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How Could Tyranny Destroy Our Democracy?

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

Michael Novak: On Forming Good Intellectual and Spiritual Habits

Unknown-1Michael Novak, not to be confused with the late conservative journalist Robert Novak, has been (rightly I believe) described as “one of the world’s most influential social philosophers.” He has played a number of prominent roles in American life, ranging from advising candidates and presidents to teaching and writing on the ethics of the free market and welfare reform. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford and he has held academic chairs at Notre Dame and Syracuse. He was also one of the early leaders of the American Enterprise Institute, an influential think tank. In 1994 Novak won the Templeton Prize (it has been called the Nobel Prize for the life of the spirit), a prize also won by men like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Charles Taylor. His writings have been translated into every major Western language as well as Chinese and Japanese.

One thing that separates Novak from many intellectuals, and elected leaders, is his genuine civility and humility. His thought is clear and he is willing to allow facts to challenge

Writing from Left to Right: An Engaging Memoir

124_2013_bknovack8201_s640x821One of the most fascinating and engaging political stories that I have read in years is the recently published book, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Image: New York, 2013). This unique memoir is written by Roman Catholic scholar Michael Novak. I found Novak’s memoir so deeply interesting, for both Christian and personal reasons, that I decided to write several blogs on the ideas of Novak, a foremost intellectual among serious social thinkers over the last four decades.

I have followed the work of Michael Novak for thirty years. Michael Novak is the retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute. He is an author, philosopher, and theologian. Michael Novak now resides in Ave Maria, Florida, where he is a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. I had the privilege of serving on a national board with Michael Novak in Washington about a decade ago. It was through this context that I got to know him personally. Several shared meals allowed me some

The Sunday Assembly – A Non-Theist Response to Religion

MET-AJ-GODLESS-CHURCH-1108For well more than a century freethinkers, and religious skeptics, have gathered, talked and participated in various forms of social interaction without any expression of formal religion. In 1882 the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago was founded to provide a meeting and fellowship for just such a gathering.

The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago describes itself as a democratic fellowship and spiritual home for those who seek a rational, compassionate philosophy of life without regard to belief or non-belief in a supreme being. According to their website they value “the importance of living an ethical, responsible, and joyful life [and] promote intellectual, philosophical, and artistic freedom, avoiding dogma and rigid creed.” They also say of themselves: “While respectful of the faiths and traditions we have been born to, we serve as a new religion or as an alternative to religion.” A full-blown description can be seen on their very attractive website.

A new movement, similar in many ways, began in January a year ago in London and now already has over thirty meeting places in the United States. This

The Brave New World and the Building of Democracies

Unknown-1Political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, that “mankind’s ideological evolution” was complete in Western liberal democracy, a form of democracy which is now “the final form of human government.” So much for a theory that lasted for less than a half of one generation.

Joshua Kurlantzick, in his book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government (Yale, 2013), says the last decade is best characterized by a broad swath of nations embroiled in internal strife and the decline of democracy.

Kurlantzick describes protests in Thailand that led to the fall of its elected government in 2006 followed by an almost continuous violence between the middle classes and the poor ever since. He tells of social and electoral chaos in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malawi, Kenya, Venezuela, and in various countries in Eastern Europe and, of course, in the Middle East. The aborted “Arab Spring” has done little to fundamentally change the region. As economic problems arise globally far more people

Same-Sex Marriage: The Growth of Secularism and Our Christian Response

r1137814_14079916Yesterday I gave a simple overview of the recent Supreme Court opinions on same-sex marriage. I suggested that from a purely legal standpoint the arguments of the slim majority, in these two 5-4 rulings, were stretched beyond the normal limits of a (historic) legal understanding of marriage. I’m not sure, however, that this response will solve much in the end since we are culturally headed toward redefining marriage whether we agree with this direction or not.

Today I suggest that there are three simple steps that we should follow before we consider how to respond to these particular rulings and the massive culture-changing shift that is clearly underway at this time in history.

First, we should take a deep breath. Instant responses, filled with rhetorical flourish and passionate emotions, are not necessary. In fact, such responses generally solve nothing and often make matters much worse. It is easy to get caught up in the latest “hot-button” social issues and miss the much bigger picture, namely that we are waging a deeply consequential struggle with secularism. This struggle ought to

A Mission from God – Inspiration from James Meredith

I remember the fall of 1962 like it was yesterday. John F. Kennedy was president and the South was in deep turmoil over race and white supremacy. The struggle was now centuries old and the race problem still fundamentally unchanged by a Civil War and a Constitutional amendment. I know these truths firsthand. I am a white son of the South.  I am also a white son who longed for change and watched daily reports closely as the civil rights movement grew.

One of the most memorable moments came in the fall of 1962 when James Meredith, a black son of Mississippi, enrolled at the University of Mississippi. James Meredith, a nine-year veteran who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force, engineered two of the most epic events of the American civil rights era: the desegregation of Ole Miss in 1962 and the March Against Fear in 1966, which opened the floodgates of voter registration in the South.

cvr9781451674729_9781451674729_lgWho is James Meredith? I confess that when I picked up his new book at the library, A Mission from

Agape Love and Religious Liberty

St. Augustine’s reasoning, on force and human freedom, demonstrates how essential it is for Christians to balance their desire that all persons know God’s truth as revealed in Jesus Christ with their recognition that the only coercion they should apply is that of reason and love.

The essential flaw of Augustine’s argument is the assumption that the end justifies the means. The end, in this case, is commendable. But the question that must be posed is clear: “Does love not decree the means as well as the end?” Agape love never allows one to detach the means from the end.

Love may reason, urge and plead. But love does not coerce or force. Christians cannot employ means that do not give the fullest attention to the latter’s freedom and personal integrity. Agape simply cannot use force by definition. To apply love in this way usurps God’s prerogative and contradicts love’s very nature.

God created humanity not out of an inherent need but out of love. We were designed for personal communion with God. Human love responds to, and reciprocates, divine love. If communion is forced then

By |September 26th, 2012|Categories: Church History, Free Speech, Freedom, The Church|

An Evangelical Response to Dignitatis Humanae

After presenting an overview of Vatican II’s discussion and passage of Dignitatis Humanae at Lewis University (last week) I then proceeded to set forth an evangelical view of religious freedom, or at least one that I believe accords well with the view I personally hold as a Christian.

I began with 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” This terse statement sums up the deepest insight of the entire Christian faith. The Jews knew God’s covenant love of mercy but not agape. Love is revealed to us in grace and truth, in the person of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In his classic book Agape, author and theologian Anders Nygren says that God’s love has four characteristics that make it distinct:

1. It is spontaneous or self-motivated. Its source is in God. It loves not because of what is in the other person but because love belongs to human essence.

 2. It is self-originating, it does not play favorites; Matt. 5:45 “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” He

By |September 25th, 2012|Categories: Free Speech, Freedom, The Church|

Should We Condemn the Actions of Pastor Terry Jones?

By now you know the story of Florida pastor Terry Jones. Jones is the pastor of a tiny church called Dove World Outreach Center. (Where do people come up with these names?) By all appearances there is not much “outreach” going on in this church and the idea that a “dove” (as the representative sign of of the the Holy Spirit) is the basis for the mission of this church is ludicrous, at least on the surface.

TJ After Terry Jones finally carried out his threat, first made prior to 9/11 of last year, to judge the Koran and burn it in a church service, violence broke out in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This led to the death of a number of innocent people in both countries. When prayers ended at a mosque some went across a street and began the violent attacks.

There are a number of questions we can and should ask about these events but mine is simple: What should Christians do in the public space, which is now global because of the news