Archived Posts January 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

This is, as millions already know, Super Bowl week. Nothing is hyped all across America quite like the Super Bowl. This game has reached amazing proportions when it comes to the viewing audience and massive commercialization. It is a stunning piece of popular culture and one doesn’t know whether to weep about it or celebrate. Some pietistic folk see this as clear evidence that there is little real difference between us and the ancient Romans in the Coliseum. Others think this is the greatest day of the whole year with the biggest event of all time at 5 p.m. Everything, so it seems, virtually comes to a halt for the Super Bowl.

Here in Chicago the event is, of course, really big with the Bears in the game. So, how important are the Bears this Lord’s Day? Well, big enough to alter many churches and their plans for the day. What few churches still have services of any sort on Sunday evening will cancel them this week, with only a few exceptions. One priest, whose parish does have an evening Mass (as several Chicago area Catholic congregations do) noted, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ll have a lot of people show up. About the only ones I expect to see here praying are the Colts fans.” Another priest announced last week that there would be no Mass this coming Sunday evening and people wildly applauded. (His staff was less excited about the decision.) One priest noted that in 1985, the last time the Bears played in a Super Bowl, a congregation that normally numbered 500 was only 46!

All of this prompted Ed Fanselow, a staff writer for my local paper, to conclude, tongue in cheek I hope: “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it seems, are simply no match for Lovie, Rex and Brian Urlacher.”

What should we make of all this? First, only those of a rigid Sabbath-keeping persuasion see this watching this game as overt sin. I am not so persuaded.

Second, most Christians are not sure what to do with pop culture and this game is pop culture of the most obvious sort. We either embrace it uncritically or damn it as totally ungodly. Neither approach is healthy, at least in my view. What makes “high culture” OK and pop culture trash? Who are the people who determine the differences? A certain elitism still plagues the church at this point, as does an uncritical embrace of all things consumed by the general public and made popular. Older Christians are especially prone to trash the pop cultural forms of youth culture. This actually harms the mission of the church in some important ways by increasing the generational disconnect.

Third, some churches use the Super Bowl to stage evangelistic parties. When they turn these gatherings into “slick evangelistic sales techniques” I have a real problem. If you want to have a big party to view the game with your friends then have a big party. But please don’t do “bait and switch” evangelism with pop culture. It just cheapens the significance of the incarnation and the good news and turns many away. If people come to see the game they do not come to hear you preach!

Fourth, enjoy the day if your conscience allows it. Worship with fellow Christians and keep your priorities straight. This is your central priority this Sunday. But remember that Christian freedom allows you to enjoy this day for the glory of God.

I for one will watch the game and enjoy it, especially if the Bears win. But my life will be fundamentally no different next Monday regardless of what happens in this game. This is where the world misses the mark, placing ultimate meaning, in some sense, upon a football game. And if you hate football then ignore the hype and the game. While millions are watching think of all the time you have for something else that you might enjoy. Use your freedom to serve Christ and to love people. That is the purpose of the law, not to bind you to a particular set of (man-made) rules about this day.

About twenty years ago I was in India on Super Bowl Sunday. I remember preaching that day and then saying to myself, and in my journal: “While millions watched the big game today I had the greater joy, preaching to hundreds of people who had never heard the name of Jesus and seeing some of them enter the kingdom of God.” If this is kept in mind by serious Christians we can survive another day of pop cultural hype and maybe even enjoy it.

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."

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I review Will Smith’s latest movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, which stands as an extended argument underscoring the truth of conservative values. This may sound like an improbable anomaly given the traditional political, ethical, and social allegiances of Hollywood, but the power of the story lies in its basis in fact, the real-life story of Christopher Gardner. This in turn prevents it from being appropriated as a tool for liberal political ideology.

The movie’s depicts American life as a meritocracy, and after opening in mid-December, the film has grossed over $150 million domestically. The movie is up for only one Oscar, however, and this is perhaps a testimony to the incompatibility of the movie’s message with mainstream Hollywood political culture. Indeed, Will Smith is nominated for Best Actor, but this is perhaps as much due to the respect he commands from his peers as it is for his role in this particular film.

The Pursuit of Happyness grossed more than any of the nominees in any other of the major categories, most by a large margin. But what the Hollywood elites can’t see, the American public can, and they’ve voted with their feet.

S. T. Karnick reviews the film here, be sure to check it out. And you can read my review in full here.

This review has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.

Received an announcement today about this event to be held later this week, “Faith and International Development Conference,” at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from February 1-3.

Check out the list of sponsors at the bottom of the page, including:

  • Bread for the World

  • Micah Challenge
  • Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action

Just a hunch, but I wouldn’t expect a lot of market-friendly perspectives to be included.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
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“ICANN Reviews Revoking Outdated Suffixes” (HT: Slashdot).

From the piece, “The Soviet Union’s ‘.su’ is the leading candidate for deletion.” A Google search turns up about 3 million sites with the .su suffix.

How exactly did the Soviet Union get a domain suffix? The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and wasn’t yet highly commercialized. But it seems that the administrative record for the .su suffix was created just in time, on September 19, 1990, a little over a year before the formal dissolution of the union on December 8, 1991.

Several months ago I was invited to serve on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Frankly, I was stunned by this invitation. I will attend my first meeting in Washington, DC, in a few months. IRD’s purpose statement says that it is: (1) An ecumenical alliance of U. S. Christians, (2) working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, (3) thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad. IRD board member Michael Novak has written that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s that “the first political institution of American democracy is religion” (which of course meant the Christian religion at that time). Novak speaks, in a statement such as this, of the bedrock vision of IRD. I deeply share this vision thus my desire to work with and serve alongside the staff of IRD in Washington.

IRD was born among mainline churches and Christians who felt that the social witness of their respective churches had been captured by people who denied the strong link between public morality and orthodox Christian teaching. To this day IRD is hated by many on the far left in the mainline who seek to paint it as a group of far right fundamentalists. If IRD board members like Richard John Neuhaus, Fred Barnes, Michael Novak, Tom Oden, Robert George and Ephraim Radner are fundamentalists then the term has no cash value left at all. These are all well-respected church leaders from both Catholic and Protestant churches who are all biblical ecumenists who openly and seriously embrace the historic Christian gospel.

IRD believes in a truly “counter-cultural church” as its president James W. Tonkowich put it in the present issue (Fall/Winter 2006) of Faith & Freedom: Reforming the Church’s Social & Political Witness. You can learn more about IRD at www.ird-renew.org. You will find helpful resources on the Middle East conflict, Christian-Muslim dialogue, ecumenism, and democracy. Helpful news and analysis of the latest events and controversies within U.S. churches appears on a regular basis as do back issues of IRD publications that are extremely helpful.

One example of the kind of fair and balanced work that IRD does can be seen in its recent coverage of the environmental debate among Christians. I think both sides are fairly represented while the stewardship of the earth is taken seriously and at the same time many of the over-the-top conclusions about global warming are challenged.

I am grateful to share a small part in the future of IRD. I invite your prayers for me, your support for IRD, and your interaction with this valuable ministry.

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
Monday, January 29, 2007
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The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

The Journal of Markets & Morality, Volume 9, Number 2.

The newest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online and in print. You can pick up a single copy of the print version at the Acton Bookshoppe, or you can subscribe to the Journal.

This issue of the Journal features a new scholia. “Selections from the Dicaeologicae” is an original English translation of several key chapters of Johannes Althusius’ Dicaeologicae, the ground-breaking seventeenth-century work that systematized current civil law, Roman law, and Jewish law into one collective and cohesive legal system. Althusius was a key player in the development of political science as a disciplinary field of study and his Dicaeologicae was one of the first examples of the emerging field in the seventeenth century.

The new issue also features a publicly available editorial by Stephen Grabill. “The Fallacy of Adam’s Fallacy examines Duncan Foley’s best-selling Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology. Grabill argues that Foley ignores the historical context of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as well as his other relevant writings resulting in a poorly documented attempt to discredit Smith.

Coinciding with the release of issue 9.2, issue 8.2 has been released to the general “non-subscribing” public. Please feel free to browse the newly available content and pass links along to your friends!

Let’s engage in a little thought experiment. How would you feel about the following scenario?

1) The government bans all activities associated with Industry X because it judges that this industry damages the common good. Industry X is under government prohibition.

2) After enough time has passed and a new generation of bureaucrats has arisen, one of them has the idea of resurrecting Industry X because it has the potential to create new streams of revenue for the government.

3) The government then legalizes Industry X but imposes strict controls, such that the government itself is deemed the only institution responsible enough to administer these activities. We now have a government-run monopoly on Industry X.

4) After initial success, the income from Industry X suffers for a variety of reasons, including competition from private enterprises in competing industries. The government realizes that it cannot run Industry X effectively, and so decides that it must privatize the industry.

5) The government doesn’t want to lose all control of the industry, however. It just wants it to be run more like an effective private-sector business. The government decides to take bids to sell of its interests in Industry X. The winner gets the exclusive right to run Industry X and is protected by a government-enforced monopoly.

At the end of this chain of events, the government has cashed in on years of running its own monopoly on Industry X, and has also gotten a huge windfall in the sale of its monopoly to a private firm.

That industry hasn’t become a real competitive market, however, because the private firm has a government-enforced monopoly on Industry X. It is still illegal for anyone other than that private firm to create a directly competitive business in that industry.

That sounds pretty bad to me. But the reality is that we are between stages 4 and 5 in the lottery industry in America today. States like Illinois and Indiana are considering selling off their interests in running a statewide lottery.

In Illinois, for instance, state officials have seen lottery revenues fall due to competition from other forms of gambling, including casinos and Internet poker.

This has led John Filan, the chief operating officer of the state of Illinois, to come to the following epiphany: “This is fundamentally a retail business, and governments are not equipped to manage retail businesses. Gaming is getting so competitive around the world that we’re worried our revenues could go down unless there is retail expertise.”

Governments are not equipped to manage retail business. What a revelation!

Rather incredibly, however, the criticism of these moves has not come from those worried about the vitality of the market and its advantages. Instead, economists are concerned that states are being short-sighted in selling off long-term income streams for a single short-term payday.

Melissa Kearney, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland says, “It’s unclear exactly what is gained by selling a lottery, except for a huge pot of money that legislators can start spending right away.”

Charles Clotfelter, who teaches economics at Duke University, agrees. And Edward Ugel, author of the forthcoming Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of America’s Lottery Millions, writes that “Illinois is selling its future in order to fortify its present.”

Nowhere is any concern expressed over the impropriety of a government-enforced monopoly (even less one that is government-run).

If it is true that lotteries are “retail enterprises” that are inherently risky, and that government is ill-prepared to run them and that they should be turned over to those who are “in the risk-taking business,” then the government should legalize lotteries and open up the industry to real competition. A government enforced monopoly of a privately-run lottery system is no solution.

Blog author: dwbosch
Friday, January 26, 2007
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Kim Strasell in OpinionJournal today:

CEOs are quick learners, and even those who would get smacked by a carbon cap are now devising ways to make warming work to their political advantage. The "most creative" prize goes to steel giant Nucor. Steven Rowlan, the company’s environmental director, doesn’t want carbon caps in the U.S.–oh, no. The smarter answer, he explains, would be for the U.S. to impose trade restrictions on foreign firms that aren’t environmentally clean. Global warming as foil for trade protectionism: Chuck Schumer’s dream.

What makes this lobby worse than the usual K-Street crowd is that it offers no upside. At least when Big Pharma self-interestedly asks for fewer regulations, the economy benefits. There’s nothing capitalist about lobbying for a program that foists its debilitating costs on taxpayers and consumers while redistributing the wealth to a few corporate players.

This is what comes from Washington steadily backstepping energy policy into the interventionist 1970s, picking winners and losers. In ethanol, in biodiesel, in wind farms, success isn’t a function of supply or demand. The champs are the ones that coax out of Washington the best subsidies and regulations. Global warming is simply the biggest trough yet.

Nothing wrong with entrepreneurial approaches to environmental management, but her point’s well taken.

[Don's other habitat is evangelicalecologist.com]

With respect to the extension of political, economic, and religious freedom, East Asia contains some of the more challenging spots on the globe. I’ve commented in the past on Korea and China. It seems safe now to place in the column “making progress” a nation that had been one of the most totalitarian, Vietnam.

Concerning the sphere of religious freedom, Zenit offers this interview (Daily Dispatch 01-25) with French Archbishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin of Tours. Aubertin characterizes the situation of the Catholic Church in Vietnam thus: “Things are really progressing, slowly, perhaps, but advancing.” Here is one question and answer:

Q: The last visit of French bishops to Vietnam goes back to 1996. On your return, did you express admiration for the progress made by and for the Catholic community of Vietnam? Ten years later, do you feel that a step forward has been taken?

Archbishop Aubertin: Personally, I did not take part in that trip then, but I have visited Vietnam since 1990. And this trip, at the beginning of December, was my eighth stay. I have had the opportunity to witness enormous changes.

It is obvious that the Christian, the Catholic community, has greater possibilities of expression. Little by little, seminaries have authorization to reopen. Not all, of course, but there has been a change from contingents of extremely regulated seminarians to a much greater openness. And, little by little, a certain number of confiscated buildings and goods have been restored. Not all: We are still very far from that. But, little by little one can see that they have been restored to the Church.

Moreover, permissions have been given to build churches. The building of seminaries is permitted and authorizations for ordinations have been granted quite abundantly. All this shows that the Church is moving toward a much more favorable situation.

Concerning economic development (at the grassroots level), there’s this story.

But there’s also this, which indicates that progress is slow and uncertain.