Archived Posts March 2007 » Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic, and…religion? So says Cal Thomas in a post from the WaPo blog On Faith.

Writes Thomas, “Religion as a subject and the beliefs of individual religions absolutely should be taught in all schools and at all levels.”

I doubt, however, that Thomas would say that “one should not expect an individual faith to be singled out for special consideration or imposition” in the case of explicitly religious schools. He seems to have in mind the limitations inherent in the public school system.

Thus, he writes, “Neither should a specific prayer be promoted in public schools and universities, as has been advocated by some in the past.” That presumably includes a prayer of secularism.

But surely Cal Thomas realizes that a naked public square does implicitly promote the ‘faith’ of secularism. This confusion and difficulty associated with teaching religion in public schools is real. But all too often the source of the problem is attributed to religion rather than to secularist nature of the public schools itself.

The NYT editorializes today that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is, at worst perhaps, a necessary evil given the current political climate: “if it takes Mr. Chávez’s demagogy to spur Washington toward more enlightened policies in the Americas, so be it.”

Oh yeah, and more US foreign aid to Latin America equals “social justice.”

“Mr. Bush deserves praise for doubling the assistance to Latin America, to $1.6 billion a year. But much of this has been for security programs in Colombia. A lot more will be needed if promoting social justice is to be more than a sound bite.”

In any case, I think it may in fact be true that President Bush’s “reputation in the hemisphere [is] nearing its modern nadir” if in a comparison of Bush and Chávez the latter comes off looking favorably. Or maybe it says more about the discernment of those making such judgments than it does about Chávez’s objective quality.

I’ve followed with concern the debate over global warming for years. But it’s especially troubling to see self-identifying evangelicals weighing in on the issue with such a shallow understanding of the details. Brian McClaren is a case in point. Consider his recent post at the God’s Politics blog. McClaren is bemoaning the fact that some evangelical leaders, such as James Dobson, wrote a letter urging caution on the issue of global warming.

Now, whatever one’s views on this issue, it’s disturbing to see McClaren imply that these and other Christian leaders “oppose taking care of creation.” He quotes anonymous Christians from Asia who ask him:

Again and again, chagrined Christians ask me, “Is it true that some Christians in the U.S. still oppose taking care of creation?”

He then says that he does explain that some famous people (read: famous Christians like the ones referred to above) feel this way, but that many others follow the environmentalist party line like good Christians are supposed to do.

My question is this: Is McClaren so uninformed of the scientific and economic issues in the global warming debate that he actually thinks any Christian who disagrees with him “opposes taking care of creation”? Or is he intentionally misinforming fellow Christians on his international travels (where he has somehow learned that there’s no more debate about the nature of global warming)? In any case, Mr. McClaren needs to do some remedial reading if thinks the only people debating this are, as he puts it, “certain religious and semi-religious radio preachers, along with some fundraisers and lobbyists in the U.S.”

Joe Carter concludes:

What we need is a third way. We need a clear Christian vision that understands that markets are a moral sphere (contra the libertarians). We need to promote the idea that free individuals rather than government force is necessary to carry out this task (as the left often contends). We need to realize that the “market” is not a mystical system that will miraculously provide for our neighbor (as many conservatives seem to think). What we need is develop a coherent Biblically-based conception of how the market as a human institution can be used for the redemptive purposes of our Creator. As with every institution, what the markets need is for Christians to act more like Christ.

Via The New Editor, a restatement of a basic economic rule that we all need to remember as government in America swings back to the left. Clive Crook, in the course of reviewing Robin Williams’ Man of the Year, notes the potential unintended consequences if an anti-business mood overtakes our representatives:

Case by case, the merit in these proposals varies from substantial (executive pay) to less than none (taxing profits), but put the merits of the individual policies aside. What they have in common is a fallacious premise — namely, that the cost of a new fiscal or regulatory burden stays where you first put it, with the companies concerned. The idea is very appealing: If businesses are told to give their workers more-generous benefits, or to pay higher taxes, or to use alternative fuels that reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, or whatever it might be, the rest of us — workers and consumers — get that benefit at no cost.

But that is rarely, if ever, true. In the end, the costs of those policies, as well as the benefits, mostly find their way back to voters at large as higher prices or lower wages (and this is to say nothing of the dynamic effects on incentives to grow and innovate). In short, business is not a separate segment of society that can be squeezed to advance the interests of the other segments. Economies are not built that way.

