Archived Posts June 2005 » Page 2 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

The battle over public displays of the 10 Commandments indicates to me just how much ground Christians have given up in recent years. Radical secularists have attacked any and all public expressions of Christian faith, most often by means of the “T” word (theocracy) and appeals to the “wall of separation.” What Samuel Gregg calls “doctrinaire secularism” is winning.

It has gotten to the point that identifiably or uniquely Christian expressions have been all but expunged from, or at best have become impediments to, public life. So evangelical and other concerned Christians have been reduced to squabbling over generically theistic or broadly religuous symbols. How far the mighty have fallen.

This is essentially a rearguard action. The emphasis placed on the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, perhaps the most representative instance of a generic civil religion, speaks well to this. In the fight over the Decalogue some Christian leaders have attempted to emphasize the historic and legal importance of the code, rather than its explicitly religious nature, in the attempt to keep a place for public religious expression.

The radial secularists have been so successful in their campaign that orthodox and traditional Christianity (“Jesus is Lord”) is no longer a real target or threat. They’ve moved on to mop-up maneuvers, targeting the last bastion of public religious expression: the generic God of American civil religion.

What does the face of a miracle look like?

The case is open. Today marks the first day the canonization of John Paul II is officially underway. (Read BBC’s account.) To those for whom the procedures of the Catholic Church in matters such as these seem alien, I point to the lucid explanation of the Reverend Giuseppe D’Alonzo (the man in charge of verifying the claims of John Paul’s miracles):

Asked what he thought about making John Paul II a saint, the Rev D’Alonzo replied that it was not for him to decide, only to "verify the truth".

Of the many things that have deepened my faith, one is certainly the Catholic Church’s comfort in recognizing the miraculous. Fr. D’Alonzo’s statement is precisely what I mean. His job is not to conjure fantastic stories, but to acknowledge the supernatural that was always before our eyes, here on this earth, in the person of a frail, aged, international superstar.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, June 27, 2005
Sani Abacha – Strange, I don’t recall you being a multi-billionaire when you took power…

In a number of previous posts, I have expressed concern over new efforts to increase the amount of government-to-government aid to Africa (see here, here, and here for background).

Today brings another bit of news that should give pause to anyone advocating for massive increases in government aid to Africa. From Saturday’s London (UK) Telegraph :

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria’s past rulers stole or misused ꌢ0 billion.

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa’s most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent…

…Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria’s rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country’s 130 million people – one in seven of the total African population – live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply…

…The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the ꌢ0 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.

General Sani Abacha of Nigeria is an example of an African leader who did pretty well for himself at the expense of his nation, stealing “between ਱ billion and ਲ਼ billion during his five-year rule.”

Nathan Elawa: Debt relief is good, but civil society is vital.

The importance of building strong institutions of civil society and establishing the rule of law before dispensing aid cannot be emphasized enough. If debt forgiveness is an appropriate first step for the west to take in assisting Africa, the next step must not be to simply flood the continent with aid once again without preparing it to appropriately use the funds.

At the recent Acton Summer Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we spoke with Nathan Elawa, a native of Nigeria and a participant in Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference. He commented on the issue of debt relief and the need for stronger foundations of civil society in Africa. (Click here for video.) For more information, check out Acton’s Aid to Africa special section.

Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 8 • Number 1

The publication of this issue (vol. 8, no. 1) marks the full implementation of the journal’s two issue moving wall. This means that as an archived issue, volume 7, number 1 is now freely available in its entirety. Subscribers are able to access electronically the full content of the two most current issues. Stephen Grabill’s editorial deals with these trends in scholarly publishing, with an eye on the specific situation of the Journal of Markets & Morality. You can read more about this in associate editor Jordan J. Ballor’s, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005): 145-65.

Are you a subscriber but don’t have online access? Send us an email here or call Meredith Nieuwsma at 1-800-345-2286.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 27, 2005

I have to admit that I’ve never been able to get that fired up about the controversies surrounding the various public displays of the Decalogue. It no doubt has to do with my view that it is far more important for the law to be written on our hearts rather than on stone (see for example Jeremiah 31:27-40).

It’s all (on both sides) struck me as a little to much like public posturing, and for the Christian conservatives who support the displays (sometimes rabidly), the zeal seems misplaced. After all, the function of a public display of the Ten Commandments could only at best be as an expression of the “civil” use of the law, “as an external discipline, necessary to restrain those who are not saved (and in some cases those who are saved, because of their remaining temptation to sin).”

But the “external” matters of discipline have overwhelmingly been viewed as relating to the second table of the Decalogue, the laws for relations between neighbors. The relationship between God and the individual person stands outside the realm of the magistrate, as emphasized again and again by the reformers.

No doubt a firestorm will ensue following today’s Supreme Court decisions (No. 03-1500, van Orden v. Perry and No. 03-1693, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky), which seem only sure to spur more debate on the issues. But no doubt much of the controversy arises because of the explicitness of the first table commands with respect to the identity of God.

