?

Jamesggilmore
September 12, 2011

<i>The president closed his speech with a quote that illustrates perfectly the depth of the disconnect between today’s Washington and a properly Christian view of work and government. President Obama invoked the words of President John F. Kennedy: “Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.” Man can be as big as he wants. That sounds like a pretty good paraphrase of the serpent's promise, “You will be like God.”</i><br><br>I don't think that's just "Washington," though; in fact, I'd suggest that Washington is only a <i>symptom</i> of the place where we <i>really</i> need a more Christian perspective—private business, and particularly the multinational corporations that are now the dominant force in our global economy and governments and cultures around the world.<br><br>When a company's <i>sole purpose</i>—to the point where it can be <i>sued by its shareholders</i> for not pursuing this purpose vigorously enough—is to increase the short-term profit and share value of the company, <i>that's</i> where the problem lies. When those running corporations, and those owning corporations, believe that there is no value higher than their making as much money as they could possibly legally make, naturally the governments they buy will reflect the same values.<br><br>What we need is a truly Christian witness <i>in large business</i>—a witness that says that degrading or pillaging our environment, firing workers to make a few more bucks, undermining democracy, and fostering rampant individualism and consumerism in culture are <i>wrongs</i>, that they are subject to a <i>higher moral law</i> and <i>higher obligation</i> than their profits, that business <i>does</i> have moral ramifications.<br><br>I don't know businesspeople's hearts, but I do know their fruits ("By their fruits you shall know them")—and those fruits demonstrate that there are few if any people with any sense of morality, any knowledge of Christ, any notion that there is any higher value than their own selfish greed, currently occupying high-rise corporate or financial offices in Manhattan.<br><br>Since we have decided that it is money, not the common good, that will dictate what happens in our society, culture, media, and government, then the source of moral decay in our culture can be traced back to those who have the money—the wealthy and corporations. <i>That</i> is where we need a Christian perspective in which loving God and loving one's neighbor take priority over one's own gain, and <i>that</i> is where the church should be directing its prophetic voice expressing God's demand for justice. Until the wealthy and corporations acknowledge a higher law than their own selfish, immoral, Satanic greed, we shouldn't expect anything different out of the Washington politicians they've bought.

Adam Lehman
September 12, 2011

Christian, exactly same thoughts I had. <br><br>It felt odd to read this piece on Think Christian. Felt like it should be from a different site. <br><br>It would have been really easy to write a post about how American's have an overly misplaced trust in the government, celebrity, news, consumerism, pleasure or money without eroding to political rhetoric. <br><br>

JCarpenter
September 12, 2011

as Pastor K. De Young put it "Profits, not politics, are where jobs come from"---<br>so a President gets criticized for not acknowledging God in the details, yet a pastor can pontificate on economics?

Guest
September 12, 2011

<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/09/barack-obama-usa" rel="nofollow">http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl...</a><br>It is a promotional speech for a bill at a secular podium on a Friday in front of a multi-faith nation and Congressional Assembly by the Commander and Chief charged with upholding the individual's constitutional right to practice their own private faith. <br><br>We are good at blaming others, even God, when life takes a turn for the worse. I, for one, am glad he laid the blame for poor stewardship at home and said let's work together and fix this. <br><br>Sovereignty is a tough sell when you've been stepped on by the world. It is not something you can explain in a soundbite.<br><br>Even God's dearly loved sparrow, having fallen from its nest, has to get up, dust itself off and go out looking for food or it will starve. God may give it strength and courage but God isn't going to bring the worms to the sparrow.<br><br>...<br><br>"President Kennedy once said, "Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants."These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let's meet the moment. Let's get to work, and show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth."...Note: The speech writer was probably closing the speech on a an rising scale using big as is "be the bigger man" connect to "bigger than our politics" then slide into greatest nation on Earth. It was likely an attempt to overcome partisanship.   JMHO

Marty Wondergem
September 12, 2011

Adam - no doubt that we need Christian perspectives in private business, and my guess is that Jordan/Acton Institute would agree wholeheartedly on that.<br><br>However, reducing companies to immoral greed monsters isn't helpful (and not truthful for that matter). We also need to fight against making them amoral non-thinking automatons. It's this mentality, which is propagated equally by its critics, that encourages people of faith in positions of influence to compromise their integrity under the justification of "it's just business" because that's somehow what everyone expects.Companies first and foremost have to make things other people need and employ other people to fulfill those needs... not simply be evil. Granted those needs aren't always basic, in fact, almost everything we buy isn't a basic need. The consumerism argument is understandable, but it's a pretty slippery slope to start drawing a line of reason on what's acceptable in our modern, rich country.<br>We need moral agents, not just in big companies, but everywhere and anywhere. It's very easy to tell other people/companies what to do with their profits, but no one likes to be told what to do with their own. We all have the greed monster inside of us. We all need to be stronger moral agents in our spheres of influence.<br><br>Corporate Social Responsibility may be a buzzword, and not every company does it out of the best intentions, but it is a direct result of people of moral conviction putting pressure on corporations (from the outside and within). <br><br>The prophetic voice of the church is needed to encourage greater conviction in us, not by vilifying "them".

