Lutheran economics

The New York Times, no less, has published a piece by Harvard Luther scholar Steven Ozment (author of that new book on Cranach that I intend to blog about at some point) on the Lutheran elements in today’s German economic policy towards the Eurozone:

Even today Germany, though religiously diverse and politically secular, defines itself and its mission through the writings and actions of the 16th century reformer, who left a succinct definition of Lutheran society in his treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he summarized in two sentences: “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all.”

Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself. This was love of one’s neighbor through shared civic responsibility, what the Lutherans still call “faith begetting charity.”

How little has changed in 500 years. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, a born-and-baptized daughter of an East German Lutheran pastor, clearly believes the age-old moral virtues and remedies are the best medicine for the euro crisis. She has no desire to press a secular ideology, let alone an institutional religious faith, on her country, but her politics draws unmistakably from an austere and self-sacrificing, yet charitable and fair, Protestantism.

If Ms. Merkel refuses to support so-called euro bonds, it is not because it would be like giving free money to the undeserving poor but because it would not help the redeemed poor take responsibility for their own houses and grow strong for both themselves and their needy neighbors. He who receives, recovers and profits from society in a time of need has a moral responsibility to pay society back by acting in turn as a strong citizen who can help fill the common chests and sacrifice for his now needy neighbors, who had once helped him. Such is the sacrificial Lutheran society.

For this point of view Ms. Merkel has been derided as the “austerity queen,” and worse. But she is undeterred. She admits that austerity is the toughest road home but hastens to add that it is also the surest and quickest way to recover the economy and gain full emancipation from the crisis. Luther would agree.

According to polls, so do Ms. Merkel’s fellow Germans. They hold tight to their belief, born of staunch Lutheran teachings, that human life cannot thrive in deadbeat towns and profligate lands. They know that money is a scarce commodity that has to be systematically processed, recorded and safeguarded before being put out to new borrowers and petitioners.

And they take comfort in the fact that, unlike what they consider the disenchanted, spendthrift countries of Greece and Italy, those living in model German lands have obeyed the chancellor’s austerity laws and other survival programs designed for a fair, shared recovery.

But if their Lutheran heritage of sacrificing for their neighbors makes Germans choose austerity, it also leads them to social engagement. In classic Lutheran teaching, the salvation of the believer “by faith alone” does not curtail the need for constant charitable good works, as ill-informed critics allege. Faith, rather, empowers the believer to act in the world by taking the worry out of his present and future religious life.

via In Euro Crisis, Germany Looks to Martin Luther –

We often complain on this blog that the Lutheran influence via the state churches of Germany and Scandinavia is “only cultural.”  And of course, cultural influence means little without saving faith.  Still, at a time when Christianity and churches seem to be losing their influence to the detriment of society and at a time when Christians are trying to figure out how to be influential once again. it’s worth contemplating how churches have, in fact, both in the past and continuing into the present, influenced their cultures.

If Lutheranism influenced and is still an influence in those increasingly secular European states, it must, somehow, be a presence and it must, somehow, be influential.  How does this happen?

Can any of you speak about some other specific cultural influences of Lutheranism in, say, Scandinavia, or that of other theological traditions in other countries?

For example, Scandinavians are often portrayed  culturally as BOTH guilt-ridden AND morally permissive.  Is this a twisted, secularist remnant of Law and Gospel?

Liberal terrorism?

A pro-gay activist posing as an intern and reportedly carrying a Chick-fil-A bag as a disguise opened fire at the Washington headquarters of the Family Research Council.  A security guard for the conservative think tank was shot in the arm but still subdued the gunman, identified as Floyd Corkins II.

Liberal groups have been portraying the FRC as a “hate group” for opposing gay marriage.  Democratic activists have accused Romney of killing a man’s mother (reportedly because his company closed a company and she lost her health care, even though the account has been shown to be bogus) and of planning to restore slavery (Vice President Biden’s remark at a largely black city that if Republicans are elected “ya’ll gonna be put back in chains”).

Conservatives have been accused of sparking that Sikh Temple shooting and other acts of violence because of their harsh rhetoric, even though, as far as I have seen, none of the incidents in the recent spate of shootings has been connected to political or social conservatives.  The connection here to liberal ideology is much closer.

Should the left tone down its rhetoric?  What about both sides toning down their rhetoric?

News from The Associated Press.

FAQs on Christianity

Frank J. Fleming has posted a tongue-in-cheek set of FAQs on Christianity for today’s secularists who have no clue about this scary new religion.  A sample:

How long have Christians been around?

While many people see Christians as a brand new and quite scary thing, records show Christians have been around since at least the 1950s, and maybe even much earlier.

What are their beliefs based on?

It’s a book called “The Bible.” It’s full of thousands-of-years-old religious writing, which Christians believe to have been written by men inspired by God. It’s very long.

I see many Bibles are labeled “Holy Bible.” What if I got a non-holy version?

Immediately return it for a refund.

The Bible is full of really old values, with lots of outdated views on things like sex. Do Christians actually follow this thing?

Indeed they try. Their view is that while society and technology change, the fundamental nature of man doesn’t, and neither do the values God gave us. Thus, the Bible is something they find relevant and expect people to read and follow many years into the future, like Harry Potter.

Don’t Christians know how weird and old-fashioned following the Bible makes them? Everyone else is fine with swearing, sex on TV, and abortion. Why do they have to be so different?

To Christians, following the ways of God is more important than fitting in with societal norms. Thus they are gladly counter-cultural.

So they’re like hipsters?

