Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bloomberg’s Soda War: An Alternative Suggestion


New York city’s mayor is proposing another ban on risky health choices. He has already banned smoking in NYC bars among other things, now he extended his health concerns to soft drinks.
The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March. New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks ~NY Times

Bloomberg’s action will draw fire from several quarters. Some might challenge the Mayor with the assertion that the ordinance is tantamount to an attack on the poor. The challenge is grounded in the fact the poorer people consume the cheaper and less healthy foods. Therefore, by removing this option, the mayor is removing an affordable food option from them. Andrea Freedman notes, “Fast food has become a major source of nutrition in low-income, urban neighborhoods across the United States. Although some social and cultural factors account for fast food’s overwhelming popularity, targeted marketing, infiltration into schools, government subsidies, and federal food policy each play a significant role in denying inner-city people of color access to healthy food.”[1] Freedman calls this activity “food oppression.” Much of the poor dietary habits in lower income neighborhoods are the result of what many have called “food deserts.” Food deserts are locations that have little/no healthy food options available. Paul Shigley suggests, “Today, while the term food desert has gone out of favor with advocates, the lack of access to healthy food persists. Grocery store chains demonstrate little interest in poor, urban communities because the demographics do not meet the industry’s ideal and because, as noted, the big grocers are looking for big sites. At the same time, fast food outlets pop up everywhere.”[2]

Still others may challenge the mayor by suggesting a tax the larger sodas to reduce the consumption and offset healthcare issues with the revenue. Setting aside the issue of integrity with regard to proper allocation of the tax revenue, there is other undesirable consequence. Mel Shipp asserts, “Clearly, a fast food tax would disproportionately impact people with limited income or access to healthy food. A better alternative would be increased access to nutritious groceries in communities characterized as food deserts.”[3]

So perhaps instead on limiting sugared drink choices available to New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg should consider a less political and more meaningful option: populate his poorer neighborhoods with healthier food choices. One way he could do this is by creating incentives for grocery and healthy food restaurants to infiltrate these neighborhoods. This would both create jobs and healthy citizens. In creating these incentive laden zones, stores could index their prices to income levels of that particular neighborhood. In return for their neighborhood commitment, stores could receive tax incentives or other incentive types that are routinely given to other industries for creating jobs in a given city or state. Creating long term solution to the food crisis in poorer neighborhoods seems to a more meaningful solution to the obesity problem than a ban on soft drinks. It would also produce a peace treaty on whom the mayor has really declared war: the poor.


[1] Freeman, Andrea. 2007. “Fast Food: Oppression Through Poor Nutrition.” California Law Review 95, no. 6: 2221.

[2] Shigley, Paul. August 2009. “When Access Is the Issue.” Planning 75, no. 8: 28.

[3] Shipp, Mel. 2012. “Improving U.S. health: Is it time to revisit taxes on fast food?.” Nation’s Health 42, no. 3: 3

 

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St. Basil: The mind and goodness, beauty, and truth


I found an interesting statement by St. Basil (330-379) about the operation of the mind. I liked how he employed the interrelatedness of beauty, goodness and truth.

The mind is a wonderful thing, and therein we possess that which is after the image of the Creator. And the operation of the mind is wonderful; in that, in its perpetual motion, it frequently forms imaginations about things non-existent as though they were existent, and is frequently carried straight to the truth. But there are in it two faculties; in accordance with the view of us who believe in God, the one evil, that of the dæmons which draws us on to their own apostasy; and the divine and the good, which brings us to the likeness of God. When, therefore, the mind remains alone and unaided, it contemplates small things, commensurate with itself. When it yields to those who deceive it, it nullifies its proper judgment, and is concerned with monstrous fancies. Then it considers wood to be no longer wood, but a god; then it looks on gold no longer as money, but as an object of worship. If on the other hand it assents to its diviner part, and accepts the boons of the Spirit, then, so air as its nature admits, it becomes perceptive of the divine. There are, as it were, three conditions of life, and three operations of the mind. Our ways may be wicked, and the movements of our mind wicked; such as adulteries, thefts, idolatries, slanders, strife, passion, sedition, vain-glory, and all that the apostle Paul enumerates among the works of the flesh. Or the soul’s operation is, as it were, in a mean, and has nothing about it either damnable or laudable, as the perception of such mechanical crafts as we commonly speak of as indifferent, and, of their own character, inclining neither towards virtue nor towards vice. For what vice is there in the craft of the helmsman or the physician? Neither are these operations in themselves virtues, but they incline in one direction or the other in accordance with the will of those who use them. But the mind which is impregnated with the Godhead of the Spirit is at once capable of viewing great objects; it beholds the divine beauty, though only so far as grace imparts and its nature receives.[1]


[1] St. Basil. “To Amphilochius in reply to certain questions” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VIII: St. Basil: Letters and Select Works ( ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace;New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 273.

