Archived Posts July 2006 - Page 2 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Sunglasses

Hunger, disease, the waste of lives that is extreme poverty are an affront to all of us. To Jeff [economist Jeffrey Sachs] it’s a difficult but solvable equation. An equation that crosses human with financial capital, the strategic goals of the rich world with a new kind of planning in the poor world. –Bono, Foreward to The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, italics mine.

I am informed by philologists that the “rise to power” of these two words, “problem” and “solution” as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel “rise to power” of the word “happiness” for reasons which doubtless exist and would be

Mustaches

interesting to discover. Like “happiness”, our two terms “problem” and “solution” are not to be found in the Bible-a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations .. . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no “solution of the social problem” to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a “problem”, nor the answer to it a “solution”. –L. P. JACKS, Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7

This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater

Says Masses

personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. — Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

How can government best uphold Christian values? The right’s traditional answer is through legislating morality issues that are central to family values or the sanctity of life. It looks like the left will counter this with an expanded version of government. Andrew Lynn looks at the growing competition for the religious vote in the context of Sen. Barack Obama’s recent speech to Call to Renewal.

Read the entire commentary here.

In Parts 5 and 6 we addressed the two most common Protestant objections to natural law. And now, as promised, we will see what limitations the Reformers perceived in natural law, even as they affirmed its value. (Incidentally, the treatment of the natural knowledge of God that Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Francis Turretin provide, to mention only a few, is completely in step with that of the early church. For more on that topic, click here.)

The widespread assumption that Reformation theology allows no access to natural law—that its view of Scripture, revelation, Christ, salvation, and faith excludes every kind of natural theology —needs serious correction. Yet, in affirming natural law’s value as a bridge, it is also necessary to acknowledge its limitations.

The Reformers hold to the existence of a natural knowledge of morality in creation, conscience, and reason, but they think that knowledge has no saving power or merit associated with it. In fact, its primary role is to make people accountable for the basic moral truths they already know by undercutting any excuses they may propose along the way. In other words, according to the Reformers, natural law informs the mind of what is right and wrong, but it cannot ensure that the will shall choose to do good over evil. In this sense, they think natural law is ineffective and insufficient to bring about right action, even if it is a reliable source of moral information.

The Reformers’ assessment of natural law is complicated further when the issue of free will and morality is considered. They think the will is free in the sense that it is not coerced but self-determined, choosing voluntarily, on its own to do or not to do something. This is why people can be held responsible for their choices: They are self-determining moral agents who know right from wrong. The Reformers reject the extremes of the will’s complete unimpeded freedom, on the one side, as well as the will’s external coercion, on the other. Instead, they think the will is self-determined, willing voluntarily on its own, but because of corruption is in bondage to sin and therefore subject to a constant state of sinning.

Underlying the bondage of the will is the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. Following Augustine, the Reformers see the fall affecting every aspect of human nature with the result that fallen human beings are in bondage to sin. Despite the fact that human nature was originally created good, it has become corrupted as a result of Adam’s sin. Thus, prior to the action of God’s grace, the will is in bondage to sin, which means there is no way for people to prepare themselves to receive God’s grace. This is where the Reformation doctrine of prevenient grace comes in.

Grace is prevenient; that is, God’s grace precedes any human good will. Prevenient grace does not simply make it possible for people to respond affirmatively to God’s call; it actually brings conversion about. This is true not just of the beginning of the Christian life. Grace is needed at every stage and, in particular, for final perseverance. Prevenient grace is a gift of God, not something that is merited by previous obedience.

Other questions also enter the discussion about natural law in relation to free choice and grace. One such question is whether it is even possible to obey the moral law. The Reformers reject the assumption that “ought” implies “can”: That people can do on their own without divine assistance what they know they should do. While “ought” implies “can” was certainly true for Adam and Eve in the Garden, after the fall they think it is no longer possible to observe perfectly the moral law’s internal and external requirements. The purpose of the law, according to the Reformers, is not to show human ability but to point to grace. Grace gives what the law commands. Tied directly to the law is the question of “good works.” The Reformers argue that even the best of human works are tainted by sin. Thus it is by God’s grace and generosity that he rewards good works. Furthermore, all good works are the gifts of God’s grace and thus, as Augustine put it, when God rewards our merits he crowns his own gifts.

