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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 25, 2005
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I’ve talked before about the complexities of government funding before with regard to the abstinence-program called the Silver Ring Thing.

Now, on the heels of an ACLU suit, SRT is being faced with a cut-off in federal funding. The AP reports that the SRT may be in violation of Department of Health and Human Services regulations for not adequately separating “worship, religious instruction or proselytization” programs from the government-funded services.

A letter signed by Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau, states “Our review indicates that the (Silver Ring Thing) may not have included adequate safeguards to clearly separate in time or location inherently religious activities from the federally funded activities.”

According to The Washington Times, SRT leaders feel they will be able to assuage the questions of government regulators. “We don’t think there will be any problem,” said Denny Pattyn, leader of SRT. “If we’re not doing it perfectly or correctly, or it needs to be tweaked, then HHS will instruct us and we will tweak it,” he said.

But instead of attempting to meet the government’s requirements, this may be a great opportunity for SRT to wean itself off of government support, ending its state dependency. The false dichotomy between faith and works represented in the HHS guidelines should be criticized rather than accepted by Christian groups.

This feature from yesterday’s Marketplace looks at the “endless variations of designer hybrid dogs.” These new breeds crossing more traditional lines of dogs can command a large pricetag.

The “cute name” attraction, the possibilities of allergen free dogs, and the idea of getting the best of both breeds have put these designer dogs in high demand. My wife and I are currently considering getting a Cockapoo, a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix.

A labradoodle.

I’m bringing up these new breeds, though, as an illustration of what morally permissible creation of “genetic” chimeras might look like. I’ve blogged about chimeras on the PowerBlog previously, but very often there is great difficulty in determining what is legitimate and what is not.

I’m proposing that chimeras that can be created without direct genetic manipulation should generally be considered acceptable. So the case of mixed dog breeds that can mate and procreate naturally meets and exemplifies this criteria.

Update: We’ve decided to get the dog.

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
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On behalf of all thoughtful Christians, I would like to apologize for the suggestion of Pat Robertson to ‘take out’ Hugo Chavez. Robertson’s comments below do not represent any popular opinion or reasoned argument that would be supported by those evangelicals embracing prudence.

Robertson had this to say on Monday’s 700 Club, "If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. . .We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said. "We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 22, 2005
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Given the discussion last week about the ONE campaign and it’s position as a “first step” in fighting poverty in the developing world, I thought I’d pass along this story about evangelical pastor and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. He clearly doesn’t view his participation in the ONE campaign as the last word on the matter.

Rick Warren

John Coleman blogs about Warren’s work “with his global network to turn genocide-ravaged Rwanda into the world’s first ‘Purpose-Driven Nation.'” Coleman references a TIME magazine article about the effort, which reads, “For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest.”

Warren’s efforts in Rwanda have moved forward so quickly in part because, as Warren says, he was “looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model,” and President Kagame, impressed by Warren’s book, volunteered Rwanda as a pilot nation.

Coleman remarks observantly, “It seems to me that two of the biggest movers of political and cultural reform over the coming century will be private charity and globalization (the extension of Western security and economic rule sets–free markets, private property, etc.–to developing or war-ravaged nations); and Warren’s initiative might mark something of a turning point for both Africa and the church.”

I, along with others, have something other than unrestrained praise for The Purpose Driven Life. John H. Armstrong, for example, thanks God for Rick Warren, and thinks he “shines as a star for graciousness and balance.” But even so, Armstrong thinks Warren’s “definition of purpose is just too small. This is where a more theologically developed view of divine purpose would help him if he studied, and used, the great Protestant catechisms.” My own criticisms are no so much related to the book itself, even though after three tries I have been unable to bring myself to finish it.

It’s not that there is anything bad about the book, but I find it’s observations so basic, even pedestrian, that as a theologian I find it hard to read. It’s a bit like reading a Dr. Seuss-level book but without the humorous rhymes. This accessiblity (as it might charitably be called), strikes me at once as both the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. The simplicity of style and content no doubt has played a large part in the book’s popularity.

