Daily Archives: April 9, 2010

Samuel Newlands: Natural Disasters and the Wrath of God

Contemporary Christians may hesitate to assign a direct connection between particular natural disasters and sins. Yet many still believe that the reason for the existence of natural disasters in general is punitive and a direct consequence of early human disobedience in the Garden.

As harsh as that may sound to some, the alternative seems bleaker from a religious perspective. If natural disasters are not anyone’s fault, human or divine, wouldn’t that mean these catastrophes are also without purpose, just another tragic event reflecting the fragility of our lives? If God isn’t using natural disasters to punish disobedient creatures, why does He allow them at all?

One historically significant answer finds divine purpose in natural horrors””without those horrors signifying punishment. This year marks the 300th anniversary of Gottfried Leibniz’s “Theodicy,” which remains one of the grandest attempts to prove the goodness and justice of a God who created an evil-soaked cosmos like ours. Most affecting was his claim that our world is, in fact, the best world that God could have made (so don’t complain!), which sounds either crudely optimistic or despairingly pessimistic.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Church History, Philosophy, Theodicy, Theology

NPR–Roots Of Central Nigeria Violence Deeper Than Faith

The central Nigerian city of Jos is at the crossroads of the country’s Muslim-dominated north and the mainly Christian and animist south. In recent months, renewed clashes between Muslim and Christian communities there have left hundreds dead.

Nigerian authorities are under mounting pressure to prosecute those behind the unrest. Nighttime curfews and an increased military and police presence are maintaining order ”” for now.

But observers warn that while religion may be the fault line for a decade of periodic fighting, underlying grievances in Jos go much deeper. The area is plagued by poverty, joblessness and fierce competition over land and scarce resources.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Africa, Economy, Islam, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Muslim-Christian relations, Nigeria, Other Faiths, Poverty, Religion & Culture, Violence

Church Times: Christians urged to engage with General Election

After the announcement that the General Election will be held on 6 May, church leaders have urged Chris­tians to get involved in the political process.

The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, said “representative demo­cracy can only be effective when those in Government have a cred­ible mandate,” and called on the elect­orate, particularly Christians, to vote in “a thoughtful and considered way”. “It is especially important for Christians to take this responsibility seriously at a time when representa­tives of far-Right parties are stand­ing for election, the policies of which need to be roundly resisted.”

Christians are being targeted by the British National Party (BNP). In a letter sent to the editor of the Church Times, a “believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who had always been opposed to the BNP” but has now joined the party said that it was “light years ahead” of the three mainstream parties in promoting Christian stand­ards and morals. “It is possible to support the BNP and keep a clear conscience before God,” he wrote.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

Daniel Henninger–Joblessness: The Kids Are Not Alright

Unemployment today doesn’t look like any unemployment in the recent American experience. We have the astonishing and dispiriting new reality that the “long-term jobless”””people out of work more than six months (27 weeks)””was about 44% of all people unemployed in February. A year ago that number was 24.6%.

This is not normal joblessness. As The Wall Street Journal reported in January, even when the recovery comes, some jobs will never return.

But the aspect of this mess I find more disturbing is the numbers around what economists call “youth unemployment.” The U.S. unemployment rate for workers under 25 years old is about 20%.

“Youth unemployment” isn’t just a descriptor used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s virtually an entire field of study in the economics profession. That’s because in Europe, “youth unemployment” has become part of the permanent landscape, something that somehow never goes away.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Europe, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, Young Adults

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali reviews Peter Hitchens’ latest book The Rage Against God

While conscience continues to be formed by the Judaeo-Christian moral tradition, it is being undermined by several forces. Peter highlights the corrosive effects of the two world wars and the disillusion that they have brought. But he is also conscious of the deliberate way in which Marxists and neo-Marxists have sought to undermine “bourgeois morality” as preparation for the revolution. Whatever advanced its arrival was good. Today’s radical secularists may have lost the thirst for revolution but the social agenda of neo-Marxism has become an end in itself. There remain strong connections, however, between the New Atheism and the Old: restricting the freedom of speech in promoting a politically-correct utopia; interfering with the right of free association; extending the role of the State; and schemes to “protect” children from the religious influence of their parents are some of the areas which are seen by Peter as points of attachment to the old way of doing things.

