Archived Posts October 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

A flap over religion in schools developed last week at Newark High School in Delaware. According to reports, “The principal of a public high school apologized to parents for allowing a Christian-themed assembly that featured two Philadelphia Eagles players, saying he was misled about what the presentation would cover.”

“Principal Emmanuel Caulk of Newark High School wrote in a letter that he expected the talk by players Tra Thomas and Thomas Tapeh to focus on ‘values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society.’”

But apparently the players were to talk about such topics without any reference to their own experience…since that experience is Christian. Caulk claimed to be ignorant of the fact that Tra Thomas is a founder and spokesman for Athletes United for Christ.

“What we’re trying to do is to help the kids make better decisions in life. I guess I understand,” why some people objected,” said Thomas, “because you have other religions there. But we’re not preaching to the kids.”

He continued, “I’m just trying to get them to identify with me, the person, rather than just Tra Thomas, the football player, so we can relate to each other better. And my Christianity is a big part of what I am.” What might have been an acceptable post-modern claim to individuality in other circumstances is not acceptable for a Christian, apparently.

The requisite outrage from the ACLU was reflected in a statement by Drewry Fennell, executive director of the of the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Organizations like this one across the country are gaining access to schools through the famous people and entertainment value and then using those opportunities to proselytize.”

More details and reactions to the event are available here.

The critical error of events like this in public schools rests on the assumption that you can have a morality based purely on secular humanism. And this further assumes that such a position is not reflective of any particular “faith” or “belief system.” All morality is founded on a belief system of some kind or another. To expect that Christians can talk about, in the principal’s words, “values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society,” without reference to Christianity is patently absurd.

Scottish theologian John Baillie insightfully relates the following: “The progress of modern thought seems every day to be making it clearer that between religion and naturalism there is no final resting-place in humanism. As regards anything we are in ourselves naturalism is true, and ‘a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast’. When man ceases to be rooted in God, he relapses inevitably into the sub-human.” The final choice can only be made between naturalism or religion (supernaturalism).

Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck discusses the necessity for a supernatural foundation for a coherent system of morality. He writes,

The only true alternative to the recognition of the supernatural, accordingly, is not a rationalistic deism but naturalism, i.e., the belief that there is no other higher power but that which is immanent in the present natural order and reveals itself [there]. But then one loses all warrant for believing in the triumph of the good, the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God, in the power of the moral world order. For the good, the true, the moral world order, and the kingdom of God are matters that have no power to realize themselves on their own. The hope is that human beings will bring supremacy and yield to the power of truth is daily dashed by disappointments. Their triumph is assured only if God is a personal omnipotent being who, in the face of all opposition, can lead the entire creation to the goal he has in mind for it. Religion, morality, the acknowledgement of a destiny for humankind and for the world, belief in the triumph of the good, a theistic worldview, and belief in a personal God are all inseparably bound up with supernaturalism.

The secular humanist myth of morality without religion, supernaturalism, or faith of some kind is exposed for what it is in instances like this one. The sad part is, of course, that these children desperately need to be taught moral truths, but the public school system is increasingly unable and unqualified to do so, because of institutional, legal, and personal barriers.

President Bush and Judge Alito

In a move seemingly destined to cause a massive political fight on Capitol Hill, President Bush has nominated Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the United States Supreme Court. In his years on the federal bench, Alito has earned a reputation as a reliable conservative voice, even earning the nickname “Scalito” for his philosophical resemblences to current Justice Antonin Scalia. Your thoughts on the nomination are welcome in the comments section.

(If you have an interest in learning more about Scalia’s “textualist” philosophy of judicial interpretation, check out his address from Acton’s Seventh Annual Dinner in June of 1997, available for purchase from the Acton Bookshoppe.)

Acton Senior Fellow Marvin Olasky in a column today on TownHall.com looks at the “important new coalition” called Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now that is working to bring the banned pesticide DDT back into battle against malaria. The disease, he writes, kills an estimated 1 million people annually — 90 percent of them Africans.

The United States has been contributing about $200 million per year to Africa’s war on malaria. Four months ago, President Bush promised an additional $1.2 billion over five years in U.S. anti-malaria funding. But last week, a coalition of 100 doctors, scientists and activists said that anti-malaria funds up to now have been misspent.

The KMMN coalition — which includes eminent malaria experts and public health specialists, the former U.S. Navy surgeon general, the national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons — says most of the annual $200 million goes to advising African governments on how to combat malaria, not on actual combat.

The KMMN coalition says that none of that money goes for the most effective weapon: the insecticide DDT, which eradicated malaria in Europe and the United States more than half a century ago, but was banned in the United States in 1972 because of its supposed environmental effects. Soon, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development cut out DDT from its programs.

