All posts tagged “Michael Sandel

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Repaso: Market economy vs. market society; Easterly for president; Brooks on original sin; Latin America’s prison problem; interview with Kuyper translator

1. Market economy vs. market society
Brian Dijkema comments on Michael Sandel’s piece in The Atlantic, “What Isn’t for Sale?” — which has to do with “the hidden costs of a price-tag society.” Sandel makes good arguments, Dijkema says, but Gideon Strauss made the same arguments seven years ago:

There are many spheres of human life where economic considerations appropriately play a role but do not dictate decision-making. Families, schools and hospitals all have to balance their books—but they don’t exist to balance their books. In each of their cases, love, learning, and care, respectively, trumps the bottom line. One of the great challenges facing us is cultivating a society in which economic markets can flourish, but without overwhelming other spheres of human life.

2. Easterly for president?
The World Bank is looking for a new president, and among others, Jeffrey Sachs is working hard to position himself for the job. When I heard that, I immediately thought of Bill Easterly, Sachs’s arch-nemesis in the field of development economics. I waited for him to speak up. Well, Easterly wrote this passionate op-ed, showing pretty clearly how he’s not the man for this particular job:

I would not lead the World Bank by perpetuating the technocratic illusion that development is something “we” do to “them.” I would not ignore the rights of “them.” If the New York Times should happen to report on the front page that a World Bank-financed project torched the homes and crops of Ugandan farmers, I would not stonewall the investigation for the next 165 days, 4 hours, 37 minutes, and 20 seconds up to now. I am deeply moved by the universal agreement that my decades of experience in development do not qualify me for the job of World Bank president. I would not lead the World Bank by hiring myself.

3. David Brooks on original sin
It’s not every day a New York Times columnist refers to John Calvin, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis in the same column, but David Brooks does so here in an effort to make sense of the actions of Sgt. Robert Bales, who recently “snapped” and killed 16 Afghan civilians. Our worldview, he says, doesn’t adequately take sin into account:

Any of us would be shocked if someone we knew and admired killed children. But these days it’s especially hard to think through these situations because of the worldview that prevails in our culture. According to this view, most people are naturally good, because nature is good. The monstrosities of the world are caused by the few people (like Hitler or Idi Amin) who are fundamentally warped and evil. This worldview gives us an easy conscience, because we don’t have to contemplate the evil in ourselves. But when somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we’re rendered mute or confused.

4. Latin America’s prison problem
Following the huge prison fire in Honduras last month, the New York Times takes a look at the broader problem of overcrowded prisons and substandard justice systems across Latin America. The story is here and there’s a photo essay accompanying it.

5. Interview with Kuyper translator
The Patheos Book Club has chosen Abraham Kuyper’s recently translated Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art (Christian’s Library Press) as its latest book. I read it earlier this year, and really appreciated it. They have an interesting interview with Nelson D. Kloosterman, the book’s translator. Here, he explains why he thinks translating Kuyper for English readers is important today:

First, educational: to overcome ignorance of a vibrant tradition of integrated Christianity that seems to be slipping into obscurity as another generation of Kuyper-knowers passes on. Second, evangelistic: so that the English-speaking world may benefit from ideas that have empowered believers for several generations in terms of public Christian cultural witness and service. Third, apologetic: so that both the advocacy and criticism of Kuyper’s proposals can be evaluated in terms of the very words of Kuyper himself, rather than in terms of any selective spin to which his ideas may up to this point have been subjected.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

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My top 11 books from 2011

Last February I shared some thoughts on the merits of reading both widely and wisely, and I shared my own reading goals for the year. Specifically, these:

  • At least one book about/from every continent in the world (plus Central America and the Middle East)
  • At least one book by an adherent of every major world religion
  • At least 25% to be written by dead people
  • At least 40% to be written by women or non-white males.

Well, how closely did I stick to those goals?

  • I had each of the continents (plus Central America and the Middle East) covered
  • Though I read a lot of books written by Christians and a range of non-Christians (including Alice Walker, a Buddhist, and others I presume to be either atheists or agnostics), I don’t think I read anything by Hindu or Muslim authors.
  • 20 written by dead people; only 21%
  • 26 written by women or non-white males; only 27%

So I did better in some areas than in others. I’ll keep the goals more or less the same for 2012. But in the meantime, as is the custom (sort of), here are my picks for the top eleven books I read in 2011. Like last time, these are in no particular order, and include books not necessarily published this year. When applicable, I include a link to what I’ve already written about it.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just 
A must-read on following Jesus and doing justice. I reviewed this one for PRISM and blogged about it here.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir 
If you are a pastor, know a pastor, or have opinions about pastors, read this. I blogged about it here.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird 
It’s a classic, and I should have read it a long time ago. I’m guessing you already have.