The New Atheists confuse fundamental human rights with the right to instant self-gratification and self-indulgence, which not only weaken society from the inside but also render it less able to counter any threats to it from outside.

He gives is a good account of the substitutes for true religion, such as the post-war cult of Winston Churchill, or national or local observances, such as Remembrance Day ceremonies. There is a great deal of criticism of a kind of hyper-patriotism founded on a false religiosity. But what is the basis for a critical but real patriotism? Must it not be in the defence of a shared story that is not so much about race or place as about the transformed understanding of persons and of society brought by the story of the Bible? Hitchens says of the terrorists that they “know how to die” because they have a shared story, even if it is a false one. Can our soldiers make sense of their situation in the context of a shared story? If their sacrifices are to mean anything, we must provide such a story that is worth defending and even dying for.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Atheism, Books, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Daniel Drezner–China is signaling a change on the yuan. Why?

If China’s shift is a real one, there appear to be three possible sources of change:

1) Domestic factors and actors convinced China’s leadership that diminishing marginal returns for keeping the yuan fixed and masively undervalued had kicked in;

2) China responded to mounting multilateral pressure and feared being isolated at the upcoming G-20 meetings.

3) China responded to threats of unilateral U.S. action, such as being named as a currency manipulator, and/or calls for a trade war….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Asia, China, Economy, Foreign Relations, The U.S. Government

BBC–South African fossils could be new hominid species

The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa.

The fossils of a female adult and a juvenile male – perhaps mother and son – are just under two million years old.

They were uncovered in cave deposits at Malapa not far from Johannesburg.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Science & Technology, South Africa

RNS–Foot Washing Lands Louisiana Official in Hot Water

The ritual of washing feet has a deep-seated tie to Holy Week, a symbol of the humility Jesus showed in performing the act for his disciples the day before his death.

Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish, La., took that custom into the workplace Thursday (April 1), going around the government complex throughout the day to wash the feet of willing employees.

“As the chief executive officer of St. Bernard Parish Government, I thought it was an appropriate gesture to show that I am as humbled as any other sinner in the world, so much so that I would offer to wash the feet of the employees,” Taffaro said.

Taffaro did not publicize his actions. A reporter was alerted to the matter by several phone calls from people who had heard from government employees whose feet were washed.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, City Government, Holy Week, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

L.A.'s next archbishop represents both tradition and change

The historic appointment of Mexican-born Archbishop Jose Gomez recognizes the dominant position in the L.A. archdiocese of its roughly 3.5 million Latino Catholics. But it is also a statement by Pope Benedict XVI on the direction he wants the American church, with its 68 million members, to take.

During the last quarter-century under Cardinal Roger Mahony, the L.A. church has become not only the country’s largest archdiocese with 5 million members but also the undisputed seat of American Catholicism’s liberal faction. And Mahony himself has become, arguably, the church’s most polarizing figure.

Under Mahony, the L.A. church has emphasized Catholic teachings on social justice. It has also given considerable prominence to the role of laity in its ministries, allowing members to play significant roles in worship and in governance. As a result of its liturgical style, some more traditional church members have felt that local Masses — while still majestic and moving — are less influenced by Rome than by Hollywood.

At times, the cardinal has seemed at odds with Rome. During last month’s annual Religious Education Congress, for example, he was asked if he thought church teaching would ever permit the ordination of female priests. “I really don’t know the future of that issue,” he replied. The sentiment is a far cry from Rome’s 1975 pronouncement — asserted repeatedly since — that “the church does not consider [itself] authorized” to admit women to the “long black line.”

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Roman Catholic

Jonathan Weil–How $1 Trillion Time Bomb Posts a Phony Profit

The Federal Home Loan Banks are a frequently overlooked band of government-chartered cooperatives whose name screams systemic risk with every word. Federal means Uncle Sam. Homes are a declining asset. A loan is money out the door. And banks are the things that get taxpayer bailouts when they’re too big to fail and enough of their loans go bad….

