Archived Posts November 2005 » Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, November 8, 2005

In the days preceeding the arrival of Hurricane Wilma in Florida, Center for Academic Research Director Samuel Gregg joined host John Rabe on Fort Lauderdale radio station WAFG’s Vocal Point show to discuss what, if any, relationship exists between the increased frequency of hurricanes over the past few years and global warming.

You can listen to the 20 minute interview by clicking here (3 mb mp3 file).

Via Best of the Web Today, an interesting comment from Senator John Kerry:

Democratic Sen. John Kerry called the Republican budget approved by the U.S. Senate “immoral” and said it will hurt cities like Manchester.

“As a Christian, as a Catholic, I think hard about those responsibilities that are moral and how you translate them into public life,” the Massachusetts senator said at a rally Saturday in support of Democratic Mayor Bob Baines, who is running for re-election.

“There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests – not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance – that says you ought to cut children’s health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation,” he said.

Kerry criticized the Senate spending plan, which would cut an estimated $36 billion over five years, saying it would reduce funds for police, after-school programs and children’s health care.

In one sense, Kerry is correct: one would search in vain to find any point in the Gospels where the Lord does any direct issue advocacy on the modern welfare state (“verily I say unto you, blessed is the Congress that slashes federal low-income health care funding, for they shall have much loot to pass on to their fat-cat special interest contributors…”). But the implied assertion that those who support such cuts in federal spending are anti-poor, or even anti-Christian, deserves more careful scrutiny.

What comments such as these reveal is a philosophy that, as Rev. Gerald Zandstra has noted, lacks “any real discernment about the proper role of government with respect to the issues of poverty and charity.” When the government assumes the primary responsibility for the care of the poor, it does not enhance a society’s morality (as Kerry and others like him would argue); rather, it erodes the moral foundations of the society:

To assign the problem of poverty solely to the government radically short changes the person in need. The poor, in surrendering them to the care of the government, are increasingly estranged from the family, church, charity, or local community who would benefit greatly by becoming involved in the life of someone who requires real help. There is a mutual benefit in all of these relationships that form the firmest foundations of civil society. In these relationships, we can care for the poor and, more important, see the whole person and experience the dignity that is inherent in the human soul.

Such a placement of responsibility is not only corrosive to society, but also harmful to the church, as Rev. Robert A. Sirico notes:

The specific problem this confusion presents to the church is that it disintegrates charity into an entitlement and collapses love into justice. If all relations are based merely on state-enforced justice, what becomes of the virtue of love? Especially when viewed from a religious perspective, the disadvantages of an expansive welfare state are sadly apparent. Promoting the government as the resource of first resort lessens the incentive of people in the pews to become personally involved in needed projects and relegates the church to the role of lobbyist. To the extent that the church functions as a lobbyist, rather than itself clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and performing the other traditional acts of charity, the church loses a rich source of its own spiritual nourishment.

This has, in turn, led to a secularizing of the social assistance systems (schools, hospitals, orphanages, health clinics). This development minimizes the moral influence of religious mediating institutions which are so critical in helping to stabilize troubled families.

The moral of the story? People of faith should think twice before using religious language to defend the maintanance and expansion of the welfare state. What seems at first glance to be a sound moral choice may be self-defeating in the long run.

From Herman Bavinck:

Even a freedom that cannot be obtained and enjoyed aside from the danger of licentiousness and caprice is still always to be preferred over a tyranny that suppresses liberty. In the creation of humanity, God himself chose this way of freedom, which carried with it the danger and actually the fact of sin as well, in preference to forced subjection. Even now, in ruling the world and governing the church, God still follows this royal road of liberty. It is precisely his honor that through freedom he nevertheless reaches his goal, creating order out of disorder, light from darkness, a cosmos out of chaos.

Prolegomena, vol. 1, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 479.

In today’s Times of London, William Rees-Mogg writes about the Vatican and its apparent rejection of intelligent design.

Rees-Mogg also makes this provocative claim about Pope Benedict and some possible surprises from this new pontificate:

His critics had expected him to be more conservative than his predecessor. I tended to share this expectation myself, but refrained from expressing it because new leaders always surprise one; they move in directions no one had previously foreseen. We should have been more conscious of differences between the national traditions of the Catholic Church in Poland and in Germany. The Polish Church, which trained John-Paul II, had always combined conservative theology with support for the national claims to liberty. The German Church has always been challenged by the modernism of German theology.

In the 16th century Germany was the region where the Reformation happened. German theologians on the Roman Catholic side had to understand the arguments of the Reformers if they were to reply to them. In the 18th century Germans were fully exposed to the French Enlightenment. In the 19th century they were exposed to German philosophers such as Hegel, and to the challenge of German biblical scholarship. Modernism itself in the late 19th century had a great influence on German Catholic opinion.

Martin Heidegger

Anyone who has spent some time around theology or philosophy faculties in Rome can attest to this influence, but it hasn’t always been a positive one for the Church. (I’ve met Heideggerian priests!)