For example, Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in the Texas case (No. 03-1500, Van Orden v. Perry), which upheld the public display, notes that in large letters the monument proclaims ‘I AM the LORD thy God,’ and argues, “The message transmitted by Texas’ chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God.”

The words of an editorial in this month’s Christianity Today are valuable here, regarding claims by some Christian leaders that we need to reclaim the nation’s Christian foundation:

The not-so-subtle equation of America’s founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity.

There may be much value in arguing for the implementation of law based on a Christian recognition of the civil use of the Decalogue. But that validity does not carry over into attempts to institute worship, reverence, or adoration for the Christian God into American law. That simply is not the role of the civil magistrate, and the church should jealously guard its role in proclaiming the Gospel. And the church should certainly not petition the government to take over any aspect of this task.

Ronald Reagan was voted the Greatest American in history by a slim margin by a Discovery Channel program, barely beating out Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin rounded out the top 5.

Of course, I’m not sure how much credence should be lent to a list whose top 100 included such luminaries as Tom Cruise, Ellen DeGeneres, Brett Favre, Dr. Phil, and Michael Moore.

In any case, when Ronald Reagan passed away last year, Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico reflected on Reagan’s legacy, “The Reagan Moral Vision.”

The Detroit News included a statement from me, along with two of their Faith and Policy columnists, reacting to a Washington Post story by Alan Cooperman about cooperation between religious leaders from the political left and right. Here’s my bit:

The Washington Post’s article about the prospects for rapprochement between religious conservatives and liberals gets to the heart of the “cold war” that has existed between these groups for so long. The historic intractability of both sides has led to gridlock, polemic and communication breakdown.

On any number of issues, partisan politicking and loyalty has trumped theological and ecclesiastical unity. And with the increasing politicization of churches, oftentimes prudential policy issues become a new “shibboleth.” Demonization of the religious opposition obscures the agreement of intent that often exists, overemphasizing the discord over how that good intention is to be actualized.

What both sides need to realize is that the political process inherently involves dialogue, debate, give-and-take and compromise. A religious perspective that views the perfect society only as an end-time reality ought to understand and embrace this. For conservatives and liberals, this means recognizing that in politics the perfect is the enemy of the good.

The common ground between religious liberals and conservatives is just that: religion. Religious and theological commitments must remain more important than politics if there is to ever be a measure of accord. This will also ensure religious dialogue in the public square is authentic, prophetic and relevant.

“Winning isn’t everything.” Whatever happened to this slice of wisdom? In Columbus, Ohio, a team of baseball players has been ejected from their league for being “too good”! (Read the story here). The parents of the teams being slaughtered by the better team complained that losing was seriously detrimental to their kids’ self-esteem. Therefore, the league decided to reward the hard work of the winning team with expulsion. Winning isn’t everything, but apparently, losing is.

What this league and the supporting parents are in fact saying into their children is this: “If someone is better than you, they don’t have a right to be around.” Apparently, competition is only a good thing as long as it doesn’t lead to winners and losers. Perhaps the league ought to enact a ‘run subsidy’ program. Everytime the better team scores ten runs, the losing team is spotted ten runs; you know, to stay competitive.

The parents and the league here are undercutting one of the prime values in sports: the experience of humility. Sure, “having fun is what’s important,” but fun is not the only important thing. What about craft, dedication, work ethic, perseverance? But by eliminating the better team from the league, the league has said to all the children involved that the only thing that matters is winning; Instead of kicking out the kids who have worked hard, why doesn’t the league remind everyone that there is more to their league than who wins and who loses? By cultivating a ‘competition-free’ culture, this league has undermined the very lessons sports exists to teach. What happens when this culture works its way into the market? (For a more general discussion of how competition is discouraged in education, see "The Competitive Edge" by Joseph Klesney.)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 24, 2005

Samuel Gregg, director of Acton’s Center for Academic Research, wrote “One nation under God?” appearing in tomorrow’s The Tablet:

To European eyes, America seems a remarkably united religious country. But the United States is as prey to disputes over secularism as other Western nations.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 24, 2005

Rev. Richard Cizik of Viriginia is being hailed as “in the vanguard of a striking new movement: evangelicals prodding President George W Bush to take action on global warming. And his stance cannot easily be dismissed as radical nonsense, as the Green cause is traditionally mocked by the Right.

He is the Washington representative for the National Association of Evangelicals, America’s largest evangelical group. With 30 million members, the NAE is possibly the most powerful voting bloc in the country.”

Rev. Gerald Zandstra

On the heels of a National Association of Evangelicals call for heavier involvement in politics, the Acton Institute reflected on the role of Christians in politics, and urged caution lest the moral authority of clergy be exploited.

Earlier this year (March 18), Rev. Gerald Zandstra (then director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Stewardship, currently on leave from Acton) was interviewed for a BBC News program about the role of evangelicals in the formation of American public policy. Click here to view video (wmv) of the story, and here to hear the audio (mp3).