The Rome Reports news service has put together some video and text based on Acton’s Dec. 2 conference in Rome, Italy, “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge” Acton has also created a special web page where you can download the speeches and presentations from the event. Report follows:

December 12, 2010. With people living longer than ever before, this has created certain challenges for society, the Church, and medicine in general. Many questions of ethics have also arisen in this area, that brought academics, clergy-members, and leaders from the around the world to meet at the forum: “Ethics, Aging, and the Coming Healthcare Challenge.”

Their aim was to address the ethical and economic issues concerning healthcare for the elderly.

Prof. Philip Booth, Institute for Economic Affairs (UK):
“We have a population that´s aging with, relatively speaking, a fewer number of young people and a larger number of older people. With health care costs rising and this could well be an enormous, well it will be an enormous burden on young people and young tax payers unless we revise our system of health care funding.”

The Acton Institute works to find a common ground between the interests of business and the interests of the individual. This seminar mainly focused on the topics of pharmaceutical research, healthcare infrastructure, and welfare reform.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President Acton Institute:
“Today we have an expansive conference dealing with health care especially as it relates to the aging population, so we´re having discussions about demography, the decline of birth rate, and the increase in longevity and all the economic and moral concerns that are emerging from this.”

The challenge is how to guarantee a peaceful and secure retirement to all people, something the conference spoke about in length.

Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary, Pontifical Council for the Family:

“Today’s conference was to sensitize the public, politicians, and the people here on a situation that necessitates urgent measures. The demographic crisis is something that is very important and together is a human, moral and even spiritual problem.”

The attendees of the conference hope to promote discussion between political and business leaders regarding the ethics of providing effective healthcare. In an effort to fuse together good economics and smart policies toward healthcare.

My favorite pair of glasses has a scratched lens (despite the much vaunted “no-scratch” coating). So, I went to Lenscrafters to get the lens replaced. They asked me when I got the prescription. It turns out it was a little over a year ago. ”I’m sorry,” the woman at Lenscrafters tells me, “but we cannot replace the lens because your prescription has expired.”

Let’s review the situation. I have a scratched lens in a pair of glasses which are working very well for me. I can see perfectly clearly with the current prescription which is now just a little over a year old. State law prohibits Lenscrafters from replacing the lens. It is apparently ILLEGAL to replace a lens with a prescription older than 12 months.

Now, who benefits from a law of this type? Is it the consumer? No. Is it Lenscrafters? Not necessarily. They lost the opportunity to charge me for a replacement lens, though they may do better from me having to buy new glasses. But the biggest beneficiary is optometrists. Thanks to the law causing prescriptions to LEGALLY expire, I MUST go to an optometrist to solve my problem. Through legal (and therefore coercive) means, the optometrists have made themselves necessary gatekeepers to me resolving my personal vision issues even though I already have a prescription that works well.

Law is supposed to be made for the common good. But what we miss is that the government is an excellent instrument for profit seeking through regulation. If you make the government too big and too important, a variety of interests will go to the government to find a way to make their money instead of making it through customer service, innovation, etc..

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
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Rev. Daniel Meeter, pastor in the Reformed Church of America (RCA), writing in the Reformed journal Perspectives, “Observations on the World Communion of Reformed Churches”:

My participation at Johannesburg is the reason I was an observer at the General Council, and why I was assigned to the General Council’s committee on Accra (though there were many other committees and a host of workshops that interested me, from worship to theology to inter-faith dialogue). Our committee was huge: sixty people or so. We eventually divided into table groups, and I was a pinchhit table leader. My table included Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indonesians. Our tables were charged to come up with a variety of responses to Accra, such as actions and outcomes or further work on its content and theology. Our responses were recorded and two delegates were appointed to consolidate them into a report to the plenary. I had to leave before the report was made, so I look forward to reading the minutes of when they come out.

One of the table groups reported that a key outcome was that the main concern of the WCRC in general should be “social justice.” The reporter was from a church that had belonged to WARC. This worries me. It suggests to me that this WARC delegate was not talking to REC delegates. It also worries me because I suspect the view that the main concern of the WCRC should be “social justice” is more widely held. Here is my second observation: this is going to be a problem for the WCRC. I hope the executive committee can direct a more holistic kind of ecumenism for the WCRC. (Would there was a Hungarian on the committee.)