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Can one possess virtue apart from God?


Jonathan Edwards thought it was impossible. He suggests in Nature of True Virtue,

Therefore he that has true virtue, consisting in benevolence to being in general, and in benevolence to virtuous being, must necessarily have a supreme love to God, both of benevolence and complacence. And all true virtue must radically and essentially, and as it were summarily consist in this. Because God is not only infinitely greater and more excellent than all other being, but he is the head of the universal system of existence; the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty; from whom all is perfectly
derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom, and through whom, and to whom is all being and all perfection; and whose being and beauty are, as it were, the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence: much more than the sun is the fountain and summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day.[1]

Aristotle concedes that to be virtuous one must have a disposition toward virtue. For him virtues are learned through practice.

Then there must be, to begin with, a kind of affinity to Virtue in the disposition; which must cleave to what is honourable and loath what is disgraceful. But to get right guidance towards Virtue from the earliest youth is not easy unless one is brought up under laws of such kind; because living with self-mastery and endurance is not pleasant to the mass of men, and specially not to the young.

Practice, however, seems to contribute no little to its acquisition; merely breathing the atmosphere of politics would never have made Statesmen of them, and therefore we may conclude that they who would acquire a knowledge of Statesmanship must have in addition practice.[2]

Practice of virtues is important. Ethics take place in community. However, avoidance of subjectivity in practice comes from knowledge of virtues’ origin. Lack of awareness of virtue’s origin cripples one’s ability to perform a virtuous act. Here, Edwards is helpful because apart from a claim that virtue emanates from a divine character, one is relegated to at least a subjective perspective of virtues, possibly a coherence perspective on virtues. Edward’s claim that virtue originates with the divine nature of the Creator God provides a correspondence between the character of the Creator God and the expected character of those God created in his image. Edwards, in other works, will complete his thoughts of God’s expectations of his created by suggesting that a true virtuous task is impossible apart from the penetrating work of the Holy Spirit in a regenerated person’s life.


[1] Edwards, Jonathan. Nature of true virtue (Kindle Locations 282-288). [Ann Arbor]: University of Michigan Press.

[2] Aristotle (2005-07-01). Nichomachean Ethics (Kindle Locations 3706-3709). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

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Types of Water: A Hydration Parable


A Florida man was hospitalized Thursday, after being discovered suffering of dehydration in his Clearwater home. Authorities found Chance Christian Clinger unresponsive on his couch from apparent dehydration.  Discovered on the table near his body was an empty bottle of Dasani brand water, Clinger’s favorite brand. What befuddles authorities is the refrigerator completely full of bottled water. They are searching for answers as to why Chance Christian Clinger, a healthy 46 year old, would not go to the refrigerator to get another bottle of the much needed water. Lacerations on Clinger’s tongue and around his mouth indicate that he had struggled to get the last drops of much needed water into his system from the bottle and cap found near his body.  Childhood friend, Joshua Christo, may provide some insight into Clinger’s blunder that resulted in his condition. Christo claims that he regularly stocked Clinger’s refrigerator with water of all types, including Aquafina, Zephyr Hills, Dasani, and Deer Park among others. Joshua Christo told authorities in a statement on Thursday that, “I regularly stocked the refrigerator with all brands of water, but Clinger would only drink Dasani.” Christo expressed bewilderment at Clinger’s actions as he contended, “On several occasions, I reminded Chance Christian Clinger that all the bottles in his refrigerator contained water and that all water is comprised on the same basic elements. Even if the labels are different, they are the same on the inside.” Joshua Christo claims that Clinger would regularly boldly declare that all bottled water is not the same and some water is not as pure as Dasani, therefore he refused to ingest it. However Joshua Christo would attempt to refute Clinger’s claim by drinking all brands of water in front of him to prove their purity. While one may understand this as preference of water labels, authorities found Dasani brand water, Clinger’s favorite, in the refrigerator unused. Joshua Christo told authorities that, Chance Christian Clinger on occasions would even refuse Dasani brand water. Christo contends, “Clinger would not even drink his preferred brand if the label appeared damaged or improperly applied as he asserted it might be a counterfeit. He simply refused to take that risk.” Medical professionals suggest Clinger’s body parts such as his tongue, throat and stomach must have been screaming at him to take the risk and drink the other labels or scratched Dasani bottles. Sadly, his mind overruled the strong suggestions, which led to his hospitalization. Now released from the hospital, his health stable, Chance Christian Clinger will be released to a long time friend that will oversee his recovery. Doctors suggest that this friend must make sure that Clinger not return to his former practice, stating that his body cannot endure another dehydration episode. Time will tell whether Clinger will heed professional advice and change his way of thinking about water quality.

