I Finally Understand Objections to Lutheranism

Lutherans are pink:

Religious and cultural Lutheran values have shaped Nordic societies for centuries. But instead of encouraging capitalism as in Calvinist Europe, Lutheranism promoted a social-democratic welfare state in the Nordic world.

As this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this issue is highly topical.

Robert H. Nelson, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, develops these arguments in Lutheranism and the Nordic Spirit of Social Democracy: A Different Protestant Ethic. He probes the large role a Lutheran ethic played in the development of the Nordic welfare state and the Nordic social-democratic political and economic system during its golden years from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Nelson sees this Lutheran ethic as parallel to the Calvinist ethic famously examined by the German sociologist Max Weber In his book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Nelson also compares the American and Nordic ideas of the welfare state in a novel way, discussing the greater influence of Calvinism in the United States as compared with Lutheranism in the Nordic countries.

According to Nelson, fundamental Nordic values, such as a strong work ethic, complete equality between men and women, and others manifested in social democracy are all derived from Lutheran teachings as embodied in the Lutheran ethic.

The Lutheran ethic emphasized The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” in the pursuit of an individual calling. This has been the foundation of the concept of 20th century Nordic social solidarity, in particular, states Nelson.

The upside? U.S. is not simply Christian but a Calvinist nation.

Woot!

Except, the Puritans were not exactly capitalists. If you read John Winthrop’s Model of Christian Charity, you would think he’s a socialist.

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Professional Historians Don’t Do Religion

That is one way to explain why the editors of the American Historical Review, the flagship journal for professional historians in the United States published by the American Historical Association, let Randall Balmer, a long time student of American evangelicalism, open his book review of Darren E. Grem, The Blessings of Business — when will this sentence end!?! — this way:

On the face of it, the evangelical embrace of capitalism and free enterprise should be a tough sell. Jesus himself warned that rich men face long odds against entering the kingdom of heaven and that it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon. First-century Christians, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, held goods in common, a nascent form of socialism. So how is it that many contemporary evangelicals who trumpet their fidelity to the Bible have become such ardent evangelists for affluence and free-market capitalism? How could Jerry Falwell plausibly argue that “God is in favor of freedom, property, diligence, work, and acquisition”? (AHR, June 2017)

Does this mean that the AHA favors socialism even though it requires members to pay upwards of $200 to attend annual conferences where hotel rooms often go for at least $150 per night? Are we supposed to believe that in a socialist world the workers would unite to underwrite historians gathering annually to hear and present papers, meet with editors, and wine and dine with old colleagues?

Or could it be that Balmer thinks the Bible, which talks about the sin of stealing in pretty big letters, favors “a nascent form of socialism,” one without Gulags or walled cities?

And how is it that Balmer, historian of the United States, is such an expert about religion and society in first-century Palestine? “On the face of it” is not the kind of intellectual muscle needed to master the kinds of research techniques that antiquity requires.

And does Balmer actually believe that Jesus is opposed to property but favors freedom, especially liberty for consenting adults to experience sexual pleasure?

My sense is that the editors understood they had no dog in this hunt — the evangelical left versus the evangelical right — and let Balmer take his swipes.

I do wonder though how Balmer gets up in the morning and goes to lecture in classrooms at Dartmouth College, an institution which boasts an endowment of $4.5 BILLION (according to Google). That, my friends, is a lot of property that resulted from a lot of acquisition. Does Balmer ever trumpet Jesus’ teaching about rich men and serving Mammon with Dartmouth’s administration?

Be Careful for What You Pine

If you want the world to be sacramental:

Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things.

You may wind up with the market as God:

In his most recent book, The Market as God, Harvey Cox argues that the market economy has become deified in our contemporary world. In formulating this argument, he identifies many parallels between the structures of Christianity and those of the capitalist economic system.

See?

Evidence of Calvinism’s superiority to Lutheranism:

Although it is very capitalist, Switzerland boasts many of the advantages that socialist Scandinavian states are supposed to claim exclusively. Switzerland’s unemployment rate is just 4.5 percent, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. The country’s poverty rate is similarly low (XLS). Those who immigrate to Switzerland have an average employment rate of 76 percent, which is much higher than the European average of 62 percent.

Furthermore, the Swiss educational system is ranked third in the world by the OECD. Only Korea and Japan are ranked higher, which means Switzerland’s educational system is the best in the Western world. Many claim this distinction belongs to Finland, but Finnish schools are in fact ranked 10/37 in math and 4/37 in reading.

Additionally, income inequality and debt are both quite low in Switzerland. This reality persists although Switzerland’s wealthy have the lowest tax burden in the world; the richest decile in the country pays only 20.9 percent of the country’s taxes. Remarkably, even though the tax burden on the wealthy is minimal, Switzerland’s national debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product is lower than Finland’s, Sweden’s, and Denmark’s.

