Blog author: jballor
Sunday, March 23, 2008
By

If it be all for nought, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, the soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays his Son
And, with a kiss, damns all the world to hell–
If Christ rose not again.

–Unknown Soldier, killed in World War I
(From The Life of Christ in Poetry, comp. Hazel Davis Clark)

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, March 21, 2008
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“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:5b,6a

The Lord Jesus Christ makes all things new. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and his glory knows no end. Isaiah says in his 65th Chapter, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Christians understand everything is summed up in Christ. For believers, all of our sins, trials, afflictions, pain, and heartache is made perfect and right through the victory of Christ over death. “The despair of all past history is reversed by the resurrection, and the hope of all future history is enabled by it,” says Thomas C. Oden.

In his horrible affliction and despair, Job cried out long before the incarnate presence of Christ on this earth, “I know my redeemer liveth.” Job had lost everything on earth. He lost his children, his comfort, and his health. His utter despair made him see the need for a mediator and vindicator, one who could reverse the deep despair and suffering that covered his circumstances and his entire body. Job points to the future triumph of the risen Lord.

The testimony and the witness of the Saints finds its meaning in the risen Lord. I know for me the testimony of their life has been decisive in my own belief. The same followers who were known to be in despair and hiding because of the death of Christ, then find super-natural authority and power in the name and reign of Christ. This makes sense, because through the resurrection, Christ raises humanity. The resurrection points to what we are to become. In the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today“, Charles Wesley says it well:

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

I was reading about Bill Gates’ speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council last week, which received a lot of media coverage (PDF transcript here).

In the speech about software innovation, Gates “speculated that some of the most important advances will come in the ways people interact with computers: speech-recognition technology, tablets that will recognize handwriting and touch-screen surfaces that will integrate a wide variety of information.”

“I don’t see anything that will stop the rapid advance,” Gates said. I appreciate the insight that a corporate mogul and business insider like Gates provides.

The predictions did make me think about this observation from Alasdair MacIntyre, however, which serves to temper some of the more audacious claims often made about technological progress.

MacIntyre writes,

Any invention, any discovery, which consists essentially in the elaboration of a radically new concept cannot be predicted, for a necessary part of the prediction is the present elaboration of the very concept whose discovery or invention was to take place only in the future. The notion of the prediction of radical conceptual innovation is itself conceptually incoherent.

To his credit, much of what Gates is describing doesn’t meet these criteria. They are not “radically new” concepts, but the integrative alteration of already existing concepts (some might argue that this has essentially been the modus operandi for Microsoft’s success: not innovation per se, but rather innovative popularization of integration).

That said, we need to be cautious about the precision of our claims about future innovation. Statistically we can predict that radical innovations are quite likely to happen, but by definition we can’t know what they will be.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies cut through the nonsense and offer clear thinking on AIDS in Africa. Their article in the April issue of First Things more specifically criticizes a recent report on faith-based organizations and AIDS emerging from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.

Green and Ruark take pains to be respectful and deferential toward the Georgetown researchers, even where the egregious errors of the latter might have been treated with sarcastic wit. For example, there is this:

The Georgetown report clearly gets it wrong when it states that, for the ABC approach “to be effective, abstinence and fidelity must be practiced by both partners.” In fact, abstinence is always 100 percent effective in preventing sexual transmission when practiced by an individual.

Um, yes.
The article concludes,

…the central fact that has emerged from all the recent studies of the HIV epidemic: What the churches are called to do by their theology turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.

Hostility towards globalization is not the exclusive territory of the left in Italy. Giulio Tremonti, a former minister of the economy in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, has written a book called Fear and Hope (La Paura e la Speranza), largely arguing against free trade and the opening of international markets.

Tremonti blames the recent rise in the prices of consumer goods on globalization and says that this is only the beginning. The global financial crisis, environmental destruction, and geopolitical tensions in the struggle for natural resources are also fruits of globalization, according to Tremonti. He identifies the main problem as a lack of international governance of the process of globalization and calls for a new Bretton Woods-like system to confront the multiple crises caused by what he calls “marketism”.

The “dark side of globalization” can only be countered by a return to European values: tradition, the family, and the nation, adds Tremonti. Europe “needs a philosophy which makes politics and not economics the primary mover [of globalization]. This can only work if we go back to the roots of Europe, these are the roots of Judeo-Christianity”.