Jamesggilmore
September 12, 2011

<i>However, reducing companies to immoral greed monsters isn't helpful (and not truthful for that matter). We also need to fight against making them amoral non-thinking automatons.</i><br><br>But they're required to be just that. If a company and its leadership <i>aren't</i> 100% devoted to profits above all other concerns, the shareholders sue them or remove the leadership. Certainly, that requirement is a choice we've made as a culture (goaded on by the wealthy's ownership and cooptation of virtually all forms of media, as well as their ownership and cooptation of government), but within the context of the system we live in, it is all but impossible for a publicly-traded for-profit corporation to act morally. When given the choice between a moral option that will limit profits, and an immoral option that will produce greater profits, they are <i>compelled by the system</i> to choose the latter each and every time.<i>It's this mentality, which is propagated equally by its critics, that encourages people of faith in positions of influence to compromise their integrity under the justification of "it's just business" because that's somehow what everyone expects</i><br><br>I don't think it does encourage people of faith in positions of influence to compromise their integrity; rather, I think it plays up the contradictions between American business culture and the Kingdom of God, and makes it clear to those in business that they cannot serve both God and mammon.<br><br><i>Companies first and foremost have to make things other people need and employ other people to fulfill those needs... not simply be evil. </i><br><br>No they don't. They first and foremost have to make money. If they can make money by not providing anything a person needs—as the companies engaged in trading things like "credit default swaps" did—they do that without thinking twice. Please tell me exactly what we "need" from all those rich people in the Manhattan high-rises. They're not doing work or providing anything; they're making money hand over fist by finding newer, more creative ways to move around the products and profits that are the fruits of the labor of people who actually do useful things—and finding newer and more creative ways to screw those people over.<br><br>Even for companies that actually make things, their incentive is to provide as little product for as much price as possible, to employ as few people as possible as cheaply as possible, to make as much money as they possibly can get away with making no matter what the moral cost. If closing the American factory that's supported a community for a generation and shipping those jobs over to a Chinese subcontractor that'll pay its workers pennies a day is what makes money, then by gum they'll do it, and not think twice about the families whose lives they're ruining or the community they're smashing to smithereens.<br><br><i>We need moral agents, not just in big companies, but everywhere and anywhere. It's very easy to tell other people/companies what to do with their profits, but no one likes to be told what to do with their own. We all have the greed monster inside of us. We all need to be stronger moral agents in our spheres of influence. [...] The prophetic voice of the church is needed to encourage greater conviction in us, not by vilifying "them".</i><br><br>I think that's a bit of a cop-out, to be perfectly honest. Sure, we all have greed and selfishness within us, but my greed and selfishness didn't destroy a community last week, aren't causing homelessness and degradation, aren't corrupting our democracy. Those things are the fault of the wealthy capitalists, and it is at them that the Prophets direct their ire today as in ancient Israel. It is they who exploit and mistreat their workers, it is they who destroy the environment, it is they who buy our government and our media so that they will work in the interests of the wealthy and not the common good. <br><br>Certainly, we should be aware of where our money is going, and try to spend and invest it in ways that are more responsible; certainly we should be good consumers in making efforts to patronize companies that treat their workers well and do sustainable business. But our power is limited, even collectively, to that which we know about—and if the wealthy continue to be successful in buying government and rolling back regulations that require them to disclose or limit the extent to which they are abusing us, they will continue to rob us of that power.<br><br>Ultimately, the decision to put profits above all other things lies at the heart of our capitalist system, and it is that decision that needs to be first called out <i>as</i> a decision—rather than portrayed as a preexisting condition inherent to the doing of business. <br><br>The prophetic perspective makes it clear that each and every homeless child on the street, each and every hungry mouth on this planet, each and every person who dies because they can't afford health care, is the result of <i>choices</i> we've made as a society; we have enough shelter in our world, enough food in our world, enough doctors and nurses and medicine in our world, to ensure that the basic needs of each and every human being on this planet are met. The fact that we have need in our world is because we choose a system that distributes many resources to the few, rather than using them for the common good.

Rickd
September 12, 2011

This was a deeply partisan, political speech. Jordan is right to question it. Thanks Think Christian for publishing Jordan. The repeated urgings to pass it tomorrow, pass it right away leaves no room for the deliberations of the House and Senate. That is what they are there for. The government was designed with checks and balances. The earliest something like this would have a chance of passing, even with a favorable congress, would be December. Secondly, we are struggling with a bi-partisan committee to find 1.5 trillion dollars worth of cuts by November, an extremely daunting task. To come out with a new jobs plan costing half a trillion and put it on the shoulders of this committee is cynical. It is like saying, I am throwing you a big birthday party and by the way, here's the bill. Going to the public the next day to sell the jobs bill to the public is really the start of his re-election campaign. Does anyone really doubt that? And James, I have run two companies in the Pacific Northwest and each day was bathed in prayer, we had a deep commitment to the welfare of our employees and refused to handle clients that produced harmful products. We provided a decent living wage to the families our employees represented. Business is noble, it provides a living for families.

