Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wacky Wednesday--We Should Overthrow The Government

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~Governmental authority flows from meeting needs, ensuring rights, and doing justice. Can you realistically say the American government is successfully doing ANY of these things?
~Um…it’s illegal. Like, try reading the Constitution sometime.
~Consider some common practices like gay marriage, premarital sex, adultery, divorce, abortion, pornography, blasphemy, militarism, secularism, disrespect of parents, drug use, and schools and the media teaching anti-Christian values and ideas. How sure are you that this cesspool is worth defending?
~The level of tyranny and oppression we suffer under today would have made King George look like the most benign dictator in history.
~If the Ten Commandments are the basis of a rational system of law, then our system has gone terribly awry.
~The whole reason for having the Second Amendment is so that we will be able to use those arms when the needful situation arises.
~The notion of domestic enemies of the Constitution is so real that it’s actually a part of the oath of office: to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.
~What imaginary situation can you offer where you would consider taking up arms against a government of domestic enemies that isn’t already essentially true?

Wacky Wednesday--Christianity Is Just A Manmade Religion

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~It’s just designed to give people a hope that some subsequent life will be awesome, even though this one is awful. In other words, it’s just wishful thinking.
~“Come to Jesus, get all your problems fixed?” Yeah, that sounds like something people would never make up.
~Society needs rules, and some people early realized that these rules would have more potency if people believed they came from some always-watching being who would catch you even if the cops didn’t.
~We worship because we are afraid of something, and God is just a way to feel we have a sense of power and insight in a dangerous and confusing world.
If men made it up, then you’d expect to find lots of discrepancies and scientific errors in the Bible. ~Well, whuddaya know?
~If it were really true, we would see it working far more effectively than it does.
~People have a desire to extend their existence and power into an eternal state, so they have to manufacture one to do the trick.
~If someone just walked up to you in a scenario where you had never known religion at all and told you this story, you’d laugh at him for coming up with such an implausible lie.

Is religion man-made? (Stanley Fish)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Theological Tuesday

~Is a third temple coming to Israel?
~Are Christian bumper stickers a good idea?
~Would you be willing to ask Jesus to go to the Cross for you?
~Is it loving to be angry?
~Is God’s love irrational?


Third Temple (Wikipedia)

Jerusalem in the New Testament (pdf) (NT Wright)
Love needs no reason (Christianity Today)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ethics: Christian Economics

Dr. Shawn Ritenour has written a book: Foundations of Economics: A Christian View, which I thought it would be interesting to talk about with him on the show today. He is an associate professor of economics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and an adjunct professor at the Ludwig von Mises institute in Auburn, Alabama. He was also an economist at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics before becoming a teacher.

Foundations of Economics: A Christian View (Amazon)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wacky Wednesday--SUVs And Minivans Are Unethical

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~Dangerous to animals and wildlife
~Headlights are right in my rear-view mirror, let alone if brights are on.
~Intimidating to have one tailgate you.
~They waste gas.
~Danger to others, in a collision with a car, the car rarely wins.
~Bullies love them.
~Moral hazard of knowing you’re safer makes you drive more recklessly.
~Feeling of superiority because you are both bigger and taller than the ordinary car.
~They actively reduce visibility, and therefore safety, for ordinary cars.
~The immorality of it becomes apparent when you present these argument to someone who drives one of these monsters: if you don’t like it, buy one yourself.
~They create envy and are often bought from covetousness.

Wacky Wednesday--Marriage Shouldn’t Be For Life

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~Why not let people enter into marriage based on their own ideas?
~Given the ease and legality of getting a divorce at any time, this is essentially the nature of marriages already.
~Lots of marriages turn out to be bad decisions. This lets them expire without having to do anything.
~If someone isn’t willing to renew his vows, doesn’t that mean he shouldn’t have to continue living them?
~If people knew marriage was only temporary, they’d be better able to endure it.
~If people knew marriage needed to be renewed, they’d be more likely to treat their spouses better in the hopes of earning the renewal.
~Lots of people cohabit for 2, 3, 4, 5 years when they could just get a temporary marriage instead.
~Isn’t the world better with lots of options?
~Certainly, you have to admit that this idea would encourage lots of people to get married who currently don’t.
~People change, right?
~Aren’t lots of marriages just mistakes?
~You can endure anything for seven years.
~Why would you want to force yourself on someone for life who doesn’t even want you after seven years?

