Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
By

Tonight FOX’s new hit gameshow “Moment of Truth” will air its latest installment. For those not familiar with the show’s premise, the contestant submits to a lie detector test before the show is taped. A series of questions are asked which form the basis for the pool of questions that will be asked again during the taping. If the answers given during the taping match the results of the previous interview, the contestant stands to win a great deal of money (up to $500,000).

The appeal of the show has to do with the content of the questions. They deal with intimate personal details regarding romantic relationships, professional behavior at work, familial rivalries and strife, and so on. As has been observed by many, the consequences that go along with telling the truth under these circumstances have the potential to be extremely damaging, both professionally and personally.

Here, for instance, is a woman who “lost it all,” the money and her marriage:




What should we think about the show’s popularity? Part of it has to do with the “car-wreck” phenomenon. People can’t help but watch in macabre fascination when disaster strikes someone else. So-called “reality TV” illustrates the voyeuristic impulses of American pop culture. There’s plenty to rail against in such base impulse: salaciousness, impropriety, disrespect of marriage and family, materialism, and so on.

But I want to pay special attention to the contestants’ motivations. They are essentially willing to air any and all secrets (what used to be called “dirty laundry”) to the public in exchange for money (or merely the chance to win money, depending on their success). That people are actually eager to get on the show as a contestant speaks to how little they truly value and are willing to “monetize” their personal relationships.

The Bible’s warnings about the swearing of oaths, and the commandment against telling falsehood, don’t give positive sanction to a show like this. The commandment against false witness, for instance, is really about the proper use of communication and speech in human relationships. We are to build others up with our speech, reigning in our tongues, and forsaking the urge to engage in gossip and slander others. This show financially rewards what the commandment prohibits.

Moreover, we cannot simply hide behind the claim that it’s the “truth” for a modicum of moral permissibility. There’s a proper time and a proper place to speak the truth, and the truth about personal relationships isn’t willy-nilly owed or due to anyone who happens to own a TV. The truth can actually be subverted and undermined depending on the manner and the context within which it is told. That’s why the Christian practice of confession, whether understood as a sacrament or as an option for personal sanctification and accountability, has always been understood to necessarily be “private.”

“Moment of Truth” is about the commodification of “truth” in pursuit purely of material gain. And as such, not only has the “truth” been corrupted, but so have the “truth” tellers and those who patronize such horrid displays.

“Private charities do demanding and heroic work for vulnerable people. We seek to reward their good work with prizes and publicity.”

The Samaritan Guide Web site has been revamped and we’d love for you to stop by and check it out. The Guide is an online database of charities that accept little or no government funding and that serve vulnerable human populations. The Guide focuses on outcomes and personal transformation, how religious and moral principles are implemented, and funding sources for the programs of non-profit organizations.

On a related note: Acton is gearing up for the Samaritan Awards! The annual Samaritan Awards identifies and rewards programs that exemplify the Seven Principles of Effective Compassion and demonstrate accountability and transparency. These exceptional charities help individuals break the cycle of dependency by providing help that is direct, personal, and accountable. All the programs that apply for the Samaritan Award will be entered into the Samaritan Guide and also will vie for a $10,000 grand prize and various capacity building prizes. The application period for the Samaritan Awards is from April 15, 2008 to May 30, 2008.

I was reading about Bill Gates’ speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council last week, which received a lot of media coverage (PDF transcript here).

In the speech about software innovation, Gates “speculated that some of the most important advances will come in the ways people interact with computers: speech-recognition technology, tablets that will recognize handwriting and touch-screen surfaces that will integrate a wide variety of information.”

“I don’t see anything that will stop the rapid advance,” Gates said. I appreciate the insight that a corporate mogul and business insider like Gates provides.

The predictions did make me think about this observation from Alasdair MacIntyre, however, which serves to temper some of the more audacious claims often made about technological progress.

MacIntyre writes,

Any invention, any discovery, which consists essentially in the elaboration of a radically new concept cannot be predicted, for a necessary part of the prediction is the present elaboration of the very concept whose discovery or invention was to take place only in the future. The notion of the prediction of radical conceptual innovation is itself conceptually incoherent.

To his credit, much of what Gates is describing doesn’t meet these criteria. They are not “radically new” concepts, but the integrative alteration of already existing concepts (some might argue that this has essentially been the modus operandi for Microsoft’s success: not innovation per se, but rather innovative popularization of integration).

That said, we need to be cautious about the precision of our claims about future innovation. Statistically we can predict that radical innovations are quite likely to happen, but by definition we can’t know what they will be.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies cut through the nonsense and offer clear thinking on AIDS in Africa. Their article in the April issue of First Things more specifically criticizes a recent report on faith-based organizations and AIDS emerging from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.

Green and Ruark take pains to be respectful and deferential toward the Georgetown researchers, even where the egregious errors of the latter might have been treated with sarcastic wit. For example, there is this:

The Georgetown report clearly gets it wrong when it states that, for the ABC approach “to be effective, abstinence and fidelity must be practiced by both partners.” In fact, abstinence is always 100 percent effective in preventing sexual transmission when practiced by an individual.

Um, yes.
The article concludes,

…the central fact that has emerged from all the recent studies of the HIV epidemic: What the churches are called to do by their theology turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.

Hostility towards globalization is not the exclusive territory of the left in Italy. Giulio Tremonti, a former minister of the economy in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, has written a book called Fear and Hope (La Paura e la Speranza), largely arguing against free trade and the opening of international markets.

