It’s been a while since we’ve had a GWCW update, so here are links to a couple of articles I just ran across at Watts Up With That:

That second post is especially interesting considering the breathless media reports about endangered polar bears in danger of drowning as the ice melts from under their feet last year. Once again, reality is just a teensy bit different from what’s reported on this issue.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A new Acton Notes is now available online. Acton Notes is a monthly newsletter published by the Acton Institute. This month’s issue features an article by Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, about Socialism. Rev. Sirico points out a couple of ways in which to confront those who mistakenly hold to the fashionable ideology.

If a person identifies with the idea of common ownership of the means of production, point out that this is impossible because you hold no rights over anything. “Ownership implies the right to control and sell the good, which cannot be done if everyone is said to own something,” writes Rev. Sirico. Common ownership, he points out, is actually State ownership. Another point with which to confront a Socialist is the absence of money. Point out the significant failures that the Soviet Union experienced when attempting to implement this policy. Close with words from Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Spe Salvi. Read the President’s Message to find out more.

Other contents of the February issue include:

  • First Brazilian TFAVS Receives High Marks from Participants
  • From Acton Conference to University Doctorate
  • What Would Jesus Buy? Rev. Sirico on Fox Business News
  • Glenn Sunshine to Discuss Wealth, Work, and the Church

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

From a review in the New Yorker magazine (HT) of David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215, in which the author

clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.” It was “one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire.” This is a bold hypothesis.

To say the least. It is of course true that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Muslims had been in possession of a number of Aristotle’s works in Arabic that were not readily available in the Latin West. It isn’t so clear, however, that the depth and breadth of Greek philosophy and the classical virtues were saved by Islamic philosophers during the West’s “dark” ages. There’s much more on that here, including this summary:

The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved.

In any case, here’s the take of the New Yorker reviewer on Lewis’ book:

I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.

So, the development of free market economies so often attributed to Western civilization are actually due to Muslim nation-states…and for that reason we ought to prefer European culture!

How refreshing!

Two weeks ago, French bank Société Générale announced that off-balance sheet speculation by a single “rogue trader” had cost the company 4.9 billion Euros ($7.2 billion). The scandal had enormous repercussions in international markets leading some commentators to decry the rotten nature of global “casino” capitalism and to call for the reversal of financial liberalization. However, the actual circumstances of the case do not justify more government intervention in financial markets but illustrate individual moral failings and poor internal governance on behalf of the bank.

A new report also suggests that a lack of internal controls and weak enforcement of existing rules may be the real source of the problem at one of the oldest banks in France.

On January 24th, Société Générale said that it had discovered a “massive fraud” through “a scheme of elaborate fictitious transactions.” The event caused a great stir not only for the magnitude of the bank’s losses but also because it is partly blamed for the worst European stock market collapse since September 11, 2001.

Jerome Kerviel, who worked as a junior trader in the arbitrage department at Société Générale, was responsible for betting on markets’ future performances. The bank claims that he had made unauthorized and concealed bets of around 50 billion Euros on European markets. According to the New York Times, Mr. Kerviel told prosecutors that his bets would have resulted in a profit of 1.4 billion Euros for the bank if they had been cashed out by the end of December. However, at the start of this year, stock markets experienced a sharp downturn turning the projected profits into losses.

The French bank discovered the bets in mid-January when auditors in the risk management office noticed a series of fictitious trades on its books. Société Générale then conducted a dramatic market sell-off operation in order to neutralize Kerviel’s deals. Traders estimate that the bank unwound contracts in the range of 20 billion to 70 billion Euros from January 21st to 22nd.

Many suspect that selling all these positions into an already volatile European market contributed to the shocking stock market performance in Europe around that time. This in turn, provoked an unexpected and controversial interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve of 0.75 per cent in order to protect the New York Stock Exchange which had been closed on the day when European markets dived. The curious series of events was summed up by a hedge fund manager who told Reuters that: “The real story here is basically, this guy, paid 100,000 Euros a year, sitting in some office at SocGen, forces the Fed to cut interest rates by 75 basis points, which is basically what happened”.