Curing the seven-year itch (London Times)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Theological Tuesday

~Can a person believe in God and not Jesus?

~Is it loving to be angry?

~What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?

~Was Paul serious about not knowing anything but Christ and Him crucified?

~Are Christian bumper stickers a good idea?

~Did Job really exist?

~Do you believe places have spiritual mojo?

~Does God know your sins?

~What aspects of Christianity couldn’t be made up?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ethics: Government Funding of Abortion

After the passage of the health reform bill yesterday and the announcement of the Stupak deal with the White House for an executive order maintaining the current Hyde language, people on both sides of the issue seem unsatisfied, which is often evidence that a good deal has been made. Nevertheless, since the question of why government funding of abortion is so particularly unacceptable has come up a lot in recent weeks, I thought it would be useful to talk about the issue and try to assess just how much moral distance there is between legal abortion and government-funded abortion. Especially of interest to me is how much of the issue comes down to the expectation that it will increase the number of abortions as opposed to simply having government funding of the ones which would otherwise have happened anyhow.

Universal health care reduces abortion rates (Wash Post)

Rate of abortion per 1,000 women 15-44 by country (UN)
Abortion and crime rates misunderstood (Steve Sailer)
The Stupak Mystery (Slate)
Obama’s executive order (White House)
Fascinating info on “Nay” Democrats (NYT)
Executive order not worth it’s paper (Operation Rescue)
Executive order does nothing (AUL)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Government Should Fund Abortion

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~If we’re going to start paying for medical care, then the fewer people there are to cover, the better we are. Plus, gynecological coverage for a birth is significantly more costly than mere abortion coverage.
~The people most prone to having babies are the worst parents and usually the poorest. If you don’t provide abortion coverage to them, you’ll get exactly the worst sort of citizens.
~This is a legal medical procedure. If the federal government is going to provide medicine to people, why should they be denied coverage for a legal medical procedure?
~If you believe that a woman’s right to choose abortion is truly her right, then why shouldn’t she have access to a health insurance plan that facilitates that right just like any other medical opportunity?
~All or almost all health plans cover contraception. Do you propose banning this also?
~Government always does things you don’t like. Why should your particular religious values be a veto against collective government action?

This is life we’re talking about (Albert Mohler)
Abortion and the health bill (WSJ)

Wacky Wednesday--It’s Wrong To Celebrate Racial/Cultural Heritage

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~By definition, celebrating something means saying that it’s good. The only way to say something is good is by contrast with something that is either bad or else less good. So, by logic, celebrating one cultural or racial heritage entails demeaning other ones as inferior.
~Now this shouldn’t come as any big shock, since the history of racial and cultural oppression is so obvious.
~Celebrating anything other than your identity in Christ is a recipe for disaster. Didn’t Paul say not to celebrate these sort of divisions?
~Food, clothing, music, art, speech patterns, and history don’t really matter. So why bother celebrating them?
~These things only degenerate into celebrations of drinking and partying, not really any particular celebration of cultural heritage anyway.
~What if your cultural or racial heritage also has serious flaws and things you can’t be proud of? ~How do you celebrate without also acknowledging that stuff?
~What if you don’t want to draw your identity from something beyond your power like your heritage?

Why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? (CS Monitor)
Church history and St. Patrick’s day (CS Monitor)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Theological Tuesday

~What did Jesus mean when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”
~Is it loving to be angry?
~What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?
~Was Paul serious about not knowing anything but Christ and Him crucified?
~Are Christian bumper stickers a good idea?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

~Everett L. Worthington: A Just Forgiveness
~Life tips and tricks you think others don’t know about
~How should churches handle sex offenders?


Everett L. Worthington:
Homepage at VCU

A Just Forgiveness (Google Books)

Churches and sex offenders:
Modern-day lepers (Christianity Today)
NC law on sex offenders ruled unconstitutional (Christian Post)
Catholic church bars girl with lesbian parents (Denver Post)
Where do gay Republicans fit? (CS Monitor)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Various Current Events

