How Best to Help the World’s Poor?

What is the most cost-effective means of helping the World’s poor? Economist Bruce Wydick surveyed a group of developmental economists about 10 popular strategies. Of the ten, the economists deemed donating farm animals, drinking fair trade coffee, and giving poor kids laptop computers as the least effective interventions.

What was most effective? Programs that provide clean water to rural villages, and programs that provide medicine for deworming people. He cites a study that found that “regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child.”  Wow!

Read more in the February issue of Christianity Today.

Do Secular Colleges Destroy Young Christians’ Faith?

I recently received an e-mail asking about the impact of secular vs. Christian colleges on Christian’s faith. Specifically, the person asking the question had been told that the data are “irrefutable:  secular colleges have a tremendously detrimental effect on the faith of college students” and he wanted to know if this is true.

My first thought is that this is a difficult question to answer because of selection issues. That is, if students in Christian colleges have more Christian beliefs, actions, and affiliation, is it because a) Christian colleges promoted their faith while secular colleges hinder faith or b) the students who go to Christian colleges are more devout in the first place.

What do you think? Do you know of any studies that have looked at this?

Christianity and Attributions

I’m just finishing Martin Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, makes the case that how we explain the world has a big impact on us—especially when we’re explaining the causes of difficult or unpleasant events.

One way of explaining things is what Seligman refers to as a pessimistic attributional style. Here, when something bad happens, we explain it as a permanent event that is due to our own actions and that will affect every part of our lives. In contrast, an optimistic attributional style explains bad things as temporary, due to causes outside of us, and affecting only part of our lives.

For example, suppose that you’re driving in traffic and another driver cuts you off and makes an angry, obscene gesture at you. A pessimistic explanation might go something like this: “I’m a bad driver who must have done something stupid to upset the other driver so much. I always do stupid things.” An optimistic explanation might say “Oh, it’s Steve Bell. Hi Steve! [Read more…]

Demographic Change: Casualties or Opportunities?

By Richard Flory

At the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, we’ve been talking a lot lately about how different communities in the Los Angeles area have undergone significant demographic change, shifting in the last 20 years from predominantly African American to predominantly Latino communities. In fact, there remains only one predominantly African American community in south Los Angeles, while all the others now have majority Latino populations. This change presents many challenges and problems, not the least of which is the fact that there are now dozens—perhaps hundreds (and I’m not being dramatic in this)—of Black churches situated in those formerly African American neighborhoods. Which means that most of these congregations have been transformed from churches where most of their members lived in the surrounding neighborhoods and walked to church on Sunday (indeed many of these churches have very small, or no parking lots—in L.A.!), but who now live as far away as the Palmdale to the north, or Riverside and San Bernardino to the east.

The problem that these churches face is whether can they figure out a way to survive, let alone thrive, when their members are now in many cases former members, worshipping closer to where they currently live. Thus these churches are left with the dilemma of exactly who it is that they should serve, their few remaining long-time members, maybe attract a few more commuting members, or reach out to their Latino neighbors in their ministry and outreach programs. These churches have long ago paid off their mortgages, but they are now empty shells most days of the week, and on Sundays, most are barely one-quarter to one-half full. Several churches we have heard of have only a few remaining seniors, who are too old and lacking in resources to move out of the area, and are left to worship together as they, and perhaps their church, approach the inevitable end.

Yet this isn’t a new problem. [Read more…]

Nonmonogamy? Not yet.

“Nonmonogamy” is a gentle mouthful of a word, a polite replacement of sorts for “promiscuity” and “infidelity” in the lexicons of cosmopolitans. The same kind of transformation has happened to “virginity loss,” “cheating,” and “prostitute,” terms no longer considered appropriate for the more sex-positive among us. In their place we now have sexual debut, extradyadic sex, and sex worker, respectively. As a student of young Americans’ sexual behavior, I’ve found that the lingo alone requires effort to master. But neither my word processor nor even most of my hipster neighbors recognize the legitimacy of nonmonogamy—the practice of supplementing a primary sexual partner with one or more others.

Serial monogamy, however, is another story. In fact, it’s the primary sexual script among young adults today. And it’s into this pattern that most Americans of any age put their energy. You’re only allowed one sexual partner at a time, and to overlap is to cheat, and cheating remains a serious norm violation that gives the victimized party not just the uncontested right but often a perceived moral obligation to end the relationship. And that, argues the authors of Sex at Dawn, is a problem.

Apparently we didn’t just evolve from apes. We are apes. When it comes to matters of sex, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá charge, we haven’t really even evolved. Although we more closely mimic chimpanzees, who fight and feud over sex, we would do well—the authors assert—to mimic the Bonobo, that amiable chimp cousin who appears both gracious and generous in its sexual expressions. Bonobos resolve their power issues with sex. And their anxiety issues. And pretty much any issue. Make love, not war, is their mantra.

Monogamy, Ryan and Jethá claim, is not natural. [Read more…]