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Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, June 27, 2005
Sani Abacha – Strange, I don’t recall you being a multi-billionaire when you took power…

In a number of previous posts, I have expressed concern over new efforts to increase the amount of government-to-government aid to Africa (see here, here, and here for background).

Today brings another bit of news that should give pause to anyone advocating for massive increases in government aid to Africa. From Saturday’s London (UK) Telegraph :

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria’s past rulers stole or misused ꌢ0 billion.

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa’s most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent…

…Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria’s rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country’s 130 million people – one in seven of the total African population – live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply…

…The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the ꌢ0 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.

General Sani Abacha of Nigeria is an example of an African leader who did pretty well for himself at the expense of his nation, stealing “between ਱ billion and ਲ਼ billion during his five-year rule.”

Nathan Elawa: Debt relief is good, but civil society is vital.

The importance of building strong institutions of civil society and establishing the rule of law before dispensing aid cannot be emphasized enough. If debt forgiveness is an appropriate first step for the west to take in assisting Africa, the next step must not be to simply flood the continent with aid once again without preparing it to appropriately use the funds.

At the recent Acton Summer Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we spoke with Nathan Elawa, a native of Nigeria and a participant in Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference. He commented on the issue of debt relief and the need for stronger foundations of civil society in Africa. (Click here for video.) For more information, check out Acton’s Aid to Africa special section.

I have to admit that I’ve never been able to get that fired up about the controversies surrounding the various public displays of the Decalogue. It no doubt has to do with my view that it is far more important for the law to be written on our hearts rather than on stone (see for example Jeremiah 31:27-40).

It’s all (on both sides) struck me as a little to much like public posturing, and for the Christian conservatives who support the displays (sometimes rabidly), the zeal seems misplaced. After all, the function of a public display of the Ten Commandments could only at best be as an expression of the “civil” use of the law, “as an external discipline, necessary to restrain those who are not saved (and in some cases those who are saved, because of their remaining temptation to sin).”

But the “external” matters of discipline have overwhelmingly been viewed as relating to the second table of the Decalogue, the laws for relations between neighbors. The relationship between God and the individual person stands outside the realm of the magistrate, as emphasized again and again by the reformers.

No doubt a firestorm will ensue following today’s Supreme Court decisions (No. 03-1500, van Orden v. Perry and No. 03-1693, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky), which seem only sure to spur more debate on the issues. But no doubt much of the controversy arises because of the explicitness of the first table commands with respect to the identity of God.

For example, Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in the Texas case (No. 03-1500, Van Orden v. Perry), which upheld the public display, notes that in large letters the monument proclaims ‘I AM the LORD thy God,’ and argues, “The message transmitted by Texas’ chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God.”

The words of an editorial in this month’s Christianity Today are valuable here, regarding claims by some Christian leaders that we need to reclaim the nation’s Christian foundation:

The not-so-subtle equation of America’s founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity.

There may be much value in arguing for the implementation of law based on a Christian recognition of the civil use of the Decalogue. But that validity does not carry over into attempts to institute worship, reverence, or adoration for the Christian God into American law. That simply is not the role of the civil magistrate, and the church should jealously guard its role in proclaiming the Gospel. And the church should certainly not petition the government to take over any aspect of this task.

“Winning isn’t everything.” Whatever happened to this slice of wisdom? In Columbus, Ohio, a team of baseball players has been ejected from their league for being “too good”! (Read the story here). The parents of the teams being slaughtered by the better team complained that losing was seriously detrimental to their kids’ self-esteem. Therefore, the league decided to reward the hard work of the winning team with expulsion. Winning isn’t everything, but apparently, losing is.

What this league and the supporting parents are in fact saying into their children is this: “If someone is better than you, they don’t have a right to be around.” Apparently, competition is only a good thing as long as it doesn’t lead to winners and losers. Perhaps the league ought to enact a ‘run subsidy’ program. Everytime the better team scores ten runs, the losing team is spotted ten runs; you know, to stay competitive.

The parents and the league here are undercutting one of the prime values in sports: the experience of humility. Sure, “having fun is what’s important,” but fun is not the only important thing. What about craft, dedication, work ethic, perseverance? But by eliminating the better team from the league, the league has said to all the children involved that the only thing that matters is winning; Instead of kicking out the kids who have worked hard, why doesn’t the league remind everyone that there is more to their league than who wins and who loses? By cultivating a ‘competition-free’ culture, this league has undermined the very lessons sports exists to teach. What happens when this culture works its way into the market? (For a more general discussion of how competition is discouraged in education, see "The Competitive Edge" by Joseph Klesney.)

Courtesy the Evangelical Ecologist, “A group called ‘Operation Noah’ has re-written parts of Scripture to fit their climate change message,” and goes on to compare two “versions” of Psalm 24.

I suppose this is just the next logical progression; if Scripture can’t be twisted by some perverse hermeneutic to fit your agenda, just change the text!

Author Ruth Jarman writes, “I hope it doesn’t look sacrilegious to re-write the word of God according to Ruth.” No matter if it actually is sacrilegious…just so it doesn’t look like it.

Otherwise, how would this bit of (unaltered) Scripture apply?

Having been tagged by Kathryn at Suitable for Mixed Company, I duly submit my list within the guidelines of the following (and pledge not to repeat any placed on my initial list):

Imagine that a local philanthropist is hosting an event for local high school students and has asked you to pick out five to ten books to hand out as door prizes. At least one book should be funny and at least one book should provide some history of Western Civilization and at least one book should have some regional connection. The philanthropist doesn’t like foul language (but will allow some four-letter words in context, such as expressed during battle by soldiers). Otherwise things are pretty wide open. What do you pick?

  1. The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis – A must read for anyone currently involved in education, has ever been educated, or has ever thought anything about education.
  2. The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison – The most formative book of my high school years, I will try to sneak this one past the censors (I can’t recall if the profanity, if there is any, meets the requirement of appropriate “context”).

  3. Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold – “A classic of nature writing,” I’ll submit this as one with some regional connection (Wisconsin).
  4. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Ron Sider – This applies to the twentieth anniversary update only…a challenging, authentic, and worthy call to Christian living, with at least some economic sensitivity.
  5. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Kate Turabian – A necessary resource for any student.
  6. Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions, CRC Publications – This one I submit as providing background primary texts for the formation of Western civilization.
  7. Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean Auel – The first in Auel’s fiction series, Earth’s Children.
  8. The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle – An oft-overlooked classic text.
  9. The Boy Who Looked Like Shirley Temple, Bill Mahan – Read this as a youth, and it stands out as one of the funniest books I’ve ever read (this one too might have trouble making it past the censors, however. I recall the boy having a foul mouth).
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle – Although a children’s book, worth reading at any and all ages.

I tag Bunnie Diehl, Stacy Harp, and Josh.

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.

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.