Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
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From the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 to Augustine’s City of God, the civitas is an enormously pervasive and rich biblical and theological theme. On the contemporary scene there area number of indications that evangelicals are looking more deeply and critically at engagement with the “city” as a social, political, ethical, and theological reality. This is part of the explicit vision of The King’s College in New York City, for instance, where Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley is currently a visiting professor of theology. At Houston Baptist University, the publication aptly named The City, “featuring leading voices in Christian academia and elsewhere on the critical issues of the times.”

North of the border, the Canadian think-tank Cardus has long examined the issues surrounding Christian cultural engagement, particularly within the dynamic matrix of what we call “cities.” Recently Cardus published critical perspectives from Darryl Hart and Nelson Kloosterman, “The Gospel and the City: What’s a Believer To Do?”

For a number of years now the Acton Institute has produced specialized conferences focused on the more specialized call to move “Toward a Free and Virtuous City.” The most recent installment of the “City FAVS” took place last month in Weehawken, New Jersey, and featured Dr. Bradley, Rudy Carrasco, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and Michael Lee of Georgetown University.

As the Lord said to Jonah of that ancient capital, “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

drdog-2In August, the Wall Street Journal Europe published an article exploring the difference in health care received by domesticated animals and humans. (see “Man Vs. Mutt: Who Gets the Better Treatment?” in WSJ Europe, August 8, 2009) The editorialist, Theodore Dalrymple (pen name for outspoken British physician and NHS critic, Dr. Anthony Daniels) argued that dogs and other human pets in his country receive much better routine and critical healthcare than humans: their treatment is “much more pleasant than British humans have to endure.”

Dalrymple outlines just why this is so: pets in the U.K. actually have it better than their owners since: a) they receive immediate treatment with no waitlists or postponed operations “(and) not because hamsters come first”; b) there is no fear that somehow they are being denied the proper treatment for economic reasons: there is “no tension, no feeling that one more patient will bring the whole system to collapse…; (no one is) terrified that someone is getting more out of the system than they.”; and c) pets in veterinary facilities have more options and flexibility for choosing a healthcare practitioner: “if you don’t like him, you can pick up your leash and go elsewhere.”

British humans, on the other hand, have to deal with navigating the rapids and swells of NHS bureaucracy, which requires the skills of a “white-water canoeist”. They must also endure interminable wait-times for prostheses and life-improving operations. Often they receive sub-standard administrative services, nursing assistance and meal provisions.

As President Obama continues to promote a Europeanization of the American healthcare model, the WSJ Europe editorialist beckons us to listen to such howling in the twilight of the Old Continent’s rapidly aging nationalized healthcare systems. Part of this howling is caused in the less dignified forms of public health services and treatment of human patients. Yet, there is plenty of loud barking over the mismanagement and abuse within nationalized healthcare across Western Europe, particularly in terms of mishandling budgets and sources of revenue. (more…)

This week’s Acton commentary looks at the trend by many in the charitable sector to become increasingly reliant on government support. Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter in the form here (right hand sidebar).
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The independence of American charities has steadily eroded in recent years as more philanthropic institutions have come to see their mission as one of partnership or collaboration with the government. That’s a nice way of saying, “seeking government dough.” Now, in the throes of a severe economic crisis and budget cutbacks at state and local levels, many charities are in a panic about reduced levels of funding. Anyone with eyes to see could have seen this coming.

A recent report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy spoke of a California budget crisis where “charities there are braced for steep cuts to social services and health care.” In Chicago, one manager of a children’s home said, “We’ve never seen the likes of this.”

The growing dependence of many charities on government support has been accelerated by the federal government’s funding, over several recent administrations, of charitable organizations for managing various social service programs. This funding, its supporters argue, gives private initiative the resources it needs to accomplish good works — with a little extra help from the government. But at what cost? (more…)

Radio Free Acton is back, this week featuring an interview with Dr. Glenn Sunshine. Dr. Sunshine is Chair of the History Department at Central Connecticut State University, and a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. He’s also the author of a brand new book – available now at the Acton Bookshoppe – entitled Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home. I had a chance recently to sit down with Dr. Sunshine and discuss his book, the importance of worldview, and some of the parallels between the declining Roman empire and modern society.