Michael Casey, Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image 
A fascinating look at how the iconic “Che” image has been reproduced and re-appropriated for countless causes — and has paradoxically come to represent global capitalism.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy 
This biography of the great German theologian who was part of a failed assassination plot against Hitler won all kinds of awards last year. I blogged about this here.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? 
In this book the Harvard political philosopher put the cookies on a relatively low shelf, helping you and I wrestle through different understandings of justice in the world around us. I blogged about it here.

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
One of the most inspiring, funny and heart-breaking books I read this year. I blogged about it here.

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era 
From what I understand, this book never really took off, which is a shame, because it’s a wise, nuanced, an intelligent handling of the two topics none of us seem to know how to discuss in polite company. I blogged about this here.

Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help 
An important book on doing no harm when seeking to do good. I blogged about this here and it was also picked up by the Values & Capitalism blog.

Richard Mouw, He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace 
I haven’t had a chance to blog about this yet, but I plan to in January. In this slim book, Mouw articulates a wonderful theological and practical vision of common grace.

N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters 
For Christians unsure about what’s supposed to happen between being “saved” and dying, this is an important book on ethics and cultivating virtue. I blogged about it here.

How about you? What were your favorite books of 2011? What are your reading goals for 2012?

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Repaso: Justice goes global, Indigenous university, Christ unwanted in Lima, and more

Repaso is something new I’m trying: a weekly roundup of news, commentary and more at the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace in the Americas.

Justice goes global
My good friend Barnabas sent me this piece from Tom Friedman about how Michael Sandel and his Justice course at Harvard (which I discussed here) is gaining popularity in Asia.

Sandel is touching something deep in both Boston and Beijing. “Students everywhere are hungry for discussion of the big ethical questions we confront in our everyday lives,” Sandel argues.  “In recent years, seemingly technical economic questions have crowded out questions of justice and the common good.  I think there is a growing sense, in many societies, that G.D.P. and market values do not by themselves produce happiness, or a good society. My dream is to create a video-linked global classroom, connecting students across cultures and national boundaries — to think through these hard moral questions together, to see what we can learn from one another.”

Barefoot college helps Venezuela Indians fight back

This is an interesting Reuters piece about a university aimed at preserving indigenous culture in Venezuela. Not all the “threats” listed below are created equal, in my opinion.

Like similar groups across the world, their habitat and way of life in a vast, long-neglected region of forests and waterways around the Orinoco river are increasingly threatened by illegal mining, ranchers and evangelical Christianity. Adding to the mix of influences are socialist aid programs from President Hugo Chavez, who has placed Venezuela’s Indian identity at the heart of his home-spun revolution.

Christ unwanted in Lima?
Outgoing Peruvian president Alan Garcia wants to construct a huge “Christ of the Pacific” statue overlooking the capital city, but his plan is being met with resistance. Lima’s mayor says Garcia didn’t ask permission to build on that prominent location, and says it will have to be built elsewhere.

Ghosts of Guatemala’s past
This is the co-author of a definitive book on a key chapter of Guatemalan history, on the significance of former president Jacobo Arbenz finally being recognized by the country, not as a villain but a hero. The United States, he says, should do the same.

Blowing in the Wind: Dylan’s spiritual journey
This is slightly out of date, but in late May the BBC had a 30-minute radio program commemorating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, taking a look at his one-of-a-kind spiritual journey.

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Justice and the lost art of political debate

For twenty years, a political philosopher named Michael Sandel has taught a course at Harvard simply called “Justice.” It’s been so wildly popular that it became the first Harvard course to be aired on public television and available for free online. I just read the bestseller he wrote, Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?, which takes some of the key themes of the course and, presumably, puts the proverbial cookies on a shelf low enough for folks like me to reach them.

Drawing on philosophers both ancient and modern, he wrestles through real life dilemmas that happen all around us, and shows that there are three main ways of thinking about justice: justice as maximizing welfare, justice as respecting freedom, and justice as promoting virtue. We hold our views, in many cases, with unexamined and unarticulated assumptions, which goes a long way in explaining why political and social debates often turn so nasty, even among people who generally like each other.

Of today’s most divisive issues, Sandel says: “Lying just beneath the surface, with passions raging on all sides, are big questions of moral philosophy, big questions of justice. But we too rarely articulate and defend and argue about those big moral questions in our politics.”

Sandel says that most political discourse — in mass media especially — pits the welfare camp against the freedom camp. You probably know with which of the two camps you generally align. But he proposes a version of the third view of justice, that of promoting virtue. I won’t go into detail explaining what he means by that; you’ll need to read the book. Or better yet, take the course!

Here Sandel introduces some of the themes he covers in the book, using a fascinating golf quandary as his case study.