Thursday, December 29, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
This is the lament of a Chinese factory manager, a supplier of products for Timberland, in Alexandra Harney's The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage. I'll come back to his--Zhang Yisheng's--words in a moment. First, the book.
The China Price, as the title indicates, looks at the cost of our cheap outsourced Chinese manufacturing: the human cost, the environmental cost. Harney describes, mostly through accounts of individual factory workers in one Chinese province, the effects of U.S. multinationals' 'race to zero', the quest for ever-cheaper production of their goods. She gives you glimpses of the impact of poor working conditions on workers' health, the feebleness of western brands' attempts at enforcing compliance with codes of conduct for working conditions and salaries, and a system that leaves no room for extra spending on things like air conditioning or maternity benefits for workers.
One of the problems she describes is particularly telling. Falsification of factory records is rampant in this business, as factories struggle to maintain at least the semblance of compliance with western brands' codes of conduct.
At the heart of the falsification problem is a lack of law enforcement by Chinese officials. Although China's laws on wages and hours are good, they are poorly enforced, particularly in regions that want to attract and retain foreign investment... But the companies themselves, and to a certain extent their shareholders and customers, are also partly to blame. The expectation of simultaneous price declines and improvement in working conditions has put undue pressure on Chinese suppliers and compelled them to cheat.
Here's how that last sentence works out in practice: western brands are tough bargainers, and they constantly shift orders to different Chinese factories, going where the prices are lowest at the moment. Yet, compliance with their demands concerning workers' pay and hours and working conditions will cost the factories extra money, thus increasing the overhead for production at the factory. When it costs more to produce there, the brand takes their business elsewhere. In effect, the brand's insistence on cheap products disallows any improvement of workers' rights in a given factory.
As Zhang said, "everyone wants as much as possible for as little money as possible." It seems to me that this--more than any government corruption, unfamiliarity with talk of human rights, hypocrisy in western executives, or any other factor you could name--this is the real force driving the China price. This is a price that children pay who are working in factories, Chinese workers pay when they aren't given any compensation for overtime hours, domestic workers pay when their jobs are outsourced, and the planet pays, as China is the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, pollutants that have literally crossed the Pacific and been measured on the west coast of the U.S.
It's easy enough for Christians to condemn greed. "Everyone wants as much as possible" is an evil, and we can name it without too much trouble. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" (Matt 6:19).
But what about the other part? "For as little money as possible." Frugality probably does not strike you as much of a vice. Isn't that just good stewardship, effective use of our resources? Like John Wesley said, we are to make all we can and save all we can, so that we can give all we can. Right?
Maybe this is not always true. Maybe this is not always the most faithful route. Maybe at times following Jesus means paying a higher price so that others can pay a lower one. Today is Black Friday, a day all about savings, as retailers slash prices on everything to meet the American consumer's voracious demands. As the Christmas shopping season kicks off, perhaps this is the perfect time to start thinking about the effects of our spending, beyond the nearest effects on our own bank accounts. Perhaps this is the best time to start asking questions and investigating the ramifications of our savings for our neighbors and God's creation.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and the author of some recent popular books on religion, like God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter and Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't has written an opinion piece for CNN on Americans' reactions to the recent events at Penn State and the allegations against Republican presidential-hopeful Herman Cain.
I have to give Prothero credit: for someone who self-identifies as "religiously confused," I think the man has a nose for what is and is not a biblical, Jesus-centered, Christian response to the goings on in the world. Check out his piece, and see what you think.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
Recent polling suggests that the amendment will pass. [UPDATE: the amendment was actually voted down on Tuesday.] Meanwhile people are (naturally) arguing over the issue, especially the reality that this is not legislation, but rather the spring board for future, unknown legislation--with this unknown-factor raising the suspicion of pro-choice voters and some calls for caution among politicians and some in the pro-life camp.
First, let me say up front that I am pro-life. I don't just mean 'anti-abortion' here: I'm against war, the death penalty, abortion, or anything else that amounts to government sanctioned killing. When I read the arguments of one pro-choice woman in MS, quoted throughout the CNN article, who advocates "the ability of families to make the choices they want with their doctors," I am almost entirely unmoved. Our American obsession with choices does not give us license to kill. Period. In my mind, the pro-life voice in the article has the much stronger position, countering that this is a human right issue and complaining of the contradictions in a state constitution that supports abortion but prosecutes for "fetal homicide" resulting from an assault on a pregnant woman.
Nevertheless, I see a couple of serious problems in this picture.
First, democracy, the voting public, does not have the authority to decide these questions. That's insanity. I've posted this quote from Cicero on the wardrobe before, but I think it bears repeating:
If it were possible to constitute right simply by the commands of the people... then all that would be necessary in order to make robbery, adultery, or the falsification of wills right and just would be a vote of the multitude.
This ancient Roman statesman saw the problem clearly enough. "The right" is not subject to a vote.
Cicero goes on to object further that the such a vote would subject truth to "the behest of the foolish." I don't intend to make any comment on how educated the voting public in the United States is, but I can say this: I have my high school diploma, a bachelor's degree, and am nearly done working on my master's, and I don't think that I personally have any right to vote on such an issue. There is no shared foundation of beliefs in our culture that can be drawn upon to answer the question the people of Mississippi are being asked. This is the second problem. Biologically, we know what a fetus is, and we know what a human being is, but there's absolutely nothing in biology to tell us whether a fetus ought to be called human. Philosophically and religiously the US certainly lacks the kind of coherence that you would need to answer this kind of existential question. Perhaps the question could have been settled a few centuries ago, when American thinkers could agree that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," but today the nation cannot agree on any 'self-evident truths' upon which to base these sorts of claims.
This is no less true for Christians. As a Christian, I can voice a strong opposition to abortion; I'm convinced that it conflicts with the teachings of Christ and the scriptures more broadly, as well as two thousand years of Christian thought and practice.* Yet even Christians share no consensus on the question of whether life begins at conception or not. This vote is leaving the issue at the mercy of individual whims and opinions, which is no way to handle such an important question.
So, while I am eager to broach the crucial human rights issue of abortion, I'm not comfortable with what's happening in Mississippi today. Even if the amendment passes--a clear victory for the pro-life movement there--I think we are looking at a defeat. This places a power in the hands of voters that isn't theirs to wield, and such a proposed amendment (proposed by a "nonprofit Christian ministry") assumes an easy answer is available to a question that I don't see how anyone, besides a Roman Catholic, can answer either easily or definitively.
There must be a better way to go about this.
* For a powerful example from Christian tradition, consider the words of the early Church writer Tertullian (c. 160- c. 240):
With us, murder is forbidden once for all. We are not permitted to destroy even the fetus in the womb, as long as blood is still being drawn to form a human being. To prevent the birth of a child is a quicker way to murder. It makes no difference whether one destroys a soul already born or interferes with its coming to birth. It is a human being and one who is to be a man, for the whole fruit is already present in the seed.
Monday, October 10, 2011
So, just to provide those of you stopping by with something, I thought I'd offer a few links to past posts that I thought were good, interesting, or useful. Maybe you've seen them all; hopefully you haven't. Several of these have to do with the question of how we ought to read the Bible; one is about doctrine; one is particularly related to Christian living; one is just fun. Check them out.
Friday, September 09, 2011
I don't want people like Richard Dawkins to be banned from arguing that Darwinism implies atheism, but I do wish that people like him would bother to learn some Christian theology before they presume to pontificate. Dawkins would be rightly pissed off if someone criticized Darwinism without knowing anything about, say, selfish gene theory.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Last month a friend of mine remarked in the blog comments that, by being environmentally conscious, "we not only care for the environment but we in turn care for people who depend on the environment, which of course is all of us." This point is so simple, and so important. If present human exploitation of the planet's resources is indeed eroding the earth's capacity to support its inhabitants--present inhabitants or those of future generations--then Christians already, without any further theological rationale, have reason to protest, to model a new way of living, over against the wasteful and neglectful practices rampant today.
Transforming the unjust structures of society must mean addressing not only the global injustices which prevent the poor from accessing development, but also questioning our very aspirations of development towards lifestyles we now find to be unsustainable. At the launch of the Stern Review on 'The Economics of Climate Change' it was rightly commented, 'The impacts are inequitable: poor countries will be hit hardest and earliest, when it is the rich countries responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere'. Yet, the nettle that nobody will grasp is this - while we believe in justice and a better life for all and support the aspirations of developing nations, there is simply not enough to go around if all earth's citizens want to live at the levels the West considers 'normal'. Statistics vary from country to country, but if everyone wanted to live at the levels of the average UK citizen, we would need more than three planet earths to support the world's current population. Justice must look not only at increasing access for the majority, but at drastically reducing the living standards of the wealthy western minority.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.
I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.
'Tis Love! 'tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
- God is interested in the whole world--plants, animals, and all--not just the people, and God plans to redeem that world along with humanity.
- The natural world, along with humanity and the angels, offers up praises to God in its own ways. It's the work of a praiseworthy Creator every bit as much as we are.
- God gives care to his creation: "When you open your hand, they are filled with good things" (Ps 104:28).
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals [and all creatures] to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty; so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that all creatures live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I don't have to tell you how a rising 'green' conscience is changing--at least at a surface level--how our society thinks about the environment. Water bottles proudly advertise: "Smaller Cap = Less Plastic." Reusable grocery bags hang before your eyes at every turn, daring you to walk out of that store with disposable plastic bags in tow; recycle bins near the exits offer you an out, in case you snubbed the earlier green option. The owners of hybrid gas-electric and alternative fuel vehicles are routinely offered rebates as well as state and federal tax incentives. An Earth-consciousness is slowly seeping into the popular psyche.
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (8:19-23)
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The dominant conservative misconception, evident in manifold bumper stickers, is that the prophet is a fortune-teller, a predictor of things to come (mostly ominous), usually with specific reference to Jesus. While one would not want to deny totally those facets of the practice of prophecy, there tends to be a kind of reductionism that is mechanical and therefore untenable. While the prophets are in a way future-tellers, they are concerned with the future as it impinges upon the present.
Conversely, liberals who abdicated and turned all futuring over to conservatives have settled for a focus on the present. Thus prophecy is alternatively reduced to righteous indignation and, in circles where I move, prophecy is understood as social action...
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
If you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians...
- Jesus is "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (20). The "firstfruits" are but the beginning of the season; just as Christ was raised, so the full resurrection harvest is yet to come. The death Adam brought into the world reaches out and touches all, and likewise the resurrection that came with Christ will come to all at His return (21-23). Easter was the beginning of the final resurrection of the dead.
- In the resurrection of the dead, we will "bear the image of the man of heaven," Jesus (49). This is "a resurrection like His," as Paul writes elsewhere (Rom 6:5; see also Phil 3:20-21). This is, finally, Paul's answer to the question "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" (1 Cor 15:35ff). If you want to know, look at the body of Jesus.
The early Christians proclaimed that God had broken the power of death by raising Jesus bodily from the grave; therefore, the New Testament writers and the early Christian creeds looked forward to the resurrection of the body as the consummation of God's redemptive action in the world.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
In chapter 10 of the Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis is musing on the Church’s traditional claims that the Old Testament is often speaking of the New—that the ancient Israelite authors frequently speak about the events of Christ’s life or the doctrines of the Christian faith, though they probably do not know it. For instance, when St. Augustine read Psalm 18:9—“He bowed the heavens and came down”—he thought only of Jesus: the one who would “descend to men’s infirmity.” As Lewis puts it, “the full significance of what the writers are saying is, on this view, apparent only in the light of events which happened after they were dead.” This is one way the Church worked out the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 24:27 that “all the Scriptures” can be interpreted with reference to himself.
In the discussion that follows, the Inkling does not try to account for these “second meanings” in the Psalms themselves; that comes in a later chapter. Lewis does, however, consider this general idea of second meanings in texts, reading an author’s words “in light of that fuller truth and hearing it in them as an overtone or second meaning.” This, he suggests, is not “foisting on them something alien to his mind, an arbitrary addition,” but “prolonging his meaning in a direction congenial with it.”