Last week, the FHLBs, which is pronounced “flubs,” published their combined audited financial statements for 2009. And at first glance, it might seem like they had a profitable year. Net income was about $1.9 billion, the banks said, up 54 percent from the year before.

The most striking part about that dollar figure was what it didn’t include: About $8.8 billion of paper losses from their portfolios of mortgage-backed securities. By the banks’ own description, these losses were “other than temporary,” meaning the values of the investments aren’t expected to recover soon.

The reason those losses weren’t included in earnings? The Financial Accounting Standards Board rewrote its rules a year ago so they wouldn’t have to count, following an intense campaign by the banking industry and its friends in Congress….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Credit Markets, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market, The U.S. Government

Anne Atkins on the Fullness of Christ's Character

There is a facet of the character of Jesus of Nazareth we can probably all agree on and like. The Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild of our Sunday School days. The Boy who questioned His elders in the temple. The Man who gave value to tiny children at a time when they were insignificant and ignored. The Preacher who extolled the value of the poor and persecuted, the Teacher who declared your soul more important than the world. Charismatic, kind, courageous. With an instinct for the oppressed yet able to hold his own with the highest.

But there was another side to this calm Carpenter, equally well attested but not so obviously attractive or universally popular. A man who threw over tables in a fury and hurled other people’s property round a place of worship. Who called respectable people whitewashed tombs, and preferred to party with crooks and sex workers. Who threatened Hell and damnation and advocated plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand if they make us want to do wrong.

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Posted in Christology, Theology

The President Announces Choices for New Bioethics Commission

President Obama yesterday released the names of ten individuals whom he intends to appoint to the recently created Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The ten will join the previously named chair and vice chair””Princeton University President Amy Gutmann and Emory University President James Wagner””in exploring bioethical issues anticipated to emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology. In a statement released with the names of the new Commissioners, the President said; “I am grateful that these impressive individuals have decided to dedicate their talent and experience to this important Commission. I look forward to their recommendations in the coming months and years.”

The new Commission differs in several ways from bioethics commissions created by previous Administrations. First, according to the terms of Executive Order (pdf) that created the new Commission, it is limited to a maximum of 13 people (with a total of 12 now named, President Obama has the option of appointing one more at a later date). That’s a smaller number than previous commissions, in part to keep the group nimble and facilitate discussion and consensus building.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Science & Technology, Theology

David Leonhardt–In Medicine, the Power of No

How can we learn to say no?

The federal government is now starting to build the institutions that will try to reduce the soaring growth of health care costs. There will be a group to compare the effectiveness of different treatments, a so-called Medicare innovation center and a Medicare oversight board that can set payment rates.

But all these groups will face the same basic problem. Deep down, Americans tend to believe that more care is better care. We recoil from efforts to restrict care….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Health & Medicine

As Greek Bond Rates Soar, the Specter of Bankruptcy Looms

As interest rates on Greek debt spiral upward again, the question facing Europe is no longer whether Athens has the political will to cut spending and raise taxes to curb its gaping budget deficit, but whether Greece will run out of money before it gets the chance to do so.

With the rate on 10-year Greek bonds reaching as high as 7.5 percent on Thursday, up from 6.5 just three days ago, the cost of insuring against a Greek default hit a record high.

The message from the market could not be clearer: artfully worded communiqués from Brussels will no longer suffice. To avoid bankruptcy, analysts said, Greece needs a bailout from Europe, and fast.

“This is no longer about liquidity ”” it’s a solvency issue,” said Stephen Jen, a former economist at the International Monetary Fund who is now a strategist at BlueGold Capital Management in London.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Credit Markets, Economy, Europe, Greece, Politics in General

Liturgist: Common Worship Texts Eroding

Christian unity is strengthened when worshipers across the world use the same versions of prayers and hear the same readings on Sunday, says the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers.

Meyers is the Hodges-Haynes professor of liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., and leads the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which prepares liturgical revisions for the Episcopal Church.

“If we cannot pray together, how effectively can we witness together?” she asked in a lecture in Virginia Theological Seminary’s Prayer Book at 30 series. “Common texts are a tool to help us worship together.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry