Category: Acton Commentary

acton-commentary-blogimageThe release of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical raises questions about who has been advising him on global warming, says Catherine Snow in this week’s Acton Commentary, especially since some of the advisers are decidedly on the wrong side of Catholic teaching.

Let’s begin with economist Jeffrey Sachs, a prominent supporter of abortion and population control, who was invited to speak at a conference on climate change at the Vatican. And does it bother anyone else, for instance, that Pope Francis – or the curial officials advising him – have chosen as his only lay advisor on the subject of climate change Hans Joachim Schellnhuber? And exactly why is the Vatican itching to tackle climate change in the first place?

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

acton-commentary-blogimage“New York Times writer David Brooks’ new book, On the Road to Character, examines what it takes to create a virtuous life,” says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The author’s central question: Does a person of character focus solely on building on one’s strengths or does he confront and improve his weaknesses?”

It is an interesting topic for a man who makes his living writing pithy, sometimes political, columns in a very secular newspaper. While Brooks is Jewish, a Christian will be comfortable with his language and motifs. And in the end, the book is not simply about character, but about sin, grace and salvation.

This is not an interpretation. Brooks himself reflects, “I wrote it to be honest, to save my own soul.” While the beginning of the book speaks to professional achievement and what it takes to make it in one’s field of endeavor, the book’s secondary themes of joy, love, and redemption make this more than a self-help book or guide to success. In fact, it reads as a decidedly religious work.

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

acton-commentary-blogimage“’Sustainability’ has become big business, especially at universities,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary. “If there ever was an elitist/populist wedge issue, this is it, with Pope Francis and the Holy See on the wrong side of it.”

So what exactly is meant by “sustainability”? The term originates in 1987 with the World Commission on Environment and Development’s report entitled Our Common Future: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sounds reasonable enough, but the concept is so broad as to be meaningless. The 2002 UN Summit on Sustainable Development, which I attended as a delegate of the Holy See, came ten years after the Rio Earth Summit and sought to balance social, economic and environmental concerns. The concept today seems to be about fighting poverty while tackling climate change (as in a “new climate economy”). Once again, who can be against it? And what are we supposed to do about it?

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

Oceans of ink have already been spilled in the media coverage of Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment — and it hasn’t even been released yet. In this reflection, Rev. Robert A. Sirico draws on Catholic social teaching to provide a helpful framework for understanding environmental stewardship. While we wait to find out what’s actually in the new encyclical, expected to be published in June, Acton’s president and co-founder sees a consistent thread of thinking on environmental stewardship that draws on Scripture, core Church teachings and the work of predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Rev. Sirico’s video commentary is below.

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: jcarter
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“Indifference to the moral dimension distorts the study of human action in economics,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary, “so too does it deform the discipline that reaches behind that action to the human mind: psychology.”

Built on a sound anthropological foundation and guided by an equally sound morality that is clear on the proper goals of human life, the empirical findings and practical techniques of psychology can foster the flourishing of both persons and communities. Unfortunately, as Theodore Dalrymple argues in his most recent book Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, contemporary psychology has long been not only hostile to traditional morality but also indifferent to and dismissive of the larger context of Western culture within which it arose. As a result contemporary psychology, according to Dalrymple, “is not a key to self-understanding but a cultural barrier to such understanding as we can achieve.”

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

acton-commentary-blogimage“For too many of the poor in today’s America, life is essentially that of a client,” says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The government cares for their needs: housing, food, education. Spending one’s life as client creates an entitlement mentality: ‘I am here to receive. I am owed something. I depend on others for my needs and desires.’”

A place is where people are invested. They create homes, send their kids to school and dance lessons, own businesses, shop locally, plant gardens and cooperate in community enrichment. When one belongs in a place, one becomes a citizen.

With the ruins of Baltimore fresh in our minds, one is left to wonder how people of that place could torch businesses and destroy their home. The answer, I believe, lies in the difference between being a citizen, and being a client.

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

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“Three recent events have made me reflect on a certain theme that should be of interest to religious-minded advocates of the free society,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary.

The three events were: 1) an interview I gave to an Italian online publication in response to a French professor who claims that capitalism is the root cause of gender theory and other cultural and social revolutions associated with liberalism; 2) a talk given by a German professor on “liberalism as an attitude” at the European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin last month; and 3) the controversy caused by the upcoming papal encyclical on human ecology.

Now, I realize that the term “liberal” can mean many things, but let’s assume that it describes those who, when considering political, social and economic questions, give greater priority to individual freedom than to other goods such as equality, tradition or order. Liberty need not be the only consideration, but it tends to be the dominant one. There are right-wing, moderate and left-wing liberals who disagree on different issues and may prefer another good in a particular instance but none of them question the good of liberty as such.

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

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimageEven children intuitively understand that exchange can and often does mutually benefit those who trade, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “As it turns out, that mutual benefit is often not only material but, at its base, moral as well.”

I am unsure how it is that Rita ended up with a peanut butter and M&M sandwich in the first place. Certainly not under our current First Lady’s watch — that’s for sure. Perhaps Rita’s mother let her pack a lunch as an exercise in  responsibility, and when her mom wasn’t looking Rita would sneak the red-, green-, brown-, and yellow-covered chocolates into the white bread bookends of her (until then) plain peanut butter sandwich. Or maybe her mother was an economist, and she knew that to pack her daughter a peanut butter and M&M sandwich meant effectively to give Rita her pick of any other sandwich in the classroom.

As Adam Smith (in)famously observed in The Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” Thus the question, “Do you want to trade?” And what third grader wouldn’t consider a peanut butter and M&M sandwich to be in “their own interest”?

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

acton-commentary-blogimage“The primacy of God, which Pope Benedict XVI made a priority of his pontificate, reminds us that reality is intelligible and human reason must be used,” says Bishop Dominique Rey in this week’s Acton Commentary, “reason that is able to recognize the logos, the objective reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Some radical environmental movements (such as those who embrace what is often called “deep ecology”) clearly derive their inspiration from a pagan pantheism, which leads to a deification of nature. Reason is subdued and abdicates its role and dignity. In fact, as Benedict affirmed, “the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life.”

Illuminated by faith, reason allowed the world to cease to be regarded as divine. It helped man to cease worshipping the elements (earth, sky, and water), the stars, the plants and the animals as mythical beings or as multiple facets of the divinity.

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