Most of my readers are probably familiar with the Mises Institute and their Austrian Scholars Conference. However, the Ligonier Conference I attended this past weekend fits into a little different category. It is a conference put on by Ligonier Ministries of Orlando, Florida. It is named Ligonier because the whole thing started about 40 years ago in Ligonier Pennsylvania. It is a center of Reformed theology and teaching. Most of the people involved with it are Presbyterian and while I’m a Reformed Baptist, we agree on many other points of doctrine. My church, Grace Reformed Baptist, uses some of their teaching series in our Sunday School and Wednesday services. One of the giants of Ligonier Ministries is R.C. Sproul who is something of a celebrity among the kids (or at least my siblings) of our church. I think it was rather shocking for them to realize that I would actually get to see R.C. Sproul at the conference. Anyways…with that introduction, let me get into the real stuff…
The theme of the event this year was “The Christian Mind.” This was one of the main reasons I decided to attend because I feel like this such an important but neglected topic.
The conference started on Thursday afternoon with a great introductory lecture from R.C. Sproul. I disagree with him on several issues, but what I love about his speaking is his knowledge of philosophy, history, and the intellectual movements of history. His series called “The Consequences of Ideas” is amazing. It is a history of philosophy from a Christian perspective. It is an incredible intro to philosophy. Anyways, in his lecture he talked about the different philosophers who have tried to describe the relationship between thoughts and actions. And he summed that discussion up with the Bible verse, “as he thinks in his heart, so he is,” (Proverbs 23.7) as the Christian response to the thoughts/actions debate.
And then he talked about the mind and the will. This could have been a lecture at the Mises Institute. Even though he didn’t frame it in that way, he was essentially talking about praxeology and human action. At any point in time, we just choose between a myriad of options for action. And not only can we choose the option that we want the most, we must always choose what we want the most. If someone comes up to you with a gun and says, “give me your wallet or your life,” you still have the freedom to choose, though your choices have been limited. So this is a kind of determinism, as we can only do according to our strongest inclination. But it is self-determinism, and it is what defines human freedom. Applied to theology, because we are all naturally depraved, our strongest inclination is to rebel against God. That is why we cannot please God or live for Him in our natural state. He has to change our natural inclinations so that we can want to love Him.
Lastly, he pointed out that on the Judgement Day, God will not judge us by what is in our head but by what is in our heart. But nothing can get into our hearts without being first in our minds, and that is why the Christian’s mind is so important.
The second lecture was by Robert Godfrey and he traced the history of the church and anti-intellectualism in American history. He argued that America began to change with the election of Andrew Jackson, a populist. The power shifted from the “snobs to the mobs.” There was not only a political shift towards democracy, but this influenced all of culture. With the expansion westward, there was more emphasis on the individual and their independence. There was a cultural revolt against the perceived elites, the lawyers, doctors and preachers. The response to preachers was, “if the Bible is clear, why do we need the ‘experts’ to explain it?” The focus in religion also shifted from thinking to doing. This was partly because of the developing eschatology of the emerging denominations and there was more importance placed on social work and making this world a better place to live.
The opposition to Christianity did not come about because the Church was unable to answer the accusations of the secular world, but because the Church simply retreated and failed to answer. There are scholarly answers to the world’s attacks, and we need to be intellectually prepared to give these answers. And he ended with a quote from Calvin, “nothing is as arrogant as ignorance.”
The third lecture was from Albert Mohler. He points out that people rarely take the time to think about thinking. But as Christians we need to think about thinking because how we think will affect how we live. If we want to live faithfully, we must think faithfully. The Christian lives in the midst of a crisis in thinking. Since the fall, all humans have been rejecting and suppressing the truth. We can only embrace the truth through the grace of God. Then he listed 14 noetic consequences of the fall, or, 14 ways that the fall has affected the way we think:
- Faulty Perspective
- Intellectual fatigue
- Failure to draw right conclusions
- Intellectual apathy
- Dogmatism and closed-mindedness
- Intellectual pride
- Vain imagination
- Partial knowledge
The fourth lecture was delivered by R.C. Sproul Jr. on the scandal of the evangelical mind. The scandal of Christianity is that God took on flesh, lived among His creatures, lived a life of perfect obedience, died a humiliating death at the hands of his enemies, but rose from the dead three days later and forty days later ascended into heaven. This story is a stumbling block to world. And sadly, Christians have been offended that the world is offended at this story. Instead of recognizing that the world views this story as foolishness, Christians insist that the world accept this as a sensible story, though no one can accept it without the grace of God regenerating them. Also, Christians ought to be evangelical. That is, we believe the Gospel or the good news. But more than this, we must have a passion for sharing this Gospel. And sadly, we have become so caught up in criticizing the way everybody else evangelizes, instead of just getting to work and sharing the good news with a desperate and dying world.