I don’t mean to be flippant, but “social justice” is the main concern of civil government, not the church. This is an example of the politicization of Christian witness on both left and right which James Davison Hunter analyzes in his new book, To Change The World (Oxford, 2010). It is certainly true that on such issues the church is responsible to be prophetic in speech and active in demonstrating a just and wholesome life in real and even institutional ways, but to consider this the main concern of a church body is to miss the main concern of a church body. Unfortunately, this is not rare among the churches of the WCRC, the most Protestant and secularized of the world ecumenical groups, and with the weakest common ecclesiology.

I want to be clear that I think it’s right for the WCRC to be focused on the Accra issues (while the Anglican Communion is preoccupied with the sexuality of its bishops). I believe that justice in the economy and the earth is the great issue of our time, and critical to the church’s credibility. But it seems to me that the Reformed tradition can do better than “social justice”–to the actual benefit of social justice. It seems to me that the main concern of the WCRC is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or in classic terms, the Sovereignty of God, or in gospel terms, the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God. As the Belhar says, “Jesus is Lord,” and this makes all the difference for justice in the world and in the human race. Making some version of the Kingdom of God the main concern of the WCRC will also provide a place for such other concerns as worship, doctrine, ecumenical dialogue, and inter-faith dialogue. Otherwise, the WCRC will have no right to consider itself a “communion” instead of just a big religious NGO.

As they said, read the whole thing. And for an engagement of the Accra Confession and the WCRC within the broader ecumenical context, see my book released earlier this year, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

I assert the existence of the “ecumenical-industrial complex” in my book Ecumenical Babel.

On that point, this bears watching: “Ecumenical news agency suspended, editors removed.”

From the piece:

Earlier this year the WCC, which has been ENI’s main funder and in whose headquarters the agency was based, said it was reducing its financial support for 2011 by over 50 percent.

The WCC is an umbrella body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches around the globe. An acting spokesman for the organisation told Reuters on Monday that the funding decision was “part of a broad redeployment of WCC resources” and had been a “key element in decisions related to the re-shaping of ENI.”

The cash cut came in the wake of complaints by the WCC’s former Kenyan general secretary Samuel Kobia of “inaccuracy” and “sensationalism” in coverage of the body by ENI — which had run reports from an authoritative German religious news service that he had falsely claimed an academic degree.

That doesn’t make for a very merry Christmas for all the ENI staff affected by the cuts.

The full official ENI story related to the “restructuring” after the break. (more…)

Over at Mere Comments, and following up on this week’s Acton Commentary, “Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church,” I discuss some reasons why Christian giving doesn’t end there.

It’s vitally important, I think, to distinguish between the church as institution and the church as organism.

In this week’s “Two Minute Warning,” Chuck Colson shows that “work is something we are all called to do, using our gifts to God’s glory.”



Work: The Meaning of Your LifeAs a special offer this week, the Colson Center is giving away complimentary copies of Lester DeKoster’s little classic on this subject, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective from Christian’s Library Press. Be sure to sign up at the Colson Center website for your free copy, and order a copy or two for important people in your life who could use some perspective on the importance of their work to God.

Where we serve others through our work we are serving God. That is the central insight of DeKoster’s book. He writes that “a right view of work becomes the key to a satisfying life, as it now looks to me. And whenever, and wherever, I see people working—at any kind of work, such as head or hand, blue-collar or white-collar, trade or profession—I want to shout out the good news: This gives meaning to your life! Right here! Right now!”

See also, “Work and the Two Great Love Commandments.”

With the country insolvent, and streets filled with violent protests, the Church of Greece is now pointing fingers at the country’s political leadership and international “creditors” (who have just ponied up another 2.5 billion euros for the bailout). Yet Greece, the Holy Synod says, is “under occupation” by lenders, who have moved in because the politicians “undermined the real interests of the country and its people.”

Here’s a report from the Athens Now site, which attributed the statement to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. (more…)

Here’s a final and brief follow-up to the discussion about the loss of faith in institutions over recent decades. We might observe that the increase in charitable giving to religious organizations amidst declines in charitable giving overall might show that at least there is not a corresponding loss of faith by religious people in charitable institutions. This is the implication, in fact, at least for institutions other than local churches.

