Archived Posts September 2006 - Page 5 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

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
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.

A paper recently published at the National Bureau of Economic Research calls into question some conventional economic wisdom about the effects of certain kinds of legislation. In “The Church vs the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?”, Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman find that when so-called “blue laws” are repealed in any given state, “religious attendance falls, and that church donations and spending fall as well.”

But in addition, “repealing blue laws leads to an increase in drinking and drug use, and that this increase is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed.” For more information on the study, check out this article from the CS Monitor, “Maybe ‘blue laws’ weren’t so bad” (HT: Zondervan>To The Point).

Richard Morin wrote an op-ed in the WaPo last week (HT: Religion Clause) about this paper, and wonders “why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious? After all, there are six other days of the week to shop (or drink) until you drop. And it’s not legal to buy cocaine or marijuana on any day of the week.”

Before I paint the broad outlines of an answer, let me point out the potential significance of Gruber and Hungerman’s conclusions. It has long been assumed that laws prohibiting or restricting the sale of certain controversial items (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, drugs) has a net negative effect. Mark Thornton over at published a piece that claims, for example, that “prohibitions have no socially desirable effect.”

Acton’s own Rev. Robert A. Sirico, in an essay on the “sin tax,” wrote that sin taxes, prohibition, and presumably blue laws are each “a different point on the same continuum.” Sirico goes on to cite Paulist priest James Gillis, who said that prohibition of alcohol “was the greatest blow ever given to the temperance movement.”

Gillis writes,

Before prohibition, the people at large were becoming more and more sober. Total abstinence had become the practice, not of a few, but of millions… Under the Volstead Law, drinking became a popular sport. The passage of the law was a psychological blunder, and a moral calamity… The only way to make the country sober is to persuade individual citizens, one by one, to be sober.

It seems, however, according to the NBER paper, that blue laws do have the opposite effect, and in this way can perhaps be distinguished from prohibition. Is there a theological explanation for this? (more…)

A week or so ago I passed along a story about the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York’s interpretation of recent legislation to make it illegal for those filing for bankruptcy to tithe, except under very specific circumstances (here’s a good follow-up story).

Well, yesterday Religion Clause (which is, by the way, an excellent blog well worthy of bookmarking), noted that while the aforementioned case had received a great deal of attention, “an equally important case on the issue decided several weeks ago by the Second circuit seems to have gone largely unnoticed.”

In a case decided in late July,

the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that treating some contributions to churches as fraudulent conveyances in bankruptcy does not violate the Free Exercise of Establishment clauses. It went on to interpret various provisions of the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998. It held that the statute’s shield for charitable donations of up to 15% of a debtor’s annual income applies to aggregate annual transfers, not to individual donations. The court held that in this case, the Church had waived its claim that it should be able to retain amounts donated to it under the 15% limit. Finally it held that on remand the church could raise the statutory defense that donations in excess of 15% “were consistent with the practices of the debtor in making charitable contributions.

Check out Religion Clause for the case details and relevant links.

Religion Clause, which is “devoted to legal and political developments in free exercise of religion and separation of church and state,” is run by Howard M. Friedman, Distinguished University Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Toledo College of Law.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 15, 2006

In today’s Times of London, taking a cue from Blaise Pascal (at least he thinks), Gerard Baker argues, “Unless the sceptics are really, really certain that we’re all going to be OK, we must act now.”

He sums it up this way: “If we believe in global warming and do something about it and it turns out we’re right, then we’re, climatologically speaking, redeemed — if not for ever, at least until some other threat to our existence comes along. If we’re wrong about it, what is the ultimate cost? A world with improved energy efficiency and quite a lot of ugly windmills.”

This is essentially the same argument that Andy Crouch made in an article in Christianity Today in August, 2005, replete with reference to Pascal’s wager.

I responded to Crouch then that “Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that ‘we have little to lose’ if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.”

You can add Gerard Baker’s contention to Crouch’s, although Baker does note, in agreement with me, I think, that “there is one significant risk that makes this equation slightly different from Pascal’s. There could be high costs of believing in the human role in global warming and being wrong about it. We may have to trade off a lot of economic activity in the next 50 years to lower our carbon emissions.”

Andy and I had more of a back and forth at the time, which are all linked in at this summary piece here.

Although it is played by about 15 million Americans and amounting to a $1.5 billion a year industry, and even though it is a growing business and worth talking about, this post is not about the real-world economics of fantasy sports.

Instead, this post is about the typical structures of fantasy leagues, particularly football (the most popular), and what these leagues can tell us about the participants’ most basic economic assumptions or impulses. I will argue that the default model in fantasy sports is one of an authoritarian and interventionist governing body, which severely restricts fantasy commerce.

But just who are we talking about? As Marketplace reports, the typical fantasy sports players are “male, they’re about 36, and they own their homes.”

So what are the basic structures of fantasy leagues? (more…)

Earlier this week Pope Benedict XVI told his fellow Germans, and other modern Western societies, that they are shutting their ears to the Christian message when they insist that science and technology alone can combat AIDS and other social ills. His description of the problem is one that will stand out for me for the foreseeable future. He refers to this acute spiritual malady as a “hardness of hearing.”

What a great description of modern life that expression provides. We are so enamored with our human insights and scientific discoveries that we have developed a spiritual condition that can be only called: “Hardness of hearing.” Benedict elaborated on this comment by saying “we are no longer able to hear God—there are too many different frequencies filling our ears.” And he added, “What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.” He then told the crowd of over 250,000 pilgrims, gathered in Munich, that “People in Asia and Africa admire our scientific and technical progress, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason.”

Reason is always a great servant but it is a tyrannical master. Western man lost his way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and our societies are now crashing on the shoals of modernity and postmodernity. We desperately need to learn how to hear God again. This “hardness of hearing” is now sweeping across the peoples of the United States. The tragic results of this malady will impact us precisely as they have European cultures before us. Only a true awakening will preserve us in the end. How can anyone doubt this? Those who tell you otherwise are getting terribly close to the message of the false prophets of ancient Israel.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."