Fear of the unknown hazards of technology has been the inspiration for science fiction cautionary tales from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Japanese superstar Godzilla. Sadly, this fear extends to the harmless – and indeed extremely positive – applications of science in contemporary agriculture, especially when it comes to producing cheap, plentiful food for people on every rung of the economic ladder.
Modern agriculture’s ability to feed the Earth’s population is nothing short of miraculous. Modern science and practices have enabled the farming sector to raise livestock and grow crops capable of offering inexpensive nutrition to the majority of the world’s billions. One group whom one would think ecstatic at such developments would be the religious shareholder investors at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. The ICCR folk, however, turn up their noses at genetically modified organisms that have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years, making it possible to grow drought-resilient and pest-resistant crops. (more…)
Would you be surprised to hear that the mainstream media hasn’t been telling you the whole story? Probably not. The failings of the media has been a perennial story since 131 BC when the first newspaper, Acta Diurna, was published in Rome.
But sometimes the media’s biases lead them to make claims that are especially egregious and harmful to the common good. Such is the case on the reporting of an amendment relating to the free exercise of religion in Arizona. Critics of the bill described it as an anti-gay bill and claimed it would be used to deny access to public accommodations for homosexuals. As the Christian Post noted, almost every media organization in the country, including the more conservative Fox News, have taken the side of the critics by describing S.B. 1062 as a “gay discrimination” bill.
Because of this biased (bordering on fraudulent) reporting, the media was able to sway public opinion on the issue, which pressured Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the amendment.
Fortunately, we live in an age when the mainstream media is losing its stranglehold on the public’s attention. Several outlets have explained the true substance of the amendment and exposed the mendacity of the media. If you want to learn the truth, here are a few places to start:
Given Venezuela’s ongoing meltdown and the visible decline in the fortunes of Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner, one thing has become clear. Latin America’s latest experiments with left-wing populism have reached their very predictable end-points. There is a price to be paid for the economics of populism, and no amount of blaming nefarious “neoliberals” can disguise cruel realities such as food-shortages, electricity-blackouts, endemic corruption, the disintegration of rule of law, utterly insecure property-rights, and wild inflation — all of which have helped Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador achieve the ignominious distinction of being categorized as “repressed economies” in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.
Certainly it’s not clear that Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela will lose power. As the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady has underscored, the Castros who run the prison camp otherwise known as Cuba will do whatever-it-takes to try and prevent that. Nor is it certain that Argentines won’t vote for yet another Perónist who promises to solve everyone’s problems via government decree when presidential elections come due in 2015.
But if crises are indeed opportunities, now is the time for those Latin Americans who recognize populism’s flaws to think seriously about what comes next. One mistake would be to imagine that all that’s required are different economic policies. (more…)
In an interview with Eater, celebrity chef Alton Brown was asked how his faith and religion play into his professional life. Brown is a “born-again Christian,” though he finds the term overly redundant.
His answer is rather edifying, offering a good example of the type of attitude and orientation we as Christians are called to assume:
As far as other decisions, my wife runs the company. We try not to make any big decisions about the direction of this company or my career without praying about it. We try to listen to what God says to us pretty hard and we say no to a lot of things because of that. We’re not rich and that’s because if we don’t get a clear feeling for what we ought to be doing, we don’t do it. We turn down endorsements. We say no to things. You know, none of this is mine. For some reason I am being trusted with it and I take the stewardship of it really, really seriously.
This nestles quite nicely with the excerpt I recently shared on Christian conscience, which Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef describe as the “watchful monitor” of stewardship. Consider also its resemblance to DeKoster and Berghoef’s approach to Christian stewardship in general:
The believer, because he is a true believer, knows very well that he owes God everything: “For the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:12). God has first claim by right of ownership to everything each of us calls his own. To ask with the psalmist, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (116:12) can only be completely answered by the acknowledgment: “All, Lord, is thine!”…
…God makes man the master of his temporal household. Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer. For three score years and ten, more or less as the case may be, each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence…As each has managed his stewardship, so will he be judged: “Well done, my good servant!” or, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:17, 27). The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will. The steward who does not obey the Master’s law rejects the Master’s authority and serves another. Our stewardship is the test: Do we mean to serve God or mammon, the Lord or the Devil?
In Faithful in All God’s House, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef define stewardship as ‘willed acts of service that, not only make and sustain the fabric of civilization and culture, but also develop the soul.’ The authors contend that ‘while the object of work is destined to perish, the soul formed by daily decision to do work carries over into eternity.’ As we allow God to use us to change the world, he is quietly but continually conforming us to his likeness.
On Monday, I linked a podcast that Ancient Faith Radio host Kevin Allen did with Metropolitan Antony, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, about the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Allen has followed up with another interview, this one with Ukraine expert James Jatras, a former U.S. diplomat, U.S. Senate staffer and a member of the American Institute of Ukraine. Jatras talks about a number of issues, including the legal basis — or lack thereof — of the current government in power, deep seated government corruption on all sides, the prospect for elections, Church-State relations, and insights into Ukraine’s trade relations with both the West and Russia. The current situation, he warns, is fraught with risks on all sides.
“Will they be able to hold elections?” he asks. “Will violence break out in other parts of the country? Let’s hope not. I think ultimately a lot of this may be decided by the economy … Whom do you even send the aid to in Ukraine? I don’t think there will be much aid coming to Ukriane from the West. At some point they’re going to turn back toward Russia.”
