Russell and Duenes

Archive for March 2012

Center for Bioethics and Culture: Mary Ann Glendon

with one comment

The Center for Bioethics and Culture presents its Paul Ramsey Award each year for excellence in the field of bioethics. The Center for Bioethics and Culture is at the forefront of influencing culture when it comes to the issues of reproductive technology and how it adds or detracts from human flourishing. This year’s recipient of the Paul Ramsey Award is Harvard Law Professor, Mary Ann Glendon. Here is her brief acceptance speech.

-D

Advertisements

Written by Michael Duenes

March 30, 2012 at 4:48 am

Posted in Bioethics, Duenes

The “Right Side of History”

leave a comment »

Someone recently intimated that those who are pro-gay “marriage” will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are on “the right side of history.” We sometimes hear this talk of being “vindicated by history” or “siding with history.” But what does this really mean? Does “history” have a right side? Would someone who promoted racial oppression and cultural genocide in the name of “manifest destiny” be on “the right side of history?” And so what if he was? Do historical trends determine what’s right and wrong? And how long must one wait to find out which side history “vindicates?” Does a scientific, social, or spiritual belief that dominates a culture for, say, 200 years get to tab itself as “vindicated by history?” Is history evolving toward something, and is that something “better” than what we’ve got right now? And who would determine such a thing?

When once one has lost a divine reference point for right and wrong on moral and spiritual issues, appeals to vague notions of “history” are all that remain in terms of moral suasion. And more specifically, people who tell others to “get on the right side of history” are generally intent on using this as a cudgel with which to bludgeon into submission those who disagree with them. Yet “history” is not this amorphous entity that will vindicate or condemn people. Rather, personal and cultural vindication or condemnation must come from a personal Judge, who has the power to see our central commitments and trusts. History will merely show the wisdom of those who have submitted themselves – their dreams, aspirations, pursuits, vocations, avocations, relationships, and reasonings – to the one and only Author, Sustainer, and Master of history: the Lord Jesus Christ.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Duenes, History

Europe’s Real Crisis: No Babies!

with one comment

Megan McArdle, in a brief piece in this month’s The Atlantic, contends that Europe’s “real crisis” is not primarily financial, but demographic. Austerity measures alone cannot bring the kind of economic growth needed to get Europe back on solid footing. She writes, “Unfortunately, growth (or at least the sustainable variety) is typically a long time in the baking, and dependent on two main ingredients: more workers and higher worker productivity. And must of Europe is short on the former.” This kind of assertion in the mouths of conservatives tends to invite derision (see: Mark Steyn, who regularly beats this drum). Yet the demographics are in, and Europe is heading toward the precipice (as the folks over at “Demographic Winter” have so astutely pointed out.).

McArdle takes up Italy as her example: “Soaring growth will be tough to achieve, because more and more Italians are getting too old to work – and fewer and fewer Italians have been having the babies to replace them…As a result, even with some immigration, Italy’s population growth has been very slow. It will soon stall, and eventually go into reverse. And then, one by one, the rest of Europe’s nations will follow. Not one country on the Continent has a fertility rate high enough to replace its current population. Heavy debt and a shrinking population are a very bad combination” (emphasis mine). And yet, doomsday predictions about “overpopulation” are still de rigueur among the “smart” set. We’re treated to the boilerplate refrain by politicians that what’s needed for economic growth is ever more birth and population control so that we can “stimulate” our economy. It doesn’t take a genius to see the wisdom of this proposition.

McArdle analyzes the general reasons for such a decline in fertility among developed nations – reasons which tend to spring from a utilitarian view of parenthood and wealth – before heading into a little thought experiment about the differing trajectories of two imaginary cities: one city where the average age is 28 (“Morningburg”), and the other city where it’s 58 (“Twilight City”). Unsurprisingly, in Twilight City, growth is hard to achieve because even where entrepreneurship can be found, it tends to be in businesses that are slow-growth. Further, government policies aimed at promoting growth in Twilight City are “likely to be fiercely opposed by Twilight City’s citizens, who tend to vote against change, particularly if it threatens their pensions or health care.” Currently, the fertility rate in the United States is holding steady around replacement level. Yet it’s not hard to imagine that our current rate will decline, as Europe’s has, and this at a time when our federal government is ratcheting up entitlement spending exponentially.

McArdle ends with some rather darkening statistics: “The United Nations estimates that by 2030, the number of people older than 60 will be growing more than three times as fast as the general population. By 2050…in the developed world, the proportion [of people over 60] will be more like one in three. Europe (along with Japan) is at the forefront of an unprecedented shift.” It does not seem likely that governments will be able to cope with this problem by incentivizing procreation. According to one story on NPR, “Germany’s very generous paid maternity leave hasn’t produced a baby boom, for example. Women want to work…and many jobs pay more than any government fertility program. Japan is shrinking even after the government has tried to ramp up baby benefits. Same with Southern Europe.” The same is likely true of Russia.

