Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 3, 2008
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It looks to me like Obama has this election about wrapped up. Why?

Some of his opponents are resorting to the tired and fallacious reductio ad Hitlerum (aka argumentum ad Hitlerum).

Exhibit A is this video:




(The original context is this video.)

This stuff is just beyond the pale in so many ways. You can find all manner of other similarly odious political rhetoric at YouTube (just check out the “related videos” category). Also, in 2004 Joe Carter discussed what he called “The Hidden Danger Behind the Hitler Comparisons.”

In real Nazi-related news, today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Bishop George Bell, an ecumenist, politician, and friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who did his best to support the cause of the nascent opposition movements within Germany.

From Christian Newswire:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 2 /Christian Newswire/ — The John Jay Institute, a para-academic leadership development center based in downtown Colorado Springs, is pleased to announce a partnership with the Acton Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan, to premiere the historical documentary film, “The Birth of Freedom” in Colorado.

The screening will take place on Wednesday, November 5th at 7pm in the SaGaJi Theatre at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. John Jay Institute President, Alan Crippen, featured in the film, will moderate a panel discussion after the screening which will include the film’s producers and the president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Robert Sirico. The event will conclude with a dessert reception open to the public.

“We are pleased to partner with the Acton Institute to bring this outstanding documentary to Colorado,” stated John Jay Institute President, Alan R. Crippen, II, “We live in a time when millions around the world still long for liberty. This film explores the origins of what we in this country too often take for granted.”

For tickets to the event, visit the Birth of Freedom website, or contact Mandy Keeler at (800) 345-2286, mkeeler@acton.org.

John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law
601 North Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903
Office Telephone: 719-471-8900

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the second most important official in the Catholic Church, has written a new book titled, “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa” (The Ethics of the Common Good in the Social Doctrine of the Church), with a preface from the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The edition contains the Italian and Russian texts side-by-side, but it has not yet appeared in English though the Zenit News Agency has reported on the book’s presentation in Moscow.

The book is notable for its ecumenical character; it’s not often that the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches have collaborated at such a high level. Such an effort could lead to closer relations and more dialogue in the future.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Overall, there is a large degree of agreement between Kirill and Bertone, but there are also some strikingly different perspectives on economic globalization and the role of the nation-state.

Kirill writes that money is only a means for an entrepreneurial activity: “Genuine, totally exciting work, is the businessman’s real wealth. The absence of the worship of money emancipates man, makes him free interiorly and similar to his Creator.” But he also asserts that globalization has increased the gap between rich and poor in the last twenty years and calls an international economic system always on the verge of crisis anything but ethical.

On the other hand, Bertone does not despair about the new challenges brought on by rapid growth and stresses the potential common good of economic globalization. His positive appraisal is rooted in the history of economic development in the Christian West. He extensively illustrates the various institutions founded thanks to a Christian spirit and an entrepreneurial vocation: schools, hospitals, banks and charitable organizations.

Metropolitan Kirill

Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”

For Kirill, however, the notion of fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth, whereas Bertone stresses a more “universal,” trans-national aspect of this principle.

Furthermore, Bertone also speaks eloquently of philanthropy, solidarity, reciprocity, and above all gratitude. Man must recognize “the logic of the gift he has received and its gratuitousness,” and in doing so it will be easier for him to “express solidarity”.

In general, Kirill’s assessement of globalization is largely negative; Bertone’s is more hopeful. But neither of them, unfortunately, seem to take economics as a science very seriously. Many of their arguments, both positive and negative, on globalization would have benefited from an analysis of how markets work, or should work, in conjunction with the moral and ethical beliefs of individuals and society.

This volume proves that Christian social doctrine, whether it be Orthodox or Catholic, cannot exist simply as a pious wish or a moral theory; at some point, it has to deal with reality and the everyday world of human activities and relations. Without a grasp of this reality, social doctrine will most probably remain the Church’s “best-kept secret.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
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To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the New International Version (NIV), “the best-selling translation with more than 300 million copies in print,” Grand Rapids-based publisher Zondervan is launching a nationwide RV tour, “Bible Across America.”

The RV will be making stops at various locations across the nation and encouraging people to contribute a verse to a hand-written Bible. New Zondervan CEO Moe Girkins started the tour off yesterday by inscribing Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (The Grand Rapids Press recently published an in-depth profile of Girkins.)


