Harm reduction

Idly surfing the internet, I came across the tidbit that a socially conservative party in Australia opposes “harm reduction.” Not being familiar with that is, I dug around and found that it is an entire theory of do-goodism.

Harm reduction (or harm minimisation) refers to a range of public health policies designed to reduce the harmful consequences associated with recreational drug use and other high risk activities. Harm reduction is put forward as a useful perspective alongside the more conventional approaches of demand and supply reduction.

Many advocates argue that prohibitionist laws criminalize people for suffering from a disease and cause harm, for example by obliging drug addicts to obtain drugs of unknown purity from unreliable criminal sources at high prices, increasing the risk of overdose and death. Its critics are concerned that tolerating risky or illegal behaviour sends a message to the community that these behaviours are acceptable.

via Harm reduction – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The idea is, instead of getting people to stop dangerous behaviors, we should make those behaviors less dangers.

This is where we get the thinking behind needle-exchange programs, to prevent heroin addicts from getting AIDS. Some countries, such as England and Switzerland, actually give heroin addicts heroin, so that they won’t steal to support their habit. There is an outfit in this country called DanceSafe that goes to raves and offers free testing of drugs, so that kids can make sure they aren’t ingesting dangerous impurities in their drugs, so that they will have a positive experience with their Ecstasy or crystal meth.

Other examples would be condoms in the schools, free rides for potential drunk drivers, less harmful cigarettes, and the like.

What do you think of this philosophy? Can we draw a line between reducing harm and giving approval to bad behavior? If we take away the harm from bad behavior, does that stop it from being bad?

Two different reasons to be civil

Michael Gerson asks, “Why, other than upbringing, should we be civil in the first place?”  He cites two different and competing reasons:

In the Western tradition, one answer has been rooted in epistemology – the limits of knowledge. Citizens, in this view, should not be arrogant or intolerant about their political, moral and religious views because no one has the right to be certain of his or her views. What our public life needs is more ambiguity, agnosticism and detachment. The humble are less strident, more peaceful.

This argument is made by a certain kind of campus relativist, who views the purpose of education as the systematic cultivation of doubt. But it is also reflected in the conservative tradition, which is suspicious of ideological certainties that lead to radical social experiments. Both the liberal and conservative variants of this epistemological modesty can be traced back to classical liberal thinkers such as John Locke, whose overriding concern was to prevent wars of opinion, particularly religious wars. If no one believed their opinions were absolutely true, there would be less incentive to attack or coerce others. In the absence of harmful certainty, society would operate by barter and compromise.

But there is a second, very different argument for civility – this one rooted in anthropology. The Christian and natural law traditions assert that human beings are equal and valuable, not because of what they think but because of who they are. Even when they are badly mistaken, their dignity requires respect for their freedom and conscience. A society becomes more just and civil as more people are converted to this moral belief in human dignity and reflect that conviction in their lives and laws.

Without a doubt, doubt is useful and needed at the margins of any ideology. The world is too complex to know completely. Many of our judgments are, by nature, provisional. Those who are immune to evidence, who claim infallibility on debatable matters, are known as bores – or maybe columnists.

Yet doubt becomes destructive as it reaches the center of a belief and becomes its substitute. A systematic skepticism may keep us from bothering our neighbor. It does not motivate a passion to fight for his or her dignity and rights. How do ambiguity and agnosticism result in dreams of justice, in altruism and honor, in sacrifices for the common good? What great reformers of American history can be explained by their elegant ambivalence?

via Michael Gerson – Two good arguments for civility – and passion – in politics.

So one is a negative reason  (we can’t know anything for sure, so we have to be tolerant of all views and the people who hold them).  The other is a positive reason (human beings have an intrinsic value by virtue of their creation by God and so should not be mistreated).

It seems to me that the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of.  Whereas the second view will be civil or tolerant to skeptics as well as believers.

A pound of flesh

Mississippi governor and would-be GOP presidential candidate has released two sisters from prison, after they served 16 years of a life-sentence.  One condition, though, is that one of the sisters donate her kidney to the other.

The mandated organ donor says she’s glad to do it, that she was going to do it anyway, but still. . . .What are the medical ethics of imposing a condition like that?

Freedom’s cost? One kidney | hattiesburgamerican.com | Hattiesburg American.

Church & family values go up with education

Used to, college graduates went to church less than the moderately educated.  For some reason, though, this has changed.  Along with church-going, higher education is also associated now with stronger families.

In the 1970s, the moderately educated — blue-collar, working-class Americans with high school diplomas or some college — were more likely to go to church every week than people with college degrees.

That has now reversed: Today 34 percent of college graduates attend weekly religious services, compared with 28 percent of moderately educated Americans, said the report, which was jointly issued by the NMP and Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

Many highly educated Americans might have “progressive views on social issues in general,” said Mr. Wilcox, but “when it comes to their own lives, they are increasingly adopting a marriage mindset and acting accordingly.”

The implications for the nation are sobering, said the report.

