Friday, March 26, 2010

Health Care Rationing is Responsible and Necessary?

"Ultimately, even that (the VAT) won't be enough. As the population ages and health care becomes increasingly expensive, the only way to avoid fiscal ruin (as Britain, for example, has discovered) is health care rationing." - Charles Krauthammer

I reject that idea as a general principle, but it probably does apply to the position America finds itself in. What I like most about the statement is that it raises the difficult questions that our politicians are unwilling to broach. As a society we are getting older. Health care for the elderly is much more expensive than health care for the young. There are two ways to pay for health care in one's old age.

1) Place the burden of paying for your old age care on your kids and grandkids.
2) Save for health care expenses in your retirement planning.

Now, it's a no-brainer to me that #2 is the responsible choice in today's demographic environment. However, most American's seem to have chosen #1 a long time ago and never re-evaluated that choice. By choosing #1 and placing the burden of this wealth transfer on government taxation, we set up a system that was doomed to failure when dropping fertility rates caught up with rising benefits. The system functioned well with a rapidly growing population (e.g., it worked well for the WWII generation because they had a lot of kids). However, what works when there are 5 taxpayers for every retired person doesn't work when there are only 2 taxpayers for every retired person and health care for the elderly has come to cost far more than the average house. Even including government benefits (which cover far more than individual contributions) Fidelity estimates that health care will cost somebody retiring today a quarter million dollars.

The bottom line is that most people don't realize is that if you don't save for your health care expenses, your care will be rationed, and that's actually the responsible thing to do.

Either that or this country will destroy it's financial house through extreme deficits and hyper-inflation, leaving far fewer people with jobs and health care coverage in the long run.

I'm betting on financial ruin for this country, but I'm a pessimist by nature. I don't think our politicians have the courage to make necessary cuts. I think the elderly are too @#$# selfish to vote in people willing to make those difficult choices, and I think the young are too ignorant and absorbed in their own entertainment to worry about the future until it's much too late.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Patristics at Wheaton

Wheaton is going to start a center for the study of Patristics. In the words of George Kalantzis, "We are striving to create a center where discussions between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox can happen. A place where we can come together and say, ‘What is this that we call our common faith, and how do we each contribute to a better understanding of that,’"

Can I get an amen, brother!

It appears that this program is tapping into a felt, yet unmet need, too. Kalantzis already has over 20 applicants to the brand new program, and he hasn't even begun to advertise it.

George goes on, "Our goal is to understand our common tradition, explore it, live with it, be with it, instead of just going back and plundering it - finding the eight quotes to justify whatever I want to do." or as he says in another interview, “Most Christians look at the early Church and find quotes that support their position and move forward from there. But that is not study. That is pillaging,” Kalantzis said. “We need to delve into it and truly live with [the Church Fathers] and understand them, where their conflicts were and what their thought patterns were. How else are we going to understand our faith if we don’t understand those who delivered it to us?”

Preach, it. This has got to be my pet peeve in discussions over Patristics with folks. Cherry picking somebody's words to make them say what they never intended is far too common, whether one is looking at Scripture or the earliest interpreters of the Word of God written.

It is this one statement in the Christianity Today article that I don't get.
"The Tradition belongs to Protestants as well, he reminds us. Without the story of the early church, the Protestant Reformation would make no sense. The Reformers appealed to the pattern of the early church. We cannot be true Protestants without knowing that history."

I get the first and third sentences. However, I don't see the 2nd and 4th as clearly. In my experience, most people who take the early church seriously end up converting to Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Perhaps one could study Patristics as an Episcopalian or Lutheran, but it is tough for me to imagine large numbers Evangelical Protestant taking this as seriously as a Presbyterian takes the writings of Calvin, et. al. and not having large numbers of conversions to Orthodoxy or Catholicism. In my experience, I've met numerous people who reach the early church fathers and decided that they were heretics (similar to George Barna/Frank Viola in Pagan Christianity) or cherry picked verses to support their ideas (all traditions, but more prevalent among evangelicals in my experience) or aligned their viewpoints more with the Catholic/Orthodox traditions (e.g., Robert Wilken, who gave the inaugural lecture at the opening of the center and is a Catholic convert). I've yet to read anybody who really took the study of the early church fathers seriously and remained an evangelical Protestant. That doesn't mean such people don't exist. I've just not familiar with anybody that fits that description. There is such a discord between the writings of Ignatius or __________ and evangelical theology/practice on subjects like the authority of bishops, I don't see this new center as being something that would encourage status quo theological thinking for most evangelical students.

