In the current issue of The City, a journal published by Houston Baptist University and just arrived in my mailbox, I review a book on the oft-maligned relationship between journalism and religion. In Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, the case is compellingly made for a deeper and more authentic integration of religion into every aspect of the news media.

The CityThe City, and this issue in particular, comes highly recommended from the likes of Russell Moore of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, James Grant at Between Two Worlds, and the enigmatic and insightful millinerd. This issue has been promised to appear online, but in the meantime be sure to sign up for a complimentary hardcopy subscription.

In my review I speculate that within the context of challenges brought about by new media, “perhaps a newfound emphasis on responsible religion reporting is a recipe for the revival, maybe even the redemption, of professional journalism.” I briefly mention the efforts of some religious groups to take steps in this direction, including the World Journalism Institute, which offers short-term sessions, what director Bob Case has called a kind of “boot camp for aspiring journalists of faith.”

I neglected to mention, however, the work of the Washington Journalism Center, an initiative of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Where the World Journalism Institute focuses on short-term training seminars, the Washington Journalism Center offers the “Best Semester” program, a full semester of education for full-time students to “receive academic credit for the program from their home institutions.”

Blind Spot contributor Terry Mattingly is the founder and director of the center, which he says has been around “in one form or another for 15 years.” Mattingly also founded the essential religion and journalism blog, GetReligion, and points us to the student blog of the Washington Journalism Center, Ink Tank. Other blogs of note include The Revealer and When Religion Meets New Media.

The question of journalism in the age of new media was the focus of a past series of PowerBlog Ramblings. But one concrete place to look to see how things play out might just be the city of San Diego, which is home to “a Web venture that gives writers a cut of the ad money created by their own stories; another whose nonprofit founders raise cash from readers to buy laptops for their reporters; and a third, which, in spite of the $10 million it nets each year, faces a very uncertain future.”

One other issue that I don’t think gets enough attention is the question of archival integrity as digital media becomes more ubiquitous. The question, “Do any newspapers have explicit archiving strategies for Web content?” is a hugely important one.

If newspapers do not have such a strategy, then on whom does the responsibility for long-term archiving and accessibility fall? Libraries? Researchers? Non-profits? Archive.org?

In his commentary, Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, explains how labeling Pope Benedict XVI as the “greenest pope in history” is actually misleading.  Instead, Benedict’s attention to the environment is grounded in an orthodox Christian theological analysis.  Gregg articulates this assertion by citing Benedict’s most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate:

Also telling is Benedict’s insistence upon a holistic understanding of what we mean by the word ecology. “The book of nature”, Benedict insists, “is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations” (CV 51). In other writings, Benedict highlights the incongruity of people being outraged about wanton environmental destruction, while ignoring or even promoting the deep damage done by ethical relativism to society’s moral ecology.

Incidentally, the phrases “climate change” or “global warming” appear nowhere in Caritas in Veritate. Again, this is not surprising. Benedict has been careful not to prejudge the science of this complex subject. In his 2008 World Day of Peace message, Benedict observed that in thinking through environmental problems, “It is important for assessments to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions.”

Gregg reminds us that Benedict’s stance on environmental concerns is based upon a orthodox Christian theological reflection on man’s relationship with the natural world, and that the pope is careful to not romanticize nature.

With health care continuing to be a hot button issue, Hunter Baker brings to light a new argument in his commentary.  While Baker provides us with many prudential reasons to oppose the expansion of government health care, such as the currently proposed government plan not having any provision for preventing the trial lawyer windfalls that have helped contribute to medical inflation, he also articulates the fundamental problems that arise with the expansion of government health care:

If we move from being a republic where certain freedoms (not only freedom of speech and religion, but also freedom of contract and freedom to own private property) are basically non-negotiable, to a simple mass democracy in which shifting coalitions of voters extract resources from their opponents, then we have lost the American genius of ordered liberty. The American founders did not set out to achieve a more perfect democracy. They set out to create and maintain a free republic.

The key to running a free republic characterized by ordered liberty is the citizens, themselves. Unless the citizens embrace virtue, convicted by God that they must do what is right rather than merely indulging their wills and appetites, their hard fought liberty will be lost. The fate of a people who will not restrain themselves is rule by a government that will increasingly exercise control over them. The American idea was that our people should be citizens rather than subjects. American citizens, once far more country than city in origin, were to be free to provide for themselves rather than gathering in coalitions to ask for government largesse funded on the backs of the productive efforts of others.

Baker reminds us of the importance of the health care debate, and amongst all of the discussion that is occurring we must not forget the principles that our government is founded upon.