Drew
September 12, 2011

Marty, I think you've unintentionally pinpointed the Christian-market disagreement that Bailor/Acton try to bury: free-market ideology (such as that promoted by Friedman, Hayak, etc) refuses to assign the moral agency to businesses you're advocating. Instead, businesses are simply profit maximizers responding to consumer demands. Friedman was very critical of corporate social responsibility or even positive ethical practices: instead the "moral good" of business is explicitly reduced to minimal compliance with what the market will tolerate. Any sort of positive business ethics thus becomes doing the minimal good allowed by the market while maximizing profit. Not only that, market compliance itself--meeting consumer demand, maximizing profits, reducing labor costs, fighting environmental regulations--becomes sacralized by Acton as a service to the larger society, essentially baptizing the totalizing pursuit of profit as Christian virtue (see "Business as a Calling" or "The Entrepreneurial Vocation"). Instead of highlighting the antithetical natures of self-interested business actors and the Christian call to self-sacrifice, Acton typically plays the part-cheerleader/part-high priest role of blessing free market activity from the sidelines. The Koch brothers and other corporate-moneyed interests are pleased to keep this cheerleader-priest on their payroll.<br><br>There are aspects of Bailor's/Acton's work that I respect, but it continually saddens me that they won't take a Kingdom-focused role in helping more people understand and properly critique the moral complexities of consumer capitalism. Such a stance would obviously not please their many Right-leaning donors, which suggests political ideology trumps any sort of effort to "Think Christian."

Marty Wondergem
September 12, 2011

When given the choice between a moral option that will limit profits, and an immoral option that will produce greater profits<br>Millions of decisions are made every day in business and none of them are this simple.<br><br>Please tell me exactly what we "need" from all those rich people in the Manhattan high-rises.<br><br>Local and national banks rely on all those people in high-rises. Have you ever gotten a loan in a bank?<br><br>Even for companies that actually make things, their incentive is to provide as little product for as much price as possible, to employ as few people as possible as cheaply as possible, to make as much money as they possibly can get away with making no matter what the moral cost. <br><br>Would you similarly characterize workers as doing as little as possible to get paid the most? <br><br>my greed and selfishness didn't destroy a community last week<br><br>Your non-greed didn't build or save a community either.<br><br>Ultimately, the decision to put profits above all other things lies at the heart of our capitalist system<br><br>Name one functioning system operated by humans where greed isn't a immoral influence.<br><br>The fact that we have need in our world is because we choose a system that distributes many resources to the few, rather than using them for the common good.<br><br>2000 years of Christian charity has failed to pull as many people out of poverty as what globalization and free-r markets have done in the past 100 years. (Google Hans Rosling)<br><br>Capitalism certainly has problems. But problems are a dime a dozen, and it doesn't take much to point them out. Working solutions are the real challenge, and nobody seems to be capable of building something better.

Bethanykj
September 12, 2011

As my former Bible teacher used to say "a text without a context is a pretext for trouble." Reading that quotation in context certainly adds to the meaning.

Adam McLane
September 12, 2011

"The president closed his speech with a quote that illustrates perfectly the depth of the disconnect between today’s Washington and a properly Christian view of work and government.<br><br>As if you get to define what a "properly Christian view" is? Kind of an arrogant stance if you ask me. <br><br>I find the rhetoric of this post more anti-Obama than pro-Christian.

Rickd
September 12, 2011

Here’s some context. This was a quote from President Kennedy in a speech at the Commencement Address at American University in June, 1963, about the hopeful prospects for peace in the world. It expresses a naive kind of hubris about our own benevolence and powers that conveniently ignores history.<br><br>“First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable - that mankind is doomed - that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade - therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be a big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. (!!) Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable - and we believe they can do it again”<br><br>This speech was given during the time Kennedy was escalating the military action in Viet Nam. This was 23 years after the conclusion of World War 2, fifteen years after the end of the Korean war, 6 months before his own assassination, 5 years before Martin Luther King was assassinated, 5 years nearly to the day his brother Robert was assassinated. Since then we have seen wars in Viet Nam, South America, Cambodia, wars in Yugoslavia, wars in Iraq, wars in Afghanistan, wars in Libya (of course I am missing several here). Kennedy’s quote, though noble sounding was disastrously bad theology. The world will not be at peace until the Prince of Peace steps foot on this planet again. It would be smart of us to realize that “the heart of man is desperately wicked above all things”. It would be smart of us to negotiate from a position of strength, to keep a strong vigilant army, to pray and negotiate for peace, but to come to the aid of the weak and oppressed. It would also be wise for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and to express gratitude to a mighty God rather than express the hubris that we can solve all things and be as big as we want. We are in need of regeneration.<br><br>I surely wouldn’t end a speech with this particular quote. But that’s just me.

Marty Wondergem
September 12, 2011

&gt; it continually saddens me that they won't take a Kingdom-focused role in<br> helping more people understand and properly critique the moral <br>complexities of consumer capitalism<br><br>Exactly. And I'm disappointed that neither Acton on the right, or it's critics on the left properly frame all of the complexities of consumer capitalism. For critics such as yourself, there is an inferred fallacy that everything that's good with consumer capitalism is easily obtainable elsewhere, and the problems are simply poor choices by other/rich people. That's a little too convenient to be reality.<br><br>Is it possible that you could explain to me the inherent greater nobility/morality in government social responsibility over corporate social responsibility?<br><br>While Acton isn't perfect (as none of us are), I still think highlighting the moral good (and imago Dei) in creating something that has value to others is a worthwhile pursuit.<br><br>The continual mantra that everyone doing business in this world is participating in an immoral activity is dangerously unhelpful.

Drew
September 13, 2011

Not sure why you assumed from my comment that I would advocate government social responsibility over corporate social responsibility. My argument was simply pointing out the tension between free market incentives for maximizing self-interest and the commands of Christ to deny ourselves and serve others. Once we agree to recognize what are obviously highly moral dimensions of business and economic behavior (and thus depart from Friedman/Rand/others), we could have a much fuller discussion of how government, corporate, and individual/private actors could together bring about a more just society (see: Catholic Social Teaching).

Marty Wondergem
September 13, 2011

The complexity you fail to recognize is that you must serve others in order to maximize self interest in the free market. <br><br>I'm certainly not advocating a moral absence from business. Noone from Acton is proposing selling pornography, burning rain forests, and employing sweatshops as long as you make money and employ people.<br><br>If one side refuses to recognize the any moral good in business and economic behavior, we can't have a fuller discussion about the role of government, business and private citizens.

Drew
September 13, 2011

It's fascinating how you're perceiving my argument here. Perhaps you're not seeing the distinction between "recognizing moral dimensions" and judging all business activity to be intrinsically immoral. I am advocating the former; you seem to think I am generalizing the latter, for all cases? I'd be curious how you're getting that.<br><br>Sweatshops and burning rain forests are an example of what I'm talking about: the market incentivizes both (reduce labor and production costs). More problematically, one ALWAYS engages in such activities in order to serve others, the moral good you are praising (evil for evil's sake is not incentivized by the market, thankfully). Serving others through creating desirable products and employing people, then, is an insufficient basis for evaluating the moral aspects of free market activity. Such a stance would leave you singing praise for a long history of businesses who did exactly that, while also committing significant grievances to human dignity and the environment. Acton's strategy is to remain silent on such occurrences: businesses somehow stand as a-moral or can-only-do-right actors against a backdrop of evil individuals and corrupt state actors. A quite remarkable worldview, but one that fails empirically, historically, and theologically.<br><br>We might actually agree on these moral complexities, but you seem insistent I am arguing for things I am not arguing. :-/

Marty Wondergem
September 13, 2011

My apologies - I think I misread some of your response.<br><br>Freedom in general doesn't incentivize moral choices, we all assume that we balance moral choices with freedom. We assume that some immoral choices are made unlawful, and yet there are still moral choices to be made outside of that.<br><br>Free markets are simply an extension of freedom applied to economic activity.<br><br>&gt; is an insufficient basis for evaluating the moral aspects of free market activity<br><br>Click on "about" on <a href="http://acton.org" rel="nofollow">acton.org</a> and you will see the phrase "Integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles". Your argument seems to be that Acton advocates that free markets and Judeo-Christian Truths are one in the same. I would argue that you're misrepresenting them based on a straight forward reading of their position clearly stated on the website. If you feel otherwise, please give me an example of Bailor/Acton not living up to their mission.<br>Let me say again: noone at Acton or I would say that anything goes under the free market. I'm not defending Rand or Hayek. I'm defending regular Christians who are advocates of free markets and morality.<br><br>To push laissez faire without morality on Bailor/Acton/me, as you did in your first response, is to insist we are arguing for things we are not arguing.

Drew
September 13, 2011

&gt; Your argument seems to be that Acton advocates that free markets and Judeo-Christian Truths are one in the same.<br><br>Hmmm...yes and no. They certainly don't reduce Judeo-Christian Truths to free market ideology. It's more they find the two to be in perfect union. I would be willing to donate $100 to Acton if you can find 5 places in their blog where they've critiqued a free market theorist from a Christian perspective, or where they've called out a business for something that might be legal but violates Christian dignity or morality. My take is the Judeo-Christian principles are only employed very selectively and somehow seem to avoid any sort of moral imperative beyond doing what the market incentives as profit-maximizing. Conveniently, all market actors then become highly moral beings in this moral universe.<br><br>It's the very definition of marrying an ideology with a theology. That practice plays a very nasty role in world history.

Jordan Ballor
September 14, 2011

Might we agree that an idolatrous aggrandizement of humanity is not the right way to ground a properly Christian view of government?

Jordan Ballor
September 14, 2011

It's not clear to me that President Obama's usage of the quote is controlled at all by that quote's original context. President Obama is talking about jobs and President Kennedy is talking about peace in our time. I suppose you could follow line of Paul VI in Populorum Progressio and say that "development" is the "new name for peace." But I'm not sure how much President Obama or his speech writers have been reading from the social encyclicals lately. In any case, the critique wasn't intended to be leveled so much against the original usage, whatever its context, but against its usage in this particular speech. The context makes the conclusion clear, I think: We are not to be ruled by any "rigid idea" about what government can and cannot do, or what man can or cannot do, and so therefore man (and perhaps government) can be as big as we want.

Jordan Ballor
September 14, 2011

Would it have been better if I had quoted an economist on economics there? I could probably find one or two who make the same point. I noted Rev. DeYoung's post in particular for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it had recently appeared, spoke directly to the topic at hand, and was from someone known in Reformed circles. And yes, I do hold the president and a pastor to different standards, and I wouldn't call a blog post "pontificating."

Jordan Ballor
September 14, 2011

This is an interesting exchange, and worth more time and response than I can offer now. But it seems to me at the very least that all the work that has been done at Acton on natural law, from various perspectives (e.g. Reformed, Roman Catholic) would be evidence against the idea that we deny "moral imperative beyond doing what the market incentivizes(?) as profit-maximizing" or what is merely "legal." That's the whole idea of a law beyond law, the rule of law, so to say, that holds our behavior to a higher absolute moral standard.

Jordan Ballor
September 14, 2011

"Haven't Republicans, Libertarians and Independents made similar comments about man's abilities that could be just as easily skewed?"<br>Yes, and if the speech had quoted a figure from another party or been given by someone from another party I would have said the same thing. That quote reminded me quite strongly at the time of that original temptation to self-aggrandizement we find in Genesis 3, and it still does. Whether that's skewing the meaning of the quote or actually identifying the humanist ideology that undergirds it is for the reader to judge.

Marty Wondergem
September 14, 2011

Yes, the greatest dignity comes from a "union" of freedom and morality. You'll have to make a better case to make me think otherwise.<br><br>&gt; I would be willing to donate $100 to Acton if you can find 5 places in their blog<br><br>That's just silly. I will give you $100 if you can find 5 articles on <a href="http://sojo.net" rel="nofollow">sojo.net</a> where they critique examples of misguided Christian charity. Do you honestly believe advocacy organizations should work this way, or just ones that don't share your politics?<br><br>&gt; My take is the Judeo-Christian principles are only employed very selectively<br><br>By whom? Everyone? Acton? <br><br>&gt;It's the very definition of marrying an ideology with a theology. That practice plays a very nasty role in world history.<br><br>What would be an example of a human system in world history that has not played a nasty role at some point or in some regard?

Guest
September 14, 2011

//But as pastor Kevin DeYoung put it so convincingly last week, “profits,” not politics, are “where jobs come from.” //<br><br>Christianity got problems if this is the basis of your worldview and a way to justify capitalism as the best form of gov't for christians.<br><br>American capitalism was built on the backs of indentured servants, native americans and black african slaves. And people like that pastor DeYoung want to encourage capitalism for it's CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES?<br><br>Go fly a kite. Individual work and responsibility? " all things, including wealth and poverty, come by God’s “fatherly hand.” This is not how America was built. This blogger has his head in the sand.<br>Furthermore, this: Man can be as big as he wants. That sounds like a pretty good paraphrase of the serpent’spromise, “You will be like God." &lt;&lt;&lt; is just idiotic.

Guest
September 14, 2011

The speech was carefully crafted by high level speech writers. It has their "tells" all over it. The president likely never gave your controversial quote much thought at all. They pulled something from Kennedy for the empathy value. They used the rule of 3 to frame the "hallelujah chorus" in his last lines. Big, Bigger, Greatest. <br><br>My point really was... IT'S JUST RHETORIC POEPLE - GET OVER IT!<br><br>If you want an intelligent discussion of the morality of the jobs bill - GREAT! Discuss the detail IN THE JOBS BILL. But don't hang it on that silly quote at the end. We may as well read meaning into the VP's choice of Ties.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
September 14, 2011

We here at ThinkChristian would welcome that sort of discussion, guest. What do you make of the jobs bill, from a Christian perspective? Is Obama's plan in line with a Christian understanding of things like vocation and loving one's neighbor?

Guest
September 14, 2011

As a Canadian we are neighbours and I can tell you we are waiting to see if the "Buy American" clause will affect more Canadian jobs or if the Congressmen and women representing States reliant on two way traffic of goods and services will have a voice in softening these protectionist measures. Such measures hurt both our nations in 2009 and hopefully can be avoided now. It is difficult to say the US company may not buy steel from Canada then still expect Canadians to buy Chryslers when Canadians can buy "Made in Canada" Toyotas. I certainly understand new contracts etc. I just don't want standing contracts messed up. Canada trades in good faith and produces materials and services without the use of child labour. My general feeling is that if the bill can improve life within US borders, without that gain being at the harm of it's neighbours who do business in good moral standing, it is good.<br><br>I have not read the detail of the bill but may soon if it is posted as America's health affects our own.<br><br>Investing in infrastructure, roads, bridges, schools etc is something that I believe is part of a Christian work ethic. I think any time you give can give people a sense of purpose along with the pay check, instead of a welfare check, you do the country a favour. <br><br>Acedia or dejection along with despair and wrath are among the seven deadly sins. I believe that being out of work and unable to provide for one's family breeds these feelings in the heart and if this bill can fight against despair, wrath/anger, and dejection and bring hope, then it is doing Christ's work in Man's hands.<br><br>Canada had a similar investment in infrastructure, education, jobs, retraining, even tax credits for things like home renovations and children's sports programs. People out of work went back to school for a while or worked on their homes or spent more time volunteering with overfilled pee-wee sports programs. Times were tough but the tough got out of bed and off the couch. We also hiked the cost of beer and cigarettes if I remember right?? (We jokingly refer to it as the sin tax also controlled by the government.) I remember one politician saying something to the effect that we could either hire the kids to paint the bridges or they would be hanging out at night vandalizing them. He was a strong supporter of hiring within the community. Emotional infrastructure is as important as the bridges and paint.<br><br>The jobs speech promised to close tax loopholes for the greedy, gluttonous, oil companies and the rich wall street executives. You can't fight greed and lust or gluttony easily but you can make those profiteering, or simply profiting pay the lion's share. I believe if the actual bill was fairly represented by the speech, it might attempt to do that - which may be its downfall unfortunately. The emotional infrastructure of areas such as Detroit are crumbling and even parts of DC are so visibly divided between the rich and the poor that repairing that divide will require taking some advantage from the rich to provide for the Jobs bill in the short term. The bill promises to make it financially beneficial - a win/win - for the small business man to hire his neighbour. Looks to me like both the man fallen by the road and the good Samaritan stand to benefit in this version. <br><br>When Jesus fed the 5,000 he didn't start with empty baskets. He started with 5 loaves and 2 fish.<br><br>

Normwise
September 16, 2011

I would agree that the President was unwise to quote President Kennedy in a statement that clearly demonstrates both President's underlying belief in humanism.  Ideally the President would have encouraged us to trust that God in HIS kind providence would help us to get out of these difficult times.  The point he was attempting to make was that there was hope for recovery if we did the right things and that our problems were not without solutions.  He was speaking against the spirit of despair and hopelessness that can guide a time of economic depression.  In one way he was calling us to repent and to believe that if we did repent then there was still  hope that our actions could have a positive impact.  Sadly he reflected what has always been a part of American culture which is a mixture of faith in God with self reliant pragmatism.

SiarlysJenkins
September 16, 2011

This seems to me an awfully presumptuous polemic, hanging its faint touch of spirituality by a very slender thread.<br><br>Whether or not "profits, not politics, are where jobs come from," religious faith has darn little to do with either one. There is no "Christian politically correct position" that the president is right, wrong, or in what ways he is right and wrong. Nor is there a Christian consensus on when it is or is not acceptable to run up debt, or on where we would be without generations of enterprise in the private sector. If you look back 100 years, there was a thriving and popular school of Christian socialism, not so much in the big bad liberal cities (which weren't so liberal, nor even Democratic), but in the small towns and medium cities of the midwest, the west, even the south. That wasn't THE Christian standard either, but it was a legitimate part of the Body of Christ. And there was a certain Baptist Sunday School teacher who was not called "robber baron" for nothing.<br><br>Our ECONOMIC problems ARE man-made. As a wise mother said sharply to a daughter in significant trouble who had just sobbed "There is no God"... "Oh yes there is. And he didn't get you into this mess, and he's not going to get you out of it." I think this essay misses something about the "dignity of causality." Part of the dignity is that our work CAUSES the situation we then find ourselves in. God allows us the dignity of working it out, RATHER THAN our work being secondary to a <i>Deus ex machina</i> who will step in and save us.<br><br>God does, subtlely, have an impact in our lives. I have a sense that by the statistical probability of a cold indifferent universe, I ought to be homeless right now, instead of enjoying the shelter of my own little studio where I can store a modest library that I dearly love, and cook food I can afford to buy. But we do have some work to do, and it would be irresponsible for our president to stand by and say "You who are unemployed, wait upon the Lord, he will provide in his own good time." <br><br>Now as a matter of economics, I would agree that there is only so much politicians or government can do. This renders it an act of some hypocrisy that we all troop to the polls and vote according to "Am I feeling good today?" as if the incumbents are responsible for our feeling good or bad, or as if the new candidate is likely to turn it all around. I would not agree that we should all bow down to and serve the owners of businesses as "job givers." They don't run businesses to create jobs. Right now, some of them are sitting on record profits, but they haven't rehired all the people they laid off in 2008-2009. As Christians, we should be asking ourselves, was the market made for man, or was man made for the market? I don't find the latter in the opening chapters of Genesis.<br><br>Obama could have done much better. He could have announced a massive public works program to rebuild ailing infrastructure, and financed it, no deficit spending, by a substantial tax on incomes over $500,000 -- the fiscally prudent way to do this. I could find verses in Amos, Isaiah, Nehemiah, and the Epistle of James, to sustain that this is a Christian way to go. But he is already pushing the envelope on what he might get John Boehner to allow through the House.

