Ray Nothstine’s Acton commentary on the the ethanol boom and its impact on the poor was published today in the Christian Science Monitor as, “The unintended consequences of the ethanol quick fix.” His timely article was also picked up by a slew of other newspapers and Web sites, including the Bakersfield Californian, the Fresno Bee and the Atlantic City Press.
For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”
Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:
• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.
• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”
• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.
• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.
According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”
So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)
Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”
In the July issue of Christianity Today, White House spokesman Tony Snow offers a moving account of his struggle with colon cancer in “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.” Snow, who delivered the keynote speech at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner, wrote this in response to CT’s question about “the spiritual lessons he has been learning through the ordeal.”:
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.
Read the entire article on the CT site.
Garbling difficult (and sometimes easy) words is a common and often humorous occurrence among children, as any parent can attest. My daughter did so serendipitously the other day, pronouncing Acton’s film production as “The Call of the Entre-manure.” As chance would have it—and as those who have seen the film or its trailer know—one of the documentary’s stories is about a dairy farmer who turned his animals’ waste into a profitable business. I wondered if Brad Morgan might like to take up the moniker, to distinguish his particular form of entrepreneurship.
On a hunch (as a historian, I pay homage to the nostrum “nothing new under the sun”), I googled what I thought was my discovery of a brilliant new term. Turns out that an Omaha business not only is already using the idea—they sell “Entremanure” T-shirts!
And UrbanDictionary.com offers two definitions of the term (not appropriate for quotation here).
The UrbanDictionary usage is not what I had in mind with respect to Brad Morgan, by the way, who is as admirable an example of a real entrepreneur as one can find.
If you haven’t checked out this piece in the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, you owe it to yourself to do so: “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story,” by David Michael Phelps.
In this essay, Phelps makes the claim, “While conservativism is now a powerful force in the American political landscape, it is still the underdog in a war of connotation. (This is evident in the fact that the phrase ‘compassionate conservative’ had to be invented.) And I think there are two reasons why conservativism, by and large, does not yet appeal to the heart as does ‘bleeding heart’ liberalism.”
Here are two items in support of Phelps’ thesis. The first is from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, in which Niebuhr is discussing Marx’s doctrine of the proletariat’s eschatological destiny. It is clear that Marx’s narrative has captured Niebuhr’s imagination:
There is something rather imposing in this doctrine of Marx. It is more than a doctrine. It is a dramatic, and to some degree, a religious interpretation of proletarian destiny. In such insights as this, rather than in his economics, one must discover the real significance of Marx. His economic theory of labor value may be impossible, but this attempt at the transvaluation of values is in the grand style. To make the degradation of the proletarian the cause of his ultimate exaltation, to find in the very disaster of his social defeat the harbinger of his final victory, and to see in his loss of all property the future of a civilisation in which no one will have privileges of property, this is to snatch victory out of defeat in the style of great drama and classical religion.”
The second piece is a quote from a comment on another blog that struck my fancy:
Acad Ronin writes:
I got the following from a mystery novel set on the English-Scottish border in the 14th Century or so. It’s the best treatment of the issue of the rule of law that I have found to date.
Rule of Law
Carey looked down at his hands. “Do you know what justice is?” he asked at last, in an oddly remote voice. “Justice is an accident, really. It’s law that’s important. Do you know what the rule of law is?”
“I think so. When people obey the laws so there’s peace…”
Carey was shaking his head. “No. It’s the transfer of the duty of revenge to the Queen. It’s the officers of the Crown avenging a man’s murder, not the man’s father or the family. Without law what you have is feud, tangling between themselves, and murder repaying murder down the generations. As we have here. But if the Queen’s Officers can be relied on to take revenge for a killing, then the feuding must stop because if you feud against the Queen, it’s high treason. That’s all. That’s all that happens in a law-abiding country: the dead man’s family know that the Crown will carry their feud for them. Without it you have bloody chaos.”
It was strange to hear anyone talk so intensely of such a dusty subject as law; and yet there was a fire and passion in Carey’s words as if the rule of law was infinitely precious to him.
“All we can do to stop the borderers killing each other is give them the promise of justice – which is the accidental result when the Crown hangs the man who did the killing,” he said, watching his linked fingers. They were still empty of rings and look oddly bare. “You see, if it was only a bloodfeud, anyone of the right surname would do. But with the law, it should be the man that did the killing, and that’s justice. Not just to take vengeance but to take vengeance on the right man.”
“So you’ll make out a bill for Sweetmilk Graham and go through all the trouble of trying Hepburn and producing witnesses and finding him-guilty …”
“And then hanging him, when a word to Jock of the Peartree would produce the same result a lot more easily. But that wouldn’t be justice, you see, that would only be more feuding, more private revenge which has nothing to do with justice or law or anything else. Justice requires that the man have a trial and face his accusers.”
Source: Chisolm, P.F. 1994. A Famine of Horses. New York: Walker and Co.
Now there’s a conception of the rule of law portrayed in compelling narrative form.
Acton’s Sam Gregg looks at the plight of Middle Eastern Christians in ‘Business flight will hurt Arabs,’ a commentary published today in The Australian. Their plight is also the Middle East’s loss as the continuing out migration of Christians saps the economic vitality and entrepreneurial spirit of the region. Sam asks:
So where are these Christian migrants going? The vast majority are migrating to commercially oriented, business-friendly countries such as the US and Australia. In 2002, 63 per cent of Arab-Americans identified themselves as Christian. Given their entrepreneurial history and culture, they quickly start businesses, build their wealth, create jobs and are invariably successful. Welfare dependency is scarce in these communities.
Readings in Social Ethics: Bonaventure, A Defence of the Mendicants (selections), in From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625, ed. Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, pp. 312-19. The references below are to section number.
- Bonaventure cites a number of authorities in his exposition, including Augustine, Jerome, Bede, Rabanus Maurus, Gregory the Great, and Bernard of Clairvaux.
- The apostolic way of life is described as consisting in “models of perfection,” and therefore imposing “no obligation on those who have not freely professed this pattern of life and taken vows.” 
- There are four kinds of “community of goods,” corresponding to four different sources of right .
- The right of natural necessity: “anything capable of sustaining natural existence, though it be somebody’s private property, may belong to someone who is in the most urgent need of it. This kind of community of goods cannot be renounced. It derives from the right that naturally belongs to man as God’s image and noblest creature, on whose behalf all other things on earth were made.” This right functions at the personal level, and is the basis for the moral judgment that in certain extreme circumstances, what would otherwise be theft of necessary life-sustaining goods may be morally justified.
- The right of brotherly love: “everything belongs to the righteous, and the private property of individuals is common to all by virtue of sharing which is natural to love…. This kind of community of goods absolutely may not be renounced. It derives from a right poured into us by God, the right by which ‘the dove’ (i.e., the universal church) is assured its unity, a unity of sharing, from which no one can depart without defiance of the law of God which enfolds all things in love.” This right functions at the level of social responsibility to care for those who belong to the universal church. See Paul’s command to do good to everyone, “especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
- The right of worldly civil society: “there is a common political identity within a single empire, kingdom, or city-state; there is a common profit and loss within a single association, e.g., of merchants or wrestlers; there is a common inheritance within a single family that has not split up. This kind of community of goods must be renounced to attain evangelical perfection, because this kind of community implies individual property. It is derived from a humanly instituted right which contains provisions that may incidentally prove an obstacle to good or an encouragement to evil, and is therefore incompatible with evangelical perfection.” This right functions on the level of political society. The right to private property may be given up voluntarily in pursuit of the model of apostolic perfection. The emphasis here is on the temptation to covetousness that private property occasions.
- The right of ecclesiastical endowment: “All goods bestowed upon the churches are dedicated to the Lord to provide for the ministry and for the poor. This kind of community of goods, which is found in all collegial churches with possessions, need not be renounced to attain perfection since it can be maintained without prejudice to perfection, as is clear in the case of bishops and religious who are holy and perfect…. Yet this kind of community may be renounced without prejudice to perfection – in pursuit of it, rather – since it springs not only from divine right but human, it is not only spiritual but temporal, too; and since, though it excludes individual property, collegial property is allowed, and the share of every member of the college must be understood not merely as use but as ownership.” This right functions at the bridge between the second and third types of right. The administration and use of goods falls to those who are in places of responsibility in the church. Insofar as these goods are defined as “ecclesiastical” and not of more common worldly ownership, there is a distinction at the level of “worldly civil society.” The individual Christian may pursue the model of apostolic perfection in renouncing this sort of collegial ownership, but since the apostles themselves administered the property of the church, this responsibility need not be renounced to be perfect.
- “There are four possible relations to temporal goods: property, possession, usufruct, and simple use. The life of mortals may be sustained without the first three, but the last is a necessity. There can, then, be no profession of renunciation of temporal things which extends to their use.” 
Next week: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59; Book II, Chapter XIV, “The Sixth Law: Poor Relief,” pp. 306-15.