Archived Posts September 2006 | Acton PowerBlog

Many people that I know go out and vote to elect Congress members, U.S. senators, and all sorts of local officials. But I don’t know of that many people who are able or willing to go out and see what their elected officials are actually doing.

I recently discovered a website — a project of The Washington Post — that helps you keep track of just that, although only on the Federal level. The “Votes Database” lets you follow what’s going through Congress, and how everyone is voting. It lets you see what the party vote was, and also how individual elected officials voted.

For those who don’t like visiting websites every day, you can get RSS feeds for each member of Congress and monitor their work from your favorite RSS reader. This is a great way to get a little bit more proactive about knowing what’s happening in the government.

According to Census Bureau estimates, the population of the United States will hit 300,000,000 sometime in the next couple weeks.

Discussion of the significance of this demographic milestone, such as the latest issue of US News & World Report brings to mind a related topic: social security. Having harped on social security reform for some time, I gave it a rest for a while. But the issue hasn’t gone away. All the dire projections of a shortfall in social security—and other entitlements tied to the aging of America’s population, such as Medicare—have simply become clearer and more certain over the course of the last couple years.

President Bush’s talk of reform gave hope to some, but the reality has been little more than treading water (conceding that there have been other pressing concerns with which the administration has had to deal). As the analyses at the Institute for Policy Innovation (see “Entitlement Reform”) show, the problem can’t be ignored forever.

Our week-long series concludes with a reflection on the implications of the great biblical theme of the consummation of creation into the new heavens and the new earth.

Consummation – Revelation 22:1–5

To the extent that we are able in this life, Christians are called to the path of holiness. This path begins with the recognition of the boundaries God has set up, in the created and preserved world and in his law, both in its divine and natural promulgations. We can be sure that there will be an eschatological reality in which “no longer will there by any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV).

And this assurance gives us the hope to spur us on to more wholeheartedly work for the good during our time on this earth. One way in which we can begin to live out this calling is to work against the effects of sin and evil in the world.

Attitudes which reduce animals (or humans) to having merely instrumental value reflect sin and corruption, not righteousness and restoration. Creating mice with human brains so that they can be killed in utero violates the value conferred upon animals as sharing with humans “the breath of life.”

But even more seriously, these actions violate the created dignity of human beings who bear the image of God. Both the perpetrators and victims are effected negatively.

Quite simply, human beings, as God’s image-bearers, are placed in a position of unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than that of plants, or even animals. This doesn’t devalue the rest of creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head. This inherent and overarching value of the human person is what Jesus points to when he states, “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).

The possible “benefits” from the research in human-animal cellular and genetic mixing do not provide justification for crossing the boundaries that God has set up. Such pragmatic arguments are inadequate.

Simply because Adam and Eve could take the fruit and eat did not mean that they should. Simply because people could build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” did not mean that they should. And simply because we humans are able to create chimeras does not mean that we should. Indeed, the Bible gives us good reasons that we should not.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, September 28, 2006
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Photograph from NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity at the rim of “Victoria Crater” in Mars’ Meridiani Planum region (Sept. 26, 2006).

For anyone who reflects, the appearances of beauty become the themes of an invisible harmony. Perfumes as they strike our senses represent spiritual illumination. Material lights point to that immaterial light of which they are the images.

Dionysius the Areopagite Celestial Hierarchy I,3 (PG 3,121)

In case you missed it, there is a great discussion brewing on Amy Welborn’s blog about the Honor Roll. Specifically there is reference to the examination of civic education as a criterion, specifically regarding a school’s teaching of economics, business, and Catholic social teaching. Go to her blog to follow the discussion.

This year’s Catholic High School Honor Roll has been released. Go to Acton’s redesigned Honor Roll webpage to view both the top-50 and the category leader lists. The webpage also features a virtual newsroom that tracks news stories about Honor Roll schools.

The Honor Roll recognizes quality Catholic secondary schools across the nation. With it, Acton offers a unique evaluation system that assesses their overall quality based on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The annual top 50 list has gained national recognition and serves as a significant improvement motivator for Catholic high schools nationwide.

Competition to be listed on the Honor Roll intensified for the schools this year due to the increased number of applications received. “The Honor Roll has certainly developed a greater awareness among Catholics that excellence in Catholic education means more than just excelling in academics,” explained Honor Roll program officer Anthony Pienta. “The best schools also have a vibrant Catholic identity and offer a sound civic education program. Schools are reminded of the need for this balance each year the Honor Roll gets published.”

Acton thanks the numerous administrators, teachers, and other staff who completed surveys for this year’s Honor Roll. Your commitment to Catholic education makes a tremendous difference.

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, September 28, 2006
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America’s fertility clinics are now allowing parents to screen embryos according to sex, and more are opting for this practice. Kevin Schmiesing observes that the idea of children as “gift” is under increasing stress as alternative and sometimes conflicting notions of child as right, as burden, or as consumer item compete for dominance. Despite the great power of the market to satisfy the needs and wants of humanity, “its advantages turn pernicious when it encompasses human goods that should never be reduced to monetary values,” Kevin says.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 28, 2006
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The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.

Redemption – Romans 8:18–27

Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.

The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).

Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.

The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.

The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.

We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.

That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
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Chuck Colson introduces a new initiative at BreakPoint, a blog called “The Point,” which will feature contributions from “sixteen people blogging on pretty much everything under the sun: persecution of Christians, literary feuds, comedy troupes, AIDS, the Pope’s comments on Islam, TV dramas . . . you name it, they’re blogging about it.”

It’s been added to our blogroll. Check it out.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
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Part III of our series focuses on the human fall into sin and the disastrous consequences that follow from it.

Fall – Genesis 9:1–7

The harmonious picture of the created order is quickly marred, however, by the fall of human beings. The fall has tragic comprehensive effects, both on the nature of humans themselves, and on the rest of creation.

The corruption of the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order is foreshadowed in the curses in Genesis 3:14–19. Notably the serpent, perhaps as both representative of the Satanic power and the animal world, is set in enmity against Eve and humankind. But most directly relevant for the discussion here regarding animal/human relations is the breakdown of the relationship between animals and humans that is formalized in Genesis 9.

It is at this point, with the institution of the Noahic covenant, that God pronounces some of the details of the broken relationship between humans and animals, those others who share with humans the “breath of life.” God says in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear and dread of you will fall” upon all animals and “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

Human sin has now blurred some of the created distinction between plants and animals. Animals, sharing the “breath of life” with humans, were created with their own purposes and value, presumably off-limits as food for human consumption. The fall into sin has corrupted all forms of relationship, including that between humans and animals. This has finally manifested itself following the flood with the erasure of the distinction between plants and animals for the purposes of food.

Verse 4 points out a single prohibition, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” So even though the line between animals and plants has been marred, it is not completely eradicated. There are still limits to the uses humans can make of animals. Other legislation, such as the prohibition against bestiality, also points to this fractured but still existent limitation.