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Interview with IFWE on my forthcoming book, ‘Called to Freedom’

Two IFWE alumni, Elise Daniel and Jacqueline Isaacs, have written a book with four other young Christian professionals. Their book, Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian, explores the tension between the Christian faith and libertarian political philosophy and explains why someone could be both. After reviewing an early manuscript of the book and offering my critiques, I thought it’d be interesting to get Daniel’s and Isaacs’s perspectives on what they’ve learned in the process of wrestling with this area of faith and politics.

There’s actually another book titled Called to Freedom. It’s about liberation theology. I imagine your book is very different. 

JI: Almost all book titles were already taken! There were many titles we considered as we tried to find something that really captured the themes of the book. We polled a very active Facebook group of thousands of libertarian Christians, and the results of that lead us to the phrase, “called to freedom,” from Galatians 5:13.

Why did you write the book?

ED: If you go to conservative conferences like the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), you’ll see a lot of Christian universities and groups like the Faith and Freedom Coalition, but the same isn’t true at libertarian conferences. I’ve had many libertarians tell me you can’t be both Christian and libertarian for many different reasons. It made me feel alone and question whether or not my faith is compatible with my political views.

As I became more familiar with libertarian circles, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. As I explored theology and political philosophy, I came to the conclusion that Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. To be clear, we are not saying Christians need to be libertarians to be good Christians. Just that the two make sense together.

We want this book to be a tool to encourage young Christian libertarians and equip them to articulate principles of liberty to their Christian friends, and, perhaps more importantly, articulate their faith to their non-Christian libertarian friends.

What did you learn in the course of writing the book?

ED: I learned a lot about the nuances of different libertarian Christian points of view. All of the authors fall under the libertarian Christian umbrella, but we come from different denominational backgrounds and our political views spread across the libertarian spectrum. We definitely don’t agree on everything. I learned the most from reading Jason Hughey’s chapter about the biblical role of government. His insights really made me think deeper about verses like Romans 13.

So, are Christianity and libertarianism compatible? Why? Where are they incompatible? At least, where is there the most tension, and why are these points of tension not deal-breakers for you?

JI: In chapter one, I outline a biblical framework that we try to use throughout the book to answer that question. IFWE calls it the four-chapter gospel, and at the American Studies Program, where I currently teach, we call it the C-F-R-C framework. This is the story of humanity that helps us understand human nature, why we act the way we do, and what our potential is. All of these are important factors when we consider political philosophy. The four parts of this story are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation (or Reconciliation) – hence the C-F-R-C framework. We make the case that when we consider this biblical story, a libertarian political philosophy makes a lot of sense.

Similarly, this biblical story shows us where the tension comes from. Theologian John Stott talks about the tension of living between the “now and not yet.” Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, identifies this tension between our authority and vulnerability in his latest book, Strong and Weak, saying, “We image bearers are bone and flesh – strength and weakness, authority and vulnerability together, together.” There are many more examples of this. Tension in the Christian faith is normal. Almost everything about the gospel is in tension. Our flesh is sinful, yet we are being sanctified. Christ’s kingdom exists now, through the church, but is not yet in its fullness. Christ was 100 percent God and 100 percent man at the same time.

So when we find tension between our political philosophy and our Christian faith, we should not assume that something is wrong. A political philosophy casts a vision for what we want for our society. Leah Hughey does a beautiful job casting such a vision in her chapter. This vision is always going to be in contrast with the way things currently are. I want to encourage readers to embrace this tension because, as Christians, we also know that Christ is the answer to the tension and there is a plan for restoration.

What has the reception of the project been so far? 

JI: In early 2014, the six of us were invited to speak on this topic at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, DC. The room was filled with young Christians who were exploring this topic. That experience is what inspired us to write the book. There were clearly a lot of people out there asking these questions, and we wanted a way to meaningfully engage with them in the conversation.

Earlier this month, August 2016, Elise and I spoke at the Christians for Liberty Conference in Austin and presented our book and the process we’ve been through writing it. This audience was mostly adults and private sector business people and entrepreneurs, and it was a great opportunity to gain feedback from people who think about these things outside of Washington, DC. They affirmed to us that this conversation was going on in Christian communities all over the country, particularly in light of the current presidential election. Attendees at that conference pre-ordered hundreds of copies of the book through our Indiegogo campaign to use in their Bible studies, book clubs, and to give as gifts.

