Archive for the ‘Social justice’ Category

Reformation and Revolutions

No other great event in Western history is more ignored by historians and the general public today than the Protestant Reformation. If given the option, most historians would prefer to write, and most people to read, a book on the American, the French, or the Russian revolution than one on the birth of Protestantism. Why are we more comfortable with the other revolutions that have shaped our world than we are with the great religious one? Unlike them, the Reformation was not so straightforward a contest for economic justice and political freedom. It forces us to think about history and human life in more varied and complex ways. We find in it not only a spiritual movement driving society and politics, but one that makes injustice and bondage within the inner life as portentous as those which afflict people’s physical lives. For people living then, the struggle against sin, death, and the devil became as basic as that for bread, land, and self-determination.

Steven Ozment, Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution (New York: Image Books, 1991), 3.

Christina Rossetti and Women’s Suffrage

March 8 marks International Women’s Day; originally a Socialist commemoration, it has morphed into something more like Valentine’s Day. Whereas its earlier incarnation celebrated working women, for many today it merely rises to be a reminder for men to show appreciation for the ladies in their lives. While not wanting to get into the pros and cons of feminism—as with all movements, there are both—it is worth rehearsing that Christian men in particular should show love and admiration to their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and sisters in Christ.

As Facebook lit up with various memes and quotes about women’s rights, my thoughts hearkened to one important woman of the relatively recent Christian past: the poetess Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Rossetti is well-known for her poem that became the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” where she writes of the Christ-child’s entrance into the world and concludes with the lines, “What can I give him? I give him my heart.” Beyond her wonderful poetry, she wrote a number of short stories, studies of Dante (not surprising, considering her Italian parentage), and some works of spiritual reflection. Rossetti should justly sit at the table of eminent women like Mary Anne Evans, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley. She is a woman who, on a day like this, the church should celebrate. But what is interesting about Rossetti is that she would likely decry most of this day’s celebrations, because she was surprisingly against women’s suffrage.

An example of her stance against this form of feminism is her letter to Augusta Webster, a poetess who wrote strongly in favour of women’s rights. In the letter, Rossetti roots her understanding of the relationship between genders in the Bible, saying that there is an “unalterable distinction” between them. She also takes exception with the suffrage movement’s exclusion of married women and mothers: “[F]or who so apt as Mothers…to protect the interests of themselves and of their offspring? I do think if anything ever does sweep away the barrier of sex, and make the female not a giantess or a heroine but at once and full grown a hero and giant, it is that mighty maternal love which makes little birds and little beasts as well as little women matches for very big adversaries.”

One might come away from quotes like this thinking that Rossetti was stuck in some conservative hinterland, unwilling to get with the times. But this was not the case. Though not a Nonconformist (she was affiliated with the Tractarians), she was opposed to militarism. She also spoke strongly against the slave trade and animal abuse. Even when it came to her views of women, Rossetti was in favour of what we today might call “social justice,” particularly with her service at St. Mary Magdalene House of Charity in London, where she taught the uneducated how to read and write. This house was a place where single mothers, prostitutes and street people found help.

Nor did Rossetti’s writing ignore the role of women in society. She often explored themes specific to women, so much so that recent scholars have noted that her work was at odds with her patriarchal culture, though not going so far as to endorse the aims of the outright feminism. Rossetti’s overriding concern with the suffragettes—and here we can think of the great feminists like Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Stanton—is their lack of Christian orthodoxy or religious belief altogether. Again, in her letter to Webster, Rossetti puts it plainly: “I do not think the present social movements tend on the whole to uphold Xtianity, or that the influence of some of our most prominent and gifted women is exerted in that direction: and thus thinking I cannot aim at ‘women’s rights.’”[1]

Rossetti thus serves as a model, for Christian women and men, of how to maintain orthodox Christian conviction, while also working for social causes. Neither need be abandoned as we serve others in the name of the risen Christ, on International Women’s Day or otherwise.


[1] All quotes come from Christina Rossetti and Jan Marsh, Christina Rossetti (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1898), 11-112.

The Laws of Nature And Of Nature’s God

One of the characteristic vices of the modern (postmodern?) world is ignorance. This may seem counterintuitive: aren’t we the smart ones? Didn’t we land someone on the moon, build the Internet, develop industrial agriculture? But intelligence in one area does not preclude ignorance in another, as anyone who has met a dumb-smart-person can testify.

