Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Arthur Brooks: why is the American public shifting from optimism to envy?

Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%

Labor Force Participation down to 62.8%

An editorial by Arthur Brooks appeared today in the leftist New York Times. His topic is the shift from optimism to envy, why it is happening, and whether envy makes us happier than optimism.

Excerpt: (links removed)

The Irish singer Bono once described a difference between America and his native land. “In the United States,” he explained, “you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.”

[...]Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick. Recent work suggests that envy can help explain our complicated relationship with social media: it often leads to destructive “social comparison,” which decreases happiness. To understand this, just picture yourself scrolling through your ex’s wedding photos.

My own data analysis confirms a strong link between economic envy and unhappiness. In 2008, Gallup asked a large sample of Americans whether they were “angry that others have more than they deserve.” People who strongly disagreed with that statement — who were not envious, in other words — were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. Even after I controlled for income, education, age, family status, religion and politics, this pattern persisted.

It’s safe to conclude that a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the Great Recession, such a shift may well be underway, given the increasing anxiety about income inequality and rising sympathy for income redistribution. According to data from the General Social Survey, the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. In January, 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.”

Why the shift? The root cause of increasing envy is a belief that opportunity is in decline. According to a 2007 poll on inequality and civic engagement by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, just 30 percent of people who believe that everyone has the opportunity to succeed describe income inequality as “a serious problem.” But among people who feel that “only some” Americans have a shot at success, fully 70 percent say inequality is a major concern.

People who believe that hard work brings success do not begrudge others their prosperity. But if the game looks rigged, envy and a desire for redistribution will follow.

This is the direction we’re heading. According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.

There is a good lesson in this for people who want what is best for the poor. Simply receiving money from others is not going to make poor people happy. What we need to focus on is providing the poorest people with opportunities. For example, we need to reduce barriers that employers face to hire them, and we need to make the school system focus more on skill-building and less on indoctrination in leftist ideology.

Democrats like to give lots of speeches on income inequality, stoking the fires of envy, while doing nothing to help people learn useful skills in school and to help employers hire people more easily, setting them on the path of lifelong independence. For example, Democrats oppose school choice, as when they killed the D.C. voucher program that helped poor black students. Less school choice helps public schools to be insulated from competition, so that they can focus on what they want (bigger government, so they get paid more) rather than what parents want (bad teachers fired, students to learn useful skills, more male teachers in the classroom, a focus on vocational skills rather than ideology). Just this past week, the ultra-leftist mayor of New York city kicked charter schools out of the city. Why? Because if children learn useful skills in better schools, then they will be less dependent on government, and less responsive to “envy rhetoric”.

Democrats also passed Obamacare, which punishes businesses with taxes if they allow part-time workers to work for more than 30 hours a week. Many jobs were lost because of this, and many people are now struggling to pay higher premiums for plans with higher deductibles and co-pays. Now the Democrats are talking about raising the minimum wage, which is going to put even more pressure on employers to lay off workers, because they can’t afford to pay them more for the same work. For Democrats, this is all to the good, though. Because if the poor don’t have jobs, or can’t work enough hours, they start to see the economic game as “rigged” and they are more responsive to “envy rhetoric”.

What we need to see is that it’s not the Democrats’ objective to help people find jobs. They gain when people become more envious, like in European countries, and start to vote to grow the size and power of government to redistribute wealth. Speeches about income inequality never have the goal of giving people jobs. None of Obama’s policies aim to do that. That’s why he won’t build the Keystone XL pipeline, or boost domestic energy development here at home. Instead, they want to extend unemployment benefits and pass the costs on to the next generation. Their goal is to get you unemployed or on disability or on welfare, so that you will vote for the government to continue to take your neighbor’s money. That manufactured envy is what keeps the Democrats in power.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arthur Brooks: earning your own success through work makes you happy

In the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel “somewhat successful.” It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.

The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.

Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were “very happy” about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.

That trajectory should be a cautionary tale to Americans who are watching the U.S. government careen toward a system that is every bit as socially democratic as Spain’s.

Government spending as a percentage of GDP in America is about 36%—roughly the same as in Spain. The Congressional Budget Office tells us it will reach 50% by 2038. The Tax Foundation reports that almost 70% of Americans take more out of the tax system than they pay into it. Meanwhile, politicians foment social division on the basis of income inequality, instead of attempting to improve mobility and opportunity through education reform, pro-growth policies, and an entrepreneur-friendly economy.

These trends do not mean we are doomed to repeat Spain’s unhappy fate. But our system of earned success will not defend itself.

What I find most interesting is that the people who vote for Obama don’t even realize how they are making themselves more and more unhappy by being more and more dependent on government. It’s the bluest states that have seen the lowest income growth, the lowest job growth, lower home prices, and the highest unemployment. All of this talk about taxing the rich and spreading the wealth around through bigger and more intrusive government hasn’t worked.