Overall, though, it does seem clear that “big charity” is suffering from loss of faith as much as big government, big business, and big religion (here’s some 2008 data from Brookings).

So during the recession both overall faith in and giving to charitable institutions has declined. But this isn’t the case either for religious charities or for religious givers.

People of faith continue to be faithful in giving to those institutions that they judge to be faithful in their own callings. And within that context, if you have found the Acton Institute to have been a good steward of its mandate over the last year (and the last 20 years as come to the conclusion of our anniversary year), please consider making a contribution in support of the mission of the Acton Institute to promote a society characterized by both freedom and virtue.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, December 16, 2010
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In “Human Nature and Capitalism” on AEI’s The American, Arthur C. Brooks and Peter Wehner look at three different “pictures” of what it means to be human and point to the one, foundational understanding that has undergirded the flourishing American culture of democratic capitalism:

“If men were angels,” wrote James Madison, the father of the Constitution, in Federalist Paper No. 51, “no government would be necessary.” But Madison and the other founders knew men were not angels and would never become angels. They believed instead that human nature was mixed, a combination of virtue and vice, nobility and corruption. People were swayed by both reason and passion, capable of self-government but not to be trusted with absolute power. The founders’ assumption was that within every human heart, let alone among different individuals, are competing and sometimes contradictory moral impulses and currents.

This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.

And they draw a parallel to institutions of government where democracy, with all of its flaws, also works itself out to be the most fitting form of government under this model of human nature. When I engage with critics of the market economy, I use the following Churchill quote but substitute “market economy” for “democracy.” Valid, I think, because we have some disastrous experience with political systems that do not operate in concert with a more or less open market.

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. — Winston Churchill (House of Commons, Nov. 11, 1947)

Brooks and Wehner:

… our “picture of human nature” determines, in large measure, the institutions we design. For example, the architects of our government carefully studied history and every conceivable political arrangement that had been devised up to their time. In the course of their analysis, they made fundamental judgments about human nature and designed a constitutional form of government with it in mind.

What is true for creating political institutions is also true for economic ones. They, too, proceed from understanding human behavior.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this matter. The model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one embraces (free-market capitalism versus socialism) to the political system one supports (democracy versus the “dictatorship of the proletariat”). Like a ship about to begin a long voyage, a navigational mistake at the outset can lead a crew to go badly astray, shipwreck, and run aground. To use another metaphor, this time from the world of medicine: A physician cannot treat an illness before diagnosing it correctly; diagnosing incorrectly can make things far worse than they might otherwise be.

Those who champion capitalism embrace a truth we see played out in almost every life on almost any given day: If you link reward to effort, you will get more effort. If you create incentives for a particular kind of behavior, you will see more of that behavior.

A free market can also better our moral condition—not dramatically and not always, but often enough. It places a premium on thrift, savings, and investment. And capitalism, when functioning properly, penalizes certain kinds of behavior—bribery, corruption, and lawlessness among them—because citizens in a free-market society have a huge stake in discouraging such behavior, which is a poison-tipped dagger aimed straight at the heart of prosperity.

Read the full article on The American.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 16, 2010
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In this week’s commentary I say that part of the reason less money is being given to local churches is that it is reflective of a broader trend of distrust towards institutions.

Commentary magazine’s blog contentions has some more recent data confirming this overall shift. The post summarizes the December issue of AEI’s “Political Report” (PDF), which focuses especially on trust in the government. It finds that “contemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep” and that, for instance, “Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991.”

But more broadly and inline with what I point to in this week’s commentary, we find that this lack of confidence in the government is not exception to the general loss of institutional faith. Indeed,

The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.

No doubt this applies to “big religion” as well. My friend John H. Armstrong has examined whether and why “young doubters” are leaving the church in seemingly greater numbers. And we can see how all this has negative implications for denominations and super-denominational structures (like the mainline ecumenical groups). As I argue in Ecumenical Babel, this means that many of these institutions might well be ripe for reform, in part because that is their only avenue for survival.