Switzerland is the closest to “paradise” of any European country, yet it remains one of the most capitalist economies on Earth. Its success is a powerful antidote to socialist claims about the benefits of progressive taxation, and all but destroys the assumption that Scandinavia as a bastion of socialism shows that only collectivism can produce success.

This is a test of the Emergency Paleo-Calvinist System. If this had been an actual case of boosterism, you would have been instructed to read Ecclesiastes. This concludes this test of the Emergency Paleo-Calvinist System.

Sunday Reading (not necessarily edifying)

Accent the positive:

Pope Francis as good cop:

In fact, Müller claimed, there’s an explicit division of labor at work between his office and Francis, hatched from the very start three years ago. (Remember that Müller, 68, took office under Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.)

“At the beginning of his pontificate, we spoke with Pope Francis, observing that during the previous pontificates the press accused the Church of talking only about sexuality, of abortion and these problems,” Müller said.

“For this reason, we decided, with Francis, to always, always, always speak in a positive way. If you look at the complete texts of Pope Francis, there’s gender ideology, abortion … yes, these problems are still there, but we concentrate on the positive.”

That’s not a matter of “revolution,” Müller said, insisting that Francis “is in line with his predecessors.”

“His originality,” he said, “is his charisma, thanks to which he succeeds in overcoming people’s blocks and their hardened positions.”

Look beyond the internet to find the positive:

The Internet, Rosica said, “can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space.” He also described it as “an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.”

“If we judged our identity based on certain ‘Catholic’ websites and blogs, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything!” he said. ” If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.”

The good news, according to Rosica, is that in the broader media universe, Pope Francis has had exactly that effect.

“Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: ‘What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?’ The response would often be, ‘Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control’,” Rosica said.

“They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility,’” he said.

It’s a new (and positive) day:

The cultural warrior Catholicism that favored political confrontation to personal engagement and partisan fighting to authentic dialogue has given away to a Catholicism that is willing to engage, encounter, and befriend anyone.

Positivity has its limits, however:

The pope complained of “rich people who exploit others,” saying they offer contracts only from September to June, and then the employees have to “eat air” from July to August.

“Those who do that are true bloodsuckers, and they live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labor,” Francis said, according to a summary of the homily provided by Vatican Radio.

At least Americans are not bloodsuckers:

At one stage, Pentin asked Fellay about the pope’s repeated denunciations of “doctors of the law” and “fundamentalists,” wondering if Fellay takes those jibes as directed at his society or traditionalists generally. In response, Fellay said he’s asked around Rome what the pope means by that language.

“The answer I got most was ‘conservative Americans!’” Fellay, who’s Swiss, laughingly told Pentin. “So really, frankly, I don’t know.”

One might suspect Fellay was deflecting, except for this: He’s absolutely, one hundred percent right about what one typically hears in Rome on the subject of who leaves this pope cold.

By now, it’s clear that one defining feature both of Francis’ personality and his approach to governance – which shouldn’t be at all surprising, when you think about it – is a distinct ambivalence about the United States and about Americans.

Still, are Americans responsible for income inequality in the Vatican:

A cardinal based in Rome, for example, gets a “cardinal’s check” of $5,600 a month, plus benefits that include access to a tax-free electronic store, supermarket, clothing shop and pharmacy, up to 475 gallons of gas a year and cigarettes at discounted prices, benefits that are applicable to all Vatican employees.

A lay person, however, gets a salary that corresponds with Italian law.

Italy is among the few European countries that doesn’t have a minimum wage law, so salaries are set through collective bargaining agreements on a job-to-job basis. Around half of the employees in the country are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and the Vatican uses the same basic framework.

The net result is that the average Vatican employee makes around $22,000 a year, tax free.

That may seem shockingly low by American standards, but for those already in the system it’s at least a secure source of employment: Odds are, the Vatican is never going out of business.

Under the Vatican’s labor law, it’s also virtually impossible to get fired. One veteran Vatican official said that some years ago, a pontifical commission tried to fire a lay woman who, after taking the usual 9 months of maternity leave, managed to get paid for an extra ten by navigating the system.

After four years of trying to get rid of her, superiors at the commission simply gave up.

Yet another indication of the gap between Roman Catholic journalists and Roman Catholic apologists.

Can Sexism Be Far Behind?

