“A human brain trapped inside a mouse’s body — not a good idea,” says Anjana Ahuja in the UK Times.

Not convinced? Check out this piece of mine over at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

In the Introduction to an important new book by J. Budziszewski that engages four distinct traditions of evangelical political thought, Michael Cromartie observes: “While appreciative of the contributions of each of these thinkers [Carl Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder], Budziszewski finds fault with each, to a greater or lesser degree, for failing to develop a systematic political theory as compelling as those offered by the secularist establishment. He suggests that evangelical political thought would be improved if it were informed by the tradition of natural law.” I couldn’t agree more. But I’d like to take this a step further, or, at the very least, in a slightly different direction, and one that I’m sure Budziszewski would also find complementary: evangelical bioethical thought.

There are some very good people and organizations at work in this field already, but, as with Protestant natural law thinking in general, evangelicals as a group must not only catch a vision of what’s at stake in today’s great bioethical issues but also rediscover the resources of the natural-law tradition that lie dormant within their own theological traditions. As Budziszewski states in relation to politics, but which applies perhaps more poignantly in the realm of bioethical debate, “Although evangelicals are rightly committed to grounding their political reflection in [special] revelation, the Bible provides insufficient materials for the task. This I have called the evangelical dilemma. The missing piece of this puzzle lies in the recognition that the Bible is only part of revelation.” The other part, and the one desperately needed at this point in time, is the general or natural revelation that God makes evident not only to believers but to all humankind.

In today’s commentary I attempt to alert evangelicals of the connection between IVF and the embryo “surplus” and to call for increased moral reflection by Protestants about IVF. Protestant ethicists, pastors, and lay people need to probe the moral issues surrounding IVF much more fully and to develop a moral theology that can be applied to the full range of currently contested bioethical issues.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 6, 2006

This article by Mary D. Gaebler, visiting assistant professor of theological ethics at Gustavus Adolphus College, “Eros in Benedict and Luther,” from the Journal of Lutheran Ethics argues, “Lutherans, insofar as they derive their theology from Luther, should welcome Pope Benedict’s Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Luther, I think, would find this latest word from the Vatican surprisingly congenial.” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

One of Gaebler’s main goals is refuting the interpretation of Luther characterized by the work of Anders Nygren, which radically dichotomizes the concepts of agape and eros. She asks whether Luther “categorically” rejects “the kind of self-love that Benedict points to in his use of the term eros? There is much in Luther’s work to suggest that he does not. My own reading points to a more Catholic Luther on this matter of eros, particularly in his mature work.”

The crux of the argument is whether, as Benedict states, “Fundamentally ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions. At different times one or [an]other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions [eros and agape] are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”

Whereas Nygren argues that Luther finds no legitimate place for erotic love, Gaebler says that in Luther’s later and mature theology (during and after the 1520s), “Here we see the very interesting conflation between caring for others on the one hand, and preserving one’s own life on the other. No longer does the earlier “either/or” duality define the character of an action. No longer a matter of either self or neighbor, now both neighbor and self are addressed in God’s command to protect life.”

The strict and radical opposition and separation of agape and eros and the characterization of the former as divine and the latter as merely sinful is simply untenable. You can find great evidence for erotic elements of divine love, I think, in the covenant language of the Old Testament and the corresponding concept of chesed, or covenant-love. The Puritans certainly place a lot of emphasis on this and biblical wedding imagery.

In conclusion, I’d like to pass along this bit from Jonathan Edwards that seems to agree with both Luther and Benedict on this point (contra Nygren). It is taken from his Miscellanies (no. 301) and is titled “Man’s Nature, Self-Love, and Sin”: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Acton in the News

Over recent days a number of Acton staff have authored op-eds in various print outlets. Here’s a rundown:

One respondent to my piece wrote me a missive that opened by inquiring whether I am “a religious nut or just a fat Republican?” Anyone who knows me can see the error of this question immediately: It is presented in “either/or” form instead of as a “both/and” proposition.

A number of these op-eds are based on material that originally appeared as installments of Acton Commentary. If you aren’t a subscriber to our free weekly email update, Acton News & Commentary, get the scoop on the latest Acton writing directly to your inbox by signing up here.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For Vocation in Daily Work,” (1979), p. 261

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 1, 2006

Check out Jeff Cornwall contra “entrepreneurial welfare” over at The Entrepreneurial Mind.

Charles Colson, recipient of the 2006 Faith & Freedom Award

In case you haven’t heard, mark your calendars and save the date for the Acton Institute’s Annual Dinner on October 26, 2006 in Grand Rapids. You can register to attend online here.

Charles W. Colson will deliver remarks on the topic, “War of the Worlds,” describing the great clash of civilizations between Christianity with Islam on the one hand and with secular naturalism on the other.

Mr. Colson is also this year’s recipient of the Faith & Freedom Award, first established in 2000, which “recognizes an individual who exemplifies commitment to faith and freedom through outstanding leadership in civic, business, or religious life.” More information on the award is available here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tort reform has been on the political agenda for some time. Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok make a unique contribution to the debate in their new monograph, Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial (Independent Institute).

