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FIRST PRINCIPLES PRESS NEWS & BLOG

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 Integral to its mission, First Principles publishes articles and press releases, combs news media outlets for current events, presents research and educational materials to a wide variety of audiences, and houses a vast archive of historical documents and quotations. Check back here regularly for what’s new at FPP.
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Morality Has Its Advantages After All

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The latest generation to reach adulthood has often been criticized for being lazy, selfish and, in general, lacking any sense of a moral compass. Many of the critics turn to our country’s straying from Christian principles as the cause for this, and that very well may be the case. But it goes much deeper than that.

It seems that when critics of Christianity worked valiantly to eradicate all traces of the religion that led our country to be a global super power from public schools, workplaces, and government offices, they inadvertently removed all morality along with it. And it appears that morality actually plays a role beyond the confines of church.

The New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed titled, The Mental Virtues, where author, David Brooks, lays out the moral values necessary to be a person of character in boring old workplaces across the country: love of learning, courage, firmness, humility, autonomy, and generosity.

According to Brooks these characteristics are what separate the everyday heroes from the schlumps who think they don’t matter and their choices don’t matter either. As the article points out heroes aren’t just soldiers on the battle field, but can be anyone who possesses the values and actions of a hero. Intellectual virtues are attainable and needed in every school, office building and government complex.

“In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”

This ‘moral enterprise’ sounds eerily like Biblical morality. Wouldn’t it be amazing if practical morality was once again taught to children in school? Wouldn’t it change the game if employers and teachers measured success based on one’s character and morality rather than their performance record?

While Brooks is definitely on to something with his identified moral values, unless they are coupled with the underlying beliefs of Christianity they are not only unattainable, but they become a rigid measuring stick in which no one can ever be good enough. In fact, that sentiment is precisely what led to morality being tossed out the window over the last century. When Christ and grace and mercy were pushed to the back and the rules of Christianity became the focus, their appeal lessoned, leading to the mess we are in now.

 

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Another Major Shortcoming in the Labor Force: Intangible Skills

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The education establishment in the United States—from K-12 to higher education—is in serious trouble on many fronts. Students are graduating high school with scant job prospects, ill-prepared for the demands of the workforce. Even worse, college students are graduating with 6-figures of non-dischargeable student loan debt and little connection between their education and the demands of the workforce. Except for some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-based fields, the costs of a college degree are fast-becoming out of touch with the benefits. If the problems stopped here, it would be bad enough.

Now, we have even more bad news: not only are workers not technically-qualified for many of the good jobs, they are lacking basic common-sense skills: communication, basic professionalism, even team orientation. This is reflective not only of a breakdown in our education system, but at the basic building block of society. Historically, these intangible skills are learned in the home

While Burstein correctly points out the lack in such skills, she is errant in thinking that Common Core will resolve this dilemma. It will not, and in fact will only exacerbate the existing problems in the education system. While the technical skill gap reflects a failure in schools, the intangible skill gap reflects a larger failure in homes.

Critical thinking is not learned solely from reading literature—although that can help—but is also gained from managing complex situations with varying levels of risk. You don’t learn that on a smartphone or a video game. 

A wise engineering professor once said, “You don’t really start learning until you encounter a problem that you cannot solve.” He was spot-on: when you have to dig outside your body of knowledge to arrive at an answer, then you begin to really learn. This isn’t merely about engineering, it’s about life

In childhood and adolescence, one must learn the rigorous subjects: addition and subtraction, multiplication tables, algebra, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and even chemistry and physics.  That necessary body of learning also includes playing team sports, doing odd jobs, learning to prioritize, and working with people. In the process, one learns the complexities of decision-making, as well as responsibility and accountability. 

Just as you begin learning when you encounter a problem you cannot solve, you also begin learning when you fail. In homes and schools alike, students often aren’t allowed to fail; this deprives them of a very hard reality of life, as failure is an opportunity to learn risk management and responsibility, not to mention integrity.

While schools—to include colleges—can help on these fronts, these are the intangibles that children and teens need to learn at home. 

The workforce is, and has always been, fickle and demanding. Employers need workers who will show up on time and ready to contribute, who have interpersonal skills, who can work with a team to solve problems, who will put in the extra time when that becomes necessary, who will take prudent risks and accept responsibility.

That begins with parents.

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Close, But Not Quite: Tim Elmore, the Plumb Line, and Timeless Values

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The moral decline in America is finally gaining notice, and not merely from Christians. Recently, Tim Elmore—writing in The Huffington Postaddressed this very issue. Elmore rightly concludes that absolute truths are necessary. As Elmore put it:

“While the list isn’t likely long, we must maintain a universal set of values, ethics and morals among all humanity. But as the pendulum of history swung from black and white to gray, we’ve become afraid to do so. Have you noticed the drift away from any judgment or evaluation of behavior for fear it’s improper? In the name of tolerance, our ability to possess wise judgment evaporates.”

As a result, what we have now is a generation of young adults who are not just amoral but also apathetic. Elmore suggests that the only remedy for this is a set of core principles that can be agreed upon by everyone and accepted as truths in any and all circumstances:

“At the risk of oversimplifying, we need a plumb line for our morals today — an outside source that helps us evaluate our shifting morals so they aren’t merely reflections of what gives us pleasure, what others think or feel, or even what gets us where we want to go…At the same time, it seems so antiquated to bring up old, stale, traditional values…I simply propose that old doesn’t equal irrelevant. Isn’t it possible that “old” could mean timeless? Even though our world population now contains over seven billion people, could we say (for instance) that love, honesty and empathy are timeless and universal for all people?”

This is where Elmore, sadly, begins to break down: while love, honesty, and empathy sound wonderful, they are hardly universal for all people.

