A Fancy Dinner Isn’t a Moral Failure

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Colson Center for Christian Worldview 

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A Fancy Dinner Isn’t a Moral Failure

JOHN STONESTREET WITH MARIA BAER

Earlier this month, when celebrity chef Thomas Keller was interviewed by NPR about his new cookbook, his interviewer wasn’t all that interested in the recipes. Instead, he wanted to talk about the $850-per-plate price tag at Keller’s recently reopened San Francisco restaurant.

With so many people struggling financially due to the pandemic, asked the reporter, is it really “fair” to charge that much per plate? Or is it, to use his words, “tone deaf.”

That an interview, which was likely intended to be a puff piece, turned into a social justice diatribe is further proof that worldview affects everything.

To be clear, I cannot imagine ever spending $850 for a meal, but the reporter’s problem had nothing to do with prudence or financial stewardship. The problem with the price tag, according to the reporter, is not that some people would not have access to food, but that everyone would not have equal access to Thomas Keller’s food. In other words, his was a problem with the free market. And, of course, having a problem with the free market is all the rage these days…

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Today’s BreakPoint: In Times Like These, We Need “A Christian View of Money”

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According to a Wall Street Journal report last week, there are “signs suggesting damage from the crisis is starting to ease.” For example, though consumer spending fell a record 13.6 percent in April, personal income increased, and preliminary reports indicate a strong rise in…

VIA: In Times Like These, We Need “A Christian View of Money”

 

The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation

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The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation

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Worldview Lessons from the Coronavirus, Part 4
JOHN STONESTREET  WITH SHANE MORRIS

The information age is full of both plusses and minuses, especially during a time of national crisis. Among the blessings we should count is the ability of many of us to work from home, and the ability to stay in touch with people we cannot visit. Another, at least in my line of work, is that so many more of the teachers contributing to our virtual Truth, Love, Together event now know how to use Zoom.

The main minus, though certainly not the only one, is the constant flow of news, headlines, and social media posts, some true and some false, some helpful and some very unhelpful and even misleading. Information comes at us in waves, with conjecture in the place of facts and assertions in the place of arguments.

Even before the coronavirus was given the name pandemic, misinformation was passed on by both major media outlets and personal social media accounts. In most of these cases, political ideology masqueraded as certainty about things that were, at the time, unknown, such as how deadly Covid-19 would be, whether or not it was like the flu, and whether scientists and experts were misleading us.

Misleading voices on both the left and the right confidently asserted the virus really wasn’t that bad. More than one conservative talk show host, motivated to keep the President’s wins front and center, compared Covid-19 to the common cold or seasonal flu. And more than a few liberal voices also downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19, apparently hoping to seize an opportunity to portray Trump’s travel restrictions to China as racist or otherwise misguided.

Having now mostly pivoted on the seriousness of the virus across the board, many of the same voices continue with speculations, assertions, and analysis that are proclaimed with all the undeserved confidence as before. After Samaritan’s Purse set up a temporary hospital in Central Park to treat coronavirus patients, The Daily Beast ran a hit-piece warning of “sub-standard care and “discrimination,” chiding the Christian ministry and its president, Franklin Graham, for their allegedly “spotty record.”

Given the actual record of Samaritan’s Purse, the article was pure fear-mongering. Still, it paled in comparison to a horrendous op-ed by Katherine Stewart in the New York Times which blamed evangelicals for “paving the way to coronavirus hell” by “denying science.” She also accused us of looking to faith-healers and miracle cures instead of medical experts. It was vicious, historically ignorant slander, and published in America’s newspaper-of-record.

The Times’ decision to publish such a ridiculous article was not only poor, it’s ironic, given the paper’s commitment to expose fake news and conspiracy theories about the virus. They keep a full list: Covid-19 is caused by 5G cell phone towers. It’s a foreign attack. It’s a plot by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. All ridiculous claims, of course, but no more ridiculous than the Nero-like claim that evangelicals are to blame for this pandemic.