Congresswoman calls for federal pay cut (CBS)
School districts consider 4-day week (WSJ)
What about gay Republicans? (CS Monitor)
Black Barbie sells at a discount (ABC News)
AZ budget plans on steep cuts (AZR)
A nonfrivolous suit (NYT)
Healthy solution: taxing sodas (NYT)
Buying TV by the hour? (NYT)
Toyota hysteria (LAT)
Abortion and the health bill (WSJ)
SVU bashes Christians, conservatives (Newsbusters)
Sean Penn vs. First Amentment (Fox News)
Is health care a right? (Walter Williams)
Helping illegal immigrants via cell app (Fox News)
Fla Florist certification law challenged (USA Today)
CA SC hears law banning felon body armor (SF Chronicle)
Dems try to change filibuster in Senate (Politico)
Fee hikes to pay for poor services in MD (Baltimore Sun)
National curriculum standards? (Wash Post)
Florida ponders tax to encourage pro-family films (NYT)
Minority births to outnumber white ones (Denver Post)
Less than 43% of Americans have $10K saved (NJ Star-Ledger)
Detroit looks at downsizing to save itself (Wash Times)
Census allows gays to identify as married (NJ Star-Ledger)
Profs banning laptops from lecture halls (Wash Post)
Study links soda tax with better health (Philly Inquirer)
Curfew bill for kids during day in SC (The State)
Boulderites protest Cath. school barring child (Denver Post)
Dems learn how to talk about terrorism (Politico)
AZ near bottom in lottery sales (AZR)
National standards in education (NYT)
Braking bad (Sudden acceleration from human error) (NYT)
School spying via laptop and the Constitution (Findlaw)
33 children abandoned in Moroccan Christian expulsion (C Post)
1 in 6 have herpes, 40% of blacks (Reuters/CDC)

The great prostate mistake (NYT)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theological Tuesday

~Is it loving to be angry?
~What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?
~Was Paul serious about not knowing anything but Christ and Him crucified?
~Jesus in the Garden: Obedience
~Are Christian bumper stickers a good idea?
~Should Christians listen to Dennis Prager?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ethics: Annulment

I’ve always been a little bit skeptical about the concept of annulment. It honestly always sounded to me like just the Catholic version of divorce, and some anecdotal stories I’ve read reinforced that belief. But I also knew I had never given it much serious attention as a concept. Having recently read two columns on the subject, I thought we could talk about the ethicality this way of handling marriage termination.

Annulment (Wikipedia)
Catholic annulment (Wikipedia)
Annulment in the law (Expert Law)
Annulment Q&A (Catholic)
Annulment Q&A (Law)
Divorce (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Divorce in the civil jurisprudence (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Annulment based on fraud part 1, part 2 (Findlaw)

Casas Por Cristo

If your or your church has been thinking about a simple short-term mission trip, I have one for you. Casas Por Cristo is this really cool charity that facilitates American teams building houses for low income families in Juarez, Mexico. The trips normally take 3-4 days (depending on how many people you can bring) and cost a total of $4100 for materials for the 12-18 people you bring (so around $250-350 a person). If you register by April 10, Casas will reduce that by $500 to just $3600! They work through the local church in Juarez, and it’s pretty common for churches who do this once to keep sending groups every year after they first participate. So, for more information on how your youth group, men’s group, or church group could do something like this, visit or call 1(800) 819-8014

Reyes/Camacho Family----------------Vazquez/Pena Family

One of our listeners emailed me these pictures of the conditions in Juarez, where he used to live. The conditions are even more extreme than I knew yesterday! Pay attention to the "houses" you see in the backgrounds.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Various Current Events

EU moves to protect persecuted Christians (C Post)
Utah bill would criminalize illegal abortions (C Post)
Utah bill would criminalize illegal abortions (NYT)
From churchgoer to church arsonist (NYT)
Coffee party develops (NYT)
Obama supports schools that fire bad teachers (NYT)
Obama angers unions on school stance (Wash Post)
Camrys not in the recall also had problems (NYT)
Electronic billboards distraction (NYT)
How Milton Friedman saved Chile (WSJ)
Guns and the states (WSJ)
Family attempts suicide over global warming fears (Daily Mail)
It’s not too late to save “normal” (LAT)
Sex addiction divides mental health experts (LAT)
Give the Olympics a permanent home (NYT)
Peoria considers 4-day work week (AZR)
Matt Damon feels let down by Obama (NY Daily News)
Dems reach deal with Bunning (Politics Daily)
Illegal to be a Jew in Mass.? (Towhnall)
FDIC to test principal reduction vs. foreclosure (Wash Post)
Gun fans cheer Starbucks (Fox News)
Gun case presents quandary for SCOTUS (Wash Post)
New study links violence to video games (USA Today)
Islamic scholar issues anti-terror fatwa (BBC)
MA Senate ok’s new testing for elderly drivers (Boston Globe)
Toyota complaints after recall fix applied (LAT)
Fed proposes credit card penalty limits (USA Today)
Woman threw hot coffee at meter maid (Boston Globe)
Muslim woman refuses body scan at airport (London Times)
Gitmo releasee now Taliban commander (Fox News)
White teachers removed for mocking black heroes (CNS News)
Atheists swap porn for Bibles (CBS)
Pregnant bartender fired from strip club (JonathanTurley)
Jim Bunning: Why I took a stand (USA Today)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wacky Wednesday--We Shouldn't Wait in Line

