Archived Posts January 2007 - Page 5 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 15, 2007

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, and rightly so.

Here’s a bit from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality.

When I was in elementary, middle, and high school in Virginia, the government celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day. Res ipsa loquitur.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Friday, January 12, 2007

In the great discourse regarding the separation of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus refers to the kinds of actions, done in obediential faith that works through love, that demonstrates those who truly love him and those who do not. I have heard a dozen different ways of explaining, or explaining away, these verses over the course of my lifetime. Many consign them to Israel and how we treat the Jews. Others say they must be narrowly limited to the actions of the apostles themselves. Others say this is about doing these deeds for those who are being persecuted for being followers of Jesus. And still others say that only if we know the person we are helping to be a “brother or sister” does this text truly apply. There is some element of truth in each of these ideas, as there often is in such exegetical debates.

But I wonder, as I often wonder about such things: “What do we miss by this kind of narrowing of interpretation? And, further, what do we gain by opening the text up to a wide angle view of all our actions done for Christ, in faithful discipleship?” It seems to me that when verse 36 says, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” the whole point is that such actions done for Christ to any person made in God’s image are done to Christ. This is essentially how Mother Teresa of Calcutta understood this text in her Indian context and thus how and why she practiced what she did for years. And it is the general way that the Christian tradition has always understood these words. When you care for the basic human needs of the poor, when you care for the sick, and when you visit prisoners, you demonstrate Christ’s love in the most profound and, just as clearly, the most simple way. What you do for them you do for Christ. Thus verse 40 adds, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.” Even if the person is not one of Christ’s sheep (and we do not know this for sure since in every case those who belong to him finally are not known to us) if we do these actions in his name and for the love of Christ, we do it to Him. This point seems basic and quite obvious unless we strive to create ways to avoid it.

I thought about this again today because I have had a long-time interest and ministry in prisons. I have preached in jails and visited some major prisons. (I am not reporting this to promote my own piety but reflecting upon the words of Jesus afresh.) As I wrote an inmate today, a brother that I have never actually met, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this when there are so many more important things to be done today that could reach hundreds more people?” But there I was hand-writing one guy who prays for me and is incarcerated far away.

My inmate friend wrote me on January 1 these words from his California prison:

“My holidays were quite pleasant because the Lord has taught me how to be content and peaceful in such circumstances, by ever keeping my focus upon him. We have not had a Protestant chaplain here for nearly two years, therefore as Christmas approached, we were unsure about having a Christmas Day service. Several days before, the Lord blessed me with being chosen to bring the message for that service. Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, the prison was short staffed and we were locked in our housing units. In no way was I discouraged or disappointed because in preparing my sermon, I had spent two days and nights in the presence of the Lord. What a blessed joy it is to live in the Word my brother, as you very well know.”

This brother goes on to ask me if an “old thief” could someday become a prison chaplain? I told him that if an old slave trader and liar like John Newton could become an Anglican minister and write “Amazing Grace” he could surely pursue this call upon his life freely.

Who knows, I may have done more good by writing this man in prison today than I did in anything else that I will do all day. I actually think I did this to Jesus himself if I believe the words that He spoke in Matthew 25, which I do. It just seems to me to be the right way to understand what he plainly tells us there. I will also be on the lookout today for the poor and the sick. Unless I make deliberate choices to include them in my life I will surely ignore them since I do not live in a poor community or find myself looking for sick people day-by-day.

My prayer: “God help me today to have the eyes to see the poor, a heart to care for the sick and a plan to reach out to the imprisoned. Give me the determination and the will to serve them as if I were really serving you, since that is exactly what you told me I would be doing when I serve them. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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: dwbosch
Friday, January 12, 2007

faith-based health services?

Change is unlikely to occur without adequate … representation of faith communities in positions of influence – be they government bodies, research charities, or NHS trusts” Professor Sheikh says. He concludes that the long-term goal must be “to mainstream the understanding of the importance of religious identity.”

But Professor Aneez Esmail from Manchester University argues that whilst it is “reasonable [that] we try to plan and configure our services to take account of needs that may have their roots in particular beliefs … we cannot meet everyone’s demands for special services based on their religious identity: it would not be practical.” He goes on to argue that some faith groups might support practices which may be morally and ethically unacceptable to the majority – for example female circumcision and the refusal to accept blood transfusions in life saving situations.

Professor Esmail believes that going down the path of providing special services for defined groups risks stigmatisation and stereotyping. He concludes that “in an ideal world doctors…would ask about a patient’s beliefs not so that they can be categorised but because it might be important for the patient in their illness.

My now-retired-surgeon father spent several decades treating all sorts of folks at St. Josephs Hosptial in Tacoma. I say this to note that the Christian Church, Catholic and Protestant denominations alike, as well as the Jewish community, have a long history of providing care regardless of religious or social or financial background of the sick person. I have no doubt for instance that Christian healthcare this is tied directly to the healing ministry for which Christ was both lauded and vilified, and the example that was carried on through His disciples.

Regardless of faith, caring for the health of another is one of the most basic human interactions. I suggest that in faith-based hospitals today, caregivers set aside their religious affiliation and treat each patient as a child of God in need of help. Many also recognize a responsibility before God to do so. Most hospitals provide non-sectarian "chapels" so all people of faith have a quiet place to pray for their loved ones, and are consoled by "interfaith" chaplains.

I admit my ignorance of current Muslim medical services, but while I note that a thousand years ago the library of Alexandria was repleat with medical manuscripts by Galen and others, I have difficulty imagining Muslim health care merging wtih current faith-based medical services.

Do we have any reason for concern here, particularly now that our healthcare may become a hotter political issue in a Democrat-controlled Capitol Hill? With government promising health care to everybody (American and otherwise) in California, is there a possibility that Muslim-exclusive health care would cause a backlash against all faith-based health services?

Interested in your thoughts and experiences, especially those of you living in heavily-Muslim areas.

In his latest TCS Daily essay, Arnold Kling writes, “As we get wealthier, we also become enhanced physically, cognitively, and morally, leading to a virtuous cycle of improvements to the standard of living.” Does affluence leads to moral progress?

I don’t think there’s any necessary connection, and there’s plenty of counter-evidence, not least of which are the moral atrocities of the 20th century. But what about more mundane examples? In today’s WSJ, Kay S. Horowitz writes about the exploits of female celebrities, who model and exemplify “the first rule of contemporary American girlhood: to show that you are liberated, take it off.”

Indeed, in examining the link between wealth and morality (if there is any link), one need perhaps look no further than Paris Hilton, the wealthy heiress who exercises minimal moral reasoning and personifies the phrase “idle rich.”

Horowitz observes, “Why men have become more discreet than women, assuming they have, is one of those cultural mysteries that is yet to be solved.”

The sixth-century monastic John Climacus, reflecting the moral insights of his time, wrote this: “The great concern of the good Lord for us is shown by the fact that shyness acts as a curb on the shamelessness of women. For if the woman chased the man, no flesh would be saved.”

In the words of Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of the current Speaker of the House, “if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 12, 2007

The question of cultural transformation looms over American Christianity. Should we engage culture? If so, how? In a battle for supremacy over American institutions? Or for the hearts and minds of the people?

Reading through a sermon from Augustine, I was struck by a passage that illustrates how transformation of the world begins (and sometimes ends) in the church:

…pray as much as you can. Evils abound, and God has willed that evils abound. If only evil people didn’t abound, then evils wouldn’t abound. The times are evil, the times are troubled, that’s what they say. Let us live good lives, and the times are good. We ourselves are the times. Whatever we are like, that’s what the times are like.

But what are we to do? We can’t convert the vast majority to a good life, can we? Let the few people who are listening live good lives; let the few who are living good lives bear with the many living bad ones. They are grains of wheat, they are the on the threshing floor; they can have the chaff with them on the threshing floor, they won’t have it with them in the barn. Let them put up with what they don’t want, in order to come to what they do.

Why should we be vexed, and find fault with God? Evils abound in the world to stop us loving the world. Great are the people, real saints are the faithful, who have made light of the beautiful world; we here can’t even make light of the ugly one. The world is evil, yes it’s evil, and yet it is loved as if it were good. And what precisely is this evil world? It isn’t the sky and earth and the waters and all that is in them, fishes, birds, trees. All these things are good. The evil world is the one made by evil people.

But because, as I have said, as long as we live we cannot be without evil people, let us man and groan to the Lord our God, and put up with evils in order to attain to things that are truly good. Don’t let’s find fault with the Father of the family; after all, he cares for us dearly. He is supporting us, not we him. He knows how to manage what he has made. Do what he has told you and hope for what he has promised [The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Sermons, part 3. Trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), Sermon 80.8, pp. 355-56].

Words to remember and to live by, both for the 5th and the 21st centuries I think.

Aaah, Social Security and Medicare: A soothing balm for the young at heart, but a source of boiling rage for the ACTUAL young.

Every now and again, I stumble across an article that just gets me going. Today was one such day, and this was one such article. Robert Samuelson takes aim at the baby boomers and their entitlement mentality in the Washington Post:

As someone born in late 1945, I say this to the 76 million or so subsequent baby boomers and particularly to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, our generation’s leading politicians: Shame on us. We are trying to rob our children and grandchildren, putting the country’s future at risk in the process. On one of the great issues of our time, the social and economic costs of our retirement, we have adopted a policy of selfish silence…

…It’s no secret that the 65-and-over population will double by 2030 (to almost 72 million, or 20 percent of the total population), but hardly anyone wants to face the implications:

  • By comparison, other budget issues, including the notorious earmarks, are trivial. In 2005, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the main programs for the elderly) cost $1.034 trillion, twice the amount of defense spending and more than two-fifths of the total federal budget. These programs are projected to equal about three-quarters of the budget by 2030, if it remains constant as a share of national income.

  • Preserving present retirement benefits automatically imposes huge costs on the young — costs that are economically unsound and socially unjust. The tax increases required by 2030 could hit 50 percent, if other spending is maintained as a share of national income. Or much of the rest of government (from defense to national parks) would have to be shut down or crippled. Or budget deficits would balloon to quadruple today’s level…

No need to fear, however, because our brave and principled political leaders are stepping up to the plate… and refusing to do anything:

Any reform plan would have to make its way through the Senate Finance Committee, which will be chaired in the new Congress by Montana Democrat Max Baucus. He’s a guy the White House thought at one point might be a vote in favor of Bush’s plan to carve out personal savings accounts as a way to make Social Security a better deal for younger workers.

But I have to say that a brief chat I had late yesterday afternoon with Baucus didn’t imbue me with much confidence. I asked him flat out if there would be major Social Security reform in this new Congress. Baucus slowly and rather unenthusiastically replied, “Oh, I don’t know. The trust fund doesn’t reach zero until 2042.”

What about Medicare reform?

The federal government should join the state of Massachusetts in enacting universal health coverage, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over numerous health issues.

Kennedy’s home state is the first to require everyone to have health insurance, just as drivers must have automobile coverage.

Kennedy has his own version of what universal health coverage would look like. He wants to extend Medicare to all.

Well, that should help to keep the program solvent and affordable for many years to come! Although, to be fair, perhaps Senator Kennedy isn’t ignoring reality, and is actually proposing this expansion of Medicare in order to speed the imminent demise of the program and force a crisis which he can then solve…


Yoda: Entitlements = Suffering

So we’re left with a looming crisis that everyone knows is coming but no one with the ability to do anything about it will acknowledge it for fear of the political consequences. And in the meantime, I get to look at my paycheck and see hundreds of dollars fall away every month into programs that will be long gone by the time I would get to the age of eligibility. I try not to think what my 401k or IRA would look like right now if I had just been able to funnel that money in that direction; that way lies anger, and you know what Yoda said about anger: It eventually leads to suffering.

These boomers can rest easy tonight with clear consciences because they gave to FREE RIDE. Why not join them today?

But why should I wallow in anger and self-pity? This is America, the Land of Opportunity – and have I got an opportunity for all of you baby boomers out there! Since you’re going to be helping yourselves to a generous portion of my money over the coming years (barring some sort of political miracle), I’d like to give you the opportunity to say thanks in a tangible way: by contributing to the Fund for Redistribution and Entitlement Equality/Retirement Income Doubling Enterprise (or FREE RIDE for short), a new initiative that I’ve set up to ensure that the boomers have the same opportunity to contribute to retirement security that my generation has. Well, not quite the same – it’s voluntary, whereas my income is confiscated – but still, I have to believe that you’re just as concerned with my retirement security as you are with yours, right?

Just make your check out to me and send them care of the Acton Institute (the address is here), and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you’ve helped to ensure the retirement security of at least one future senior.

With all this talk of health care reform this year, I couldn’t help but do some digging into the real aspects of the proposals. Ranging from the completely disruptive universal medical care plan from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the socialist-like plan from Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in the 110th congress, health care is big on the agenda for 2007. I am afraid that if the policies proposed by Schwarzenegger and Kennedy are passed, future generations will witness a detrimental effect on our economy. Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts, being the first state to provide universal health care to its citizens, has already seen negative aspects in regards to business and job creation.

These arguments for universal health care come disguised in many forms, but all contribute negatively to the economy. The idea of making health care affordable and available to citizens is an excellent idea, however, Governor Schwarzenegger’s and Senator Kennedy’s ideas are the wrong way to go.

Forcing employers to provide health care and penalizing them for not providing coverage is not the right direction to head.

The state of Massachusetts employs a combination of subsidies and penalties to make insurance more affordable and to force people to buy it. The law requires employers with 11 or more full-time employees to offer health coverage or be subject to a $295 fee for each employee, as well as face being billed for services their uninsured employees get.

Because of this policy, employees are going to lose other benefits and suffer pay cuts, or even be fired. The cost of medical insurance is extremely high. The real solution rests in not forcing employers to provide coverage, but to make insurance more affordable.

The answer lies in eliminating all of the fraudulent law suits filed every day by money-hungry lawyers who are completely destroying the medical system. As lawyers sue doctors, malpractice insurance premiums increase. The number of personal injury litigations has steadily increased at a rate of 12% since 1975.

Jury Verdict Research, a database of plaintiff and defense verdicts, says awards in medical liability cases increased 43 percent in 1999, from $700,000 to $1,000,000. Jury awards in medical malpractice claims jumped 43 percent in one year—from $700,000 in 1999 to $1 million in 2000. Juries are compensating plaintiffs more generously than in the past. From 1994 to 2000, Jury Verdict Research found that more than half of medical malpractice jury awards were for $500,000 or more.

Seeing the direct correlation between health care cost and the cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors (driven up by law suits), the root of the problem is obvious. This must be attacked before anything else. If Senator Kennedy and Governor Schwarzenegger want to see real progress, their plans must be disregarded and tort abuse must be solved first. There are various other aspects to their plans that are also misinformed and misdirected, but I’ll save that for another time.