We’ve had an amazing collection of speakers participating in the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, and today we’re pleased to be able to share the video of one of the highlights of the series: George Weigel’s discussion of ten essential things to know about Pope Francis.

Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D. C. An eminent Catholic theologian, he’s the author of numerous books, most famously Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II; he’s also a columnist, commentator, and regular guest on radio and TV to discuss Catholic issues. There are few who are better qualified to examine the always surprising and sometimes controversial papacy of Pope Francis.

We present the video of Weigel’s lecture below, and after the jump I’ve included a recent edition of Radio Free Acton, which features a discussion between Weigel, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and our Director of Research Samuel Gregg.

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090806-N-6220J-004President Obama remarked that he would like faith organizations and churches to speak to poverty solutions “in a more forceful fashion” at a Georgetown University summit in mid-May. The meeting included faith leaders from Catholic and evangelical denominations, and included political thinkers Robert Putnam of Harvard, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks.

Putnam said the voice of the faithful in the U.S. is critical to alleviating poverty.

Without the voice of faith, it’s going to be very hard to push this to the top of the agenda,” said Putnam, co-author of “American Grace,” and “Our Kids,” a book about the widening gap between rich and poor children in America.

If religious observance includes an obligation to the poor, the religious can be a powerful force for positive action and social justice, said Putnam.

Rev. Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute, commented on the summit’s call for more involvement by churches in meeting the needs of the poor. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, May 28, 2015
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Should Washington set out to change religious beliefs?
Richard W. Garnett, USA Today

Well-intended bribes & nudges can damage freedom of faith as much as heavy handed tactics.

Cronyism Doesn’t Just Infect Markets—It Infects Culture
Michael A. Needham and Ryan T. Anderson, The Federalist

Just as cronies seek special economic advantages from government, the Left also seeks special advantages from government in its effort to reshape the character of American society.

Why RFRA? Because all Americans have rights of conscience
Travis C. Barham, Citizen-Times

Opponents of laws like North Carolina’s proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, currently being considered by the state Senate, often declare that business owners have no place incorporating their values into their businesses. Instead, they must leave their religious beliefs and their consciences at home.

5 facts about Latinos and education
Jens Manuel Krogstad, Pew Research

Educational attainment among U.S. Latinos has been changing rapidly in recent years, reflecting the group’s growth in the nation’s public K-12 schools and colleges. Over the past decade, the Hispanic high school dropout rate has declined and college enrollment has increased, even as Hispanics trail other groups in earning a bachelor’s degree.

rules-and-regulationsIn the Old Testament there are 613 commandments. Of those 248 are “positive commandments,” to perform an act, and 365 are “negative commandments,” to abstain from certain acts. Some of those include commandments that are deemed to be self-evident (“laws”), such as not to murder and not to steal. Others commemorate important events in Jewish history (“testimonies”) while the rest are simply decrees of God (“decrees”).

God deemed those 613 commandments to be enough to regulate almost every aspect of the lives of his people for thousands of years. You could read all of them in less than 30 minutes.

The American federal government, however, is not so succinct. There are over 1 million restrictions in the federal regulations alone (i.e., not counting the statutory law). Patrick McLaughlin calculated that it would take the average adult three years to read the whole thing.

In this video, McLaughlin provides a visual example of how much regulation has increased since the 1950s:
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globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

Patriarch Bartholomew

Patriarch Bartholomew

“Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his statement for the 2015 World Water Day makes a number of assertions that, while inspired by morally good ideals, are morally and practically problematic,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Chief among them is his assertion ‘that environmental resources are God’s gift to the world’ and so ‘cannot be either considered or exploited as private property.’”

While certainly not absolute, the Orthodox Christian moral tradition doesn’t reject the notion of private property. In fact, property is valued “as a socially recognized form of people’s relation to the fruits of labour and to natural resources.” Included here are the “basic powers of an owner,” such as “the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property” (The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, VII.1).

On a practical level, Bartholomew’s concern for “sustainability” reflects what George Will calls an idea whose “premises are more assumed than demonstrated” and which “as a doctrine of total social explanation, transforms all ills and grievances into environmental causes, cloaked in convenient science.” When embodied in public policy, sustainability empowers “government planners and rationers to fend off planetary calamity while administering equity” allowing them “to supplant markets in allocating wealth and opportunity.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
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student debtIs it time to write off the college experience? John Stossel thinks so.

Half today’s recent grads work in jobs that don’t require degrees. Eighty thousand of America’s bartenders have bachelor’s degrees.

Politicians such as Hillary Clinton promote college by claiming that over a lifetime, college graduates “earn $1 million more.” That statistic is true but utterly misleading. People who go to college are different. They’re more likely to have been raised by two parents. They did better in high school. They’d make more money even if they never went go to college.

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un-hungerToday there are 216 million fewer undernourished people than there was in 1990-92. To put that number in perspective, consider that across the globe there are currently 247 countries and dependent territories. If you ranked them by the number of people in each, the last 144 countries—Serbia to Pitcairn Islands—would have a combined population of 216 million.

According to the United Nations’ annual hunger report, since 1990-92 the number of undernourished people has decreased from nearly a billion to about 795 million. (Undernourishment means that a person is not able to acquire enough food to meet the daily minimum dietary energy requirements, over a period of one year.)

The decline is more pronounced in developing regions, the report notes, despite significant population growth. In recent years, progress has been hindered by slower and less inclusive economic growth as well as political instability in some developing regions, such as Central Africa and western Asia.

Here are some other highlights from the report:
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pentecost12Pentecost Sunday: The Holy Spirit comes with tongues of fire and an “incendiary community” is empowered for mission.

Pentecost is not the birth of the church. The church is conceived in the words and works of Jesus as he gathers followers and promises, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believers in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-39)

The church is born when our Resurrected Lord appears to the fearful disciples and breathes new life into them and sends them out in mission (John 20:21-23).

There was one more moment to come in this drama of unveiling a missional people reflecting the manifold wisdom of God: empowerment for witness and the formation of heterogeneous communities of faith, hope, and love (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8). (more…)

Great and powerful Oz

Great and powerful Oz

According to Merriam-Webster, “cronyism” is ” the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends.” For instance, former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, surrounded himself with friends and family members while in office, as he cheerfully plundered the city’s coffers, sharing the wealth with his entourage.

It’s easy to think that cronyism is like Oz: far, far away. Yes, there are tricky creatures there, but heavens, we here in Kansas won’t be affected by shiny streets and glowing horses.

Not true. The economy shapes the culture. What happens in Oz, if you will, is felt in Kansas. And not only felt in Kansas, but eventually begins to seep into the Kansas culture. Why shouldn’t I have an army of flying monkeys to protect my farm? Why shouldn’t I sidle up to the Wicked Witch and make sure she’s on my side? You never know. Michael A. Needham and Ryan T. Anderson state,

While cronyism is most recognizable when it generates economic windfalls for the favored few, conservatives would do well to explain that it also operates in other realms. Indeed, for decades, the Left has been seeking special advantages from government in its effort to reshape the character of American society. So, if you’re against the government arbitrarily picking winners and losers in the economy, you need to be against it doing the same in the culture. If Solyndra and the Export-Import Bank are a problem, so too is government funding for Planned Parenthood and government discrimination against Catholic Charities.

We call this sort of government special-interest-seeking “cultural cronyism.”

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