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As noted in an earlier post, this week is marks the 790th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Five years ago, Religion & Liberty published a series of essays on foundational documents in the history of Western civilization, or, as Edmund Burke called it, "this fierce spirit of liberty." The first of these essays was on the Magna Carta, "In the Meadow That Is Called Runnymede." Here are the others:

A quote from a speaker at the CRC’s Synod 2005, endorsing the Micah Challenge and the ONE Campaign.

He also intimated that churches could never hope to match the $40 billion pledged recently to cut aid debt for African nations.

Tell that to all the people and companies that gave a record $249 billion to charity in 2004. Religious organizations got the biggest portion of that number $88 billion.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think he’s giving the Church enough credit. Why beg for scraps at the government’s table when you could build your own?

In case Clark Pinnock refuses to take theology lessons from Loretta Lynn, perhaps he might deign to do so from Luther. Here he is on Genesis 6:

But here another question is raised. Moses says: “God saw that all the thoughts of man were evil.” Likewise: “and He was sorry that He had made man.” Now if God foresees everything, why does Moses say that God saw only now? If God is wise, how can it happen that He repents of something He did? Why did He not see this sin or this corrupt nature of man from the beginning of the world? Why does Scripture attribute to God a temporal will, vision, and counsel in this manner? Are not God’s counsels eternal and ἀμετανόητα (Rom. 2:5), so that He cannot repent of them? Similar statements occur in the prophets, where God threatens punishments, as in the case of the Ninevites. Nevertheless, He pardons those who repent.

To this question the scholastics have nothing else to reply than that Scripture is speaking in human fashion, and therefore such actions are attributed to God by some figure of speech. They carry on discussions about a twofold will of God: “the will of His sign” and “the will of His good pleasure.” They maintain that “the will of His good pleasure” is uniform and unchangeable, but that “the will of His sign” is changeable; for He changes the signs when He wishes. Thus He did away with circumcision, instituted Baptism, etc., although the same “will of good pleasure,” which had been predetermined from eternity, continued in force.

I do not condemn this opinion; but it seems to me that there is a less complicated explanation, namely, that Holy Scripture is describing the thinking of those men who are in the ministry. When Moses says that God sees and repents, these actions really occur in the hearts of the men who carry on the ministry of the Word. Similarly, when he said above: “My Spirit will not judge among men,” he is not speaking directly of the Holy Spirit as He is in His own essential nature or of the Divine Majesty but of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Noah, Methuselah, and Lamech, that is, of the Spirit of God as He is carrying on His office and administering the Word through His saints.

It is in this manner that God saw human wickedness and repented. That is, Noah, who had the Holy Spirit and was a minister of the Word, saw the wickedness of men and through the Holy Spirit was moved to grief when he observed this situation. Paul also similarly declares (Eph. 4:30) that the Holy Spirit is grieved in the godly by the ungodliness and wickedness of the ungodly. Because Noah is a faithful minister of the Word and the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, Moses correctly states that the Holy Spirit is grieving when Noah grieves and wishes that man would rather not be in existence than be so evil.

Therefore the meaning is not that God from eternity had not seen these conditions; He sees everything from eternity. But since this wickedness of man now manifests itself with the utmost violence, God now discloses this wickedness in the hearts of His ministers and prophets.

Thus God is immutable and unchanging in His counsel from eternity. He sees and knows all things; but He does not reveal them to the godly except at His own fixed time, so that they themselves may see them too. This seems to me to be the simplest meaning of this passage, and Augustine’s interpretation differs little from it.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, vol. 2, Luther’s Works, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1960), Genesis 6:5-6, p. 43-44.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 10, 2005

Max Blumenthal has responded to an earlier post of mine, which criticized him for a misunderstanding of the nature of freedom.

He states that my response “basically proves” his point re: clerical authoritarianism. He then goes on to ask what I mean by “theological relatives.”

First I must apologize for using such an opaque phrase. Perhaps I could have said it better by stating that if Blumenthal’s idea of freedom were translated into theological terms, it would be a sort of antinomianism, a heresy with a long historical heritage.

I suppose we must agree to disagree. Blumenthal finds that any sort of external moral check on individual autonomy amounts to “clerical authoritarianism.” And I’ll repeat my previously stated position on the matter: Freedom and morality are not contradictory, as Blumenthal assumes, but rather complementary. And that, contrary to Blumenthal, any explicit attempt to bring “God,” “religion,” or “morality,” explicitly into political discourse is not co-identical with “clerical authoritarianism” or “theocratizing.”

Blumenthal’s juxtaposition of the two ideas amounts to a false dilemma. He sets this logical fallacy up by inflating the the idea of “clerical authoritarianism” to refer not only to political power wielded by the institutional church but also to moral reflection by Christian leaders or laypersons. Perhaps he should have said “biblical authoritarianism” instead.

This post at Davids Medienkritik, “Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung: One-Sided Attack Journalism as News,” gives us a perfect example of what can happen when the media becomes unmoored. And I’ll take it as a piece of concrete evidence supporting the conclusions of my earlier post today.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The article I referenced a couple weeks ago about the trends in conservative think tanks and philanthropy noted that the first phase was ushered in by F. A. Hayek. In some ways, the arc that Piereson sketches follows a change in the relationship that Hayek observed between what he termed “academics” and “intellectuals.”

In his 1949 essay, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” (PDF) Hayek defines an intellectual in this way:

The term intellectuals, however, does not at once convey a true picture of the large class to which we refer and the fact that we have no better name by which to describe what we have called the secondhand dealers in ideas is not the least of reasons why their power is not better understood. Even persons who use the word “intellectual” mainly as a term of abuse are still inclined to withhold it from many who undoubtedly perform that characteristic function. This is neither that of the original thinker nor that of the scholar or expert in a particular field of thought. The typical intellectual need be neither: he need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those whom he addresses himself.

As you can see, Hayek does not mean the term to be especially praiseworthy. He rather views the intellectual as a sort of gatekeeper (in his words an “intermediary”) between those who have expert knowledge (academics/scholars) and the public. This particular article by Hayek argues that the role and importance of intellectuals in the formation of public opinion is generally overlooked, and that their function needs to be better understood in order to better disseminate conservative ideas.

None of this, however, takes away from the importance of having and producing the ideas to disseminate in the first place. Piereson’s piece paints a picture of conservative philanthropy having gradually moved away from an emphasis primarily on ideas and secondarily on method of dissemination (enter the intellecual). The reverse has rather become true: the talking heads and intelligentsia have become the primary focal point.
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Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Making poverty history?

Much has been written in recent weeks about Live 8, a series of concerts that will take place on July 6 in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Philadelphia. The name refers not only to the original Live Aid concerts that took place in 1985, but is also a reference to the G8 meetings that will be taking place in Edinburgh, Scotland at the same time as the concerts. G8 organizers are planning for massive protests which have been urged on by concert organizer Sir Bob Geldof, who has called for one million people to show up in Edinburgh to call for increases in aid and trade reform for Africa.

Geldof’s goals are threefold: “By doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children.”

Yesterday, Geldof participated in a conference call with a number of bloggers spanning the political spectrum, all of whom came away impressed with his knowledge of and passion for the issue of African poverty. Most interesting to those of us concerned with free markets is the fact that Geldof is placing a heavy emphasis on trade as a potential solution to Africa’s problems.

As I noted in an earlier post, there is good reason to be skeptical of claims that increased government-to-government aid is the cure for what ails Africa, and Live 8, like many other well-intentioned efforts, suffers from too much emphasis on that same old "solution" that hasn’t worked in the past. But in the sense that Live 8 introduces a free-trade element into an advocacy mix that has, in the past, been totally leftist in outlook, it may be an event worth monitoring.

More blog reaction at Captain’s Quarters and The Indepundit.
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Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, June 2, 2005
Bono: Heart in the right place, head not quite there yet

For those PowerBlog readers who don’t follow the world of rock and roll, the man in the photo on the left is Bono (aka Paul Hewson), the lead singer of the biggest rock and roll band in the world – U2. (I feel compelled to mention that I am Acton’s resident U2 Superfan: the proud owner of The Complete U2, regular attender of U2 concerts – I took that photo on May 7 in Chicago – and general aficionado of all things U2-related.)

What you may not have known about Bono is that he has become a relatively influential campaigner on behalf of Africa-related causes – primarily debt reduction, trade issues, and the AIDS crisis. It may surprise you that this rock star has managed to meet with and gain the respect of a wide range of politicians and world leaders, including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Senator Jesse Helms, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Kofi Anan, and even Pope John Paul II (whom Bono referred to as "the first funky pontiff" after giving the Pope a pair of his trademark fly shades).

As a longtime follower of his career, I believe that Bono is totally sincere in his efforts, but sincerity and good intentions don’t always translate into good policy.

Bono’s latest efforts on behalf of Africa revolve around support for the One Campaign, an effort to raise US foriegn aid to Africa by 1%. The Campaign’s website states rather grandly that:

We believe that allocating an additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food, would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation of the poorest countries.

On their current Vertigo tour of the US, U2 have been urging their fans to text message their names to the electronic One Campaign petition during concerts with the goal of obtaining a list of 1,000,000 supporters of increased foreign aid. It makes for compelling theater, and they’ve made significant headway toward their goal – almost 650,000 people have sent in their names – but will it really help?
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 27, 2005
Cuke Skywalker vs. Darth Tater

The popularity of the Star Wars franchise (and Episode III Revenge of the Sith) has been fertile ground (pun intended) for various political satire and commentary. For a mildly entertaining take on Star Wars from the Organic Trade Association, attacking "the dark side of the farm…more chemical than vegetable, twisted and evil," visit "Grocery Store Wars."

Check out the Acton Institute’s Environmental Newsletter on Genetically Modified Foods.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Following up on my post yesterday about the controversial Japanese history textbook that glosses over Japan’s past wartime aggressions, a new textbook is almost complete which will act as a supplement to current Japanese history textbooks with a much more complete picture of what happened around the time of World War II. The new textbook is a joint project by scholars and historians from Japan, China, and Korea. While the first controversial textbook was published by a nationalistic organization and tended to overlook any crimes that Japan commited in modern history, the new textbook (which will be published in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean in mid-June) is written from a human rights standpoint, and will contain several pages dedicate to the history of "comfort women" and the Japanese use of sex slaves during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. The new text will also elaborate, presenting the evidence that does exist, on the Nanking Massacre including excerpts from the journal of Kesago Nakajima, the Japanese officer who led the operation.