Archived Posts July 2008 - Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
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A round-up of diverse items of interest, in no particular order:

It took awhile, but after its release in 2005, the latest installment of the popular computer game Civilization IV was received warmly by many cultural commentators. Civilization IV, or CivIV for short, was hailed alternatively as “a video game for the ages,” and “a kind of social-sciences chessboard that blends history and logic into a game that demands a long, long attention span.” The basis for much of this regard among even conservatives as “crunchy” as Rod Dreher was a piece in the Weekly Standard, highlighting the background of the game’s founder, Sid Meier.

For the first time, religion plays an important part in the strategic gameplay. Victorino Matus sums it up this way,

Religion plays a major role in Civilization and can be more vital to victory than military prowess. Competing civilizations can send out missionaries, found a religion, create temples, cathedrals, and even launch crusades. Meier is quick to point out, however, that the role of religion is just another dimension to gameplay.

Indeed, while CivIV deserves praise for integrating non-material elements like religion and culture into the gameplay, in the end these pieces suffer the same fate as the rest of the game’s components. CivIV, ultimately, is less about the development of civilization than it is about the expansion of imperial tyranny.

“Genghis Khan, your people have vested absolute power in you…”


The game begins by the player being vested with “absolute power” over all aspects of the lives of the citizenry. Religion quickly becomes a means of social control. When your civilization founds a religion, you are able to build structures that have other important benefits attached to them. You can spread your religion to neighboring civilizations, expanding your influence. But it doesn’t matter which religion you prefer, as long as it keeps your people happy.

And happiness, by the way, is something that can be bought in this game. If your citizenry is a little restless, simply up the percentage of money spent each turn on “culture,” and watch the happy faces multiply. That’s the CivIV equivalent of Caesar holding gladiatorial games at the Colosseum to appease the populace.

There are consequences to which sort of economy, government, technology, and religion you choose. But in the end all these choices are yours, and you are free to use whichever combination you find to be most expedient. The variety of game-ending scenarios, including world domination, UN diplomacy, and space-race technology races (which may indeed teach us something we need to know), mean that you don’t have to simply hack and slash your way to victory. But make no mistake about it, you are out to conquer your opponents, by any means necessary.

You can choose to embrace different branches of technological innovation, including the compelling “Animal Husbandry.”


The popularity of the game, which has won numerous awards and spawned successful expansions, is well-deserved. It taps in to a fundamental human drive for dominance in a way that promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.

The revisionist history that is possible to reenact with the game is one of its greatest attractions. While it may cause some cognitive dissonance to see Mohandas Ghandi order an nuclear ICBM attack on an opponent’s city, it is also reassuring to know that Genghis Khan can expand his empire by means of free trade and cultural suasion rather than force of arms (although in some cases “revisionist” history ends up corresponding better to reality than accepted theories).

“Soon my numberless minions shall destroy you all!”


The game’s interface is straightforward and intuitive. One drawback of the game’s emphasis on strategy over action is that the conflict sequences are repetitive and buggy. The graphics when units are in battle leave much to be desired.

These tactical criticisms aside, however, CivIV is a superb game. But the adeptness with which it meets the deepest human desires for power and control teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about the progressive unfolding of history.

This review has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.

Barack Obama recently announced that he wishes to expand President Bush’s program of public funding for religious charities. In his latest piece for National Review Online Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, warns us of some of the dangers of federal funding for faith-based charities.

Rev. Sirico writes:

The lesson of this long history is that if you want to do religiously motivated work in the United States, it is best to do it on your own dime. This is what American culture expects, a belief rooted very deeply in our history and current practice. I believe that this practice is best for the health of religion and the health of the state. We all benefit by keeping religion separate from the public sector so that it can better grow, flourish, and transform society.

The fact that Obama intends to expand government funding (and control) to religious charities should not be surprising, however, because it falls in line with his philosophy on the role of government. In his article, Rev. Sirico elaborates on this:

In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama is warm to this idea. It is part of his intellectual apparatus and part of the party he will represent in the election. He believes in government and all its pomps, and never misses a chance to say that something good should be subsidized by the public sector. This accords with his philosophy.

The first week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The first leg of the journey took the bikers from Seattle to Kennewick, a total distance of 319 miles.