I just read today that the cars traded in for the Cash for Clunkers program are rendered unusable by running liquid glass through the engines.

Has anyone considered the impact of this on the poor? What has happened is that a huge number of low cost cars are being removed from the market. These are cars low income earners would ordinarily drive or teenagers would buy them who need to get to school or work.

What happens when we radically reduce the supply of a particular good? If there are no good substitutes, then the price goes up. In effect, this is a tax on the lower end of the market.

“Progressive” policy isn’t always good for the poor. Acton has been making that point for years. Hopefully, it is becoming more obvious.

Blog author: jwitt
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
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“We talk about what caused the financial crisis, whether ‘greed is good,’ and if ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ It’s John J. Miller describing his podcast interview with Jay Richards here at NRO. They discuss Jay’s excellent new book, Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem.

Blog author: ken.larson
Friday, July 31, 2009
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In a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Great Philanthropy Takeover” Arkansas based writer David Sanders reports on a recent conference of the nationwide Council of Foundations in his home state. Sanders’ article aligns with Michael Miller’s blog of July 30 “Healthcare – Don’t Forget The Morality Of It” and deserves your attention because of the author’s conclusion that the Obama administration “is beginning to nationalize another sector of the American economy.”

How could that happen? Well it would happen because many of those folks who head up non-profit groups that rely on OPM — other people’s money — have a tough time identifying and convincing donors to give them some. Obama is offering an alternative: Bundled packages of tax payer’s money for “shovel ready” community help projects. If you’re a struggling non-profit with an iffy mission, it’s the greatest grant available.

And Obama knows about grants because when he was a community organizer in Chicago he and his associates, including William Ayres, were able to get over $120 million including matching funds from the Annenberg Foundation to spread around to their constituents. Eventually the Annenberg people cut off their funds because no good could be attributed to the use of all the money they’d supplied, but you get the picture.

Notwithstanding the deceitfulness of that Ayres-Obama Chicago enterprise, we generally should be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.

At the NCEA convention earlier this year I introduced and listened to a former lobbyist give advice to a room full of Catholic educators on how to get a piece of the stimulus money Obama had just announced would be available for schools. Just like Larry Arnn at Hillsdale College in Michigan and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, I’m distrustful of the influence government has on curriculum and the mission of our schools and worry about the federal government’s intrusion into any enterprise. But at the NCEA event, the room was all ears to the application tricks being offered them.

That’s also what happened at the Foundation meeting in Arkansas, where as Sanders writes:

Carlos Monje, policy director of the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, briefed the conference on how President Obama, who came up through the ranks of community organizing, wants to “change the ethic of service” for the country. Key to the administration achieving its desired results? Rewarding model nonprofits with federal dollars—seed capital—from the new $50 million “Social Innovation Fund.”

That phrase “ethic of service” calls to mind many things that hang on the tenets of faith to which Christians pay mind. But as we are consistently reminded by the scholars at Acton Institute, our charity is best left to the individual.

As Acton’s core principles state: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights. The government’s role is not to usurp free actions, but to minimize those conflicts that may arise when the free actions of persons and social institutions result in competing interests.” You might ask in this context who would declare a non-profit a proper “model” for funding or determine appropriate “social innovation?” If you said Mr. Monje you’re probably right.

Making the case to individuals for your “good deed” request is not an easy task, but it’s the only way we should be promoting the kind of Charity explicit in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

As I tell my friends in education, “Watch out for the serpent in your tent. Watch out for that Trojan Horse.”

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, reflects on business ethics in his recent commentary.  Gregg explores the presence of business ethics courses in business schools; however, with the large presence of business ethics courses we still have a lack of ethics present in business.  The lack of ethics in business became a major factor in our current financial crisis.  Gregg further explains that business is not just about management or the business ethics that are taught, but businessmen and women need to also learn stewardship:

Business, however, is about more than management. It also involves stewardship (inasmuch as managers have moral and fiduciary responsibilities to their clients and investors) and entrepreneurship – the actual creation of wealth. Many business leaders would be shocked to discover that studying entrepreneurship remains optional in many business schools today.

This underlines another problem for some business schools. It’s not clear that all business professors are convinced of the morality of economies based on free enterprise, limited government, and rule of law. This ambivalence cannot help but be communicated to their students, which they take with them into the marketplace. It is very difficult for business schools to teach the moral habits associated with successful business when many business professors regard private enterprise and markets as, at best, useful but morally-insignificant phenomena.

