Category: Effective Compassion

In this week’s commentary I argue that “Do They Even Know It’s Christmas?” is the worst Christmas song of all time.

Kanye agrees.Kanye Bono Christmas

Dr. Kent Brantly

Dr. Kent Brantly

I once read a fascinating book about the leper colony on Molokai. The Molokai lepers were literally cast out of society, sent as far away as possible, with almost no support systems.  There was no health care for them, no houses beyond rudimentary shelter, no way to readily obtain clothing, school books for children…it was a frightful and frightening situation. A brave and gentle priest, Fr. Damien de Veuster from Belgium, accepted the assignment to go to Molokai and serve the 600 lepers there.

He arrived to chaos. Those suffering from leprosy were living in a lawless society. They fought over food, areas of land – it was survival of the fittest. In the 16 years that Damien lived on Molokai, he built a church, helped the people build houses that truly were homes, constructed needed buildings and roadways in the mountainous region, taught farming to the residents, and provided education. His greatest gift, however, was spiritual. (more…)

pic_related_100614_LB_BThroughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians, though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments. These ministries have primarily been developed and promoted by evangelicals. But earlier this month a Catholic group launched a new HCSM:
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charity2How much of their incomes do Americans give to charity? A report by Chronicle of Philanthropy that analyzed taxpayers’ IRS data to find the answer:

On average, Americans give about 3 percent of their income to charity each year, according to the report released Monday. But the giving gap between the rich and poor is significant, especially in view of the widening income gap. The report shows those who earned $200,000 or more donated 4.6 percent less of their income between 2006 and 2012; those who earned less than $100,000 gave 4.5 percent more.

Why? Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer noted one factor: church attendance.

The top ten most generous states all have higher than average church attendance rates (and, as the report notes, they are all states that voted for Mitt Romney for president):
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Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released its report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013. The agency announced that “in 2013, the poverty rate declined from the previous year for the first time since 2006, while there was no statistically significant change in either the number of people living in poverty or real median household income.”

Sure to spark reactions from both sides of the political aisle, the report, along with this year’s 50th anniversary of the U.S. government’s launch of a “war on poverty,” present an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the United States’ domestic poverty alleviation strategy to date.

But amid the necessary analysis and debate about government’s role in helping the least among us, it is essential to keep at the forefront of our thinking the primary figure poverty alleviation efforts are intended to help: the human person. Through taking the time to recognize each individual’s unique gifts and creative capacity, we can more fully appreciate his/her contribution to society and form relationships that enable this flourishing to take root.

Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, echoes the importance of recognizing people’s true nature. He says, “The person needs to be called by name, the ‘poor’ need for us to dump that label and look at them as unique and unrepeatable human beings, not simply another token belonging to an expansive and yet shallow sea of sameness.”

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jailIt is estimated that, at any time in the U.S., there are 1.2 million people with mental illness who are being held either in jail or prison. Some of them, without a doubt, truly belong there. For most, though, jail and prison has become a quasi-triage center/hospital/safety net. And it takes a huge toll.

Take Cook County, Ill. for example. Sheriff Tom Dart keeps track of the mentally ill that come under his jurisdiction.

On average, at least 30% of the 12,000 inmates suffer from a “serious” mental illness, though the sheriff said the estimate is “a horrifically conservative number.” One of those inmates, Dart said, was a “chronic self-mutilator” who has been arrested more than 100 times, ringing up more than $1 million in repeated arrest- and detention-related costs.

Another inmate, the sheriff said, recently had to be fitted with a hockey mask and thick gloves resembling oven mitts to keep him from gouging out his remaining eye. The 43-year-old man, suffering bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had ripped one eye from the socket before his arrival at the jail, complaining that he “didn’t want to see evil anymore.”

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Today at Ethika Politika, I caution against the sort of scapegoating that justifies ideologies at the expense of human effort:

Do you support capitalism? Socialism? Distributism? Something else? Wonderful. What does that look like among the mess of market forms that actually constitute the economy you participate in every day? Rather than criticizing those policies that fall short of your saintly ideal or align too closely with your Hitler, what ones constitute a first step in the right direction for you? And why? And what are the actual consequences, intended or otherwise, that may come about?

While there is a place for simply outlining one’s ideal, if we wish to actually do some good ourselves, we need to get our hands dirty in the mire of material reality. Gnostic scorn for the concrete and this-worldly boasts a broad road with a wide gate, but it is the narrow road of reality that leads to life; not only for ourselves, but for the common good; not just for this world, but for the kingdom of God.

In his recent book Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), Jordan Ballor begins with a similar call: (more…)

French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Friday, August 29, 2014
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In his August 24, 2014 syndicated column Scott Burns tells of a study by Dunn and Norton who give five principles for having “Happy Money.”

  1. Buy experiences not things: go to Chicago rather than buy a new stuff.
  2. Make it a treat: don’t keep ice cream in the house, make it special by anticipating going out every Tuesday night for ice cream.
  3. Buy time: we are “time poor” people so slow down and avoid expenditures that devour time.
  4. Pre-pay your vacation so you don’t worry about spending “all that money.”
  5. Invest in others: give gifts or cash or support someone on a ministry trip or hand out $20 when you feel like it.

These ideas will help remove the tendency to endless question of “Is this worth it?” Burns does not mention it, but giving money to church, mission, health, poverty, orphan care or directly to people in need is “Happy Money” as well.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)