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~Survival of the fittest is how we got here, not survival of the earliest to arrive.
~This sort of artificial equality is essentially unnatural.
~Only suckers wait in lines.
~Even people who otherwise might wait in lines don’t wait when there’s a merge lane, for instance. ~All kids know by nature that lines are a problem. Just look at how hard it is for them to do this.
~Unwillingness to wait in line stems primarily from diminished enthusiasm. Just think about it, the people who want it most should go first, not the people who arrived earliest because their lives are so dull they have that much free time.
~If lines are so important, why isn’t cutting them illegal?
~Some people are slow or inept or want to buy too much. Why should the rest of us have to wait for them?
~Line mentality is the same as tenure mentality. How’s that working for us?

Wacky Wednesday--It’s Good To Be Politically Correct

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

~Every culture has taboo subjects. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the taboos are, at least in the sense that it’s important for people to know that some things are off limits.
~This gives clear boundaries to our thoughts and our discussions.
~The notion that everything should be questioned or that every idea should be entertained might be fine for college students, but not for general society all the time, especially not for kids.
~Historically marginalized or oppressed people should not be held up to criticism and scorn.
~White, male, Christian culture is and long has been imperialistic, and you’ll notice they’re the ones complaining about this the loudest.
~Politeness is an essential social skill, and PC is just politeness in a multicultural context.
~We have a range of social taboos that most conservatives accept including against blasphemy, lewdness, and profanity. Why these and not other taboos?
~If we can use language as neutrally as possible so as to not demean and also so as to include people in the conversation without poisoning their identity from the outset, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that a Christian thing?
~Reducing people to stereotypes not only is unkind but it limits their ability to participate fully in society if such boundaries are allowed to persist.
~If current language use is a barrier to people treating others with dignity and as human beings, then forcing them into uncomfortable language use will also force them into uncomfortable and beneficial social attitudes and interactions.
~What we really are trying to do is to get people into the habit of talking like those who love the groups or categories they are discussing rather than like those who hate them by their identity.

Political Correctness (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Theological Tuesday

~Brian Godawa: Word Pictures
~Jesus in the Garden: Obedience
~Are Christian bumper stickers a good idea?
~Should Christians listen to Dennis Prager?

Brian Godawa's website
Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ethics: Strategic Mortgage Default Revisited

We recently did a show on the subject of the ethics of abandoning a home because your mortgage is so much greater than the equity of the house. My view was clear and adamant that doing this out of financial opportunity rather than out of necessity is morally unacceptable because you made an agreement. But having read several articles on the subject recently, I wanted to talk about it some more with you and see whether this same stance is still appropriate.

Underwater, but will they leave the pool? (NYT)
Underwater and not walking away (Paper) (Brent White)
Citi to let distressed homeowners stay 6 months (USA Today)
No help in sight, more homeowners walk away (NYT)
Duplicity in mother of all mortgage walkaways (MSNBC)

Email exchange:
Below is a rather lengthy email conversation I've been having with a friend after last night's show. I decided to post it here instead of just in the comments section mostly because that would take too long (breaking it up into chunks small enough to post) and because I think it's probably interesting enough that I'd like you to see it more easily. So, here:

My schedule has changed so I haven't heard you as much lately. I happened to tune in tonight while you discussed the ethics of abandoning a house. I was really baffled by the conversation.

What I heard was something like this. "Well, you signed a contract with lots of caveats in it, so if you go with the caveats rather than paying for the house, why would that be wrong?" I would imagine in a world of non-Christians that would be a perfectly suitable approach. "Well, the bank approaches it that way, so why shouldn't I?" But from a Christian perspective, I don't even get the question.

