Archived Posts December 2005 » Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

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

Here’s the best ad hominem (no pun intended) reason to deplore the creation of chimeras: Stalin, the self-proclaimed “Brilliant Genuis of Humanity,” wanted them.

The Scotsman reports that “Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.”

According to the documents, the order came from Stalin’s wish to create a race of super-soldiers: “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”

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

The Coventry Carol (Words Attributed to Robert Croo, 1534; English Melody, 1591). Click here for MIDI version (and sing along!)

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.


This song was “part of a play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The haunting melody was sung by the mothers of Bethlehem to their children, just before King Herod’s soldiers entered the scene (for the slaughter).”

Here’s the biblical text, following the flight of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to Egypt:

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, / weeping and great mourning, / Rachel weeping for her children / and refusing to be comforted, / because they are no more.”

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

Kishore has helpfully pointed out the discussions going on elsewhere about Rodney Stark’s piece and the related NYT David Brook’s op-ed. He derides some of the commenters for their lack of economic understanding, but I’d like to applaud one commenter’s post. He questions, as I do, the fundamental validity of Stark’s thesis (which essentially ignores such an important strand of Christianity as Eastern Orthodoxy). Among other astute observations, Christopher Sarsfield asks: “Was it the principles of Christianity that put the ‘goddess of reason’ on the altar of Notre Dame? Or rather was it the rejection of Christianity and the embracing of the Enlightenment?”

The historical phenomena of the Enlightenment is one fundamental place of failure in Stark’s piece (I have not read his book, perhaps he deals with it there. For now, I’ll have to restrict the conversation to the thesis as it appears in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article). In broad strokes, let’s say that I agree with Stark that Christianity is perhaps the single greatest influence on the flowering of Western civilization. As Scottish presbyterian theologian John Baillie has said, “The great shadow on the conscience of the modern West is the shadow of the Cross.”

Where we differ is in our estimation of the role of reason in Christian theology, and thus in our view of the contribution that the Christian view of reason made to the broader world. Stark’s claim that the Christian appreciation for reason was the basis for capitalism, and implicitly therefore technological and scientific advance, simply does not account for the complex historical antecedents and contexts of these systems.

With respect to theology, modernity (usually traced to Descartes) and the Enlightenment up through and beyond Immanuel Kant, is aptly (although simplistically) characterized by the triumph of reason over revelation, a truly Copernican revolution. As Sarsfield states, “Christianity is a religion of revelation. Our primary guide is not logic and reason, but faith in God’s revelation, which reached its fullness with the incarnation of Christ.”

The engagement of Enlightenment critical philosophy placed the relationship between faith and reason in an altogether different one than had dominated precritical times. The less-than-amicable reception of modernity by pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism attests to this. (As a side note, a debate over the reception of Immanuel Kant by Christian theology is now freely available in the Journal of Markets & Morality archive, beginning here with a piece by Derek S. Jeffreys, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, and continuing with a response by Robert P. Kraynak, professor at Colgate University.)

Instances abound of a rationalistic Christianity, such as Cambridge Platonism (more broadly latitudinarianism) and the religion of reason itself. Indeed, the deistic religions, not Christianity, are those which best meet Stark’s definition of having a “fundamental commitment” to “reason and progress.” The placement of all these developments under the broad rubric of “Christianity” is simply untenable.

Don A. Howard laments that “explicit engagement with the philosophy of science plays almost no role in the training of physicists or in physics research.” The foundations of modern science in rational religion are all too often ignored these days, not only by those in the natural sciences, but also those in the social sciences.

If Stark is right, that Christianity’s most important contribution to the Western world has been a commitment to reason, if this is how “the West was won,” then that is cause for mourning and repentance, not celebration. It means that the church’s vocation has been usurped, our commission has been left unfulfilled.

The historic and theological relationship between faith and reason is a critically important one for study. But it deserves far more careful attention than what it appears to be given by Stark’s thesis. In general, the church has bordered on being far too accomodating of the modern world, and this is evident in its proclamation and apologetics. John Baillie wrote in the first half of the last century:

During the last several generations we who preach the gospel have been far too ready to assume that the modern man had developed an immunity against its appeal. We have approached him apologetically. We have made stammering excuses for our intrusion. For the old direct challenge we have substituted the language of debate. Where our forefathers would have confronted him with God’s commandments, we have parleyed with him over God’s existence and over the authenticity of His claims.

The fundamental commitment to revelation over reason is one that is shared by the great Christian tradition, represented by Augustine, Aquinas, and all the other great Christian theologians that Stark names. It is not a commitment that is shared by proponents of a rationalistic Christianity or reasonable religion, and this difference cannot be overlooked in any account of the rise of Western civilization.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, December 20, 2005
2015: “Sorry guys! My bad!”