And one area where the modern world is woefully ignorant is in the area of ethics. What I mean to say by this is: the modern world is living on the borrowed capital of its premodern predecessors. When it issues moral condemnations, it is presuming a metaphysical foundation that, in every other way (religion, philosophy, science, etc.) it has willfully discarded.

Let me attempt to provide an illustration. If there’s anything that modern activists don’t like, it’s violence. Well, what is violence, exactly? Let’s do a little detective work. (more…)

Occupy Handbook 2

Chapter 2 features the (in)famous Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, who argue that the 2008 crisis was a text-book Keynesian crisis with obvious Keynesian solutions, solutions which were ignored for political reasons. After laying out the facts about inequality, noting that 2007 levels were equal to those on the eve of the Great depression, they addresses this question:

Why does higher inequality seem to produce greater political polarization? Crucially, the widening gap between the parties has reflected Republicans moving right, not Democrats moving left. This pops out of the Poole-Rosenthal-McCarty numbers, but it’s obvious from the history of various policy proposals. The Obama health care plan, to take an obvious example, was originally a Republican plan, in fact a plan devised by the Heritage Foundation. Now the GOP denounces it as socialism.

The most likely explanation of the relationship between inequality and polarization is that the increased income and wealth of a small minority has, in effect, bought the allegiance of a major political party. Republicans are encouraged and empowered to take positions far to the right of where they were a generation ago, because the financial power of the beneficiaries of their positions both provides an electoral advantage in terms of campaign funding and provides a sort of safety net for individual politicians, who can count on being supported in various ways if they lose an election. [10]

Krugman and Wells argue, then, that inequality was the cause of the crisis. They contend the 1% became rich enough to buy the Republican party, and to cause deregulation enough to create crisis. However, while the first part of that assertion may very well be true (and I have sympathy with it), there are other points to be made. Firstly, rich people and institutions, like banks, support the Democrats as well. Secondly, rich people can cause crises (even unintentionally) through manipulating the market just as much as they could through recklessly deregulating it. I’ve read fairly persuasive (to my mind) responses to their view along the lines that (a) Hoover was not significantly practicing austerity, (b) that “regime uncertainty” may help to explain the length of the depression (see the work of Robert Higgs), and (c) that the 2008 crisis cannot realistically be traced ultimately to deregulation, but rather should be blamed on various interventions through fiscal and monetary policies (this is a common Austrian argument, anyway, and an example can be seen in Thomas Woods’ Meltdown). These things are at least worth considering, and actually need not oppose Krugman and Wells’ point that rich people may have caused this crisis; this is more about the mechanism through which they might have done this.

Krugman and Wells, I think, are fair to ask us to consider whether the rich might have effectively bought a significant chunk of the democratic machinery of the USA. And it perhaps should lead us to consider whether it may not be just to try to set a limit to inequality simply to prevent this possibility. Republicans/Conservatives are completely willing to engage in preemptive attacks in cases like Iraq, or potentially in Iran, to prevent disaster to the republic. Why, then, not preemptive action to prevent a coup by crony capitalists in their own country? The principles seem the same to me.

Occupy Handbook 1

Whilst browsing my local Chapters-Indigo, trying to find a half-decent use for a recent well-appreciated gift-card, this jumped out at me:

I couldn’t resist. One of the features that attracted me to it was the brevity of the (many) chapters. Because it is broken up into small bits, it makes for good blogging material. Thus, I hope in the weeks ahead, to occasionally blog on things that strike me as interesting. I pretend to no expertise on economics, and almost as little on politics. Hopefully, still, someone besides me will find it interesting.

To begin, a comment on the introduction, and on the first essay by Michael Lewis. Janet Bryne writes in her introduction:

Occupy Wall Street has the rare distinction of being a protest movement that even the objects of its attack can find little fault with. According to the Spectrem Group, a consulting firm serving ultra-high-net-worth individuals, 61 percent to 68 percent of millionaires support raising taxes on millionaires. Although every banker [we learn later that Paul Volcker is the only exception–AF] I approached to participate in this book, including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, politely declined, it was impossible not to sense that, behind the scrim, income equality was a subject that everyone, even bankers, wanted to speak about. [xvi]

As always, when I read statistic assertions, I think of that infamous quote about statistics. But let’s assume this is true. Is this a remarkable fact? Perhaps it is; many would say these people are voting against their own interests. But I wonder if this is not, in a way, defining “self-interest” in a rather Darwinian way, as pitting the survival of one against the survival of the other. Is it really in the interest of millionaires to always vote to lower taxes on themselves? Consider a possible analogy: a man who knows he is going to binge drink at a party, and therefore takes the precaution of giving his keys to his friends. Prudent people sometimes act in ways that might, on first glance, seem to harm themselves by restricting their freedom of choice, but which, on a more thorough analysis, at least preserve their external conformity to the standards of goodness written on their nature as social beings.