It should make for an exciting first encyclical, which some media reports say will be published December 8.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, November 7, 2005

For those of us who harbor some nostalgic sentiment for this country’s agrarian past…

I’ve written previously about the corrosive effect of subsidies on American agriculture. Now, Denis Boyles, in a thoughtful piece on NRO, notes from a similar perspective the importance of entrepreneurial thinking in preserving the agricultural towns of rural America.

Here’s one piece:

When I asked Genna M. Hurd, the co-director of the Kansas Center for Community Economic Development at the University of Kansas and an expert in rural communities, what made the difference between a town that lived and a town that died, I expected her to give me the old saw about how it takes a school to save a town. Instead, she answered simply, “Local leadership and vision.”

Joe Carter, purveyor of the evangelical outpost (and, incidentally, now the managing editor for WorldMagBlog), had a discussion last week worth paying attention to on the specifically Christian pursuit of knowledge. He argues that this applies even in something so apparently noncontroversial as mathematics. Regarding questions of math and science, “Even the concept that 1 + 1 = 2, which almost all people agree with on a surface level, has different meanings based on what theories are proposed as answers,” he writes.

He also passes along the view of Leibniz:

When Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, an inventor of the calculus, was asked by one of his students, “Why is one and one always two, and how do we know this?” Leibnitz replied, “One and one equals two is an eternal, immutable truth that would be so whether or not there were things to count or people to count them.” Numbers, numerical relationships, and mathematical laws (such as the law of addition) exist in this abstract realm and are independent of any physical existence. In Leibnitz’s view, numbers are real things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm and would exist even if no human existed to recognize them.

This also happens to be the view espoused by Alvin Plantinga in a brief discussion at Calvin Theological Seminary last Thursday on his book, Warranted Christian Belief, although Plantinga discussed “things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm” in terms of possible worlds as thoughts of God.

On a somewhat related note, I’d like to pass along some words from Basil of Caesarea on the applicability of arithmetic to a discussion of the Trinity. We might ask, “What is divine math?”

Basil writes in his treatise On the Holy Spirit,

Count, if you must; but you must not by counting do damage to the faith. Either let the ineffable be honoured by silence; or let holy things be counted consistently with true religion. There is one God and Father, one Only-begotten, and one Holy Ghost. We proclaim each of the hypostases singly; and, when count we must, we do not let an ignorant arithmetic carry us away to the idea of a plurality of Gods. For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,—nor yet first, second, and third. (Ꝅ—45)

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Hebrews 11:3 NIV

The Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW! coalition announced today that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has endorsed the campaign to use DDT as a primary weapon in the fight to control and eliminate malaria. The coalition wants 2/3 of world’s malaria control funds to be spent on DDT, or any more cost-effective insecticide, plus artemisia-based combination therapies (ACTs).

Archbishop Tutu describes malaria as a “devastating” disease that is holding back African development.

Many African countries desperately need cost-effective insecticides, such as DDT, to battle the deadly mosquitoes that transmit the disease. It is a human tragedy that children die largely because donors fail to support appropriate and effective solutions to this preventable disease.

Read more on this important issue and the latest list of endorsers of the KMMN declaration.

Aaah, the magical soothing balm that is government regulation!

The delightfully titled Now Batting for Pedro Borbon blog (“Manny Mota…Mota…Mota”) reveals the (predictable) results of governmental efforts to “increase transparency” in the business world:

So, let’s review. The law that was supposed to ensure greater transparency and make the stock market safe for all of us, especially the little guy, is driving companies to purge the little guy, become less transparent, and shun our world-class public capital markets.

Score another beaut for the Great Sausage Factory!

“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you,” indeed…

Regardless, it seems to me that this is yet another opportunity to reflect on the importance of maintaining ethical business practices in both large and small corporations. As you recall, Sarbanes-Oxley was the congressional response to the various Enron-Worldcom type business accounting scandals in the late 90′s. Those scandals – a result of a distinct lack of ethical practices – resulted in a lot of people losing a lot of money, public distrust of corporations, and a resulting governmental response to the public outcry. The final links in this chain of events include massive new costs for businesses in order to comply with the new regulations, and now the phenomenon noted above. In other words, everyone loses. Returning to and reinforcing core ethical principles, however, creates a situation in which everyone can win.

A story on today’s Morning Edition by Claudio Sanchez examines the future of the school system in New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans school superintendent Ora Watson complains that charter schools are stepping in to fill the void left when public schools were cancelled for the remainder of this school year.

She says, “There are so many different agendas. The mayor has decided that the city can run 20 schools under a charter. We have individual schools going to individual groups saying, ‘Would you charter me?’ They’re picking the school district apart. This is a real, real frustration.” Of course it’s easy to see why this would be a “real frustrating” for someone with a vested bureaucratic interest in maintaining the pre-Katrina state of publicly administered education in New Orleans.

According to the report, Watson worries that New Orleans could be the “first urban school system in America to be taken over by special interest groups.” I assume she means special interest groups other than the National Education Association.

Listen to the rest of the report for other viewpoints on reconstructing education in New Orleans. In many ways, the disaster can be viewed as an opportunity to improve a broken and failing system.

It’s clear that superintendent Watson is ardently opposed to introducing a principle of freedom of choice and competition into the system. For more on how competition, rightly practiced, can work in the educational arena, see this interview with J. C. Huizenga, chairman of the National Heritage Academies.