Archived Posts September 2006 » Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Earlier this month Forum 18 published an article that examined whether the establishment of a law regarding religion at a national level would be a positive step toward ending the sometimes arbitrary and uneven treatment of religious freedom issues throughout the country.

In “Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?” Magda Hornemann writes, “For many years, some religious believers and experts both inside and outside China have advocated the creation of a comprehensive religion law through the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.” The argument in favor of the establishment of such a law is that “the rights of religious believers would be better protected by being clearly stipulated and codified in an objective law of the land.”

The consensus at Forum 18 is that a law by itself would be no real positive step. After all, “Despite the words contained in China’s laws and regulations, what is even more important is how those words are interpreted – which in turn is affected by one’s view on the roles played by laws and regulations in society.”

Here’s Forum 18′s conclusion:

Without an independent judiciary, even a well-crafted law is likely to fail on its first try. Yet, it is clear that an independent judiciary is not possible within the existing political-legal context. As long as the state remains authoritarian, and while the political and legal culture remain unchanged, it also seems likely that a comprehensive religion law will not in itself end arbitrary state moves that inhibit the religious freedom of China’s citizens.

Even so, the implications of a new human rights group in China may mean that the establishment of a uniform religious law is a positive first step.

The current issue of Christianity Today features a profile on the Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM). The HRPM is an association of “lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China,” who “are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.”

In “China’s New Legal Eagles,” Tony Carnes examines in particular the legal aspects of the HRPM. That is, the HRPM provides legal defense for those who cannot afford it and challenges the Chinese government on the basis of its own written and established laws. Thus, oftentimes “the Chinese government is caught between its rhetoric proclaiming the rule of law and its practice of ignoring or abusing the law when it suits its purposes.”

This method of appealing to the current set of laws to defend freedom is one that is also used by International Justice Mission (IJM), for example, in fighting the international slave trade. IJM works “to rescue victims and to bring accountability to perpetrators through the enforcement of a country’s domestic laws.”

The basis for the work of many of the evangelical lawyers and activists in the HRPM is their Christian faith. Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, makes an compelling observation regarding Christianity in China: “We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”

What Yafeng is claiming about the relationship between Christianity and China today has often been repeated about the relationship between Christianity and the West.

In a 2004 essay, “A Time of Transition,” German philosopher and secularist Jürgen Habermas wrote, “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Over sixty years earlier German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of his historical context in an essay from his Ethics, “Church and World”:

Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance, autonomy—all these concepts, which until recently had served as battle cries against the church, against Christianity, even against Jesus Christ, now surprisingly find themselves in very close proximity, to the Christian domain. This happened at a point in time when everything Christian had been driven into a tight corner as never before, when the central Christian tenets were being emphasized in their sternest, most uncompromising, and most offensive form to reason, culture, humanity, and tolerance. Indeed, in exactly the reverse proportion that everything Christian was attacked and driven into a corner, it gained these concepts as allies, and thereby a scope of unimagined breadth

Later on Bonhoeffer reiterates the point quite stunningly:

It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth, and freedom. Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Jesus Christ alone. It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.

Sadly, abuses of the rule of law in China are commonplace and Forum 18’s concerns about the independence and consistency of the judiciary are certainly relevant. Such concerns become even more pressing in the light of recent moves by the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information about court cases.

But these issues notwithstanding, the efforts of groups like HRPM show that appeals to the existing laws, within the context of the normative rule of law, can be an effective way to work for the protection of religious freedom. It may well be that a uniform, comprehensive, and objective national religion law would help rather than hinder the work of these evangelical “legal eagles.”

As Daniel Pulliam writes at GetReligion, “Those of us who have heard from Christian Chinese missionaries, perhaps at a church function, know that Christianity could change China.” The HRPM is an example of one way in which such positive changes can be accomplished.

Mortgage foreclosure rates soared 53 percent in August, compared with a year earlier, and many people who were eager to buy a house with low “teaser” interest rates and creative financing are in trouble. Acton Senior Fellow in Economics Jennifer Roback Morse expects new calls for goverment oversight of the mortgage industry, which is already highly regulated. A better idea, she suggests, would be for buyers to examine their motives for acquiring real estate with gimmicky loans and take some responsibility for their actions.

Read the full commentary here.

Allow me to summarize the message of outgoing UN General Secratary Kofi Annan’s speech to the General Assembly yesterday (HT: International Civic Engagement):

“The United Nations is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to utopia but through it.”

