Category : Politics in General

([London] Times) Bp Graham Tomlin–Prayer can help us to produce a better kind of politics

Take the Lord’s Prayer. When I pray, “Our Father in Heaven,” I am acknowledging that there is something, someone higher than me, higher even than the social norms we happen to favour at present, to whom I am answerable and will one day give account. Praying, “Thy kingdom come,” makes me imagine a social order that is more just and fair than the one we have now, yet guards me against any sense that it is solely down to me to bring it about at whatever cost to my enemies, or even my friends. “Thy will be done,” helps me recall that it’s not about what’s good for me — it provokes examination of heart and motive that can help me to recognise when I am on some kind of power trip to advance my own career or glory. When I pray, “Forgive us our sins,” it makes me realise that I can get things wrong and need to be suitably humble with my opinions and convictions.

Prayer reminds me that my opponents are people too, that they deserve respect even if I think they are profoundly wrong. It tells me of my need to forgive those who “sin against us”.

Praying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” gives us notice that we have received so much that we do not deserve, cultivates a vital note of gratitude and a protection against the kind of hubris that thinks we did it all ourselves.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

(FT) Companies asked to come clean on climate lobbying

Susana Penarrubia, head of environmental, social and governance (ESG) integration at German fund manager DWS, says it too has questioned companies on their lobbying activities and plans to step this up for fossil fuel companies. “I am concerned,” she explains.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rises to below 2C from pre-industrial levels, along with other initiatives that push for more disclosure on climate risks, have placed the topic firmly on the agenda for investors.

Union Investment, the €323bn German asset manager, was among a group of European investors that last month wrote to 56 companies, asking them how they work with trade associations on ESG issues.

This followed a move by a group of investors with total assets of $2tn, led by the Church of England Pensions Board and Swedish pension fund AP7, which in October wrote to 55 European companies challenging them on their seemingly inconsistent approach to climate lobbying.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Stock Market

(1st Things) Douglas Farrow–The New Family Violence

Family violence can take many forms,” says Madam Justice Marzari of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, including “unreasonable restrictions or preventions of a family member’s personal autonomy.” To be more specific, “family violence” can now take the form of refusing to accept a family member’s chosen gender identity. Such is the violence inflicted on a fourteen-year-old girl (referred to as AB) who is determined to be a boy, by her father (dubbed CD), who insists she is no such thing.

The court will not stand idly by, insists Justice Marzari, knowing that AB is “harmed by the fact that it is his own father, whom he loves, who appears to be publicly rejecting his identity, perpetuating stories that reject his identity, and exposing him to degrading and violent commentary in social media” (A.B. v. C.D. and E.F., 2019 BCSC 604, par. 72). Under Justice Bowden, it has “already determined that it is a form of family violence to AB for any of his family members to address him by his birth name, refer to him as a girl or with female pronouns (whether to him directly or to third parties), or to attempt to persuade him to abandon treatment for gender dysphoria” (par. 21). And now it means to enforce its embargo on such behavior by permitting the arrest without warrant of CD, should he give the least appearance of persisting in this violence.

We will return later to the matter of “degrading and violent” commentary. For the moment, please note that “treatment for gender dysphoria” means—at a minimum—the application of opposite-sex hormones, with their permanent effects on AB’s body. It certainly does not mean trying to get at the root causes in her soul—alienation from a parent, perhaps?—through any kind of cognitive therapy. That sort of thing qualifies these days as degrading and violent “conversion therapy,” a label applied in Orwellian fashion to any procedure that might call into question a sexual orientation or gender identity claim; any procedure, that is, which risks reversing a SOGI conversion. In a number of jurisdictions, approaches with that sort of risk have become illegal.

But back to A.B. v. C.D. Not being a family member, I will say in response to the court what AB’s father has been saying, but is now forbidden to say on pain of arrest: His daughter is a daughter not a son, a she not a he, and the court has no power by legal writ to change what is written in her chromosomes or to declare her chromosomes irrelevant. And I will add this: The court’s attempt to declare her chromosomes irrelevant is itself a form of violence against the family—this family and every family.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(PD) Lyman Stone–What Makes People Have Babies? The Link Between Cultural Values and Fertility Rates

Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, something remarkable happened: people started having fewer children. Way fewer. In country after country, fertility rates fell from four to eight children per woman to less than three, and in many cases less than two.

