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Friday, October 28, 2011

How Can We Hope For Any Agreement?

When it comes to explaining why it works in rural Holland and USA to have people pay for milk and firewood by putting payments into a jar, or a bowl, without a clerk on hand to monitor the transaction while in India people would take the milk, the wood and the money, Vishal Mangalwadi says the reason the West went one way and India went another is because of different belief systems, or worldviews.

Mangalwadi identifies specific biblical premises that energized the modern educational system in the West, from the time of Luther and Calvin on. Namely, beliefs about a Creator who provided a universal moral code for our good. Beliefs that people who live in harmony with this code experience good results, and people who break it experience bad results--economic and otherwise.

At the same time, Mangalwadi decries the West's rejection of the Bible as a source of Truth. He says this development is based upon rejection of the very idea of "universal Truth." Consequently, my wife and I can go out on the streets of Seattle for over an hour and find lots of people willing to go on camera to say "right" and "wrong" is a matter of personal opinion, and find no one who mentions the Book or the One behind it. (See http://youtu.be/jsHiSLgTLv4.)

To suggest, or even imply, that there is one standard for morality (a biblical standard) that is universally "right" for everyone, is now considered a very "intolerant" idea. People who venture in this direction are likely to be branded Bible-thumping, finger-wagging bigots.

So now we are in a pickle. We lament that people do selfish and (if I can even use this word) "immoral" things in the business world, with the result that some lose their life savings, many have their retirement accounts dramatically reduced, lots of people are out of work, and public protests dominate the news. Yet, I don't hear many leaders critiquing the worldview changes that brought about the massive buy-in of the West to the notion that morality is "a personal, private thing."

How can we hope for any agreement on what our moral norms should be, when we no longer share a common standard for measuring those norms? Where is this "every-man-doing-what-is-right-in-his-own-eyes" trail we've been following since the 'values clarification' movement of the 60's taking us?

To be continued.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Are Such People Increasingly Rare?

About a year and a half ago, on a sunny day in Seattle (it happens now and then), I said to my wife, “Let’s go to the Seattle Center and do some street interviews.” I wanted to ask people on the street a basic question about morality, and capture their answers on video tape.

We had done this ten years previously, and I figured it was time for an update. The question was: “How do you define ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and how to you determine the difference?”

So we went downtown. I set up my camera in a busy area with lots of people around. For over an hour we interviewed passersby who give us permission to record their answers and to share their responses with others.

I thought we might find a good number of people who subscribed to the prevalent idea that “what is right for one person may not be right for another--no one can judge.” I was not disappointed. This was the recurring theme. But I also thought we might hear from one or two that would appeal to the Bible, or to “Christian teaching,” as a guide for right and wrong. After all, this is America, and we heard such comments on the street a decade ago.

Is it because the Emerald City is a bastion of postmodern relativism (which it is) that we didn’t hear a single person make reference to the Bible? Nobody quoted, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We heard this a decade ago. Nobody referred to The Ten Commandments. We heard this a decade ago.

Maybe we just missed those folks this time around. Maybe if we had been on the street for another hour we might have found such a person. Maybe.

What do you think? Did we just happen to miss those who consider the Bible to be a moral plumb line for right and wrong? Or are such people increasingly rare?

Is the idea that God has written a moral code on our hearts as well as on tablets of stone still alive in your neck of the woods? If you went downtown in your area to ask the same question we did, would you come up with similar answers? Would anyone make reference to the Bible?

To view our findings, see http://youtu.be/jsHiSLgTLv4

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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Root Of Our Economic Problem

When Vishal Mangalwadi first visited Holland, coming from India, he saw a level of trust that allowed a dairy owner to let people help themselves to milk and put their payments in a bowl on the windowsill. He was dumbfounded! "Where did this morality come from?," he asked. "Why isn’t my society equally trustworthy?”

Mangalwadi asserts the foundation for this morality was laid by European reformers like Martin Luther and John Knox, who created a new kind of education that made character formation a primary goal. These pioneers of modern education, Mangalwadi maintains, developed education "precisely to civilize generations that could create a new Europe."

The education developed by the reformers was much different than we generally see today. Their kind of education was rooted in Judeo-Christian premises, which Mangalwadi identifies:

1. God is holy.

2. God has given us moral laws (as in the Ten Commandments).

3. Obedience to God's Word is the source of good life.

4. Disobedience to God's moral law is sin that does not go unpunished.

5. Sinners can repent and receive forgiveness and new life.

"This good news," Mangalwadi says, "became the intellectual foundation of the modern West, the force that produced moral integrity, economic prosperity, and political freedom."

Early settlers coming from Northern Europe brought this brand of education to America, and Harvard was established just sixteen years after the Puritans landed at Plymouth.

Why is the moral integrity that Mangalwadi found in Holland not present in his native India? Because the Judeo-Christian premises upon which education was founded in Western Europe and Colonial America are not at the base of Indian society. Other worldviews prevail.

But Mangalwadi asks another important question: "If moral integrity is foundational to prosperity, why don't secular experts talk about it?"

Great question! I think it gets to the root of our current economic mess. Because the root of our economic problem is not economic, but moral and spiritual.

The reason the secularized experts don't talk about moral integrity, Mangalwadi maintains, is because the universities no longer teach the concept of "universal moral truth." Why? Because the universities have abandoned the very idea of "truth" itself!

Harvard's original motto was Veritas, Christo et Ecclesiae, Latin for "Truth, for Christ and the Church." This motto was later shortened to simply, Veritas: "Truth."

Any day now, I expect it will be changed to: "Whatever."

More to come.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Pay The Bear

Kathy and I got out of town for a couple of days last month with one of our sons, Rodney, and his friend, David. Our destination was two hours out of Seattle, in the mountains, where we pitched our tents in a campground by a lake.

Needing wood for our campfire, I noticed the campground was selling bundles for $5. But I recalled seeing a sign just off the main highway as we turned toward the lake, advertising firewood for an amount that was 20% less. Passing this location on our way back from a side-trip, we stopped to purchase firewood there.

As we pulled into an orderly establishment, we noticed a lot of wood carvings for sale, all out in the open, with no one around. I saw a large pile of wood, and drove toward it. Here we found a carved bear with a jar atop its head. The jar had “$4.00” written on it, and a sign at the bear’s feet read, Pay The Bear. No one was present to receive our money.

I helped myself to a bundle of wood, and "paid the bear." As I did, I noticed the jar was full of bills. I paid for my purchase with a smile of wonderment, and a heart of thanks for what some early settlers had brought with them across the Atlantic to this land: a foundation for the kind of moral integrity that allows such scenes to still occur in rural America.

I couldn't help but think of a similar experience of Vishal Mangalwadi, who Christianity Today calls, “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” In the opening chapter of his great book, Truth and TransformationDr. Mangalwadi tells of his first trip to Holland, where his host said to him, “Come, let’s go get some milk.” They walked to a nearby dairy farm and entered the milk room, where no one was present. Dr. Mangalwadi’s host filled his jug with milk, then took down a bowl full of cash from a windowsill, put twenty guilders into the bowl, took some change, put the bowl back, and started walking away.

“I was stunned,” Mangalwadi wrote. "Man," I said to him, “if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money.”

Then Mangalwadi posits: "Where did this morality come from? Why isn’t my society equally trustworthy?”

Next week: Mangalwadi's answer to his own provocative question.

Rodney (right) enjoys the campfire with David.

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