Political scientists and historians are increasingly expressing profound concerns about the future of democracy in the West. I have been asking, as an amateur historian of America, “How and why do democracies die?”
The study of democratic backsliding, though around for a long time, is becoming more urgent as we watch events unfold so rapidly it creates deep concern in many of us. In the mid-2000s, the global spread of democracy, after 200 years of expansion, clearly began to stall. Perhaps it was the Iraq War and the events in the Middle East but however we understand what happened since 9/11 populist movements in the West began to arise and grow in number. This new form of Western populism, joined with a growing passion for nationalism and a seriously distorted form of exceptionalism, are now impacting America on a daily basis. This feels a lot like something we’ve seen before, in other places, but I do not think mosts of us are paying attention.
This new expression of Western populism bears more than a passing resemblance to Latin American populist waves that turned authoritarian very quickly. (Perhaps this
One of the most persistent problems I face, as both a Christian thinker and leader, is to confuse my plans with God’s plans. I seek God, I pray, and I read widely and study a great deal. I often see a clear way forward, at least sometimes. I sometimes feel quite sure I know what God wants. But my plans are not God’s plans. I have learned this again and again over nearly seven decades of life. But I still fall into the trap even as I watch others do the same in large numbers.
The hope of humanity is Jesus Christ. This hope is clearly being challenged today. It is challenged by politicians. It is challenged by social engineers. It is challenged by entrepreneurs. And it is challenged by ministers as well. Dr. Ralphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta since 2005, rightly says, “It takes a tough mind and a tender heart to hold on to hope.” It sure does.
I have found holding on to hope very difficult over the last twelve months. I personally came through a quintuple heart
Daniel Silva has been called one of our generation’s finest writers of international intrigue, a spy novelist extraordinaire. I was introduced to one of Silva’s novels by a pastor friend several years ago. I confess the book he recommended was so compelling, haunting, and brilliant that I could hardly put it down. I finished it in just a few days. Thus began what turned out to be a “love affair” with the fiction of this popular writer. Almost all of Silva’s books have reached #1 New York Times bestselling status within months of their publication. His fan base is huge. I am numbered among them now.
Silva’s first book, situated in World War II, was The Unlikely Spy (1997). It is a novel of love and deception set around the Allied invasion of France. His second and third novels, The Mark of the Assassin and The Marching Season, were instant New York Times bestsellers and starred two of Silva’s most memorable characters: CIA officer Michael Osbourne and international hit man Jean-Paul Delaroche. I was hooked by
Population growth in the United States is slowing each year. It reached its lowest rate since the Great Depression in 2015-16. Demographers say that this slow growth is largely due to the aging of our population. But immigration growth is also declining, though during the past three years our levels of immigration have grown for the first time since the 2007-2009 recession. The lead cause in these shifts is our declining birth rate. Yet in spite of the numbers we still have a positive natural increase while countries like Germany and Japan do not. Demographers predict this decrease will continue for some years to come. This will stress our social systems such as Medicare and Social Security, stressing again the warnings we’ve had for several decades but rarely had the political will to resolve.
What solutions do we have to protect the needs of our aging population and the well-being of our society overall? Answer: invest in a serious immigration strategy that shores up the younger segment of our society overall. Do we have the resolve
Many evangelical and conservative Christians, especially older white Christians of conservative persuasion, are weary of the popular slogan: “Black Lives Matter.” Some are even angry at the actual movement that is associated with this name and believe it is harmful to our culture. I’ve heard various responses regarding this negative view of the slogan and the movement but the most common is that this is a bogus notion because Christians should say, and believe, that: “All Lives Matter.” The truth is, as often is the case, much deeper and more socially and personally nuanced.
It is true that “All Lives Matter.” From conception to the grave life matters. This is, at least for the broad tradition of Christian faith and practice, the truth. This is why I believe the death penalty needs to be abolished. It has become a “cruel and unusual punishment” in its present form. (This assumes it was right in the past and I even question this conclusion on ethical grounds as I understand the New Testament and the teaching of our Lord.) I also believe environmental concerns must become the concern of the
Many readers know that Fr. Thomas Baima is a close friend and a supporter of ACT3 Network. Tom and I go back more than a decade now in ecumenical work and inter-religious dialogue. Tom has one of the best minds, and some of the finest first-hand experience, in this field of dialogue. I turn to him quite often to discuss a myriad of issues.
Tom spoke a few weeks ago to the Muslim Society of Chicago at a large gathering at McCormick Place. The broad topic was “Inter-religious Dialogue.” An interfaith panel from many backgrounds spoke for nearly sixty minutes. Tom’s words come around the 12 minute mark on this video and ended at about 16 minutes. In this short address you can see him answering an important question: “What is the motive for dialogue between religions from a Christian perspective?”
He suggests that there is a common motive, namely the recognition of our shared humanity and shared belief in God. He believes this motive encourages tolerance and other societal goods. He calls the second motive particular. This motive allows us to learn from each other in our
I think it is quite unlikely that many readers of this post know the life and thought of René Girard. I discovered him late in life, only about fifteen years ago. I found his work on human desire both insightful and brilliant. Agree or disagree with Girard’s thought he helped us rethink human desire, anthropology and sin. If you reject the idea of evolution please do not let that issue keep you from learning from this great Christian thinker. This presentation by Fr. James Alison is a great, short summary.
You may need to see this several times to actually process Girard’s central thought but this is as good as any short presentation of the man and his thinking I’ve seen.
I owe a debt of profound gratitude to my friend Vill Harmon (second from left in this photo with my good friends and two ACT3 board members). Vill is the secretary in the office of Ecumenical and Interreligious for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In July (2015) Vill and I shared a conversation about our background, especially in terms of race and the South. Vill is African-American, and a great friend. I have come to cherish her advice and joyful spirit. When Vill encourages me to think about my past, and the present issue of race in America, I try to listen. In July she told me I should read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), written by the famous Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014). (Maya’s first name came from her brother Bailey when she was a child.)
I cannot tell you how impressed I am by the leadership, courage and clarity of President Michael Lindsay of Gordon College. This is, in my view, the kind of leadership we need in Christian higher education. I will be watching and praying for Michael Lindsay with great hope and joy for Christ and his kingdom, which happens to be the motto of my college, Wheaton.