The first day’s devotional, “Shifting Gears,” sets the stage for the entire trip. Alluding to the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, we read that God’s people “had to learn dependence instead of independence, freedom instead of slavery, and obedience instead of rebellion.” These are things God’s people from all times and places must continually learn.

Day 4’s devotional concentrates on the freedom of movement that a bike represents. “For millions of poeople in the world a bike is an essential of daily life. It afford opportunity–to buy, sell, earn, shop, and play,” we read. They day’s text is Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

The devotion for the fourth of July includes a timely reminder about the ultimate loyalty of all Christians, whose citizenship finally is not of this world: “Jesus is the final authority. All other authorities are acting in his service, whether they recognize it or not.”

The final devotion of the first week puts the entire tour in perspective, as “the tour’s primary goals are to celebrate God’s faithfulness, to promote unity in the church, and to raise funds to end the cycle of poverty in North America and around the world.” I hope to see how these goals are concretely connected to the Great Commission as the tour progresses.

The first week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Washington. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Washington, and take special note of Seattle’s Heroes Transitional Catering Business (rated “excellent” in 2007) and Yakima’s Housing for the Homeless (located in the Day 4 destination).

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, July 3, 2008
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A follow-up to Marc’s post concerning the feasibility of wind power: The power company here recently conducted an 18-month study on the potential of residential-based wind and solar power under local conditions. Their finding was that the wind turbine failed to meet expectations, the solar panels performed as expected, but neither provided a cost-benefit ration that makes it a compelling alternative for most energy consumers. Personally I think there is promise in renewable energy, residentially produced or otherwise, but studies such as this demonstrate that the technology isn’t adequate (or the price levels of conventional energy sources adequately high) to justify widespread migration to renewable energy. Yet.

The Acton Institute was out in front on the warnings of all the problems associated with using corn ethanol as a fuel source. My article “The Unintended Consequences of the Ethanol Quick Fix“ was published in The Christian Science Monitor last July.

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society has uncovered a new problem with corn ethanol. According to the GBCS corn is sacred to indigenous people, thus not appropriate for being used as an energy source. Could this be the famed corn goddess they are referring to?

A minister who attended a seminar forum expressed to me the feeling that the GBCS conference was far too left leaning, which is of course no surprise when one is talking about the United Methodist lobbying group. A few prominent themes of the forum were boycotting professional sports teams in Washington D.C. because new stadiums have displaced people who live in low income housing, environmentalism, and left leaning poverty initiatives. In a phone conversation today the minister expressed disappointment in the lack of attention that was given to more traditional Christian teachings, and called the political agenda “over the top.” This seminar program was designed for students in the 15 to 18 year old age group.

The GBCS is noted for all kinds of various left wing antics, such as their recent push for anti-Israeli divestment proposals. During this 4th of July holiday, I’m also reminded of when one of their staff members took cheap shots at the American flag in sanctuaries, going so far as to make a comparison with Nazis flags which once adorned German sanctuaries. Mark Tooley offered an excellent response to that controversy in FrontPage Magazine over a year ago.

Research: Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought.

The 10 finalists for the Samaritan Award were announced last Thursday. This annual award was created by the Acton Institute to honor a highly successful, privately funded charity whose work is direct, personal, and accountable.

The finalists for 2008 are:

Citizens for Community Values, A Way Out Program, Memphis, Tenn.
Fresno Rescue Mission, The Academy, Fresno, Calif.
Guardian Angels Homes, Faith in Action, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Lighthouse Ministries, One Stop Care, Lakeland, Fla.
Panama City Rescue Mission, Residential Recovery Program, Panama City, Fla.
Promise of Hope, Inc., Recovery Program, Dudley, Ga.
Redwood Gospel Mission, New Life Recovery, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Restoration Ministries, Inc., Harvey House School of Ministry, Harvey, Ill.
South Side Mission, South Side Mission External Ministries, Peoria, Ill.
Union Mission Ministries, New Life Center Recovery Program, Virginia Beach, Va.

The winner of the $10,000 grand prize will be announced in early August. All finalists will be visited by WORLD magazine journalists and profiled in a special issue on August 15. Congratulations to the 2008 finalists!

In his new commentary, Anthony Bradley tells us that there is a “serious disconnect” in the hip hop community that allows rappers to evoke the name of God in thanks while producing music that celebrates evil. Could there be a connection to the declining rate of church attendance in the black community and a shift toward a more “deistic” understanding of Christianity?

Based on a new study released by Radio One and Yankelovich, a Chapel Hill-based research firm Dr. Bradley elaborates:

The new study, the most comprehensive in decades including blacks ranging in age from 13-74, reveals that while 83 percent of blacks call themselves Christians, only 41 percent attend church at least once a week. Even worse, among black men, 47 percent say they are not as religious as their parents (36 percent of black women confess the same).

This disconnect in the hip hop community has resulted in many people claiming to follow God while at the same time promoting evil with their behavior and lyrics. Anthony Bradley takes a deeper look into this startling issue.

In the other new commentary, Kevin Schmiesing looks at the role of faith in history’s long march toward a free society. “The rise of Christianity did not smother the flame of liberty burning brightly in Greece and Rome only to be rekindled as medieval superstition gave way to the benevolent reason of Voltaire, Hume, and Kant,” he writes. “Instead, Christianity took the embers of freedom, flickering dimly in an ancient world characterized by the domination of the weak by the strong, and—slowly and haltingly—fanned it into a blaze that emancipated humanity from its bonds, internal and external.”

Dr. Schmiesing writes about the history of the church as well as its impact today:

In our own day, we find the Church again serving in this capacity. It is the foremost voice defending those whose rights are threatened by neglect or direct attack: religious minorities, vulnerable women and children trapped in slavery, the infirm and the unborn. In education, health care, and family life, religious individuals and organizations resist the tyranny of state aggrandizement.

During this time when liberty is celebrated, Kevin Schmiesing helps to expand our understanding of Christianity’s role in the history of freedom.

Here’s a round-up of early reaction (to be updated as appropriate) to Obama’s speech about his proposed future for the faith-based initiative under his administration.

  • Rev. Richard Cizik of the NAE (HT): “Mr. Obama’s position that religious organizations would not be able to consider religion in their hiring for such programs would constitute a deal-breaker for many evangelicals, said several evangelical leaders, who represent a political constituency Mr. Obama has been trying to court. ‘For those of who us who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions, this is a fundamental right,’ said Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. ‘He’s rolling back the Bush protections. That’s extremely disappointing.'”
  • Stanley Carlton-Thies of CPJ (HT): “Sen. Obama’s speech sketches the new approach he hopes to introduce. The speech does not make clear the radical restriction he intends to impose on faith-based organizations that receive federal funding.”
  • Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns: “He doesn’t say much that he hasn’t at least hinted at before, nor much of anything that would jar the ears of the most hardened secularist Democrat. ‘Faith-based’–I’d say, faith-erased–groups are welcome partners with government as long as they’re virtually indistinguishable from the bureaucrats they’re assisting.”
  • Douglas L. Coopman, Calvin College professor of political science: “Sen. Obama’s version of faith-based initiatives creates a great first impression. But the closer one looks at its details and the senator’s defense of it, the more disrespectful toward faith and naive about old approaches it appears.”
  • Byron York at NRO’s The Corner: “I remember an NR cruise several years back in which Father Robert Sirico, of the Acton Institute in Michigan, expressed reservations about Bush’s faith-based program. As I recall, he wasn’t upset about anything specific that Bush was doing; he just didn’t look forward to an entirely different set of policies being given a faith-based gloss in a Democratic administration…”

And speaking of the long view of the issue, check out this piece by WORLD’s Joel Belz from 2001 as a valuable backgrounder (HT), “Go for the vouchers.” See also, “Hazards of Public-Private Partnerships.”

Update: One of the FAQ for the Acton Institute’s unique program, the Samaritan Guide (emphasis added–all of the FAQ are worth reading in the context of the discussion of the faith-based initiative):

“Why does Acton run this charities rating program?

Acton works with religious leaders and other shapers of the moral consensus, who are involved in charitable work. However, they are often unaware of the pitfalls of accepting government funding or of supporting government social welfare programs. They may also lack reliable information about effective charities. Acton Institute began the Samaritan Award and Guide to help connect the good intentions of these opinion leaders with charities that implement the principles illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”