In the first chapter, Michael Lewis gives us a 1%-er Screwtape writing to his posse of 1%er Wormwoods. He expresses (in his indirect way) what he believes the 1% have to hope for, if they want to survive with their privilege intact:

The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible. He pays no taxes, lives no place, and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.

That is the sort of relationships with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental, and their claims on us non-existent. [6]

This passage lept out at me because it poignantly expressed the inversion of the natural law that Emil Brunner described in his Justice and the Social Order, as I’ve noted before. Instead of the classes seeing each other as part of an organic whole which must work in an integrated and mutually beneficial manner to achieve the common good, the rich, in Lewis’ fictional letter, are counselling themselves to believe they have no obligations to people they have not contracted to fulfill. If (and I write this conditionally because Lewis is imagining this dialogue, and offers no proof here that it corresponds to the actual beliefs of any sizeable portion of rich people) this is how the 1% really think of themselves, then they are ultimately only harming themselves, just as an arm which decided it could survive just fine without the body would soon learn it is not the whole.

Class War Is Mutual Destruction

I’ve been slowly ploughing through Emil Brunner’s Justice and the Social Order. Soon, I hope to have some more extensive thoughts on it to share. It has been an encouraging experience. For the moment, though, I’d like to offer one passage I just read that, I think, demonstrates Brunner’s insight into the connection between the created order and our everyday realities.

The capitalist or employer who regards his workers merely as “factors in production,” as “hands” whom he can dismiss whenever he finds it more profitable, who feels no common bond with them but his immediate interest in profit, repudiates the bond of common service with them. He regards his workers in the same way as a bad general regards his men as cannon fodder. The Marxist worker, on the other hand, for whom even the employer whose attitude is totally different, and who has a full sense of responsibility, is only the exploiter, denies the community of labour and rends asunder what belongs together by order of creation. The primary wrong has to be laid to the charge of that kind of capitalist, but the secondary wrong, arising as its result and hence more pardonable, is not less disastrous. On both sides the class war is the mutual destruction of the community of labour. And yet economic life is precisely the field in which the mutual bond, the mutual dependence of the responsible chief with the authority vested in him by the matter in hand, and the worker submitting in confidence of his own free will, exhibits most clearly the difference of kind and function and the equality of personal dignity established in creation. (192)

Quotes Against Abortion

Canada does not have a law on the books regulating abortion, we are utterly unlike any other country in the Western world in this regard. And this to our shame. This week has seen a debate in the Canadian Parliament over Motion 312 put forth by a Conservative backbencher, Stephen Woodworth MP, to debate when human life begins (for more info see Pass 312 and Brian Lilley’s video from Sun News who also interviews the grandmother who has spent time in jail for abortion protests). Canada’s antiquated definition that a human life begins after birth needs to be reconsidered in light of recent scientific research. But members of Parliament on the pro-choice side do not want this question even to be debated, because they know that when the facts come about that a human life begins at conception, Canadians will want to redress their legal position on abortion. What is most horrifying to me in all this is that our supposedly pro-life Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated that he will oppose M312, even though it was brought forward by one of his own MPs. This is categorically appalling, and to think that I voted for Harper in every election he ran in.

Below is a collection of quotes relating to when human life begins primarily, and other pro-life issues. Please note, I did not research all of these quotes myself, but culled them from various pro-life sites to post on my Twitter feed as M312 was debated last week. As I was searching various sites, I noticed that they were not comprehensive enough, and thought that there needed to be a better place where all of these quotes are collected. I cannot verify that all of these are accurate or in the right context. Please feel free to contact me about a quote, whether you think one needs to be added or removed.

Before we get to the quotes, here is a link to Woodworth’s speech before Parliament during last week’s debate, it needs to be read: “Plea to MPs.” I also want to direct readers to my friend Mark Nenadov’s concise and helpful piece, “A Libertarian Argument Against Abortion.”

Quotes:

” There is no more appropriate moment to begin calling a human ‘human’ than the moment of fertilization.” Dr. Fritz Baumgartner, UCLA.

“Human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood.” Dr. A. M. Bongiovanni, Professor of Pediatrics and the University of Pennsylvania.

“The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple…matter—the beginning is conception.” Dr. Watson A. Bowes, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“From the moment of sperm-egg fusion, a human zygote acts as a complete whole with all the parts of the zygote interacting in an orchestrated fashion to generate the structures and relationships required for the zygote to continue developing towards its mature state… The zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism. Mere human cells, in contrast, are composed of human DNA and other human molecules, but they show no global organization beyond that intrinsic to cells in isolation. A human skin cell removed from a mature body and maintained in the laboratory will continue to live and will divide many times to produce a large mass of cells, but it will not re-establish the whole organism from which it was removed; it will not regenerate an entire human body in culture. Although embryogenesis begins with a single-cell zygote, the complex, integrated process of embryogenesis is the activity of an organism, not the activity of a cell.” Dr. Maureen Condic, Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at University of Utah.

“I wish everybody would witness a second-trimester abortion before developing an opinion about it.” Dr. George Flesh, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Harvard-Vanguard.

“By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” Prof. H. Gordon, Mayo Clinic.

“In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain.” Christopher Hitchens, journalist and author.

“When fertilization is complete, a unique genetic human entity exists.” Dr. Christopher Hook, M.D., Mayo Clinic.

“Having worked as a labor and delivery nurse…I’ve seen ultrasounds…you know that those babies are real.” Naomi Judd, country singer.

“The baby’s life is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger.” C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General.

“If the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate.” Greg Koukl, apologist and philosopher.

“Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.” Dr. Jerome LeJeune, University of Descartes.

“[It] is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence.” Dr. Jerome LeJeune, University of Descartes.

“After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.” Jerome LeJeune, University of Descartes.

“It is not a loss of inert, amorphous tissue, but of a growing being unique in history.” Frederica Mathewes-Green, religion writer.

“It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive. It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.” Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard Medical School.

“Instead of helping women in Roe v. Wade, I brought destruction to me & millions of women.” Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade.

“The basic fact is simple: life begins not at birth, but conception.” Ashley Montague, Harvard and Rutgers.

“A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Keith L. Moore and T. V. N. Persaud in their book on embryology, The Developing Human (W. B. Saunders, 1998).

“We fed the public a line of deceit, dishonesty, a fabrication of statistics and figures.” Dr. B. Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL.

“There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists from the very onset of pregnancy.” Dr. B. Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL.

“The evidence I see tells me the unborn is a human being.” Dolores O’Riordan, singer of The Cranberries.

“As an O.B. doctor of thirty years, and having delivered 4,000 babies, I can assure you life begins at conception.” Dr. Ron Paul, Pediatrician and U.S. Congressman.

“Scientifically, there’s no debate over whether the fetus is alive and human.” Dr. Ron Paul, Pediatrician and U.S. Congressman.

“So the time line of when we consider a fetus ‘human’ is arbitrary after conception.” Dr. Ron Paul, Pediatrician and U.S. Congressman.

“Human life commences at the time of conception.” Dr. Landrum Shettles, pioneer in sperm biology and fertilization.

“You don’t have the right to be left alone with that abortion decision. The child is present…you are not alone.” Douglas Wilson, pastor and theologian.

“Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child nor think of murdering one before its birth.” Victoria Woodhull, leader in women’s suffrage movement.

“Recognizing the reality that children are human beings before complete birth will affirm the hallowed principle that human rights are universal, not a gift of the State which may be cancelled.” Stephen Woodworth, Canadian Member of Parliament.

Stay tuned to this post, as I find other quotes, I’ll add them.

