Archived Posts 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Saturday, December 31, 2005

From all of us here at the PowerBlog, please accept our best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2006!

Care to make any predictions for the new year? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

A newly certified Guiness World Record, presented without further comment.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 30, 2005

O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For the Future of the Human Race,” (1979), p. 828

I cannot pass up this prayer without mentioning the announcement for an upcoming academic conference I saw recently. The Applied Global Justice group of the Research Training Network will be holding the “Environmental Justice, Sustainable Development and Future Generations” international conference at the Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), 24-25 February 2006.

What struck me about this posting was the idea of “intergenerational justice,” and especially the topic of a paper by Prof. Dr. Peter Koller (University of Graz, Austria): “Natural resources, environmental justice, and the rights of future people.”

“The rights of future people.” Here’s a phrase that ought to have implications far beyond the concerns simply of environmental justice.

Indeed, the right to life can be seen as the basis for all other rights, as it is the necessary condition for the actualization of other rights, whether they be conceived of as liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence), liberty and security of person (Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights), or the right to respect for physical and mental integrity (Article 3, The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union).

The ability of future generations to realize the right to a sustainable environment is first contingent on the realization of the fundamental right to life. This must be the first and fundamental recognized right of future people.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, December 29, 2005
At risk, thanks to environmentalism.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has yet another example of what happens when good intentions fail to connect with sound economics (or in this case, sound science).

Thanks to the nation’s housing boom, business has been good for the West’s sawmills for the past three years. But Jim faced an insurmountable problem: He couldn’t buy enough logs to keep his mill running. This despite the fact that 10 times as many trees as Jim’s mill needed die annually on the nearby Kootenai National Forest. From his office window, Jim could see the dead and dying standing on hillsides just west of the mill. They might as well have been standing on the moon, given the senseless environmental litigation that has engulfed the West’s federal forests.

Thanks to Jim’s resourcefulness, his mill survived its last five years on a steady diet of fire- and bug-killed trees salvaged from Alberta provincial forests. Such salvage work is unthinkable in our national forests, forests that, news reports to the contrary, remain under the thumb of radical environmental groups whose hatred for capitalism seems boundless. Americans are thus invited to believe that salvaging fire-killed timber is “like mugging a burn victim.” Never mind that there is no peer-reviewed science that supports this ridiculous claim–or that many of the West’s great forests, including Oregon’s famed Tillamook Forest, are products of past salvage and reforestation projects.

So the scorecard looks like this: One point to the environmental groups who have worked so hard to shut down sawmills; zero points to the sawmill workers who are now out of a job; zero points to the sawmill operator who can no longer make a return on his investment; and most ironically, zero points to the forests that will not be thinned and thus be at much greater risk of disastrous wildfires. Come to think of it, that might negate the point awarded earlier to the environmental groups, so let’s just say that nobody wins.

One more quote from that article:

Fifteen years ago, not long after the release of “Playing God in Yellowstone,” his seminal work on environmentalism’s philosophical underpinnings, I asked philosopher and environmentalist Alston Chase what he thought about this situation. I leave you to ponder his answer: “Environmentalism increasingly reflects urban perspectives. As people move to cities, they become infatuated with fantasies about land untouched by humans. This demographic shift is revealed through ongoing debates about endangered species, grazing, water rights, private property, mining and logging. And it is partly a healthy trend. But this urbanization of environmental values also signals the loss of a rural way of life and the disappearance of hands-on experience with nature. So the irony: As popular concern for preservation increases, public understanding about how to achieve it declines.”

A new UN report examines the “digital divide” in developing countries and concludes that the “gaps are still far too wide and the catching-up far too uneven for the promise of a truly global information society.” Stephen Grabill examines the issue and the role that civil society plays in enabling access to information technology.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 29, 2005

Here’s what Shakespeare’s Hamlet has to say: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, 1.V).

To be sure, the immediate cause of Hamlet’s comment is the appearance of the ghost of his father. But it seems right to understand the appearance of the ghostly apparition as intended to be a kind of supernatural revelation. After all, the ghost is making itself known from the depths of Purgatory, “confined to fast in fires, / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purged away.”

It might be a profitable exercise to examine the situation of the ghost’s appearance in Hamlet, and to find out if Hamlet was epistemically warranted in his belief that “It is an honest ghost.” But instead, I’d like to juxtapose Hamlet’s quote, applied to Christian theology, against Rodney Stark’s thesis: “While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.”