The tour is scheduled to wrap up in San Diego, CA in February at the 2009 National Pastor’s Convention. The tour will cover over 15,000 miles, 90 cities in 44 states. 31,173 Americans will handwrite the entire NIV Bible.

In other Bible news, Zondervan’s parent company, HarperCollins, will soon be releasing The Green Bible in the NRSV translation. As Time magazine reports, The Green Bible is intended to be “a Scripture for the Prius age that calls attention to more than 1,000 verses related to nature by printing them in a pleasant shade of forest green, much as red-letter editions of the Bible encrimson the words of Jesus.”

Perhaps we can look forward to the formation of a new group of “Green Letter Christians,” much like we currently have the “Red Letter Christians.” There’s likely to be a lot of cross-over between the two groups, though, so maybe having two groups would just be redundant. When you mix red and green you get brown…so an even better idea might be to create a group called the “Brown Letter Christians.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
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“The struggle for justice always stands or falls on the battlefield of hope.” This is but one of a passel of pithy expressions found throughout Gary Haugen’s new book, Just Courage. Haugen is the president of International Justice Mission, a Washington D.C.-based organization doing outstanding work throughout the world, freeing people bonded in illegal labor arrangements, including forced prostitution.

Haugen’s is a practical rather than a theoretical treatise. He admits that a commonly agreed-to definition of justice remains elusive, but he can point to the way God and God’s people act justly in the scriptures, and that gives us enough direction. The book is a sometimes moving account of and reflection on Haugen’s experiences assisting some of the most powerless people on our planet.

He argues stridently against Christian apathy, insisting that it is possible for us to achieve progress even against some of the most severe of the world’s problems. This is why hope is pivotal. Those who are merely dismayed in the face of evil will not make the effort to fight it.

At the same time, Haugen is realistic, as anyone who encounters human slavery on a regular basis is bound to be. He understands the distinction between naivete and utopianism on one hand, and genuine Christian hope on the other.

This realism, at an even deeper level, links justice and hope. I suspect that Haugen would agree with another writer on these themes, Pope Benedict XVI:

I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing. (Spe Salvi, n. 43)

With this invocation of the pope, it might be appropriate to note that Just Courage seems intended primarily for non-Catholic Christians. Its modes of expression and descriptions of Christian life manifest an evangelical sensibility. Exhortations to think about the message of the gospel as social rather than merely individual will appear redundant to adherents of historical churches with long traditions of social instititution sponsorship.

Yet all Christians need to hear this message reiterated. Catholics and others, however much they recognize a vague obligation to social justice, will benefit from Haugen’s particular insistence that every one of us risk our personal comfort at the behest of “rescuing” someone in need. Haugen comes perhaps too near at times to underappreciating the ways in which most Christians will live the call to justice: handling the day-to-day tasks of family life; toiling away at a trade or business; volunteering at local soup kitchens or crisis pregnancy centers. Still, Haugen’s vision of more spectacular achievements in the cause of justice—such as liberating girls from the shackles of the sex trade—is invigorating and necessary.

IJM and its allies are the abolitionists of our age and they deserve our support and admiration. Some who read the book will be called to such work. Those who are not must find ways to be courageously just in our own lives.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
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Dave Ramsey’s got a three step plan to “change the nation’s future.” He’s calling it “The Common Sense Fix” (PDF). Here’s Dave’s prediction:

Whichever presidential candidate or political party that champions this plan from their leadership down will likely become the next president. That is because this plan fixes the crisis while going along with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

Check out the plan and share what you think about the nation’s economic future.

In this week’s new Birth of Freedom short video, expert Robert P. George explains why it is impossible for secularism to function as a neutral ground for debate.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 29, 2008
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Last week an email newsletter from Sojourners featured a quote from U2 rock star and activist Bono (courtesy the American Prospect blog):

It’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.

The quote is pretty striking given the current shape of the debate over the Wall Street bailout. Bono’s insight is instructive: Once the government takes upon itself tasks that fall outside its regular purview, how do we rightly adjudicate between all the different needy causes? It simply becomes a game of which special interest can hire the most lobbyists.

Indeed, the $25 billion that Bono points out would be necessary to save 25,000 children a day is the same amount that the US government just paid to bailout the domestic auto industry over the weekend.

If the feds are willing to dole out $600-700 billion in corporate welfare for Wall Street, it only seems right that poor families and individuals get their own relative share of government redistribution.