Tremonti blames the recent rise in the prices of consumer goods on globalization and says that this is only the beginning. The global financial crisis, environmental destruction, and geopolitical tensions in the struggle for natural resources are also fruits of globalization, according to Tremonti. He identifies the main problem as a lack of international governance of the process of globalization and calls for a new Bretton Woods-like system to confront the multiple crises caused by what he calls “marketism”.

The “dark side of globalization” can only be countered by a return to European values: tradition, the family, and the nation, adds Tremonti. Europe “needs a philosophy which makes politics and not economics the primary mover [of globalization]. This can only work if we go back to the roots of Europe, these are the roots of Judeo-Christianity”.

This “cure” to the ills of globalization remains vague (as one would imagine in a book of only 112 pages). Still more puzzling is his insistence on a contrast between market principles and traditional European values. The idea that a return to values must be coupled with a stronger politicization of the world economy clashes with experience. More regulation and state interference not only tend to reduce growth and living standards but also create new opportunities for rent-seeking and corruption, and thereby undermine the traditional virtues that Tremonti supports.

He misses the opportunity to discuss how certain values are enhanced by the market and how international competition has in fact strengthened Europe by highlighting its best qualities, both technologically and culturally, while repressing its worst.

Tremonti’s vision is inward-looking and profoundly pessimistic. Some market-oriented Italian commentators have pointed out that his ideas seem dangerously close to old-style protectionism. It is clear if Europe followed his analysis, it would be led on a path of future irrelevance both as an economic and a cultural model.

Dr. Frank S. Page
President, Southern Baptist Convention
and
Mr. Richard Land
SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
and
Pastor Jonathan Merritt
Cross Pointe Church

Brothers in Christ:

As a member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Church and a Christian who has through much prayer and Bible study come to acknowledge God’s desire that the church take seriously her role in stewardship of creation, I have been closely following the release of A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change and the Southern Baptist Convention’s reaction to it.

First let me say I respect the SBC’s right as an organization to issue public policy statements on the environment and climate change, even when these statements don’t always reflect my personal views. I appreciate many of the previous resolutions passed by the SBC urging stewardship of the earth’s resources while caring for the poor in developing countries.

I also appreciate that both the SBC and Pastor Merritt have formally stated our need as Baptists to fully engage in many areas of Christian environmental stewardship. Certainly these are tasks about which, through the power of Christ, God expects us all to be dilligent until His return.

I am concerned, however, that in the haste to distance the SBC from A Southern Baptist Declaration or the signers of their Declaration to distance themselves from the SBC you both are misrepresenting me and thousands of other Southern Baptists in two important areas.

First, there is the needless appearance of deep division. The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urged Southern Baptists to

"proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research."

"A Southern Baptist Declaration" says

We recognize that Christians are not united around either the scientific explanations for global warming or policies designed to slow it down…this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions. Yet, even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future.

Both resolutions suggest Southern Baptists move forward on ecology while respecting that there will inevitably be disagreement on the nature and extent of climate change.

The remedy for this should be obvious. We should not be afraid of tackling any social issue, including environmnental ones. And we must press forward and commit to praying for each other and for wisdom and unity within the body of Christ. This public and rather unseemly display is a foothold that the enemy of the church is happy to exploit. To that end I hope that you [and all those reading this letter. db] will join me in prayer this week, humbled by the fact that only God ultimately controls the affairs of His Creation.

Much more importantly, none of you seem concerned about the tragedy of missing our God-given opportunity here under the Great Commission. An editorial to the Tuscaloosa News by a Mr. James W. Anderson illustrates my point:

I urge the leadership of our Southern Baptist Convention to be about serving our member churches, evangelism and bringing lost souls to Christ. To those currently choosing to carry the liberal environmental torches, perhaps you should consider leaving the organization and entering politics. The two do not mix — at all!

Don’t let his confusion on the pedigree of the Declaration distract you from the real spiritual disaster. Mr. Anderson sees environmentalism as a hinderance to evangelism rather than an opportunity to establish relationships with, and bring the love of Christ to, vast numbers of God’s children who would never darken the door of a Baptist church.

The fact that he doesn’t apparently know about scriptures referencing God’s heart on ecology, doesn’t understand the role of creation in bringing glory to God, doesn’t see creation care as a mission field, doesn’t view climate change action opponents and proponents both as human beings in need of a Savior, and doesn’t think engaging in challenging environmental issues like climate change provide openings for the Gospel message to our generation is not his failing. Rather, it is a direct reflection on the historic failure of our Southern Baptist leadership and many of those in our pulpits to communicate a Spirit-filled, biblical message on creation care.

Rather than continue this division I urge you, therefor, to return your focus to the Lord of Creation. Join with me to pray for reconciliation, for wise yet diligent action, and for the earnest encouragement of pastors and their congregations to make stewardship of the environment as important a priority as stewardship of their missions budgets and church growth projects.

Thanks for your consideration.

Grace and peace,
Don Bosch

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

In this week’s Acton commentary, Chris Banescu looks at a ruling by the Second District Court of Appeals for the state of California which declared that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” The ruling effectively bans families from homeschooling their children and threatens parents with criminal penalties for daring to do so.

Chris Banescu was reminded of another sort of government control:

The totalitarian impulses of the court were further evidenced by the arguments it used to justify its decision: “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.” As someone who has lived and suffered under a communist regime (I grew up in Romania), the “good citizenship,” “patriotism,” and “loyalty to the state” justifications have struck a little too close to home. These were precisely the kinds of arguments the communist party used to broaden the power of the state, increase the leadership’s iron grip on the people, and justify just about every conceivable violation of human rights, restrictions on individual liberties, and abuses perpetrated by government officials.

Read the entire commentary here.