A very basic idea, to be sure, but one far too easily overlooked by populists who promote governmental intervention and regulation on behalf of “the poor” or “consumers” or whatever other group happens to wander into their line of sight. And having worked in political offices in the past, I know all too well the pressures that politicians face to “do something” when economic problems begin to mount. But we all need to step back and remind ourselves that in many (probably most) cases, governmental action to correct perceived economic injustices ends up penalizing not only the intended target of the action, but also the intended beneficiary.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 5, 2007

At the beginning of his journey down from the mountain of enlightenment, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra runs across an old saint living in the forest. The saint confesses to Zarathustra, “Now I love God: men, I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. Love to man would be fatal to me.”

By contrast to the saint’s view, it has long been the tradition of a major strand of American Christianity that engagement in practical ministry is an important way to express one’s love and devotion for God. But the once vibrant synthesis between doctrine and practice seems to be under serious threat.

In modern times, things have been different: “we take for granted that there must be an absolute divide between vital Christian experience on the one hand, and careful doctrinal theology on the other,” writes Fred Sanders. “To us, action and reflection seem mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to Christian faith.”

Indeed, many post-modern evangelicals or participants in the emerging church movement eschew the importance of doctrine, hearkening rather to the primary importance of acts of love. But either extreme, that doctrine can be separated from practice or vice versa, skews the great Christian tradition in troubling ways. The “absolute divide” between doctrine and practice is a false dichotomy.

Augustine wrote a handbook on faith, hope, and love, illustrating that the Christian religion involves not only things to be believed and hoped for, but also things to be done. The Apostle Paul advised Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

One of the best examples of the way to relate doctrine and practice in my opinion is the symbol of Reformed Christianity, the Heidelberg Catechism. Dr. Lyle Bierma, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, writes of the catechism, “The staying power and worldwide popularity of the Heidelberg Catechism can best be explained by this marvelous blend of doctrine and piety.”

For more on how creeds and confessions can function in a contemporary context, check out Carl Trueman’s essay in Reformation21, “A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 2, 2007

Oprah isn’t the only one opening a school in Africa. Fraser Valley Christian High School and Surrey Christian School in Canada have partnered together with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone, Africa to build a Christian Primary School in Kabala. This partnership is one of the initiatives I highlighted in a previous Acton Commentary.

The partnership has released its first newsletter (PDF here), which chronicles recent news and events, including prayer requests and special opportunities for donation.

Also be sure to keep up with the project at the blog administered on location in Sierra Leone, “A New School for Kabala.”

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, March 1, 2007

I have discovered this week that Florida has a major problem with teenage violence against the homeless. In a new twist on violent crime incidents the homeless are being attacked across this state regularly. In St. Petersburg two homeless men, ages 43 and 53, were shot to death in January in separate incidents. The two men indicted for these two crimes are 18 and 20. There were 41 incidents of violence against the homeless in 2006, more than in any other state. Eight of these led to deaths. A man was beaten to death in August by two teens, ages 13 and 16. Last April a homeless man in DeLand claimed ten teens attacked him with metal pipes and set his tent on fire.

The staggering thing about this new wave of crime is the most common reason being cited for the attacks. An online survey conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless says 55% of the teens involved report “boredom” is the most common reason. 47% of people surveyed say such teens should face adult penalties for these crimes. I concur.

“Boredom?” Yes, boredom. It has become a major problem in a culture based on non-stop entertainment and the perceived personal right to pleasure no matter what it costs. And still people do not think we have a values problem in America. What we actually have is a virtue problem, which is far worse. Virtue begins in the home but the whole society undermines the pursuit of virtue by its endless rush toward secularism and hedonism. Bored kids, in modern America, are apparently now dangerous to the homeless and the helpless. This is another sad evidence of how deep our need is for true moral reformation.

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: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, March 1, 2007

The John A. Ryan Institute at the University of St. Thomas has been organizing a series of international conferences on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education. The latest was on the topic “The Good Company: Catholic Social Thought and Corporate Social Responsibility in Dialogue.” You can access a number of the papers through this site.

These conferences are usually a mixed bag, so investigate at your own risk. But there are always a few outstanding presentations and this edition is no exception. Albino Barrera offers a fine, concise treatment of the application of Catholic social teaching to the issue of outsourcing. My only question is whether the phrase “race to the bottom” is an accurate description of what happens in some cases. But I can agree with Barrera’s conclusion, which includes a caveat: “A race to the bottom, if true, is not permissible in CST’s vision of a properly functioning economy” (emphasis added).”

Welcome the tinfoil hat brigades to the great climate change debate!

Behold the rise of the perfect coalition: the climate change brigades and the Roswell True Believers!

A former Canadian defense minister is demanding governments worldwide disclose and use secret alien technologies obtained in alleged UFO crashes to stem climate change, a local paper said Wednesday.

“I would like to see what (alien) technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation … that could be a way to save our planet,” Paul Hellyer, 83, told the Ottawa Citizen.

Shorter version: “Imaginary Threat Requires Paranoid Response.”