British coalition talks hinge on cutting the deficit

The efforts of the Brits to forget a coalition government is centering, according to this article, on how to drive down the deficit, avoiding another Greek syndrome.  Notice that the American deficit is just as bad, suggesting that cutting budgets and imposing austerity measures will be the task of all responsible governments:

Inside the stately buildings of Whitehall in the shadow of Big Ben, party leaders trying to forge a government hunkered down for talks this weekend with a 167-billion-pound elephant in the room: the British budget deficit.

Investor panic over Greece’s debt problems is engulfing Spain and Portugal, and political officials here are racing to head off speculation that Britain could be next. Thursday's election yielded no clear majority in Parliament, plunging parties into intense rounds of horse-trading to assemble a workable coalition. Their most critical goal: the creation of a government willing to undertake what is set to be the most painful round of spending cuts in Britain since World War II.

The focus of the coalition talks underscores the rising alarm over yawning deficits and crushing debt in developed nations since the onset of the global economic crisis. In Britain, stimulus spending and collapsing tax rolls have left the budget deficit — the shortfall between what the government takes in and what it spends — set to jump to 12 percent of national income this year, the highest in the European Union and roughly on par with that of the United States.

via British coalition talks continue as parties focus on deficit.

Babies know right from wrong

So concludes some Yale researchers, who have devised experiments that show babies as young as five months making moral judgments:

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.

But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and evil.

An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as “blank slates”– and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.

Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

In one experiment involving puppets, babies aged six months old showed a strong preference to good, helpful characters – and rejected unhelpful, ;naughty” ones.

In another, they even acted as judge and jury. When asked to take away treats from a “naughty” puppet, some babies went further – and dished out their own punishment with a smack on its head.

Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, whose department has studied morality in babies for years, said:  “A growing body of evidence suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.”

“With the help of well designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life.”

“Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bones.”

For one study, the Yale researchers got  babies aged between six months and a year to watch a puppet show in which a simple, colourful wooden shape with eyes tries to climb a hill.

Sometimes the shape is helped up the hill by a second toy, while other times a third character pushes it down.

After watching the show several times, the babies were shown the helpful and unhelpful toys. They showed a clear preference for the helpful toys – spending far longer looking at the “good” shapes than the “bad” ones.

“In the end, we found that six- and ten-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual,”Prof Bloom told the New York Times.

“This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.”

Two more tests found the same moral sense.

In one, the researchers devised a “one-act morality play,”  in which a toy dog tries to open a box. The dog is joined by a teddy bear who helps him lift the lid, and a teddy who stubbornly sits on the box.

They also made the babies watch a puppet cat play ball with two toy rabbits. When the cat rolled the ball to one rabbit, it rolled the ball straight back. But when the cat rolled it to the second rabbit, it picked up the ball and ran off.

“In both studies, five-month-old babies preferred the good guy – the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back – to the bad guy,” said Professor Bloom.

When the same tests were repeated with 21-month-old babies, they were given a chance to dish out treats to the toys – or take treats away.

Most toddlers punished the “naughty rabbit” by taking away treats. One even gave the miscreant a smack on the head as a punishment.

via Babies know the difference between good and evil at six months, study reveals | Mail Online.

This seems to be evidence for the objective reality of moral truth. It isn’t just a cultural construction, since babies have not been enculturated.

It also seems to be in accord with the Lutheran teaching about infant sin, infant baptism, and infant faith. Does it undermine the position of those of you who believe in an “age of accountability”?

Can any of you provide any other, perhaps less scientific evidence, about very young children exhibiting moral or spiritual awareness?

I’ll go first: My grandson showed evidence of guilt very early, just shriveling up and crying when he would be caught doing something wrong. Then again yesterday–he is now three–after he went up for the blessing during Communion, he kept saying, “Christ given for you. Christ given for you.”

The ten largest Lutheran church bodies

James Kushiner at the Touchstone blog quotes an article about how the Lutheran church of Tanzania is standing up in the Lutheran World Federation to oppose the normalization of homosexuality, resolving to reject all aid from the Western Lutherans who accept gay marriage.  Kushiner then marvels at the comment in the news story that Tanzania has the world’s second largest Lutheran church.  He then a little research, finding these to be the top ten (in millions):

1.  Church of Sweden 6.75

2.  Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania 5.3

3.  Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus 5.3

4.  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4.6 number on rolls; only 2.7 mil. have taken communion in the past two years

5.  Church of Denmark 4.56.  Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland 4.5

7.  Protestant Christian Batak Church, Indonesia 4.2

8.  Church of Norway 4.0

9.  Malagasy Lutheran Church 3.0

10.  Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany 3.0

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: Tanzania Lutherans Flex, Wont Bend.