What caused this decline in fertility? Did changes in child mortality and life expectancy cause parents to desire fewer conceptions? Did increased return to human capital change the optimal child-rearing strategy? Was the decline caused by increasing exposure to the toxic chemical mix of industrialization?

The above explanations, and many others, have been proposed at various times by biologists, economists, and sociologists. But a growing body of economic research is offering a decidedly anthropological explanation for fertility: it’s about culture. People have the children they have not simply due to their individual pursuit of happiness, economic returns, or mere biology, but because of how cultural and values systems shape their behaviors.

It’s easy to spot culture-fertility linkages “in the wild.” For example, in ethnically Chinese populations around the world, birth rates spike in lucky Zodiac years, like the Dragon year. Births fall sharply around major holidays in virtually all countries. In America, they also fall sharply on unlucky days like April 1 or Friday the 13th. I’ve catalogued these and many more cultural-fertility interactions elsewhere.

But can cultural factors explain big changes in fertility? Sure, maybe a change in cultural values can nudge when a couple has a baby by a little bit here or there, or maybe we can change the pace of change in birth rates a bit. But could an arbitrary shock to social values really trigger an epochal shift in demographics like that observed during the so-called “demographic transition?” New research by Brian Beach and W. Walker Hanlon says yes.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–The One-Income Trap: How Elizabeth Warren inspired a conservative policy debate

…there are many families that don’t want full-time day care just as there are many families that don’t want two full-time jobs, and their desire can be entirely reasonable. Great preschools are no easier to build than great high schools, and if you think your kids might be better off in the care of a parent or with some extended family member, then a system designed around a dual-income plus day care norm will likewise feel like a burden, or a trap.

The better way here, as I have argued with tedious frequency, would be for conservatives skeptical of the two-earner norm to make common cause with feminists skeptical of the corporate bias against female biology and for both to unite around supports for family life that are neutral between different modes of breadwinning. Don’t subsidize day care, don’t subsidize stay-at-home moms; just subsidize family life, and let the sexes figure out how best to balance work and life, their ambitions and their desire for kids.

The practical obstacles to this kind of feminist-conservative centrism may seem substantial, but the practical case for odd alliances is just as strong. As Lyman Stone recently argued in First Things, the evidence from Europe suggests family policies are most effective when they’re understood as part of a flexible pro-family consensus, rather than as attempts to impose a single normative model on women and families. In other words, a pro-family conservatism that simply rejects the two-earner household as a failed experiment won’t be able to establish a successful policy consensus. But neither will a feminism that writes off the aspects of traditionalism that reflect what many women want.

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) Alan Cross–Alabama Is More Pro-Immigrant Than You Think

“Our country is made up of people from all different countries,” Ms. Hemp said. “I don’t know what the answer is to the bigger problems, but this is something I can do on a local level to make a difference.”

Eastside Baptist Church, located in Union Springs, an old cotton town around 45 miles southeast of Montgomery, began reaching out to the town’s immigrant community eight years ago, providing tutoring, mentoring and other assistance. Gene Bridgman, the pastor, told me that it all started when a woman in the congregation brought by 10 children whose families came from southern Mexico, part of a large influx of agricultural workers. She was already doing what she could to help them — and soon the rest of the church was, too.

What gives me hope is that this openness isn’t just on the individual or congregational level; it is spreading across communities, as their faith overtakes their fear.

Earl Hinson, a former mayor of Union Springs and a member at Eastside, said that while the arrival of so many immigrants had taken some adjustment, the town’s residents have come to accept them. “Once people get to know them, their hearts change,” he said. “The perception that people have against them mostly comes from the news.”

Bruce Smithhart, a retired prison guard and veteran, said: “The Union Springs economy depends on immigrants. Immigrants are why Union Springs is as good as it is.” Everyone I talked to from the church agreed.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Immigration, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(RNS) New law requires professors in Washington State to accommodate religious holidays

A new state law makes it easier for college students to take time off for religious holidays.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5166 into law on Monday (April 29), making Washington the first state requiring that institutions of higher education provide academic accommodations to students who need them for religious observances. This includes rescheduling exams and permitting absences, as long as the student notifies the professor of the needed accommodation within the first two weeks of class.

