Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 14, 2007

To hear the NYT tell it (and Sojourners, for that matter), the family farm is facing severe threats. With no small degree of dramatic flourish, the NYT editorial linked above concludes:

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.

If federal subsidies for corporate agribusiness is a threat to the family farm, then so is extensive FDA regulation of homegrown products and the morass of complex zoning regulations, telling people what they can sell, when they can sell, it and where they can sell it.

As my colleague Kevin Schmiesing wonders within a similar context, is the problem that the government just doesn’t quite have the right approach nailed down yet, or that the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market (in various ways) inevitably will screw things up (because, perhaps, special interests, whether corporate or individual, will always have an undue influence in the formation of policy)?

Many students who identify as Evangelical Christians and attend a state or public university are reporting severe bias against their beliefs in the classroom. “Tenured Bigots,” is the title of Mark Bergin’s article in World Magazine which highlights statistical proof of enormous prejudice by faculty members against evangelicals.

Surprised? Of course not! The findings about attitudes toward Evangelicals actually turned up in a study designed to gauge anti-Semitism. The analysis was conducted by Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. In the survey of 1,262 faculty members across 712 public colleges and universities, Evangelical Christians scored the highest unfavorable rating from faculty with a 53 percent, while Mormons placed second with 33 percent. Jews scored the lowest unfavorable score with 3 percent. Bergin also noted in his article:

Tobin was shocked. And his amazement only escalated upon hearing reaction to his results from the academy’s top brass. Rather than deny the accuracy of Tobin’s findings or question his methodology, academy leaders attempted to rationalize their biases. “The prejudice is so deep that faculty do not have any problem justifying it. They tried to dismiss it and said they had a good reason for it,” Tobin told WORLD.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told The Washington Post that the poll merely reflects “a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias.” In other words, the college faculty members dislike evangelicals not for their faith but the practical outworking of that faith, which makes it OK.

In another landmark case at Missouri State University, junior Emily Brooker objected to an assignment in which students were asked to write their state legislators and urge support for adoptions by same-sex couples. The evangelical social-work major was promptly hauled before a faculty panel and charged with maintaining an insufficient commitment to diversity.

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told WORLD his organization can hardly keep up with intellectual intolerance and free-speech infringements against evangelical and conservative groups. “College campuses overall are not living up to the ideal of having a marketplace of ideas, of having true intellectual diversity to go along with racial and religious diversity,” he said.

The University of Mississippi, a public university, where I received my undergraduate degree may not entirely fit into the paradigm of this analysis. Of course I had the leftist professors who praised the Sandinistas, and extolled the virtues of Alger Hiss and Ho Chi Minh. Another professor had a banner in his office which read, “workers of the world unite!”

But I also had a criminal justice professor at Ole Miss who, in a class on terrorism, preached the doctrines of Christianity, cited Scripture, and railed against the horror of abortion and religious pluralism, almost on a daily basis. Still another professor discussed the importance of the American Civil Rights Movement in the context of a powerful Christian revival, which of course it was. And another professor spoke in a glowing manner about the intense Reformed Christian faith of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

There may be hope for some students who would like to attend a state university or college and get a solid education. Looking back at college for me, in many instances it was the hedonistic students, with their sexual trysts and binge drinking, who carried a more pronounced anti-Christian message on campus. In their own way, these students had a more destructive influence on campus than any “Tenured Bigot” on the faculty.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 13, 2007

As one might infer from Lord Acton’s maxim, the question has been raised: Did proximity to political power corrupt Billy Graham’s chaplaincy to the presidency?

GetReligion’s Douglas LeBlanc surveys the recent attention paid by the mainstream media to this part of Graham’s pastoral mission, and concludes in concord with Randall Balmer, “The gospel is better served when religious leaders keep a healthy distance from political power. The challenge for future presidents will be to find spiritual guidance and solace from someone else — preferably from ministers who have no national profile, and do not seek one.”

It should be noted, however, that Graham’s service to various presidents is only a portion of his work, and one which is no doubt given disproportional public attention because of the sensitivity of the relationship between Christianity and politics in contemporary America.

Sicko poster
This image haunts my darkest nightmares.

Time sure does fly. It’s been almost two years since I called Canada’s government-run health care system “The Sick Man of the Great White North” and wrote:

Canada’s system may be the gold standard for government-run health care, but only if you’re looking for a system that can’t provide essential medical services in a timely manner.

