Everything is impossibly complicated

Archive for December, 2012

Fiscal Relief

I’ve finally come across an article about the “fiscal cliff” that doesn’t involve invoking spectres of doom which, of course, are all necessarily a result of the character and principles of whoever you don’t like:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/the-bright-side-of-falling-off-the-fiscal-cliff/266705/

In short, there’s good reason to think that the results of the “fiscal cliff” will actually be largely beneficial. A number of indicators show that America’s economy is growing stronger (stocks, GDP, wages, inflation, etc.). The Congressional Budget Office study that says there will be a 1% recession as a result of the budget cuts and tax hikes only predicts that for the first half of 2012, and also says that it’ll switch to 2% growth after that. Much-needed defense cuts will take place which probably wouldn’t otherwise. And of course, the long term effect of the “cliff” will be reducing the deficit–which was the goal all along.

As far as the few real problems with the budget cuts/tax hikes package go, they can still be addressed by Congress without having to come to a deal to avert the whole thing. And while it’s annoying to have to pay more taxes, I think taxes for my household will only go up about $800 total. That’s hardly the crippling burden that the media have been portraying.

Media sources tend to thrive on disaster. But there’s good reason to think that most of it is just hot air, as usual.

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Wilderness and Humanity

Slate has an interesting article on a new trend arising in the environmental movement which is challenging the older view that wilderness is the best and that human activity and technology is an unmitigated disaster for the world. Rather, they’re focusing on how human development and the natural world can intertwine with each other in a sustainable way. A particularly interesting criticism of the older view is that

“ecologists and conservationists have grossly overstated the fragility of nature, frequently arguing that once an ecosystem is altered, it is gone forever.” This belief has flowed from the long-held notion…of a pristine nature that exists apart from people.

But that is a false construct that scientists and scholars have been demolishing the past few decades…

The article describes how, instead of forcibly violating private landowners’ rights to protect endangered species, there are examples of the government and private interests working together to balance environmental needs with continuing development.

What I appreciate about this view is that it doesn’t lead to the inevitable conclusion that the older environmentalism leads to, which is that human nature and the natural world are fundamentally incompatible. Rather, it provides hope that we can find a balance between development and preservation, and that even if we make mistakes, it doesn’t mean everything is irreversibly lost.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/12/modern_green_movement_eco_pragmatists_are_challenging_traditional_environmentalists.single.html

The Effort of Sanctification

There’s an interesting debate brewing in the neo-Calvinist community. As some teachers (in particular Kevin DeYoung) have started addressing the need for human effort as part of the process of becoming holy (sanctification)–as opposed to being saved (justification), where no effort, even the effort of believing, is possible without G-d’s grace–another teacher, Tullian Tchividjian, has proposed a focus to the idea that has proved controversial.

Tchividjian’s idea is that, instead of being a process that begins at justification but then progresses on from it, the entire effort that we put into sanctification is continually bringing ourselves back to our justification. We toil to remind ourselves in every situation that G-d has already freely declared us righteous with no effort of our own. Any sin is a result of our trying to find some other means of justification and failing to believe that we’ve already been justified.

Other teachers, however, object to this idea on the grounds that it doesn’t mesh with Scripture’s exhortation to do specific works. They argue that to focus on the foundation of justification allows too much leeway for people to be lazy. We need to understand that sanctification comes from our effort to do specific good things, not to merely achieve greater understanding of our effortlessly-received justification.

What I find most interesting about the argument is the subtle point about how to proceed with sanctification. The standard view is that the Scriptures tell us what’s right, so let’s focus on making ourselves do those things that are right. It permits us to quickly and easily discern whether or not we (and others) are succeeding, based on the objective evidence of whether or not we (or others) are doing good works.

But perhaps, says Tchividjian, the true process of sanctification is the effort of understanding our inner selves and striving to transform that. Instead of just not sinning, why do we, each of us for our particular reasons, want to sin? And once we know that, how do we correct it? What better way than by applying the foundational understanding of how G-d saved us, and what that tells us about who He is and who we are–our justification–to the inner desires that we uncover in order to correct them? In that way, we become transformed internally into people who want to do right, instead of constantly battling ourselves to try to force ourselves to do right.

This article is a good introduction to the argument:

http://headhearthand.org/blog/2011/12/12/does-jesus-nothing-everything/

And this long article provides a thorough description of Tchividjian’s argument:

http://theaquilareport.com/the-role-of-effort-in-sanctification–a-dialogue-between-kevin-deyoung-and-tullian-tchividjian/

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