Orignially posted on the IFWE blog.

Soup kitchens and candlesticks

Too often, charities do more harm than good. Some create dependency, and others hurt local businesses by dumping free supplies. But as a critic of the bad economic models adopted by many faith-based charities, I’ve found it easy to forget the good that some charities, like soup kitchens, can do for the soul.

In “Defending the Free Market,”Father Robert Sirico tells a story about his experience working at a soup kitchen in Anacostia, a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He describes the faith-based operation as a good and generous service. But one day after working at the soup kitchen, Fr. Sirico decides to eat at the fish and chips shop down the street, which is when he realizes the soup kitchen might be harming the local business:

My best guess was that [the owners] lived nearby, and probably had saved up sufficient funds to open this shop only with great sacrifices. […] And it struck me: we were this family’s competitors!

He goes on to explain the soup kitchen had an unfair advantage over the fish and chips shop since it was run strictly on a donation and volunteer basis. The soup kitchen owed no rent, paid no wages, and didn’t even pay for the cost of soup. Plus, the price they were offering was very competitive: it was free.

Though Fr. Sirico is very careful not to diminish the good work at the soup kitchen, he suggests there is a better charitable alternative for two reasons:

  1. Solidarity is key. The soup kitchen has room to improve in building relationships. It takes more than just a little chitchat over a bowl of soup to really understand how to best help the people you serving.
  2. The local economy must be considered. Certain charities do more harm than good by flooding the market in the community they intend to help with a free product, which effectually destroys local business.

Even though I agree with these points, I was skeptical of his conclusion. Do soup kitchens really do more harm than good?

Soup kitchens reflect Christ’s love

Father Sirico’s conclusion is correct only if the end goal is solely economic.

If the objective of a charity is to lift a whole community out of poverty, one soup kitchen or one hundred soup kitchens will never accomplish that. Economic transformation requires a long-term plan of action that creates wealth and provides jobs in a community.

But what if the end goal of a faith-based soup kitchen is just to emulate Christ’s love? Or to build community in a small way? Or just to remind someone that they are intrinsically valued?

The candlesticks in “Les Mis”

Just because the means of the soup kitchen are material (the soup) doesn’t mean that the ends are necessarily materialistic (poverty relief). Sometimes material means are used to reach spiritual ends.

Take the candlesticks in “Les Miserables” as an example. After Valjean is released from prison, he is caught stealing silver from Bishop Myriel. When the authorities bring him back to Myriel, he not only forgives Valjean, but also gives him two silver candlesticks. In this scene, God’s forgiveness and grace is wondrously displayed in Myriel—through a physical object.

Giving a poor man silver candlesticks will not automatically lift him out of poverty, but in this case, the gift acts as a powerful symbol of compassion that transforms Valjean’s life.

Of course, not everyone who walks through the door of a church-run soup kitchen will have Valjean’s conversion experience, but an encounter with Christ through a compassionate volunteer and a warm bowl of soup is well within the realm of possibility.

There is certainly room for privately funded soup kitchens in the marketplace, so long as we don’t expect them to meet unrealistic economic goals. While a bowl of soup will never give someone a job or a house, it can still do true good for the soul.

*Originally published on the V&C blog.

4 TED Talks to inspire your work

Feeling discouraged about your work? There is a lot of fresh thinking happening around work and creativity, and these ideas have motivated me to begin thinking differently about my work and the challenges it presents me on a daily basis. Here are four videos to inspire you in your work today.

#1: What If You Don’t Have (Just) One True Calling?

The notion of the narrowly-focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing that we are meant to do during our time on this earth… but what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?

Are you interested in many different things? Does the idea of just one true passion bore you? If you answered yes to both of those questions, you’re not alone. You might be what writer and artist Emilie Wapnick calls a “multipotentialite.” In this TED Talk, Wapnick details the three superpowers of multipotentialites and encourages them to find a job that is aligned with how they are wired.

#2: What Makes You Feel Great about Your Work?

