“Maintaining stability” in China

Dissident Yu Jie on what is going on in China:

Contrary to myths and assumptions, economic liberalization and development will not inevitably lead to corresponding political liberalization and development. Economic power has only reinforced an increasingly absurd state power in China.

Rapid growth has transformed China’s party-state into the world’s wealthiest regime, thereby providing endless funds for “maintaining stability,” a pleasant-sounding euphemism for crushing dissent. The official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported that government expenses on “stability maintenance” totaled about $110 billion last year, more than even the defense budget. State expenditures targeting Chen alone reportedly ran into the millions per year, producing a rare growth industry in rural Shandong: monitoring Chen and blocking visitors to his home became the most promising career path for locals. Representing a similar mind-set, the police chief responsible for monitoring my life in Beijing once told me, “Since you moved here, our district has been able to enjoy millions in stability maintenance funds.” He did not see me as a threat or even a nuisance. He just saw me as a means of making money. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is the reality of China today.

China’s economic development over the past decade has refocused resources toward state control. State-owned enterprises have relied on monopolization and connections to realize rapid growth, while private enterprises have faced increasing policy restrictions. State-owned enterprises are not, in fact, state-owned but the private enterprises of well-connected princelings. Each important family in the senior leadership has its industrial fiefdom: former premier Li Peng’s family controls the power and coal industries; the family of former president Jiang Zemin controls telecommunications; the family of former premier Zhu Rongji is involved in finance. Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is involved in the jewelry trade. The average citizen, by contrast, has not derived similar benefits even after decades of economic growth: The gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and social inequality has become increasingly stark. . . .

In effect, the central government and local officials have taken each other hostage in the name of “maintaining stability.” Beijing has placed the burden of stability on local officials, who can face serious punishment from above for outspoken petitioners and activists in their jurisdiction. So local officials are willing to do almost anything to “deal with” people like Chen, rather than addressing the issues he and others raise. The central government then not only condones but also enables such behavior. . . .

If one local official were punished for his abuses, official morale would be damaged and the floodgates would be opened for similar cases nationwide, posing a direct threat to the regime. Although distinctions are often made between corrupt local officials and a righteous central government, their interests are aligned: maintain the veneer of stability at any cost.

via Chen Guangcheng and these Chinese imperative of stability – The Washington Post.

Art, Christ, and the agony of Thomas Kinkade

We earlier posted about Daniel Siedell’s contention that the late Thomas Kinkade was a “dangerous” artist because his work purposefully evades the Fall.  But in this followup piece, Siedell, drawing on Luther and Lutheran theologian Oswald Beyer, brings Christ and the freedom of the Gospel  into the picture (so to speak):

Last week I suggested that Kinkade’s quaint and nostalgic images, as pleasant as they seem to be, are dangerous, offering a comfortable world that silences the two words with which God speaks to us (law and gospel). The world isn’t so bad, faith isn’t so hard, grace therefore not so desperately sought. Following Michael Horton, Kinkade’s desire to depict a world before the Fall is Christ-less Christianity in paint.

I would like to go even further and suggest that it was Kinkade’s work that killed him. It was not a weak heart or too much alcohol that caused his sudden death at 54 on Good Friday, but the unrelenting pressure that the production and distribution of these images exerted on a man who spent thirty years trying to live up to their impossible and inhuman standard. His emotional life found no creative release in and through his studio work. As he, like each of us, experienced the ebb and flow of life, the challenges, tragedies, and the struggle with personal demons, he was forced (condemned) to produce the same, innocuously nostalgic pictures again and again, fighting on one hand to preserve a brand as the Painter of Light, while he fought to the death his own demons on the other. These seemingly gentle images came to exert a claustrophobic spiritual pressure on him that rivaled anything that Munch, Picasso, or any other modern artist has produced. It is a pressure that, as Luther observed in his commentary on Jonah, “makes the world too narrow” so narrow that “a sound of a driven leaf shall frighten them” (Lev. 26: 26)–a driven leaf or a Kinkade print. . . .

He became a prisoner of a pre-Fall fantasy world that by refusing him creative space to work through his life’s difficulties, destroyed him, over and over, to which he finally succumbed. . . .

Christ also frees our work, including our art and culture making, liberating it to glorify God and serve our neighbor, rather than means for our salvation or justification, as metaphysical transactional leverage. In captivity, “the world becomes too narrow for us.” Christ opens up the world, the world of experience, action, making. He does so because, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “all things were created through him and for him” and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 15; 17). And that includes Kinkade’s work, even if he was unable to reconcile the creative work of his hands to his daily struggle as a Christian. In Living by Faith:  Justification and Sanctification (2003), Oswald Bayer writes,

“Justification comes when God himself enters the deadly dispute of ‘justifications,’ suffers from it, carries it out in himself. He does this through the death of his Son, which is also God’s own death. In this way God takes the dispute into himself and overcomes it on our behalf.”