Predictions, anyone? Chavez continues to flex his socialist muscles as he has now given ExxonMobil an ultimatum: either give him the controlling interest in their company, or lose their Venezuelan operation altogether. This story is notable because ExxonMobil is the only company who has thus far refused Chavez’s “offer they can’t refuse.”
Now, I don’t think anyone had any misconceptions that Chavez would be a ‘nice socialist’, but what was that proverb about being doomed to repeat history? What worries me about the Venezuelan situation is when their economy gets even worse (as it inevitably will), whom do you think Chavez will blame? I suspect he won’t apologize then for his own policies.

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

Fast Company Now is reporting that “for the first time, customer satisfaction with federal agency Websites has surpassed offline government services,” according to an American Customer Satisfaction Index report.

What is especially noteworthy, however, is that online private sector services consistently rank higher in satisfaction than their governmental counterparts. “Where the gap between offline public and private services has narrowed, the report said, e-government is trailing far behind the private sector online. That, said ACSI chief Claes Fornell, shows room for improvement: ‘They still have ground to close,’ he said.”

Update: In case you were wondering, FEMA’s ratings were dragging down the aggregate federal number a bit. The two divisions of FEMA’s that were rated by the ACSI were its “Flood Map Store” and the “Mitigation Division website”, which scored 70 and 65 respectively (out of 100). The overall governmental average was 71.3.

The Acton debate on the relationship has featured blog posts on Rodney Stark and David Brooks’s column on Starks.

Amy Welborn’s site has more in these two posts (here and here), with a somewhat lively debate in the comments sections.

Several of the comments regard Max Weber’s thesis on the Protestant work ethic and capitalism, and reveal a misunderstanding of what makes for economic growth in Ireland and the lack of it in Latin America.

It’s pretty obvious there are few Actonites or economists taking place in the debate over at Amy Welborn’s. If they had been reading the Journal of Markets and Morality, they could have saved themselves a lot of time.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, December 16, 2005

Eugene Hickok and Gary Andres give us an optimistic piece on education reform on NRO today. They see even public educational professionals opening up to the positive potential of reforms that shift the educational enterprise into non-governmental hands. No doubt the continued advance of public education threats such as homeschooling and vouchers have prodded some educators into reform-mindedness. Progress on this issue is painstakingly slow and therefore hard to gauge, but one hopes Hickok and Andres have correctly identified the direction of momentum.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 16, 2005

Paul Theroux, a former Peace Corps volunteer, indicts what he calls the “more money” platform, headed by none other than U2 frontman Bono, in a NYT op-ed, “The Rock Star’s Burden.”

“Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions.”

The piece is well worth reading: “We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.” Theroux goes on to examine some of these points, in convincing fashion.

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

Dr. Philip Stott at EnviroSpin Watch shares with us an article featuring an interview with Maugrim, head of Queen Jadis’ secret police from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, on the growing threat of global warming to the peaceful nation of Narnia. The so-called “greenhouse gas” in question is Pantheron Dileoxide (PL2), also commonly known as “Lion’s Breath.”

“PL2 is a dangerous, roaring greenhouse gas”, the Chief Wolf, Maugrim, growled. “It melts everything, even frozen fauns and fountains. Climate change is the biggest threat ever to Narnia – we might even have Christmas, and the Queen’s war chariot polar bears will have nowhere to live”, he snarled.

The interview concluded with a demand to return to “zero emissions.”

HT: The Corner

Jordan Ballor’s recent post on “Christian Reason and the Spirit of Capitalism” hit onto something big.

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist David Brooks weighs in with a piece entitled “The Holy Capitalists”. (Once again, the Times has blocked access to non-subscribers. If you aren’t a subscriber, buy today’s Times just to read this column – it’s worth it.)

Brooks calls the debate over the foundations of success the most important in the social sciences today and praises Rodney Stark’s book “The Victory of Reason” for its unconventional take on Western progress.

“Religion didn’t stifle economic and scientific ideas – it nurtured them. [...] Catholic theology had taught [European scientists and economists] that God had created the universe according to universal laws that reason could discover.”

He concludes, “Ideas and culture drive civilizations. The Catholic Church nutured one of the most impressive economic takeoffs in human history. Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it’s important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich.”

Some of these themes can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s recent World Day of Peace Message (albeit in less provocative language). And they are also of great interest to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, headed by Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

Maybe this discussion will be joined on the letters page of the “newpaper of record”. And maybe the Times will even allow non-subscribers to take part.