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Does God care how consumers consume?


Much to my own shame, I have only recently taken in consideration of the origins of what I purchase. Until five years ago, my purchasing routine mirrored a Pavlovian dog of sorts: I felt a need for something, I mindlessly went to the store, I bought the item that fulfilled my need. The bell rang, I salivated, I eventually got food. This is not about being anti-“[anything].” Some make choices based on origin of product for their own reasons (protectionism, etc.). For me, this was a change in thinking. I’m not sure what if any particular incident triggered a change, but the “ringing of the bell” is different today than five years ago. Obviously not all purchases were self indulgent, some are of necessity. However what changed in all purchases, was my approach. I started to consider where they were made and who made them based on their history of worker treatment. I began to ask questions such as: What kind of conditions existed where these items were being manufactured? and Were the workers being treated fairly? Some questions were easy to answer, others required some research, most were answerable. With information comes responsibility. How should one respond to companies or regions of the world that categorically mistreat workers? Should one continue to endorse known injustice by giving dollars to the cause? I found that the choices many times came down to money. Things made in factories that unjustly treat workers are cheaper that in factories that have a livable wage and safe working conditions. Most times there were more expensive items that would fulfill the function. The tough question: is the principle worth the extra money? I would suggest it is. Most times the financial difference is negligible. We, in the west, live in a society that votes everyday with our dollars. It starts with us, one person at a time. When we ask questions and research items, it makes us give pause how we are spending money. As a Christian, it is a way to redeem that part of our life and world through living out our faith. Sometimes, options are not available and this too requires hard questions about need. For example, try to buy an electric ceiling fan that is not made in China or Indonesia or try to buy a consumer grade bicycle that is not made in China for your child. These two items are nearly impossible! It is easy to through up one’s hands and resign to complacency and passivity in our purchases. However, the better choice is to be informed consumers.

Clawson suggests,

We will still need to be consumers, but instead of becoming complicit in injustice, we can promote ethical consumption implies that we will apply our moral values and ethical standards to our consumer habits. We don’t opt out of a necessary system, but we attempt to redeem it as we live by a more consistent ethic.[1]

Informed consumers don’t always get it right. They do however give weightier consideration to their actual needs and choices available to them. As a Christ follower, I believe it forces us to consider the plight of those co-created in the image of God. If someone disrespects that image by doing injustice to it, we should do all in our power to not enable that behavior. For us, in the West, we do it with dollars. If God cares about those he created in his image, and he does, then he cares how we consume.


[1] Julie Clawson. Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (p. 26). Kindle Edition.

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Why can’t preachers just preach the Bible?


An apologetic that requires a seminary degree to stand in a pulpit grows stronger when we see “preachers” like Charles Worley of Maiden N.C. Providence Road Baptist Church. In fact many denominations require a Master of Divinity degree to be ordained or licensed to preach which is not a bad thing. Worley’s tirade covering politics to his solution to homosexuals begs the question, why can’t preachers preach the Bible? The instructions to ministers seemed pretty clear in 2 Timothy 4:1-5.  In this passage, Paul exhorts Timothy to “Preach the Word!” He then instructs Timothy how to shepherd with the Word: “Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” Paul also gives Timothy the purpose for preaching the Word: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.”  He then concludes by contrasting Timothy’s disposition with those with itching ears: “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” It seems that by Paul’s exhortation, Worley is the teacher that tells his people what they want to hear. These church members are perhaps people concerned that the county is headed in a morally wrong direction; or maybe, they are political conservatives eager to remove a political liberal in exchange for a political conservative. Either way, the words spoken in his church service were not the Word that God has revealed to men through the Bible.

