Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, September 6, 2007
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The Acton Institute has just refreshed its online look. Go to www.acton.org to see our completely redesigned Website. All of your favorite content is still available but it should now be easier to find and keep track of. Here is a short list of improvements that you may note:

  • Updated navigation: We now use a horizontal drop-menu system along the top of the website to make finding the content you want a little bit easier.
  • Now@Acton: Find the most current content right at the top of the Web page. No need to scroll down the page to find out what else is there – simply click a headline to see a summary and decide whether you want to see more!
  • New BookShoppe: Although this has been available for a while, if you haven’t checked it out yet, it will be worth your while! We feature immediate and secure credit card transactions and will even offer suggestions for other books you might be interested in.
  • Better Media Integration: Following the trends and technology available on the Internet, Acton is making more media content available through integration with YouTube, Viddler, and online audio playback.
  • Acton Notes: You can now read the content of Acton’s monthly newsletter, Acton Notes, online. Visit the Acton Notes Web page.

We hope that you enjoy the look of the Acton Institute. Leave feedback on the site here – do you like it or hate it? What would you like to see changed? Are there some things that are hard to find or are we missing content somewhere? Let us know!

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 6, 2007
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They say that those who can’t do, teach. But what if you can’t teach?

From the AZ Republic: “Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don’t know the language, state officials say.”

I’ve never been too attracted to the whole “English-only movement,” but I would think the language should at least be the sine qua non of our educational system.

That is, we should be teaching English and other languages. Some of the examples from the piece are pretty egregious, as teachers are employed who are clearly unqualified to comply with “Arizona law [that] requires teachers to use only English in the classroom and bans all texts and materials in any language but English.” I’m assuming that law is in effect for classes other than foreign language classes.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Darkness and light have been used to symbolize powerful metaphors in literature, art, film, and all sorts of creative venues. In Scripture, darkness and light are often used to evoke good and evil. In the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind, who furthermore is brought into the fullness of light through faith in Christ. Jesus, however, implicates the Pharisees, by saying, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Joseph Puder tags a most appropriate title for his column in FrontPage Magazine, calling it Europe’s Heart of Darkness. Puder invokes enlightening contrasts as well, comparing historical and contemporary Europe, with that of the United States. Puder notes:

The origin of these attitudes can be traced to the social, economic and political developments on the Continent on one hand, and the legacy of the pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedom, individualism, and God, on the other hand. Europe began to lose its faith in Christianity and God following the French Revolution.

Europe it seems, has bought into Voltaire’s reasoning, and although the Europeans have accepted democracy, they have replaced the notion of the Voltaire’s “absolutist ruler” with the rule of the (welfare) State, and substituted “fundamentalist secularism” for Christianity and God.

Early American pilgrims from Europe, by way of contrast, sought to escape the stifling chains of European absolutism. They wanted to live according to their own conscience and beliefs and not by the dictate of an absolutist Monarch or church. The pilgrims understood the message of Saint Thomas Aquinas who believed that human beings have a natural capacity to know many things without divine intervention as opposed to the absolutist monarchs and the church that thought of themselves as being the repository of knowledge and truth. The pilgrims were also individualists who understood that in order to be virtuous and free of sin, they had to be free to choose, and choices included of course the sphere of economics, as well as religion.

The French Revolution ushered in the age of totalitarianism in Europe. Not content with controlling the political and economic lives of their subjects, the absolutist rulers sought to control their minds as well. The twentieth century saw the rise of Communism and Fascism (and Nazism) that culminated with the horrors of the Holocaust being committed on European soil by European absolutist totalitarians. F.A. Hayek, in his book “The Road to Serfdom,” pointed to the close ideological connection between Socialists and Fascists. He noted, they have more in common with each other than either have with classical liberalism, including the tendency to reduce the individual to an organic part of the state.

Joseph Conrad, in his novel “Heart of Darkness,” portrays the darkness of hypocrisy and moral decay of the colonial adventurers in the Belgian Congo. Conrad specifically mentions the “whited sepulchre” of the various corporate enterprises headquarted in Brussels, Belgium. It is an analogy taken right from Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ himself says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Conrad’s novel serves as a reminder of the corruption of absolute power, and the depravity of mankind.

Whether it is the belief in the supremacy of the state, or other types of utopian ideals and philosophies, they are fundamentally in error, because they cannot check or contain the weight of human sinfulness. In contrast, Christianity at its foundation believes all humans are created in the image of God. In truth, a strong religious understanding and spirit recognizes the need to reflect God, it is there where more human progress is found than all the programs, nation-states, and freedom imitators combined.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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The Acton Institute’s 2007 Samaritan Award winner for outstanding private, voluntary charitable service has been awarded to the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Inc. Their mission statement reads, “To address, remedy, and prevent child abuse and neglect by creating safe, healthy, and permanent homes for children.” One of the outstanding aspects of the program is their belief in not abandoning those who participate in their program just because they reach a certain age. Participants are allowed to stay involved and seek guidance beyond their post-secondary education, and until they’re able to foster their own independence in their lives. It strongly promotes a belief that the leaders and supporters of the ranch believe in them beyond any conditions or variables.

Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches and other Samaritan honorees were also featured in a special double issue of World Magazine titled “Profiles in Effective Compassion.” Intake counselor Suzi Williams noted, “Our program is so small compared to the sins of the world.” World Magazine also noted, “Only 5 percent of the Ranch’s operational support comes from government sources.” An excellent informative and promotional video is also available on the Ranch’s Web site. Check out the World Magazine issue (subscription required) for complete coverage of Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches and the Samaritan honorees.

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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d. james kennedy.jpg

From WPBF:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A pioneering megachurch pastor and prominent Christian broadcaster has died in Fort Lauderdale.

The Rev. D. James Kennedy died early Wednesday morning at his home due to complications from cardiac arrest in December. The 76-year-old Kennedy had not been seen publicly since then; his retirement was announced on Aug. 26.

Kennedy took the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale from a congregation of 45 in 1959 to a megachurch of nearly 10,000 members today.

[Ed. Note: More information is at the Washington Post, Coral Ridge Ministries, and a memorial site.]

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK has given generic approval allowing “human-animal embryos to be created and used for research.” According to a Christian Science Monitor report, Evan Harris, “a lawmaker on a parliamentary committee that has oversight in this field,” says that “No scientist I have found has provided scientific reasons as opposed to religiously based ethical reasons for not proceeding,” he adds, even though his committee “looked high and low for such scientists.”

Typically the case that secular scientists make for such research is based on the necessity of the measure for their all-important research: “Stem-cell researchers say they desperately need the animal matter because not enough human eggs are available. Britain has adopted an accommodating attitude toward stem-cell science, fostering a favorable environment that scientists argue would be undermined if this latest experimentation is rejected.”

“We pride ourselves here on working in a pro-science environment,” says Stephen Minger, director of stem-cell biology at King’s College London, one of two scientists who have applied for the HFEA license. “It would be viewed as a depressing turn of events” if the application were turned down.

Anything not clearly “pro-science” in such a narrow way, like any ethic with religious foundations, is similarly understood to be archaic, obsolete, irrelevant, and reactionary.

For some such “religiously based” arguments, see my series on chimeras in five parts.

For more on how scientists and religious leaders dialogue in the public square, see Thomas M. Lessl, “The Priestly Voice,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 75, no. 2 (1989): 183-97; and this 2005 interview on science and rhetoric.

Update: Reformation21 provides a link to the “Linacre Centre Submission to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos” (PDF). The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics is a bioethics research institute under the trusteeship of the Catholic Trust for England and Wales.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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Bilal Sambur, Ph.D., is assistant professor on the faculty of divinity at Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey. He is a guest scholar this summer at the Acton Institute.

Islam, Democracy and Turkey

By Bilal Sambur

The inauguration of Abdullah Gul as Turkey’s new president has provoked a great deal of discussion — and anxiety — about the rise to power of a man who is an observant Muslim with a background in Islamic politics. Instead of anxiety, the world should be celebrating Gul’s election as the greatest breakthrough in the history of Turkish democracy and a sign of hope for Muslim nations all over the world.

In July elections, Gul’s Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkey) won 47 percent of the popular vote and came to power without having to form a coalition. But the main message to the military and secular elites who have run Turkey for so long was not about religion. It was about reforming Turkey’s government.

Today, the biggest problem in the Muslim world is the absence of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, with the exception of Turkey, there is no true democratic rule in the Muslim world at the present time. Most Muslim countries are ruled by militarist dictatorships, kings, monarchs and totalitarian regimes. Under these anti-democratic and illiberal regimes, Muslim people have no opportunity to participate in the political life of their countries.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, a number of former communist countries established democracy rapidly and successfully. Although some former communist regimes have been transformed into democracies, the Muslim world has not been influenced by this new wave of democracy. The anti-democratic regimes of the Muslim world have successfully isolated themselves from this third wave of democracy. And everything seems to be the same as it used to be in Muslim world.

Liberal democracy has taken root in many places outside its birthplace in Europe and the United States. India is the best example of that. Although India has Hindu culture, it is the most populous democratic country in the world now. Having a liberal democratic rule or a totalitarian/autocratic regime is a matter of choice. But Muslim societies have not, for the most part, been given an opportunity to choose between a liberal democratic rule and anti-democratic regime. Recent developments in Turkey show that Muslim people choose democracy when they have a chance to choose it. (more…)

A recent NBER paper, “Distributional Effects of Globalization in Developing Countries,” by Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg and Nina Pavcnik examines some effects of trade liberalization on low-skill workers.

Les Picker summarizes the findings, “Not surprisingly, the entry of many developing countries into the world market in the last three decades coincides with changes in various measures of inequality in these countries. What is more surprising is that the distributional changes went in the opposite direction from what the conventional wisdom suggests: while trade liberalization was expected to help the less skilled, who are presumed to be the relatively abundant factor in developing countries, there is overwhelming evidence that they are generally not made better off relative to workers with higher skill or education levels.”

There’s a lot more here to digest and the article has some predictably necessary nuances and caveats, not least of which concerns the problematic elements of trying to find a causal link between temporally related phenomena: “The authors’ findings suggest a contemporaneous increase in various measures of globalization and inequality in most developing countries, although establishing a causal link between these two trends has proven more challenging. However, the evidence has provided little support for the conventional wisdom that trade openness in developing countries would favor the less fortunate.”

It’s one thing to say that globalization proportionally rewards more highly educated and skilled workers relative to less educated and skilled workers. This by itself is not obviously unjust, and indeed, it seems to pass a basic sense of justice that jobs that require more skills and training ought to command a higher wage. Maybe a system that distributes more unevenly according to a measure of merit such as education or skill-level is more just than another system which is more equitable in purely distributive terms.

That said, it’s quite another thing to say that low-skilled workers are not made better off in absolute terms by globalization. I’m inclined to think that we shouldn’t be so concerned about relative disparities as we are by comparing in absolute terms the state of the working poor under systems of liberal versus illiberal trade.

If the working poor are better off under a liberal trade regime than an illiberal one, and higher educated workers are paid relatively more, there is a simultaneous increase in the poor’s immediate economic prospects as well as a relative increase in the economic incentive to improve their skills.

But his latter point only is effective in a situation where labor mobility is a real option, and as the NBER paper points out, “the strict labor market regulation that many developing countries had in place prior to the recent reforms is a potential source of labor market rigidities.”

So, for the promise of globalization to be realized, trade not only needs to be liberalized, but so does labor. Workers need to be free to move between sectors, both within and without national boundaries. As I’ve argued before in another context, we need both free trade and free labor.

For more on international labor mobility among low-skill workers, see this NYT piece, “Short on Labor, Farmers in U.S. Shift to Mexico.” See also, “New UN Report Underscores Ties between Poverty and Productivity.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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PowerBlog has in the past endorsed the concept of micro-loans as a market-friendly and thereby effective way of aiding the poor, especially in developing countries.

Now Arneel Karnani has attacked microfinance in a prestigious publication, largely on the basis of macroeconomic data.

Over at Business as Mission Network, microfinancier Peter Greer supplies a thorough and fascinating response to the charges.

Certainly any movement needs it critics and Karnani scores some genuine points, but it seems to me that Greer’s rebuttals are on the whole convincing. Micro-loans won’t eliminate poverty, but they play an important role in its alleviation—and in the rehabilitation of the dignity of the individuals who are able to take responsibility for their economic welfare.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Monday, September 3, 2007
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Labor Day is one of those special American holidays that we all enjoy. We mark the end of summer by it, though fall doesn’t begin for several more weeks. This is the time we get back into our non-summer routines and school is now in session for most students and teachers. It is also a time for one final long weekend.

In the liturgy of my own church the benediction from yesterday’s worship said it well:

In the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, let your labors be for the glory of God and for the common good.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Mary’s son, let all of your living be for love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, let our labor not be for a paycheck but for a world changed by God’s love and justice.

May God, Creator of the universe, maker and shaper of all things, bless you labor as well as your rest. May the Son of God, the son of a carpenter, bless all of the work that you do. May the Holy Spirit, ever working for the new creation, bless your service and keep you in God’s purpose, now and forevermore.

Amen!

I am reminded, by such a solid and theologically based expression of prayer, of just how weak my own childhood tradition was in handling the question of work done by Christians. There were at least three examples of this that are common to evangelical Pietism. (1) Work is only a means to an end, make money so that you can pay the bills and serve God in other ways. Many Christian conservatives still teach this in various forms. (2) Labor unions, and various expressions of work solidarity, are wrong. Christians should submit to their employers in such a manner that all efforts to improve working conditions are seen as a waste of time, if not outright rebellion. (3) Work is entirely secular, thus far less important, than ministry, mission or evangelism, which are all seen as sacred.

Don’t you think that the liturgical benediction expresses a much better approach to labor and rest?

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening." His home blog is located here.