”Don't be an Alibi for Social Justice“ (Jim Wallis)

09/08/07 | by Steve [mail] | Categories: Social Justice

Commenting on Jan Egeland's address to the World Vision Triennial Council meeting in Singapore (Egeland is former U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator), Jim Wallis lifts up the 10 challenges for World Vision that Egeland identifies. Wallis believes these are worthy of consideration by any organization or group seeking to relieve human pain and suffering. While each of them is interesting and thought-provoking, number four seems to me to be worthy of special mention, and Wallis uses it as the title of his entry:

We are there to change things, not just to keep people alive. Humanitarian aid cannot become an alibi for moral and political change.

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What the U.S. can do

09/02/07 | by Steve [mail] | Categories: Politics

Writing in The New Yorker of August 27, 2007, in an article on Nicolas Sarkozy, Adam Gopnik quotes Jean-David Levitte, the former French Ambassador to the United States, as follows:

When Sarkozy met Condoleezza Rice, she said, “What can I do for you?’ And he said, bluntly, ‘Improve your image in the world. It’s difficult when the country that is the most powerful, the most successful—that is, of necessity, the leader of our side—is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for you and overwhelming problems for your allies. So do everything you can to improve the way you’re perceived—that’s what you can do for me.”

Even making allowances for the longstanding differences in foreign policy objectives between France and the U.S., it's frightening and sad to realize how quickly and utterly the Bush administration, recklessly pursuing a neoconservative agenda, has squandered the international goodwill the U.S. has built up over many decades. Even if foreign policy has to be constructed from the competing self-interests of state actors (and while this assumption needs to be challenged, this is not the place), it is tragic to realize how rigorously the present administration has so obviously and consistently sought to advance the narrow policy interests of the U.S. at the expense of humanitarian goals, and how damaging that agenda and the way it has been pursued have been to international perception of the United States. Bravo to Sarkozy for speaking so directly! Let us hope Rice was listening, and let us hope she has levers to pull within the administration that could lead to a change.

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Why Christians need one another

06/03/07 | by hirby [mail] | Categories: Religion

In an interview published in The Christian Century (May 15, 2007), David Burrell, C.S.C., responds to a question about this interest in ecumenism and interreligious dialog as follows:

Christians need one another desperately, though not to erase our differences; these can be helpful, and God is beyond conceptualization anyway. But we need strength to walk in a world that marginalizes us. If this world doesn't marginalize us, this world is even worse. Late capitalism eats out Christianity's guts from the inside. It's far more dangerous to the faith than Marxism, which just tried to dominate it.

I find this remarkable on two counts: The reminder that we shouldn't get overwrought about theological differences because "God is beyond conceptualization anyway"; and the observation about capitalism.

The image of having our guts eaten out from the inside is terrifying. The truth and value of capitalism are foundational components of the socially constructed reality we inhabit, but in Burrell's view it is dangerously corrrosive. Christian community, indeed ecumenical Christian community, is an important preventative to being eaten up by it.

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The DNA of Religious Faith

04/18/07 | by hirby [mail] | Categories: Religion

In this essay in The Chronicle Review of April 20, David Barash says,

It has long been, let us say, an article of faith that at least in polite company, religious faith — belief without evidence — should go unchallenged.
No longer. If recent books — many of them by prominent biologists — are any indication, the era of deference to religious belief is ending as faith is subjected to gimlet-eyed scrutiny.

He reviews several recent books on this theme, giving a balanced and thoughtful appraisal of them and of the religious and cultural issues that they raise.

Subscription required to read the article.

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The Chronicle: 4/13/2007: Why We Need Another Agricultural Revolution

04/10/07 | by hirby [mail] | Categories: Books

A number of commentaries over the last several years have reminded us of the importance of agriculture as the foundation of human civilization. In this article, David R. Montgomery, professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, examines the conflicting trends of long-term population growth and the likely end of improvements in per-acre agricultural yield. Even as continued population growth removes ever more land from agricultural production, we are probably reaching the limits of our ability to improve agricultural productivity. Interesting and ultimately hopeful perspective based in the notion of "agroecology". The author's book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations is forthcoming from the University of California Press.

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