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Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.
Although I started this project as an exercise in historical theology, a constructive thesis emerged: when Christian doctrines assert the truth about God, the world, and ourselves, it is a truth that seeks to influence us. As I worked through the text, the divisions of the modern theological curriculum began making less and less sense to me. I could no longer distinguish apologetics from catechesis, or spirituality from ethics or pastoral theology. And I no longer understood systematic or dogmatic theology apart from all of these. In the older texts, evangelism, catechesis, moral exhortation, dogmatic exegesis, pastoral care, and apologetics were happening at the same time because the authors were speaking to a whole person. Our neat divisions simply didn’t work. Eventually the distinctions between historical and systematic theology and between theology and biblical studies began to weaken, too. I realized that I was uncovering a norm of theological integrity that had becom e unintelligible to the modern disciplines.
Minecraft is digital Lego. We only wish we had invented it.
This is a book that I admire and do not understand. I admire it because it is a full, engaging account of a way of life not my own. I do not understand it because, if the fullness proffered by atheism amounts to a little poetry, a little art, and the endless search for more of the same, I cannot understand its appeal. Most Christians, I suspect, will find that the system Watson describes so vividly is not a live option for them. A useful history, though, is one which develops a sympathetic understanding for a foreign group, and that sympathy is a part of the Christian discipline of love. The encounter between Christians and atheists is unloving (to say the least) because it is not sympathetic, and it is not sympathetic because of the inability of either side to understand the moral system of the other. This book is a way towards understanding what is rapidly becoming in the West one of the dominant moral systems of our time.
MBD loves dogs, and hates extreme, unfeeling rationalism. He’s right on both counts.
Just a few idle thoughts from Christian ethics, with Patheos going through a server update.
The transcendent and unique dignity of human nature, and concommittantly the instrumentality of the rest of Creation, and our duty/right to “rule it” (albeit in stewardship) is a constant teaching of Christianity. And in deracinated form(?) these ideas were carried over into the Enlightenment, and are necessary to the foundations of our civilization. Which is why I am intensely troubled by the animal rights movement, as a symptom of our total forgetting of humanism, religious or secular. The cretinous pseudo-utilitarianism which rates the moral worth of an entity by how much subjective feelie-feels it experiences is a special kind of moral illiteracy. When they write the history books on our culture, the shorthand way to denote our barbarism will be to say that you could get locked up for beating a dog, but got a subsidy for murdering a child.
Ok. With all that being said, however, we shouldn’t be too strictly formal about it. Fellowship with animals is a time-honored way to express gratitude for God’s creation, and as long as we don’t draw the wrong moral inferences, thinking of an animal as a kind of proto-moral agent, with something akin to rights, is a way of modeling supererogatory (ie Christlike) love. In other words, no, Christian ethics says you don’t have to love a dog, but it’s precisely because you don’t have to do it that it glorifies God that you do it.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that MBD is right to stand athwart a literal-hot dog in every pot. But if I’m in a place where dog is traditionally eaten and I’m offered, my curiosity might get the better of me, and I won’t feel bad about it.
Another thought I had watching the film: Top Gun makes a lot more sense if you look at Iceman as the hero. I found him so much more likable and even-keeled than Maverick. I would so rather hang out with him than Jerky McAsshole, and it’s not as if there’s a charisma deficit between the two actors. (If anything, Kilmer is better-looking and more charismatic than Cruise.) But it says much about how Scott and the filmmakers saw the world that the smirky, cocky asshole who puts people’s lives in danger is depicted as the awesome, kickass hero, and the reasonable, responsible, even-keeled guy who’s way nicer and more sympathetic than Maverick is the arbitrary antagonist.
In his post, Bruenig gleefully vindicates my points: that his “legal realism” theory has for him normative and prescriptive consequences; and that he believes the state to be justly empowered to distribute, confiscate and translate property totally however it sees fit. Let it be noted.
I also hope he will take the time to learn something about natural law & natural rights theory, which he is clearly unfamiliar with.
As for the rest, I am quite content to let it stand.