If you think about mountain climbing as an example, it suggests all kinds of things. It suggests that we care about reaching the end, the peak. It suggests that we care about the fight, about the challenge. It suggests that there are all kinds of other things that motivate us to work or behave in all kinds of ways.

What is your motivation to work? Is it passion? Money? Joy? Behavioral economist Dan Ariley says what really motivates us in our careers is a sense of constant progress, growth, and purpose. In this TED Talk, Ariely details two experiments that illuminate our psychological attitudes about the meaning of our work.

#3: Be an Artist!

There are hundreds of reasons why we can’t be artists right now. […] Why do people instantly resist the idea of associating themselves with art?

Remember when you were a kid and you used to build sand castles, sing in the school musical, and go to piano lessons every week? Many of us abandon our artistic creativity as we grow older for various different reasons. But Korean author Young-ha Kim says this is not good. In this TED Talk, Kim explains why we all must become artists once again.

#4: Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity

I think we need to gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages of having to cope with a little mess.

Do you get excited when you encounter an obstacle? Most of us don’t, but economist Tim Harford thinks challenges and problems might be the best way to ignite our creative process. In this TED Talk, Harford illustrates the advantages of working through messy problems as seen in the story of the best-selling solo piano album.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.

New study reveals wage envy

If you only need $50 a day to live comfortably, would you be happier making $50 each day or $60?

The answer might depend on how much your coworkers are making.

A new study by a group of economists at the University of Zurich and Nottingham found that wage satisfaction is directly related to peer-coworker salaries.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Shankar Vedantam reported most people are happier making $50 when their peers are making $40, than they are making $60 when their peers are making $70.

In the experiment, economists worked with a company looking for short-term workers.

Pairs of workers received a pay cut when their teams only received a partial pay cut.

The study found that when you suffer a pay cut and your partner doesn’t,

The effect on your morale and productivity is two to three times larger than the effect of suffering an identical pay cut but in a situation where your coworker also suffers a pay cut of the same size.

In other words, your satisfaction with your wage doesn’t have much to do with the amount of money you’re making or your ability to pay your bills and live comfortably.

Host Steve Inskeep suggests this preference is based on whether or not you feel like you are treated fairly.

Does the preference to earn less when your coworkers are earning less than you, instead of earning more when your coworkers are making more than you, really come from a desired sense of fairness? Or is it envy?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

In the case of the experiment, if an employee receives a more significant pay cut than his coworkers, with the perception he creates equal value to his coworkers, it’s no surprise the wage cut would have such an impact on his morale.

Wage should be tied to value creation.

Under the same circumstance, but with wage closely connected to value creation—he gets a larger pay cut because he’s creating less value than his colleagues—the worker’s dissatisfaction may be considered more envious than the first scenario.

We all have a drive for equality and fairness, but we cannot desire equality for equality’s sake. This drive is what leads to harmful and enslaving redistribution policies and unemployment.

On the show, Inskeep paraphrases an Alexis De Tocqueville quote from Democracy in America that illustrates this point.

The full quote reads,

There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.

God made us each with equal dignity. Equality under the law and equality of opportunity are ideals that have made America great. But when our drive for equality is rooted in envy, we forget the beauty of our uniqueness.

C.S. Lewis reminds us of the true nature of our equality in his essay “Membership:”

God is no accepter of persons; His love for us is not measured by our social rank or our intellectual talents. […] If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us.

Originally published on the IFWE blog.

Happy 4 year anniversary of #Occupy Wall Street. Remember how not-so-nutty those people were?

Today marks the four year anniversary protesters descended on Liberty Square in lower Manhattan to #Occupy Wall Street. Remember when Karl Rove called it left-wing nuttiness? I’d like to take this time to remember how actually not-so-nutty those protesters really were.

Here’s an article I wrote about my trip to Manhattan during the peak of the Occupy movement in September 2011 to hang out with the liberal nuts.

Last Friday, I joined my co-workers on a trip to the Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan. The plan: film interviews with protesters and hand out Boom and Bust by Alex Pollock—a little free market evangelism, if you will.

On the drive up to Manhattan, I wondered how the “occupiers” of Wall Street would receive us. I imagined angry protesters dressed as zombies pegging tomatoes at me after introducing myself as an intern from the American Enterprise Institute. Will they be interested in reading our books or will they burn them at the General Assembly?