Brad Littlejohn made a key point over at Mere Orthodoxy, “This virus has surely come as a judgment on our divided, post-truth society. Judgment does not merely punish,” he points out, “it reveals…what Covid-19 has revealed in America is a society that has reached a point of crippling mutual incomprehension and distrust…that runs so deep that it leaves few if any shared handholds for common knowledge informing common action.”

At all times, but especially during a pandemic, some degree of common knowledge and common action are essential for a society. How can Christians, people who are to be committed to truth, navigate this (mis)information age? Who is right, who is not, and how do we know? And, how can we be catalysts toward the renewal of a critical national resource: trust?

An essential part of the answer, and an essential part of a Christian worldview, is discernment. According to Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi, love “abounds” best when accompanied by truth and discernment. And in an information age, discernment is the only true antidote to deception.

Eighteenth century British author Samuel Johnson called discernment “the supreme end of education,” before offering the best definition I know of discernment: “the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit.”

In other words, discernment involves both wisdom and will. The wisdom to evaluate truth claims, and the will to understand the reality of our fallen world, which includes evaluating truth claims beyond whether or not it will make our side look good and their side look bad. Bearing false witness is a sin, and truth must take precedent over wanting something to be so or not wanting it to be so.

And finally, a necessary ingredient of Christian discernment is confidence in God’s sovereignty. Fear, on the other hand, often spoils discernment.

Discernment won’t end put an end to misinformation overnight, but it can slow its infection rate. And as with the actual pandemic, that could make a world of difference.


Resources:

Upholding Human Dignity and Fighting Coronavirus

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Jobs or Lives?

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JOHN STONESTREET  WITH SHANE MORRIS

After almost two weeks of government-advised physical distancing, the President has announced a 30-day extension to this part of the fight against the coronavirus. As various numbers associated with this pandemic continue to grow, especially the shocking prediction that U.S. deaths could top 100,000, we must never forget that behind each and every number is a precious life made in the image of God. Numbers are necessary to communicate scale, of course, but they can also obscure that what we’re talking about here are real people.

Speaking of numbers and names, over three million Americans have filed for unemployment in recent weeks. Combine that with the volatile stock market, and the economic toll of this virus is beyond staggering. Still, behind these dollar figures are also real people, many trying to figure out how to keep their homes and feed their kids.

A one-time check from the government won’t be enough for restaurant and small business owners, hotel and shopping center employees, barbers and stylists, bus drivers and substitute teachers, and many others, who face a financial crisis if they practice social distance, potentially as real and damaging as the sickness they could acquire or spread if they do not.

The tension here is real, and I’m not talking about spring breakers who scoffed at the health and well-being of others to have their own fun or those spouting despicable “if they die, they die” sort of rhetoric. I’m talking about my friend Dale who, after contracting a particularly nasty bacteria during a routine surgery several months ago, would be at tremendous risk if he contracted this virus. He needs others to help slow the spread of this disease by staying home.

But I’m also talking about other friends, legal refugees from a war-torn area of Africa, who go to my church and rely on wages now lost because a local hotel closed until Memorial Day and fired its employees. Certainly, unemployment assistance will help for a while, but it’s impossible to know if their long-term security is now in jeopardy.

As more hospitals reach capacity and COVID-19 cases rise, our city, state, and federal leaders are making some of the hardest choices imaginable outside of wartime. While physical distancing is the most important thing we can do right now to slow this virus and save additional lives, the consequences of doing this will be devastating for many.

Now, I’m in no place to offer different policy solutions, of course, but I am convinced that a Christian worldview can help us think through these tensions.

First, the chief value that must ground any and all policy proposals, especially at a critical time as this, is a fundamental commitment to the dignity of each and every person. In fact, every policy question is, at root, one of how best to honor priceless image-bearers, whether what’s being threatened are their lives or their livelihoods.

It’s a false dilemma to assume that if someone is worried about jobs and the economy, they don’t care about people’s lives; or if we’re worried about the threat the virus poses to people’s lives, they’re obviously callous toward anyone in financial straits. In our culture, one that’s worked so hard to untether human dignity from its one and only true source, we will struggle to rightly honor human dignity whether we’re talking about emergency care or employment. As Christians, we must never allow a price tag to be placed on people.