Read the “Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now!” declaration and add your name to the growing list of endorsers by emailing “info [at] acton [dot] org” with your name, degrees, and organizational affiliation. Acton will forward your name to the Africa Fighting Malaria advocacy group.

Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, argues that “there is no economical substitute for DDT when it comes to malaria in poorer regions of the world.”

When DDT is available, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Indoor spraying with DDT, for example, reduced malaria cases and deaths by nearly 75 percent in Zambia over a two-year period and by 80 percent in South Africa in just one year. DDT works like nothing else – there’s simply no doubt about it.

For these reasons, we ought to support a bill in Congress (currently it’s known as the Senate version of H.R. 3057) that would reform the U.S. Agency for International Development so that insecticides like DDT could be added to the arsenal for fighting malaria. President Bush announced in July that U.S. taxpayers would spend $1.2 billion for world malaria control over the next five years.

Rather than wasting that money on ineffective bed nets and anti-malaria drugs – and then repeating such futility in another five years – let’s spend it on DDT and get the job done now.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, October 28, 2005

Gregory of Nazianzus, in his first theological oration, “An Introductory Sermon against the Eunomians,” makes a plea for appropriateness in the airing of theological disagreements.

He writes, “If we cannot resolve our disputes outright, let us at least make this mutual concession, to utter spiritual truths with the restraint due to them, to discuss holy things in a holy manner, and not to broadcast to profane hearing what is not to be divulged” (ੵ). His concern is that public disagreements before non-Christians will add barriers to the spread of the Gospel.

His further claim is that it puts the unbeliever in a position of authority over Christians, in that public disputes implicitly provide the audience with an authoritative position: “Why do we appoint our accusers as our judges? Why do we put swords into our enemies’ hands? How, I ask you, will such a discussion be interpreted by the man who subscribes to a creed of adulteries and infanticides, who worships the passions, who is incapable of conceiving anything higher than the body, who fabricated his own gods only the other day, and gods that can be distinguished by their utter vileness?” (੶).

This echoes Paul in I Corinthians 6, in which he admonishes Christians to not bring lawsuits before the secular courts (more on this here). Gregory fears that the inability to keep a unified house in order would have disastrous consequences.

He concludes, “This is what civil war leads to. This is what we achieve by fighting for the Word with greater violence than is pleasing to the Word. We are in the same state as madmen who set fire to their own houses, tear their own children limb from limb, or reject their own parents, regarding them as strangers” (੶).

Such circumspection is hard to come by these days. Personally, I know it is difficult for me to resist castigating fellow Christians publicly or disputing them in whatever forum is available to me, secular or not. The greatest divide on this issue, of course, is between “liberal” and “conservative” Christians, who spare no effort to give non-Christians a reason to distrust them, by slandering each other incessantly.

The approach should probably instead be something analogous to that of parents, who know that the should show a united front to their kids. If they don’t, the kids will pit them against each other an manipulate them to get their own way. Isn’t that what’s happening today to a large extent? Aren’t worldly ideologies winning out because Christians are so committed to these same ideologies over against the bonds of Christian unity? This concern was at the heart of my appeal here.

As in all things, we would do well to remember the words of Christ, which may be good advice for the steps to take in criticizing a fellow Christian (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV):

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Photo courtesy www.rome.info

Reuters reports Rome’s latest laws: Fish can’t be put in fish bowls and dogs must follow a mandatory exercise schedule.

“It’s good to do whatever we can for our animals who in exchange for a little love fill our existence with their attention,” said Monica Cirinna, the councilor behind the by-law.

“The civilization of a city can also be measured by this,” she told Rome daily Il Messaggero. (see article)

The civilization of a city can be measured by this—I think Signora Cirinna is right. These laws are a sign of the decline of Rome’s civilization. With the amount of debt brought about by socialist policies in Italy, whether dogs are getting a good exercise or not should be at the bottom of Rome’s “To Worry About” list.

As one living in Rome, I can say, however, that there is a dog problem and it is not the dog’s lack of improper exercise. They are getting it. There is evidence of it along every street in Rome. And therein lies the problem. The owners do not pick up the filth of their attentive canine friends.

The civilization of a city can be measured by the level of freedom and virtues by which its people live. Proper stewardship of the environment and animals can not be imposed by policy and law. But it can be encourage by laws and policy which support the freedom to do so—laws and policy that are able to be executed. How do you enforce a law banning peoples use of fish bowls? Investigate homes? How do you make sure a dog is getting a proper exercise (a relative issue dependent on the species of the animal)?

