by Mark

Bio-diversity and Linguistic Diversity in God’s Creation

May 13, 2012 in Mark, Bible translation, Culture, Front, Justice, Language, Mission, Tanzania by Mark

There are around 6,900 languages spoken around the world today, and probably several million species of plants and animals. A BBC article today suggests that those areas of the world that have a particularly high degree of biodiversity are often the very same areas that are the most linguistically diverse.

The report also mentions that there are a large number of both languages, and also plants and animals, that are endangered and threatened with extinction in the coming decades. What is a Christian response to the fact that this diversity is threatened? Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

Newbigin on the Gospel and Western Economics

August 20, 2011 in Mark, Books, Justice, Mission, Theology by Mark

My leisure reading at the moment is Lesslie Newbigin’s thought-provoking Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Newbigin looks at the distinctives of Western culture, particularly the dichotomy between private and public spheres, with science and “facts” ruling the supposedly objective public space and religion confined to the subjective private realm of life.

He then examines many of the assumed foundations of Western culture, questioning whether they stand up to their own claims and logic, and asks the question of how a community convinced of the truth of the gospel can and should interact with this culture.

The whole book has given me much to think about, but I was particularly interested by this long-ish quote on free market economics:

The autonomous science of economics [developed] on the basis of the assumption that self-interest is a universal, natural, and calculable force analogous in this realm to the forces of gravity and inertia in the realm of physics, and that consequently it is possible to develop a science of economics that will be as mathematical and as independent of theology as is the physics of Newton. And since, for the eighteenth century, nature has taken the place of God and has inherited his benevolent character, it follows that the pursuit of self-interest will coincide with the purpose of God. …

Traditional Christian ethics had attacked covetousness as a deadly sin, and Paul had equated it with idolatry: the putting of something that is not God in the place belonging to God (Col. 3:5). The eighteenth century, by a remarkable inversion, found in covetousness not only a law of nature but the engine of progress by which the purpose of nature and nature’s God was to be carried out.

The enormous consequences that have followed from this reversal of traditional values are familiar to us. It has shattered the age-long assumption that the world we inhabit is basically stable and finite and that consequently economics is mainly about the sharing of limited resources. It has shifted the focus of attention from distribution to production. It has made us familiar with the idea of ceaseless and limitless growth, of unending possibilities of increased mastery over nature that provides increased resources of food, materials, and energy. This is a world in which economics is mainly about increasing production, and it is assumed that if everyone pursues his rational self-interest, production will grow and distribution will take care of itself. Two hundred years after the Enlightenment, we live in a world in which millions of people enjoy a standard of material wealth that few kings and queens would have matches then, but in which the gulf between the rich minority and the abjectly poor majority is vast and growing, a world therefore threatened as never before by destructive violence.

Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, pp109-110.

It seems curious to me that in church we talk about giving, sacrifice and denying oneself, but in our view of economics we can believe that if everyone looks after themselves then all will be happy. It seems to me that this view of economics is no more than a kind of social Darwinism, a survival of the wealthiest, whereby the greater good of society depends on the unimpeded right of all to pursue unlimited personal wealth and happiness at any cost. This is not only completely foreign to the themes of the Bible and the revelation of God’s character contained therein, but in a world of finite resources is bound to lead to exploitation of both the environment and of the majority of people who are unable to achieve this goal.

Before anyone accuses him (or me) of being a Communist, I should point out that Newbigin is equally clear that extreme socialism, which values equality over freedom (in contrast to capitalism which extols freedom over equality), is not the answer either, and proposes that we should rather adopt a relational view of society, politics and economics.

What are your thoughts?

Money and World

by Mark

Web 2.0 and Accountability

April 18, 2009 in Mark, Africa, Justice by Mark

I was fascinated to read this perspective from Alanna at Blood and Milk of how the internet and Web 2.0 changes the way NGO’s relate to communities they work with.

In our interconnected world, you can’t hide from the communities you work with. That’s a good thing. It’s much easier to treat people with respect when you know that they’re watching you. Transparency is part of accountability, whether or not that transparency is voluntary. I think that’s part of development 2.0. We’re not just going somewhere and learning the local situation so we can do our work; they are looking right back at us, and they’ve got the tools to disseminate their views. read more

I think one of the reasons Web 2.0 is so important in an international development context is that it increases transparency. It is very difficult to talk condescendingly about “going to help the poor people” when you know that they are able to hear every word you’re saying.

For a long time development work has been presented from the perspective of the rich man generously giving of his time and money to help the poor man. This fits nicely with the ethnocentric worldview of the west, and so is a profitable marketing strategy to raise funds and recruits.

But it’s not the truth. True development is certainly not about rich people going and doing favours for poor people. It’s about rich and poor humbly working together in partnership – both genuinely accountable to each other, with the local community taking ultimate responsibility.

Thanks to increasing internet access through computers and mobile phones, information coming from NGO’s in the 21st Century has the potential to be read by anyone in the world. If an NGO wants to continue partnering with a local community, they must make sure that their communications reflect the reality of the situation rather than merely playing along to the narrative that the donors want to hear.

There has long been accountability between NGO’s and major donors. Now the open flow of information made possible by the internet brings all partners to the same table, and ensures the NGO is accountable not just to those with money, but much more importantly to the communities they are serving.

by Mark

Taking Liberties

March 15, 2009 in Mark, Justice by Mark

Taking Liberties is a shocking, but hilarious polemic documentary that charts the destruction of all your Basic Liberties under 10 Years of New Labour.

Released to coincide with Tony Blair’s departure, the film and the book follow the stories of normal people who’s lives have been turned upside down by injustice – from being arrested for holding a placard outside parliament to being tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

(view the video in higher resolution here)

While there are many details in the video that are open to debate, the main premise that civil liberties are being eroded in Britain is difficult to argue with. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of issue that we don’t tend to think much about until we’re the ones experiencing injustice.

As the video points out it’s ironic that in trying to defy terrorism, the government is eroding key parts of the democracy that it is trying to protect. Parts of the video reminded me of the TV series 24, where counter-terrorist agents get so focused on stopping a certain terrorist at all costs, that every idea of right and wrong becomes secondary to this focus. It makes for great TV, but isn’t a great way to run a country.

We have to be careful that we’re not so focused on the threat of terrorism that, driven by fear, we believe that anything is acceptable in order to eliminate this threat. Our moral judgments have to be based on striving for what is right rather fearing what is wrong.

The only way to counter terrorism is not through focusing on the threat, which produces fear, but by building a society based on love, justice, truth, respect and unity, as demonstrated so well by both political and religious leaders in Northern Ireland this week.