Two examples are crucial in his discussion. The first is a fiction. Suppose a biologist teaching on adaptation describes a hypothetical animal that has evolved in a particular, hypothetical environment. Some time later, such an animal is in fact discovered, and it is, of course, in just the sort of environment the biologist had described. “This resemblance,” Lewis claims, “is not in the least accidental. Insight and knowledge, not luck, led to his invention. The real nature of life explains both why there is such a creature in the universe and also why there was such a creature in his lectures.” The man’s intimate knowledge of the operations of the world refined and directed his imagination as he made an example for his students—refining and directing it towards truth.
The second example comes from the writings of Plato (c. 429- c.347 BC). In the Republic, the Greek philosopher suggests the righteousness may only be understood in its true nature if one imagines “a perfectly righteous man treated by all around him as a monster of wickedness. We must picture him, still perfect, while he is bound, scourged, and finally impaled (the Persian equivalent of crucifixion).” Is it a coincidence, Lewis asks, that Plato’s picture of righteousness evokes so clearly the death of Jesus some four hundred years later?
Plato is talking, and knows he is talking, about the fate of goodness in a wicked and misunderstanding world. But that is not something simply other than the Passion of Christ. It is the very same thing of which that Passion is the supreme illustration… If Plato, starting from [the example of Socrates, recently executed] and from his insight into the nature of goodness and the nature of the world, was lead on to see the possibility of a perfect example, and thus to depict something extremely life the Passion of Christ, this happened not because he was lucky but because he was wise. If a man who knew only England and had observed that, the higher a mountain was, the longer it retained the snow in early spring, were led on to suppose a mountain so high that it retained the snow all the year round, the similarity between his imaged mountain and the real Alps would not be merely a lucky accident. He might not know that there were any such mountains in reality; just as Plato probably did not know that the ideally perfect instance of crucified goodness which he had depicted would ever become actual and historical. But if that man ever saw the Alps he would not say “What a curious coincidence”. He would be more likely to say “There! What did I tell you?”
Because Christianity is true, the logic goes, Plato’s true insights centuries before Christ become entangled with that truth, and so can indeed be said to speak to the reality of Jesus. The Passion of Christ is a genuine second meaning of this passage in the Republic. It is not the meaning Plato had in mind, but it is "congenial with it."
(This is, I believe, how Lewis understood his own Narnian stories as well. What happens at the Stone Table in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not supposed to be an allegory for the death of Christ. Instead, it’s the story of another world where truth is still true. Aslan had to die, just as Jesus had to die, because this is simply how things are, and how things are redeemed. Good Friday is thus a genuine second meaning to the story.)
Lewis is not trying to prove anything here. He doesn’t present this discussion as evidence that the psalmists of ancient Israel (or anyone else) did in fact somehow write of Jesus of Nazareth centuries before his birth. He simply offers this as an explanation for why reading the Old Testament in this way may not be such a bad thing. Truth, which is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, will always look a certain way, no matter who says it or when it is said. Every now and then, the finest minds may just glimpse it, even if the revelation itself is still to come.
What do you think of this? Does this make Christian readings of the Old Testament any easier to swallow—if they were at all distasteful to begin with? What about Lewis’s assumptions about the nature of truth and revelation?
As I said, I think it’s a really brilliant discussion. Still, I’m quite sure where I stand on the question as a whole.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance… I am comparing it with the merely dutiful “church-going” and laborious “saying our prayers” to which most of us are, thank God not always, but often, reduced. Against that it stands out as something astonishingly robust, virile, and spontaneous; something we may regard with an innocent envy and may hope to be infected by as we read.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name..." (Luke 11:1-4)
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Science is not a sinister enterprise aimed at destroying faith. It’s an honest exploration of the wonderful world that God created.
That's from a recent opinion piece on CNN by the vice president of BioLogos, Karl Giberson, "Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you." It's a really nice statement I think, and it really speaks to the opinions that so many hold.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Here Luther is again completely right. No one can see faith; it is unseen: therefore no one can decide whether or not a man has faith. But faith shall be known by love. Now men have indeed wanted to make love into an unseen something, but against this Luther, together with Scriptures, would protest, for love is Christianly the works of love. It is really an un-Christian conception of love to say that it is a feeling and the like. This is the esthetic definition of love and therefore fits the erotic and everything of that nature. But Christianly love is: the works of love. The love of Christ was not inner feeling, a full heart, etc.; It was rather the work of love, which is his life.