Empire And The Responsibility To Protect

I just finished reading Christopher Bryan’s Render to Caesar, and a selection from the Pliny’s letters he quotes near the end of the book made me think of contemporary discussions of the “responsibility to protect”. Pliny:

Again, and again–yes, I have to repeat this–you must remember the title of your office and understand what it means: you must remember what it is, and how great a thing it is, to establish order in the constitution of free cities. For what is more important for a city than ordered rule, and what more precious than liberty? (Letters 8)

And from the wiki entry on R2P:

Following the genocide in Rwanda and the international community’s failure to intervene, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked the question, when does the international community intervene for the sake of protecting populations?

The Canadian government established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in September 2000. In February 2001, at the third round table meeting of the ICISS in London, Gareth Evans, Mohamed Sahnoun and Michael Ignatieff suggested the phrase “responsibility to protect” as a way to avoid the “right to intervene” or “obligation to intervene” doctrines and yet keep a degree of duty to act to resolve humanitarian crises.[6]

In December 2001, the ICISS released its report, The Responsibility to Protect. The report presented the idea that sovereignty is a responsibility and that the international community had the responsibility to prevent mass atrocities. Economic, political, and social measures were to be used along with diplomatic engagement. Military intervention was presented as a last resort. R2P included efforts to rebuild by bringing security and justice to the victim population and by finding the root cause of the mass atrocities.[7]

For those who are not pacifists, we at least have to consider: might there not be situations where “imperialism” could actually be a beneficent thing? I have difficulty, at least, completely ruling out every conceivable version of it.

No Human Quill

It is 11:09PM in Pyongyang, and somewhere a little child is crying—the cold stroke of a fist across her face pens a story of anguish, and no human quill could rise to the occasion of describing the depths of dark despair in her heart. The brutality visited upon her could be for any reason; but in a prison-state where government is god, her crime was most likely being born to a treasonous parent. In any instance, treason could be the mere failure to keep dust off a portrait of the Dear Leader. This image of a little girl or boy being arbitrarily savaged by an official with power to spare may at this point be a mere fiction in my imagination. While the face stamped in my imagination may bear no resemblance to the face of any historical North Korean girl, the ubiquity of this reality is unremarkable in a society that is already dead.

Last night I wept as I sat in Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto. While I’ve wept at films before, tears have likely not flown so consistently down my face as they did before a screen revealing the horrors routinely experience by a North Korean family. This past weekend was the first annual North Korean Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto, and I managed, with friends, to take in the horrible film The Crossing (trailer). I say it was horrible, but do not mistake my meaning. By this I do not mean it was cinematically inferior, or that the acting was bad. It was horrible—O that there was a word that really conveyed what my heart feels!—because its fictionalized family depicted a reality that is all too real in the hermit state that sits between its southern cousin and Chinese enabler. The film is about a man, a former soccer hero, a miner, and a father. It is about his wife, pregnant, faithful, loving, and sick. It is about their son, cute, naïve, with the courage of his old man. It is a story about how a state could own a family and brutalize it for its own sick pleasure. Sadly, it is a story that we in the West are oblivious, to our own shame.

When his wife contracts tuberculosis because of malnutrition, Yang-soo makes a harrowing trek to China to find her medication. He leaves, not to escape, not to defect, but to save his family. His full intention is to return. He is no political dissident, that is, unless putting your family before the Kim dynasty is seditious. As he flees, he represents the experiences of hundreds of North Koreans before him who risked everything for their freedom. But the only freedom in his eyes was to see his wife get well.

I have two children: Jack who is almost three, and Molly who is almost one. About a month after Jack was born, I went to see the film-rendered version of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road; a similar story about a father who strives to protect his son in light of horrible deprivation and evil. Watching this film as a recent father hit me a gut level that I didn’t expect. Watching The Crossing last night hit me. However, unlike my experience with The Road, I didn’t see myself as the protective Yang-soon and little Joon as Jack. Rather, I felt the guilt of being a father who parents his son in the freedom of the West, while families like Joon’s are bound. When the father finally made it to China, not realizing that his wife was now dead, and his son in a labour camp, I had the overwhelming desire to hug my son who was sleeping soundly in our Toronto apartment. I wanted to hug him because I could. A political refugee in China cannot hug his son hidden by sinister North Korean mists.

The story does not end well. As I watched, my own emotional state wanted the father and son to unite. But I knew that this would not convey the reality; all too often father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife remain severed; a bullet to the head keeps them ever apart. When The Crossing ended as it did, although it was devastating, it was true—and that is why everyone needs to watch this film. That is why every Westerner needs to watch this film and others like it. We need to be hit with the chilling reality of the destruction caused by Stalin’s prototypical state.