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the interceding time between that post and now. In fact, things are very much the same: Canadians still have a system that has an undeserved good reputation, and those on the left in America still hope to implement a Canadian-style system here in the United States. It was to that end that Michael Moore released his latest “documentary,” Sicko, which essentially serves as public relations for the pro-socialized health care camp.

The idea of “free,” government-provided health care is easy to like, because who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care? Unfortunately, it also seems that many people find that the major problems with socialized health care are easy to dismiss, because, well… who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care?

So it’s important for those of us who see this idea for what it is – a very bad one – continue to remind Americans that while socialized health care is no doubt well intentioned, good intentions are not enough:

Sickoholds the Canadian system out as a model for proponents of universal coverage where health care costs are lower and everyone has free care at the point of service. “While many proclaim Canada’s Medicare program to be one of the best in the world, or suggest it should be the model for reform in the United States,” says one of the Fraser Institute’s study authors, “the reality is that health spending in Canada outpaces that in most other developed nations that, like Canada, guarantee access to care regardless of ability to pay, and yet access to health care in this country lags that available in most of these other nations.”

Because health care is largely free in Canada, demand is likely to exceed supply. It’s just human nature. Thus, waiting lists become the principal way of rationing medical care and holding down spending. And after 16 years of tracking growing waiting lists, the Fraser Institute observes that the problem is probably not a temporary one that can be fixed with a little more money or time. They note that provinces with higher spending per capita do not experience shorter wait times.

Just as we saw in the old Soviet system with its long lines for food and basic services, government central planning does not efficiently match supply with demand. And human beings will always seek more of something that is free. As one free market advocate states, “Long waits and widespread denial of needed care are a permanent and necessary part of government-run systems.”

That link comes via Hugh Hewitt.

Incidentally, how do you think Sicko is doing? Perhaps I’m just out of the movie loop at the moment, but it seems to me to have been as close as Moore has come to an outright flop, at least in terms of media chatter generated for his pet issue.

More: Jordan Ballor passes along a link to the Scriptorium, which provides a solid analysis of what a proper Biblical position on universal health care would be:

Jesus was angered at moral teaching that emphasized outward conformity to rules without moral action flowing from a heart of compassion and virtue, even if such conformity produced good results. Now the state cannot show compassion in the arena of economic justice, because a necessary condition for compassion is that it is freely given and not coerced. The state forces people to conform to rules. It takes their money and gives it to others. But this is not the sort of compassion of which Jesus taught.

Well worth a read in full.

No doubt feeding the fears of those who believe that global corporations pose the greatest threat to the future flourishing of humanity, such multi-nationals are beginning to hire their own economists, much like governments have their own financial and economic experts.

See, for instance, this interview on the WSJ Economics Blog with UC-Berkeley economist Hal Varian, who has taken a position as chief economist with Google, Inc.

Where will Varian be focusing his attention? In his words, “I think marketing is the new finance.”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, August 10, 2007
People light candles below a wooden cross at a site south of Moscow where at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges 70 years ago firing squads executed thousands of people perceived as enemies of communism. (AP)

“Martyrdom means a great deal to Orthodox people,” writes historian James Billington in “The Orthodox Frontier of Faith,” an essay collected in “Orthodoxy and Western Culture,” a volume of essays published in honor of Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005).

The 20th Century’s first genocide, the Armenian genocide, began with terror and massacres in the late 19th century and culminated in the great destruction of Christian minorities at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915-1918. Some 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished, according to Armenian sources. With the Russian Revolution and the rise of totalitarian communism, the martrydom of Christians took on unprecedented proportions in the gulags, killing fields and the famines that resulted from forced collectivization of farming.

Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a historian who has written several books on Russian culture, cites figures showing that “something like 70 percent of all Christian martyrs were created in the twentieth century, and the largest number of those were in Russia. Religious persecution was quite ecumenical; all religions suffered. However, since Orthodoxy was the main religion of the USSR, it suffered specially. The same Russian expanses that saw amazing frontier missionary activity in the early modern period suffered enormous devastation in the twentieth century when millions of people disappeared in the frozen wastes of the North and the East. The concentration camps were spread across almost exactly the same places – often using the monasteries for prisons.”

The world will never know all of the names of the millions of New Martyrs, as they are known to the Church, who perished under Communism, an oppression that lasted for most of the 20th Century. But their martyria, their witness, will be forever known to God.

In Russia this week, according to AP, “Russian Orthodox priests consecrated a wooden cross Wednesday at a site south of Moscow where firing squads executed thousands of people 70 years ago at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges. Created at a monastery that housed one of the first Soviet labor camps and brought by barge to Moscow along a canal built on the bones of gulag inmates, the 40-foot cross has been embraced as memorial to the mass suffering under Stalin.”

