Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

A Thought-provoking article on health care reform

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Ethics

Last fall, David Goldhill wrote an article that seemed to get a lot of attention.  I finally read it this summer and now I’m finally posting about it.  Sure, health care reform passed in March, but I don’t think anybody believes that will be the last word.  Many liberals felt it fell short of their hopes and they will almost certainly press for future reforms along the same lines, and many conservatives want it repealed.  So I think that it’s still a relevant topic, if only to become more informed for the whatever the next round of proposals is.

Goldhill, a Democrat, argues that the health care system is based on many faulty premises, like the idea that health insurance should pay for everything.  Two of the subtitles in the article show some of his important points: “Health Care Isn’t Health (Or Happiness)” and “Health Insurance Isn’t Health Care.”

I could do the hard work of summarizing the article, but instead I’m going to give an excerpt the estimable Peter Leithart’s post (from which I originally learned of Goldhill’s article) in which he includes two key quotes that show the gist of the argument:

The problem is with the incentives built into the system: “Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value.”

The solution is not the kind of reform on the table in DC; insisting on universal insurance is only dealing out more of the problem in Goldhill’s view.  Rather, the solution is to return the consumer to the center of the system: “To achieve maximum coverage at acceptable cost with acceptable quality, health care will need to become subject to the same forces that have boosted efficiency and value throughout the economy. We will need to reduce, rather than expand, the role of insurance; focus the government’s role exclusively on things that only government can do (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition); overcome our addiction to Ponzi-scheme financing, hidden subsidies, manipulated prices, and undisclosed results; and rely more on ourselves, the consumers, as the ultimate guarantors of good service, reasonable prices, and sensible trade-offs between health-care spending and spending on all the other good things money can buy.”

I’d really recommend the article.  I don’t know if all of his solutions are right, but the analysis of the system seems quite good.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly had a story over the summer about a Cleveland company called Lincoln Electric.  Check out the video in the link (a little less than 10 minutes) or see the transcript by clicking on the link.  Do you think that this is a good business model?  I wish I knew more about business and economics so I’d have a better answer.

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

Copyright © 2010 by David VanDrunen

Published by Crossway Books

PRELIMS: This book was provided by Crossway for my personal review.

First off, Dr. VanDrunen is a credible author on the points in which he engages. He is a studied scholar in the realm of divinity and law. Such background is necessary for the topic in which he engages. Secondly, this book is much needed in the “Evangelical” world today as the church struggles and flounders through the murky issues of Christian engagement of culture, politics, etc. Lastly, VanDrunen approaches this work from the rich heritage of the “Two-Kingdom” theory you will find in Augustine, Luther, Calvin (although open to debate), and many contemporary Reformed thinkers.

THE GOOD:

VanDrunen establishes a historical understanding of the issues of how God rules in the world generally and in the Church specifically. He is well aware of Niebuhr’s work on “Christ and Culture” and establishes the framework of the debate judiciously. Before making an inductive thesis in support of the “Two-Kingdom” perspective, he engages critically in modern distortions of the Christians obligation to the world: N.T. Wright and the Emergent Church. His criticisms are insightful and helpful. Read the book for the nitty gritty.

I commend VanDrunen’s covenantal redemptive-historical framework throughout the book. He deals specifically with the covenant with Adam and how it consisted of his tending the garden (priestly duties), as well as governing the land (kingly duties). If Adam and his righteous progeny had succeeded, eternal bliss and rest would have followed, meaning that the “Creation Mandate” had a goal in view. Adam and Eve weren’t to perpetually bear children and work the land forever and ever as the last climatic act in their God-given charge. The priestly duties would have brought about consummated holiness in destroying the serpent and partaking of the tree of life, while the kingly duties would have brought earth under perfect subjection and thus a perfect consummate rest from labor. VanDrunen dedicates an entire chapter in elaborating upon these themes because the rest of the book makes no sense apart from this framework.  VanDruned then dedicates an entire chapter to exactly how Jesus has and will fulfill these charges given to Adam. VanDrunen states the following:

Before the second Adam no one accomplished the task of the first Adam, and after the second Adam no one needs to accomplish it. The last Adam has completed it once and for all. Christians will attain the original destiny of life in the world-to-come, but we do so not by picking up the task where Adam left off but by resting entirely on the work of Jesus Christ, the last Adam who accomplished the task perfectly.

 How did Christ accomplish Adam’s original task perfectly? Jesus did not personally fill the earth with his descendants or exercise dominion over all creatures in his human nature during his earthly ministry. But as considered in chapter 2, Adam was to have his entire obedience in the entire world determined through a particular test in a particular location. So it was for the last Adam. Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was confronted by the devil who tried to entice Christ to obey him, and King Jesus resisted the devil and conquered him (Matt. 4:1–11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was called to priestly service, and Christ the Great High Priest purified God’s holy dwelling and opened the way for human beings back into his presence (Heb. 9:11–28; 10:19–22). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was to enter God’s royal rest in the world-to- come upon finishing his work perfectly, and this is precisely what Christ did, entering into heaven itself, taking his seat at God’s right hand, ministering in the heavenly tabernacle, and securing our place in the world-to-come (Heb. 1:3; 4:14–16; 7:23–28).

This is absolutely essential for issues of Christianity and culture! If Christ is the last Adam, then we are not new Adams. To under- stand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work. Christ perfectly atoned for all our sins, and hence we have no sins left to atone personally. Likewise, Christ perfectly sustained a time of testing similar to Adam’s: he achieved the new creation through his flawless obedience in this world. He has left nothing yet to be accomplished. God indeed calls Christians to suf fer and to pursue cultural tasks obediently through our lives. But to think that our sufferings contribute to atoning for sin or that our cultural obedience contributes to building the new creation is to compromise the all-sufficient work of Christ.

VanDrunen even pulls out the exclamation mark in reference to how important understanding the work of Christ is for determining our own obligations as a Christian.  We are now heavenly citizens who taste the world to come, but do not in any way bring it about. He states: (more…)

Compassion Fatigue

Posted: November 23, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Ethics, Ministry to the Poor, Missional Thought

Krista Tippett recently interviewed Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.  Kristof has become well-known for his writing about humanitarian crises around the world, and has praised the concern of evangelicals for some of these crises.

Tippett and Kristof discussed compassion fatigue and how Kristof tries to work around it by describing an individual who illustrates the larger issue:

Ms. Tippett: But there’s some way you put that and somewhere you said that the emotional response becomes a portal and then rational arguments like numbers can play a supporting role.

Mr. Kristof: Exactly.

Ms. Tippett: It’s really interesting.

Mr. Kristof: That opening, that connection, that empathy, is really an emotional one. It’s done based on individual stories. And we all know that there is this compassion fatigue as the number of victims increases, but what the research has shown that is kind of devastating is that the number at which we begin to show fatigue is when the number of victims reaches two.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Would you tell the story about Rokia and Moussa, the photograph that they used to illustrate this?

Mr. Kristof: Yeah. This is from the work of a psychologist called Paul Slovic. There were experiences where people were shown a photo of a starving girl from Mali called Rokia, a seven-year-old girl, and asked to contribute in various different scenarios. And then also a boy named Moussa. And essentially people would donate a lot of money. If they saw that Rokia was hungry, they wanted to help her. Likewise, when they saw a picture of Moussa, they wanted to help him. But the moment you put the two of them together and asked people to help both Rokia and Moussa, then at point donations dropped. And by the time you ask them to donate to 21 million hungry people in West Africa, you know, nobody wanted to contribute at all.

Ms. Tippett: Because they’re overwhelmed by that, or it doesn’t spark the same reaction that actually enables people to act. Is that…

Mr. Kristof: Yeah. I think it’s not real. I mean, I think that my job as a journalist is to find these larger issues that I want to address, but then find some microcosm of it, some Rokia who can open those portals and hopefully get people to care. And once that portal is open, then you can indeed begin to put in some of the background, some of the context, some of the larger issues, and hopefully get people to engage with that issue.

The blog for Tippett’s NPR show, On Being (it used to be Speaking of Faith), had a bit more on this phenomenon:

In the non-profit world, some organizations have found success by creating a model around this idea — child sponsorship organizations or Kiva, for example. Microfinance organizations weren’t new, but a model in which one could seemingly loan directly to an individual was. As a result, Kiva exploded onto the American donor scene. Even though in both of these cases donations aren’t going directly into the hands of the recipient, Kiva capitalized on the human instinct to take action to help one person in need. Organizations like DonorsChoose.org have used this same model to fund education projects within the United States.