Jatras continued: “I think somehow, the Europeans especially, and the Russians need to work out some understanding between themselves and … see if they can help promote reconciliation among Ukrainians. And that’s going to be a very tall order.”
In a review of Flourishing Faith, Chad Brand’s Baptist primer on faith, work, and economics, pastor David Daniels summarizes the why behind the what:
But why should Baptists care about political economic theories anyway – especially over-burdened, time-starved pastors? Aren’t Baptists concerned with spiritual matters: evangelism, discipleship and church-planting? Anticipating the question, Brand provides five excellent reasons why Christians should understand economic theory.
The Bible speaks to economic issues: acquiring and disposing of money and property, fair wages, and stewardship of the earth.
Understanding political economics helps us understand the world in which we live.
It leads to a more comprehensive model of Christian discipleship.
We need a solid theology of work and economics.
All political theories hold theological implications. (more…)
North Korea has lately been featured in dozens of news articles about a recent United Nations report on human rights abuses and now thanks to a new photo from NASA. The photo above was just released — taken from the International Space Station. While the surrounding countries are twinkling with light, North Korea is completely blacked out save for a small dot that is Pyongyang. U.S. News & World Report lists some of the unpleasant facts of life in North Korea, including frequent power outages:
– One-third of children are stunted, due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program.
– The average life expectancy, 69, has fallen by five years since the early 1980s, according to the blog North Korea Economy Watch. The blog notes that those figures are based on official statistics, so the real numbers could be even lower.
– Inflation may be as high as 100 percent, due to mismanagement of the currency.
– Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month in pay from the government. Some work on the side or sell goods in local markets, earning an extra $10 per month or so.
– Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets.
– Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving power just a few hours per day. (more…)
I have already weighed in on the recent hubbub over whether bakers, florists, and photographers should be compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences.
Over at First Things, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration offers some helpful embellishment on that last bit — conscience — arguing that Christians ought to be far less blind and arbitrary when it comes to the shape and scope of their stewardship and service.
As for the case at hand (whether to attend or service particular weddings), Teetsel offers the following:
Have you prayed about it? How is the Holy Spirit leading you? Do you feel you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth? Will attending enable you to continue a Gospel presence in the person’s life? If so, then perhaps you should go…
…Individuals may be led one way or another according to their conscience. One may feel they can provide the service without endorsing or celebrating the event; another may feel the opposite. Religious freedom and the right of conscience preserve the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions in such circumstances.
Of course not every act of commerce amounts to an assessment of the moral nature of homosexuality. But every so often a creator is asked to use their talents for something their conscience cannot abide. It may be a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, or a cake in a lewd shape, or a cake celebrating abortion. In those instances, the Bible fails to provide an absolute answer. What is a Christian to do? The answer is a matter of individual conscience. Not whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something.
Yet when it comes to nearly everycase the Christian encounters, that first paragraph is a rather helpful introduction to the types of questions we should be asking. From setting wages and prices, to innovating new products and services, to the ends those outputs elevate, conscience is integral to rightly ordering our efforts. (more…)
Samuel Gregg recently reviewed Rodney Stark’s new book, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. Gregg begins by pointing out that discussion of Medieval Europe “is invariably understood as a period of unmitigated darkness–so much so that words like “feudal” are used today, even by many well-informed Catholics, as synonyms for backwardness.” How the West Won seeks to analyze as well as dispel common misunderstandings and myths about how the West developed. Stark begins his argument by warning his readers, “This is a remarkably unfashionable book.”
While there are many studies and books making similar points, Gregg explains why How the West Won offers something new:
What makes Stark’s book different from these and other studies are two things. First, he weaves his arguments about pre-Christian Europe, the medieval period, the Crusades, and the development of capitalism (to name just a few) into an account which dissolves many prevailing conceptual divisions between the pre-modern and modern worlds. Many secular-minded people—but also many Christians—will be surprised at the high degree of continuity, for instance, between minds like Saint Albertus Magnus and Sir Isaac Newton. Sometimes this occurs by Stark pointing to evidence that has hitherto escaped most people’s attention. In other instances, it is a question of looking at the same evidence but through a more plausible interpretative lens.
The second distinctive feature of How the West Won is how Stark shows how particular historical myths have less to do with the facts than with efforts to paint Christianity as a backward regressive cultural force. To give just one example, Islamic Spain is regularly portrayed, Stark notes, as an oasis of tolerance compared to a repressive Christendom, despite the undeniable evidence of the widespread and long-term persecution and subjugation of Jews and Christians by the Moors. (more…)
Over at Real Clear Religion, Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg discusses Pope Francis’s recent appointment of Cardinal George Pell to “Secretariat of the Economy.” The secretariat has authority over the economic activities of the Vatican City State and the Holy See.
Gregg explains his take on Cardinal Pell and this appointment:
It may well turn out to be the greatest challenge of his priestly life.
You don’t need to watch the Godfather Part III to know that the Catholic Church has struggled for several decades to address some real problems in the management of the Holy See’s finances. Just looking at an organizational chart of the various units involved in some way in administering the Holy See’s resources is enough to make even devout Catholics think that maybe Dan Brown’s novels are onto something.
What’s often called “the Vatican Bank” — it’s more formal title is the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) — is just one of several institutions that the Holy See has created over the years to manage various resources. In many ways, a far more important structure is the lesser-known “Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See” (APSA), which, as it stated under its governing document, serves “to administer the properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function.” (more…)