The Auca Indians of Ecuador, for example, were legendary for their savagery: they killed others—and even themselves—for any or no reason. The first Christian missionaries—among whom were Jim Elliot and Nate Saint—died at the hands of the Aucas in 1956. Thankfully, Christians continued to reach out to them and, today, the once-murderous Aucas are largely Christian.

Nor is “love”–even when accepted in a society—understood the same way in all cultures. The ancient Greeks engaged in pederasty—sexual relations between adult males and boys. In the Middle East, “child brides” are not uncommon.

While Elmore is correct in that we need a plumb line, he incorrectly posits that we can derive it from universal cultural norms. While American society once had an objective plumb line, we have, over the years, buried it as we collectively exchanged the truth of God for the fleeting pleasures of a moral relativism that is giving way to an insidious Nihilism that is evidenced—at the margins—by suicides and mass shootings.

Unfortunately, Christians have created some of the problem here, as Christians often make the mistake of presenting their faith in terms of morality rather than core principles rooted in the person and character of God. On one extreme, Christianity is all rule-based, performance-based morality that leads to frustration as we fall short of the glory; on the other extreme, we have a morality is disengaged from the world and resembles Islamic fatalism rather than proclamations of a loving God who made everything in His wisdom and His time and His goodness, and Who reaches out to a fallen Humanity.

Other Christians, adding insult to injury, have not only bought into relative morality, they also promote it within the church, further muddying the waters: they present lies packaged as truth.

While Elmore was spot-on in his assessment of our young generation, his recommended treatment is short of the glory.

That God sent His Son–who took time to chat with a Samaritan woman, call out tax collectors and “sinners”, heal people who were otherwise outcasts, work tirelessly in training and teaching twelve men who would turn the world upside down without firing a shot–into the world, provides a basis for the compassion of Christian morality.

As David said in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, and forget not His benefits.”

May our nation rediscover that the Lord is good, and His ways are the paths of life.

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The Bible, the Bayonet, and the Republic We Hope to Keep

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Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.” — Robert Winthrop, former Speaker of the

You can’t have self-rule without self-discipline. — Paul Harvey

When a land transgresses, it has many rulers.” (Proverbs 28:2a, ESV)

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Americans of all political stripes are coming to grips with the disastrous potential of a militarized police force.After all, militarized police forces were the hallmark of Cold War-era Totalitarian regimes. In such governments, the police had all the power, and individual rights were nonexistent. Dissenters often mysteriously “disappeared”, or died under suspicious circumstances. From the old Soviet Union to China to North Korea and Cambodia and Cuba and El Salvador and Chile, militarized police have struck fear into the hearts of civilians.
While Americans are right to be concerned about this expansion of the Police State–given that, as government expands, freedom often contracts–we must also consider the realities that have driven this increased militarization of police. Those truths reflect a society at a crossroads.
A little over a week ago, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri–a suburb of St. Louis–shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. One account–refuted by the autopsy–had the officer allegedly shooting Brown in the back, while another account had the officer shooting Brown even though he had his hands up, and still–yet another account, captured on video in the immediate aftermath–had the 290-pound Brown charging the officer.While Brown fit the description of a suspect in an armed robbery, the officer who shot him was unaware of that at the time.

These kinds of incidents are why we have a justice process. We must establish facts and reconcile them with the law. Make no mistake: the rule of law is more important than mobs and sound bites. After all, we are a nation founded on the rule of common law, which has its origins in the Old and New Testament. Moreover, our Constitution–in two different places, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments–specifies that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without Due Process of the Law.Sadly, the Michael Brown shooting has sparked a number of riots that led to the looting and destruction of businesses and property, with some bloggers trying to justify them. While people are right to demand transparency and accountability in their government, we must resist the temptation to cave to the knee-jerk reactions that foment mob rule. Others have used the occasion to threaten “purges” in other cities such as Louisville.
Anyone who defers to mob rule over the justice process, is begging for more government and crying out for the very militarized police that breeds more police brutality.
Police militarization is barely more than 40 years old. Darryl Gates, the former LAPD chief, pioneered the use of Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams, intended for situations where criminals were of sufficient violence and weaponry to require such a response.
Since the Gates era, police departments across America have followed suit, insisting that the brutality of some criminals has necessitated a combat-ready police force. Sadly, the Miami FBI shootout of 1986, the LA riots of 1992, the North Hollywood shootout, and now the Ferguson riots of 2014, are all proving them correct.As a country, we have a choice to make. As Speaker Winthrop presciently observed, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.

In his inaugural address, President Reagan said, “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of man, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.The issue is whether Americans have the character to live as free men and women. Our system of common law and our Constitution were written by people who either were Christians or who were otherwise respective of the Christian consensus in America.

While Americans are not without their profound struggles–from the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights movement–our advancements were reflective ofwho we were. It was the Christian consensus that led to the abolition of slavery. The Civil Rights movement was driven by Christians.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the hearts and minds of Americans through his authoritative proclamations and his commitment to peaceful resistance. He resisted the urge to give in to mob rule, and appealed to the very Christian fabric of Americans in making his case for racial equality. In doing so, Dr. King helped bring about substantive change while defusing a conflict that could have led to a catastrophic race war.

This is poignant, because mob rule leads to the bayonet. Disrespect of life, liberty, and property rights also leads to the bayonet. This is because when society embraces evil, this creates a need for more government–including a militarized police force–to contain that evil.

A society that does not respect the life, liberty, or property of another person is not worthy of the freedoms for which our Founders pledged life, fortune, and sacred honor. 

A people who resort to class warfare–pitting haves against have-nots–to explain problems of character is out of touch with Benjamin Franklin, who said, “a Republic, if you can keep it.” 

At this rate, the fall of the Republic is a very real possibility.

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