More government means less prosperity, and less prosperity means fewer jobs, and fewer jobs means less happiness. Punishing your successful neighbor and borrowing huge amounts of money from the next generation of Americans does not create jobs. And without a job, you’re not going to be happy.

We need to have a public policy that recognizes that human beings are spiritual creatures, and we aren’t happy unless we chart our own course and earn our own success instead of depending on government to take it from someone else and hand it to us.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Can prayer, Bible reading, church-singing and charismatic preaching stop Katy Perry’s apostasy?

I received an e-mail from a woman who was telling me to drop my list of 10 worldview questions and just look for a wife who reads the Bible and has feelings about Jesus.

She wrote:

My suggestion to you is to consider a top-down approach.  Just pray for God to send you your wife and pray that you recognize her immediately.  You don’t seem like you really want to remain single…and your children are missing out on having you as their dad.  Marriage is for children, remember?  I know several young ladies who know their Scripture and who love Jesus but who, I don’t think, would pass your test because, in my perception, they aren’t cerebral enough.

I get this e-mail a lot, especially from women who have married non-Christians or who are divorced. Now the whole point of the list of 10 questions is to detect women who are not going to help me to produce effective, influential Christian children. If I am going to spend north of $100,000 per child + tuition, then I expect to get some sort of return on that investment for God. That money doesn’t earn itself, and it needs to be well-spent serving God.

It’s my wife’s job to help me to do that. My goal in choosing a wife is to find a helper to make the relationship serve God. Otherwise, it’s better for God if I give that money that I worked very hard to earn directly to effective Christian scholars. I don’t have money to burn “playing house” with someone who is guided by her feelings. I can just give the money to Reasonable Faith or Discovery Institute instead.

Let’s take a look at two parents who aimed at nothing and hit it with their daughter. The two parents run a ministry that is based around passionate preaching, prayer and Bible verses.

Excerpt:

The Lord spoke to Arise International Conference host Mary Hudson to encourage women to reach their full destiny in Jesus Christ. He wants women to rise up as trailblazers, to think outside the box and be bold in Him, of course putting God first, your husband second and then your family!

Mary’s ministry of Arise! International holds annual women’s empowerment and leadership conferences in Hawaii, Belgium, Colombia, France, Switzerland, Denmark and the USA. The river of glory is rising and we must flow with it.

2012 promises to be a break-through year to Arise! in who you are in Christ. Lean on Him for direction, don’t look to man. Knowing the signs of the times and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit will be vital to being at the right place at the right time to reap the harvest of souls coming into the Kingdom.

Pray about being a part of Arise! this coming year. It just may be the meeting that propels you into the next level for your life. Remember, you are equipped with everything you need to fulfill your purpose. God’s assignments reveal your abilities and your capabilities, and He will provide both the potential and the provision to meet every assignment.

We call you blessed and highly favored!

I noticed that their “book store” offers nonsense books like this:

Keith Hudson “Looking and Seeing”:

Like this disciplined athlete, you need to learn how to look beyond your present situation and keep your eye on His Presence. God is ready to display His glory in your life as well in these last days, but it is going to take boldness for you to take the mask off and look at people and situations the way God sees them, not how man looks at them. What may stand in front of you may look too big for you to grasp; that what you see now is the way it’s always going to be. Or you look at the dream God has given you and think, “there is no way I can ever accomplish this with my resources at my age…” That is the moment you have to flip the switch from looking to seeing.

Mary Hudson “Smart Bombs”:

Smart Bombs is a book which will show you practically and with true life examples how to take God’s Word and let it explode strongholds in your life. When you read the Bible, He quickens particular passages or verses to your heart. You know it is God talking to you about your situation. Or when you receive a prophetic word, you sense in your heart this is speaking to you. But what do you do with these words when they bear witness with you? Let them fade away and disappear off of your memory? No, Smart Bombs shows you how to go on the offense with the anointed word of God, how to demolish strongholds and take back everything the enemy has stolen from you.

This easy read is a must for anyone who is looking for clarity on their destiny.

Keith Hudson “The Cry”:

The Cry will reignite you with new fire. Christians lose their passion when they let go of their zeal for God. We come into prayer meetings and we are so polished and perfected. But the Lord wants to hear the cry of your heart. The church has lost its cry: God is about to restore it. Why did the thirty people gathered for the Azusa Street revival have such a move of the spirit of God in their day? Because they had a cry in their hearts and in their prayers. The Cry will release a desperate longing in you for Gods intervention in your life. It goes way beyond your natural thinking into a spiritual hunger from your innermost being. When everything else has failed, a desperate cry touches the heart of God.

