This year’s hot vacation bible school package is called The Great Bible Reef – Dive Deep Into God’s Word. The folks at BretherenPress are advertising The Great Bible Reef this way:

Dive into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ for an incredible VBS! Kids experience Bible stories through an interactive combination of music, art, science, games, worship, and drama in an underwater adventure. The ‘Great Bible Reef’ will have your kids swimming with delight as they explore all of God’s creation under the sea. Everything you need to dive right into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ is contained in this fun, aquatic pack!

Is an ecumenical, eco-awareness-driven summer bible school going to make a difference in your kids lives? That’s the question parents should be asking before they drop Bobby or Susie off at the church. (more…)

Albert Mohler weighs in on the chimera phenomenon, “The Chimeras Are Coming.” He links to a WaPo article from yesterday, “Making Manimals,” by William Saletan.

Saletan, a writer for Slate.com, concludes with this advice: “If you want permanent restrictions, your best bet is the senator who tried to impose them two years ago. He’s the same presidential candidate now leading the charge against evolution: Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He thinks we’re separate from other animals, ‘unique in the created order.’ Too bad this wasn’t true in the past — and won’t be true in the future.”

Mohler, for his part, also passes on comments from Dr. Nancy L. Jones of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, including her words on “how Christians should think about the development of transgenic animals (chimeras).” She points especially to the first chapter of Genesis as a basis for created “species integrity.”

I won’t repeat a lot of what I’ve said about this issues in this and other forums over the past few years, but I will pass along some relevant links for interested parties. Of particular interest is the last item, which is a series devoted to articulating a biblical-theological framework for evaluating chimeras:

There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:

A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.

One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.

But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:

Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.

The idealism and the goals of the United Nations are laudable. The results, at least in recent years, have often been nothing short of a disaster. One example will suffice—the recently created U.N.’s Human Rights Council, begun a year ago this past week. This council is sadly typical of the modern collapse of the U.N. The Human Rights Council consists of 47 members, almost half of which are "unfree" or "partly free" nations, at least as ranked by Freedom House. Trying to get China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement on violations of freedom in various countries is like trying to get the mafia to give up crime.

Presently there are only nine countries on the human rights "watch list." These are Burundi, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Cambodia, Burma, Somalia and Sudan. But if Cuba is watching "the watched" then that is somewhat like the the fox watching the hen house. And at China’s request the council now insists on the "broadest possible support" of at least fifteen nations on the council to act. This means, in effect, that probes on freedom of speech and political rights are likely to amount to nothing. There has been a deafening silence from the other 190 U.N. members about these developments along with strong hints that most investigations of violators will soon end.

The council recently adopted a resolution entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions." This sounded promising. The document says that speech must "be exercised with responsibility" and limited to protect "public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs." Well and good. But there is a small problem. The only religion mentioned is Islam.

Critics of the U.S. tell us quite routinely that we who are not huge fans of the U.N. don’t really care what goes on in the world yet the U.S. is quite often one of the few nations that will actually intervene to protect human rights, though all too slowly many times. The European Union will not protect human rights so long as it has to defend Israel thus the real enemies of human rights have no real opposition politically in most of Europe. The U.S. taxpayers cover 22% of the bill for all this mess. This is why The Wall Street Journal piece was correct last week when it suggested we have only one real option: Stop funding the U.N. Human Rights Council. I have believed in the U.N., at least in theory, for a lifetime but the reality of the real world situation is fast making me doubt its real value for the future.

I’m reading David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, which is very ably reviewed (although not by me) in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (10.1). I just read a striking passage, which discusses the merits of a principle of property rights that respects first possession rather than equal shares.

An overlooked virtue of first possession: It lets us live together without having to view newcomers as a threat. If we were to regard newcomers as having a claim to an equal share of our holdings, the arrival of newcomers would be inherently threatening. Imagine a town with one hundred people. Each has a one hundred foot wide lot. If someone new shows up, we redraw property lines. Each lot shrinks by one foot, to make room for the new person’s equal share (and so on as more people arrive). Question: How friendly will that town be? Even now, in our world, people who see the world in zero-sum terms tend to despise immigrants. They see immigrants as taking jobs rather than as making products, as bidding up rents rather than as stimulating new construction, and so on. The point is not that xenophobia has moral weight, but that xenophobia is real, a variable we want to minimize if we can. Rules of first possession help. What would not help is telling people that newly arriving immigrants have a right to an equal share (155).

It seems that the latter is exactly what many political liberals in America are doing by guaranteeing various kinds of entitlements to immigrants, whether legal or illegal. In that sense, a statist ideology that emphasizes government provision of various social entitlements seems to promote and foment rather than minimize xenophobia. And so ironically, the liberals who champion a freer and more lenient immigration policy are effectively undermining their own efforts.

This also shows just how dominant a statist (or zero-sum) mentality is in today’s United States when political conservatives are the ones who are most vociferiusly depicting immigrants as economic and social drains rather than positive producers.

The reality is that immigration generally tends to be a net economic benefit. While there are some localized pockets of negative economic effects, the national economic trend is positive. This has been articulated in one of Acton’s policy publications, “The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy,” and was recently underscored by a White House report.

These realities bear serious reflection. Last Wednesday was World Refugee Day. We should be asking whether our society’s decisions about the government provision of social welfare entitlements has concurrently made our nation more attractive as a destination as well as more unfriendly to newcomers.

Could an elimination or reduction of entitlements make our country even more attractive while at the same time removing some of the economic incentives for xenophobia? Perhaps so.

