Archived Posts June 2006 | Acton PowerBlog

Christian reviewers take the new take on the Man of Steel many different ways:

Steven Greydanus likes it.

Thomas Hibbs doesn’t.

Keith Howland likes it.

Peter Chattaway doesn’t (very much).

None of these has anything on Acton’s own Jordan Ballor, however, who analyzes the film with penetrating insight (or X-ray vision, as one is tempted to say…).

The clash between scientists and moralists that Jordan highlights below is displayed also in reaction to the recent comments by Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family concerning excommunication of those involved in embryonic stem cell research.

The comments are reported here, and scientists’ reactions here.

Meanwhile, the Church wholeheartedly supports the use of adult stem cells (which has already proven effective), as indicated by this story about a Missouri priest.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 29, 2006
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“If you look at all the discussions surrounding biotechnology, I feel that we are clearly focusing too much on ethics.”

Toine Manders, Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, on discussions in the European Parliament about stem cell research. From “Debate on stem cells holds back EU research drive,” Financial Times, June 14, 2006. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

“It is because the moral sciences tend to show us such limits to our conscious control, while the progress of the natural sciences constantly extends the range of conscious control, that the natural scientist finds himself so frequently in revolt against the teaching of the moral sciences.”

F. A. Hayek, “Scientism and the Study of Society: Part III,” Economica 11, no. 41 (February 1944): 37-38.

In Part 1, we saw that the infrastructure of Protestant social teaching is not nearly as sophisticated as Roman Catholic social teaching and that natural law has often been viewed as a bridge between the church and the world.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Historically, natural law has been used as a bridge category to appeal to people of all races, classes, cultures, and religions. Its public value stems, in part, from its ability to speak beyond those who share a prior commitment to sacred Scripture or Christian creeds. As Cicero, the renowned Roman orator taught in De republica, natural law

is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. . . . It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author — its promulgator — its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.

Natural law is the one universal law to which all people have access by their natural reason, no matter where or when they happen to live.

In much of modern Protestant theology, there is skepticism about this appeal to reason. Protestants believe the bridge has been shattered and replaced with an ethic of divine command. So what churches and faith communities often say on social issues has no way of reaching the other side, and they end up in dangerous isolation from society and from the history of Christian moral reflection.

While Roman Catholics have held firmly to natural law, Protestants of all stripes from mainline to evangelical Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Methodists, and so forth, have not. They swing between the extremes of blanket dismissal and hesitant acceptance of natural law, but even among the more favorably disposed, natural law is treated as an uninvited intruder.

So, why have Protestants largely rejected natural law? We’ll address this in Part 3.

This has been cross-posted to my blog on natural law, Common Notions.

Ron Sider, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 144 pp.

“Summing Up Sider’s Legacy”

Ron Sider’s recent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, is a noteworthy achievement. One the one hand, it represents an almost complete shift away from left-leaning government-oriented solutions to social and economic problems that characterize the first edition of his popular Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. This movement had already become apparent by the time Sider released the twentieth anniversary edition of Rich Christians, in which he embraced increased access to markets and capital investment as necessary components of solutions to global poverty. In Scandal, Sider explicitly acknowledges this perspective, as he writes of “the stunning success of market economies in producing ever-greater material abundance.”

Sider is thus able to recognize the basic goodness of creation: “Historic Christianity has been profoundly materialistic. The created world is good. God wants us to create wealth and delight in the bounty of the material world.” A key part of Sider’s project is to properly and relatively value the material and temporal in light of the spiritual and eternal. Thus he rightly notes that “historic Christianity also placed firm boundaries on this materialism. Nothing, not even the whole material world, matters as much as one’s relationship with God.” (more…)

This from the official Google blog: “We’ve always recognized the importance of copyright, because we believe that authors and publishers deserve to be rewarded for their creative endeavors. And we specifically designed Google Book Search to respect copyright law – never showing more than two or three snippets around a search term without the publisher’s prior permission, which they can give through our Partner Program.”

The newest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online to subscribers (the print version should be along shortly). The newest issue features a “symposium” in which several authors discuss the “Dynamics of Faith-Based Policy Initiatives” (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).

The editorial for this issue is available to the general, non-subscribing, public and can be read online. “The Economics of Information Control” examines the rising demand for free academic scholarship and literature, specificially within the Open Access movement. Stephen Grabill, the executive editor, asserts that because scholarly publishing is largely funded by journal subscriptions, eliminating a cost-structure for those publications will ultimately cause a shortage of funds for continuing publication of scholarly materials.

In addition to the release of the new journal, a new past issue will be archived. Volume 8, Number 1 is now available to the non-subscribing public.

Finally, a brief announcement about a new subscription option. Following our plan to integrate the journal with an economically sound internet based delivery system, a new option is available to subscribers of the journal. In the past we have offered both individual and institutional based subscriptions in one or two year plans. We have added a new option for individual subscribers: you can now subscribe for an online access account for the low price of $10. This account opens access to the online Journal for one year, but you will not recieve a print copy. We hope you enjoy this new option!

Blog author: sgrabill
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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A Biblical Case for Natural Law by David VanDrunen

David VanDrunen’s new monograph, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, is a must read for Christians who are perplexed about the biblical standing of natural law. It makes a biblical case for the existence and practical importance of natural law.

Through his examination of the redemptive-historical context of natural law, professor VanDrunen is helping to shift debate away from the badly caricatured doctrine of sola scriptura toward a fuller understanding of the biblical theology underlying natural law. As Protestants rediscover the biblical basis for natural law and the doctrinal resources of their own theological traditions, I hope we can recover a sense of our catholicity with the broader and older Christian moral tradition.

John T. McNeill, a renowned Calvin scholar and dean of twentieth-century Reformation studies, once made a bold assertion to this effect: “There is no real discontinuity between the teaching of the Reformers and that of their predecessors with respect to natural law.” Can McNeill’s claim withstand historical scrutiny? I think so, but see for yourself.

A host of Christian and secular commentators have trumpeted the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ in light of the forthcoming movie, Superman Returns.

Many Christians embraced the Superman hero when a trailer for the new movie was released using the words of Superman’s father Jor-El, voiced by Marlon Brando: “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being you’re not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I sent them you… my only son.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I point instead to the fundamental differences between the two. I am concerned that Christians are being unwittingly exploited by Hollywood spin doctors: “Christians risk undermining our own influence when we simply latch on to the pop icon of the moment in undiscerning and uncritical ways.”

In an interview with CT Movies this week, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer acknowledges the intentionality of the spiritual allegories for Superman, “Christ being a natural one, because Superman’s a savior. And even more so in my film, because he’s gone for a period of time, and then he returns. For me to say that those messianic images don’t exist in the movie would be absurd.”

Read the full commentary here (cross-posted to Blogcritics.org).

Acton Impact ad raising awareness of the malaria epidemic.

An article in today’s New York Times, “Push for New Tactics as War on Malaria Falters,” coincides nicely with Acton’s newest ad campaign (see the back cover of the July 1 issue of World). The article attacks government mismanagement of allocated funds in the global fight against malaria. Celia Dugger, the author, writes:

Only 1 percent of the [United States Agency for International Development's] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.

The game is now changing, however. The White House has initaited new campaigns, boosting allocation for medicines, insecticides, and mosquito nets to over 40% of the agency’s total malaria budget. The new government push is also raising awareness among private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Acton has begun a media campaign to raise awareness of available and economically sound solutions to the malaria epidemic. Among possible solutions is the indoor residual spraying of insecticides, including DDT (proven to be highly effective and safe in South Africa), distribution of treated mosquito nets, distribution of medication, and educational programs that explain where malaria comes from and how to avoid it.

Visit our Impact Malaria page for more reading and for links to get involved in the global fight against malaria.