Now do you think that someone who reads books like that will produce the same kind of children as parents who read William Lane Craig, Stephen C. Meyer, Jay Richards, Michael Licona and Nancy Pearcey? Of course not. Because the Hudson books are fluff and the books by real Christian scholars are not fluff.

Now let’s read an article from Christian Post about what sort of child the fluff approach produces. (H/T Mysterious Chris S.)

Excerpt:

Katy Perry, the 29-year-old singer and songwriter, is revealing that while she prays she no longer identifies with Christianity.

“I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell, or an old man sitting on a throne. I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable,” she told Marie Claire magazine recently. “Accountability is rare to find, especially with people like myself, because nobody wants to tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

Perry, who took the Billboard charts by storm with her hit song “I Kissed a Girl” in 2008, told Marie Claire that she no longer considers herself a Christian despite being raised by Christian ministers.

“I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Hindu, I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time – for self-control, for humility,” she told Marie Claire. “There’s a lot of gratitude in it. Just saying ‘thank you’ sometimes is better than asking for things.”

Despite her decision to perform music that may seem controversial to the Christian community, the chart-topping singer has never shied away from crediting the Christian church for giving her a start as a performer.

“The atmosphere I grew up in was 100 percent Christian,” Perry said her “Part of Me: 3D” movie which was released last year. “I started singing in the church, I never really had another plan.”

Their daughter is writing songs to promote homosexuality to young people. That’s their legacy. The legacy of spiritual gifts, God opening doors of mysticism and charismatic anti-intellectualism. That’s what they are going to present to God as their spiritual legacy. I noticed that Mary Hudson is now calling her daughter’s celebrity divorce after one year of marriage a “gift from God”. Her daughter married a heroin-addicted leftist non-Christian – but he was hawt. Tall, dark, handsome and a famous comedian, too.

The list of questions I use when courting helps me to avoid marrying a woman like Katy Perry’s mother. She could not answer any of my questions. None of them. And what’s more, she doesn’t want to answer them. She wants to live her whole life without learning how to answer them. She wants to stick with her Bible, her singing, her feelings, her passionate oratory and her crowds of gullible people. I will not marry a woman like that. It produces disaster and failure. It produces anti-Christian children.

In fact, you can’t succeed at anything worthwhile in life using the Keith and Mary Hudson approach to parenting. You can’t do a thing with that approach. Not writing software, not fixing cars, not making investments, not sending a rocket to the moon, not even evangelizing an apostate daughter. You do not want to be a Christian man who pumps 30 years of hard labor into a family that produces apostate children. If you are going to spend the money, then make sure you get the results.

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What does the word happiness mean on the Christian worldview?

From happiness expert and Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland.

Excerpt:

According to ancient thought, happiness is a life well lived, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness and goodness. For the ancients, the happy life — the life we should dream about — is a life of virtue and character. Not only did Plato, Aristotle, the Church Fathers and medieval theologians embrace this definition, but Moses, Solomon and (most importantly) Jesus did, too. Sadly their understanding is widely displaced by the contemporary understanding of happiness defined as pleasure and satisfaction, a subjective emotional state associated with fleeting, egocentric feelings.

Consider the differences:

Contemporary Understanding Classical Understanding
Happiness is: Happiness is:
1. Pleasure and satisfaction 1. Virtue and character
2. An intense feeling 2. A settled tone
3. Dependent on external circumstances 3. Depends on internal state; springs from within
4. Transitory and fleeting 4. Fixed and stable
5. Addictive and enslaving 5. Empowering and liberating
6. Irrelevant to one’s identity, doesn’t color the rest of life and creates false/empty self 6. Integrated with one’s identity, colors rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self
7. Achieved by self-absorbed narcissism; success produces a celebrity 7. Achieved by self-denying apprenticeship to Jesus; success produces a hero

How can we be certain Jesus is inviting us to a classical understanding of happiness in Matthew 16:24-26? He isn’t talking about going to heaven rather than hell, nor is He telling his followers how to avoid premature death. Where Matthew writes, “what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul” (emphasis added), Luke clarifies Jesus’ teaching by replacing “his soul” with the word “himself” (Luke 9:25). The issue is finding one’s self vs. losing one’s self. More specifically, to find one’s self is to find out how life ought to look like and learn to live that way; it’s to become like Jesus, with character that manifests the fruit of the Spirit and the radical nature of Kingdom living; it’s to find out God’s purposes for one’s life and to fulfill those purposes in a Christ-honoring way.

In one of his lectures, he says, and I quote: “Happiness is the freedom to do what we ought to do”. Indeed. When a person is free to comply with God’s design for human flourishing, then he/she is happy.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

Why do younger evangelicals put happiness and popularity over morality and truth?

Here’s an interesting post by Mark Tooley in the American Spectator.