I thought this was an interesting bit at the intersection of morality and economics. An insurance brokerage firm, K&B Underwriters, is sponsoring a physicians’ survey designed to determine whether doctors who work within a “culture of life” framework (e.g., eschewing abortion) are less prone to malpractice suits than those who don’t. The company’s hypothesis is that pro-life physicians are indeed “safer” in this way, with the implication that pro-life medical practices could be one criterion taken into account when calculating malpractice insurance. It’s a controversial claim, to be sure, but an intriguing approach—and the results so far seem to be supporting the hypothesis.

You can read more about the initiative—and complete the survey, if applicable—here.

HT: Deal Hudson’s “The Window” column.

This post will be updated and bumped as more audio becomes available. Newer audio appears at the bottom of the list.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 21, 2007
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Do you consider gasoline to be a gift from God? You should.

Andy Crouch, editorial director of the Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, writes in a recent Books & Culture piece, “As our family sits together, eyes closed, we say grace. Today it’s Timothy’s turn. ‘God, thank you so much for all we have,’ he begins in what turns into a typically prolix nine-year-old’s prayer. Eventually he is done—’in Jesus’ name, Amen’—and I turn the key. We have just filled up our car with gasoline.”

The Crouch family has introduced a tradition of praying at the pump, to recognize the gift that is the ability to fill up with gas and drive around. I think that’s a great thing to do.

But even still, Crouch seems to have a hard time fully admitting that petroleum products ought to be seen as manifestations of divine grace.

“Unlike a well-prepared meal, gasoline does not prompt gratitude unbidden. The stuff is smelly, dangerous, and not at all self-evidently good in itself. It is a means to my ends, juice for a momentary sense of power and control. It is surprisingly hard to remember to stop and say thanks before I pull out, a little too quickly, into traffic,” he writes.

I have to say that I’ve had some meals of my own that were pretty smelly and/or dangerous, and the parallels between food fuel for the human body and gas fuel for the car could perhaps be expanded further. But seriously, it seems to me that, despite the new family tradition, Crouch is having a hard time admitting that something like gasoline is just as much a gift from God as our daily bread.

I’m not quite sure what this means: “I can reasonably expect that the food I eat today will be replaced by a fresh crop next season. But the gallon of gas I burn today is gone for good (though it does leave behind 19 pounds of carbon dioxide for the biosphere to absorb). In this fleeting historical moment that will be remembered as the petroleum era, saying grace seems like the least we can do.”

Maybe we all should think about thanking God for gasoline, not only when we are at the pump, but also when we’re sitting down to our “well-prepared meal,” which was made possible by the foodstuffs delivered from all over the world by petroleum-powered vehicles.

In today’s NYT: “Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies.”

“Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.”

About how many other industries could a similar thing be said? It’s also good to see that some of these multinational aid groups sometimes focus on liberalizing trade, rather than simply on direct government-to-government compensatory aid packages. Apparently Oxfam “has long campaigned for reductions in rich country agricultural subsides as a means to fight rural poverty in the developing world.”

One reason Oxfam is critical of bilateral free trade agreements is that they “do not address the adverse impacts of rich-country subsidies on poor countries through dumping, or the plethora of non-tariff barriers that continue to impede access to rich-country markets.” Their claim is that the bargaining power of individual developing nations is reduced under such agreements, so that the developing nation ends up giving up concessions to the wealthier nation, while the latter does no such thing. Reducing tariffs without addressing subsidies and other “non-tariff barriers” works to undermine the interests of developing nations.

The NYT piece ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, and no doubt the elimination of subsidies alone will not be enough to combat the grinding poverty that is so prevalent in the developing world. But it would do a lot to level the playing field and give resources and products from the developing world a fighting chance in the global market.

“Subsidy reform alone will not resolve all the challenges facing the cotton sector,” Oxfam said. “But it could significantly ease the burden on poor cotton farmers struggling to support their families.”

On today’s Diane Rehm Show, a panel of experts discussed the pending energy policy legislation in the US Congress. Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel talked about the need to join the concepts of national security and climate change when discussing energy policy (RealAudio).

From her perspective, these two concerns are tied up together and shouldn’t be separated, in part because if you take energy independence and national security alone, you might think that reliance on coal would be the best option.

“If you go down the path of energy independence separate from considering global warming what you get is the possibility that some of the solutions to energy independence, like coal-to-liquids, actually leads you to higher global warming emissions,” says Wayland.

Wayland and the NRDC don’t want to see “is this jumpstarting of a whole new industry for coal, which is the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide.”

The linkage of concerns about climate change to international security policy is a critical part of an emerging narrative of international relations. For instance, new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said of the genocide in Sudan, “The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” This is the latest in a long series of attributions of blame for global crises coming from leading international figures. Following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, ecumenical faith leaders blamed the extent of the damage on man-made global warming.

Then, as now, I think that using tragedies and conflicts like the tsunami or the Darfur genocide to advance an ideological agenda, like the fight against global warming, is irresponsible. Ban Ki-moon may indeed be right to point out the ecological roots of the Darfur situation. When necessary commodities are scarce, it is not surprising that conflict often arises.

But to connect that particular situation, directly or indirectly, to man-made climate change (driven in large part by Western economies, most especially America) smacks more of opportunism than legitimate and responsible commentary. And if this kind of narrative becomes the dominant one politically, you can expect there to be talk of environmental economic reparations from the industrialized world to the developing world.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement about global warming that acknowledges the intimate linkages between global concerns about the environment, peace, and prosperity. According to MSNBC, “The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.”

“Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.”

Increased and growing poverty and environmental devastation do indeed have profound implications for geo-political relations, and particularly so when the blame flows only one way. But against the narratives of Western oppression and victimization of the developing world, we need to better understand and articulate the positive aspects of a globalized, interdependent, and interconnected political and social economy.