Though I expected to politically disagree with nearly every single protester, I wasn’t on my way to New York to argue. My generation has witnessed the perpetual failure of abortion-picketing, anti-gay, anti-welfare conservatives to effectively communicate their values, and I was not willing to follow in their footsteps. I was on my way to New York to hear stories, pass out a few books and find common ground.

Walking down Trinity Place, I turned the corner at Liberty Street to find an absolute carnival. There was a homeless man shouting about the war in Afghanistan to my right, three guys jamming out on guitars and bongo drums to my left, a Sarah Palin impersonator running around the crowd, a girl sleeping on a blow-up mattress, one woman wearing a cardboard sign for a shirt and a few protesters sitting Indian-style and meditating in the midst of all the commotion. Sign messages ranged from “Capitalism Breeds Greed” to “Anarchy is Order.” It would be easier to describe who or what wasn’t in Zuccotti Park.

After walking around for a bit and chatting with protesters, I quickly realized the crowd had been severely over-generalized by the media. Yes, there were several Michael-Moore-worshiping, capitalist-hating, 20-somethings demanding the government to pay off their student loans and hoping to bring about a socialist revolution, but not all protesters were radical progressives.

At the comfort station, I met a 23-year-old named David passing out blankets. He wore red suspenders, John Lennon-style sunglasses and sported a classy handlebar mustache. David spent the last six months as a farmhand traveling across the country before he decided to join Occupy Wall Street as a volunteer. I asked him what he was there to protest and he said, “The existence of the Federal Reserve.” I was surprised and equally pleased by his response.

I continued to roam and noticed a man named Tom standing on the side of the road waving a huge flag that read, “Revolution Generation, Debt is Slavery.” I asked him to explain the meaning of his flag and his reply evolved into a 30-minute conversation about Thomas Jefferson, commodity speculation and monetary policy. Did I just have an intelligent conversation with a protester at Occupy Wall Street? I thought they were all supposed to be uneducated anti-capitalists, but Tom was well-informed and very much in favor of free markets. He eagerly accepted Boom and Bust and nearly bowed down at my feet after hearing I was with a group from the American Enterprise Institute. Shouldn’t Tom be at a Tea Party rally?

I found that the views expressed on http://www.occupywallst.org were not representative of all protesters. Even the progressives I spoke with really weren’t that radical, but it seems as if the conservative media has labeled Occupy Wall Street as the Tea Party’s evil twin.

Karl Rove recently compared Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party as “left wing nuttiness” to “constitution-loving, law abiding people.” I don’t blame political analysts or the media entirely—a quick skim of the unofficial list of demands is enough to give any liberty-lover grief. However, my experience in Zuccotti Park proved many media claims to be true only on the radical fringe. Jay Bookman, a columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, argued in a recent post,

“…It’s easy to dismiss ‘Occupy Wall Street’ as the work of the radical fringe, because in some ways it is. But what makes it bigger than that is the fact that the misgivings and distrust it is expressing are felt much more broadly, not just in campus coffee houses but in small-town diners, and not just in liberal chat rooms but in Tea Party meetings as well.”

Sure, many occupiers are misguided on policy solutions, but the two grassroots movements share the same concerns. Both hate the fact that the big banks benefited from taxpayer-funded bail outs, share distaste for crony capitalism and recognize the failure of Obama’s stimulus package.

The political ideology of the Occupy Wall Street movement is so incredibly diverse it cannot be easily categorized, but their core beliefs are boldly defined. They hate corporate greed. They care for the poor. They love America and want their prospering economy back.6277418576_646d02a7cf

A small, white sign on the ground caught my attention. It read, “Don’t Forget About Morality.” To me, this sign represented hope. These so-called “leftist nuts” see the need to bring economic discourse back to values and the human person just as we do at the Values and Capitalism project. As I stood there staring at the sign, I thought about how easy it is to forget about morality in economic policy discussions and wondered why the Tea Party rarely addressed concerns like corporate greed and poverty within the framework of a capitalistic society.

Many of the protesters weren’t as nutty as I expected. They accepted us warmly and were open to discussion. Their eagerness to exchange stories and beliefs further emphasized the need to prioritize relationships over talking points in political dialogue.

