Archived Posts September 2006 - Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two pieces on Christianity Today’s website this week are worthy of comment. The first, “Despair Not,” reminds us that “there is something worse than misery and death.” The author Stephen L. Carter interacts with C.S. Lewis’ famous book, The Screwtape Letters, to show that “the terrible tragedies that befall the world work to Satan’s benefit only if we despair. Suffering, as Screwtape reminds his nephew, often strengthens faith. Better to keep people alive, he says, long enough for faith to be worn away. The death of a believer is the last thing the Devil wants.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer criticized the impetus to deny the value of suffering in this life. In his Ethics he wrote of modern nihilism and Western godlessness:

The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking. Every inner development, every process of slow maturing in personal and vocational life, is abruptly broken off. There is no personal destiny and therefore no personal dignity. Serious tensions, inwardly necessary times of waiting, are not endured. This is evident in the domain of work as well as in erotic life. Lasting pain is more feared than death. The value of suffering as the forming of life through the threat of death is disregarded, even ridiculed. The alternatives are health or death. What is quiet, lasting, and essential is discarded as worthless.

The other CT piece is a book review by David Fisher of Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine. The book’s authors argue that “modern medicine… emphasizes the autonomy of the individual and holds up the supreme end of bodily perfection. These goals are not only unattainable, but more importantly, are inconsistent with the Christian faith. The book points out the dangers of society’s worship of and allegiance to medicine for its perceived ability to defeat or forestall death. While our Christian beliefs should protect us from this deification of medicine, the authors remind us that we often fall into the same trap.”

Indeed, the authority and influence of medicine on our lives and behavior can be seen as a kind of scientism, in which science, in this case in the form of medicine, takes on “a priestly ethos — by suggesting that it is the singular mediator of knowledge, or at least of whatever knowledge has real value, and should therefore enjoy a commensurate authority. If it could get the public to believe this, its power would vastly increase.” Authors Joel Shuman and Brian Volck issue “a call to transformed Christian living, one that emphasizes the importance of viewing medicine through the lens of the larger community of the body of Christ.”

With respect to the worship of health and life in and of itself, or “vitalism,” Bonhoeffer says,

Vitalism ends inevitably in nihilism, in the destruction of all that is natural. In the strict sense, life as such is a nothing, an abyss, a ruin. It is movement without end, without goal, movement into nothingness. It does not rest until it has everything into this annihilating movement. This vitalism is found in both individual and communal life. It arises from the false absolutizing of an insight that is essentially correct, that life, both individual and communal, is not only a means to an end but also and end in itself.

One important and indeed hopeful way to talk about death as an end, in addition to death as a means to an end, or “our entrance into eternal life,” is in this way: as “an end to our sinning.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 12, 2006

From the same issue of Business 2.0 magazine I cited yesterday, check out this article on Adobe Systems, which is touted as having “The greenest office in America.” It just goes to show you that economic efficiency and environmental concerns go hand in hand.

Click on the first link in the piece to get a slideshow of the various improvements which save energy and money at Adobe’s offices. My favorite is the timed outages of garage exhaust fans and outdoor lighting systems (cost: $150, annual savings: $68,000).

As the Cornwall Declaration states, “The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.” The declaration also notes the aspirations to a world in which “advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

One final note…these moves profiled in the article are economical enough to motivate companies to cut costs on their own. I don’t think Adobe needed “about $350,000 in energy rebates,” presumably from the government.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Canadian Bishops who were making their ad limina visit. A worthwhile read, especially concerning the strong language His Holiness uses to condemn the symptoms of crumbling Western culture.

…the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church. This is our mission. It expresses our ecclesial nature and ensures that every initiative of evangelization concurrently strengthens Christian identity. In this regard, we must acknowledge that any reduction of the core message of Jesus, that is, the ‘Kingdom of God’, to indefinite talk of ‘kingdom values’ weakens Christian identity and debilitates the Church’s contribution to the regeneration of society. When believing is replaced by ‘doing’ and witness by talk of ‘issues’, there is an urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first disciples whose hearts, in the Lord’s presence, “burned within them” impelling them to “tell their story” (cf. Lk 24:32; 35).

(Somehow, the above takes on a grandfatherly tone when heard in a Bavarian-accented English.)
This is all, of course, nothing new. Benedict makes as much clear in Deus Caritas Est, but I think the way he phrases it here offers special insight into the Christian’s role in engaging social issues. When engaging ‘issues’, it is important to remember that the Christian’s primary role to help “individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ” (my emphasis). Policies, initiatives, bills, marches, protests, arguments, campaigns, advertisments, even blogs — all fine and good, but none of these tools are able to convey love. Only the human person can. Something I personally ought to remember better.

HT: Whispers in the Loggia

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 11, 2006

In a recent issue of Business 2.0 magazine, we are told that X Prize founder Peter Diamandis is expanding his X Prize Foundation to address new areas of innovation. The first Ansari X Prize included a $10 million purse for the first private spaceflight. The X Prize Foundation website notes that the group is “actively researching the feasibility of new prizes in space, energy, genomics, education, nanotechnology, and prizes in the social arena,” but Business 2.0 gives us some more particulars on three new X Prizes:

  • First, the X Prize Cup, awarded for the most innovative amateur rockets. Diamandis’ interest in rockets extends to his involvement with the advent of the newly-formed Rocket Racing League. Information about additional X Prizes appears in a box inset within this story, “Move over, Nascar — here comes rocket racing.”

  • Another X Prize of $10 million will be awarded for the invention of a “sequencer that maps an individual’s DNA in a matter of hours for less than $10,000.”
  • And finally, there is the Automotive X Prize, which will include a cash award in excess of $10 million, for the creation of a “mass-market car that ‘significantly exceeds’ 100 mpg.”

Also, be sure to check out the details of the X Prize Foundation’s Lunar Lander Challenge.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, September 8, 2006

Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org flogs an address by Capuchin friar and dean of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Father David Couturier. I share Mirus’s assessment that “one is at times unsure exactly what Fr. Couturier means,” but some of his points do seem at odds with the vision of charity articulated by, for example, Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, as Mirus points out.

Especially perplexing is Couturier’s statement concerning the role of Capuchin Franciscans in world affairs. He minimizes concern about the impact of diminishing vocations on conventional charity and emphasizes the promise of progress through non-governmental organizations:

“It doesn’t matter how small we get,” argues Fr. Couturier. “It is our international character that gives us strength and influence in the world today.”

So, the fact that there may be no friars left at the local level to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless is relatively unimportant, as long as there are Capuchins working for “justice and peace” at the highest levels of U.N.-affiliated NGOs?

I have great respect for Franciscans all over the world who perform tremendous charitable and educational work, especially for those working in some very difficult settings. But I hope that the friars pay more attention to the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI than to the musings of Fr. Couturier when discerning their way forward.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 8, 2006

A press release from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, linked over at WorldMagBlog, claims that the bankruptcy reform legislation passed last year is being “reluctantly” interpreted by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York to mean that “those going through bankruptcy may not tithe to their church or make other charitable donations … until after they have paid off credit card companies and other creditors. Before the new law went into effect, bankruptcy court judges were required to permit debtors to tithe a portion of their income on a regular basis.”

Those are some pretty strong claims, and you can see the generally negative reaction that this announcement is getting from Christians at WorldMagBlog. Henry Sommer, president of the NACBA, said: “For religious Americans who find themselves deeply in debt due to job loss, catastrophic medical expenses or other circumstances, the 2005 reform legislation didn’t just reword the federal bankruptcy code, it also effectively rewrote Exodus and Deuteronomy. Many who practice their faith and believe that they are bound by creed to tithe a portion of their income will find that Congress effectively decided that what credit cards want is more important than the deeply personal religious practices of Americans.”

Sommer added: “Our nation’s founding fathers who envisioned a separation of church and state never imagined that this division would be used to engorge the profits of moneylenders at the expense of churches.”

If the New York courts interpretation is legitimate, that “this change [under the 2005 law] effectively closes the door for debtors who are above the median income from deducting charitable contributions as an expense unless they can establish the contributions fall under the IRS guidelines,” then what are Christians to do? Is it morally valid for Christians to violate the terms of bankruptcy to continue to tithe?

At the very least, Christians need to be educated about the effects of filing for bankruptcy, one of which apparently may be some infringement on religious practice. As it stands, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. also seems to be calling for some clarification from Congress: “Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide…. Until Congress amends [the 2005 Act], the court’s hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted.”

Christian geneticist and author (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Simon & Schuster Trade Sales) Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute and head of the Human Genome Project.

Recently he was the keynote speaker at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian geneticists, chemists and other scientists.

Over the past week I transcribed his lecture from the audio and blogged it. The first segment describes his salvation experience, and what led him to conclude as a geneticist that the genetic code substantiates the evolutionary fossil record.

In the second half he lays out his primary argument for the existence of God. Then he moves into a brief summary of other Christian positions on the origin of man (creation, Intelligent Design, and his own position).

What does this have to do with ecology? I believe that who we think we are sets to the tone for how we treat ourselves and the world around us, and that includes how we treat all living things. Collins makes his case that we are who we are by virtue of God-evolved DNA, "the language of God" in polypeptide form.

I think you’ll find it thought provoking. Interested in your thoughts and comments.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist Blog]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 7, 2006

Voltaire had a saying: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” or, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

It’s often repeated, especially in public policy circles, that the perfect the enemy of the good, implying that you should favor the realistic good that can be done rather than the unattainable perfect ideal.

And now you know why. Because “good” beats “perfect” in a Google Fight, and by a rather handy margin.

HT: Seth’s Blog, which compares “unique”, “best”, and “finest”.

Oh, and one more thing. Dark Helmet was wrong when he said, “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” See for yourself.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, September 7, 2006

The only way that culture can be truly changed, in terms of the gospel, is by movements of the Spirit that are birthed in congregational life. The Christian Right thinks that it can alter culture by direct partisan political pressure led by media personalities and tried-and-true techniques. They could not be more sadly mistaken. The failure of this approach is self-evident over the course of the past six years. The late missional theologian Lesslie Newbigin understood this well when he concluded:

“If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society…it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 232-233).

This is another reason why revival and mission are intimately related. We need awakening to see and hear the leading of God again and we need a missional perspective in order to reach the culture around us with the good news.

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."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 7, 2006

I haven’t started Marvin Olasky’s new book yet, but here’s a bit from the abstract of a new NBER paper, “Rules Rather Than Discretion: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” by Howard Kunreuther and Mark Pauly. Speaking of property owners who suffer severe damage and don’t have the resources to rebuild:

To avoid these large and often uneven ex post expenditures, we consider the option of mandatory comprehensive private disaster insurance with risk based rates. It may be more efficient to have an ex ante public program to ensure coverage of catastrophic losses and to subsidize low income residents who cannot afford coverage rather than the current largely ex post public disaster relief program.

That solution doesn’t sound too promising to me, and it strikes me as a false dichotomy. Are the only two options government action before or after the fact?