The huge and wide-ranging market repercussions have given ammunition to the critics of financial liberalization. An editorial of the French newspaper Libération sarcastically entitled “Casino” laments that no one controls the huge sums of money moving around in financial markets and demands tighter regulation of financial markets. It also claims that the scandal embarrasses President Sarkozy’s alleged embrace of laissez-faire capitalism. (more…)

Knowing the Gardener was a look at the "big picture" distinguishing God’s intent for Christian creation care from the rest of environmentalism.

But I must tell you friends, there’s a huge pitfall out there to avoid. It’s a pit God’s been tirelessly digging me out of for some time now. Paul points to it in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit… [Rom 8:1, KJV]

Salvation through Christ awakens us to a whole new perspective on creation care. But if we’re going to do anything fruitful for the planet in this new life our doing must be in the Spirit, not after our flesh.

But let me back up a bit… (click more to read on) (more…)

I came across a troubling essay in this month’s issue of Grand Rapids Family Magazine. In her “Taking Notes” column, Associate Publisher/Editor Carole Valade takes up the question of “family values” in the context of the primary campaign season.

She writes,

The most important “traditional values” and “family values” amount to one thing: a great education for our children. Education is called “the great equalizer”: It is imperative for our children to be able to compete on a “global scale” for the jobs that fund their future and provide hopes and dreams for their generation.

So far, so good. But from the somewhat uncontroversial assertions in that paragraph, Valade moves on to make some incredibly unfounded conclusions. (I say “somewhat” uncontroversial because it’s not clear in what sense education is an “equalizer.” Do we all get the same grades? Do we all perform as well as everyone else?)

Valade simply assumes that an emphasis on “education” as a “family value” means that we ought to push for greater government involvement in education, in the form of funding and oversight. “Education funding should be the most discussed topic of the campaign; it should be the focus of budget discussions,” she writes.

Let’s be clear that the immediate context for these comments are the national primary elections. It’s thus fair to conclude that Valade is talking primarily about the role of the federal government. This is underscored by her claims that “Head Start and pre-school programs are not a ‘luxury’ in state of federal budgets; they are an absolute necessity.”

The problem with Valade’s perspective is that it equates concern for education with concern for political lobbying: “Who will ask for such priorities if not parents? Who will speak on behalf of our children’s well-being if not parents?”

It is the case that the great concern that so many parents have for their children’s education have led them to move them into private schools and even (gasp!) to home school them. There is no facile and simple connection between valuing education and valuing government involvement in education. Given the performance of public schools in general compared to charter schools and private schools, there is an argument to be made that greater government involvement in education weakens rather than strengthens our children’s education.

Placing a high priority on a child’s education leads some parents to want their kids to be instructed in the truths about God and his relation to his creation, and this is instruction that by definition is excluded from a government-run public education. So there’s at least as strong a case to be made that valuing education means that we should lobby for less government involvement rather than more, or at least not think of education as primarily a political issue but rather a familial and ecclesiastical responsibility.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others.” One of those “good purposes” is an education centered on Christian moral formation.

See also: “Too Cool for School: Al Mohler says it’s time for Christians to abandon public schools.”

And: H-Net Review, Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World (Westport: Praeger, 2006).

An update on the battle between Archbishop Chaput and the Colorado legislature over an ostensibly anti-discrimination bill that in fact infringes on religious liberty. (Acton’s Joseph Kosten ably defined the argument in this week’s commentary; I initially raised it here.)

Zenit reports on the back and forth between Chaput and the Anti-Defamation League’s Bruce DeBoskey, with Catholic Charities president Christopher Rose wading into the fray. Here’s Rose on the idea that laws forbidding government to discriminate on religious grounds apply to non-governmental entities:

Jewish Family Services doesn’t become a division of the U.S. Department of Human Services because it counsels low-income persons while receiving Medicaid dollars. […] If they do, then every private citizen becomes a government actor upon reaching age 65 and receiving Social Security benefits. And every taxpayer becomes a federal agency when he or she receives a tax rebate this spring. Receiving partial — and sometimes inadequate — compensation from the state to perform a public service does not transform a private agency into the government.