This “cure” to the ills of globalization remains vague (as one would imagine in a book of only 112 pages). Still more puzzling is his insistence on a contrast between market principles and traditional European values. The idea that a return to values must be coupled with a stronger politicization of the world economy clashes with experience. More regulation and state interference not only tend to reduce growth and living standards but also create new opportunities for rent-seeking and corruption, and thereby undermine the traditional virtues that Tremonti supports.

He misses the opportunity to discuss how certain values are enhanced by the market and how international competition has in fact strengthened Europe by highlighting its best qualities, both technologically and culturally, while repressing its worst.

Tremonti’s vision is inward-looking and profoundly pessimistic. Some market-oriented Italian commentators have pointed out that his ideas seem dangerously close to old-style protectionism. It is clear if Europe followed his analysis, it would be led on a path of future irrelevance both as an economic and a cultural model.

Dr. Frank S. Page
President, Southern Baptist Convention
and
Mr. Richard Land
SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
and
Pastor Jonathan Merritt
Cross Pointe Church

Brothers in Christ:

As a member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Church and a Christian who has through much prayer and Bible study come to acknowledge God’s desire that the church take seriously her role in stewardship of creation, I have been closely following the release of A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change and the Southern Baptist Convention’s reaction to it.

First let me say I respect the SBC’s right as an organization to issue public policy statements on the environment and climate change, even when these statements don’t always reflect my personal views. I appreciate many of the previous resolutions passed by the SBC urging stewardship of the earth’s resources while caring for the poor in developing countries.

I also appreciate that both the SBC and Pastor Merritt have formally stated our need as Baptists to fully engage in many areas of Christian environmental stewardship. Certainly these are tasks about which, through the power of Christ, God expects us all to be dilligent until His return.

I am concerned, however, that in the haste to distance the SBC from A Southern Baptist Declaration or the signers of their Declaration to distance themselves from the SBC you both are misrepresenting me and thousands of other Southern Baptists in two important areas.

First, there is the needless appearance of deep division. The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urged Southern Baptists to

"proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research."

"A Southern Baptist Declaration" says

We recognize that Christians are not united around either the scientific explanations for global warming or policies designed to slow it down…this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions. Yet, even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future.

Both resolutions suggest Southern Baptists move forward on ecology while respecting that there will inevitably be disagreement on the nature and extent of climate change.

The remedy for this should be obvious. We should not be afraid of tackling any social issue, including environmnental ones. And we must press forward and commit to praying for each other and for wisdom and unity within the body of Christ. This public and rather unseemly display is a foothold that the enemy of the church is happy to exploit. To that end I hope that you [and all those reading this letter. db] will join me in prayer this week, humbled by the fact that only God ultimately controls the affairs of His Creation.

Much more importantly, none of you seem concerned about the tragedy of missing our God-given opportunity here under the Great Commission. An editorial to the Tuscaloosa News by a Mr. James W. Anderson illustrates my point:

I urge the leadership of our Southern Baptist Convention to be about serving our member churches, evangelism and bringing lost souls to Christ. To those currently choosing to carry the liberal environmental torches, perhaps you should consider leaving the organization and entering politics. The two do not mix — at all!

Don’t let his confusion on the pedigree of the Declaration distract you from the real spiritual disaster. Mr. Anderson sees environmentalism as a hinderance to evangelism rather than an opportunity to establish relationships with, and bring the love of Christ to, vast numbers of God’s children who would never darken the door of a Baptist church.

The fact that he doesn’t apparently know about scriptures referencing God’s heart on ecology, doesn’t understand the role of creation in bringing glory to God, doesn’t see creation care as a mission field, doesn’t view climate change action opponents and proponents both as human beings in need of a Savior, and doesn’t think engaging in challenging environmental issues like climate change provide openings for the Gospel message to our generation is not his failing. Rather, it is a direct reflection on the historic failure of our Southern Baptist leadership and many of those in our pulpits to communicate a Spirit-filled, biblical message on creation care.

Rather than continue this division I urge you, therefor, to return your focus to the Lord of Creation. Join with me to pray for reconciliation, for wise yet diligent action, and for the earnest encouragement of pastors and their congregations to make stewardship of the environment as important a priority as stewardship of their missions budgets and church growth projects.

Thanks for your consideration.

Grace and peace,
Don Bosch

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

Forever known for his signature, the American Founding Father John Hancock (1737-93) was also staunch opponent of unnecessary or excessive taxation. “They have no right [The Crown] to put their hands in my pocket,” Hancock said. He strongly believed even after the American Revolution, that Congress, like Parliament, could use taxes as a form of tyranny.