College professors will also be required to add information about religious accommodations to their syllabuses.

The law requires colleges “to reasonably accommodate students who, due to the observance of religious holidays, expect to be absent or endure a significant hardship during certain days of the course or program,” according to the state Legislature’s website.

“Passing this bill sends a powerful message to all students that students of faith, and especially those in minority faith traditions, matter and are welcome in our educational system,” said Rabbi Allison Flash, assistant director of education at Temple Beth Am of Seattle.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, State Government

(Local Paper) Thousands of South Carolina teachers prepare to march on the Statehouse

An estimated 4,000 teachers and supporters will assemble on a school day today in Columbia to protest, march and speak for improved working conditions.

The teachers, organized by the teacher advocacy group SC for Ed, have been asking state lawmakers for higher wages, smaller classroom sizes, more mental health counselors in schools and full funding of the state’s promises to students.

Teachers are using personal leave days to go to Columbia for a single day, unlike at the weeks-long teacher strikes and walkouts that took place in other states like West Virginia and Oklahoma in 2018.

Seven school districts and a charter school have announced closures due to the mass exodus of teachers and a shortage of substitutes Wednesday. The affected schools serve a combined 123,000 students.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Children, Economy, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, State Government

(ITV) Archbishop of Canterbury: We must have Brexit but it will take years to heal

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said the UK must leave and that the divisions caused by Brexit will take years to heal.

He also said people at Westminster were under “appalling pressure” while MPs debate what he called “the most difficult peacetime decision in more than 100 years”.

Mr Welby is a Remain-voting archbishop while opinion polls found his congregation was Leave-supporting.

He said: “We voted to leave, we have got to leave, and we’ve got to leave in a way that looks after the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

“I wouldn’t like a second referendum. I would hope that Parliament comes to a conclusion that unites the country and gives us a firm foundation for reconciliation.”

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England / UK, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

A BBC Article on India’s General Election

But despite the massive mandate, the verdict on Modi’s performance has been mixed.

There have been some gains – more roads, rural works, cheap cooking gas for the poor, village toilets, a uniform sales tax, a promising health insurance scheme which could end up benefiting 500 million families, and a new bankruptcy and insolvency law.

But the economy is underperforming. India’s farms, where most of its people work, are beset by a crisis of low crop prices. Unemployment is rising, and a controversial currency ban ended up hurting the poor.

Socially, the BJP’s strident Hindu nationalism has left the country polarised and minorities nervous. India is in the grip of a fake-news epidemic, partly due to cheap phones and data. Some dissenters have been labelled as “anti-nationals” and thrown into prison.

Modi now faces another crucial general election….

Read it all.

Posted in History, India, Politics in General

(Sunday Telegraph) Professor quits Royal College of Physicians over new assisted suicide stance

Professor Weale, emeritus professor of political theory and public policy at University College London, said he saw no reason why the RCP’s governing council had decided to abandon its previous position, which stated the organisation could not support changing the law on assisted suicide.

“There seems to be no chain of coherent reasoning leading to the council’s own position – a situation I regret deeply,” he said.

He also attacked the handling of the survey of doctors which led to the change in stance.

The poll asked doctors if the RCP should be for, against or neutral on assisted suicide; 43 per cent voted for opposition, 32 per cent backed changing the law, and just 25 percent voted for neutrality.

But unlike previous polls on the same question, the RCP’s council had decided in advance they should automatically switch to neutrality unless any of the three options was backed by a super-majority of 60 per cent.

As a result, the RCP announced last month it would be neutral on the issue, despite only one in four doctors endorsing that position.

Read it all.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Politics in General

Former SC Governor, U.S. Senator Ernest F. ‘Fritz’ Hollings dies at 97

Ernest Frederick “Fritz” Hollings, the charismatic and quick-witted former U.S. senator and South Carolina governor who became one of the state’s most important national political figures, died early Saturday after a period of declining health.

He was 97.