The first lines are clever:

Recently each of us has successfully sued more than a half dozen large corporations. No, we are not outrageously rich plaintiffs’ lawyers or the attorney general of New York. In fact, neither of us even knew that we were a party to these suits until we received a letter telling us that a lawyer had sued on our behalf.

The authors examine a number of issues surrounding the tort debate: whether race and poverty influence jury decisions (they do); whether judges would be better arbiters of damage awards than juries (not as much as one might think); and whether regulating contingent fees would improve tort law (it wouldn’t).

What is uniquely compelling about this treatment is that the authors rely more on number crunching than anecdotal evidence to support their contentions. Their conclusions are cautious and reasonable.

What is missing from their account is the recognition that the excesses of tort litigation cannot be addressed by legal reform alone. There is a moral dimension to the problem: a failure to acknowledge and treat others as human persons and a consequent neglect of the demands of the common good. Interestingly, Judge and Jury gestures in that direction. The authors observe that most abuses in the current system occur when juries and judges are assessing claims affecting out-of-state parties—in other words, when the damages levied will affect people far removed from them (and whose personal dignity and rights can be more easily ignored).

For a full treatment of the moral dimension of the tort debate, see Ronald Rychlak’s Trial by Fury.

Rick Ritchie has a thought-provoking post over at Old Solar, deconstructing a rather shrill WorldNetDaily article. In a piece titled, “What!? Caesar’s Money Has Strings Attached?,” Ritchie soberly observes, “When you do accept state funding, the state does have an interest in how its money is used.”

The WND piece and Ritchie’s post refer to this bit of California legislation, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which requires any educational institution that receives government support in any form, including through student financial aid, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

According to the WND article, the Capitol Resource Institute’s “analysis of the legislation concluded it will prevent parochial schools such as private, Christian and other religious institutions from getting financial assistance for students if they maintain a code of conduct that does not endorse such behavior.”

As Ritchie rightly observes, the legislation doesn’t seem to say anything about condoning, promoting, or endorsing particular behavior, but simply about not discriminating on such a basis.

Ritchie writes, “This issue, when you tease it out, really has to do with the nature of the state’s involvement in education in a broader sense. That these groups are suddenly bothered now as if a really new element had entered into the equation strikes me as disingenuous. Either that, or these people are really stupid.”

The reality of the strings attached to government money have led some schools, like Hillsdale College, for instance, to refuse to accept any federal funding. This legislation comes on the heels of recent cases in California where students have been expelled from a Christian school for so-called “lesbian behavior,” in addition to a school which expelled a student “because her mother is gay.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 31, 2006

In the modern classic Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, played by Kurt Russell, asks Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday why the sinister Johnny Ringo is so evil: “What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?”

Doc’s memorable answer is, “A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.” This echoes, I think, the famous line about human beings addressed to God in Augustine’s Confessions, that “thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”

The popular rock band Aerosmith put it this way in their 1997 song, “Hole In My Soul”: “There’s a hole in my soul / That’s been killing me forever / It’s a place where a garden never grows.”

The Bible talks at great length about the quest for meaning apart from God. Indeed, the entire book of Ecclesiastes seems to be devoted to this topic. Some, as in the Aerosmith tune, attempt to fill the hole through romantic love. Others, like Johnny Ringo, seek to fill in the God-shaped hole through robbery, rape, and murder. Indeed, one of the most common substitutes for God is money, which is in part why Jesus warns us against this specific temptation.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the voracious appetite of the wicked foe: “He is as greedy as the grave / and like death is never satisfied.” But greed is not a vice simply of our foes or enemies; we are all tempted by this natively human sin.

It is greed, or “money envy,” I think which is in large part behind what many sociological studies are telling us about wealth and happiness. (In case you weren’t aware, the study of happiness, or “subjective well-being,” is a burgeoning academic field. See, for example, the Journal of Happiness Studies inaugurated in 2000.)

This article by finance columnist Laura Rowley, “Keeping Up with the Joneses Can Put You Behind,” (HT: Lifehacker via Houseblogs.net) notes that “Andrew Oswald of England’s Warwick University and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College found that even if our incomes are rising, we tend to become less happy if the incomes of others are increasing more.”

Other sociologists have argued that “in evaluating their own incomes, individuals compare themselves to their peers of the same age. Therefore a person’s reported level of happiness depends on how his or her income compares to others in the same age group.”

This natural tendency to compare our financial status to others is an expression of money envy, which also finds expression, at least in part, in the concern about income disparities. Oftentimes, it isn’t enough for us to be happy or satisfied with our standard of living, even if it has improved over time, if others are relatively better well-off. Check out this interview with Rob Moll, who says that in the process of working on his CT article on suburban spirituality, “it hit me how much we live our lives in relation to what others have.”

Rowley’s piece includes tips on how to avoid so-called “money envy,” such as the need to “figure out our purpose, identify what we love and value most, and make our money obey our values by setting specific financial goals. Because if we achieve the things we value most, we’ll be less riveted by what the neighbors are doing.”

Some of these practical tips should be quite helpful. But any long-term and comprehensive solution needs to recognize that the problem is, at root, spiritual. The solution therefore needs to be spiritual, and is, in short, captured in two words: mortification and vivification, or “dying to self” and “rising to Christ.”

Update: Check out Arnold Kling’s somewhat related post over at EconLog, “Envy, Happiness, and Social Policy.”