Makemenfree
September 17, 2011

I appreciated the post.  I was under the impression that thinkchristian was a left-leaning Christian site which believed in the power of gov't to right the sins of the free market.  I will check back more often now, and will check out the Acton Institute, which I have never heard of.

SiarlysJenkins
September 17, 2011

"Would you similarly characterize workers as doing as little as possible to get paid the most? "<br><br>In a capitalist system, yes. The last full time job I had was driving a paratransit bus. I developed, as most drivers did, a commitment to my passengers, but I and my passengers SHARED a contempt for management. I also recognized that the individuals employed in local managerial positions were not to be blamed personally, because their options were shaped by regional and national managers, whose options were shaped by CEO's and major shareholders.<br><br>Most of us would cheerfully do as little as possible for the company, while eking out the maximum time on the clock that the company had to pay us for, except that we would go out of our way to meet the needs of our passengers -- often directly violating our designated instructions to do so.<br><br>In the absence of other human beings in direct contact with management, there is even more incentive to do as little as possible to get paid the most.<br><br>Businesses CAN be run in ways that employees feel they are part of the business, and will benefit as the business prospers, because the business is structured in a manner that this is TRUE. But most businesses are too short-sighted to do that, OR, as with Google, they are awash with cash and feel it is no biggie to give lots of perks to employees. (I suspect Google relies on work done by horrible sweatshops somewhere down the line also).<br><br>It was big news almost twenty years ago when a man who built a business from nothing over his entire life, never turned to the stock market to finance it for him, sold it for many millions of dollars and retired. Why was it news? Because he provided each employee (presumably those who had been with the company for some time -- maybe all of them had been) with one million dollars, after taxes, from the proceeds. That should be THE way its done - recognizing that all employees contribute to making the business a success. No doubt he had long since provided the employees benefits and subjective participation that inspired them to do as much as possible, knowing they were both appreciated for it and being paid for it. Capitalism doesn't generally do that. This man had to swim against the current all his life.<br>

SiarlysJenkins
September 17, 2011

To say that jobs come from profits is one step removed from the truth, just as it is one step removed from the truth to assert that in order to maximize profit one must provide a useful service to others.<br><br>In a primitive hunter-gatherer economy, or even a subsistence agricultural community where everyone has access to land, everyone has work to do, and everyone benefits from their work. In a slightly more complex barter community, getting something you need from your surplus that you can't use, depends on your surplus being of some use to someone else, who needs it.<br><br>It a small-scale money economy, where ideally everyone has their own business, getting some money into your business does indeed depend on offering something that others need, and therefore will pay for.<br><br>But when it comes to massive interstate commerce, or a global economy, jobs come from somebody with money wanting to hire you, whether is is old inherited money in the hands of someone who wants a butler and a domestic staff, or someone running a scam (legal or illegal) that skims or manufactures money, with or without providing something anyone needs, or even by convincing people they need something they were doing perfectly fine without.<br><br>Somewhere in there, the individual enterprise becomes a thing that exists to turn a profit, whether or not it provides anything useful. It that enterprise can be profitable without hiring, then it will not hire.<br><br> "creating something that has value to others is a worthwhile pursuit.