Before we left, a man approached me and pointed to the stack of books in my hand.

Protester: “Hey, what are those books for?”

Me: “It’s a book on the boom and bust cycle. It explains the cyclical nature of markets. We’re passing them out, do you want one?”

Protester: “Yeah! How much does it cost?”

Me: “It’s free.”

I handed the book to him and he thanked me graciously. I guess the protesters decided not to throw tomatoes at me after all. Instead, they probably taught me much more than I taught them.

But today, protesting Wall Street is so over, and starting your own socially-conscience business is so in. And one day, it might even be in to work on Wall Street again.

*Originally published at the Values & Capitalism blog and Doublethink Magazine.

A Catholic saint and feminist on women in the workplace

Today, feminists are concerned that women hold less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and that men still dominate fields like math, science, and engineering. One late Christian feminist lends insightful wisdom to these current issues of women and work.

Meet Edith Stein edith stein

Today is the feast day of Edith Stein (1891-1942), also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (she is also my confirmation saint!). Stein grew up in Germany in a Jewish home, but considered herself an atheist until she converted to Christianity at the age of 29. She held a successful career in academia as a philosopher before entering a Carmelite monastery in Cologne.

Stein was considered a feminist in her time. She joined the Prussian Society for Women’s Right to Vote and protested the absence of women from university faculties. However, she disagreed with more radical feminist groups who rejected the idea of feminine singularity.

Stein calls the singularity of a woman her natural call as companion and mother. To be a companion, she says, is to be a support to others. For this, a woman must be strong and stand firm. As a single woman who never had children, Stein defines a woman’s role as mother in broad terms as the duty to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.

Stein’s Five Points on Women and Work

Stein gave many lectures on the place of women in society, the family, and in relation to men during her career in academia. In a lecture she gave on April 12, 1928 at Ludwigshafen on the Rhine to the 25th convention of the Bavarian Catholic Women Teachers Association, she makes five points that remain pertinent to women and work today.

1. Men and women have different inclinations in work.

According to Stein, men tend towards objectivity in their work and women tend towards the personal.

It is natural for him to dedicate his faculties to a discipline (be it mathematics or technology, a trade or business management) and thereby to subject himself to the precepts of this discipline. Woman’s attitude is personal…she is happily involved with her total being in what she does then, she has particular interest for the living, concrete person.

Men tend towards one-sided development in their work and women tend towards completeness.

She herself would like to become a complete human being, one who is fully developed in every way, and she would like to help others to become so, and by all means, she would like to do justice to the complete human being whenever she has to deal with persons.

2. Work balances a woman.

Because objective work, which we view as a remedy for the faults of feminine singularity, is something to which the average man is naturally inclined, it can thus be said as well that an allowance of masculine nature is the antidote for the hyper-feminine nature.

3. In more traditionally masculine positions, women maintain their feminine singularity.

We women have become aware once again of our singularity. Many a woman who formerly denied it has perhaps become aware of it, painfully aware of it, if she has entered one of the traditionally masculine professions and sees herself forced into conditions of life and work alien to her nature. If her nature is strong enough, she has perhaps succeeded in turning the masculine profession into a feminine one. And this self-awareness could also develop the conviction that an intrinsic feminine value resides in the singularity.

4. Women’s singularity can and should act as a strength in male-dominated fields.

Whoever chooses one of the abstract sciences—mathematics natural sciences, pure philosophy, etc.—find that as a rule, the masculine-intellectual type predominates in at least whatever is related to pure research. However, woman may perhaps assert her singularity anew in such areas of knowledge by the way she instructs; this is a helpful way which brings her into close relationship with people.

[…]

A high vocation is designated in feminine singularity—that is, to bring true humanity in oneself and in others to development…. If we fulfill our mission, we do what is best for ourselves, for our immediate environment, and together with it, what is best for the entire nation.

5. The intrinsic value of a woman is not in her work.

The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul, and this value comes to unalloyed development if we abandon ourselves confidently and unresistingly to this work.

As a woman called to singlehood and work in a male-dominated field, Stein was secure in her unique femininity. She saw her feminine singularity as a strength in her profession. Rather than trying to fit into a “masculine” role, she turned her role into a uniquely feminine one.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.