Excerpt:

A new generation of evangelical elites is imploring evangelicals to step back from the culture wars. Mostly they want to escape polarizing strong stances on same-sex marriage and abortion, and perhaps also contentious church-state issues, like the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.

Purportedly the evangelical church is failing to reach young, upwardly mobile professionals because evangelicals, who now broadly comprise perhaps one third of all Americans, are seen as reactionary and hateful. On their college campuses, at their coffee shops, and in their yoga classes, among other venues, some outspoken hip young evangelicals want a new public image for their faith.

[...]A popular young evangelical blogger echoing Merritt’s theme is Rachel Evans, who conveniently grew up in the Tennessee small town famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial. Her 2010 book was Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. “We are tired of the culture wars,” she explained in a recent interview. “We are tired of politics.” Lamenting the church’s preoccupation with “shame and guilt,” she urged evangelicals to reconsider their opposition to same-sex unions.

The post has a nice history of how evangelicals have always been involved in moral and political issues, and it’s worth reading. But I want to make a different point below.

What’s at the root of this movement to back away from moral issues? Here’s what I think is the problem. When you advocate for moral causes like protecting the unborn, or school choice, or freeing the slaves, a bunch of people are not going to like you. Christians in the time of Jesus knew that being bold about their Christian convictions would make a lot of people think bad things about them – they expected it. But young evangelicals have gotten the idea that being a Christian should not involve any sort of unhappiness and unpopularity. They wouldn’t have learned this from the Bible, because the Bible emphasizes suffering and unpopularity as part of the normal Christian life. It is their experience of church (and the hedonistic culture around them) that is likely to reinforce that view.

What young evangelicals learn in many churches is that religion is something that is centered on the Bible and the church building – it is not something that flows into real life. They learn that you can’t find out anything about God from the Big Bang, the DNA, the fossil record, or even from the peer-reviewed research on abortion, divorce, or gay marriage. They learn from the Bible that helping the poor is good, but then they never pick up an economic textbook to see which economic system really helps the poor. What you learn about in church is that religion is private and has no connection to reality whatsoever. This fits in with their view that Christianity should make them happy, because they’ve learned that it doesn’t involve any studying to connect the Bible to the real world.

What follows from having a view that Christianity only lives in the Bible and church, and not out there in the real world of telescopes and microscopes? Well, most young evangelicals interpret what their pastor is telling them as “our flavor of ice cream” or “our cultural preference”. They don’t link Christianity to the real world, they don’t think that it’s true for everyone. They think that you just accept what the Bible says on faith, and that’s all. No reasons can be given to non-Christians outside of just asking them to accept the Bible. Younger evangelicals believe that there are no facts that confirm or disprove Christianity – it’s just a blind belief. Young evangelicals think that their faith doesn’t have to be complemented with careful study of how things work in the real world.

What is the result of this anti-intellectual compartmentalization of faith? The result is that young evangelicals will balk at the idea of telling someone that they are going to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. They will balk at the idea that feminism is to blame for the destruction of the family. They will balk at the idea that the best way to help the poor is to push for free market capitalism. They will balk at the idea that it is wrong to kill unborn children. They will balk at the idea that disarmament and pacifism embolden terrorists and tyrants to attack peace-loving people. They will balk at the idea that traditional marriage is better for society and children. They will balk at the idea that man-made catastrophic global warming is not supported by science. They lack courage because they first lack knowledge. They don’t know how to make the case using hard evidence. They don’t learn that hard evidence is important in church.

If the purpose of religion is to have happy feelings and be liked, then studying the real world to find out whether the Bible is true is bad religion. If religion is divorced from reality, then it’s just a personal preference influenced by how a person was raised. No young evangelical is going to lift a finger to take bold moral stands if they think their worldview is just one option among many – like the flavors of ice cream in the frozen section of the grocery store. They have to know that what they are saying is true – then they will be bold. An example: there was a time when people believed that God did not create the first living cell, because it was just a simple lump of protoplasm that could easily come about by accident. Now we know better, and we can boldly make the case for intelligent design based on hard evidence – if we put in the time to study the evidence. And it is the same for everything – from theological claims, to moral claims, to social claims, to economic claims, to foreign policy claims. It doesn’t matter if people call you names when you have the facts to support unpopular claims, and that’s why public, authentic Christianity is built on facts. Non-Christians being offended by your claims doesn’t change the way the world is.

We have to turn away from our own ignorance, laziness and cowardice if we hope to have the ability to stand up for our beliefs in public. Christianity is not about being happy and feeling good and being liked by others. In a society that is increasingly secular and relativistic, studying outside the Bible necessarily precedes an authentic Christian life. There is no shortcut. We might have been able to get away with fideism 50 years ago, but not anymore. Not now.

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