Archived Posts 2006 - Page 8 of 101 | Acton PowerBlog

According to the Church Report’s Jennifer Morehouse, Parents Television Council President L. Brent Bozell is renewing an argument for the FCC to require a la carte cable programming. “It’s time to let the market decide what it wants on cable programming,” says Bozell.

I’m sympathetic to this view. I would prefer the option to be able to pick and choose which cable channels I pay for and get access to, instead of having to decide on subscription levels which include a lot of channels I’m not interested in.

But here’s where Bozell loses me: “Families, according to Bozell, have to pay for dozens of channels they do not watch and find offensive.” They only have to pay for them if they choose to have cable TV. Families make clear which of their desires are more powerful when they are willing to “subsidize some of the most graphic content imaginable” rather than forego cable television.

The market in this sense is working, as it is illustrating that cable consumers do not have sufficiently high interest to make it worthwhile for cable providers to respond and offer a la carte services. The problem with the cable market in the end is not that cable providers aren’t being required to offer a la carte, but that there is a lack of competition in local markets, although that is changing in a few places. Increased competition might make offering a la carte services more of a realistic option to give particular providers a competitive edge.

So, in my case, for instance, my desire for a la carte is not stronger than my desire for cable television/cable internet as it is now (although I do only get the lowest “basic” level of programming). I think this is probably representative of the position of many of the cable consumers Bozell is talking about. In no way, however, am I being forced to “subsidize the cable industry’s raunch.”

More on families and parenting in an age of technology later today.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Denver Bishop Charles Chaput, whom I had the personal joy of meeting and hearing speak a few years ago, gave an address at a mass for Catholic public officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just before the November elections. Chaput, who is one of my favorite bishops, makes profound and clear moral sense of chaotic sub-Christian thinking on a regular basis.

“The world does need to change, and in your vocation as public leaders, God is calling you to pursue that task with justice and charity with a love for the common good and a reverence for human life. The world needs committed Catholic laypeople like you to lead with humility, courage and love,” said Bishop Chaput.

Chaput further argued that we often treat important things as a “gloss” so as to soften the meaning of the offensive passage thus making it much easier for us to live. St. Francis wanted to live sine glossa, said Chaput, that is without alibis or excuses.

Chaput rightly argues that modern liberalism has created a kingdom of “the imperial autonomous self” and calls it the will of God (or a goddess). Weird and unexpected alliances are the end result, alliances that make no sense except that they join irreconcilable parties in one group that can then put aside their various differences in order to attack Christ.

The bishop rightly noted that there are three political issues that are non-negotiable for morally serious Christians:

  1. Protecting life

  2. Promoting marriage
  3. Protecting a parent’s rights to educate their children

If we do not make these central to our present human situation we fail at the most basic level to protect the weak and to promote true freedom. I am weary of people asking: “How would Jesus vote?” I much like the idea of posing this question through the thought of St. Francis, a true reformer who lived before we even had anything like 16th century Protestant reformers.

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: jspalink
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Delta Airlines has rejected a hostile $8.53 billion takeover bid from U.S. Airways, saying that it much prefers to remain independent. But Delta, and a lot of other airlines, might be doing consumers a favor by joining a consolidation push, says Anthony Bradley. “Given the nature of the industry today, proper stewardship of commercial airlines implies reform,” he writes.

Read the commentary here.

Latin America’s Catholic bishops are preparing for a major conference in Brazil next spring and the agenda will include, aside from issues relating directly to the faith, discussions about politics, populism, corruption and economic globalization. Samuel Gregg says the meeting holds great promise: “Few realize it, but May 2007 could be a decisive moment for Catholic Latin America.”

Read the commentary here.

As a former disarmament policy analyst for the Holy See in New York and in Vatican City, I was recently asked to comment on its position on nuclear disarmament by the National Catholic Register; the article can be found here. The reason for raising the issue now was a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in Rome hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The article describes the Holy See’s views as mainly expressed by Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, who also served on the Holy See delegation to several United Nations disarmament meetings. I would like to use this post, however, to expand on some aspects that the article only mentions briefly.

While the Holy See has the official status of a state, it does not pretend to be a state like any other; its status is primarily meant to protect the religious freedom and independence of the pope. So it cannot be said that the Holy See has any kind of political expertise in the disarmament field. After all, it hasn’t had to disarm itself and Vatican City is protected by Italian, NATO and US forces in the area. The Holy See’s mission here is to serve as a moral conscience, not as a political example to other states.

The Holy See seeks to exercise its moral authority in matters of war and peace, offering, over the centuries, its good offices to mediate a peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. But the Holy See’s position is not “pacifist”, i.e. avoiding war at all costs. For the most part, it recognizes the larger moral and strategic aspects of international relations while trying to avoid unnecessary slaughter and destruction.

The NCR article correctly notes that in 1982, Pope John Paul II linked the moral acceptability of deterrence to progress towards nuclear disarmament; this linkage is also the basis for the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the background for this linkage – the real possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – is neglected. In fact, most observers (Gorbachev included) now admit that the nuclear arms race contributed to or accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence the passing of the threat of a nuclear war between two ideological foes.

When John Paul II granted some moral acceptability to nuclear deterrence, he did so in the face of extreme opposition from European and American pacifists, including some Church leaders who thought the US, UK and France should disarm unilaterally. Incredible as it may seem, the possession of nuclear arms by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was considered a greater threat to peace. Vatican officials, however, were more sensible and aware of the menace posed by the USSR.

The Soviet Union is no more. As a result, the US and Russia did agree to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. September 11, 2001 changed strategic calculations, and especially nuclear proliferation concerns. North Korea and Iran are the most worrying of these, but there are many others, including the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist groups. But, once again, the no-nukes movement has decided to make the US the focus of its disarmament rally.

Perhaps this is because most of the nuclear abolitionists live in societies that allow them to criticize their governments openly and freely. There are no North Korean or Iranian equivalents of Senator Roche. In fact, the nature of the political regime should be more worrying than the possession of nuclear weapons. To think about the nature of such regimes is not to automatically praise one’s own over others; rather it is the beginning of political wisdom.

The opposite tendency is to deny all political responsibility and cede such authority to tyrants and terrorists. International relations would then be a field for “realist experts” who shun moral reflection and argue that “anything goes” in war. It would also describe mainstream foreign policy thought in the West.

In our age of moral relativism, it is tempting to say no regime is better any other, but it is also nonsensical. Instead, we need more reflection on what makes a good society and how a good society should carry out its foreign relations. No country can live in splendid isolation from today’s threats, just as no country can ignore today’s globalized economy. In international relations as in other human endeavors, the challenge is carrying out our moral responsibilities without losing our soul.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

“To pander to this world is to fornicate against you,” confesses Augustine to God. The worldly culture of today seems to be trying its best to actualize Augustine’s observation in literal terms. In a recent edition of New York Magazine, Naomi Wolf writes about “The Porn Myth,” and cites David Amsden who says that pornography is now the “wallpaper” of our lives.

Exhibit A in support of Amsden’s thesis is the latest issue of GIANT Magazine, which bills itself as “the ultimate entertainment magazine.” Reviewing all aspects of contemporary pop culture, GIANT offers insights into the latest gadgets, flicks, and fashion. It is generally not as explicitly titillating as pop journals like FHM, Maxim, or Stuff.

In the December/January issue of GIANT, we get the following three items. First, “Obscene of the Crime,” an overview of a government crackdown on Florida pornographers. Aliya S. King reports that in Pensacola, Florida, Clinton Raymond McCowen was part of a trio arrested “on charges of racketeering–conducting a criminal enterprise by engaging in prostitution and the manufacture and sale of obscene material.” King bemoans the priorities of law enforcement, sneering at the priority US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has placed on “not drug trafficking, not white-collar crime, but obscenity.”

Saint Snoop: “America’s Most Lovable Pimp.” Your #1 Source for Pimped Out Parenting Advice.

And just so you know what constitutes the legal difference between pornography and prostitution, Veronica Monet, a porn activist working to decriminalize prostitution, says, “Pornography is when a third party pays two people, presumably actors, to have sex with each other. How it distinguishes itself from prostitution is that he man having sex with the woman didn’t pay that woman. Instead, another person, the producer and/or director of that film, paid both of those people.” King writes that a conviction of McCowen “could begin to tumble that distinction.”

“When the attorney general,” writes King, “decides to focus attention on pornographers and obscenity and establishes a bureaucracy to tackle those objectives, cases will be made.” Lawrence Walters, McCowen’s attorney, says, “They can just pick anyone out of a barrel.” (More on federal action to fight child pornography here, based on photos of minors that are clothed, but include “lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine.” HT: Constitutionally Correct. The topic of the sexualization of youth in pop culture deserves an entire post of its own.)

Second, in this same issue of GIANT we are graced with an interview with Snoop Dogg (recently arrested after appearing on NBC’s “The Tonight Show”). When asked, “What king of father are you?” to his three kids, Snoop responds: “I don’t do it how normal people do it. I’m a friend more than a father. I’m the kind to let my kids taste champagne at my birthday–they didn’t like it.” Later on GIANT inquires of Snoop, “What have you told your sons about women?” His replies by citing a verse from one of his more famous anthems, “[Women] ain’t $#!@ but hos and tricks.” (He didn’t say whether or not he also teaches his kids the next lines in the song, which are rather more pornographically explicit.)

And finally, this same issue of GIANT features a 10 page spread on female porn stars who have gone from working in front of the camera to working behind it. Tera Patrick, a paragon of entrepreneurial spirit, says, “When I got into the industry, I made millions for everyone else. Now I make them for myself.” The features include vital statistics, such as the number of “sex scenes performed” by each of these “giants of the skin trade.”

Wolf wonders,

does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.

Pornography is part and parcel of the commoditization of sex, and so perhaps the rather arbitrary line between pornography and prostitution needs to be challenged, or in King’s words, “tumbled.”

Wolf also notes that traditional morality is in fact more socially beneficial than a pornified culture:

In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

Wolf worries, in part, that pornography makes real women seem less appealing by comparison with the illusion of the adult film.

Expat Teacher, writing at Good Will Hinton, responds to Wolf’s essay and says, “I’d like to see Christians acknowledge the ubiquitous of porn and the real pull of that temptation, while offering a positive alternative. Sex with a little mystery and discovery is a lot more fun and interesting than a clinical rut in the hay.”

Well, Expat Teacher, I’m with you. And the work of XXXChurch is a good place to start. We don’t all need to agree on the effectiveness and desirability of all available means to combat the pornification of culture to respect the work of XXXChurch’s ministry (their blog is located here). One of the things XXXChurch is doing is work to get porn stars out of the industry, through what they call the “Esther Fund.”

“There is life after porn,” both for the performers and for the consumers. That’s a pretty good alternative perspective to the one offered by GIANT: victimize or be victimized. For as Augustine also confessed to God, “to be estranged in a spirit of lust, and lost in its darkness, that is what it means to be far away from your face.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 4, 2006

I have reviewed two books for the latest issue of Calvin Theological Journal:

J. William Black, Reformation Pastors: Richard Baxter and the Ideal of the Reformed Pastor (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2004). Appearing in CTJ, vol. 41, no. 2 (November 2006): 370-71.

Peter Golding, Covenant Theology: The Key of Theology in Reformed Thought and Tradition (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2004). Appearing in CTJ, vol. 41, no. 2 (November 2006): 385-88.