Why do we sign contracts? Are we signing contracts to buy a house on the premise that it will make us better off financially and if it doesn't we're free to ditch it, or are we signing the contract on the premise that we'll pay for the house? And why are there caveats in contracts? Are they there because the bank wants to be nice? "Yeah, we know that it might be better for you to get out of this, so we'll give you options." Or are they giving you a disincentive to bail? Do you genuinely believe that contracts are complicated because the bank knows you might want out, or are they complicated because too many people fail to pay?

The person with whom you were speaking/agreeing said, "Of course, if you walk, you'll lose reputation and credit score" with which you agreed. I would think that this alone would answer the question. We are commanded to let our lights so shine before men that they would see our shrewd business practices in weaseling out of a contract that isn't in our favor and glorify ... oh, wait, that's not right. No, we are supposed to represent Christ. We are supposed to be people of integrity. What, for instance, is a "credit score"? It is a financial number that is used to quantify your economic integrity. "Can this guy be trusted?" A hit on a credit score (especially because we choose to default on a loan) is a blatant response: "No!"

Jesus told us to avoid swearing (no, not saying naughty words, but promising ... you know, like signing contracts and such) because we should be people of such integrity that when we say "Yes" we mean "yes". No one signs a house contract with the idea of "maybe". We are promising to pay. Shouldn't we let our "Yes" be "Yes"?

I cannot see a case where someone abandons a home, skips out on payments, stiffs a creditor, and we come away saying, "Now, that is a fine example of Christian virtue." Is abandoning a house moral? Yes, of course, as long as you define "moral" as " conforming to a standard of right behavior of the culture". But we're not held to that morality. We're held to something else. Even if it hurts.But, hey, that's just me.



I like your insight about the credit score as reputation.

I also like your application of letting your light shine.

I don’t see you dealing here with the question of Arizona law specifically being designed to protect you in abandoning your mortgage. Nor do I see you dealing with the question of banks making predatory loans at 35:1 price to rent ratios and adjustable rate loans that depend on people being able to refinance them later as the price of the property goes up. I also don’t see any consideration of the sales approach that “your house is your best investment and will always go up in value.” If a bank loans you money on a commodity which it has a realistic expectation will be worth much less in the near future without warning you of its knowledge, is that still a loan you owe for or is that fraud? Is that predatory lending?

I’d also like to get your take on the question of whether the 15 or 30 year loan isn’t usurious and contrary to the concept of the year of release in Deuteronomy 15. We don’t allow people, for instance, to sell themselves into slavery precisely because we think that some (even voluntary) transactions are unacceptable with the concept of human dignity. Is a home mortgage in this same category? I don’t know, but let’s just say that at the moment I’m highly suspicious.

See, I think the Bible is very careful about restricting the rights and privileges of the wealthy (what is a bank?) against the ordinary citizen, especially the poor one. As a matter of fact, I think the best solution here would be that banks would allow people to walk away without having to foreclose (as Citi has recently started doing, even with letting people stay for a time and offering $1000 in relocation costs).

If the value of housing had simply gone up and up, we naturally wouldn’t be having this conversation. And certainly I’ve often said that people are foolish for believing that you can buy a car and it depreciates while you enjoy the benefit of using it whereas you can buy a house, enjoy it, and still make a profit. But that’s the sort of thinking banks have historically encouraged and profited from encouraging. It’s just not obvious to me that things are as simple as you say (or as I said six months ago, virtually identical to you) nor that banks are currently shouldering their fair share of the burden of the collapse in the real estate market.

By the way, your description of “stiffing a creditor” is fairly well-crafted loaded language. The loan is secured by the house, right? So the creditor in making the loan is saying, “you get the loan and repay it, or else I get your house.” He’s also making a sort of bargain in requiring this security as opposed to merely a promise. If I say to my son, “Do the dishes.” I expect him to do them. If I say to him, “Do the dishes or else you don’t get dinner,” and he says, “Well, I’m not hungry anyhow,” I can’t be all that surprised that he took a deal I offered him. Any time a deal is presented as a trade, the moral obligation is automatically lower than a deal presented merely as goodwill or honor.