Most Americans (58 percent) are moderately educated. As they retreat from faith and marriage as a way of life, these families look more like the “fragile” ones led by the least educated, wrote Mr. Wilcox.

If this “downscale” trend continues, “it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society,” in which marriage and its socioeconomic successes, happiness and stability will be enjoyed primarily by the “upscale,” i.e., highly educated, he wrote. . . .

This year’s report highlighted several areas in which educational achievement was shown to make a big difference in family life:

• Highly educated Americans are far less likely to have a baby out of wedlock than moderately educated Americans (6 percent versus 44 percent).

• Highly educated Americans are more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriages, compared with the moderately educated (69 percent v. 57 percent).

• Rates for divorce or separation in the first 10 years of marriage has declined among the highly educated (15 percent to 11 percent), but increased slightly for moderately educated (36 percent up to 37 percent).

• Teens from homes with college-graduate parents were far more likely to say they would be embarrassed by an unwed pregnancy compared with teens from homes with less-educated parents (76 percent versus 61 percent).

• Since the 1970s, teenage girls, age 14, of highly educated mothers were even more likely to be living with both their parents (81 percent, up from 80 percent). But 14-year-old girls whose mothers were moderately educated were far less likely to be living with both their parents (58 percent, down from 74 percent.)

via ‘Faith gap’ seen among married – Washington Times.

How do you account for this?

HT:Joe Carter

Gratitude, the Parent of All Virtues

You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway’s column on gratitude in Christianity Today. Excerpts:

Appearing on Conan O’Brien’s show last year, comedian Louis C. K. lamented how frustrated people get when cell phones and cross-country flights are slow or faulty. “Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy,” he said. When people complain that their flight boarded 20 minutes late or that they had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes before takeoff, he asks a few additional questions.

“Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight?”

The appearance hit a nerve—with over a million YouTube views and counting—because it’s true: Whether it’s our impatience with technology or, more likely, with family members and friends, our complaints reflect how much we take for granted.

We know that God has given us our bodies and souls, reason and senses, material possessions, and relationships. Yet with all that God richly provides us daily, many of us struggle to be grateful. . . .

The Roman philosopher Cicero was on to something when he said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” It’s also the basic Christian attitude. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

That might seem a challenge during a season of economic trouble and political unrest. But consider German pastor Martin Rinckart, who served a town that became a refuge for political and military fugitives during the Thirty Years War. The situation in Eilenburg was bad even before the Black Plague arrived in 1637. One pastor fled. Rinckart buried another two on the same day. The only pastor remaining, he conducted funeral services for as many as 50 people a day and 4,480 within one year.

Yet Rinckart is best known for writing, in the midst of the war, the great hymn that triumphantly proclaims this:

Now thank we all our God,

with heart and hands and voices

Who wondrous things has done,

in whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms

has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

and still is ours today.

via The Parent of All Virtues | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Do you see why gratitude is the “parent of all virtues”?  Take a virtue and show its connection to gratitude.

How Christianity conquered pagan culture

Michael Craven recounts how Christianity won a culture war:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world.

Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .
These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

Following the end of the Punic Wars in 146 BC, the breakdown of marriage and the family had begun in earnest. By the time of Christ, Rome was a pornographic culture. Marriage was a “loose and voluntary compact” (Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [reprint, London: Penguin Books, 1994] 2:813). Sexual licentiousness, adultery, marital dissolution, and pornography were widespread. It was into this depraved cultural context that Christians would introduce a radically new and different view of life, sexuality, marriage, and parenting. In contrast to the Roman concept of Patria Potestas, according to which fathers had the right to kill their wives and children, Christians taught husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Eros gave way to agape.

The early Christians, acting in obedience to Christ, began to care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. So alien were their charitable acts and self-sacrificial lives that the Romans referred to them as “the third race.” In the centuries to follow, even though Christians were still a demographic minority, their care of the poor and sick, would serve as the first steps in achieving cultural authority. By being seen as those who reached out to and cared for the weak and suffering, the early church would establish its “right to stand for the community as a whole” (John Howard Yoder, For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public [Eugene, OR: Wifp and Stock, 1997] p. 8). Sociologist James Davidson Hunter points out, “because Christian charity was beneficial to all, including pagans, imperial authority [political authority] would be weakened” (To Change the World, 2009, p. 55).

Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, clearly understood the power of these Christians when he wrote the following:

“These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests).”

Emperor Julian clearly saw the writing on the wall. The Roman Empire would not succumb to political upheaval or force but to love, the love of Christ. Julian’s dying words in AD 363 were “vicisti Galilaee” (You Galileans [Christians] have conquered!).

Once imperial power was discredited by the superior life and ethic of the Christian community, the church would build upon its newfound cultural credibility and eventually ascend to the heights of cultural power and influence. And, Western civilization would become the most successful civilization in history.via The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven.

I believe the Gospel had something to do with Christianity’s triumph over Western Paganism, not just how supremely moral the Christians were.  Still. . . .What would be the equivalent actions today to get through to our own increasingly barbaric culture?


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