Another interesting point, is that Wheaton doesn't allow Catholic or Orthodox professors on staff (at least, I think that's why Prof. Hochschild was fired). Given that the experts in this field often hail from non-evangelical backgrounds, it will be interesting to see what kind of faculty they pull in. My guess is that there will be close collaboration with faculty of other universities, without actually hiring them (e.g., the Prof. Wilken inaugural lecture).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Religiously Disconnected Young Adults

I found this paragraph particularly interesting, because it put the phenomena of an increasingly agnostic/religiously indifferent young adulthood in perspective.

"This should come as little surprise, however, when we step back from the religious lives of today's emerging adults and look at the larger social milieu in which they find themselves. Their connections to education and work tend to be fragile and unstable. They live much of their lives in an isolated, electronically mediated world in which iPods, personal computers, and cell phones link them to their preferred music, movies, and friends and not much else. They are largely indifferent to the great causes of the right and the left. And, most importantly, for most of these emerging adults, marriage is not on the horizon. It is little wonder, therefore, that the members of this lukewarm generation are largely disconnected from American religion, given that they are also disconnected from stable long-term employment, civil society, and family life."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Blogging from Kenya

Compassion Bloggers: Kenya 2010

It's that time of year again. Compassion International is taking bloggers with large followings to an exotic part of the world to show them what life is like for people on the edge of existence. Please, take some time to read a bit about life in Kenya, and ask God whether he might want you to help provide food, clothes, education and basic healthcare to a child for about $1/day. I've sponsored a kid through Compassion for nearly a decade now, and though I have yet to get anything but no response or an evasive answer from them on the approach of their staff to Catholics, they do good work overall.

I've sponsored kids through all 3 of the top rated child sponsorship agencies according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, and Compassion does the best job of facilitating communication between the kids and their sponsors as well as promoting their work to those unfamiliar with the concept of child sponsorship. This makes them the most expensive organization, but allows them to help far more kids than relying on word of mouth.

Incidentally, if one is ever considering visiting their sponsored kid, one might consider CFCA, since the costs run about 1/3 or less of the cost of visiting a Compassion Project. But if one is really new to the concept, a Protestant, and looking for an organization that values your time and makes everything convenient, Compassion is probably the way to go.

Below is a my own quick overview of the three highest rated child sponsorship agencies. Feel free to make corrections, if you spot anything outdated or inaccurate.
1) Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA)
$30/month - 94.6% goes toward program work. Lowest fundraising and management expenses of any large child sponsorship organization. Quite amazing, actually. Founded by Catholics, but accept kids of all religions and there are no hard sells regarding religion. Nobody is required to learn the Christian faith as a condition of receiving aid. Very low rates for sponsors visiting kids ($450 to visit Latin America for a week, not including airfare to the country). They are the only group to have specific programs dedicated to sponsoring teenagers, the elderly and the handicapped. Some sponsorship agencies are focused on young kids because they area more easily converted to your religion, among other reasons. However, it is in the teen years when sponsorship is often more necessary as education costs increase dramatically and the child becomes a potential wage earner, making their continued education all the more difficult. Also, living in the US, with its robust elder care system, we forget how destitute many elderly in the third world are. Sponsoring grandma in diapers isn't nearly as glamorous as sponsoring a bright-eyed 5 year old.
2) Compassion International
$38/month, 82% for program expenses, including sponsor/donor relations. I think other groups include sponsor/donor relations in this percentage, too, but am not sure.
Largest organization reaching over a million kids. All outreach is done through local Protestant churches and every kid is taught and sometimes required to learn a Protestant version of Christianity from what I gather. It appears that the group has actively evangelized the Catholic kid I sponsor into the small Guatemalan sect that they work through. I haven't been able to get a straight answer on their approach to Catholics, so I don't recommend them to Catholics, agnostics or people for whom sheep stealing and Proselytization into sects through monetary gifts is a problem, but many Protestants wouldn't consider sponsoring a kid through a Catholic or secular group, so this would be the best fit for them.
3) Save the Children
$28/month, 92% goes toward program services
One of the oldest and most revered aid agencies in the world, Save the Children is based out of the UK. They are strictly secular and forbid people to mention religion in their correspondence. This is a big part of my life, so I felt like I was hiding part of my life from the kid we sponsored, and this group wasn't a good fit for me. They also offer child sponsorship as part of a much larger approach to aid, as opposed to being focused primarily on child sponsorship, as Compassion and CFCA are.
4) World Vision
$35/month, 89% goes toward program services
B+ rating by the AIP and I have no personal experience with child sponsorship through this group, but they have such devoted fans I would be remiss if I failed to mention them. A cross between all of the above groups, they offer child sponsorship as part of a much larger aid program. They are Christian in character, but similar to CFCA don't do the very active (and some would argue disrespectful) proselytization that Compassion does. The only group to have a program dedicated to sponsoring children affected by AIDS, which is an incredible need in some parts of the world.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Water on the Moon

Very cool discoveries keep on being made about the moon. It's an exciting time to live in. Now, if we could just figure out how to go back there again...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Religious Freedom Violation or Just Jail Time

So, a father may spend 60 days in jail for violating a court order barring him from exposing his child to a religion other than Judaism (the mother's religion).