The size of the government bailout relative to the critical debate about the execution of these policies is positively shameful compared to the fiscal cost of the war in Iraq (roughly $560 billion on the upper end) and the critical attention that the war has and continues to receive. Of course dollars aren’t the only costs we’ve incurred in the Iraq war, but they are one salient measure.

On the one hand conservatives often point out that government involvement in provision of welfare should be sharply curtailed or eliminated because it isn’t primarily the government’s task to directly offer assistance to the poor. Rather, that’s the job of institutions of civil society, like church ministries, non-profit charities, and groups promoting individual giving. So it seems inconsistent to claim this and at the same time assert that it is the government’s responsibility to bailout overextended (and therefore irresponsible) corporations with taxpayer money.

UPDATE: A HuffPost blogger takes this logic to its political terminus (emphasis original):

The Democrats, if they truly constituted an opposition party, which they prove every day they do not, could demand that if monies are going to go to bail out Wall Street, at least an equal amount would go to bail out average Americans in the way of health care, full funding for social security and medicare, mortgage and rent protection, infrastructure repair, decent public transportation, investment in green jobs and technology, etc.

One great virtue of the market is that over time it tends to punish bad players. Those who engage in unsustainable business practices will eventually get what’s coming to them. Debt catches up with you and you go bankrupt (unless in an election year cowardly politicians aren’t willing to let companies pay the due penalty for their error).

There’s been some talk about the moral hazards associated with the bailout. One moral hazard is that bad business practices aren’t going to be appropriately punished, and so such short-sighted and unsustainable behavior will be incentivized by reduction or elimination of risk. There’s now going to be an implicit government guarantee of corporations that are “too big” or too important to fail. The cost of this bailout may be $700 billion, but it sets a precedent for future bailouts whose costs are inestimable.

But enough hasn’t been said on another moral hazard that has to do with the good players, people who didn’t take out gimmicky mortgages to finance half-million dollar homes or rush into home ownership when they should have been renting. That’s the flip-side of bailing out bad players…good players get punished and are less likely to continue responsible behavior. And in the face of a government and businesses that are telling us to spend all we can, why should we be financially responsible?

There is an old expression, “Talk is cheap.” Coupled with another old expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” we are introduced to a profound philosophical insight brought by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in his The Acting Person. That insight is that people are understood through their actions, not their words. Metaphysically, that is, in the nature of every man, we say that man is a rational animal; he is an animal that can think, know and know that he knows. But in a sense, this truth is much too vague. Even though we all share this nature, each of us is very different in many respects. Wojtyla’s book is a phenomenological reflection on the actual lived experience of real human beings.

In human life we experience not only sense impressions (the British empiricists would agree) but also things and people (so many philosophers from Descartes onward would actually quibble with this.) The things and people make up two different aspects of the world. The very fact that we developed language demonstrates that we are meant to disclose or share our experiences, thoughts and feelings with others. We, i. e., the human person, is the subject of action. We reflect on our own experiences and what we actually do, but also we act as an objective monitor of our own actions, which means that man is the object of his own cognition. This means that we have the ability to judge the rightness, wrongness and even the prudence of our actions, given the amount of understanding we have accumulated during our lives. The implications of this is earth-shaking: we and no one else is responsible for our own actions.

This responsibility comes from that fact that God has given us three qualities that flow from our participation in His likeness:

a) Self-possession—the person’s actions flow from the point of authority over himself;

b) Self-governance—the quality that allow a person to order his actions to fulfill his “existential ends,” that is, to fulfill what he was created to be;

c) Self-determination—the outcome of self-possession and self-governance is that we determine how our personhood develops in the real world, and not in some theoretical construct. (more…)

Next Tuesday Calvin College will be hosting two lectures by Dr. John Baden, president of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE).

The first lecture from Dr. Baden is titled, “Revelations and Institutions: The Theology and Political Economy of Hutterite and Mormon Experiments with Intentional Communities,” Tuesday, September 30, 3:30 pm, Calvin College North Hall B78.

Later that day Dr. Baden will lecture on, “The Political Economy of Endangered Species,” Tuesday, September 30, 7:30 pm, Calvin College Commons Lecture Hall.

These lectures are sponsored by the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought at Calvin College.

The last couple years I’ve received invitations to FREE’s seminars on environmental stewardship for religious leaders. I’ve been unable to attend, but the schedules have always looked quite promising.