As McArdle intimates, the shift in demographics among developed countries may be explained, on a surface level, by “the invention of birth control and antibiotics” allowing for unprecedented urban and economic growth and higher standards of living while having fewer, healthier children. Yet I contend that there is no necessary link between a nation’s modernized wealth and decreased fertility. Such a demographic decline, in my view, has more to do with the spiritual character of a nation, and more specifically, how that nation views the family. When biblical teachings on marriage, sex, parenthood, and children are cast aside as archaic, discriminatory, and “harmful to the planet,” the results are predictable, if not immediate. On the flip side, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12; 144:15).

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Polemics Out the Window

with 7 comments

We no longer tolerate truely polemical speech. You know, the kind where two people engage in tenacious verbal broadsides against the other. We’ve become emotionally fragile and “sensitive” to the point where milquetoast is the soup de jour, as it were. As my colleague has quipped, we lack “steel in our spines.”

Being a product of my age, I suffer that same fragility. We haven’t been brought up with “thick skins,” and one of the great casualties has been the loss of true polemics. Certainly the Bible counsels Christians who oppose false teachers to do so with gentleness and respect. But I think about how some of the biblical persons carried on arguments, and I wonder how their statements would be characterized were they to be uttered in a public forum today. For example: John the Baptist spoke to the religious authorities thus: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?” and “Isn’t this the reason you are wrong, because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power?” and “You judge according to the flesh…You know neither me nor my Father” and “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Telling people that they’re wrong, that they don’t know God, that their father is Satan, a murderer and a liar, is rather impertinent, don’t you think? And lest you say to yourself, “Well, of course, Jesus spoke that way. He’s God,” consider the words of others.

The apostle Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” said to a certain magician: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” He also said in his letter to Titus: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply.” In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal with sarcasm.

Calling someone an “enemy of righteousness” and implying that certain people are “evil beasts and lazy gluttons” is rather insensitive. Yet we can hardly say that Jesus and Paul were being “unloving” in the way they spoke to certain people. Of course we have to add all the caveats about Jesus not speaking to all people this way. But the point remains: We mistake robust polemics, which surely need to find their place in a morally robust culture, for “meanness” and “disrespect.” I wonder what this loss means, and what it points to. We certainly could do with a lot less “hurt feelings,” not by avoiding polemics, but by de-sentimentalizing our lives, and by rolling back the notion that true human flourishing is found in our not being offended.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Baseball is Almost Here

leave a comment »

My mother handed me a NY Times piece on a down period in Yankees history, roughly coinciding with the end of the Mantle era to the mid-1970s. What struck me, however, was the photo of Mantle in the piece, now in his later years with the Yankees, walking up to the plate. I can’t explain what it was, but I felt a sense of simple innocence about the game of baseball. I know it’s big business, but I was reminded again that it’s also a child’s game, and quite a simple one at that. There are few things I enjoy more than just playing catch. And having not thrown a baseball around in about a year, I felt a deep yearning to get away from the law books and the thinking and the analyzing, even for a few moments, and to lose myself in this game that I’ve adored since childhood, to feel that pop in my mitt, the raised seams of the ball on my fingers, and just enjoy the great pleasure of “having a catch.” Don’t know when that might happen, since I don’t have any baseball buddies out here yet, but I’m aching for it.

Reading Supreme Court cases on the Commerce Clause, one is again reminded of the complexity of human economic and social systems, and the utter arrogance of certain technocrats who think they can manage it well. Just think of the complex of consequences that are set off if one particular state decides that it is only going to let two-hitch trailer trucks onto its highways, rather than triple trailers. Or try to think of all the implications that might come from one state requiring certain certifications in order to sell one’s beef within the state, which neighboring states do not require. Or try to imagine all of the social and economic ripples that will be set off when a centralized bureaucracy attempts to regulate the health care market. Such things are vastly beyond the wisdom of any single human being or government-sized group of human beings. And yet we’re willing to hand such power over to our ruling elite, supposing that they will be able to pull the right lever and and push the right knobs, as it were, and make things all come out well. Don’t count on it.

Psalm 27 says, “Thou hast said to me, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.” And I asked myself, “How does one seek God’s face, since we cannot see it?” The Scripture that came to my mind was 2 Cor. 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Ah yes, “the face of Jesus Christ.” And where does one see his “face?” In the gospel accounts. J.I. Packer said that meditation in the gospels should be one of our chief meditations, and if we are going to see the glory of God in the face of Christ, we best take his advice.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections