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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 1, 2005
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A section compiled by Matt Donnelly at Science & Theology News calls the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’s recent formation a continuation of “the recent and laudable trend of faith-based organizations making a serious attempt to grapple with the religious basis for environmental stewardship.”

The section also provides links to their coverage of a number of other aspects of “the intersection of religious belief and environmental protection.”

Blog author: kwoods
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
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Tis the Season!

The Salvation Army Bell Ringers are now audibly calling us to seasonal charitable giving. But the pleas from multiple organizations for our benevolence—from both unprecedented terrorist attacks and natural disasters to the ever-present needs of our less fortunate neighbors—have been virtually ongoing since 9/11.

However, amidst all the research about how much Americans give and who needs what the most, and the gloom and doom rhetoric of so-called donor fatigue, it is appropriate to appreciate another principle as important as charity–freedom. Apart from any “shoulds” and “oughts,” we may first give thanks that whatever resources we have—including time, goods, and financial ones—are ours to give freely. (The IRS variable is ever-present, so it’s not ALL ours to give, but there is some.)

And notwithstanding the [url=http://www.ncrp.org/press_room/index.asp?Article_Id=73]accusatory finger pointing[/url] of [url=http://blog.acton.org/index.html?/archives/140-The-Best-Kind-of-Charity.html]“social philanthropy” advocates[/url] those with little or generous means are on a level decision making playing field: they have the freedom to give to those individuals, causes, and communities, even in countries of their choosing.

In review of unprecedented disasters spanning September 11 to the 2005 hurricane season, a [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110500276.html]Washington Post headline[/url] blazed “Some disasters compel us to give: Americans reach for their wallets.” And frankly, no where else on the planet do human beings seem so compelled to give and give so generously as Americans. Congressional attention to the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:8:./temp/~c109CEgfH5]Katrina Tax Relief Act[/url], the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.01780]C.A.R.E. Act [/url] and the recent late night passage of the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.02020]Budget Reconciliation Bill[/url] all attempt to encourage us to give even more to charity.

Tocqueville is among the legion who have articulated this [url=http://www.acton.org/publicat/m_and_m/new/review.php?id=26]unique, overwhelming American response[/url] to needs of fellow human beings. And now ‘tis the season to not just give thanks for the resources that we have but more importantly the freedom that we have to use those resources.

Only in a free society is the true dignity of each human person underscored. Free to earn and free to give. And even the decision about what is “good charity” vs. “bad charity” is a reflection of a society that gives us freedom to have and then to exercise those values. End-of-year giving should cause us to reflect on July 4th as well.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
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This made me think of this. If the British phone company were really smart, they’d just negotiate a price to use the Book-A-Minute Classics. The versions are a bit different, though. Here’s Dante’s Inferno: “Some woman puts Dante through Hell. THE END.”

These are really quite good. I especially like the War and Piece classic.

HT: Betsy’s Page (It made her think of the connection, too)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, November 21, 2005
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This month’s Esquire magazine is the annual “Genius” issue (with Bill Clinton as the coverboy, which might seem strange until you realize that the word “genius” is related to the words “genii” and “jinn,” which in mythology were often negative spiritual beings, “commonly believed to be responsible for diseases and for the manias of some lunatics”).

Speaking about the trouble with working through and for bureaucratic governments in his article “What I Did on My Summer Vacation: I Went to Africa,” (subscription required) Jeffrey Sachs, director of both the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN Millennium Project: “Officialdom the world over is pretty slow moving, pretty impractical, and pretty darn frustrating in many ways, so even when the proof of these concepts is clear, actually getting things done is not so easy.”

So when Sachs sees problems all over the world, he’s rightly frustrated by the governmental inability to deal with the issues. Through his hands-on experience, Sachs has learned to appreciate the necessary and decisive role private charity plays. He says with respect to the poverty, suffering, and death in developing countries,

It’s not very satisfactory to see this and not act. And so in the last couple of years I’ve started to talk about these problems with business leaders and philanthropists, and over and over again I’ve heard the same response: Don’t wait for the government. I’ll help you. So what kind of accidentally dawned on us was that we could just go ahead and get these concepts proven on the ground. And that’s what we are doing. And many philanthropists have come forward now and said, We’ll give you some backing; show us what you can do.