And to conclude, here’s a brief quote from Thomas Aquinas on how far reasonable argument will get you in apologetics if the discussants don’t share a belief in the veracity of Scripture (which is accepted by all orthodox Christians as the fundamental vehicle of “religious truth”). In response to the question whether sacred doctrine is a matter of argument Aquinas writes in part:

the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them, but leave this to a higher science; whereas the highest of them, viz. metaphysics, can dispute with one who denies its principles, if only the opponent will make some concession; but if he concede nothing, it can have no dispute with him, though it can answer his objections. Hence Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another. If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections—if he has any—against faith. Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered.

Christianity is fundamentally about faith in revelation and any conception of a faith in reason along the lines of what Stark describes must be secondary and derivative of this foundation.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his research shows that “regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone’s income by almost 10%.”

The article linked above gives a good overview of Gruber’s methods, and touches on some related ideas in the history of economics, including Max Weber’s thesis. What’s new about Gruber’s work is that it purports to be “quantitative research on whether religion affects income directly and if so, by how much.”

If Gruber’s study is true, and I’m inclined to think something like it may well be given my own anecdotal experience, it immediately raises the question of how church attendance has such an effect. One of the causal possibilities Gruber offers is the idea of the church as a center of “social capital,” a burgeoning field of study in economics. Social capital is “a web of relationships that fosters trust. Economists think such ties can be valuable, because they make business dealings smoother and transactions cheaper. Churchgoing may simply be an efficient way of creating them.”

Russell D. Moore over at Mere Comments notes that Barbara Ehrenreich, pseudo-Marxist social critic, relates a tale in her latest book about attending “a Christian ministry for job-seekers in Georgia. She writes of the charismatic speaker encouraging the unemployed seekers to learn how to network. ‘And who should be our first networking target?’ the motivational speaker queries. ‘The Lord.’”

The author of The Economist article notes that “given that Jesus warned his followers against storing up treasures on earth, you might think that this wasn’t the motivation for going to church that he had in mind.” I might also note that putting Jesus at the center of your life, or viewing Christ as the “center” of theology or the Bible (as the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lectures might intimate: Christ the Center), doesn’t mean that he becomes the central hub of your business networking.

The sociality that is initiated by the Gospel in the Christian Church is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. But if the motivation to go to church in America is increasingly to raise income levels and build social capital, Avery Dulles might just have to add another and less than lauditory appendix to his Models of the Church: The Church as Country Club.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In the latest issue of Touchstone, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse examines the issues of procreation and property in contemporary society, and the seemingly growing opinion anyone can be a parent if they so choose. In “First Comes Marriage” Morse contends, “There is no right to a child, because a child is not an object to which other people have rights.”

She goes on to make a clarification about meanings of “rights” language that are often conflated:

We must distinguish between “the right to have a child” in the sense of possession and the “right to have a child” in the sense of procreation. There is one coherent way to imagine a right to procreate. Two people of the opposite sex can come together to conceive a child, without permission from the state or anyone else. People do it all the time.

To put it another way: Every individual is sterile. No one can have a baby by himself. Each human infant has two parents, one male and one female. Therefore, any right to have a child should be held by a couple, not by an individual who wishes to be a parent.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Touchstone here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More evidence surfaces of the necessity of using discretion when giving charitably. Not too many readers of this blog will be surprised that the United Nations is not the most efficient entity in the world. It seems that overhead gobbled up a third of the funds the U.N. raised for tsunami relief last year.

But private charities aren’t immune to problems. Fifty people have been indicted in a scandal at the Red Cross. Employees were directing Katrina-victim funds to “needy” friends and family.

Maybe there’s a lesson here about giving to smaller, less bureaucratic organizations. Definitely there’s proof that lack of personal integrity is a problem that extends beyond the world of for-profit business. And definitely there’s affirmation of the need to give wisely.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The NYT’s John Leland has an excellent article on the engagement of culturally conservative Christians and popular movies. In “New Cultural Approach for Conservative Christians: Reviews, Not Protests,” (login required) Leland writes about the shift in attitude, from one of abstention and withdrawal to critical engagement.

Professor Robert Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary says that “evangelicals as a group are becoming more sophisticated in their interaction with popular culture. There’s been a recognition within the evangelical community that movies have become a primary means, perhaps the primary means, of telling our culture’s stories. For this reason, evangelicals have become much more open to good stories, artfully told, but they also want stories whose values they can affirm or understand.”

The latest issue of Religion & Liberty has a number of articles dealing with movies and morality, including an interview with Ralph Winter, producer of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a number of the Star Trek films, as well as an article by Michael Medved.

For more reading on Christian engagement of the culture of Hollywood, check out “Would C.S. Lewis Have Risked a Disney ‘Nightmare’?” and “The Culture’s Animating Values.”

And here are a few sources for Christian reviews of current and past films: Christianity Today Movies, Decent Films Guide, and World Magazine’s Cinema Veritas.