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, October 27, 2005

And so the search for a replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor will continue:

Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice Thursday in the face of strong criticism from President Bush’s most conservative supporters, who say she doesn’t have the qualifications or experience necessary to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, October 27, 2005

So often we are bombarded with news of businesses accusing others of unfair trade practices, intentional competition smashing, monopolization, etc. Every once in a while, its good to hear about the good business that goes on, the appreciation that one company has for another, and a customer oriented view of production. In that spirit, I offer up two companies: Adobe (the creators of the PDF and Photoshop) and Apple. Apple’s recent foray into the image-editing world with the release of Aperture has many people intrigued about the possibilities of Apple trying to take marketshare from Adobe. John Nack, the program manager for Photoshop at Adobe has this to say from the Adobe Blog:

“And you know, to the degree that Aperture stirs things up, I’m excited. [Photoshop] CS2 wouldn’t be all it is today without the apps I mentioned keeping us on our toes, and the more tools offer solutions for photographers, the better off customers will be. So in the spirit of the Apple of yore, I say Welcome Apple. Seriously.”

Nack acknowledges that Aperture is a useful and easy application to use, and is thankful for it. Nack understands that in order to best serve the clients of Adobe, competition is neccessary. Competition is what drives a company to improve a product. Competition drives innovation. Competition drives the market.

Real estate mogul and reality show guru Donald Trump made a guest appearance on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” last week and, in a real stretch, he played himself. The brief cameo was in the context of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Horton Foundation, a charity based in the fictional town of Salem. The dialogue between Trump and Mickey Horton gives us some insight into Donald Trump’s view of economic success and the resulting responsibility:

Donald Trump

Mickey: Thank you very much, Mr. Trump, for your generous contribution to the Horton Foundation on its anniversary. And I can assure you that it will be put to very good use.

Donald: Well, I’m glad to do what I can, Mickey. I’ve always believed that with success comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is very important — helping those in need. Your foundation’s been doing a great job for a long time. Happy 40th anniversary, and keep up the great work.

Mickey: We’ll try. I want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come all the way up here to Salem.

Donald: I’ve been hearing so much for so long about what you’ve been doing, and I really had to come up and see the place for myself. It’s great. It’s really terrific.

Now of course in many ways this view might be an artifact of the need to find some device for Donald Trump to appear on “Days”. But this season of Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”, gives us some other clues in this regard.

On his own show, the reward for the winning team in Week 3 was to “give back to the community” by “distributing tens of thousands of dollars worth of free electronics to kids in the hospital.” This is in distinction to past rewards, which include jet-set getaways and expensive jewelry and gifts.

Joy to the World: Mark enjoys his time with hospitalized kids during Excel’s Santa Claus moment. (Week 3: Tech Expo)

(Kevin T. Gilbert/Blue Pixel)

“It puts everything into perspective,” said Josh. “You can’t really quantify the value of giving a gift and a smile to a kid.” Added Mark, “It was like being Santa Claus.”

And on Martha Stewart’s version of “The Apprentice”, for which Trump serves as executive producer, the Week 2 reward again was “an opportunity to give back to New York City. The corporation banded together with New York Cares to help the Hudson Guild community organization create a garden in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. They transformed a dingy dirt patch into a beautiful oasis of flowers outside the Guild’s new recreation, arts, and children’s center. Working alongside volunteers and neighborhood children, the candidates of Primarius [the winning team] were touched by the joy of giving.”

These are just some of the most recent examples of compassion coming to the small screen. The newest show this season is NBC’s “Three Wishes”, hosted by Christian musician Amy Grant. I’ve discussed before the issue of mixed-motives in the commercialization of compassion, especially with respect to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I’m still inclined to give such shows the benefit of the doubt…whatever the motivations, there is good being done. And even if there is duplicity and the motive is purely that of economic self-interest, this merely attests to the foundational reality of mutually beneficial exchange at the heart of the market system.

This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Pork, sweet, juicy pork.

John Stossel, the icon of indignation, has a piece today decrying the spending habits and attitudes of our Republican-led Congress. I will let you read his article for the details, but for what it’s worth, here are some reasons why I think the disgust Stossel projects is an entirely proper and fitting response to pork barrel spending. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A lively discussion is going on over at the evangelical outpost on the idea of the “sin tax,” spurred on by Rev. Sirico’s paper on that subject.

A key point to remember: once the state gets to decide which activities are immoral (but not illegal) and has a vested financial interest in them, you’ll find more and more activities becoming “sins.” Exhibit A: eating fast food.

For more on this subject, see “The Sin Tax Craze: Who’s Next?” by Rev. Sirico.