Gregg also makes references it Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to demonstrate the need for morality in business:

Hence, though Benedict speaks approvingly of the rise in ethics-consciousness in the worlds of finance and business, he cautions that simply attaching the label “ethical” to a given enterprise tells us nothing about the actual morality of its practices. What ultimately matters, the Pope affirms, is the precise vision of morality – and therefore the understanding of the human person – informing not simply a particular business, but the entire economy (CV 45).

In his commentary, Matt Cavedon, communications associate at the Acton Institute, addressed new taxes that are being proposed to combat the high obesity rates in the United States and to provide financial support for health care reform.  The new taxes proposed to help fund health care reform will begin to tax what Congress deems junk food or unhealthy food.  Cavedon exposes the hypocrisy fostered by taxes on such junk or unhealthy food:

In “The Sin Tax: Economic and Moral Considerations,” the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, has argued against the idea of taxing sins to pay for public services. If the government relies on taxes on unhealthy foods to pay for health care programs, how can it both fight obesity and maintain steady revenue? Sirico says it cannot: “Under a sin tax, the state finds itself professing to discourage certain behaviors while relying on their continuance as a source of revenue.” The government may say unhealthy eating is bad, but it would rely on it for tax money.

The problem of hypocrisy leaves aside the question of whether government is qualified to be the moral police officer of our pantries in the first place. Sirico points out that “the government’s sense of morality, especially when it is influenced by excessive power, is often at war with traditional standards and common sense.” With food taxes, eating apple pie would become more of a punishable sin in the eyes of the government than cheating on a spouse.

Cavedon further explains the hypocrisy of taxes on junk and unhealthy food while also articulating the moral disorientation of such taxes.  “Obesity is a problem” Cavedon states, “but higher taxes are not the answer.”

Now that the saga of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Officer James Crowley has moved to the back-burner, let’s look at three less obvious lessons from Skip and Jimmy’s not-so-excellent adventure.

Understand that government is the use of legitimate force. Not necessarily “legitimate” in terms of morals and ethics, but legitimate in terms of what is legal. Police officers have moral and legal authority to use force in order “to serve and to protect”. At times, they may exceed or fail to exercise their authority. But the nature of their job implies a readiness to apply force.

It follows that one should be on their best behavior around the police. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that yelling at police officers will increase the probability that one will be arrested. In this case, even if Professor Gates was treated improperly, he clearly had it within his power to avoid being arrested.

At its root, government policy is about the use of force—whether to regulate behavior, to redistribute income, or to restrict mutually beneficial trade. We can miss this point by focusing on a democratic process where we seem to exercise tremendous choice over those who govern us. Or we can underestimate this point by assuming that government is typically benign.

President Obama’s word choice tells us something about his worldview. His now-famous decision to speak to the specifics of the Gates case was an over-reach of startling proportions.

It was surprising in that Obama “spoke stupidly” when he is usually so careful—often painfully so—with his words. (As a corollary, perhaps it should worry us that he values “diplomacy” so much, but is willing to speak out-of-pocket on awkward and sensitive issues.)

It was odd in that he is the Commander in Chief and chooses the Attorney General to be the chief law enforcement officer in the United States. A president’s default position should be to support the police.

It was sad in that our “post-racial” President botched a key moment for race relations. Instead of sticking to eloquent but general remarks about the underlying issues, Obama extended his comments to inappropriate specifics that created a firestorm and deepened unfortunate stereotypes.

Finally, it seems revealing in terms of what he thinks about his powers of intellect and assessment. This connects to the current debate on health care. In both cases, the President believes that a federal solution is the best way to handle problems. Instead of deferring to the locals who knew far more about the Gates situation, Obama presumed to be able to speak with expertise. In health care, he imagines that a single, grand, federal experiment in a remarkably complex and important arena is preferable to 50 state-wide experiments.

Everyone discriminates.

Labor economists distinguish between “personal discrimination” and “statistical discrimination”. Interestingly, both stem from a form of ignorance. The former is a subjective preference rooted in a socially unacceptable form of ignorance. A person doesn’t like a group of people out of bigotry.

The latter is more interesting because it is based in the reality that all of us make important decisions with imperfect and costly-to-obtain information. Out of varying degrees of ignorance, we make choices with the best information available to us at reasonable cost. Often, our best information about individuals involves their affiliation with groups. So, we stereotype from what we know about a group to members of that group. By definition, all of us discriminate in this manner.

Consider a pool of job applicants. The firm has relatively little information about candidates. So, they generalize from what they do know: where the applicants went to school, their GPA and field of study, the quality of reference letters, job experience, and so on. None of those are definitive; they are only somewhat predictive. For example, will someone with a 3.8 GPA be a more productive worker than someone with a 2.8 GPA? Usually, but not always.