“Our father, Fritz Hollings, was dedicated to his family, the United States Senate and the people of South Carolina,” his three surviving children said in a statement. “He was a hero for us and millions of Americans.

“While we are heartbroken, we hope that in the coming days and weeks as we celebrate our father’s life, all South Carolinian’s will be reminded of his service to our state and nation.”

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Hollings steered South Carolina through the civil rights era, established a program to feed poor pregnant women, enacted legislation to protect the environment and brought home millions of dollars as he also fought to balance the federal budget.

No recent history of the state could be written without him in it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * South Carolina, Death / Burial / Funerals, Politics in General

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Finding a new equilibrium after Christchurch won’t be easy

In response to all this, Muslim representatives frequently stress that the problem of Islamophobia (a term that remains contentious in many countries) is by no means confined to a far-rightist fringe. They insist that an anti-Muslim climate has been created by politicians much closer to the respectable centre-right, or in the French case by zealous advocates of the century-old doctrine of laïcité, or strict secularism.

At Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the leading places of Islamic worship in Britain, the initial reaction to New Zealand’s horror was one of inter-faith solidarity. Representatives of all local creeds gathered to offer sympathy and support. But mosque leaders say their people live daily with abuse, spitting, jostling and in the case of women, attempts to grab their scarves. Nassar Mahmood, a mosque trustee, says social peace in the city is challenged on many fronts. Reduced levels of policing (because of budget cuts) lead to a rise in petty crime that, he fears, may be blamed on Muslims. “We could very easily face attacks similar to those in New Zealand that would destabilise our social harmony,” he says. In the early hours of March 21st, five mosques in Birmingham were attacked with sledgehammers.

Salma Yaqoob, a local politician of the left who may be Birmingham’s best-known Muslim woman, has been adamant that the problem goes far beyond an extremist white-nationalist fringe. Her response to the New Zealand massacre was to “call out” mainstream Tory politicians who in her view played to the gallery with anti-Muslim innuendos.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Australia / NZ, Blogging & the Internet, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Christian Today) On what should have been Brexit weekend, churches and cathedrals open their doors for prayer and dialogue

The first weekend after the UK was supposed to leave the European Union, churches and cathedrals are offering spaces for conversation and prayer on Brexit.

Many churches across the country are holding prayer vigils this weekend on what should have marked the start of a new post-Brexit era for the UK.

But after another week of votes and debates failed to break the deadlock on Brexit, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are inviting people to come together in dialogue and prayer as part of five days of prayer for the nation and its future relationship with the European Union.

Cathedrals across England have answered that call. On Friday, Leicester Cathedral hosted a prayer vigil led by the Bishop of Loughborough, Guli Francis-Dehqani, Chair of the European Council of Churches, while Wakefield Cathedral has been inviting members of the public to come and write down their prayers for peace and for each other on prayer cards.

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Posted in Church of England, England / UK, Foreign Relations, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

In the House of Lords the Bishop of St Albans asks about problem gambling related suicides

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of Gambling disorder, increased mortality, suicidality, and associated comorbidity: A longitudinal nationwide register study, published in November 2018; and in particular its finding that problem gamblers are 15 times more likely to take their own lives.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: Preventing suicide is a priority for Government, and we take new evidence on this matter very seriously.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Politics in General

(NPR) In Florida, Doctors See Climate Change Hurting Their Most Vulnerable Patients

To survive, Jorge, who requested that his last name not be used for this story to protect his health information, sells fruit on the side of the road. “Rain or shine, cold or heat, I still have to work,” he says.

Most days, it’s the heat he struggles with the most, and in recent years, the city has felt hotter than ever.

“When you work in the streets,” Jorge says, “you really feel the change.”

And it may only be getting worse. The 2018 National Climate Assessment noted that the southeastern United States is already experiencing “more and longer summer heat waves.” By 2050, experts say, rising global temperatures are expected to mean that nearly half the days in the year in Florida will be dangerously hot, when the combination of heat and humidity will make it feel like it’s 105 degrees or more.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Climate Change, Weather, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Poverty, State Government

(Tablet) Jesuit Refugee Service has accused the Home Office of demonstrating a “shocking illiteracy of Christianity” in its recent Action

Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK said: “This is a particularly outrageous example of the reckless and facetious approach of the Home Office to determining life and death asylum cases – they appear willing to distort any aspect of reality in order to turn down a claim.

“This case demonstrates the shocking illiteracy of Christianity within the Home Office. But the distortion of logic and reckless approach to asylum seeker’s lives is a common feature. Here at JRS, we routinely encounter cases where asylum has been refused on spurious grounds. Some of these cases require more legal knowledge to recognise than this bizarre misquoting of the Bible.

“As this instance gains public attention, we need to remember it reflects a systematic problem and a deeper mindset of disbelief within the Home Office, and is not just an anomaly that can be explained away.”

Mr Stevens said that the Home Office subsequently agreed to withdraw their refusal and to reconsider the man’s asylum application. He later released details of a second case, in which a Christian woman who fled Iran fearing execution had her asylum claim rejected because the Home Office considered her belief in Jesus to be “half-hearted”.

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Posted in England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–What Rural America Has to Teach Us

Everybody says rural America is collapsing. But I keep going to places with more moral coherence and social commitment than we have in booming urban areas. These visits prompt the same question: How can we spread the civic mind-set they have in abundance?

For example, I spent this week in Nebraska, in towns like McCook and Grand Island. These places are not rich. At many of the schools, 50 percent of the students receive free or reduced-cost lunch. But they don’t have the pathologies we associate with poverty.

Nearly everybody is working at something. Nebraska has the sixth-lowest unemployment rate among the 50 states. It has the 12th-longest healthy life expectancy. Some of the high schools have 98 percent graduation rates. It ranks seventh among the states in intact family structure.

Crime is low. Many people leave their homes and cars unlocked.

One woman I met came home and noticed her bedroom light was on. She thought it was her husband home early. But it was her plumber. She’d mentioned at the coffee shop that she had a clogged sink, so he’d swung round, let himself in and fixed it.

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Race/Race Relations, Rural/Town Life

(New Statesman) Rowan Williams–Brexit shows Britain is no longer able to imagine a “common good”

Democracy rests on a presupposition that is not often made explicit. Popular consent implies that everyone’s view and interest, without restriction, is worth taking into account in the running of a society – which is why the principle on which democracy rests is the same principle that affirms the rights of minorities and the need to continue testing the strength of popular consent. Any search for a permanent resolution of social issues that is declared to be beyond argument or challenge is a move away from the fundamental principle.

In other words, two salient aspects of a consistent democracy are that we go on arguing, and that our freedom to do so is protected. The law defends us from coercion and forcible silencing. Without these, we have naked populism, a reversion to the situation where the powerful (in numbers, wealth or status) determine what is “right”. Genuine politics gives way to suppressed or threatened violence.

In genuine politics – if there is no overwhelming consensus, and if the people who disagree with us are not going to oblige us by simply going away, and if coercion is not an option because of our legal settlement – we are committed to argument and negotiation. And this entails a readiness to suspend belief in the unqualified rightness of our own interests and to try to imagine a state of affairs emerging that could be manageable both for us and for those who do not share our ideas or priorities.

So to find ourselves – as we now regularly do – in a situation where opposing groups each regard the other’s agenda as the worst outcome imaginable is a dire situation for democracy. Not because it is not nice to be so rude to each other, but because it indicates a disturbing loss of any sense that there might be common goals that we can only discover through a process of argument and scrutiny; a loss of any willingness to think around the corners of the definitions we started with.

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Posted in --Rowan Williams, Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Theology

(C of E) Response to Home Office letter regarding Iranian asylum seeker from Bp Paul Butler

“I am extremely concerned that a Government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities. To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a Government report on the impact of Climate Change is advocating drought and flooding.

“It is good that the Home Office has recognised that this decision is inconsistent with its policies and that its staff need better training, but the fact that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Foreign Relations, Iran, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(ACNS) Church of England invites parishioners to “tea and prayer drop-ins” as Brexit deadline nears

The Church of England has called for communities to join together in conversation and prayer as discussions over the UK’s departure from the European Union reach a pivotal point. The debate is splitting communities in the UK. The UK Government and the EU have reached a withdrawal agreement; but this has twice been rejected by the country’s Parliament. Today, the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that the government could only bring it back for a third vote if the motion was “substantially different”. Britain risks leaving the European Union without a deal on 29 March unless the other 27 EU member countries agree to a British government request for an extension.

Churches are being encouraged to host “informal café-style meetings” over the weekend of 30 March “to bring together people of all standpoints and encourage open discussion.” The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, have today backed newly-commissioned resources to invite people to “get together and chat over a cup of tea and pray for our country and our future”.

Under the slogan “Together”, the packs include specially-chosen Bible passages, prayers and questions designed to prompt conversations. The introductory notes urge participants to have “respect for the integrity of differently held positions, encouraging communities which feel the same about the issues to use their imagination to consider the viewpoints of those who feel differently.”

“As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to demonstrate that love for God and for each other, along with compassion, solidarity and care for the poorest, are our defining values”, Archbishop Justin said. “These values have been the bedrock of our national life for many centuries. They are not simply our history: they are also our best hope for the future.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Politics in General

(Economist Erasmus Blog) In some countries, theism and patriotism are impossible to separate

If people in the eastern half of Europe were as devoted to their faith, and as convinced of God’s existence, as they tell pollsters, then one would expect the region to be pervaded, at this time of year, by an atmosphere of contrition and repentance. Roman Catholics, after all, began their Lenten fast on March 6th while for Orthodox Christians March 11th is the first full day of Lent. (In any given year each church makes a complex set of lunar-based calculations to determine the date of Easter, and the seven-week period of self-discipline which precedes it.)

Certainly there will be many individuals and communities who do feel that ascetic spirit. But it would be an exaggeration to say that an air of sober self-examination will be palpable on every street. People in some former communist and former Ottoman lands seem to overstate their religiosity when asked about their views, just as those who live in the continent’s more secular western half may be a bit shy about admitting any interest in the transcendent.

Consider some findings of Pew, a researcher based in Washington, DC, about how strongly people in 34 European countries believe in a Supreme Being. (The research was actually done between 2015 and 2017 but Pew does an artful job of keeping debate on the subject alive by presenting nuggets from its rich seam of data in ever-shifting combinations.)

There are 10 countries where more than 85% of people declare belief in God: Georgia (99%) and Armenia (95%) come top, along with Moldova and Romania (95% each). The nations which used to form communist Yugoslavia score highly (Bosnia 94%, Serbia 87% and Croatia 86%). Greeks (92%) also declare themselves to be firmly theist, as do the people of mainly Orthodox Ukraine and historically Catholic Poland, where the figure in both cases is 86%. At the other extreme, majorities of people in the Netherlands (53%), Belgium (54%) and Sweden (60%) are convinced that there is no God.

Read it all.

Posted in History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(IFS) Richard Reeves–Where’s the Glue? Policies to Close the Family Gap

In my essay in the book, Unequal Family Lives, I argue that we should care about family gaps because we care about poverty and inequality, and because we care about intergenerational mobility. Policy interventions may influence both of these, but more often aim at one more than the other.

I argue for policies of two kinds with regard to family stability, applicable to the United States and most European countries: Prevention and mitigation.

  • Preventing family instability means helping families stay together in the first place, through policies that reduce unintended pregnancy rates, raise skills (especially through quality vocational training), and promote “family-friendly” work opportunities.
  • Mitigating family instability means attempting to limit the impact of family breakdown on the life chances of children. Mitigation can be achieved by reducing material poverty, supporting better parenting, and enhancing learning opportunities. Here, the need is for a “One Generation” approach, largely focused on children’s outcomes.

I conclude with a note of humility. The reach of public policy is necessarily limited here. Sex, love, marriage, child-rearing; these are intimate, emotional, personal, and complex issues. By comparison to family policy, foreign policy is a breeze. The forces influencing changes in family life are tectonic, a combination of evolving social norms and public morality, and the shape and structure of the labor market. Still, there are policies that can and should be pursued. Strong families are not a quaint relic of the past. They are a necessary ingredient of a better future.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Politics in General

Church of England calls for Government action on problem gambling

A motion overwhelmingly passed by General Synod, the Church’s Assembly, on Saturday called for a reduction in gambling advertising, and to introduce a levy for gambling firms to help fund research and treatment programmes to combat addicting.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith (pictured) who has campaigned for gambling reform, introduced the item by telling the Synod that 55,000 children were problem gamblers, and were being ‘groomed’ by gambling adverts.

The story of Jack Ritchie, a young man who killed himself after fighting gambling addiction, elicited many stories from members of Synod of their personal experiences of problem gambling as well as those of loved ones.

Nick Land, of York Diocese, identified himself as having formerly had a problem with gambling, warning that for reformed addicts, “every advertisement is a temptation.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(USA Today) the Robert Kraft prostitution scandal exposes depth of modern slavery, sex trafficking industry

Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the six-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots was charged Friday with soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida. Not three days prior, the Martin County Sherriff’s Office hosted a press conference to announce the bust of a human trafficking ring involving numerous spas in three counties, including Orchids of Asia.

The evidence indicates that Chinese women were recruited and transported to the United States under the false promise of securing legitimate jobs, only to be held captive at the spas and coerced to transact for commercial sex. Male clients at Orchids of Day could purchase a female body at the rate of $59 for thirty minutes or $79 for one hour.

Sex trafficking generates annual profits of nearly $100 billion, according to the International Labour Organization, making it the most profitable form of slavery the world has ever seen. Under the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking involves the recruitment or transfer of a person; through force, fraud, or coercion; for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Sexuality, Violence, Women

(Observer) Nigeria election marred by vote buying, tech failures and violence

Nigeria’s long-awaited presidential election went ahead on Saturday, marred by heavy gunfire in the north-east, killings in the south and reports of technology failures and vote buying across the country.

Some voters arrived at polling stations at 3am to ensure their ballot was counted in an election dominated by the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, and a former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Nigeria, Politics in General, Terrorism, Violence

(Christian Today) Churches are playing a ‘key role’ in the fight against human trafficking

Churches and faith groups are making an important contribution to efforts to eliminate the global scourge of human trafficking, a UN human rights committee has heard.

Jack Palmer-White, the Anglican Communion’s Permanent Representative to the UN, outlined the many anti-trafficking initiatives being led by churches in a submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this week.

The CEDAW is considering submissions on the issue of human trafficking as it prepares to make a ‘general recommendation’ to UN member states.

In his report, Mr Palmer-White asked that the general recommendation ‘reflects the key role that churches and other faith actors can, and do, play in the fight against trafficking of women and girls in the context of global migration’.

Examples of anti-trafficking work detailed in the report include a partnership between the US Embassy to Ghana and the Diocese of Accra which has led to the creation of a community shelter called Hope Village that rehabilitates rescued children, while holding the government of Ghana to account on its progress in eliminating trafficking.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Ghana, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence, Women

(LA Times) Your phone and TV are tracking you, and political campaigns are listening in

“We can put a pin on a building, and if you are in that building, we are going to get you,” said Democratic strategist Dane Strother, who advised Evers. And they can get you even if you aren’t in the building anymore, but were simply there at some point in the last six months.

Campaigns don’t match the names of voters with the personal information they scoop up — although that could be possible in many cases. Instead, they use the information to micro-target ads to appear on phones and other devices based on individual profiles that show where a voter goes, whether a gun range, a Whole Foods or a town hall debate over Medicare.

The spots would show up in all the digital places a person normally sees ads — whether on Facebook or an internet browser such as Chrome.

As a result, if you have been to a political rally, a town hall, or just fit a demographic a campaign is after, chances are good your movements are being tracked with unnerving accuracy by data vendors on the payroll of campaigns. The information gathering can quickly invade even the most private of moments.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Science & Technology

Valerie Strauss–A Washington’s Birthday quiz on the office of President

Here are a couple of sample questions:

What is the president’s annual salary?
a) $200,000
b) $250,000
c) $400,000
d) $500,000

Who was the first president born in a hospital?
a) George Washington
b) Jimmy Carter
d) John Quincy Adams
c) Theodore Roosevelt

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Posted in History, Office of the President

Washington’s Birthday Documents (IV)–George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

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Posted in History, Office of the President