For Reformed Christians, who often view themselves as the “brains” of the Church, we can try to mix our dross with the gold of God’s message. We need to have humility, and recognize that all we have is a gift of God and “but for the grace of God, there go I,” instead of trying to impress the world with our clever arguments.
So we finally got a table at the Berghoff and looked at the menu. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so we decided to get one appetizer, one main dish, and maybe something on the side, and we’d just split it. My dad wasn’t really interested in the German food, so we went with the seafood. I ordered a smoked salmon appetizer, he ordered stuffed sole, and we got potato pancakes on the side. When the plates arrived, my smoked salmon was served on a small wooden cutting board with pieces of salmon on a bed of lettuce and onions. My first thought was, “wow…that salmon is pink!” I inspected it closer and realized it was not cooked. Our waiter came back to the table and we asked about the salmon. He said it was not raw, it was smoked. But it wasn’t cooked. I guess there’s a very fine distinction between fish being raw and being smoked. But I knew one thing for sure: it was not cooked. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal for the people who have their hamburgers rare. But I’m really picky about this. I want my meat cooked. I hate making meatballs because I have to handle raw meat. At least I don’t have to eat them raw. So I sat there looking at my smoked (but not raw…lol) salmon wondering what I’d do. My dad tasted the salmon and said it was good. I was in an adventurous mood. Hey, I was in Chicago at this cool restaurant. I couldn’t walk out of there without even tasting the darn stuff. So I took a small bite, desperately trying to keep my mind off the fact that I was eating practically raw fish. And it was actually quite good. It did taste smoked. It had a wonderful flavor. And with the onions it was delicious. I think there were four or five pieces of salmon, my dad had a couple, and I had the rest…minus one bite which I just could not finish because I was so full. The lettuce which came with the salmon had this amazing vinaigrette dressing that was really, really good. And my dad’s stuffed sole was also quite good. It had little shrimp in it too. The first time I had shrimp was at Jekyll Island, and they were served cold with a cocktail sauce. I did not like them at all. But I liked them hot with the other cheesy, yummy, stuff in the, well, in the stuffing.
After dinner we went back to our hotel room where I sat eating fudge and watching Indiana Jones. I’ve heard a great deal about the show, but never seen it. At first I was intrigued by the oldness of the film, and at first I thought it was going to be interesting…but that was before the excitement started. For the next hour I was bombarded with these fantastical escapades and predictable last-second rescues from various deathly situations. We thought it would end at 9pm, so we watched until then. It kept going…till 9.15 when it seemed there would be no end at all, so I gave up on seeing the end because I knew what would happen anyways. :)
My dad spent about 20 minutes setting an elaborate system of alarms, quiet enough so it wouldn’t scare the life out of me, and loud enough that we wouldn’t sleep in all morning. As it turned out, we both woke up before the first alarm even went off. We were some of the first ones downstairs at the Mises Circle. It took us a while to find a good table because there were these giant pillars scattered around the room that would completely block the view from certain places. We claimed a couple seats at one of the best tables and started talking to people. After a few minutes some of our friends from the Rockford Mises Circle showed up. Our table rapidly filled up. And more came. It was a really nice event for me because I knew quite a few people, but not everyone. There were enough familiar faces that I didn’t feel completely lost but enough new people to talk to that it wasn’t boring or just like a reunion. It was fun getting to know others, and after Doug French made an announcement about our Rockford Mises Circles, all sorts of people wanted to talk to me, so that was nice. :)
I had heard several of the speakers the day before, but Jacob Huebert was a new speaker for me. I had heard Roderick Long at Mises U, but never had heard Jacob Huebert. He was amazing! A very bright, intelligent, and talented speaker. While some afterwards were talking about how depressing his speech was, I found it very inspiring and yet realistic. It is easy for me, as a young person, to be swept away by grand and unrealistic ideas, so it is nice to have a balance. And yet we can’t give up on liberty, we can’t just surrender and ever try to achieve more freedom.
Lunch was delicious, and afterwards there was a spirited Q&A with the speakers. The question of immigration came up…and never left. I think nearly the whole time was spent discussing various aspects of the immigration debate, it was quite interesting.