This morning I sit in a favourite coffee house sipping an Americano while my wife and children are at a Vacation Bible Camp learning about a group of heros who stood against a totalitarian regime. A man once stood amongst lions and was not devoured. What freedom we enjoy in the West. My son can learn to love sedition first-hand, and our government does not cart me away. West Toronto Baptist Church can boldly emblazon the name “Daniel” across the front of their building; their pastor can preach about the Apostle Paul—another great anti-totalitarian who stared down a Caesar—without fearing spies in the back pew. We can all worship the true Caesar, the true Lord, the One that brings down rulers and manifests freedom in his very person. Not a killer, but the Saviour of millions. Jesus is beyond political cliché, all adjectives affixed to his name are deserved—he is “dear” in the very dearest sense of the word, and those who are called by his name call him dear freely and with true love.

The Crossing has a subtext of theodicy that was never answered in the film. The father screams at a South Korean pastor, and throws his bible to the floor in anguish. Young Joon has heard about life after death and hopes that heaven has cool rain, thus far his only refreshing to come to a pallid landscape, but does not live to experience redemption. I am glad that theodicy was not answered; the pastor merely wept at the table. Why? Because most in the West, if the statistics are true, aren’t even asking the question “Why God?” about North Korea. This film is not for North Koreans, it is for those of us who care too much about our favourite café’s that serve good Americanos. May the plight—again, to search for a word that really conveys what my heart feels!—of the North Koreans become a burden for all of us.

After the film, a young man named Jake stood in front of the screen with rolling credits, mic in hand. He read, in chopped, but sonorous English of his life story, all twenty-odd years of it. He and his sister escaped from North Korea to China where his mother had gone before them. His father is still there, and Jake has not heard from him in four years. We applauded Jake when he finished his last word and took his seat at the front of the theatre. And I thought, what can be done? My only response, as I trekked across the lush Toronto landscape, to sleeping children, and my own faithful, loving wife, was to cry out to the One who brings down governments. “Jesus, bring about the miracle of providence, that Jake and his father would one day be reunited.” Prayer is a most, indeed the most, potent weapon. And yet I fear I must do more. We all must do more. Please, take the time to familiarize yourself with the atrocity that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—a misnomer of the grossest degree. Pray for them. And freely offer your services, in whatever way you can, to work toward freedom for a people who do not know the true definition of the word.

Conservatism And Poverty

One of my continual questions about conservatism (as a conservative) is what exactly it is supposed to be conserving. For example, conservatives are often considered opponents of government provided support to the poor. Yet at least for religious conservatives, conservatism in North America in one way or another has been enormously influenced by the thought of John Calvin. And what was Calvin’s approach to this problem? Robert M. Kingdon, in his article “Social Welfare in Calvin’s Geneva,” (The American Historical Review 76, Feb. 1971, pp. 50-69) writes:

A study of social welfare in Calvin’s Geneva must focus on a single institution, the Hopital-Général, or General Hospital. It was much more than a “hospital” in the modern sense of the term. It was rather an all-purpose institution that provided “hospitality” to all sorts of people who were recognized to possess needs that they could not meet with their own resources. It maintained a large building in the center of Geneva that housed several dozen children-most of them orphans or foundlings-and a smaller number of older people whlo were too old, too sick, or too badly crippled to care for themselves. It distributed bread every week to poor households throughout the country and provided shelter and food every evening to visitors who had just arrived in Geneva and could not pay for their own accommodations. (52)

This was an institution partially funded and and fully overseen by the city, and approved of by Calvin. And this particular development, a change to pre-Reformation approaches to welfare (by means of laicization and rationalization), was indeed well-conserved:

The greater radicalism of the Genevan reforms may help to explain their greater permanence, for the Geneva General Hospital proved to be a remarkably durable institution. It continued in operation until the late nineteenth century with only one major interruption, which was caused by the French Revoluition. In 1869 it was reorganized and converted into a new institution called the Hospice-Général, with headquarters in the same neighborhood as the old General Hospital. The Hospice-Général is still standing and ministering to the problems of the poor in Geneva in ways that have not changed substantially since 1535. It would appear that there are times in history when radical reform, however painful it may seem at the time, proves to be more permanent than moderate reform. (69)