Archived Posts March 2010 » Page 2 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

From “56% Oppose ‘Sin Taxes’ on Junk Food and Soft Drinks” on Rasmussen Reports:

Several cities and states, faced with big budget problems, are considering so-called “sin taxes” on things like junk food and soft drinks. But just 33% of Americans think these sin taxes are a good idea.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 56% oppose sin taxes on sodas and junk food. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

Many of the politicians who are pushing these taxes insist that they are intended to fight obesity, especially among children, and to address other public health issues. However, voters are highly skeptical of their motivation.

Only 17% believe the state and national politicians who favor sin taxes are more interested in public health than in finding another source of revenue for the government. Seventy-three percent (73%) say sin tax supporters are more interested in raising additional money for the government.

After all, 86% of adults say it is not the government’s responsibility to determine what people eat and drink. Five percent (5%) believe the government does have that responsibility.

Also see these Acton Institute resources:

“The Sin Tax Craze: Who’s Next?” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico

“Tax man aims to take a bigger bite out of junk food junkies” by Matt Cavedon

“Lifestyle Taxes — Political Camouflage for New Federal Sin Taxes” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico

“The Sin Tax: Economic and Moral Considerations” Occasional Paper by Rev. Robert A. Sirico

“The Economics of Sin Taxes” by James Sadowsky S.J. in Religion & Liberty.

Acton welcomes new blogger — and long time friend — Rudy Carrasco to the PowerBlog. He also writes at Urban Onramps. Don’t miss Rudy at Acton on Tap on March 31 (6 p.m. at Derby Station, East Grand Rapids, Mich.) — Editors

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I haven’t seen the video of Glenn Beck’s call to “run away” from churches that teach social justice. Nor have I read much on the responses by the many – see the Sojo God’s Politics blog for a round-up – who disagree with Beck. (So how do I know these things, you might ask? I scan twitter feeds and email subject lines and pick up the plot.)

Nevertheless (famous last words), here’s what was on my mind when I woke up this morning:

Love Glenn Beck as you would love yourself.

That’s a take-off from Matthew 22:36-40. If you are a Christian, you are supposed to love people first. Not agree with them first. Or disagree with them first. Or speak truth to their power first. You are supposed to love them first. This is an equal opportunity, ahem, encouragement. On both the center-left and the center-right I hear ugly caricatures of the opposition-du-jour. So a question to the wise: “What does it mean to love Glenn Beck as you would love yourself?”

As for Beck himself, he seems to have really stepped in it this time (did he mean to? that’s always the question with show hosts), because it isn’t just so-called left wingers who affirm social justice efforts in churches. As an example, The Heritage Foundation created and just released a DVD series for use in churches entitled – wait for it – “Seek Social Justice.” (Disclosure: Yours truly appears in the video and study guide.)

By the way, here’s some bonus sermon illustration material. You can substitute all sorts of people, and groups of people, for “Glenn Beck” or “your neighbor.” To wit:

Love illegal immigrants as you would love yourself.

Love oil industry executives as you would love yourself.

Love President Barack Obama as you would love yourself.

Love President George W. Bush as you would love yourself.

obedience1On his blog, Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowan links to an article about game show, The Game Of Death, that was recently broadcast on French television. According to the article (“Torture ‘Game Show’ Draws Nazi Comparison“) the program, “had all the trappings of a traditional television quiz show, with a roaring crowd and a glamorous and well-known hostess.”

For all that it appeared to be a typical game show, what “contestants . . . did not realise [was that] they were taking part in an experiment to find out whether television could push them to outrageous lengths.” As describe by SkyNews:

The game involved contestants posing questions to another “player”, who was actually an actor, and punishing him with 460 volts of electricity when he answered incorrectly.

Eventually the man’s cries of “Let me go” fell silent, and he appeared to have died.

Not knowing that their screaming victim was an actor, the apparently reluctant contestants followed the orders of the presenter, as well as chants of “Punishment” from a studio audience who also believed the game was real.

According to the article, some “80% of contestants went all the way, shocking the victim with the maximum 460 volts until he appeared to die” with “just 16 refus[ing] to shock the victim and walk[ing] out.”

Putting aside the morality of the project, the program parallels the study done in the 1960′s by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s “experiment measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.” As with the television program, Milgram found that the majority of participants in his study (A Peer Administers Shocks), 25 out of 40, were willing to follow orders and administer a fatal electric shock (and again, as with the TV program, in Milgram’s experiment, the “victim” was a confederate of the researcher and did not actually suffer any harm much less die).

As Milgram wrote in a 1974 article for Harper’s Magazine (“The Perils of Obedience“) based on his experiment: (more…)

As rumors of congressional action on health-care reform continue to swirl (it will happen Sunday, maybe?), fissures in the American Catholic community are becoming increasingly evident.

The rift is highlighted in the current, in some ways unprecedented, public dispute between two important Catholic voices. By size and clout, the principal health-related organization of a Catholic identity is the Catholic Health Association. The official organ of the American Catholic bishops as a collective is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although tension between the two on the matter of health-care reform could be discerned a long time ago, the disagreement was largely hidden by ostensibly shared principles of absolute commitment to Catholic moral norms (of chief importance, opposition to abortion and to public funding thereof) and to extending health care access to all people.

But as the rubber hits the road, the CHA has parted ways with the USCCB, in a fashion that can no longer be ignored. In essence, the CHA says that the Senate bill currently under consideration is the best we’re going to get under the circumstances, its benefits outweigh its liabilities, and its protection against public funding of abortion is adequate (or at least will be adequately addressed at some point). The USCCB says no, the bill does permit public funding of abortion. (The matter is complicated–there is a sense in which the bill can plausibly be said not to fund abortions directly with government money–but I believe the USCCB interpretation is the more honest and accurate. The claim that there is no funding of abortion is basically an accounting gimmick: in effect, tax funds collected by the federal government would be enabling abortion in a way that they are not, at present.)

Outside the channels of the USCCB, individual bishops have been even more outspoken. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver says,

Regrettably, groups like Network and the Catholic Health Association have done a grave disservice to the American Catholic community by undermining the leadership of the nation’s Catholic bishops, sowing confusion among faithful Catholics, and misleading legislators through their support of the Senate bill.

This split between the CHA and the bishops is a shame. Catholic hospitals are a vital part of the Church’s mission, not to mention the American health care sector. But the CHA’s support of flawed health-care legislation in the face of the Church’s leadership is but the culmination of a history of compromise of Catholic moral teaching and a gradual acceptance of secular concepts of social justice and charity.

For further reading, see the Catholic Medical Association’s recent statement.

Acton pundits have already weighed in on the inadequacies of current reform proposals and the path to a more helpful approach. Abortion is understandably at the center of this controversy, but we have also argued that, leaving aside abortion, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity can be much better served by moving in a direction divergent from that envisioned by congressional plans now being considered.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 18, 2010

In this week’s Acton Commentary I expand on a minor meme floating around the web towards the end of last year that criticized the purported claim made by Lord Brian Griffiths, a Goldman Sachs advisor and vice chairman: “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest.”

I do a couple of things in this piece. First, I show that Griffith’s claim was rather different than that reported by various news outlets. Second, I place his reported comments within the broader context, which includes a greater emphasis on generosity than on self-interest. The entire transcript (PDF) of the panel discussion from which the quote was taken is an interesting read.

For instance, Griffiths also says this in the context of the question of ordering self-interest to serve justice: “…nobody, I think, on this panel believes in completely free markets. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone even in Goldman who believes in completely free markets.” By “completely free markets” Griffiths is talking about a pure lassez-faire view of the market. The broader context of Griffiths comments, including his emphasis on generosity and his qualification of endorsement of the market, should serve adequate notice to anyone who seeks to characterize him as a espousing some kind of radical view incompatible with Christian teaching. For more on the theological backgrounds of this topic, see my post over at Mere Comments.

And for even more background on Griffiths views, in addition to his Globalization, Poverty, and International Development, check out his plenary address, which includes endorsement of a kind of cap-and-trade system on carbon markets, given at 2008′s Acton University:

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On NRO, John Leo points out how Glenn Beck missed the mark in his recent criticism of “social justice” churches (the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, again). But Beck is on to something, Leo says:

When Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preach social justice, he allowed himself to be tripped up by conventional buzzwords of the campus Left. In plain English, “social justice” is a goal of all churches and refers to helping the poor and seeking equality. As a code word, it refers to a controversial package of goals including political redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, and a campaign against “institutional racism,” “classism,” “ableism,” and “heterosexism.” Beck was wildly off base linking “social justice” (of either form) to Communism and Nazism, but he was correct to note that the term is often used as a code.

Leo cites an article on Minding the Campus by Peter Wood, head of the National Association of Scholars, on one of the newest buzzwords in play today — sustainability:

The most potent of the current buzzwords is “sustainability,” which ties traditional environmentalism to the entire left-wing agenda. As Wood says, hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously “co-curricular programs run through student life and residence halls to ‘educate’ students about their mistaken ‘worldviews’ and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.” Kathleen Kerr, who ran an astonishing all-out indoctrination program in the residential halls of the University of Delaware (students were all expected to accuse themselves of racism, for example), admitted in a speech that “the social-justice aspects of sustainability education” included lessons on “environmental racism” “domestic partnerships,” and “gender equity.” We are far from tree-hugging here.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article for the Conciliar Press magazine AGAIN on the use of social justice language in the Orthodox Church as it comes to grips with globalization. When you talk about “social justice” you really need to be careful:

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

The religious left is making quite a stink about Beck’s criticism of social justice churches (and let’s be honest here — Beck deserves some of this for his hyperbolic and dismissive attack). Jim Wallis, for example, is egging on Beck for a public debate, so far with no luck. Well, well. Wallis has been ducking Acton’s invitations for years to debate the concept of social justice.

For a serious discussion of what social justice really means today, mark your calendars for these upcoming Acton events. (Jim Wallis, you’re invited!)

“Do the poor need capitalism?” March 18, Grand Rapids. Acton Lecture Series with Rudy Carrasco

– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31, Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

– “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“…we are setting an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from.” – Barack Obama, Saturday Radio Address.

A few years ago I asked a friend and business owner why he put value on a college diploma when talking with entry level talent who had majored in subjects incredibly tangential to his job descriptions. He answered, “Well, it shows they can finish something.” That’s a pretty weak reason for a student and/or his family to lay out $50,000 to $250,000 of tuition and lost opportunity costs but I let him have his fantasy.

Former Heritage Foundation analyst Dan Lips lays out another kind of fantasy in National Review Online with a proposal to meet Obama’s goal in last weekend’s broadcast in light of the increasing cost of college in the U.S.. It’s a version of “virtual learning” accomplished online. That’s certainly not “college as we knew it” and not as it might or should be – a place where one seeks Truth and learns how to think – but maybe that education is unretrievable. Maybe all we can hope for are certificates of accomplishment in niche fields and employers like my friend.

Yet even with Lips’ online world, any bureaucracy including the academy deserves some closer inspection before we all jump on the web to search out our next degree. But this only makes sense if you agree with my premise that college has more of a role to play in one’s life than assuring a potential employer that you can “finish” something. Mr. Lips is rightly concerned about affordability – I’m thinking relevance. (more…)

The hugely influential reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) writes in his commentary on Romans 13:

Meanwhile, the Gospel teaches the godly properly about spiritual and eternal life in order that eternal life may be begun in their hearts. In public it wants our bodies to be engaged in this civil society and to make sure of the common bonds of this society with decisions about properties, contracts, laws, judgments, magistrates, and other things. These external matters do not hinder the knowledge of God from being present in hearts or fear, faith, calling on God, and other virtues. In fact, God put forth these external matters as opportunities in which faith, calling on God, fear of God, patience, and love might be exercised.

There is a certain wisdom worthy for a Christian to know. God cast the church into the midst of these occupations because he wants to become known among men in a common society. He wanted all offices of society to be exercises in confession, and at the same time exercises of our faith and love.

Wise words on justice and the social and political implications of the Gospel from the reformer whose impact is still felt today, 450 years after his death.

Rev. Jerry Hoffman, Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, reviews the NIV Stewardship Study Bible. “What I found was a remarkable resource that leads one to see how strong the stewardship thread exists throughout scripture…. I anticipate using this resource in my writing, preaching and teaching,” he says.

To keep abreast of the different resources available on stewardship, become of a fan of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible on Facebook and follow the Twitter feed @Oikonomeo, which means, “to be a steward.”

The NIV Stewardship Study Bible is available for purchase from the Acton BookShoppe (in hardcover or duo-tone), along with the complementary Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum.

Power Line has a post over at its site titled “Why Don’t Christians Care?” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit also linked to the post today. Powerline’s question refers to the lack of concern from the “mainstream” Christian community on Christians being massacred by Muslims in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a great question to ask.

Just for the record, we want to remind people that the Acton Institute cares. Last month I wrote a piece that received a lot of attention on the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. It’s also an issue we heavily address in the next issue of Religion & Liberty, which features an interview with Nina Shea. Shea talks about many pressing issues concerning global Christian persecution. An exclusive preview of the interview is currently available on the PowerBlog. Christianity Today referred to Shea as the “Daniel of Religious Rights.”