I think your most compelling point is about whether we could ever look at someone who walked away from a mortgage electively (not in real need) and praise it as a great example of Christian virtue. I actually know someone who is considering precisely this so that he can relocate to a poor area of town to do ministry with the money he will save. I know someone else whose condo went from $120 K to $24 K (he still owes over $100K). He has bought a foreclosure and intends to just give back the keys to the condo. Now, is he being financially wise under the circumstances? Is he practicing the virtue of looking out for his own family? Or is he just a deadbeat who’s breaking a deal and ruining his Christian reputation? I know he has agonized over the question. Is the bank behaving Christianly if it refuses to negotiate down the loan? What if it tries to foreclose on a house when someone just can’t pay, especially under the ordinary circumstances of increasing prices? When Zaccheus came to know Christ, he gave away half his fortune and paid anyone he had cheated 4X what he took. Paul told Onesimus to return to his master, but he also told Philemon to be kind to his reunited slave. But Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees over the widow’s mite. He most certainly was not praising them for standing by and allowing her to be abused by their teachings about tithing. I worry that we have emphasized so much the idea of maintaining honor as a matter of pride that we are creating a situation which perpetrates financial abuse through moral leverage.

I strongly prefer a society where people pay their debts and honor their word, obviously. I also prefer a situation where the people who own their homes outright aren’t the ones who suffer most from their prior responsible behavior. (Remember that I actually own a home and rent our one here, so I’m speaking as a person most likely to be adversely affected by another round of devaluations.) But banks have essentially built on the personal pride aspect of home ownership developed over the 20th century even as they allowed and profited from pure housing speculation. When a speculator lets a house go because it’s financially foolish to keep it, that’s just business. When a homeowner has been trained to think of himself as a housing speculator (on his own house), suddenly he’s a cad for doing the same thing? Financial transactions always entail risk and they are made for the purpose of profit. Should homeowners not be allowed to cut their losses of equity already paid? Shouldn’t banks have been more careful to get enough down on the loan to make even a market collapse (to 15:1 for instance on value to rent) still a good deal for them? Who should take the brunt of the responsibility and the pain here? “Be a good Christian, just endure, it’s your cross to bear?” How sure are you that’s Biblical advice? Have homeowners been swindled? That’s a strong view to take, but if that were the conclusion, things start to look far less obvious.

The thing I’m getting at, Stan, is that this is significantly more complicated than you are saying. Although, again, I completely understand the impulse to reduce it to a simple moral prohibition since that’s what I thought as recently as a month ago. So, I don’t expect you to be persuaded necessarily. And I don’t expect myself to not be persuaded out of my current view. I may well be wrong. There’s certainly something compelling about the simplicity of your view. But there’s a lot more discussion that needs to happen beyond, “Don’t be a deadbeat. Keep your word.”

Thanks for the conversation and pushing me to think about this more. I will continue to do so, especially because I’m not sure about my own view and it does seem contrary to fairly clear traditional ideas.

May I post your comments on the website?


If my comments would be of value, feel free to post them on the website.

I do have a question. The question of predatory lending, the morality of banks, and all that keeps coming up. I wonder if we are allowed to determine what is genuinely ethical based on sinners, or are we supposed to determine what is ethical based on what is right? (By the way, no one is obligated to buy a home with 35:1 price-to-rent ratios and adjustable rate loans. We aren't obligated to buy a home at all.

I'm wondering the reverse question as well. If a bank wrote a loan with the reverse language in it -- "We may, at any time, choose to no longer fund your loan. If housing prices continue to rise and we determine that it would be more economically in our favor to foreclose on the house and resell it, we may. We will incur xxx penalties for doing so ..." -- how many people would sign that loan?

Okay, more than a question. #3: You said that if people did this (let's assume a lot of highly moral people saw it the way you are describing -- a wise and ethical move), it would have catastrophic effects on everyone. It's okay (ethical), though, if only small numbers do it?

Oh, and, hey, I have a question from ignorance. You may or may not know. When a house is funded for purchase, a bank pays a sum on behalf of the buyer for the house. Some money has changed hands. When I sold my condo in CA, their bank paid off my loan (and then some). So when a home buyer buys a house from a builder, for instance, the bank gives the builder the money on behalf of the buyer and then waits for the buyer to repay that loan. Now ... the house that originally cost $200k is now worth $100k and the buyer walks. The builder is holding $200k from the transaction. The bank can get $100k in the foreclosure. Doesn't the bank lose $100k? (I know, I know, there are payments and interest and all, but I'm just asking about where the money goes and who loses in a foreclosure.) It seems as if someone has to lose something somewhere. Who is it? (It seems like that should be part of the ethical question.)