This is exactly the element that poverty advocate and U2 frontman Bono called for in a recent interview. “We need the marketing firepower,” he said. “We have the churches, the students, the rock stars, the movie stars, the cowboys. What we need now is corporate America.”

Sachs goes on to describe how the idea for Millennium Villages came about, through the interaction of field experts and donors: “…that’s how the Millennium Villages concept was born. The scientists said, Let’s move. The philanthropists said, Let’s move. A year ago we went and met with the community in Kenya and talked to people there about it. And they said, Let’s move!”

Sachs goes on to lay out the foundation for the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which emphasize both public and private sector engagement, but at over a 2:1 ratio of public over private. He writes of a meeting to find out what it would take to get developing countries out of poverty, “They said the public sector will do some and the private sector needs to do some, and that it should be about a seventy-thirty split. So that’s where the seventy cents came from. And that was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1970.”

It’s unfortunate that the sensitivity that Sachs has at the beginning of the article to the unresponsiveness and corruption of government doesn’t lead him to primarily emphasize private rather than public aid. It’s appropriate to call governments to task for not living up to their pledges, the United States especially. But that finger-wagging shouldn’t take away from the “Let’s move, don’t wait for government” approach. That’s essentially my complaint with the church infatuation with the MDG’s…they tend to overemphasize the role of government and deemphasize personal and private giving.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 18, 2005
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To expand the “scientist” as “priest” metaphor a bit, you may find it interesting to read what Herman Bavinck has to say on the fundamental place of “faith” with respect to all kinds of knowledge, including not only religious but also scientific:

Believing in general is a very common way in which people gain knowledge and certainty. In all areas of life we start by believing. Our natural inclination is to believe. It is only acquired knowledge and experience that teach us skepticism. Faith is the foundation of society and the basis of science. Ultimately all certainty is rooted in faith.

A little later he writes:

Clement of Alexandria in many places uses πιστις to denote all immediate knowledge and certainty and then says that there is no science without belief, that the first principles, including, for example, the existence of God, are believed, not proven. Especially Augustine highlighted the significance of belief for society and science. Those who do not believe, he says, never arrive at knowledge: “Unless you have believed you will not understand.” Belief is the foundation and bond uniting the whole of human society.

The point essentially is that all of us, scientist, pastor, gardener, or surfer, have presuppositions, first principles or principia that are by definition that “on which all proofs ultimately rest, [and] are not themselves susceptible of being proven: they are certain only by and to faith. Proofs, therefore, are compelling only to those who agree with us in accepting those principles. ‘There is no point in arguing against a person who rejects the first principles’ (Contra principia negantem non est disputandum).”

This final Latin phrase that Bavinck quotes, incidentally, is often traced back to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, but also appears in a form in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas: quod inferiores scientiae nec probant sua principia, nec contra negantem principia disputant, or “the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them” (ST 1.1.8).

As a brief aside, there is no relationship between the Greek word for faith (πιστις, or pistis) and epistemology as a “theory of knowledge,” which instead comes from Greek words meaning “to stand over.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 18, 2005
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Let me quickly respond to this week’s Acton Commentary:

While I agree in broad strokes with Dr. Larrivee’s analysis of the questionable assumptions of the fair trade movement, with respect to coffee in particular, I don’t agree that the problem is “low productivity in the countries in which farmers live.” I have previously argued that the source of the issue is in fact too much coffee, so that the market is saturated and cannot sustain high prices given the declining worldwide demand.

Dr. Larrivee later rightly observes that the fair trade system contributes to a situation which “would expand the supply until the price farmers receive dropped back to the subsistence level.” I think, in fact, this has already happened in the case of coffee, and the fair trade movement simply exacerbates the problem.

You can read more about my take on the situation here.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 18, 2005
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Among the ways the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is going about attempting to raise public awareness of hunger issues is the use of “celebrity” athelete spokesmen. Paul Tergat, who won this year’s New York City Marathon, was a recipient of WFP aid when he was growing up in Kenya. Listen to a Morning Edition story on Tergat and the WFP here. Tergat is specifially the pitchman for the WFP’s Race Against Hunger project, targeted at about 300 million schoolchildren globally.