SiarlysJenkins
September 17, 2011

At risk of exaggerating what rickd meant, but repeating the essence of what he said: So until Jesus comes back peace is a bad thing to attempt to build or seek or establish even a little bit of, and we might as well have the biggest baddest wars we can? We are not to try to perfect ourselves, to "be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect"? (No, we CAN'T be perfect, but we were told to be, so apparently we are to TRY to get as close as we can.) Maybe we should TRY for peace also? <br><br>The possibility that this was a partisan speech, that the campaign to pass the bill is the beginning of a re-election campaign, says nothing about whether the bill is Christian, unChristian, anti-Christian, or irrelevant to Christianity. It is merely a partisan, political comment about a partisan, political speech.<br><br>On the merits, I think I could have designed a better way to tackle what government can do and get out of the way of what government cannot do, but then, I don't have the awesome responsibilities of being President weighing on me every day. If I had my druthers, as a libertarian who supports the President, I would take simplification of the tax code from the Tea Party playbook, but do it in a manner that does result in a simplified progressive system of taxation, leaves families with the basics of what it takes to live on untaxed, leaves workers most of the next few percentiles, and tax the levels of income up to 50% that are way beyond necessary, without reaching the point of near-confiscation. Keep life simple for the majority, and it would work.

Jay
September 18, 2011

Reap what you sow.America is now paying for the direction it has been on the last 30 years.Corporate leaders sold out American workers when they moved all their manufacturing plants offshore. Now the factories stand empty and main street is now a ghost town.<br>Job fair lines have thousands standing for hours for a few hundred jobs.<br>Meanwhile CEO`s are making millions of dollars each.<br>The Tea Party is financed by rich conservative excecutives.They have taken the mean spirited neo-con movement into new levels of cruelty and selfishness.Any hope for the poor has been crushed by these politicians that base their ideology on hate.<br>I wonder what God is thinking when one Tea Partier after another rants that the first thing they will do is remove healtcare possibilities for 50 million Americans.(one million more people lost their insurance last year)<br>How can a country/politician claim to be Christian and then turn around and<br>take a persons healthcare away.<br>America needs universal healthcare for all its poeple.That should be a right not a privilage.

Jordan Ballor
September 19, 2011

This is a substantive and welcome response. I agree that the core message that we have responsibilities in this world to be faithful to God through our work is right on, and perhaps in my brief note here I didn't quite do justice to the "dignity of causality" as you note. I did in fact just write an essay on this very point earlier in the week, and maybe I should have emphasized these themes here more explicitly:<br><br><a href="http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2011/09/07/work-prayer-coins-sheep-men" rel="nofollow">http://www.acton.org/pub/comme...</a><br><br>But I really was struck by the humanist idolatry evident in this speech, especially in connection with the explicit rejection of some "rigid idea" about the limits of government. That smacks of utopian totalitarianism to me. As to the details of your economic points, it seems to me that you are confusing where jobs "come from" in a proximate sense with what profits "are for" in some purposive sense. Perhaps that's endemic to Rev. DeYoung's post; I didn't analyze it that way. But these are much larger questions that would require a lot more space and nuance. But the idea that "jobs come from the government" seems much more pervasive.And in any case, I think there is an underlying truth to all of this that sometimes all of the king's horses and all of the king's men can't put Humpty together again, no matter how much cheerleading politicians do.

SiarlysJenkins
September 20, 2011

Your response too is thoughtful and well reasoned. I agree that all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put Humpty together again. But politics right now, among legislators, in all types of media, and to a great extent among voters, is all about which party, ideology, or program will "fix it." The program "all government has to do is get out of the way" is, in that light, as foolish as "all government has to do is spend more money." All of that is equally utopian idolatry.<br><br>There is a good argument to be made for free markets. It is not that they "generate wealth" which benefits all. History shows that they generate great inequality. Even after allowing that yes, people who word hard and come up with a great new idea should benefit generously from it, free markets generate great misery as well as prosperity. Adam Smith pointed out that free markets exist when they are fostered by a foundation of laws that allow for free markets. So even there, government has a role, and is making a choice. The free market was not ordained by God.<br><br>Thus, even if government can't put it all back together, government has, inevitably, a responsibility for the welfare of the people, all the people. It fulfills that responsibility by making wise decisions, not by taking a hands-off approach. We can argue of course, and we do, about what decisions are wise, because we are never entirely sure what worked and what didn't. Rev. De Young might want to consider that our national debt was magnified under Reagan and both Bushes, declined under Clinton, and that Obama came to the helm of a nation on the edge of Great Depression 2.0.

Jordan Ballor
September 22, 2011

I don't disagree with the broad strokes of what you are describing here. In some ways it comes down to defining what you mean by "free market" and other terms. They are usually loaded and don't always mean the same thing.<br><br>But I do think that there are some clear biblical limitations on what government should do as government, at least as the institution of primary responsibility. I don't think it is helpful to throw out such ideas as "rigid" restrictions. In any case, I saw this last week, and it seems relevant to the discussion at hand. What we're talking about is sorting out the relationship between primary and secondary causality, and then making distinctions between what is required from a Christian perspective, what is permissible and prudent, and what is forbidden.Baylor Study: The Politics of God's Plan for Your LifeThose who agree strongly that “God has a plan for all of us” are least supportive of government programs that help those out of work.http://<a href="http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctpolitics/2011/09/baylor_study_th.html" rel="nofollow">blog.christianitytoday.com/ctp...</a>

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