In Part 8, the final installment of this series, I will summarize what I think natural law is.

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

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
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It’s a deceptively simple idea. Everyone would be allocated an identical annual carbon allowance, stored as points on an electronic swipe-card. Points would be deducted for every purchase of non-renewable energy. People who did not use their full allocation, such as people who do not own a car, would be able to sell their surplus carbon points into a central bank. High energy users could then buy them – motorists who used their allocation would still be able to buy petrol, with the carbon points drawn from the bank and the cost added to their fuel bills. To reduce total UK emissions, the overall number of points would shrink each year.

Tech Central calls this "This Year’s Dumbest Political Idea…." More analysis along these lines here.

The Chimp seems interested in it, though. And hey – maybe we could just skip the "electronic swipe-card" and go straight to the microchip.

No plastic to dispose of.

UPDATE: This writer misses the whole "identical carbon allowance" thing, but has another ethical problem with carbon rationing by way of a national identity register.

I am totally opposed to ID cards and am involved in the campaign. However, I am also deeply concerned about climate change and cannot see any solution to it, other than carbon rationing, that is both effective and equitable. The survival of human existence is clearly an issue besides which even the disasters likely to arise from ID cards will pale into insignificance.

Fascinating statement. "anon" seems to fear that people will be more afraid of climate change than of giving up their individual and economic freedoms. Evangelicals generally see the reign of anti-christ as an economically-dominated one, but what if carbon credits become the currency of the day? Is the climate "crisis" (real or imagined) driving us inexorably in this direction?

OK, all you Actonites out there: What’s the Christian response? How would you address anon’s concerns?

UPDATE: Ok, how about a CO2 credit lottery? That makes just as much sense.

Today in Washington:

Christian Newswire — Amid mounting controversy among evangelical Christians over global warming and climate policy, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance presented “A Call to Truth, Prudence and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming” at the National Press Club Tuesday morning. The paper is a refutation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” released last February, and a call to climate policies that will “better protect the world’s poor and promote their economic development.”

ISA’s 24-page paper has been endorsed by 130 leaders, including 111 evangelical theologians, pastors, climate scientists, environmental and developmental economists, and others, plus non-evangelical experts on climate change. The paper presents scientific, economic, ethical, and theological evidence that mandatory carbon-emissions reductions to mitigate global warming would “not only fail to achieve that end but would also have the unintended consequence of serious harm to the world’s poor, delaying for decades or generations their rise from poverty and its attendant high rates of disease and premature death, and robbing them of the very tools they need to protect themselves from catastrophes.” It argues that foreseeable warming will “probably be moderate, within the range of natural variation, and may on balance be more beneficial than harmful to humankind.”

Read the full news release here. Download ISA’s “A Call to Truth” here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
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Headline: It’s a Sin to Fly, Says Church

Actually, "It’s a Sin to Fly, Screams Headline" would be more appropriate. Here’s what the Church (or rather, the Bishop of London) actually says:

“Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”

I think there’s merit to this. How far removed really from "loving thy neighbor" is making the decision to walk or bike to the corner store instead of jumping into your car? From an energy and pollution standpoint, perhaps not too far. As Archbishop Williams puts it in the article, we "make moral choices" on all sorts of things (money, sex, time) all the time.

He’s not saying don’t fly. He’s admonishing folks to consider the impacts and act accordingly. An admonishment easily taken out of context.

Dr Chartres’ comments seem to have elicited confusion and outrage in some sections of the media and in parts of the transport industry. This morning the Daily Mail newspaper accused the Church of England of turning the Gospel into “a party political broadcast for the Greens” and said that it should focus instead on its shrinking pews – adding that these would not be filled by reminding people of environmental concerns.

Based on the success other pastors are having, I think they’re dead wrong on that last point. Anyway, I think the liberal/secular media folks are fundamentally upset about one thing:

The Church has caught on to ecology as a moral value.

And those in liberal and secular circles don’t like it one bit, despite this being something Greens have been preaching in the media for decades. They hate polluters! But they hate being coopted even more. Or even worse, having any behavior described as (gasp!) SINFUL.