Kinkade and his work engaged in a deadly dispute over justification, which he lost. But the final word on Thomas Kinkade is not his work’s. Nor is it mine. It is God’s, who offers the final Word of liberation and freedom. The next time I notice a Kinkade print in an office or a home, I will now see it next to the icon of the resurrection, reminding me that Christ is at work reconciling “all things” to himself, and second, I will give thanks that the work of my own hands, which in its own way deceives and distorts, judges and condemns me, narrowing my own world, will receive God’s final Word as well.

via The Final Word on Thomas Kinkade.

Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional

The Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, was declared unconstitutional by an appeals court in Boston because it discriminates against legally-married gay couples.

This will likely  go the Supreme Court.

This means that gay marriage will likely no longer be left up to the states.  Rather, it will be resolved on a national basis.

Court says marriage law discriminates against gay couples | Reuters.

Gendercide foes called racist against Asians

The bill to ban abortion for the purpose of sex-selection was defeated in the House of Representatives.  Because of a procedural move by Republicans (which tells me they weren’t serious about trying to pass it) the bill had to get 2/3 of the votes.

So guess how Democrats are spinning this?  Gender-selection abortions are  common in Asia, especially in China and India, where there is a strong cultural preference for boys over girls.  This is also happening with at least some Asian-Americans.  So Democrats are saying that the Republicans who favored the bill are racist against Asian-Americans!  Really!

Republican’s abortion bill risks alienating Asian Americans – The Washington Post.

The real war on women

So are feminists and pro-choicers so committed to abortion that they oppose restrictions on sex-selective abortions, which nearly always target female babies?

Groups opposed to abortion rights are turning charges of a GOP “war on women” against Democrats who are opposed to legislation meant to ban sex-selective abortions. . . .

Now opponents of abortion rights are using the phrase ahead of a House vote Thursday imposing fines or imprisonment on doctors who perform abortions they know are motivated in part by the fetus’s gender. The bill would also require medical professionals to tell law enforcement if they suspect an abortion has been performed for that reason.

In a letter Wednesday, Americans United for Life (AUL) urged House members to “stop a real war on women — sex selection abortions” by supporting the legislation from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). . . .

“The ‘war-on-women’ language begs the question: in a war, who is dying? Sex-selective abortion kills unborn women.”

via Anti-abortion groups turn ‘war on women’ charge against Democrats – The Hill’s Healthwatch.

Do conservatives still care about community?

E. J. Dionne is a liberal whose beliefs are somewhat chastened by his Catholicism.  He argues in a recent column that conservatives used to be the champions of “community,” but that today’s conservatism has completely thrown off its own traditions in championing unbridled individualism.

I have long admired the conservative tradition and for years have written about it with great respect. But the new conservatism, for all its claims of representing the values that inspired our founders, breaks with the country’s deepest traditions. The United States rose to power and wealth on the basis of a balance between the public and the private spheres, between government and the marketplace, and between our love of individualism and our quest for community.

Conservatism today places individualism on a pedestal, but it originally arose in revolt against that idea. As the conservative thinker Robert A. Nisbet noted in 1968, conservatism represented a “reaction to the individualistic Enlightenment.” It “stressed the small social groups of society” and regarded such clusters of humanity — not individuals — as society’s “irreducible unit.”

True, conservatives continue to preach the importance of the family as a communal unit. But for Nisbet and many other conservatives of his era, the movement was about something larger. It “insisted upon the primacy of society to the individual — historically, logically and ethically.”

via Conservatives used to care about community. What happened? – The Washington Post.

Dionne goes on to show how conservatives of the past, from Alexander Hamilton through George W. Bush, had some sense of the social good, which he says is lacking among today’s Republican candidates.

First of all, social conservatism is not the same as libertarianism, though both have a home in today’s Republican party, largely because neither are welcome among Democrats.  Dionne’s complaint may be that “conservatives” are conflating those two different ideologies, but so is he.

Second, I would argue that conservatives (including some in the libertarian wing) are still interested in community.  Dionne’s mistake is in conflating community with government.  Classic Burkean conservatism emphasizes the importance of institutions such as the family, the church, local governments, small businesses, and other organizations, all of which help to preserve liberty and strong social values.   Burke championed these mediating institutions over and against the super-strong centralized Napoleonic state, which tends to demand all social authority, to the point of undermining these competitors.

Today’s conservatives see the authoritative state asserting its power over the family (e.g., gay marriage), the church (e.g., mandatory abortion coverage for church organizations), local government (e.g., unfunded mandates), small businesses (e.g., with intrusive regulations) and every other sphere of life.  Conservatives are plenty patriotic when it comes to the nation-state, but they do not want its government to be the sole source and repository of society and culture.  Thus, in opposing growing state power, conservatives (and many libertarians) are championing actual community.