This is like a bizarre wonk’s version of screwball comedy. I got into a blog-fight with his wife, so the always-lovely Matt Bruenig, in between condescending to me and insulting me, writes the most banal thing ever: various economic institutions obtain at various times; some of them lead to more flourishing than others; so we (read: Bruenig) should choose the best ones.
Of course, the problem there, the problem that has been my problem from the start, is that to pose the question this way is to skip a teeny tinsy step, which i s the step I call attention to and the step that always, but always gets skipped by the Burenigs, which is that we should choose the best arrangement “what belongs to who" consistent with respect for the rights of actual existing humans. In many places, people have decided to rearrange "what belongs to who” based on grand designs for human flourishing while paying no attention to the small matter of the rights of the actual people owning the things, and as a result lots of suffering happened (no, Sweden doesn’t count). This is the problem from the start, and has always been the problem. If you do not have a step in there that says “…btw, people have human rights, lol” you are, by definition, inviting totalitarianism. And Bruenig keeps being invited to put that step somewhere, and he keeps declining. And he keeps saying the reason he declines is “legal realism” –even though it’s only a descriptive theory, you understand.
I don’t think Bruenig is quite that derpy. I think he is just dishonest and understands very well what’s up and is quite consciously laboring at the edge of the Overton window. But because he still has a (much) less subtle mind than his wife’s, it’s a lot easier to trace the steps.
After explaining that legal realism is of course only descriptive, he writes:
All of these institutional sets involve the systematic allocation of pieces of the world to individuals and non-individual corporate entities. All of them successfully allocate out the stewardship of pieces of God’s creation, one way or another.
The normative question for us is: which stewardship institutions are the best ones? If we are going to allocate out the stewardship of creation (instead of allowing everyone to steward everything in common, as in Eden), then we have to decide whic h system we are going to use to do that. Of all the possible sets of economic institutions, which ones should we legally impose in order to govern the pieces of creation within our society?
So for Bruenig, there is clearly a straight line between the descriptive and the normative. The descriptive provides the premise that clearly animates the normative here, the one that I have been complaining about from the start, which is that because property is a creation of the start, no one has an inherent, natural, human right to their property, and the allocation of property is wholly at the discretion of the sovereign.
“If we are to allocate out the stewardship of creation”. Are we? Is there a “we” that just allocates property? Yes, because legal realism! And ergo, Bruenig clearly believes, “we” (meaning: him) are clearly entitled to rearrange the pieces just however we may feel like.
Similarly, “of all the possible sets of economic institutions”, since all of them are “legally impose[d]” by the state, (IOW: none of them are natural or more consistent with human rights than others), “we” just decide among the various options what is “impose[d]” by the state. If it happens to respect people’s rights, good, if it doesn’t, oh well. Can’t make the omelette of the people’s paradise without breaking a few eggs.
For Bruenig mâle there is absolutely no doubt that the “descriptive” legal realism has very explicit and direct normative consequences, which is the absence of any natural human right of property. Of course it is dementedly stupid to believe that just noting that property is shaped and enforced by legal institutions it means it is wholly a thing of the state and (therefore! because derp!) to be shaped according to the whims o f the state. It is like saying that because many varieties of family law have obtained across history and family law is only enforced by the state, I cannot complain if a cop comes tomorrow to take my child and place him with another family. It is third-rate undergraduate Polanyi-ism. I’ve been there. Then I turned 17.
But what child belongs to who? ‘All of these institutional sets involve the systematic allocation of children…all of them successfully allocate out the stewardship of pieces of God’s creation, one way or another. The normative question for us is: which family institutions are the best ones? If we are going to allocate out the children…then we have to decide which system we are going to use to do that. Of all the possible sets of family institutions, which ones should we legally impose in order to govern the pieces of creation within our society?’
Applied to children, this kind of talk sounds demented, but there is n o principle Bruenig has ever described that would prevent total property redistribution, and that what is true for him about property would not be true about anything else we typically feel we have a right to (since, after all, all those rights are mediated by the state).
This is the talk we’ve always heard, and this is the talk we still hear. That’s why I charged Bruenig with totalitarian tendencies then and why I still think I was right. He keeps being invited with putting a limiting principle on his designs, and he keeps declining. After a while, one must be forced to conclude that the reason is that he has none.
Very relaxing version of the Creed.