Afterwards we stayed for a while. And stayed. And stayed. By the time we left, the only others there were Mises staff members clearing up the book shop and the recording equipement. We consulted our train schedule and found we could catch a 3.30pm train, and we were so ready to get home we didn’t stop for anything to eat. The train was packed when we got there. It took us some time to find our seats, and it was sweltering inside. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for the train to get started. However, it stopped at every little place along the way, so it took forever to get back to Harvard. But at last we got there, and discovered it was a beautiful day. Warm, sunny, springy, lovely. I got to drive all the way home, and we survived, as this blog post is proof of, and spent a couple hours filling the family in on all that we did.
So that was my Mises weekend :)
On April 8th and 9th my dad and I went into Chicago for the Mises Institute’s Highschool Seminar and their Saturday Mises Circle. With my new job these events came up really quickly and I wasn’t thinking about it until that week.
Friday was extremely icky…rainy and cold, and of course windy. I didn’t get to drive all the way to the train station which was disappointing, but after driving a little in the rain/dark I was relieved to have my dad take over. He was worried about getting to our train on time (and not being run over by rush-hour traffic) if I had gone at a comfortable 40 mph the whole way. :) But I did get to drive all the way home on Saturday and the weather was beautiful.
Not a whole lot happened on the train…we sat on the second level for the first time which was fun at first and quickly became cramped because there’s really no room to stretch your legs. Suffice to say, on the way back we sat on the bottom level. On the bus to the Union League Club I met a fellow passenger who actually worked at the Club, so she was very nice to show us the way. We checked into our room…talked to Doug French and James Fogal for a minute, went to our room, recuperated from the trip for five minutes, admired the 12-story view we had, and then headed to the event. The Union League Club is really beautiful, they have all these gorgeous art pieces everywhere. There was even an original Monet I got to see. :) The highschool event was pretty fun, mostly because one of the speakers was Walter Block who is a riot to hear, and it was the first time I heard a lecture from Yuri Maltsev.
Then we had lunch at the Union League Club with Michael McKay, member of the Club and author of an Austrian econ book, Doug French, Walter Block, Yuri Maltsev, and another person who I’m sure is very nice but whose name I cannot remember. I don’t know about you but I’ve always had the idea that these leaders of the Mises Institute must be so into economics that they never talk about anything else, but I’m here to report that they are just like the rest of us and can carry on conversations about family, life, and so forth. :)
After lunch we went to Navy Pier and walked around (both inside and out). Last summer my friend went to Navy Pier with her awesome camera and got these beautiful pictures of the lake…birds…boats…lighthouses, etc…so I felt bad about my pictures being so inferior that I tried to make up for their lack of quality by taking more than my friend did. Some of them were actually quite good, in my humble opinion. I was getting tired in the afternoon and decided I needed a pick-me-up. Since I’m kinda cheap, we found a McDonalds at Navy Pier in the hopes of getting a nice coffee drink. However…McDonalds was right next to Starbucks and so the girl at McDonalds informed me that they had only straight coffee, no lattes or anything. I was desperate and adventurous, so we went to Starbucks and I got a caramel machiato. Now, I used to get caramel machiatos at Mary’s Market and they were much better than Starbucks. The Mary’s Market one was cheaper, and had whipped cream and caramel on top. The Starbucks version was only slightly sweet coffee and nothing on top. And it was more expensive. So while it was cool to walk around with a Starbucks coffee, I think that I’d suffer a physic loss if I did it again. :)
I had been a little frustrated with my dad for trying to plan our trip so thoroughly that there wasn’t anything spontaneous about it. So he didn’t let me get out the map on the way back to the Union Club, we just got on the right train and got off when it looked right. We walked around for a while to find a nice restaurant. We ended up in a rather bad part of the town and headed north a couple blocks till we got to the Berghoff which a friend had recommended. It is a neat restaurant going back to the Prohibition. While it is restaurant and bar now, it used to be a speakeasy which was cool to think about. All I could think about was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead which was the first and only time I ever encountered the word speakeasy in a novel.