Below is a summary of the facts, along with references. Please, correct me, if you feel I am misinformed.
1) A Jewish gal marries a Catholic guy. Neither is practicing, except occasionally. He's an Afghanistan veteran. She's a law school student. Her family has money (her dad is a lawyer for Playboy). His family doesn't have money.
2) Guy marries gal in Jewish ceremony.
3) Gal's parents provide pecuniary support in the early years of marriage while the gal goes to law school and the guy tries to get a job and figure out what to do for a living as a civilian.
4) Guy and gal have kid. Still, no regular church practice in the home according to him. They only attend synagogue or mass on high holy days. Gal claims more regular practice as Jewish family, but this is unspecified, as near as I can tell.
5) Guy converts to Judaism in order to smooth things over with the in-laws (his version). Gal claims no pressure. Guy says he never stops practicing his faith (praying, attending mass on high holy days, etc.)
6) Gal changes cell phone contract to cut off guy from info as well as how she dresses for work. She cheats on husband and is caught with numerous incriminating e-mails.
7) Gal leaves guy and goes to her parents' place. Guy shows up with police accusing gal of kidnapping their child.
8) Gal cuts off husband from child for 7 month stretch at one time. (Only one reference for this.)
9) Guy sues to obtain some visitation rights to his daughter.
10) Guy is said by court to have psychological problem. I don't quit know how to describe this, since no evidence of such a problem is given that I could find.
11) Gal gets the house, car and primary custody of the kid. Kid attends private Jewish preschool which gal or her parents pay for.
12) Guy has child baptized.
13) Guy sends pictures of ceremony to mom. He says it was because she had asked for pictures. She says it was retaliatory and vindictive.
14) Court forbids guy from exposing his daughter to any religion other than Judaism. Judge in case is former President of Decalogue Society, the Jewish bar.
15) Guy defies court order. Says it is a violation of his basic religious freedoms and invites news cameras to accompany him to a mass at the Chicago archdiocesean cathedral.
16) Court slaps guy with 60 days in jail.
17) Guy successfully files to have judge removed from case. New ruling is pending (due tomorrow, March 2, I think).

References for facts of case at bottom:
There are so many places to go with this case, it is tough to know where to begin. I will start by laying out the big questions, as I see them.

A) Under what circumstances would the court be able to justly forbid exposure to any religion but one single parent's religion?
B) What would could justly constitute unlawful exposure? Examples listed in what I presume would be least offensive to most offensive.
B1) Prayer before meals?
B2) Prayer before bed?
B3) Attending church as a family (is this a babysitting requirement if the guy wants to go himself?)
B4) Reading a particular religion's Scriptures to the Child?
B5) Having the child circumcised or baptised, in the context of a religion that teaches such actions are indicative of the parent's faith?
B6) Having the child go through some ceremony that is supposed to be indicative of the child's faith?
B7) Exposing the child to propaganda aimed at denigrating the other parent's faith?
C) Does the guy's conversion count for anything? If so, who determines this? His is certainly never considered by the Catholic Church to lose his standing as a Catholic and continues his practice pretty much as before. The Jews consider him one of their own, I suppose, too. He occasionally practices both faiths.
D) In the case of dual-religious homes, what is healthy? Is it healthy to only have the child exposed to one religion? Is it healthy to have the child exposed to both religions? Who has the right to determine this?

I'd ask whether the father was justified in his actions, but there's so much he-said/she-said in this case, that it would be pointless to do so until a basic understanding of underlying principles and the facts of this case was established. It would probably also be more informative to ask people, what the facts would have to be for the man to be justified or not justified in his actions. I posted this first on Facebook gave it up for Lent and was actually pretty disappointed in some of my "friends' comments", one of which I had to delete because it totally misrepresented and twisted what I had stated. I think this is probably a better forum, since the people who post here tend to be much more thoughtful in their responses. My apologies for any overlap, to those who are (semi-)active in both forums.

References in no particular order: