Archived Posts March 2007 » Page 2 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

John Armstrong’s thoughtful post below reminds me of the critiques of Jim Wallis offered in this space, here, here, and here (by Armstrong himself).

And over at FirstThings today, Joseph Bottum, courtesy of David Brooks, gives me a term that I hadn’t encountered and that serves well as a moniker for the phenomenon Wallis embodies: “beyondism.” As in the effort (or rather the claim) to “get beyond” partisan polemics. As Bottum astutely observes, the program of the beyondist usually can be summed up thus: “The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me.”

Now there’s a sense in which I’m in favor of beyondism, meaning two sides coming to agreement so as to progress toward a shared goal. The key point is that those in favor of a given policy must accomplish two things: articulate the desired end in a way that shows that both sides are striving for a common goal; and convince opponents that the policy in question will better achieve progress toward that goal than the alternatives. The problem with beyondists is that they attempt to short-circuit this process by ignoring the imperative to demonstrate the superiority of their advocated policy and, instead, try to achieve consensus (or at least neutralize opponents) by rhetorical flourish—i.e., “My program takes us beyond the old divide of right and left.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

Kishore Jayabalan reported yesterday on the latest happenings with the Acton Institute’s office in Rome and the most recent installment of the Centesimus Annus Conference Series, “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom.”

As Kishore notes, the conference took place within the context of the spate of media attention to the religious situation in China, especially with reference to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

Last month Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg wrote in The Australian about the increasing integration of religious identity into Chinese society. “Christianity and other religions previously viewed with intense suspicion by China’s communist authorities are increasingly considered potential social lubricants for China’s fast-transitioning economy,” he writes.

Gregg also observes that “increasing numbers of Communist Party members are reportedly embracing religion, even though this violates party policy.” But given the Marxist antipathy toward religion, how can this be?

As Gregg rightly points out, there is increasing recognition of the social benefits of religious belief…perhaps the Party leaders are seeing the usefulness of religion as a means of increasing social stability and productiveness. And, indeed, the Marxist view of religion as an “opiate” would fit well with a regime obsessed with social control.

But there’s another phenomenon that is facilitating this odd mix of Communism and Christianity. As Forum 18 reports, the radical secularization of religious belief into a hermetically-sealed private sphere provides assurance that religious beliefs won’t impact Party loyalty.

The report sounds a note of caution:

It would be hard to argue that the rising number of religious believers across China will never affect government policies. However, it would be wise not to assume that greater numbers of religious believers automatically lead to changes in government policy on religious freedom. One (or three) hundred million “individual” religious believers, unwilling to engage in direct dialogue and negotiation with – let alone to confront – the government, are not in themselves a collective force for positive political change for all of China’s citizens.

Indeed, a religion that restricts itself to a realm of authority subservient to and derivative of the state may fulfill the role that the Party desires, but it does not reflect the comprehensive symmetry of doctrine and practice, faith and love, that is at the core of Christianity.

Al Gore’s Assault on Reason
Darn it! I messed up that title again…

Oh, I’m sorry. I messed up that title. Gore’s newest book will be called The Assault on Reason. Here’s the book description from Amazon.com:

A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason…

…We live in an age when the thirty-second television spot is the most powerful force shaping the electorate’s thinking, and America is in the hands of an administration less interested than any previous administration in sharing the truth with the citizenry. Related to this and of even greater concern is this administration’s disinterest in the process by which the truth is ascertained, the tenets of fact-based reasoning-first among them an embrace of open inquiry in which unexpected and even inconvenient facts can lead to unexpected conclusions.

How did we get here? How much damage has been done to the functioning of our democracy and its role as steward of our security? Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment. As The Assault on Reason shows us, we have precious little time to waste.

Gore’s larger goal in this book is to explain how the public sphere itself has evolved into a place hospitable to reason’s enemies, to make us more aware of the forces at work on our own minds, and to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future. Drawing on a life’s work in politics as well as on the work of experts across a broad range of disciplines, Al Gore has written a farsighted and powerful manifesto for clear thinking.

Heady stuff, to be sure. Al Gore, Defender of Reason! But come now; let’s face facts. On the issue that he is best known for – climate change – Gore has done absolutely nothing to reasonably engage in debate. Quite the contrary – he denies that a legitimate debate exists, and his current popularity depends entirely on his ability frame the issue of climate change as a “crisis,” regardless of what the facts actually say.

(An aside: at the moment, I’m watching C-SPAN 3′s live coverage of the Senate hearing on climate change, and I’m pretty sure that Sen. Barbara Mikulski just credited Gore with “saving drinking water.” WOW; I never knew. And Barbara Boxer just invoked the name of Rosa Parks – they’re hauling out the moral big guns today.)

Far from being a friend to reasoned debate, Gore has a long history of ignoring facts that may be inconvenient to his predictions of global catastrophe. For instance:

…in March 1995, Gore gave his annual Earth Day address at George Washington University. ‘‘Torrential rains have increased in the summer in agricultural regions,’’ he said, referring to a yet-to-be published paper by federal climatologist Tom Karl. In fact, Karl had found no change in the frequency of daily rainfall in excess of three inches. What he did find was a tiny change in the amount of rain coming from summer storms of between two and three inches in 24 hours, but these are hardly ‘‘torrential’’ and are most often welcomed by farmers everywhere, who pray for such rains. America’s breadbasket is usually in great need of moisture come August.

In July 1998, Gore visited northeast Florida, which had experienced a series of substantial range and forest fires. He said the conflagrations ‘‘offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean for families.’’ The reason Florida went up in smoke during this normally hot season was the overabundance of vegetation that resulted from excessive rains in the previous winter. While it might be convenient to finger the 1997–98 El Nin˜o as the cause, statistical studies show El Nin˜o is in fact associated with less-than-average burned acreage in Florida.

These – and a myriad of other – inconvenient facts haven’t stopped Gore over the years, and even though the facts still dog him today, he doesn’t appear to be troubled by them one bit. (Another aside – at the moment, he’s referencing the movie 300 and the crusade against Nazism, presumably to lend the deep moral credibility of previous efforts to save civilization to his climate change efforts. Credit where credit is due: the man has some real… self confidence.) Rather, Gore’s preferred method of “debate” is to simply not acknowledge any other argument. So much for reason.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, even supporters of Gore are admitting that he takes some liberties with the facts in order to advance his argument, and here’s yet another bit of evidence that Gore will ignore in service of his Higher Truth. No doubt Gore’s new book will go over big with certain audiences; as for me, I’d say that Gore is the last person in the world who should be complaining about an assault on reason.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, March 21, 2007

When the Vatican last week issued a stinging rebuke of Fr. Jon Sobrino, a noted proponent of Liberation Theology, predictable complaints ensued about the Church squelching “dissent.” However, as Samuel Gregg points out, Fr. Sobrino’s books were not only based on faulty economic thinking, his works placed him outside the bounds of orthodox Catholic teaching about the faith. “For Fr. Sobrino, the ‘true’ Church is to be found in the materially poor at a given time, rather than in those who adhere to the apostolic Catholic faith transmitted from generation to generation,” Gregg writes.

Read the full commentary here. Read more information about the censure of Fr. Sobrino in Catholic World News.

Last week, Acton’s Rome office, Istituto Acton, held a conference entitled “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom” at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
(See this Zenit piece for a brief, if unexciting, summary of the event.)

In addition to the news angle concerning China, I’d like to say that all three speakers agreed on one point – the rivalry between Church and State on the claims of primary human attachments.

This should come as no surprise to students of ancient political philosophy, especially that of Plato and Aristotle. Today we tend to denigrate the notion of politics to anything that concerns public images and “spin”. But the ancients understood politics to mean the life of the city that encompasses virtually every aspect of human life, including religion and economics. The gods of the ancient city often served civic purposes so as to reduce any tension between divine and civic mandates.

How is Christianity different? No doubt, God deserves our utmost devotion, but since Christ did not found a political regime, how are Christians to understand their civic obligations? What happens when the divine and the civic clash? Do a Christian’s political obligations depend on the nature of the political regime (i.e., democratic, aristocratic, or monarchic, and whether it serves the common good or is tyrannical)? Is there a “best regime” according to Christian thought, or are all forms of political life radically incomplete? How does the Christian notion of “love thy neighbor” and even one’s enemies affect political life?

These were just some of the questions raised in my mind by the conference speakers, especially when considering the contrast between the liberal West and communist China. Cardinal Julián Herranz seemed to be as wary of a deeply secularized liberalism as any outright persecution of the Church, while Prof. Raphaela Schmid and Fr. Bernardo Cervellera had different perceptions of the situation of Christians in China.

This was just one event of the Centesimus Annus series, all of which have featured the highest level of speakers and topics. If you need yet another reason to visit Rome in the spring, attend the May 2 conference.

I grew up in the South. I also grew up during the Jim Crow era. I asked a lot of questions and made a lot of white folks very angry when I did. I hated the “separate but equal” hypocrisy and I was never, in my heart of hearts, sympathetic with the illogic of racism as I knew it. As a teen I was called into the senior pastor’s office and told to stop spreading racial unrest among the youth of the church. I was threatened and reprimanded by an angry and imposing authority figure. I learned there were deep feelings about race in Memphis and I had better be careful.

With this background I watched the recent appearances of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Selma, Alabama, with more than passing interest. The significance of this particular Sunday of March 4, as many of you know, was the 42nd commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the day when Alabama state troopers beat civil rights marchers who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to enter the town of Selma in 1965. I entered the University of Alabama in the fall of 1967. The impact of that infamous date was huge on that campus. Only months before my entrance Governor George Wallace had boasted of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” while he stood in the door of the admissions office at the university, seeking to forbid the enrollment of our first two black students. I also stood with several black students on nasty occasions while they were verbally abused, and even pushed around, by racists. It was a bitter and ugly time but it was a time that needed change as well. I thank God for the Civil Rights movement and still regret that the white church did so little to help it back in the 1960s.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

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."

Google recently announced that it has purchased the Trendalyzer software from Gapminder, a Swedish non-profit (HT: Slashdot). Trendalyzer is the brain-child of professor Hans Rosling, who was lecturing on international development “when it struck him that statistics were an underexploited resource, often presented in an incomprehensible fashion. To solve the problem he developed – along with his son – a new kind of software.”

One interesting aspect of this purchase is that the software’s inventor won’t profit from its sale, since it was run under the auspices of a non-profit and was financed by public money. “It’s not an operating business that was sold, just the software and a web site. Although I would gladly accept that kind of money,” said Rosling.

To see the software in action, see the video of a lecture given by Rosling in February of 2006. Don’t just pay attention to the software, however. Rosling has some pretty important observations about how the West views the “developing” world.


Coming soon to a theater near you (hopefully) – Evan Coyne Maloney’s Indoctrinate U. From the film’s website:

At colleges and universities across the nation, from Berkeley and Stanford to Yale and Bucknell, the charismatic filmmaker uncovers academics who use classrooms as political soapboxes, students who must parrot their professors’ politics to get good grades, and administrators who censor diversity of thought and opinion. With flair and wit, Maloney poses tough questions to America’s academics and university administrators — who often call campus security rather than give him straight answers. And Maloney gives a voice to those whose stories of harassment, intimidation, and censorship make our nation’s universities, supposed bastions of impartiality and free inquiry, seem mere mainstays of groupthink and indoctrination.

Judging by the trailer, the film looks to be quite a ride:

And don’t forget about Acton’s The Call of the Entrepreneur, which will be premiering soon as well.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 19, 2007

The nearly decade-long battle between the European Union and Microsoft took another turn earlier this month, as the EU Commission offered a fresh threat to Microsoft: Submit to our demands or face stiff new penalties. The item at issue is an aspect of the 2004 ruling against Microsoft, in which “the Commission fined Microsoft and ordered it to provide its competitors with information allowing them to develop workgroup server software interoperable Windows desktop operating system.”

That ruling is still under appeal in a Luxembourg court, but the Commission is pushing Microsoft to comply with the original terms of the decision before that appeal is resolved. The EU has given Microsoft until the beginning of April to comply.

The crux of the Commission’s argument is that the interoperability information that Microsoft holds is not sufficiently innovative to be protected as intellectual property, and therefore should be released free-of-charge to competitors. But as Ronald A. Cass rightly asks, “how can such critical information, which is not readily discovered by others, also be deemed obvious and of limited value?”

The fact that Microsoft has licensed Quest Software under its European Work Group Server Protocol Program shows that there is value in the information, such that according to Quest the agreement will allow it “to expand upon its innovative interoperability solutions for customers working across heterogeneous server environments, such as UNIX and Linux.”

Jim Prendergast, executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership, responded to the EU Commission’s threats by saying, “These actions are a de facto trade barrier for American companies who must continue to meet a higher standard of regulation across Europe.”

Again, Cass notes that the decision of the Commission’s antitrust office, headed by Neelie Kroes, “suggests that trade secrets (information that is not disclosed and not patented) are by definition without innovative content — and therefore unworthy of any significant fee.”

A WSJ editorial concurs and criticizes this move because it arrogates the authority of determining the validity of patents in addition to all its other claimed powers: “Brussels no longer acts as merely prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in antitrust cases; it now claims the power to assess the worth of patents, too.”

What are some of the potential motivations for the EU Commission to take such steps? They are numerous. A giant corporation can be easily seen as a source of significant cash. The fines levied by the EU Commission could total more than $1 billion.

Then there is the perennial government instinct to expand the scope of its own powers. The Commission apprently bristles at any restriction of its authority.

Cass intimates that there is a larger trade issue at work. That is, EU officials want to put American companies at a competitive disadvantage by erecting “a de facto trade barrier.”

But there may be another aspect to this. Many EU governments are adopting open-source operating systems as cost-cutting moves. So, for instance, France announced late in 2006 that it would be moving from Microsoft to Linux (they recently decided on the Ubuntu distribution). The French government “believes it can save money using open-source software, despite the near-term costs of switching from Microsoft systems and retraining all employees.”

But those cost-savings could be hampered by Microsoft charging licensing fees for server interoperability. Novell has even noted that given the whole structure of licenses, fees, and costs associated with open-source software, “Microsoft is cheaper than Linux.”

Could the EU Commission be taking such an active role in reducing the costs of running Linux in order to reduce the costs paid by the constituent governments? That seems like a major potential conflict of interest and gives good reason to question the objectivity of the Commission in these cases. And if this is the case, it falls to the EU courts to uphold the integrity and objectivity of the rule of law in deciding Microsoft’s appeal.