This, of course, is just one of the various WFP publicity efforts, which also include the production of a free downloadable video game, “Food Force.” A review of WFP’s “Food Force” is available here.

Of course, the UN isn’t the only game in town. Feed The Children is an international, nonprofit, Christian aid group “that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals, children and families who lack these essentials due to famine, war, poverty or natural disaster.” A key part of Feed The Children’s effort is the push for sustainability: “A key goal is to help needy families move past needing help and into becoming self-sufficient members of their community. Through long-term, self-help development programs funded by grants and by our Child Sponsorship partners, tens of thousands of families in countries around the world have increased their ability to be self-sufficient by learning and applying new, marketable skills.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
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A long oral and written tradition about the mixing of species has been noted on this blog before, specifically with regard to Josephus. I just ran across this tidbit in Luther that I though I would share, which points to a continuation of a tradition of this sort running down through the Reformation.

Luther is commenting on the Old Testament character of Anah, and debating whether we might consdier Anah to have committed incest. He writes:

We could say that Anah also slept with his mother and that from this incest Oholibamah was born and many similar things. But nothing is to be imagined in Holy Scripture without clear testimonies of the Word. Below (v. 24) we shall hear that Anah was a notorious rascal and the author of an abominable act of copulation, namely, of asses with horses. But if he had no respect for the order and sight of God and nature but dared to mingle animals of a different genus, which is contrary to nature and the ordinance of God in the creation and concerning which Holy Scripture says in Gen. 1:25: “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind,” it could also come to pass that he slept with his mother.

Here we can see Luther’s logic: if Anah were the type of person to so flagrantly violate the creation order and engage in that “which is contrary to nature” and “an abominable act,” the mixing of animals across genus, he is clearly the type of person who would commit incest iwth his own mother. I would say that’s a rather striking indictment of such primitive genetic engineering.

Luther actually thinks that we should not attribute the crime of incest to Anah, but engages in this thought experiment to show us one way of arguing that Anah could have. The basis for this commentary is a genealogical passage, specifically Genesis 36:18, which could lead one to believe that Anah’s daughter was conceived by his own mother. Luther rejects this interpretation, attributing it to Jewish rabbinical tradition, but interestingly enough at the same time affirms an interpretive tradition regarding Genesis 1:25 and the ordering of the animal species.

The Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW! coalition announced today that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has endorsed the campaign to use DDT as a primary weapon in the fight to control and eliminate malaria. The coalition wants 2/3 of world’s malaria control funds to be spent on DDT, or any more cost-effective insecticide, plus artemisia-based combination therapies (ACTs).

Archbishop Tutu describes malaria as a “devastating” disease that is holding back African development.

Many African countries desperately need cost-effective insecticides, such as DDT, to battle the deadly mosquitoes that transmit the disease. It is a human tragedy that children die largely because donors fail to support appropriate and effective solutions to this preventable disease.

Read more on this important issue and the latest list of endorsers of the KMMN declaration.

A story on today’s Morning Edition by Claudio Sanchez examines the future of the school system in New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans school superintendent Ora Watson complains that charter schools are stepping in to fill the void left when public schools were cancelled for the remainder of this school year.

She says, “There are so many different agendas. The mayor has decided that the city can run 20 schools under a charter. We have individual schools going to individual groups saying, ‘Would you charter me?’ They’re picking the school district apart. This is a real, real frustration.” Of course it’s easy to see why this would be a “real frustrating” for someone with a vested bureaucratic interest in maintaining the pre-Katrina state of publicly administered education in New Orleans.

According to the report, Watson worries that New Orleans could be the “first urban school system in America to be taken over by special interest groups.” I assume she means special interest groups other than the National Education Association.

Listen to the rest of the report for other viewpoints on reconstructing education in New Orleans. In many ways, the disaster can be viewed as an opportunity to improve a broken and failing system.

It’s clear that superintendent Watson is ardently opposed to introducing a principle of freedom of choice and competition into the system. For more on how competition, rightly practiced, can work in the educational arena, see this interview with J. C. Huizenga, chairman of the National Heritage Academies.