‘Hey, pal – don’t push your religion on me!’ he said as he tossed his aluminum can into the recycling bin…

Shrug, says me. It’s fair to say that the organized church has suffered chronically from legalism, and folks have to right to be wary of that. But watching the Greens wriggle around on this one is so entertaining, it’s almost sinful. [Hat tip]

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
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The amount of media attention over the past week’s devoted to President Bush’s utterance of a “naughty” word has been incredible. Maureen Dowd uses it as just one more bit of proof supporting her depiction of the president as a frat-boy, who “has enshrined his immaturity and insularity, turning every environment he inhabits — no matter how decorous or serious — into a comfortable frat house.”

She writes, “No matter what the trappings or the ceremonies require of the leader of the free world, he brings the same DKE bearing and cadences, the same insouciance and smart-alecky attitude, the same simplistic approach — swearing, swaggering, talking to Tony Blair with his mouth full of buttered roll, and giving a startled Angela Merkel an impromptu shoulder rub. He can make even a global summit meeting seem like a kegger.”

Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame takes the same tack with this, umm, “rap”. In an impression of Bush, Shearer intones, “Now sure I’m a moral man who has God-fearin’ ways, I wouldn’t use a dirty word or worse, a smutty phrase, I’ve restored dignity to the White House…”

It reminds me of a preferred tactic of progressive Christian speaker Tony Campolo, who in the 1980s would often begin speeches in the following way:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a s#!%. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s#!% than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Is George W. Bush a hypocrite because he’s a Christian and he cussed? And why is it such a big news story? What a scandal the words of Martin Luther, or even the apostle Paul himself, might be…

Here’s how the NIV translates Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

The word that appears as “rubbish” is the Greek word skubala, a form of skubalon. The most immediate and core sense of skubalon seems to be the equivalent of the word President Bush uttered, e.g. “the excrement of animals,” with the somewhat more remote sense being that of “things worthless and detestable.”

Jerome uses the Latin word stercus to represent the Greek in the Vulgate, which still comes over as a technical medical term in English for feces. The KJV translates that part of Philippians 3:8 as “dung.”

This is to say nothing at all of all the rather “earthy” imagery of many parts of the OT. Whatever else you or I think of him, on this one point at least, maybe Tony Campolo is on to something. And it seems to me that conclusions on this point will have important implications for just how Christians are to engage the culture.

More on Christians and swearing:

More with Tony Campolo:

  • “An Exchange on Christian Compassion,” (2-CD Set). This spirited debate was recorded on October 29, 1996. The exchange centered on the question of whether liberals are more compassionate than conservatives, and featured Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Doug Bandow arguing for the conservative side, and Rev. Tony Campolo representing the liberal side.

Today’s NYT editorializes: “a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply while holding only 3 percent of the reserves will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices, much less oil independence.”

You’ll often hear the complaint that Americans use more than their fair share of the world’s oil. We’re addicted to it, some say. After all, so goes the reasoning, we have less than one-half of one percent of the world’s population, but we “consume one-quarter of the world’s oil supply.” Seems wildly out of proportion, doesn’t it?

That is, until you take into account that the United States economy represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of gross world product (depending on how you calculate it). So the US also produces wealth that is wildly out of proportion to our share of the world’s population.

There is a real correspondence between economic power and the use of fossil fuels. That’s part of the reality I was pointing to in this week’s Acton Commentary: “Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.”

And here’s just one more side note. Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

Just a brief note addition to Kevin’s post: the free article from May’s Touchstone magazine is Terence O. Moore’s feature, “Not Harvard Bound.”

A key quote:

The elite schools no longer command the reverence and deference of red-state America. The parents and students of “flyover country” are starting to put their money where their morals are or where they believe truth is.

There’s a discussion of Moore’s article at Touchstone‘s reader discussion site, Treaders.

HT: Mere Comments

Anthony Bradley delivers his remarks last Wednesday

The 2006 Acton Lecture Series continued today with Anthony Bradley’s presentation of Beyond Black and White: New Realities of Race In America. Mr. Bradley is an Acton research fellow and assistant professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. His lecture describes the new market trends which reflect the changing demographics in America. With a decline in population amongst whites, a stagnated black population, and the ever-increasing numbers of Latinos and Asians, constructing racial reflections in terms of black and white is now obsolete. Implications abound for the future of every American institution.

If you weren’t able to attend the event in person, you can listen to the lecture by clicking here (8.9 mb mp3 file).

Update: For our broadband readers, you can now access streaming video of the entire lecture by clicking here.