Still, among the painful lessons we are learning right now is that, like hospitals struggling to keep up with an influx of critical patients, we too are finite. So is our government. So is our economy. We can only do so much to stop this virus and prop up a faltering economy.

Our duty as individuals and as a society—just like those doctors and nurses—is to make wise decisions with limited resources and then do our best to alleviate any suffering of those hit hardest. We don’t look to utilitarian calculus for this, as if people were numbers on a spreadsheet or obstacles to our own security and happiness.

While we must always encourage our leaders to do what’s right, we ought never demand they do what’s impossible. We must pray for them instead, fervently and frequently, asking God to give them wisdom. And, we must respond, as Christians have always done in times of crisis, by running toward the suffering we see, as best we can. In fact, tonight at 8 PM Eastern, my friend Ed Stetzer will join me for a free webinar to talk about How Christians Can Love Their Neighbors During the Coronavirus.” 

Resources:

Deciding Who Gets Treated and Who Doesn’t John Stonestreet & Roberto Rivera | BreakPoint | March 25, 2020

Running into the Coronavirus Crisis with Lettuce and Love  John Stonestreet & David Carlson | BreakPoint | March 26, 2020

Coronavirus, Hard Decisions, and the Church John Stonestreet & Shane Morris | BreakPoint |March 27, 2020

The Philosophy Fad

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The Philosophy Fad

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Quoting Marcus Aurelius Doesn’t Make You a Stoic

JOHN STONESTREET  WITH ROBERTO RIVERA

According to Wikipedia, “cultural appropriation” is “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture.” While accusations of cultural appropriation fly around a bit out-of-control these days, the most contentious example is the taking of cultural artifacts of indigenous peoples, such as Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals, by wealthy Westerners, who then use the artifacts as hip decorations.

This kind of cultural appropriation divorces artifacts from their original context and strips them of their intended meaning. In other words, it ignores the worldviews that produced the artifacts in the first place.

Speaking of ignoring worldviews that produced the artifacts, a recent BBC article announced, “Why philosophers could be the ones to transform [our year] 2020.” Apparently, “long dead thinkers from Socrates to Nietzsche are the latest hot property in self-help books.”

For example, there’s the popular book, Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life. Or, for those who like their wisdom applied with a hammer, there are books offering a sort of popular twist on the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, with titles like What Would Nietzsche Do? and Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche for Our Times.

Existentialist philosophers like Camus and Sartre are also getting new life as popular thinkers repurposed for our times.

Believe it or not, the hottest philosophers in this new publishing trend are the Stoics; for example, the book, How to think like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

There’s a strange irony that these ancient philosophers are hitting it big in affluent places like Silicon Valley. As the BBC article notes, “the Stoics generally took a dim view of huge wealth.”

My intention here is not to criticize anyone trying to take to heart Socrates’s wise maxim that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” but I can’t help but think this self-help fad is a first cousin to the “mindfulness” craze that swept Silicon Valley in the early 2010s. Back in 2013, Wired ran an article proclaiming that meditation could “make your career” in the tech capital.

But, to paraphrase the car commercial, this wasn’t your grandfather’s Buddhism, unless your grandfather was a 60s San Francisco hippie. At least, it’s not the Buddhism of your grandfather if he was Vietnamese or Tibetan. What was then dubbed as “Wisdom 2.0” – yes, that’s what it was called – was really a Buddhism stripped of any of “the dogma and religious trappings.”

Instead of mimicking the prince who renounced his throne and sat under the Bodhi tree seeking enlightenment and preaching about renouncing ego, Wisdom 2.0 was a utilitarian attempt to use the parts of the religion that could increase productivity and offer an edge on their competitors.

It’s hard to think that in “Philosophy 2.0,” Aristotle, Socrates, or Marcus Aurelius will fare much better. How can the ethos of Silicon Valley, with all its talk about constant reinvention and utopian technologies be reconciled with the Stoic emphasis on “differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t”?