Yes, except everything they do is unironic.

via PJ Media » An FAQ on Christianity for the Unbeliever.

He goes on, though he sticks to culture war issues and never gets around to the heart of Christianity:  God becoming man and atoning for our sins.

Let’s  compose, in the comments, some actual FAQs about Christianity, raising common questions and giving pithy answers.  (I know, we could just post the Catechism, but let’s try it.)

Is the President our national pastor?

No, the president is most emphatically NOT a national pastor, such an understanding betraying a deadly confusion of God’s Two Kingdoms and completely distorting the nature of the pastoral office.  But the normally circumspect Christianity Today has two articles that say, yes, the president kind of is a national pastor.

See Owen Strachan,“Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land” and  Judd Birdsall, “Is the President America’s Pastor in Chief?“.  A sample from the latter:

Ironically, the curious American integration of piety and the presidency largely stems from our separation of church and state. Without an established religion led by an archbishop, ecumenical patriarch, or grand mufti, the President acts, for better or worse, as the nation’s senior religious figure.

Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston makes this point in his massive, 815-page work Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy: “There is no official hierarchy in the American civil religion, but as the nation’s head of state as well as its chief executive … the president has acted as its de facto pope.”

What exactly are the President’s papal duties? Preston explains: “Since George Washington, the president has been the interpreter of rites, symbols, and meanings of the civil religion, with some—particularly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—significantly recasting it under the pressure of war.”

Obama’s and Romney’s faith-infused interpretations of the Aurora shooting are case in point, and the most recent chapter in the long history of the presidential pastorate. Both politicians denounced the killing as “evil,” and both turned to the Bible for meaning, solace, and hope.

In his public statement after meeting with victims’ families in Aurora, Obama quoted the famous eschatological promise found in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Focusing on the here and now, Romney encouraged his audience to “mourn with those who mourn,” a reference to Romans 12:15. In poignant remarks packed with Christian language, Romney expressed his prayer that “the grieving will know the nearness of God” and “the comfort of a living God.” Citing the apostle Paul by name, Romney quoted from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.”

Many commentators applauded Romney for sounding “presidential.” Especially in times of tribulation, Americans expect their President to be their pastor—not in any formal sense as a leader of a church but in the general sense as a provider of spiritual care and theological perspective for the nation.

The president as our archbishop, since we’re not allowed to have a state church?  Our pope?  A provider of our spiritual care?  These writers, of course, are speaking by way of analogy.  The workings of the “civil religion,” not to be confused (though it often is) with Christianity, though I’m not sure these articles finish that point.  They describe how the presidency functions and how the public responds, not how things should be.  But still. . . .

What is wrong with this picture?

HT:  Paul McCain

The new new atheists

The old atheists deny that God exists.  The new atheists deny that God is good and that therefore he does not exist.  Now we have what Christopher R. Beha describes as “new new atheists,” atheists who believe God does not exist and are trying to figure out how to live without Him.

In the current issue of Harper’s Magazine, I write about three books by writers I call the “New New Atheists.” The New Atheists—among them Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens—wrote bestselling books in the past decade that fiercely attacked belief in God. The fundamental difference between these polemicists and the next wave of atheist writers is evident in the titles of their books. In place of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, we have Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists. In place of Harris’s The End of Faith, we have his follow-up, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. And in place of Hitchens’s god is not Great, we have Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.

The New New Atheists tend not to take up the question of God’s existence, which they take for granted as settled in the negative. Instead, they seek to salvage what is lost when belief erodes, concerning themselves with what atheists ought to believe and do in religion’s stead. Botton, for instance, asks how the benefits of faith—a sense of community, a sense of wonder—might be found in the secular, while Harris addresses what might be the most vexing problem facing atheists: how morality is possible without God. Only Rosenberg—a philosopher at Duke with a predictable commitment to rigor—insists that doing away with religion means doing away with most of what comes with it: a sense of order in the universe, the hope that life has some inherent meaning, even the belief in free will.

via The Literary Response to Radical Atheism—By Christopher R. Beha (Harper’s Magazine).

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

How many abortions are for the health of the mother?

Abortion is called a woman’s health issue, with the right to abortion necessary to protect a woman’s life, in many instances, and physical well-being in many more.  So what percentage of abortions are to save a mother’s life or to protect her health?  Not very many, according to a British study of abortion in that country:

A report to Parliament has revealed abortions performed in the United Kingdom to save the life of the mother are a stunningly low 0.006 percent of procedures.

David Alton, who for 18 years was a member of the House of Commons, wrote, “When the case for allowing legal abortion was first placed before Parliament it was argued that the law needed to be changed to deal with extremely serious situations.

“More than six million abortions later the figures reveal that in 99.5 percent of the cases where an unborn child’s life is ended there is no risk to the health of the mother,” he said.

The details came in a response from Earl Howe, the parliamentary undersecretary of state in the nation’s Department of Health, to Parliament. He confirmed from 1968 through 2011, the last year for which details were available,there were 6.4 million abortions for women in England and Wales.

“Of these, 143 (0.006 percent) were performed under Section 1(4), i.e. where the termination is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman,” he wrote.

He noted another 24,778 were done on the grounds that a continued pregnancy would involve more risk to the mother than if the unborn child were destroyed.

via 0.006% of abortions to save mom’s life.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Todd in the comments for doing the math:  If there were 143 abortions to save the life of the mother out of 6.4 million, that would only be 0.002% of the total number of abortions, an even smaller figure than 0.006%, which would come to 384.  Whichever is the correct number, the percentage is miniscule.