As Governor of Massachusetts, Hancock sided with the people over and against over zealous tax appropriators and collectors. Hancock argued farmers and tradesmen would never be able to pay their taxes if their land and property were confiscated. He barred government officials from imprisoning farmers too poor to pay taxes. In addition to his views on taxes, Hancock supported cuts in government spending.

Hancock inherited a substantial amount of wealth from merchant trading, a business started by his uncle known as the “House of Hancock.” Hancock’s father, a minister, died when he was just a child. He was raised by his wealthy uncle and aunt. Their wealth gave him a first class education.

Hancock went on to increase the assets and income of his uncle’s business, when he took control of the enterprise. He was quite possibly the richest man in the American Colonies. Hancock enjoyed owning the finest home, attire, furniture, coaches, and wines. As a fault, he could even show a comical attachment to material possessions from time to time. He once organized a military party to challenge the British during the revolutionary war, his part in the conflict was only to last a few weeks and was close to his home, still he galloped to battle with six carriages behind him carrying his finest warrior apparel and the finest French wines. Patriot Generals poked fun at his unnecessary show of pomp and pageantry. Still he fretted, when he realized he was missing a pair of imported leather boots.

While his wealth was immense, so was his generosity. Hundreds of colonists depended on his business for their economic livelihood. In addition, he helped his own ambitious employees start their own entrepreneurial endeavors. He gave lavishly to local churches, charities, the arts, assisted widows, and paid for the schooling of orphans. Hancock also spent his own wealth on public works and aesthetic improvements for the city of Boston.

His enormous popularity was in fact, to a large degree, due to his substantial giving. Hancock was also known for treating others with the characteristics of Christian principles. He treated those of modest means with the same respect as those who had access to wealth and power. Several authors have affectionately referred to him “As a man of the people.” A German officer who fought for the British was astounded at the way he befriended and talked to the very poorest citizens of Boston. (more…)

Following its new-found interest in sound economics, the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has turned its attention to what now seems to be a global downturn.

The usual European trope is that the current troubles are the result of American overspending, overconsumption and unsustainable debt burdens, so it is very surprising to see a contrarian view in Sunday’s paper entitled “The Morality of the Recession.”

Italian banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi evaluates the credit crunch affecting the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve’s reaction to lower interest rates as problematic for the rest of the world, but he also sees an opportunity for renewal and reform.

The moral lesson for Europe? Take the chance to reduce wasteful public spending, lower taxes, increase productivity and attract foreign investment. Citing Pope John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, Gotti Tedeschi draws the conclusion that now is the time for Italy to adopt more flexible economic mechanisms and rid itself of its welfare-state mentality.

Italian elections are just a month away, so it is extremely unlikely any politician would advocate such a bold program; it is, however, exactly what Italy needs. Let’s hope that Vatican officials, at least, are paying attention. Kudos to L’Osservatore Romano and Gotti Tedeschi for taking another courageous stand.

Blog author: eschansberg
Saturday, March 15, 2008
By

The title of Curtis White’s provocative but flawed essay in Harpers

As an intro to his primary topic (politics), White has some provocative things to say about the contemporary (American) understanding of our “beliefs”…

The most bewildering and yet revealing gesture of a truly fundamental American theology takes place when an individual stands forth and proclaims, “This is my belief”. Making such a simple and familiar statement implies at least three important things. First, it implies that I have a right to my belief. Whether this right is God-given, one of the laws of nature, or simply something we wrangled politically out of the process of constitution-making, it is something we believe we have. Second, my statement carries with it the expectation that you ought to respect my belief, or at least my right to it, even if my belief makes no sense to you at all. Third, and most important, my belief doesn’t have to make sense in order to carry legitimacy.

And now to how this relates to politics…

On the basis of this belief I not only will claim the right to order my own life but also will feel free, without embarrassment, to enforce my belief universally through the election of politicians and through the sponsorship of legislation…

What we require of belief is not that it make sense but that it be sincere. This is so even for our more secular convictions….Clearly, this is not the spirituality of a centralized orthodoxy. It is a sort of workshop spirituality that you can get with a cereal-box top and five dollars. And yet in our culture, to suggest that such belief is not deserving of respect makes people anxious…

Consequently, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that our truest belief is the credo of heresy itself. It is heresy without an orthodoxy. It is heresy as an orthodoxy. The entitlement to belief is the right of each to his own heresy….For Nietzsche, European nihilism was the failure of any form of belief (a condition that church attendance in Europe presently testifies to). But American nihilism is something different. Our nihilism is our capacity to believe in everything and anything all at once. It’s all good!…

Once reduced to the status of a commodity, our anything-goes, do-it-yourself spirituality cannot have very much to say about the more directly nihilistic conviction that we should all be free to do whatever we like as well, each of us pursuing our right to our isolated happinesses. Worse yet: for that form of legal individual known as the corporation, the pursuit of happiness can mean fishing with factory trawlers, clear-cutting forests, and spreading toxins across the countryside with all the zeal of a child sprinkling candies on a cupcake.

Let me jump in here by saying that White is correct insofar as he goes. But it’s odd to point out corporations (and in a part I excised, “social morality” interest groups) without pointing to the role of special interest groups in politics– rather than corporations or concerned citizens per se.

And now, White goes with a relatively obscure but effective Biblical reference. Among other things, this gives him the title to his essay…

Aren’t these the false gods that Isaiah and Jeremiah confronted, the cults of the “hot air gods”? The gods that couldn’t scare birds from a cucumber patch? Belief of every kind and cult, self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement of every degree, all flourish. And yet God is abandoned. For first and foremost, “the Lord is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18). And that is the problem that we ought to have at heart: our richness of belief masks a culture that is grotesquely unjust.

“Grotesquely unjust”…Preach it, brother! Given the differences in our worldviews and his limited training in political economy and economics, I don’t think we point to the same set of policy issues. In any case, he’s right on the proverbial nose with his critique…

White does see some good news:

A more positive way of looking at the situation I have described is to say that through the concept of religious freedom, American political culture has succeeded in mediating the competing claims of true religion and idolatry. If it has not purged the hatred from this distinction, it has at least prohibited most of the violence. And if there is wisdom in this, it is less the wisdom of benevolence than the pragmatism of imperial policing….

But then he gets silly on us…

Capitalism has been so successful in this orchestration of reality that it has even created the illusion that, in spite of every fact, the Market works for all of us, or will eventually. In spite of the fact that the poor are ever greater in number, and that education, health care, and retirement are ever more inaccessible, the majority of Americans persist in believing (with all the obliviousness of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss) that our economic system is “the best of all possible worlds”. This is a form of wishful and magical thinking no stranger than the belief that a statue of the Madonna can cry.

Here, White reveals his bias and ignorance– or his “wishful and magical thinking” (if he prefers). He’s pointing the finger at the Market. But all three of these realms are largely controlled by the Government! And in each of those, it is clear that Government involvement has caused vast damage to the poor. I love it when people blame “capitalism” to embrace government– when government is so heavily involved already!

His last three words are “the Market God”. But White is blind to his own idolatry– a blind critique of markets (not that some critique is not available to him) and a blind, idolatrous embrace of “the Government God”.

Robert George in the November 2007 issue of Touchstone on democracy, Catholic social teaching, and the confusion of means and ends…

Catholicism…preaches democratic ideals and promotes democratic institutions in the political sphere….

This teaching is put forth not as a mere prudential matter…but as a matter of justice in the dealings of human beings with one another. At is core is the idea that of all systems of political governance, democracy best comports with the foundational anthropological and moral truth that every human being, as a creature fashioned in the very image and likeness of God, possesses a profound, inherent, and equal dignity.

The principle of basic human equality demands not only that the interests of all be taken into account, without discrimination, in distributing the benefits and burdens of common life, but also that all competent adults have a voice in deciding between options for political choice…

Democracy, however, is fundamentally a means rather than an end in itself….[T]he common good of political society is fundamentally an instrumental good rather than an intrinsic good.

In this respect, the common good of political society is unlike the common life of the family and the koinonia of the church. The point of political society is provided by the ends or purposes it serves. The state, whether constituted democratically or otherwise, is fundamentally a means to those ends; it is in no sense an end in itself.

By contrast, the family and the church, though they may also be means to many valuable ends, are not mere means….

From there, George continues by repeating John Paul II’s caution against idolatry toward government and democracy– as well as his warning that unjust ends accomplished through democracy are ungodly. Despite the common reference to polling results– and although majority vote may legitimize a viewpoint in the secular realm– the right-ness of something cannot be determined by such a criterion.