It cannot. The only option is to appropriate certain artifacts of Stoicism, such as the language and certain ideas, and use them to decorate your life, just as we might decorate our walls with Navajo rugs. Of course, the rugs don’t make you a Navajo, and quoting Marcus Aurelius in memos won’t make you a Stoic either.

Chuck Colson used to say that people who identify themselves as “spiritual” while rejecting any ultimate authority essentially build “god kits” for themselves, borrowing bits and pieces from various religions. I call it the “buffet approach to worldview”: a little of this and a little of that.

This utilitarian approach not only ignores essential ideas and concepts and fails to understand them in their original contexts, it fails to wrestle the final and ultimate question of whether or not the philosophy is true. We might mention that an awful lot of Sunday morning sermons do the same kind of thing with Jesus’ teaching, but that would take another commentary.

Either way, in this new trend of philosophical appropriation, the master is the same master of the old trend: Me. Stoic philosophy just sounds better than “self-help.”


Resources:

In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad. It Could Make Your Career Noah Shachtman | Wired | June 18, 2013

Why philosophers could be the ones to transform your 2020 Neil Armstrong | BBC| January 15, 2020

What’s Wrong with the Weed Biz?

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What’s Wrong with the Weed Biz?

It Harms People!

JOHN STONESTREET  WITH ROBERTO RIVERA

In the 1967 film, “The Graduate” (which I do not recommend), Dustin Hoffman plays a recent college grad who is clueless about what to do next. At a cocktail party celebrating his graduation, one of his parents’ friends takes him aside and says, “I want to say one word to you .  . .  Plastics . . . there’s a great future in plastics.”

Today, the one word on the lips of far too many investment advisers is “cannabis.”

A recent article in the “Motley Fool” online investment guide tells would-be investors “there’s a decent chance” 2020 will be a significantly better year for the marijuana industry and marijuana-related stocks than last year.

Why? Because there’s a “decent chance” that three new states – New Jersey, Arizona, and Nebraska – will join the legalized marijuana trend in some form or fashion this November.

Illinois legalized the sale of the drug on January 1st, with the lieutenant governor of the state promising “a new day” for residents of that state, “particularly those that are black and brown.” Here’s what she meant: Besides legalizing recreation marijuana for anyone 21 or older with a driver’s license, their new law created a “Social Equity Cannabis Business Development Fund,” whose goal is to promote diversity within the marijuana industry.

So, would-be weed-entrepreneurs from communities that have been “disproportionately impacted” by the war on drugs can not only get loans from the state, they can receive “technical assistance in preparing their license applications,” and reductions in their “license and application fees.”

Promoting entrepreneurship in struggling communities is a laudable goal, but you have to question the wisdom of infusing a community already “disproportionately impacted” by the war on drugs with state-subsidized drug dealers.

Encouraging and incentivizing residents to use marijuana is the last thing these communities need, particularly from the state. Governmental and marketplace enthusiasm for legalized marijuana overlooks that marijuana is not a “safe” drug, despite what we are so often told.

Last year, in one of our most popular BreakPoint commentaries of 2019, I discussed the link between marijuana use and psychosis. And this isn’t the only health risk associated with marijuana use. See the YouTube channel “COncOrdance” for an entire playlist devoted to the subject. Not only is the creator of the playlist a cellular biologist, he’s an atheist. So, he cannot be accused of pursuing some religious, moral, or cultural agenda under the guise of science.

In addition to the link between cannabis and psychosis, there is a link between cannabis and increased stroke risk, and research is becoming increasingly clear about the drug’s impact on the heart and the lungs. All of this is covered by the YouTube COncOrdance series, with links to peer-reviewed studies from scientific journals. Most importantly, the series debunks the myth that “cannabis never killed anyone.”

While newer research continues, the risks of marijuana on physical and mental health are well-documented and have been for some time. So why are so many states rushing headlong towards legalization?

There are two answers. First, states just cannot resist all the money to be made. This is obvious in the way marijuana legislation is sold to citizens. Second, citizens are easily sold because of an impoverished understanding of freedom. As Os Guinness has summarized, we think of freedom as merely the absence of restraint, the ability to live and do as we please.

While theoretically, such freedom is limited by the potential harm to others, we’ve become experts at ignoring or spinning such potential harms to get what we really want.

True freedom is different. It’s freedom to live as God intended, as image bearers at work restoring God’s good creation. We oppose things not because we are killjoys, but because we embrace a bigger, fuller vision of the human person. In other words, we find ourselves against such so-called freedoms, because they are not freedoms at all. They will not make us more human, but less.

Resources:

C0nc0rdance

These 3 States Are Likely to Legalize Marijuana in 2020 Sean Williams | The Motley Fool | January 4, 2020

 

The Fairness for All Act

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The Fairness for All Act

JOHN STONESTREET WITH DAVID CARLSON  09 Dec 2019

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New Legislation Falls Short

On Friday, Republican Representative Chris Stewart of Utah introduced the Fairness for All Act, which, as Christianity Today reports, “would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, including retail stores, banks, and health care service providers.”

In essence, just like the proposed Equality Act supported by House Democrats, the Fairness for All Act would place sexual orientation and gender identity on par with race and religion as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act.

But there’s a major difference between Fairness for All and the Equality Act. The Fairness for All Act seeks to exempt religious organizations such as churches and nonprofits. So, for example, “Churches wouldn’t be required to host same-sex weddings. Christian schools wouldn’t have to hire LGBT people. Adoption agencies could receive federal funding even if they turned away same-sex couples looking to raise children.”

As such, Rep. Stewart and supporters of the Fairness for All Act see the bill as balancing religious freedom and LGBT rights.

Now I believe Fairness for All is a well-intentioned bill. And I believe that its supporters are truly trying to find ways to compromise with LGBT rights in order to preserve our religious liberties in the end.

But this Act is the wrong piece of legislation at the wrong time.

The Act would enshrine into law something that simply is not true, and for Christians that’s got to be a non-starter: that alternative sexual orientations and transgender identity are equal to race, that they are somehow immutable, something someone is born with. As my colleague Shane Morris discussed with me on BreakPoint This Week, the “born with” idea is a useful fiction created by the early proponents of the gay-rights movement to win public approval for their cause. They succeeded, of course, but it does not make the fiction any more true.

Second, the Act is addressing a non-issue. Back in the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act addressed a very real problem: There were entire swaths of the country where African Americans couldn’t find a hotel room, buy gas, or get a meal. And so public accommodations were necessary so African Americans could fully participate in society. That most certainly is not the case today with the so-called “sexual minorities.” When two men targeted cakeshop owner Jack Phillips to force him to design a cake for their same-sex wedding, they knew full well that there were plenty of cakeshops nearby that would gladly do what they asked.

This raises another problem with the Fairness for All Act: Its exemptions “would not apply to for-profit businesses with 14 or fewer employees.” In other words, if you’re a Christian business owner, and not a church or a religious non-profit, you’re on the wrong side of the law—outside of the Act’s protections. Meaning Fairness for All isn’t really fairness for all.

And, as I explained on BreakPoint This Week, this act continues the ghastly idea that people of faith who insist on religious liberty are the bad guys. That they are bigots who need to be “exempted” precisely because they want to deny the rights of others.

The Fairness for All has its roots in what’s called the Utah Compromise, which was a state measure largely championed by the LDS church. It hasn’t worked in Utah and it’s not a good idea for federal legislation. In fact, these ideas were birthed under a previous presidential administration openly hostile to religious liberty—and when it looked like the next administration would be as well.

But elections matter. Federal courts and the Supreme Court are growing more conservative and more respectful of religious liberty. Now is simply not the time to give up the rights of individual believers in order to preserve the freedoms of religious institutions alone.

Now, do I think the Fairness for All Act will pass? No. Nor does Rep. Stewart. The Democrats hold the House and see no need to compromise at all on LGBT rights and religious rights.

And while there may be a way to truly balance these rights in the future, The Fairness for All Act isn’t it.


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