You can compare the text of Annan’s speech to see if I’ve gotten it right, and then contrast my summary with another source.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Beliefnet, in conjunction with Sojourners, is hosting a blog based on Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.

One of the key features in the blog’s short tenure to date is a discussion between Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition. Jim says that Ralph is his “first dialogue partner on God’s Politics,” so perhaps we can expect more to come.

And in case you haven’t seen it, Acton’s Jay Richards reviewed Wallis book in the October 2005 issue of Touchstone magazine.

The Summer 2006 issue of Religion & Liberty is now available. This issue focuses on the relationship between virtue and success. Looking at this question from several different perspectives – from an economic to a Biblical point of view – we convey that a virtuous society will best satisfy the requirements for liberty and free, and effective, markets.

Inside This Issue:

The Economy of Trust: R&L interviewed Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize and National Medal for Science winner, on the value of morality and religion in markets. Kenneth Arrow poins out that morality, ethics, and religion all help to fill in the gaps that are inherant in markets. Markets require ethics and morality, virtues such as honesty and trust, in order to function efficiently. “Religion calls for a sense of responsibility to the other, which the market, in principle, doesn’t have,” says Arrow.

Trust and Entrepreneurship: Raymond J. Keating, an economist and columnist, talks about the neccessity of trust in a marketplace that would flourish. Keating systematically explains need for trust between businesses, consumers, and the government. If trust breaks down, between business and the government then it becomes doubtful that contracts will be enforced or private property protected. If trust breaks down between business and consumers, consumers will not buy products. Looking at the neccessity of trust, Keating then argues that a re-evaluation of the “big-business” trusts of the 19th century is in order – as they were a “fantastic example of entrepreneurs who served consumers well.”

Second-Career Clergy and Parish Business: R&L interviewed journalist Jonathan Englert, author of The Collar: A Year of Striving and Faith inside a Catholic Seminary, the story of five seminarians through one year of education. The seminary that Englert examines is specifically geared towards men who have begun discerning their vocation later in life, many who came to the seminary from business backgrounds. R&L, always seeking to insersect religion and economics, examines the approach that a business-person turned priest may have when addressing the “business” of a parish.

The Dividends of Social Capital: Michael Miller, director of programs at the Acton Institute, explores some of the ideas presented in Francis Fukuyama’s Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity. Private property and rule of law, states Miller, are essential for free and prosperous economies. But “social capital,” specifically the existence trust, is also essential.

Defending the Weak and the Idol of Equality: This article is taken from a lecture delivered by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., at the Pontifical North American College in Rome as part of the Centesimus Annus Lecture Series. In it, Dr. Morse explains the social teaching of the Roman Catholic church in regard to equality, specifically its teaching regarding care of the poor. Dr. Morse explains that the Catholic church advocates for defense of the weak and those in poverty, rather than the socialist tendency to turn “equality” into an idolatrous extreem embraced by the state.

Anders Chydenius (1729-1803)

In the Liberal Tradition – Anders Chydenius:

The more opportunities there are in a Society for some persons to live upon the toil of others, and the less those others may enjoy the fruits of their work themselves, the more is diligence killed, the former become insolent, the latter despairing, and both negligent.

Please visit the Religion & Liberty and read the newest issue (a PDF is also provided for your offline reading pleasure). Archived issues are also available!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NBC Nightly News has long had a special feature titled, “The Fleecing of America,” which investigates various instances wasteful spending by government officials.

To get a visual clue about the massive size and diversity of the federal budget, check out “Death and Taxes”, the 2007 edition, “a representational graph of the federal discretionary budget. The amount of money that is spent at the discretion of your elected representatives in Congress. Basically, your federal income taxes.”

The website also notes, “Don’t forget about the national debt! It’s the circle so big it doesn’t even fit in the box.”

I recommend printing out the graph in landscape orientation on ledger-sized paper and posting it somewhere near your desk. You’ll get plenty of questions from curious passers-by.

(HT: Mises Economics Blog)



Update: In response to the limitations of the graph noted by Tim in the comments section below, it should be noted that this graph does only refer to discretionary spending. This does not include either the mandatory spending that falls under the federal budget each year or the various entitlement programs, such as Social Security, which are “off budget.” With this in mind, of course, the pork in the graph above is the good news, relatively speaking.

