Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Bible has a lot to say about what it means to be a “neighbor.” School officials in Fulton County, Ga., may have finally begun to come to some understanding of this concept.

Until earlier this week, county officials had threatened to use the power of eminent domain to force the private Jewish Weber School to sell a 19-acre lot so that a new public elementary school could be built. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “When Weber officials said they had no desire to sell the site, Fulton indicated in a strongly worded letter that unless Weber agreed by Monday to sell the property, the school board would use eminent domain to obtain it.”

When the Monday deadline approached, and Weber School refused to capitulate, the county officials did an about-face: “On Monday, Fulton Schools Superintendent James Wilson told Weber board president Steve Berman in writing and by phone that the district would no longer pursue the Weber property and that he regretted the misunderstanding.”

“It is in our interest to be a good neighbor,” he said.

What’s a good first step to being a good neighbor? “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NIV)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Nigerian priest shot dead at checkpoint for ‘refusing to pay bribe’

Port Harcourt (ENI). The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) says that the Rev. Emmanuel Akpan was shot dead at a checkpoint manned by both police and army members for refusing to pay them a bribe. “Rev. Akpan was returning from Aba town when he was killed by police and military personnel at the checking point, over his refusal to give them bribe,” said the Rev. Bayo Odukoya in issuing a statement on behalf of the Niger Delta diocese of the Anglican Church.

Interesting survey finding highlighted on the Heritage Foundation’s web site:

Compared with peers who expressed a great deal of confidence in the federal government, those who reported having “hardly any confidence” in the federal government were 20 percentage points more likely to volunteer for a charity.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rich Lowry:

It is the other flood: The outpouring of concern for the poor of New Orleans. According to nearly every journalist in America, our consciousness has been raised about the invisible scourge of poverty in this country, and nothing is too much to ask when addressing the plight of the disadvantaged evacuees of New Orleans. They should get every form of aid possible — except, that is, assistance that might help give them more control over their lives.

Acton Institute’s Center for Effective Compassion is offering an intensive one-day event in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Oct 28, where nonprofits and community leaders will get practical, how-to skills to help them increase the “return on investment” for charity programs. Foundation grantees, grassroots community and faith-based service providers, students and volunteers won’t want to miss this event. Read more about the event here.

Key speakers include Rev. John Nunes, pastor of Dallas-based St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; Carol McLaughlin, chief programs officer at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation; Craig Folk, a partner with the Fort Myers accounting firm Miller, Helms & Folk, and Karen Woods, executive director at Acton’s Center for Effective Compassion. The event press release is available here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 19, 2005

Government is the only arena in which I can readily see that incompetence and failure, often of the staggeringly ignominious variety, is “punished” with an increase of funding and influence. Many others have observed this phenomena, perhaps most pervasive in the public education system. As we all know, the problem is always a lack of funds.

But we find the same twisted logic at work following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The inadequacy of government at all levels, with most of the focus on the federal, is not leading some to the obvious criticism of the size, complexity, and bureaucracy of government. Instead, we are seeing the contrary call, to increase the size of the government. As Anne Applebaum writes in The Washington Post, a number of figures, including German chancellor Gerhard Schrr, see the problem as too little government, not too much.

Applebaum rightly takes this statist interpretation of events to task, as she writes of the pervasiveness and effectiveness of relief efforts by elements of civil society. While “it is true that the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures,” she observes, “The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country’s incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.”

The political lesson should not be that more government is the answer, but rather a more focused and efficient government. The increase in government should be qualitative, not quantitative. It remains to be seen which will prevail: the axiomatic big government logic (perhaps manifested in an increased FEMA budget!), or common-sense conclusions about the scope and necessary limits of government power.

Deal W. Hudson of the Morley Institute reports on an address by a Vatican official. The story is also reported here:

Vatican Official Explains What Makes a School Catholic

His name is one you should know. Archbishop J. Michael Miller is the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican. That means he helps oversee Catholic education from kindergarten to college and graduate school throughout the world.

I met with the self-effacing Archbishop over breakfast before his lecture at a Conference on Catholic education co-sponsored by the Catholic University of America and the Solidarity Association of Atlanta, Georgia. He left the presidency of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas to take his post sixteen months ago. After arriving, Miller was “surprised to discover that only twenty Episcopal conferences in the world had approved ordinances implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”

When asked if the situation was improving he was upbeat, “Canada and Australia are close to finishing their ordinances and India and Mexico have them well underway.”

But there is better news. Since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, over 1,300 new institutions have been created in India. An abundance of new growth is also found in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Mexico, and Chile. “Overall the future looks promising,” he adds, “because of new growth in Catholic institutions where they are most badly needed.” All the data, he says, is chronicled in a new book published by his Congregation, unfortunately only in Italian.

Miller’s address to the conference turns out to be the finest I have ever heard on Catholic education. His words belied the blandness of the title, “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Education.” Rather than citing text upon text from Vatican documents, he cut to the heart of the matter, telling the audience that he wanted to answer the question, “How do you know if a school is really Catholic.”

He offered the following five benchmarks of a Catholic education as the essence of Vatican teaching on education. Miller called them the “marks of a Catholic education.”

Although these criteria apply mainly to K through 12 education, Miller insisted they could easily be adapted to college and university education by the addition of a criterion on excellence in scholarship.

A Catholic school should be:

1. “Inspired by a supernatural vision.” Schools are about preparing students for “heavenly citizenship.”

2. “Founded on a Christian anthropology.” Education is the “perfection of children as images of God.”

3. “Animated by communion and community.” Schools should have the collaboration, interaction, and environment that “safe-guards the priority of the person.”

4. “Imbued with the Catholic worldview across the curriculum,” Catholic education should “transform the way we see reality.”

5. “A place where committed Catholics teach.” Catholic teachers should themselves be “witnesses for Christ.”

Archbishop Miller has real world experience in Catholic education. As president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, he helped to make a good Catholic university into an excellent one – a university that deserves to be included on any short list of faith based Catholic colleges and universities.

Good Catholic schools grow from the “bottom up, not from the top down,” Miller concluded. Wherever you find a good Catholic school you will find leaders behind it who have a “genuine Catholic vision of education.”

At the beginning of the conference the present Chair of the USCCB Committee on Education, Bishop Bernard J. Harrington, congratulated the co-sponsors, saying it was the first meeting of its kind on Catholic education in the United States. Harrington mentioned other conferences that were being planned in the near future. We can hope that Archbishop Miller’s list of benchmarks will be the starting point of future discussions on Catholic education. Such clarity is as rare as it is bold.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 15, 2005

I’ve finally had a chance to respond to this piece on Tech Central Station, “The State of Nature in New Orleans: What Hobbes Didn’t Know.” In this article, TCS contributing editor Lee Harris takes George Will to task for his citation of Hobbes, to the extent that, as Harris writes, “my point of disagreement is with Hobbes’ famous and often quoted characterization of man’s original state of nature as one in which human life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’”

Harris’ problem with Hobbes’ formula is that in his estimation, it is patently and empirically false. Harris writes:

The problem I have is with the first adjective: solitary.

If you step back and look at what really happened in New Orleans, the fact will jump out at you that human beings, instead of running around solitary and alone, immediately clumped together into gangs and groups, of two fundamental divergent types: one purely aggressive, and the other purely defensive.

On the one hand, you had gangs of ruthless young men who looted, raped, and murdered, doing whatever they pleased and taking whatever they wanted. On the other hand, you had weak and frightened individuals who could only defend themselves by gathering into protective clumps — circling the wagons, so to speak.

The problem with Harris’ criticism is that it doesn’t really apply to Hobbes. The conception of Hobbes’ state of nature is, in Hobbes own words, one which “It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre, such as this; and I believe it was never generally so over all the world.” Hobbes allows for the existence of the state of nature in localized pockets, but doesn’t think it was ever the sort of thing that existed at one time in all places.

But even further, Hobbes’ point is to get at the basic state of human existence in nature. When he emphasizes that it is “solitary,” he doesn’t mean that man is always alone in the state of nature. He means, rather, that the basic unit of human reliance and trust is individual. People tend to trust themselves the most. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” Hobbes sense of this solitariness and independence of human existence isn’t primarily about physical proximity, but rather an astute judgment about the corrupted and fallen condition of human social relations.

Thus Hobbes writes, “Men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets himself: And upon all signes of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavours, as far as he dares…to extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by the example.”

The fear of competition and the enmity thus created, and inherent vulnerability shared by every man, creates the motivation for men to join in league conspiring together. This is the natural and expected result in the state of nature. The solitariness of man’s existence creates the context in which men will see one who possesses more, and “will come prepared with forces united, to dispossesse, and to deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty.”

Harris’ criticism falls flat, as a contextual read of Hobbes’ formula shows that the tendency for people to join together in gangs or bands of brigands is an expression of the state of nature rather than the opposite. After all, these bands are usually united around a lead figure, who dominates the others. In this way, physical human proximity and relationship can still manifest the state of natural war and domination.

The critique of Hobbes’ judgment concerning the state of nature is not, as Harris would have it, that it is inaccurate. It is rather all too accurate…but limited in the sense that it only gets at “natural” or “fleshly” man, not “redeemed” or “spiritual” man.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Brendon Miniter notes that many of those stranded in New Orleans after the levee breaches were literally caught in a trap set by government “assistance”:

We still only have anecdotal evidence to go on, and we can be hopeful as the death toll remains far below the thousands originally predicted. But it’s reasonable to surmise that Sen. Kennedy is correct about those who wanted to leave: Most people who could arrange for their own transportation got out of harm’s way; those who depended on the government (and public transportation) were left for days to the mercy of armed thugs at the Superdome and Convention Center. It was an extreme example of what the welfare state has done to the poor for decades: use the promise of food, shelter and other necessities to lure most of the poor to a few central points and then leave them stranded and nearly helpless.

The Katrina disaster is yet another in a long line of lessons reminding us that government-mandated charity isn’t really charitable at all. But it also provides all of us with an opportunity to apply the principles of effective compassion.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Samuel Gregg writes on a recent BBC Radio listeners poll that ranked Karl Marx as the greatest philosopher in history. Gregg reflects on the evils and attrocities that are committed by the political heirs of Marx’ philosophy while commenting that the materialist view of Communism removes any possibility of fulfilling the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving our neighbors. Above all, Gregg wonders how people have forgotten what Marx stands for: “Why is Marxism’s red flag not treated with the same contempt rightly attached to the swastika?”

Gregg sees an inherent lack of value placed upon the human person as a result of Communism’s materialist ideology. He sums up Marx’ materialism, saying, “Everything has the same value and therefore no value. In this world, there is no difference between Mother Teresa’s work and that of a concentration camp guard. They share equally in a general irrelevance of everything and everyone.” This complete lack of value denies justice and makes morality irrelevant.

Much violence has been done in the name of philosophies and religions, including Christianity. The difference is that Christianity contains moral criteria according to which we can judge and condemn such activity on the part of Christians. Marxism never had and could never have such standards. For in Marxist philosophy, there is no place for love of God and love of neighbor. Perhaps that, above all, is what makes Marx so unworthy of contemporary admiration.

Read the full commentary here.