Archived Posts September 2012 » Page 2 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

During the electoral season of 2004, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a provocative essay titled, “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November.” In the essay he writes,

[T]he only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between [X's] conservatism and [Y's] liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

Andrew Haines, founder of the Center for Morality in Public Life, helpfully distills the essence of MacIntyre’s argument:

In a nutshell—if I can be free to ‘summarize’ MacIntyre’s (or perhaps better, what I take to be a “purist” Aristotelian) position on the matter—refusal to vote coincides with our basic human responsibility toward fostering virtue. Voting, or any political or moral action for that matter, isn’t primarily about fulfilling codified duties, but rather about freely seeking out what is highest and most perfect. The act of voting, in this case, isn’t something we can assess under a utility-driven approach to social welfare (e.g., sorting out the lesser of two political evils). Instead, voting is a reflection of right reason in action—and because of this, it can only engage positively (i.e., we can only cast an unspoiled ballot) when the intellect is given enough fodder to make an informed judgment.

I despise “utility-driven approaches” to moral issues so I’m sympathetic to the argument. But my moral intuitions also tell me that voting is a duty for Christians in a democratic republic. Am I wrong? How should we respond to MacIntyre’s case for not voting?

Very often in charity and foreign aid work, we forget that the people to whom charity and aid are given are quite capable, smart and resourceful but are simply caught in difficult situations. I recently had a chance to speak with Mary Dailey Brown, the founder of SowHope. She shared with me her organization’s method of meeting with the leaders of villages and areas that SowHope is interested in helping, listening to what they have done and wish to do, before SowHope makes any suggestions. In this way, SowHope follows the lead of those who know what is needed and what assets are already in place, rather than coming in and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do for you.”

The poor are poor. They are not lacking in dignity or capability. Latifah Kiribedda from Uganda, has written a compelling paper entitled, “When Helping Really Helps: How to Effectively Help Without Hurting the Poor at the Bottom of the Pyramid in Developing Countries“, while a student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She outlines seven principles she believes should guide development work while preserving the dignity of the poor.

  1. Be aware of the global view held by the people in the local community, it can heavily influence their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty.
  2. Address underlying factors that perpetuate poverty.
  3. Before you offer help in a local community, evaluate whether it is relief, rehabilitation or development aid.
  4. Be cautious of the “Savior Mentality”.
  5. Start with the assets and not just what is lacking in the community.
  6. Ensure that the local people are active and full participants in the planning, designing, implementation and evaluation of the projects.
  7. Build relationships that can forge trust between you and the local people in the community you intend to help.

Kiribedda states, “The people are the number one resource, not money. When people are empowered as full participants in the process, they can teach others, improve existing structures, and expand the momentum of what they want to see in their community.” Viewing the poor as fully capable peers in development instead of mere recipients of charity will not only give appreciation to their dignity as God’s children, but allow their voices to take the lead in the progress to alleviate poverty.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that those who are unable to practice their religion openly are entitled to claim asylum on the continent:

In what could prove a landmark ruling for oppressed Christians, the European Court of Justice has ruled that people who are persecuted in their native countries due to their religion have the right to apply for asylum in Europe.

Confirming the ruling of a German court, the European Court of Justice – the highest court within the EU – decided that if a person’s right to public worship was ‘gravely infringed’ – they should be granted asylum.

Furthermore, the Court ruled that being limited to private prayer was not a legitimate alternative to the inherent right of public worship – rejecting the notion that religious minorities should limit their profile in the public sphere.

[. . .]

Following the court ruling, Lord Alton told the Institute of the potential consequences: “For too long European nations have continued with a policy of apathy towards the persecution of Christian minorities in distant lands. However, with the possibility of religious communities now fleeing to Europe for asylum, Western governments may finally be spurred into tackling the root cause.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

China needs to free the Bible market
Jillian Kay Melchior, AFF Doublethink Online

By creating a free market for Bibles, China could promote educated and peaceful Christianity. That, in turn, would contribute to harmonious Chinese society.

Symposium highlights challenges to international religious freedom
Jerry Filteau, National Catholic Reporter

While concern over religious freedom is a hot topic of political debate in the United States, the issue internationally is a far more immediate matter of life and death, of national security, and of special concern to women, who are most often the victims of religious intolerance.

Individualism, Community, and Moral Obligation in the Hebrew Bible
Ilan Wurman, Public Discourse

The Hebrew Scriptures, read as a work of political theory, offer egalitarian, communitarian, and individualistic themes; two recent books incompletely capture the presence of all three.

Who Was the Most Religious President of All Time?
Forrest Wickman, Slate

If elected, Mitt Romney “would arguably be the most actively religious President in American history,” according to a profile in the latest New Yorker. Who’s been our most religious president?

It is alarmingly clear that so-called “Obamacare” has troubling implications for parents and children, not just employers with religious convictions regarding artificial birth control and abortion. According to an article in the National Catholic Register, Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, Obamacare

“tramples parental rights” because it requires them to “pay for and sponsor coverage of abortifacients, sterilization, contraception and education in favor of the same for their own children.”

To date, 26 states and the District of Columbia allow children 12 and older access to contraceptives without parental consent or notification. The state of Oregon currently allows children 15 and older to consent to sterilization.

Bowman pointed out the role of Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute (the former research branch of Planned Parenthood) in this part of the Obamacare mandate:

…the Guttmacher Institute and other abortion advocates explicitly advocated for this mandated coverage of minors so that access without parental involvement might be able to increase.”