With regard to speculation as to why the makers of the budget graph chose only to look at discretionary spending, I quote this Reason article: “Because discretionary spending can theoretically be zeroed out each year, it is generally regarded as the clearest indicator of whether a president and Congress are serious about reducing government spending.”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Received some emails in the past week from the folks at Magnolia Pictures announcing the release of Jesus Camp, which they call a "new, controversial documentary." According to one mailer, "The film follows children at an Evangelical summer camp, as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ."

Disclaimer – I haven’t seen it. Haven’t even been offered comp tickets to attend a screening of it, though I have been asked to promote it, which seems rather odd (and by your reading this, may be too late to avoid). You can see clips of it here and here.

Apparently some "Evangelical leaders" – the emails don’t say which – aren’t happy about it. Maybe they don’t like the portrayal of this Pentecostal summer camp as an American madrassa, as David Byrne (who has seen the film) puts it. In any event, Eamonn Bowles, President of Magnolia Pictures, felt it necessary to release the following statement:

“We’re frankly surprised and a little disheartened by the efforts of prominent members of the evangelical community to clamp down on JESUS CAMP. Whether or not the children and camp depicted in the film represents the ‘mainstream’ of the Evangelical movement is beside the point: they exist, the film documents them, and the subjects feel they’ve been treated fairly. Why a community that’s so quick to attack discrimination from secular Americans would then turn and do the same to other Evangelicals is unexpected, to say the least.”

Christianity Today interviewed the film’s documentrixes. Besides Byrne’s and Bowles’ comments, their interview suggests what might be bugging some conservative evangelicals:

You talk about the range of evangelicals you came across. Would Mike Papantonio [a radio talk-show host who appears throughout the film, and at one point debates Fischer] self-identify as an evangelical? Grady: No, he’s not evangelical. He’s a Methodist, he goes to a mainline church, but he’s quite devoted to his church. [snip] Ewing: . . .While Mike is not officially a born-again Christian, he does echo a lot of the concerns that these gentlemen have, and we thought this was a more creative way to vent those concerns, because he is a Christian. He just thinks that the politicization of the church is going to be the downfall of it, and he doesn’t like that association. So officially, no, he’s not a born-again, but he does, I think, speak very well for the concerns of Christians that don’t like the political nature of the evangelical movement, or at least of the far right part of that movement.

He’s not evangelical – he’s a Methodist. Heh. Will have to remember that one. I think these ladies are being modest about their protagonist. Their own promotional materials say this about Papantonio:

The film also features a counterpoint, in the form of excerpts from Michael Papantonio’s "Ring of Fire" show on NPR’s Air America. Though he frequently takes aim at the fundamentalist Christian movement, Papantonio is an active Methodist who admits that his moral compass comes from his faith.

…a show Mike shares with Bobby Kennedy, where "two of the nation’s most dynamic legal warriors" take on "corporate crooks, polluters, hypocritical preachers and ugly politicians."

First, I doubt evangelical leadership is discriminating against Pentecostals, but rather decrying the exploitation of this group by religious folk like Papantonio and the secular Left. Conservatives may well be frustrated by a portrayal of this group as "mainstream," but since the Body of Christ is pretty diverse anyway, the whole what-is-mainstream-thing is territory in which neither evangelicals nor secular movie makers should tread.

Second, Magnolia clearly has a right to make the film. Pastors also have a right to counsel their flock according to what they know about the film, and the folks in the pews have a right to spend or not spend their family cash as they (prayerfully) see fit.

Third, by their own admission, Jesus Camp was meant to be "controversial." It seems pretty disingenuous for Mr. Bowles to turn around and complain when Evangelicals pan the film, then accuse Christian critics of discriminating against another Christian group.

All that said, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover (and the liner notes). In the case of Jesus Camp, I’m not going to waste my time with it. Recommend you do the same. I also hope/assume that the crack Acton readership will quickly roll in and correct me if I’ve misjudged the picture.

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

UPDATE: If it helps, I checked the United Pentecostal Church website and updated the spelling above, though many sites use pente and penta interchangeably. db

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Last week, marketing guru Seth Godin quoted the 17th-century Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián y Morales:

Know how to sell your wares, Intrinsic quality isn’t enough. Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value. People like to follow the crowd; they go someplace because they see other people do so. It takes much skill to explain something’s value. You can use praise, for praise arouses desire. At other times you can give things a good name (but be sure to flee from affectation). Another trick is to offer something only to those in the know, for everyone believes himself an expert, and the person who isn’t will want to be one. Never praise things for being easy or common: you’ll make them seem vulgar and facile. Everybody goes for something unique. Uniqueness appeals both to the taste and to the intellect.

Marketing has come a long way since this advice. In today’s NYT, Kenneth Chang examines how “more and more retailers are also using more rigorous scientific techniques to improve their bottom line.”

In “Enlisting Science’s Lessons to Entice More Shoppers to Spend More,” Chang writes that “OfficeMax is one example,” of a company engaged in this in-depth marketing research. “It has hired Envirosell, a market research company based in New York that takes an anthropological approach to understanding how shoppers navigate stores. Other companies turn to statistical methods used in testing nuclear weapons. New scientific technologies like brain scans also allow companies to peer directly into consumers’ minds.”

That last line is no doubt a bit of hyperbole, but the physicalist/materialist assumptions of many scientists and marketers become rather obvious as you read through the story. Marketing, it seems, has “evolved” in more ways than one since the days of Baltasar Gracián y Morales.

A big hat tip to Jordan Ballor, PowerBlog MVP and associate editor of Acton’s Journal of Markets & Morality, on his being named to Relevant Nation — a group of “50 Activist, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing Their World Through Faith.”

Produced by the folks at Relevant magazine, the Relevant Nation singles out “innovators from the worlds of art and entertainment, science and technology, business and social justice. The stories will inspire you to take risks, serve others with greater passion and embrace an influential and fulfilling life.” All are under 40 years old.

In his profile, Relevant asked Jordan about his work:

One of my interests is charity work and how it connects with evangelism. I am really interested in educating well-meaning Christians in economically responsible ways to help the poor and fulfill the Great Commission. I feel that good intentions aren’t enough; you have to look at techniques and consequences of public policy. The tendency for people is to depend on the government as the option of first resort. It really shouldn’t be the first place people go. I am also working on some theological perspectives on genetic research, stewardship of the environment, and globalization.

Congratulations, Jordan. We join author Frederica Mathewes-Green in her assessment of these 50 Relevant Nation honorees:

There is no better proof of Christ’s Resurrection than the stories-in-progress contained in this volume. Now as ever young people hear his voice, and rise up equipped to do his work.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Africans are hailing a major shift in policy at the World Health Organization: A recommendation for the limited, indoor use of DDT to control malaria.

The fight against the disease, which is a leading cause of death in the developing world, has been hobbled by a long running campaign by environmentalists to ban the insecticide, a campaign that resulted in millions of needless deaths.

The South African health ministry welcomed the policy shift, noting that its return to the use of DDT had reduced malaria deaths from 64,868 in 2000 to 7,754 in 2005.

Health ministry spokesman Sibani Mngadi said that the “incidence of malaria had decreased from 15 per 10,000 people in 2000 to two per 10,000 in 2005 in malaria-affected areas.”

On Friday, the WHO released a statement that, nearly 30 years after phasing out the indoor spraying of DDT, gave a “clean bill of health” to the use of DDT. The organization is “now recommending the use of indoor residual spraying (IRS) not only in epidemic areas but also in areas with constant and high malaria transmission, including throughout Africa.”

“The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. “Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IRS has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures, and DDT presents no health risk when used properly.”

Read Paul Driessen’s commentary on the Africa Fighting Malaria site on the WHO announcement:

In Kenya alone, 34,000 young children a year perish from malaria, says Health Minister Charity Ngilu. Uganda suffers 100,000 deaths annually, notes Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Malinga — the equivalent of a jetliner with 275 people slamming into its Rwenzori Mountains every day.

Africa has 400 million cases of acute malaria per year; up to 2 million die. Countless millions are too sick to work or go to school, countless millions more must stay home to care for them, and meager family savings are exhausted on anti-malaria drugs.

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) neatly summed up the issue yesterday:

Malaria is the number one killer of pregnant women and children in Africa and among the top killers in Asia and South America. It’s long been known that DDT is the cheapest and most effective way to contain the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. But United Nations health agencies and others have for decades resisted employing DDT under pressure from anti-pesticide environmentalists. After tens of millions of preventable malarial deaths in these poor countries, it’s nice to see WHO finally come to its senses.

Click on the image above to vist Acton’s special Impact Malaria! Web page and to download the institute’s “Let Us Spray” print ad. The ad, which has run in Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine, is available for use in church bulletins, student newspapers and other publications — free of charge.