In the run-up to the PCA’s debates about repenting corporately for racism, I wonder if the opponents of racism have left room for excluding women from church office. Consider the following definition of racism (with assertions of gender hierarchicalism for the r-word):

Racism Excluding women from special office is the denial of the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and its implications to someone of another ethnicity sex. Racism Male-only elders and deacons in the church is a contradiction of the visible unity of all believers in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, Revelation 5:9, 7:9). Racism inside and outside the church Male privilege inside the church and the family is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37, esp. 29, 37), and of God’s creation of all people in his image (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26). So theologically, racism preference for men in church office entails a denial of the biblical doctrines of creation, man, the communion of saints and is disobedience to the moral law. We will not mince words. Racism Male dominance in church office and marriage is not only sin, serious sin, it is heresy.

To be clear, racism is arguably different from excluding women from church office. Furthermore, the consequences of racism have been far more consequential than barring women from special ecclesiastical office (though I know some feminists disagree). But the question is whether the PCA’s condemnation of racism leaves wiggle room for distinguishing racial equality from equality of the sexes. (Have we all forgotten the CRC‘s arguments for ordaining women?)

In fact, the power of egalitarianism is so strong you have to wonder if the PCA will have the wits in a decade to avoid repenting not merely for tolerating financial inequality among its members but even advocating it. After all, once you start down the road of equality, doesn’t history suggest your brake fluid runs dry? Consider the logic of social justice warfare among Roman Catholics:

We have an economy of exclusion, and a polity that refuses to challenge the ideology of the market that has generated the economy of exclusion. We do not start with the most basic human quality, work. We start with an alien and hateful ideology rooted in supposed “economic laws” that are, in fact, human creations, not natural ones, but which are so prevalent, no one dares to question them. This is why, if you go to a conference on Laudato Si’ and they do not speak about both human ecology and multinational corporations, they don’t get it.

Deadbeat Trapped Inside the Body of a Bill Payer

Explanations of corporate America’s support for LBGTQ(xyz) are almost as simplistic as laments about falling sky. Rod Dreher quotes this:

This social order of consumer-based options tends to forge a new conception of the human person as a sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances. Again, traditional social structures and arrangements are generally fixed in terms of key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. But globalized societies, because of the wide array of options, see this fixedness as restrictive. And so traditional morals and customs tend to give way to what we called lifestyle values. Lifestyle values operate according to a plurality of what sociologist Peter Berger defines as “life-worlds,” wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.

Thus, lifestyle values and identities are defined and determined by consumerist tendencies and norms. Commercial advertising is not merely central to economic growth, it is also of central influence to inventing the self through offering variant lifestyle features and choices. In the words of social theorist Anthony Giddens: “Market-governed freedom of individual choice becomes an enveloping framework of individual self-expression.”

I would therefore argue that the corporations promising to boycott states like North Carolina for their traditionalist politics are not so much for LGBT rights as they are against arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options, since such limitations are deemed inconsistent with a society comprised of consumer-based self-expression.

But what about people who work hard, buy stuff, and pay bills on time? Aren’t they better for the economy (global or local) than people who might find that after making a purchase they regard the credit card bill as merely a convention of arbitrarily chosen identities? If you ask me, corporations support gay rights and marriage for its p.r. value, which is to say, they don’t want to appear intolerant. Can’t say that analysis is all that profound either since the numbers show that heteros have more buying units than gays or those who transcend gender. This is nothing new. Remember the NFL penalizing Arizona (as host of the Super Bowl) for not making Martin Luther King Day a holiday.

But Rod buys it hook, line, and sinker:

Cavanaugh says that the free market is based on the definition of freedom as an absence of external constraints. The wider your choice, the freer the market. This is problematic from a Christian point of view, as well as from a virtue ethics point of view, because it is agnostic about the existence of good and evil. The free market, thus conceived, catechizes us into believing that there is no truth, only individual desire. But desires are unavoidably social, so the will to power in society belongs to those who maximize individual choice by tearing down any structure or belief system that denies the primacy of individual choice.

You mean my latest statement from Bank of American isn’t true? Woo hoo!

Meanwhile Presbyterians Are Separated by More than An Ocean

But they are unified in not practicing the spirituality of the church.

Rick Phillips started the kerfuffle by declaring socialism evil:

So, biblically speaking, why is socialism evil? Let me suggest three reasons:
1. Because socialism is a system based on stealing;
2. Because socialism is an anti-work system; and
3. Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.

Even without nude scenes, that seemed to be a pretty easy call.

But David Robertson disagrees and — get this — thinks Reformation 21 is too political (has the Moderate of the Free Church missed a chance to weigh in on Scottish politics?). So he tries to correct Phillips and in so doing regards socialism as more loving than capitalism:

Firstly, in the socialist system the idea is meant to be common ownership, not a handful of people controlling or owning it all. (The fact that this does not often happen is a testimony to human sinfulness, not the inherent evil of the system).

Secondly, Capitalism is not primarily about individuals working hard to produce wealth. They work within systems. Sometimes those systems can be corrupt; bribery, greed, exploitation (refusing to pay the workers their due reward cf. James) and corruption are as endemic within the capitalist system, as they are within any socialist system.

Thirdly it is unfettered free market Capitalism, not Socialism, which is concentrating the power to do evil in the hands of a few. It is the big corporations, headed up by a very few wealthy individuals who are pushing the LGBT agenda in the US and elsewhere. It is they who are seeking to negotiate trade agreements that take them out of democratic control and leave them free to regulate their own affairs and control their massive wealth.

But this does not stop Mr Phillips hyperbole. In Socialism everyone is impoverished, everyone is in slavery and a culture of corruption is always produced. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the crass ignorance and grotesque cultural pride on display here. When I first went to the US I couldn’t believe what I saw with my own eyes in some American cities, in the richest country in the world. There was a level of third world poverty and degradation that should have been a shame to any civilised society – but no, some (rich) American evangelicals saw the evils of socialist Sweden, rather than the sick of St Louis.

Robertson even tries to get the upper hand by telling American Presbyterians not to identify so much with the United States:

In this theology, American Capitalism is the essence of America, which is in turn the essence of Christianity. To criticise Capitalism (or at least refusing to agree that Socialism is de facto evil) is apparently unchristian, unbiblical and unconfessional – which is presumably why the Alliance of CONFESSING Evangelicals allowed this post. I don’t confess that socialism is evil, and if the Free Church ever was daft enough to add another chapter to the Westminster Confession stating that it was, I guess I would be out of a job! The equation of the Gospel of Jesus with ANY of the kingdoms of this world has always been a disaster.

Again, this is rich coming from a pastor who regularly comments on Scotland’s political affairs.

Imagine if pastors had to stick to their competency — the word of God. They might recommend authors with a better grasp of politics and economics, people who don’t merely dabble or pontificate.

Would Lena Dunham Know the Difference?

The folks at Vanity Fair wonder if it is possible to tell the difference between Pope Francis’ views on capitalism and those Oberlin College’s newspaper.

Here are the quotes:

A. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

B. “To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”

C. “Capitalism’s danger does not only lie in the direct exploitation; prolonged depression and social dislocations caused by the breakdown of laissez faire capitalism can pose an ominous threat to our fundamental freedoms and to democracy.”

D. “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.”

E. “the obscenity of neoliberal capitalism”

F. “Having seen liberals treat class conflict with murmur and reluctance, it is the task of the Left to put labor back into the heart of progressive politics by emerging from the cubicles of fragmentary identity politics.”

G. “It is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.”

H. “Trade unions have been an essential force for social progress, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.”

I. “Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision.”

J. “The dual crises of the capitalist economy and the planetary environment are systemic, paradigmatic and deep.”

Here are the answers:

Pope: A, B, D, G, I

Oberlin: C, E, F, H, J

Wouldn’t adding Jesus at least make it sound Christian? Mary, even?

Does that Apply to Justin Bieber and Global Capitalism?

Jason Stellman is back in apologist mode and thinks it great that Roman Catholicism loves paganism (not even Michael Sean Winters says this):

Our paradigm has at its heart the Christmas story, the coming-in-the-flesh of the Son of God. If divinity assumed humanity to the point where the second Person of the Trinity will forever participate in human flesh and human nature, then there simply is no option for pitting heaven against earth, spirit against flesh.

If the Incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God is all about affirming the world, not destroying it.

When a Catholic considers pagan culture, then, he doesn’t think of it as some kind of defective problem to overcome, but instead views it through the lens of Christ and sees a divine exclamation point placed after every true and beautiful pagan idea or endeavor.

In a word, we see kinship and commonality with paganism. Pagans may worship nature or bow before a sacred tree or stone altar, while we worship the Creator of nature and bow before the cross and venerate the altar on which the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered.

The problem for Jason is that Roman Catholicism didn’t embrace incarnationality when it came to Protestantism in the 16th century. And if what Jason says is true for contemporary Roman Catholicism, does that mean he has gone to the other side about the benefits of free markets and the beauty of Justin Bieber’s music (I seem to recall in the one episode of Drunk Ex Pastors that Jason was gleeful in mocking the teenage crooner)?

It also makes me wonder if Jason became a Roman Catholic because the communion now resembles liberal Protestantism. And that’s another wrinkle in Jason’s argument. Protestants of a certain kind also affirmed the incarnation to embrace the world. We used to call them modernists.

Some Protestants opposed modernism. So did Pope Pius X. Neither wanted Christians to embrace the pagan world the way Jason does. In fact, it used to be the case that Jason would need approval from his bishop to read John Calvin or David Hume. An index of forbidden books does not sound, in Jason’s words, like a “healthier avenue toward dialogue and mutual respect.”

So which Roman Catholicism is Jason talking about? And is that the one to which Bryan Cross is calling?