While the Bible speaks against homosexuality, it does not suggest that we treat those who are practicing homosexuality badly. In fact, we should treat all outside the faith in the same way: tell them the good news! Show them the love that Christ showed us. Homosexuals are not in an exclusive category that Christ cannot redeem. In fact I Corinthians 6:9-11 tells a different story. Paul says that all people who are practicing sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God. He then lists some of the sins that people practice: “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people.” He breaks any thought of exclusivity that homosexuality is unpardonable or a special sin in two ways. First, by placing it in a vice list, it is a sin like other sins such as greed or cheating. Second, Paul points out that the Corinthian church contained people who previously practiced some of these sins. He states, “Some of you were once like that [practicing things on the vice list]. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (vs 11).

In a similar way, politics has no place in the pulpit. Jesus tells us to“give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Mt. 22:21). Simply put pay your taxes and do what your government expects of you. Paul expands Jesus’ teachings by telling the church to submit to government (Rom. 13:1). Paul also exhorts the church to pray for government authorities (1 Timothy 2:2). It seems that Pastor Worley regrettably seemed unfamiliar with these passages on both homosexuality and government on Mother’s Day. For the sake of the church, he should just preach the Word. However, Worley did not preach the Word of God; he preached his own word. A word for itching ears.

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What can the poor do for us? John Chrysostom on the poor


When therefore thou seest a poor man, and sayest, “It stops my breath that this fellow, young as he is and healthy, having nothing, would fain be fed in idleness; he is surely some slave and runaway, and hath deserted his proper master:” I bid thee speak these same words to thyself; or rather, permit him freely to speak them unto thee, and he will say with more justice, “It stops my breath that thou, being healthy, art idle, and practisest none of the things which God hath commanded, but having run away from the commandments of thy Lord, goest about dwelling in wickedness, as in a strange land, in drunkenness, in surfeiting, in theft, in extortion, in subverting other men’s houses.” And thou indeed imputest idleness, but I evil works; in thy plotting, in thy swearing, in thy lying, in thy spoiling, in thy doing innumerable such things.

And this I say, not as making a law in favor of idleness, far from it; but rather very earnestly wishing all to be employed; for sloth is the teacher of all wickedness: but I beseech you not to be unmerciful, nor cruel. Since Paul also, having made infinite complaints, and said, “If any will not work, neither let him eat,” stopped not at this, but added, “But ye, be not weary in well doing.” “Nay, but these things are contradictory. For if thou hast commanded for them not to eat, how exhortest thou us to give?” I do so, saith He, for I have also commanded to avoid them, and “to have no company with them;” and again I said, “Count them not as enemies, but admonish them;”6 not making contradictory laws, but such as are quite in unison with each other. Because, if thou art prompt to mercy, both he, the poor man, will soon be rid of his idleness, and thou of thy cruelty.[1]

Isn’t it interesting how the same questions about the poor remain with us today? In my experience, many Christians want to ensure that the poor “deserve” their money before they give it away. In doing so, do we forget the gospel? Do we forget that we didn’t deserve God’s mercy toward our idleness? In many ways we were far worse than the idleness accusation leveled by those in Chrysostom’s day. As strangers to the gospel, we were actively going our own way (Isaiah 53). Of course we are great at “theologizing” our decisions to withhold from the poor: “God requires me to be a good steward of my money” or “I don’t want to facilitate their bad habits.” However, is this an act of cruelty? Maybe so. What if they really need it, but we withhold it? What if they are a fellow Christ-follower? (which of course we always doubt their profession!) Most times, people are asking for an insignificant amount of resources from us. Five dollars or even twenty dollars for most working families out of a weekly budget will not impact the families life in a significant way. In light of this, maybe John Chrysostom is right in advising God’s people to give to the poor to avoid cruelty.


[1] John Chrysostom. Homily 35 on St. Matthew in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume X: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew ( ed. Philip Schaff;New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 235.

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