Noticeably absent, the article said, were representatives of President Vladimir Putin’s government. “This is in keeping with efforts by … Putin, a former KGB officer, to restore Russians’ pride in their Soviet-era history by softening the public perception of Stalin’s rule,” wrote reporter Bagila Bukharbayeva. Nostalgia for the Soviet era? Read remarks on the subject by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his recent Der Spiegel interview.

The site consecrated to the Russian martyrs this week marked the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were labeled “enemies of the state” and executed without trial or sent to labor camps. The Butovo range was used for executions in the 1930s and until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 20,000 people, including priests and artists, were killed there in 1937-38 alone. “We have been ordered to be proud of our past,” said Yan Rachinsky from Memorial, a non-governmental group dedicated to investigating Stalin’s repression. “I know no other example in history when 700,000 people were killed within 1 1/2 years only for political reasons.”

Follow the link below to read the entire report on the memorial to victims of Stalin’s Purge. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 10, 2007

Here are some book reviews of note from recent weeks that you may find to be of interest:

Readings in Social Ethics: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830), part 3 of 3. References below are to page numbers.

Concluding Consectaries:

  • These consectaries are aimed at Baxter’s audience, wealthy Christian merchants. Baxter examines in some particular detail suggestions for the right use of their charitable funds and efforts: “Might not somewhat more be done than yet is, to further the gospel in your factories, and in our plantations?” (329)

  • Concerning Christians abroad who are too poor to have materials printed in their own countries and languages: “Could nothing be done to get some Bibles, catechisms, and practical books printed in their own tongues, and given among them? I know there is difficulty in the way; but money, and willingness, and diligence, might do something” (330).
  • Baxter addresses the institution of slavery and condemns it as Christians practice it, contravening the greater moral duty to aim towards the conversion of their slaves. The law mandate the release of slaves upon their conversion: “Is it not an odious crime of Christians to hinder the conversion of these infidels, lest they lose their service by it, and to prefer their gain before men’s souls? Is not this to sell souls for a little money, as Judas did his Lord?” (330).
  • Baxter denounces such practice in no uncertain terms: “Why should these men be called Christians, or have any christian reputation, or privileges themselves, who think both Christianity and souls to be no more worth than to be thus basely sold for the gain of men’s servilest labours? And what, though the poor infidels desire not their own conversion, their need is the greater, and not the less” (331).

Next week: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”

Remember – there’s really no dispute over the evidence that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is underway. All the models predict it; the science is solid; the consensus is broad and unshakable.

Oh, and pay no attention that significant downward revisions have had to be made in recent US temperature data:

Climate scientist Michael Mann (famous for the hockey stick chart) once made the statement that the 1990′s were the warmest decade in a millennia and that “there is a 95 to 99% certainty that 1998 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years.” (By the way, Mann now denies he ever made this claim, though you can watch him say these exact words in the CBC documentary Global Warming: Doomsday Called Off).

Well, it turns out that according to the NASA GISS database that 1998 was not even the hottest year of the last century. Many temperatures from recent decades that appeared to show substantial warming have been revised downwards.

A good deal of interesting information in that post – read the whole thing. Via Q and O.

Lately, I’ve heard one too many emo kids misread T.S. Eliot as being one of their own. In Russell Kirk’s words, it is easy for the “rootless and aimless” of the new generation to over-identify with Eliot, seeing him as a spokesman “for the futility and fatuity of the modern era, all whimper and no bang — a kind of Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism.” And whining, pining, Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism is the cultural trend of the day, whether you look at the musically and lyrically directionless music that tops current charts, the shapelessness and androgyny seeping into high fashion, or the melodramatic and attention-seeking ways teenagers and college students spend their social time (not the least of which takes place on the Internet, through personal blogs, Facebook, and chatting).

Vindicating Eliot won’t restore the Waste Land to health or happiness, but it’s important to wrest him from the claws of both actual and perpetual adolescents who would make him a posterboy for their own disillusionment. As Kirk says, Eliot wanted to expose the soulish devastation modern life creates, but also to “show the way back to permanent things.” Speaking of The Waste Land, Eliot himself wrote, “I may have expressed for [approving critics] their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention.” Careful readers of Eliot will realize that he railed against exactly the kinds of things that misguided existentialist or socialist types promote, such as in this passage from Murder in the Cathedral:

Those who put their faith in worldly order
Not controlled by the order of God,
In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder
Make it fast, breed fatal disease,
Degrade what they exalt.