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If you aren’t subscribed to Acton’s podcast, here’s the link you’ll want to use to have podcast episodes automatically downloaded directly into your iTunes or other audio management software.

Last week Rick Warren’s church hosted the fourth Saddleback Civil Forum. This time the forum focused on reconciliation, particularly on the roles of the church and the government in promoting and fostering reconciliation after crime and conflict.

The forum included special guests Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, and Miroslav Volf, a prominent theologian and native of Croatia.

One of the things that typically happens in the course of tyranny and genocide is that the church’s social witness is either sidelined and marginalized or simply subsumed under governmental control. President Kagame said that during the Rwandan genocide, the government and the church “were almost one and the same.” This severely hampered the church’s ability to act as a critical and mediating institution between the government and its individual citizens.

We featured the book, As We Forgive, on a past series of posts here on the PowerBlog when we asked, “What social conditions promote reconciliation?” This book is a powerful exploration of concrete cases of restorative justice at work in Rwanda after the genocide.

In a guest post on the PowerBlog, author Catherine Claire Larson described the essential role that economic institutions play in reconciliation. In describing ministries that work to promote micro-finance, Larson writes that “by creating economic opportunities where interdependence is vital, they are really creating ideal environments for reconciliation and restoration.”

The inspiration for Larson’s book, a documentary film of the same name, premiered on PBS earlier this year.

I also explored different Christian views of the government’s role in promoting restorative justice in a law review essay, “To Reform or to Abolish? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF).

That the government has some positive role to play in promoting restorative justice rings true in a number of concrete cases. Of course the state must respect the vital role that other institutions, like the church, must play. But sometimes punishment can be a means toward restoration.

Chef Jeff, a prominent personality on the Food Network, was in Grand Rapids earlier this year to discuss how his time in prison gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life and make positive changes to promote social well-being.

“In prison, it was the first time in my life I ever read a book. The first time in my life that someone told me that I was smart. The first time someone told me I had potential,” he said.

As Chef Jeff puts it, “Prison saved my life.”

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, September 28, 2009
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From a report in today’s Washington Times:

… brace yourselves for a deluge of nuisance taxes, sin taxes and “fees,” limited only by the imagination of revenue-starved governors, mayors and legislators. Raising fees and nuisance taxes amounts to nothing more than “tax adventurism,” said Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonpartisan organization of state legislators. Governors and legislators “often raise taxes and increase fees during tough budget times before resorting to hiking broad-based income and sales taxes,” said Mr. Williams, who co-authored the recent book, “Rich States, Poor States.”

Among the nuisances: car-rental taxes and hotel taxes, the “Amazon” tax on Internet purchases, cameras catching speeders and people running red lights, bridge and toll taxes, increased fees for marriage licenses and dog tags, etc.

The report noted that “although cigarette taxes were raised 57 times between 2003 and 2007, the tax increases met revenue projections only 16 times … ”

Says Muhtar Kent, chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Co., about calls to impose soda and fat taxes: “I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink. If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.”

Several writers have exposed the alarming decay of important military history programs on college campuses. Two great articles worthy of mention are John J. Miller’s “Sounding Taps” and Justin Ewers “Why Don’t More Colleges Teach Military History?” David J. Koon at The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy has contributed an important piece titled “Retreat, But No Surrender for Military History,” which takes the view that military history might be poised for a comeback. Koon explains:

Just as surrender seemed imminent, military history has gathered unconventional reinforcements—less well-known colleges and, of all things, war and violence. These, along with broad student interest and an academy that now listens when military historians speak, may have positioned military history to climb out of the trenches and regain the field.