It is not altogether shocking that we feel more compassion when we have relatable stories. But what stands out in Slovic’s paper is a study in which groups were either given the story of Rokia, a list of statistics, or the story of Rokia combined with more general statistics.

“Donations in response to the identified individual, Rokia, were far greater than donations in response to the statistical portrayal of the food crisis. Most important, however, and most discouraging, was the fact that coupling the statistical realities with Rokia’s story significantly reduced the contributions to Rokia. Alternatively, one could say that using Rokia’s story to ‘put a face behind the statistical problem’ did not do much to increase donations.”

My point here isn’t that more people just need to “do something” and “make a difference” as if all well-motivated actions are equally valuable.  I have some more to write about intelligent, biblical compassion, which I hope to do soon.  But compassion fatigue seems to be a reality that we need to think about too, as well as something in human nature that cries out for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in all of us.

Respect for the Dead

Posted: October 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, Ethics, Family

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a masterful document – I wish we Anglicans had something like it. Due to my Mom’s death, I read what it says about the treatment of the dead:

The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

I love how the Catechism deals with just about everything you can think of in life. I don’t like autopsies, giving organs or cremation, but the Catholic approach does seem sensible to me. And it must be comforting to know that there are answers to these things rather than simply making up an answer.

Outside the Catechism, canon law states:

ECCLESIASTICAL FUNERALS (Cann. 1176 – 1185)
§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.

A week and a half ago, Mark Dever preached from Mark 12:13-17 in a sermon titled “Jesus Paid Taxes.” I listened to the sermon this morning as I walked the streets of Nampa on the way to the Flying M Coffee Garage. I suggest you listen to the audio from here:

Jesus Paid Taxes

There were several points made that I really appreciated, especially in light of the vocation series I’ve been working through. We are called, as Christians, to be good citizens, working for the good of the state we live in, in obedience to the government, and in ultimate obedience to God. The only time we should not obey the civil government is when they ask us to do something that contravenes God’s commands to us. Rebellion for personal betterment or personal protection from loss is not approved of on self-motivating grounds. Part of our witness is submitting to the law of the land. I feel like I’m giving away too much. Go and listen to the sermon (68 minutes total) and then come back.

After that, how does the following quote relate to your own life? What are ways that you can apply this in your own context?

“Give that coin back to Caesar, but give your life to God.”

“One of the consequences of our culture’s slide away from the true faith has been a marked rise in Christians making their peace with various forms of uncleanliness — in food prep, in personal hygiene, with tattoos, in dumping litter, in sexual practices, or how they keep their living rooms and yards. “

One my good buddies Nick Smith (Pastor of Nampa United Reformed Church) gets a hat tip for pointing me to Wilson’s post,  “Jesus. Reason. Soap.” The quote above comes from Wilson’s post.

Ouch, but he’s right. Part of the creation mandate was to cultivate, and I would say beautify or maintain the beauty of creation. Because of sin, creation has been affected, but it still retains much majesty and glory. Part of the Mosaic law spoke to matters of hygiene, what to do with one’s body, etc, for the intention of separating Israel from the nations in their lifestyle. While I am not advocating that we keep the ceremonial law, it is important for us to note that Christ fulfilled the law…He was a lamb without spot or blemish. He was pure. He was clean.

Christ seeks to restore beauty in our lives, both inward and outward as part of His redemptive work in our lives. While the ceremonial law no longer applies, the substance of it still speaks to us…that we should cultivate a clean and beautiful life. It was to mark Israel as distinctly clean and beautiful. We also are to be marked off in such a way that our lives proclaim to the nations that our Lord is beautiful, that His ways are good. The way we dress, the way we eat, the way we host guests, all of these things matter. The Proverbs 31 woman beautifies her surroundings because she has a beautiful heart. Her husband and children are blessed because of her. Paul also said that outward training has some value and that we do need to tend inwardly first, but Paul didn’t say that tending outwardly was on no value, just puts it in its proper perspective.

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