The Guttmacher Institute, in a Sept. 1 briefing on state policies, said that an increase in minors’ access to reproductive health care over the last 30 years shows a broader recognition that “while parental involvement in minors’ health-care decisions is desirable, many minors will not avail themselves of important services if they are forced to involve their parents.”

In Michigan, according to the National Conference of State Legislature, the law

[p]rohibits anyone from either tattooing or performing a piercing on a minor without the prior written, informed consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian. Requires the parent or legal guardian to execute the consent in the presence of either the person performing the body piercing or tattooing on the minor or in the presence of an employee or agent of the individual.

In fact, 38 states prohibit minors from this type of procedure without parental consent. Yet, Obamacare will allow children to make the radical choice of sterilization at an age when most can’t make up their mind as to what to wear to school the next day.

Gloria Purvis, policy director at a major financial services company and a board member for the Northwest Pregnancy Center and Maternity Home, noted the damage this mandate will do in an interview with EWNT, “These things are not a cure for our social ills,” she said. “If anything, it makes it worse because it’s promoting the disintegration of the family…”

You can read more Acton Institute research regarding the HHS Mandate and Obamacare here.

Read the article at the National Catholic Register here.

World Politics Review recently interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg about the Vatican’s foreign policymaking:

WPR: What are the main policy initiatives that the Vatican is currently promoting on the international stage, and how receptive are other nations to its interests?

Gregg: At present, one major initiative concerns the promotion of religious liberty. The Holy See believes this right is poorly recognized in many nations — especially in the Middle East and China — and that Christians are suffering as a direct result. The Holy See is also concerned that religious liberty is being eroded in some Western nations in the sense a number of governments now prefer to speak of “freedom of worship,” which has a more restrictive meaning.

Read more . . .

Are you a risk-adverse investor? Then you may want to avoid choosing a mutual fund that’s headquartered in an area with lots of Catholics.

New research from the University of Georgia and Southern Methodist University and published in Management Science shows that the dominant local religion—whether Protestant or Catholic—significantly affects mutual fund behaviors.

Specifically, the findings show that mutual funds headquartered in heavily Catholic areas tend to take more risks and funds in heavily Protestant areas take less risks, said lead author Tao Shu, assistant professor of banking and finance in UGA’s Terry College of Business. The paper was co-authored with Eric Yeung of the Terry College and Johan Sulaeman of Southern Methodist University.

“Finding evidence that a local culture’s religious beliefs affect mutual funds’ risk-taking decisions is surprising because this a very competitive industry. One would expect that profit chasing would eliminate all the impact of culture or anything else,” Shu said. “But, surprisingly, a local culture’s religious beliefs still impact risk-taking decisions.”

Because mutual funds make up about half of all institutional investments in the U.S., the findings have widespread implications for how investors manage their money, he added.

Shu also notes that surveys show Catholics are more tolerant and Protestants less tolerant to speculative risk than the general population. “One suggestion is that many Protestant congregations are against gambling,” said Shu, “but Catholic churches are more tolerant of it—they may even use lotteries to generate funding for the church.”

Despite the risk-preference differences, the study showed that end results are about the same and that the risk-taking associated with local religious beliefs does not lead to superior fund returns. So rather than pouring over prospectuses when choosing a mutual fund company, just look at Google Maps and pick one that is surrounded by Baptist churches.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Freedom Under Attack
National Catholic Register

The recent assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the blasphemy trial of a 14-year-old Christian girl with Down syndrome in Pakistan shine a spotlight on the increasing threat to religious freedom around the globe.

God, Democrats, and the Europeanization of America
Paul Kengor, Crisis Magazine

The battle at the Democratic convention to exclude God from the party’s platform is no minor moment. Do not underestimate what transpired there.

Illinois cannot make pharmacists give ‘morning after’ pill: court
Mary Wisniewski, Reuters

An Illinois appellate court Friday affirmed a lower court finding that the state cannot force pharmacies and pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives – also known as “morning after pills” – if they have religious objections.

Eminent Domain on Mortgages: An Idea To Be Condemned
Dana Berliner, AFF Doublethink Online

Local governments are proposing to play favorites and to wield their enormous power to secure benefits for some at the expense of others.

A recent survey contains one of the most disheartening statistics I’ve ever read: In eastern Germany the survey was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 who claimed they were “certain God exists.”

The survey was taken in 2008, which means that not a single person born after the fall of the Berlin Wall could be found who expressed no doubt about the reality of their Creator. In contrast, 17.8 of young people in western Germany are certain about God (which is still low compared to the U.S. (53.8 percent) or even Russia (28.2 percent).

In the Guardian, Peter Thompson says that some observers believe East German atheism is a form of continuing political and regional identification:

(more…)

As noted already at the PowerBlog today, Sam Gregg has a fine piece on the complex relationship between law and morality, or constitutions and culture, over at Public Discourse.

As a follow-up (read the piece first), I’d like to point to an interesting aspect of James Buchanan’s advocacy of a balanced-budget amendment. As Gregg notes, Buchanan is an example of someone who thought that “America’s constitution required amending to bestow genuine independence upon a monetary authority,” or advocated for the “constitutionalization” of money. A related effort would be Buchanan’s efforts in support of a balanced-budget amendment to the American Constitution, as explored by James Alvey in his piece, “James M. Buchanan on the Ethics of Public Debt and Default.”
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