In his article I was glad to see him quote Dr. Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi. I had the privilege of sitting in on a few of Dr. Wiest’s classes on Vietnam during a trip to Hattiesburg, Miss. a few years ago. One of things I really enjoyed is that he brought in veterans of that conflict to tell their stories. On the PowerBlog I have often made contributions on the important relationship between the U.S. Armed Forces and the strong tie to liberty. Additionally, I have told the faith stories of courageous veterans like Robinson Risner and Donovan Campbell.

The story of America and its freedom is intertwined with our first defenders, the farmers, merchants, and even clergy who took up arms in defense of liberty on the road to Lexington and Concord. Indeed, continued study of military history is important in a free and virtuous society.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, September 24, 2009
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Not exactly unheralded—he did get obits in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—but deserving more attention is the passing of Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner and catalyst for the Green Revolution that transformed developing world agriculture.

As the headline to Gregg Easterbrook’s outstanding piece in the WSJ put it, he was “the man who defused the ‘population bomb.'” Yet, Easterbrook writes, “though streets and buildings are named for Norman Borlaug throughout the developing world, most Americans don’t even know his name.”

His death comes amidst renewed claims that our environment cannot sustain the world’s increasing population.

But the predictions of the present-day Thomas Malthuses and Paul Ehrlichs will always be wrong, because they lack the imagination to account for the future Norman Borlaugs.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
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David L. Bahnsen, a good friend of Acton, has begun a series of reviews of books on the financial crisis. No doubt, he’ll have many to review in the months ahead.

Here’s from Bahnsen’s latest, a review of Greenspan’s Bubbles by William Fleckinstein:

When someone in the position of authority and reputation as the chief central banker of the world decides to preach the new paradigm of eternal productivity, he encourages others to join particular sides of trades that may be wholly inappropriate. That influence is not welcome. Greenspan has done a lot to tarnish his legacy, but I believe the “age of bubbles” Greenspan reigned over should be known as the era in which the Federal Reserve chairman decided to take on the role of economic deity in our society. He was not good at it, because it was not his proper role. Our markets function better without central bankers playing the role of cheerleaders.

Bahnsen, a financial planner and investment manager, serves on the Blackstone Faculty of the Alliance Defense Fund, and is a Cooperating Board member of the Center for Cultural Leadership, where he is the Senior Fellow of Economics and Finance.

David describes himself as …

a disciple of Milton Friedman, a lover of Ronald Reagan, and a “National Review kind of conservative.” His writings strive to reflect an ideology of freedom principles integrated with transcendent truths. His hero is his late father, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, but he is pretty fond of John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, F.A. Hayek, Winston Churchill, C.S. Lewis, William Buckley, Margaret Thatcher, George Gilder, Steve Forbes, and Larry Kudlow as well. When he is not being so serious, he also admires Tiger Woods and Pete Carroll.

Also, take a look at his musings on “Marketplace & Calling.”

We welcome a new contributor to the Acton Commentary crew: Dr. Dwight R. Lee, the William J. O’Neil Endowed Chair in Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University. In this week’s commentary, Lee discusses how the social objectives of clergy and economists are remarkably similar, even though their “windows on the world” suggest different approaches to achieving the shared aim of building a better, more humane society. This week’s commentary is adapted from an article to be published in the Journal of Markets & Morality (Vol. 12, No. 2; Fall 2009). Excerpt:

My hope is that members of the clergy, in their desire to achieve a better world, will begin to see economists as allies instead of adversaries. This hope may be dismissed as preposterous by some since, as an economist, I argue that market incentives are the most effective way of achieving many of the social outcomes most of the clergy favor. But those most opposed to market incentives for achieving desirable objectives have the most to gain by taking a look through the economic window. Much of the skepticism, indeed hostility, towards markets is based on distorted and mistaken views of how markets operate and what they accomplish.

Religious differences notwithstanding, most people respect the clergy for their noble objectives and effort to achieve those objectives by encouraging and celebrating “the better angels of our nature” mentioned in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Most approve of the clergy’s concern with encouraging behavior such as sharing with, and serving the interests of, others; helping the poor; sacrificing for the good of the wider community; acting as good stewards of the earth’s resources; being concerned with protecting the environment; and generally living a life that promotes social cooperation and harmony.

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