I’m so incredibly busy tonight (yep…so busy I’m going to watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie, lol…) so this will be a 2 part post. Please stay tuned for Part 2 where I describe my unexpected dinner. :)
I had good intentions this week to blog about each day at Mises U. But that didn’t quite happen. To understand why, you have to understand the format of the week. Firstly, I get there as early as possible every morning to chat with friends, study, and such. Class starts at 9am. There are 3 hour long lectures in the morning, with 15 minutes breaks in between, and then an hour break for lunch. Wednesday and Thursday I spent my lunchtime studying with another student for the exam. Then there are 4 more hour long lectures in the afternoon, and dinner. After dinner on Monday and Tuesday are the Mises Circles. I attended one, and then skipped the second one to study. So pretty much this week I’ve either been sitting in class, studying, or trying to sleep. They said it is intensive, and I know that for a fact now.
I will talk for a minute about our mystery speaker yesterday. This speaker was going to be in the Wolfe lecture hall, and the class before it, I was downstairs in the Condon hall. So as soon as I could stop clapping for the prof, I grabbed my bag and dashed upstairs to get a good seat. I found one about 5 or 6 rows back right on the edge of the middle aisle. This will become an important detail. So everyone sits down, and you can just feel the anticipation rising. Some were guessing it was Ron Paul, but I knew from the Mises staff that it wasn’t Ron Paul, so my next guess was Lew Rockwell. He ended up introducing the mystery speaker, but he was not the speaker. The mystery speaker was…Judge Andrew Napolitano!
Let me say this: The Judge is an exceptional speaker. While his style isn’t quite suited to the lectures we had heard on the marginalist revolution, division of labor, production and the firm, etc…it was a welcomed change. He had a spare microphone and informed us that he would be asking questions from the audience and encouraging a discussion throughout his talk. He started walking up and down the middle aisle talking to all of us. This is significant because at one point he actually put his hand on my shoulder (because of where I had decided to sit) which means that I’m fantastically famous now. But it gets better. At one point he walked up to me, handed me the mic, and asked me to recite a line from Reagan’s 1st Inaugural Address, 3rd paragraph because of course, I knew it by heart, right? Then he leaned over, whispered the line in my ear, and prompted me to recite it, which I did. I hoped I impressed everyone with my amazing knowledge and memory about Reagan and his speeches. :)
It was really a great crowd, everyone was just thrilled to hear The Judge, and I think he was happy to be among this pro-liberty, anti-war, freedom loving people. Afterwards I got in line to get my picture with him. However, he was signing books before doing pictures, and the line was never ending. It was about 5.30pm, and our exam was at 7pm. I was supposed to study with another student during dinner, but I didn’t know when that would be with this infinite line of people. I have to say something about the Mises Institute staff: They are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. I explained to one of the ladies working for the Institute who was “watching over” the autographing and photographing that I really needed to go study, but I just wanted my picture with The Judge. She kindly let me cut into the line, had their photographer get the picture (he’s going to put it online) and let me be on my way.
About the week as a whole: It has been an incredible experience. Wednesday night another student and I spent the evening with my favorite adjunct scholar at the Institute, studying and clarifying statements from the lectures. During this week, my professor preferences have changed, which is rather interesting. I think my favorite now are Prof. Hulsmann from France, and Dr. Herbener of Grove City College. Why? When I take lectures online, I can “pause” the professors anytime to copy their graphs, figure out what they were saying, etc…but in a classroom, it is a little different. I think that the two professors I mentioned above seem to “work” with the way I take notes, the way I think, and the format of the lectures. For instance, Prof. Hulsmann will pause between statements, probably not because he can’t remember what comes next, but probably for our sake, and I appreciate it. That gives me enough time to write/type down what he said, and/or think it over just enough for it to make sense. Dr. Herbener always has a very organized outline, and tells us at the beginning how he is dividing up the lecture, and before this week I didn’t realize how important that is. Important in a subjective sense, I just happen to prefer to have this given outline ahead of time, because then I can fit statements into the outline and make it coherent. While others can probably create an outline out of a speech that doesn’t have a stated outline, my notes just come out random and disconnected.
My favorite lectures this week? “The Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle” and “Keynes and Hayek Head to Head” by Roger Garrison were incredible. I’m jealous of his powerpoints. They are animated. Beautifully. He makes the PPF, the Loanable Funds Market/graph, the Hayekian triangle, and the labor market all move in unison to see the effects of saving on the economy in the long run. It is beautiful. Not just in the aesthetic sense, but also in the sense that you can so clearly see how well the economy would work and can work, if only the government will leave us alone.
It is 7.20am, we’re off to breakfast at the dorm, and another full day. I will continue this another time. If I made it past the written exam, the next day and a half will be absolutely packed with studying. If I don’t make it past the written exam, then I can enjoy myself and blog.