What can we learn from this list?   For example, I find it interesting that #2, 3, 7, & 9 are in countries with strong Muslim populations.  Far from being “a German church,” Lutheranism is more like an African church.  As Kushiner says, there are likely more Lutherans worshipping in Africa on any given Sunday than in Europe and the United States put together. Especially considering that the European state churches pretty much list all of their citizens as members, even though they hardly ever attend.

Does anyone have any reliable numbers as to the total number of Lutherans in the world?  I had heard that Lutheranism is the largest Protestant tradition, with some 100,000,000 adherents.  Then I heard that Anglicanism was, citing about as many.  But the actual numbers I have dug up seem to be way out of date, especially given the growth of the church in Africa.

The Greek retirement package

If you are a Greek public service worker, you can retire at age 53, getting 80% of your salary.   If you hold a job officially deemed to be hazarous–including hairdresser (all those chemicals) and broadcaster (bacteria on the microphones), you could retire at 50.

The austerity plan that is the condition for Greece’s bailout requires that the retirement age be raised into the 60s.  This is one reason there is rioting in the streets.

See  this and this .

Interesting linguistic footnote: The Greek word for “crisis” is also the word for judgment.

Bo Giertz’s new novel

Bo Giertz (1905-1998) was a confessional, orthodox Lutheran bishop in the Church of Sweden. He was also a notable novelist. Many of you have doubtless read  Hammer of God, about three generations of pastors, each facing the various challenges to the Gospel of each era.   That novel has been a life-changer for many readers.

Now, at long last, another Giertz novel has been translated into English, The Knights of Rhodes.

It’s a historical novel about the Knights Hospitaller and the siege of Rhodes.  The Hospitallers started as a hospital order–which remained a part of their ministry–but they became a military order during the Crusades.  Think monks–complete with vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, as well as performing the daily liturgies–plus swords and cannons.  This novel is set in the 16th century, with the knights in their formidable citadel on the island of Rhodes having to face the Turkish empire under the young sultan Suleiman, beginning his plan to conquer Europe.

The characters come alive and stay in the mind.   The battle sequences are thrilling.  The spiritual complexities are fascinating.

The Knights of Rhodes is not as pre-occupied with theological issues as Hammer of God, at least not on the surface.  And yet, even this story of Roman Catholic monastic knights is full of what Luther was preaching about the same time as the Turkish invasion.  The characters have piety of various kinds, but in a climate of sin, violence, betrayals, and the competition of a triumphant Islam, they need to discover Jesus and the Theology of the Cross.

Not only all of this, but the translator is our own Bror Erickson, frequent commenter on this blog.  Let’s give it the Amazon bomb treatment, buying it up and advancing its sales ranking  (currently in the 800,000s) to attract other people’s attention to it.

I do have one complaint:  Doesn’t Wipf & Stock have any copyeditors or proofreaders?  There are typos and other mistakes on every page. (Bror, insist on a new edition!  If you need someone to do the copyediting, I’ll do it.  The book deserves that.)

Anyway, you can buy it by clicking the links.

Cartoon sitcom about Jesus

After censoring “South Park” for depicting Muhammad, the folks at Comedy Central are announcing a whole blasphemous animated series about Jesus:

Comedy Central might censor every image of the Prophet Muhammad on “South Park,” yet the network is developing a whole animated series around Jesus Christ.

As part of the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers, Comedy Central is set to announce “JC,” a half-hour show about Christ wanting to escape the shadow of his “powerful but apathetic father” and live a regular life in New York City.

In the show, God is preoccupied with playing video games while Christ, “the ultimate fish out of water,” tries to adjust to life in the big city.

“In general, comedy in purist form always makes some people uncomfortable,” said Comedy Central’s head of original programming Kent Alterman.

When asked if the show might draw some fire, especially coming on the heels of the network’s decision to censor the Muslim faith’s religious figure on “South Park,” Alterman said its too early in the show’s development to be concerned about such matters.

via Comedy Central developing Jesus Christ cartoon — The Live Feed | THR.

We hear that a lot, about how comedy or art in general makes people feel uncomfortable.  Actually, speaking as a historian of such subjects, this isn’t true.  Sometimes it does.  But those who raise this are generally making the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle premise:  Just because some art makes people feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean that anything that makes people feel uncomfortable is art.

At any rate, Comedy Central knows that Christians will not react in the same way Muslims do, so now the producers can feel all brave and cutting-edged.  In reality, they are hypocritical, tasteless, and pathetic.