Archived Posts November 2006 - Page 4 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Susan Stabile, a law professor at St. John’s University and a contributor to Mirror of Justice, analyzes the current state of health coverage in the United States in light of Catholic social teaching in this article. I have quibbles here and there along the way, but on the whole the approach and the conclusions are sound. She is probably right that Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have limited value, though my reasoning would be a little different. I would say that, in principle, they represent a helpful idea—increase the operation of the market within health care—but they are such a small foray into a vast and complicated world beset with market distortions on every side, that they end up exhibiting the deficiencies that Stabile identifies.

The verdict is obviously still out on the Massachusetts plan but I am willing, with Stabile, to give it the benefit of the doubt as a generally well-conceived step to try to solve a difficult problem.

One issue that Stabile and so many others writing on this subject fail to take into account is distinguishing between necessary and elective health care. This is a critical issue that simply must be a part of our ongoing debate about health coverage. She rightly insists that Catholic social teaching views health care as a right. But does that right imply a monthly medical check-up? An annual one? Plastic surgery to make wounds less noticeable? Botox treatments to take the lines out of one’s aging countenance?

Probably we could come to consensus that the last item in that list is not a right. But what about the others? It’s not an easy distinction and there will be a lot of different views about where to draw the line. As soon as we take health care out of the realm of the market (where every person gets just what he is willing to pay for personally), it seems to me that we have to answer not only the question, How is the community going to ensure that everyone receives health care?, but also the question, Which forms of health care will the community pay for? To think that everyone can have every bit of medical treatment he or she wishes is pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Health care is a scarce commodity like anything else, and its distribution at some level must somehow be tied to market pricing.

I think we need to stop thinking about health care as a special case and think about it more as just another basic good necessary for human wellbeing. Take nourishment as an example. No one (or nearly no one) advocates that any person be left to starve to death. And no (or nearly no one) argues that everyone must have access to five-star restaurants. Instead, people take up positions along a spectrum. Some argue that private charity can provide the needed safety net; some insist that government programs are necessary; some say that a mixture of the two is best. But with health care, it seems that many people believe that everyone must be able to afford the equivalent of the five-star restaurant; otherwise there is unconscionable inequity. It’s an impossible goal.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The UN has been busy updating the Chicken Little fable into a contemporary context. You know the story where the little chick runs around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

In this edition, however, the looming disaster is (predictably) climate change. The news comes courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (HT: NewsBusters).

Sedna, the Mother of the Sea

The Gaia motif is perhaps the most revealing part, as in “Tore and the Town on Thin Ice,” (PDF) the title character is visited by “Sedna, the Mother of the Sea” who claims to be “the one who created and cares for the sea creatures – whales and walruses, seals and fish.”

Sedna is the Inuit goddess of the sea, and apparently the link between environmentalism and paganism is a natural one at the United Nations Environment Programme.

Of course the Christian faith provides a more than adequate basis for true stewardship of the environment, which neither divinizes the creation nor absolutizes human power over the world.

The Lord who “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” also made man the “ruler over the works” of his hands, including “the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

If it is true that the sea life is suffering, I think it is less a sign of the distress of Sedna than it is something else…the day of the Lord, perhaps? See what some of the prophets have to say about this, particularly Ezekiel and Zephaniah.

But perhaps that story is too scary for the UN. It prefers the Chicken Little myth and the illusion both that human action is the direct cause of and the potential solution for all disasters.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A number of us who are affiliated with the Acton Institute in various ways will be traveling to Washington, D.C. this week to attend the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Christians in the Public Square.”

I hope to bring you updates from some of the more interesting and engaging presentations. With that in mind, for your interest below are the papers scheduled to be given by Acton scholars:

Wednesday, November 15

E. Calvin Beisner, “Scientific Orthodoxies, Politicized Science, and Catastrophic Global Warming: Challenges to Evangelicals Navigating Rough Waters in Science and Policy,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Jr. Exec. C: “The Church in the Public Square”).

Jordan J. Ballor, “Bonhoeffer on Church and State,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Georgetown West: “Church History and Historical Theology”).

Thursday, November 18

Stephen J. Grabill, “Evangelical Public Theology and Natural Law: Rediscovering the Theological Resources of the Reformation,” 8:30-9:10 am (Hemisphere: “Natural Law and Evangelical Theology”).

Jay Richards, “Don’t Just Care. Think: Fallacies Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty,” 8:30-9:10 am (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

D. Eric Schansberg, “Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Consistent Christian Philosophy of Government,” 2:10-2:50 pm (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Friday, November 17

Anthony B. Bradley, “Beyond Bono and Jim Wallis: Politics and Economics For Post-Conservative Social Justice,” 10:00-10:40 am (Monroe East: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Anthony B. Bradley, “Emerging Ethos Does Not Mean Anti-Traditional Theology,” 10:50-11:30 am (Monroe East: “Pastoral Theology Study Group”).

If you’re planning on attending, please stop by and hear the ones that interest you.

This post concludes my series on the largely forgotten catholicity of Protestant ethics, with a few brief remarks and reflections.

My goal for this series, as stated in Part 1, was to show that voluntarism and nominalism are not the same thing, that two important Reformed theologians (Peter Martyr Vermigli and Jerome Zanchi) had more than a passing interest in Thomism (or intellectualism as Pope Benedict XVI referred to it in his now famous Regensburg address), and that evangelicals need to revisit their wariness on the capacity of reason to discern moral truth. Much more could be written on each of these topics, and likely will be on this blog and some others, but the fundamental point should not be missed that two significant sixteenth-century Reformed theologians break the modern mold for Protestant ethics. Among the thinkers and writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I can assure you there are numerous others who also break the mold.

For almost one hundred years now, Protestant theologians and ethicists have held natural law at arm’s length. During this same period, Protestant theologians have also largely shunned any vestige of the scholastic and metaphysical base of Reformation-era theology in order to gain acceptance in the modern Academy and to increase their contemporary cachet. Whether this strategy has been successful, or if it is even coherent to begin with, is beyond this blog series to determine, but I have my doubts.

It is enough to simply point out that natural law is tied to philosophical realism — the belief that the created world is the external foundation of knowledge for all science. (Read Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1, pp. 223-33). And that a realist metaphysic, was the agreed upon philosophical approach from the very beginning of Christianity to somewhere in the eighteenth century when modern currents of thought began to chip it away. (For those who doubt whether this is so, take up and read Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine). According to the Belgic Confession, the world “is a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.” It is high time that Protestants recover a sense of their connectedness with the broader and older Christian moral tradition and take up once again “the invisible things of God.”

“If nominalism is correct,” as Bavinck warned, “we can forget about science altogether.”

This entry has been cross-posted to my blog, Common Notions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 13, 2006

In an op-ed last week, Acton senior fellow Jerry Zandstra argues that in Michigan, even though the GOP lost, conservatives won. In “GOP loses, but conservatives win in Michigan” Zandstra explains the phenomenon that “Conservative positions won in the ballot initiatives but Republican candidates lost.”

Some more evidence that Republicans have generally abandoned conservative economic principles comes from Cato@Liberty’s examination of the voting records of ousted GOP lawmakers (HT: AmSpec Blog).

The conclusion? “The great majority of losing Republicans were economic moderates or liberals. Few of the losers were above the 70th percentile in their votes on economic issues.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 13, 2006

In preparing for the paper I’m giving this week on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state, I ran across the following quotes, which nicely illustrate his view of the gospel and its relation to alleviation of social oppression and suffering. In his essay, “Ultimate and Penultimate Things,” he writes,

It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need. We break bread with the hungry and share our home with them for the sake of Christ’s love, which belongs to the hungry as much as it does to us. If the hungry do not come to faith, the guilt falls on those who denied them bread. To bring bread to the hungry is preparing the way for the coming of grace.

But even more important than feeding the hungry is the spiritual bread of the gospel. The physical bread derives its importance, in fact, from its value in “preparing the way” for the reception of the gospel. Giving mere bread is a penultimate thing.

Thus he writes, “Preparing the way is indeed a matter of concrete intervention in the visible world, as concrete and visible as hunger and nourishment. Nevertheless, everything depends on this action being a spiritual reality, since what is finally at stake is not the reform of worldly conditions but the coming of Christ.”

This coheres pretty well with a traditional view of the social responsibility of the Church as an important, albeit secondary, aspect of gospel proclamation. Richard Baxter once wrote,

Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies in order to the greater good of Souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men: God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily senses to the Soul.

It seems to me that Bonhoeffer and Baxter are in close agreement on these issues, in contradistinction to the so-called “social gospel,” which confuses the penultimate with the ultimate.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 13, 2006

Three timewasters that will help you gauge where your affinities lie on the political spectrum. The varied results will show you just how much the formation of the questions affects how you are categorized. The links follow along with my score for each (post your scores in the comments section if you feel so inclined).

Politopia from the Institute for Humane Studies. I came out as a “Northwesterner” (just south of Drew Carey), the area with “a large degree of economic and personal freedom.”

Political Compass (HT: Blogora). My ratings: Economic Left/Right: 5.50; Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.08, which puts me one line below and six lines to the right of the mid-lines, in the Right/Libertarian quadrant. This is to the Right of where I came out on the Politopia map, and probably more accurate.

And finally, “Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?” from Blogthings (HT: Of Making Many Books):


Jordan, You Are 80% Capitalist, 20% Socialist


In general, you support a free economy and business interests.
You tend to think people should fend for themselves, even when times get tough.
However, do think the government should help those who are truly in need.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 10, 2006

As a follow-up to John Armstrong’s post, I point you to this excellent response to Gerson’s article by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns (HT: Good Will Hinton).

Knippenberg raises the relevant question whether “the ‘new evangelicals’ he describes will have sound practical judgment to go along with their decency and moral energy.”

I think it’s true that the potential is there for the “new” evangelicals to go the Jim Wallis route, who is proclaiming the election as “a defeat for the Religious Right and the secular Left,” which leaves, you guessed it, the Religious Left.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, November 10, 2006

Pundits and pollsters are sorting out the results of Tuesday’s elections day-by-day now. Most are agreed that these mid-term elections do not signal a huge victory for the political left. But why? The Democrats did win both houses of Congress didn’t they?

  1. Most of the seats lost by Republicans were lost to candidates as a result of the Democrats running men and women who were far less extreme than the voices of the post-60s crowd that has controlled their party for decades. Think of Robert Casey, Jr. and Harold Ford, Jr. as two basic examples.
  2. American is still fundamentally religious, with upwards of 85% expressing allegiance to some organized faith and a third still attending a house of worship weekly. The Democrats took this far more seriously in this most recent election cycle. Time will tell what this means and how it will play out but I expect more pro-life candidates from the Democratic Party in the coming years. One can at least hope and pray for such. In a recent Pew Research study only one in four thought this party was “friendly toward religion.”
  3. The polls say 21% of Americans call themselves liberal, 33% conservative and 46% say they are moderate. While I am not sure what the “moderate” classification means it is obvious liberals are still the minority. (By the way, the designation Independent has more adherents than either Republican or Democrat.)My guess is that if you used my own label of “progressive conservative” you would gain the majority of the middle.
  4. There is every reason to believe that this election was lost by the Republicans, not won by the Democrats. I personally hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party will use their new power appropriately but there are a number of wild cards to be watched very carefully. The greatest immediate loss will likely be in the appointment of more restrained judges given Joe Biden’s new role in the Senate.
  5. The Democratic influence over the African-American vote is still tenuous, even though the numbers do not reveal this strongly yet. Stephen Carter, in his book, The Dissent of the Governed, describes two black women who said that “they preferred a place that honored their faith and disdained their politics over a place that honored their politics and disdained their faith.” Will this thinking grow? The overwhelming majority of older blacks believe, and generally for good reasons, that the Democratic Party is the party that gave them their civil rights. The political impact of this historic fact could be changing, though slowly for sure. Religious Democrats are more likely to change their party affiliation, nearly four times as often as Republicans, according to a National Election Surveys study. This trend also needs to be watched.
  6. The party that can rightly appeal to the newest Hispanic voters will have greater success in the future. The Republicans made large gains in 2004 but went backwards on Tuesday. The debate about “illegal immigrants” is politically loaded. The next Congress will likely take up this issue and the President may get his way after all. This again should be watched. The strong arguments on the left and the right may be moderated in the 110th Congress by a comprehensive agreement the president can and will sign. Personally, I hope so.
  7. And what about young people? The numbers are not clear yet but in 2004 the number of young people moving toward the conservative category increased by 143%. There may have been a slowdown in this trend on Tuesday but I doubt it is a huge shift yet in terms of long-term practice.

In addition to these observations, a number of cultural patterns strengthen the conservative cause. Besides volunteerism being higher on the right, add to these various observations things like fertility patterns (conservatives have far more children than liberals) and the effects of education. All in all, you have some major trends favoring a more conservative direction for the future. (more…)

John Calvin called prayer the “principal” or “perpetual exercise of faith.” Philip Yancey’s latest book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?, seeks to show how this irreplaceable spiritual exercise continues to be a necessity in today’s world.

There is perhaps no better cause for which to pray than the cause of those suffering for Christ, and this coming Sunday, November 12, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

Promoted by a host of groups, including The Voice of the Martyrs, the IDOP describes itself as “a global day of intercession for persecuted Christians worldwide. Its primary focus is the work of intercessory prayer and citizen action on behalf of persecuted communities of the Christian faith. We also encourage prayer for the souls of the oppressors, the nations that promote persecution, and those who ignore it.”

The Latin Father Tertullian said that Christian prayer “does not station the angel of dew in mid-fires, nor muzzle lions, nor transfer to the hungry the rustics’ bread; it has no delegated grace to avert any sense of suffering; but it supplies the suffering, and the feeling, and the grieving, with endurance: it amplifies grace by virtue, that faith may know what she obtains from the Lord, understanding what—for God’s name’s sake—she suffers.”

A prayer (BCP) follows below… (more…)