OK, I’m biased, but it sure looks to me like the Catholic side is winning this debate pretty handily. (“Catholic side” is tongue-in-cheek. I agree strongly with the contention that this bill threatens freedom of religious expression across the board.)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2008

What do you look for when you are searching for a job? A growth industry? A healthy bottom-line? A positive corporate culture? Some combination of the above?

Fortune magazine recently rated the “Top 100 Places to Work.” Not surprisingly, at the top of the list is Google, which not only is dubbed the “millionaire factory” because of its generous stock option packages and a matching top tier share price, but because of the innovation associated with its workplace. Employees are encouraged to spend a good chunk of their time focusing on their own “pet” projects.

But second on the list is a Michigan-based company, Quicken Loans. What makes Quicken a great place to work? “Ethically driven” is what one employee calls the online mortgage lender: “It avoided the subprime crisis by sticking with plain-vanilla loans.” You don’t need to be a “social entrepreneur” in the latest sense of the term to be “ethically driven.”

So what connection is there between the top two companies on Fortune‘s list? Google’s well-known motto is: “Don’t be evil.” You might call that the “silver rule” of business ethics. (The “golden rule” would be a positive statement like, “Do be good.”)

To the extent that Google and Quicken embody a way of doing business that emphasizes both profits and ethics, we can see how in the long run ethical business makes the most economic sense.

Also check out Christianity Today‘s annual feature, “Best Christian Places to Work.”

Two new Acton commentaries this week:

In “Religious Liberty and Anti-Discrimination Laws,” Joseph Kosten looks at recent controversies in Colorado and Missouri involving Roman Catholic institutions.

Without the liberty to decide who represents its views and who disperses its message to the public, a religious institution or organization lays bare its most vulnerable aspect and welcomes destruction from within. Separation of church and state does not mean that religious institutions may not function within a state, nor does it mean that they can not decide who they hire.

Michael Miller and Jay Richards examine the economic proposals of Gov. Mike Huckabee in “The Missing Link: Religion and Economic Freedom.”

Now of course there is no one “Christian” set of policies on the best way to help poor or stimulate an economy. Unlike life issues, these are prudential matters and good Christians can disagree. Yet there seems to be a growing tendency among Christians to allow the left to claim the moral high ground with their big government interventionist plans despite the fact that history has shown this to be not only ineffective but harmful.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’” – Luke 7:9

There are only two instances in the New Testament where Scripture refers to Christ as being amazed. One is in the 6th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith of the people in his hometown of Nazareth. The text in Mark’s Gospel notes, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:1-10) Christ says he was amazed by the faith of the Roman centurion. The passage from Luke teaches some important points about authority and humility which is extremely relevant to us today. The centurion was in charge of one hundred soldiers and understood his authority and his position of leadership. He knew quite well, and according to the passage was confident, that when he spoke certain words or commands, they would be obeyed, whether he was there to oversee his orders or not.

Furthermore, when his servant or slave became terminally ill, he showed the utmost compassion. He did not view the servant as being replaceable or merely as property, but the passage says the centurion valued him highly. This would not have been a common view for a Roman official in regards to the value of a slave. In addition, the centurion was a friend to the Jews, and was responsible for funding a synagogue.

The Jewish elders he sent to intervene for the healing of his servant also personally vouched for his character and friendliness to the Jewish people, despite his overt representation of a conquering army. The centurion sent them because he felt he was not worthy to be amongst Christ as a Gentile, as he later told Jesus through friendly messengers on the way to his house, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”

Amazingly, the centurion recognizes the authority of Christ and his power over sickness and the power of death saying through another, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” He had not even met Christ, and still hadn’t met Christ, but surely he had heard stories of his authority and power, and thus believed in his ability to heal his servant of imminent death. He recognized the ability of Christ to transform any circumstance and defy nature, so much so, he believed Christ did not have to be physically present to work miracles. It was an awesome validation of the power and authority of Jesus over the created order.

Even more so, Luke wants us to know this faith came from an unlikely source. The unexpected faith of the centurion is contrasted with those who were expected to believe but did not. Christ himself says in John’s Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”