Think about the term “prejudice”. Taken literally, it means to “pre-judge”, implying that someone is making a decision with too little information. At times, such decisions are necessary—and hopefully, people do the best they can with the info they have. At other times, it implies an unnecessary rush to judgment.

In this particular moment of crisis, both parties—Gates dealing with the police and the police dealing with him—were making important decisions with (very) limited information. By definition, Gates and the police were engaged in stereotyping. Of course, it is ironic that Gates did this while self-righteously accusing the police of doing the same. And it is absolutely fascinating that, by their training, both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley are “experts” on racial profiling.

Sadly, in judging the events from the outside, many people have been unnecessarily quick in a rush to prejudicial judgments in favor of Professor Gates or the police. The irony here is greatest among those, including President Obama, who have pre-judged by accusing Officer Crowley of discrimination.

One of my colleagues reduced the Gates situation to the following: Would a 58-year old man, with the same attire, etc.—but white—have been treated the same way? The question is only somewhat helpful. Interestingly, it sets up potential accusations of age-ism, sexism, and “clothes-ism” (or class-ism). Should it have mattered to Officer Crowley if Gates was 18, 38, or 88 years old? Would a similar woman have been arrested in this case? What if Gates had been dressed in a ripped t-shirt or a tuxedo?

At the end of the day, the police and our President must make vital decisions with information that is far less than ideal. Hopefully, they do the best they can with what they have—in humility and patience—drawing the best, reasonable inferences from a competent worldview, formidable character, and the best available data.

One of the main arguments for nationalized health care is a moral argument: Health care is a right and a moral and just society should ensure that its people are taken care of–and the state has the responsibility to do this. Bracketing for the time being whether health care is actually a right or not–it is clearly a good, but all goods are not necessarily rights–whether the state should be the provider of it is another question.

But there is another question as well: It is often assumed that those arguing for national health care and socialized medicine have the moral high ground and those of us who oppose it are always arguing on economic terms. I would argue that this is a ground too easily given and not deserved. While the economics are pretty clear (see Hunter Baker’s post), the moral arguments against nationalized health care are sometimes overlooked. Here are a couple of reasons why nationalized health care is in fact not a morally pure as proponents would like us to believe.

1. Handing something off to the state so citizens don’t have to take responsibility for themselves and others doesn’t doesn’t really contribute to the moral fabric of a society.
We love to talk about solidarity and the common good but too often solidarity gets turned into “let the state take care of it.” A broader and I would argue morally rich concept of the solidarity and the common good would look to human flourishing and a rich civil society and turn to the state only as the last resort.

It hurts the common good to have the state take over responsibilities that we should bear ourselves or for our fellow citizens. A large nanny state contributes to the “individualism” that Tocqueville warned about: a turning into self that isolates us from everyone but our nearest circle. If the state does everything for us then we don’t need to care about our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens. This means the breakdown of guess what–solidarity. Solidarity is the driving principle behind subsidiarity, voluntary organizations, and charity. Love of neighbor should prompt us to help each other not pass it it off to the state.

From a moral point of view, having the state take over health care breaks down solidarity and harms the common good.

2. At least equally important–how moral is a health care system based on utilitarian cost benefit calculus and consequentialism? Not very, but that’s how nationalized healthcare operates.

Think about what this means for a minute. Health care decisions are made based on cost benefit and utility which itself puts us on dangerous moral ground. This danger becomes clear when when we realize the consequences. A utilitarian, data driven or what ever you want to call it system ends up by putting pressure on the weak and especially targets the disabled and the elderly. Why? Because if decisions are make based on utility then why would we want to spend health dollars on the disabled and the elderly when their “usefulness” is minimal. Keeping the elderly and the disabled alive costs money. For Christians or other who accept the inherent dignity of life the value of this is obvious, but for secular utilitarians and a utilitarian health care system this is a waste of money–which means that after a time within a national health care system, pressure will mount to euthanize the elderly and infirm. If this sound ridiculous and conspiratorial to you I suggest that you look at Europe and what is beginning to happen there. After years of population decline Europe is a demographic disaster and guess what? Euthanasia has been legalized in three countries (Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg), is widely practiced in a fourth (Switzerland) and many pro-euthanasia advocates are starting to introduce cost-effectiveness arguments into their position.

The facts are that a state run health system, while sounding very moral, actually undermines the common good and ends up putting pressure on the unborn, the elderly, and the disabled.

Proponents of nationalized health care attempt to make emotional arguments because economic and medical data supporting their position doesn’t exist. Let us not grant them the moral high ground on this debate. Nationalized health care is scientifically, spiritually, and morally bankrupt—oh yes as Europe is demonstrating, financially bankrupt as well.