But it also is a bit disturbing that something so theologically basic can be so new and novel to so many American Christians. The rave reviews you read about the book make me wonder what in the world these Christians are hearing from the pulpit every Sunday! And this is to say nothing about what they should be learning in small groups, education classes, or, as Armstrong recommends, catechetical training.

In any case, Warren’s Rwandan effort should be celebrated as the kind of Christian work that moves beyond the political activism of the ONE campaign. The location of this effort in Rwanda is remarkable in part because of the ambivalent role clergy played in the genocide. According to TIME, “Catholic and Protestant clergy have been convicted in connection with the genocide in his country in 1994, and Kagame has repeatedly stated his disdain for religious organizations.”

If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” based on a true story and starring Don Cheadle, I highly recommend it (read a review here). On his recent first visit to the country, Cheadle said he is co-authoring a book about how individual Americans can responsibly engage the problem of poverty in Africa. Citing common complaints from the West, “I had the same concerns and skepticism about sending aid to some shadowy situation where I didn’t know if a warlord was going to get the money,” he said.

Can I keep him, Mom? Please? I’ll feed him and love him and call him my own.

Oh, your lion eyes…Check out the two articles from this week’s journal Nature as reported on Newsday.com. (There must be an editor at work here with a sarcastic sense of humor.)

In the first article, a commentary by Josh Donlan, a plan is proposed for fighting the loss of endagered species: repopulate the American Plains with (among other things) elephants, wild horses, cheetahs, and yes, lions.

The “rewilding” of parts of North America’s heartland could restore some balance to an ecosystem that lost a slew of similar species around 13,000 years ago, according to a commentary in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Although conceding that “huge cultural obstacles” would have to be surmounted, lead author and Cornell University ecologist Josh Donlan argues that the long-range plan also might help preserve animals in danger of extinction elsewhere.

One must wonder if in the minds of these retro-evolutionists, the phrase “huge cultural obstacles” actually means “people”?

One must admire the work of those who seek to preserve endangered species. That being said, the problem here is the same problem with many environmentalists: a mindset that a world without the infection of humanity is somehow a better world. The idea is that the pre-historic world, or a world without the corruption of modern man, is paradise.

Yes, this could be you…

Being someone who considers himself mildly ‘outdoorsy’ and culturally ‘rural’, I understand this eco-nostalgia. Creation is beautiful and ought to be enjoyed. I would love to romp through undefiled, silvan wonderlands just as much as the next Nalgene-toting, Birk-calced, Steve Irwin wannabe. (The opening sequence of Last of the Mohicans seems to the ideal for many enviros…that is, until Daniel Day-Lewis fires a lead ball through the neck of an elk…)

There goes the neighborhood…

But come on. To ‘rewild’ North American plains? The unstated premise is that what is ‘tamed’ is wrong. This ideology denies the human person’s role in developing the world and its resources. It denies that environmental stewardship means to cultivate the world, not simply to retrofit it to our romantically fuzzy notions of a Majestic Past. But many environmentalists think that left to itself, wild nature is somehow more just, more ideal, more…ahem…humane. I think Mr. Donlan has seen The Lion King a few too many times.

And, oh yeah: the other article about lions? Lion attacks on humans are on the rise in Tanzania.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 15, 2005
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Given the discussion that’s been going on around the Acton site over the last week or so (on the blog here and here, in the commentary comments section, and in this week’s poll question), I’m pointing out this timely piece in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, co-written by Todd Flanders, an Acton adjunct scholar and headmaster of Providence Academy. Flanders’ co-author is Dr. Yvonne Boldt, chair of the science department at the academy.

In “The origin of the biology debate Intelligent design movement says the science isn’t settled on how life is shaped,” (free registration required) Flanders and Boldt ask some critical questions, “Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?”

In regard to the Darwinist/Intelligent Design controversy, they ask, “why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can’t use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.”

The difference in perspective from the ONE Campaign and directly responsible charitable efforts is summed up in the first two sentences from this article in Christianity Today:

“Eighteen-year-old Lauren Tomasik had a vision. This Wheaton Academy senior wanted to see her Christian high school raise $75,000 to build a medical clinic in Zambia to combat HIV/AIDS. And she wanted the money to come from the pockets of her 575 fellow students.”

The “We don’t want your money, we just want your voice,” mantra of the ONE Campaign, besides being disingenuous, undermines the kind of motivation for personal action shown in these Christian high schoolers’ effort.

Alumna Natalie Gorski gets at this when she says, “How awesome a God we have. He was able to use us as his instruments and say, ‘Look at what I did through Wheaton Academy. I can do that all over the United States.'”

The difference in attitudes is perfectly displayed in this Ad Council campaign on Youth Civic Engagement, revolving around the slogan, “Fight Mannequinism.” You may have seen one of these on TV, like the ad where a bunch of people stand around looking at a piece of trash laying next to a garbage can, talking about how terrible it is that someone just left it there.

“Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

One of the bystanders says, “Man, I’m like this close to throwing it away myself.” When their voices reach a crescendo, a passerby simply sees the trash, walks over, picks it up, throws it away, and keeps moving. A voiceover at the end says, “Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

While the ad campaign is aimed at voter participation, I think it speaks just as well to the difference in attitudes behind government lobbying like the ONE campaign and personal charitable activity. We could all stand around talking about how terrible the AIDS epidemic is and asking someone else (e.g. the government) to do something about it. Or we could act ourselves, like the students at Wheaton Academy have done, and be God’s instruments of charity.

As I have mentioned before, we must be extremely careful about our language when we debate one another on any issue. So often, an argument is won, lost, or irredeemably confused because of a definition. If truths can be unlocked in careful definition, so can lies be reified in careless ones.

A case in point: what we mean by ‘poverty.’ The BBC has a story exploring how the definition of this word has changed as social conditions improved in England. The gist of the article is that once the deep poverty of Victorian England became history, poverty aquired a new definition; the new definition emphasized not the inability of people to sustain themselves (as was once the measure) but how a given person’s income related to society at large.

This of course begs the question: in a society of immense wealth, are those people in poverty who can afford only a fraction of the luxuries that others can afford? Can we so easily hijack a word, complete with its connotations? If you think that words cannot be so easily hijacked, so easily skewed, or so simply misunderstood as to serious impact culture and life, I submit the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘human rights’ for your consideration.

In a recent post, Jordan Ballor highlighted the efforts of Mr. Armen Yousoufian, who has been seeking public disclosure of records relating to the financing of the new stadium built recently for the Seattle Seahawks largely at taxpayer expense. Mr. Yousoufian has responded to Ballor’s post with the following comment:

In reply to: “They picked on the Wrong Armenian”, which is about my successful and landmark Public Disclosure Act violation lawsuit here in Washington state, thank you for the coverage. The case goes to court again on August 19 for determination of penalties and the amount of legal fees I am to be awarded for my two successful appeals of the original verdict (that will be the 4th round in over 8 years, after I won every step of the way and all the way to the state Supreme Court). If you or your readers would like more information, please visit my website: www.ArmenYousoufian.com or my blog: www.Yousoufian.blogspot.com. Lots of material, including trial briefs at all four stages of the litigation. Or email me at ayousoufian@comcast.net with something in the subect line referring to this comment left at this site.

Armen Yousoufian
Vashon Island, Washington

Those are some websites that are probably worth keeping an eye on.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 1, 2005
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Here’s a view of procreation that doesn’t line up with the UN-sponsored “World Population Day”. In the midst of a discussion about a Jewish tradition mandating that each couple has at least one male and one female childe, Bryan Caplan at EconLog writes,

I’m on the record in favor of having more kids. I believe that, in most cases, both individuals and society would be better off if families had three or four. A lot of people have small families because they are mildly tired when they are young, and fail to consider that as a result they will be very lonely when they’re old. Two grown children is not enough to get a decent quantity of phone calls and grandchildren.