I know the rules. No email conversations. I don't expect a reply. And that's good because I'll just assume I won! (I'm kidding.) I just can't see determining what is right from the evil that others do ("Is the bank behaving in a Christian manner?" No, of course not! Should I expect them to?) or solely based on what is economically wise. Oh, and thanks for the compliment. I pride myself on "fairly well-crafted loaded language" without going too overboard. ;)

(Oh, by the way. If we are talking about a bank like Citi who allows -- even encourages -- people to do so, it's another ball game.)


Your first comment is a false dichotomy, again with loaded language. “Either learn from sinners or do what is right?” You’re trying to be cute, but it’s not so helpful.

Agreed that no one is obligated to buy a house in the first place, but we still say that some voluntary acts are still illegitimate. Or are you suddenly for gay marriage and prostitution?

The question of reversal is better put this way: How many banks would agree to loan a mortgage knowing that a borrower who saw his house decline far enough could simply walk away from it with only a credit score penalty as a consequence and the bank would get the home as collateral? I put it to you that this is precisely the deal every bank accepts when it makes a loan, and they know it. They’re just hoping that the prices won’t go down so much and that even if they do people will still pay nevertheless, just as borrowers are hoping they go up and they can continue to pay. How many buyers would have bought homes in 2005 (or refinanced them along the way) if they had any realistic expectation of losing 50% of the value over the next three years? 10-15%, sure. But 50%? I doubt anyone would have.

I agree with your concern about the collective effects being bad. But I also wonder how much farther housing prices could drop (along with people leaving ownership for rental) before the rental market really started to surge, thereby driving home buying back up. Such interactions are very complicated, and even I don’t pretend to grasp them all. It’s possible that a massive wave of walkaways wouldn’t even have much net effect over a few years, but again, I’m no expert. Then again, it’s not always good analysis to imagine what would happen if everyone did this. Kant isn’t a great guide in all cases. I, for instance, never buy a new car and I almost never buy new clothes. If everyone did either of these, the resale market for clothing or cars would eventually go away. So I’m clearly parasitic upon other people’s financial foolishness with clothes and cars. Does that make my thrift wrong?

Another wrinkle to all of this is the existence of mortgage insurance which compensates a lender in the case of a default, and it’s been my understanding that some banks aren’t willing to do some short sale deals precisely because of the availability of mortgage insurance. Also, I believe carrying homeowner’s insurance is another requirement for mortgages, precisely because the bank wants assurance that uncompensated destruction of the asset is not a likely outcome.

Absolutely the issue of who is losing money is a part of this equation. I’ve been working on the presumption that the bank is the primary loser. And the idea that they would seem to be taking all the loss on their side also bothers me. But so does the interest they charge and their overall pattern of seemingly usurious profit ($200,000 interest over 30 years for a $100,000 house makes me ill to consider).

Again, I want to reiterate that there is a nice clear visceral sense that if you can pay the debts you freely incurred, you should do so. I certainly share the gut instinct that the more financially secure someone is, the less justified they are in walking away from a ridiculous mortgage. Similarly, I expect you share the notion that if a person is in trouble, the more severe the trouble the more acceptable this option becomes morally, just like bankruptcy as an extreme case. So there’s something funky in the idea that people in trouble have moral justifications that others do not, but that’s often the way of things. I can’t get free food from the government because I earn too much, for instance.

Aside from the Biblical questions of abuse and lending and release (which you didn’t comment on), I think my two big observations are that the loan is collateralized with a particular thing and that the deal most people think they made in their head (I made a deal with this particular person to get a house and then pay for it) is far more simplistic than the actual legal contract the 50 pages of papers represent and the subsequent sale of slices of that mortgage to secondary investors. I’m just not sure that our moral intuitions for simple interpersonal promises fit the reality of this highly complex situation.

Is a guy who can pay his mortgage and does pay his mortgage morally better than a guy who can pay but abandons it to better himself financially? I’m generally inclined to say he is. What if following that path becomes really harmful to him or his family, even though he could theoretically do it? I’m more inclined to say he is not.


Miscellaneous Monday

Some things I’m thinking we might discuss:

~Study on connection between brain region and spirituality
~Freakonomics on abortion link to crime decrease
~Iran getting the bomb
~Religious discrimination in Great Britain