Category: Acton Commentary

dexterThe domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.

We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nelson Mandela united a nation in a common identity that binds South Africans, says Garreth Bloor in the first of this week’s Acton Commentaries, without a prerequisite of uniformity of opinion, ideology or ethnic affiliation.

In my personal experience, the great statesman’s commitment to vigorous debate and free speech to these ends were underscored as patron of our African School Debating Championships, a student initiative I was fortunate to be a part of. Annually high school students from across the continent were invited to Johannesburg to debate freely on the key issues facing the continent and the world in the spirit of Mandela’s leadership style. Every individual who met Mandela was inspired to be a better person in every aspect of their lives, from whatever their planned profession down to their role within their families and communities.

Mandela worked off a starting point of human dignity, rising above ideology, while upholding the highest non-negotiable principles of non-racialism and the universal inherent equality of every person. His approach, embedded in a conciliatory spirit, is one of the finest contexts for honest and sincere discussion and debate.

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

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dee-Tiny-HouseThere is a kind of trendy “green” simplicity that is a luxury only the comparatively wealthy can afford, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. But there is a movement catching steam that might perfectly encapsulate a type of solar-powered simplicity:

The tiny house movement is a recent trend in the United States for building and living in eco-friendly domiciles about half the average size of an apartment. Graham Hill, a tiny house architect, described his philosophy in the New York Times: “Like the 420-square-foot space I live in, the houses I design contain less stuff and make it easier for owners to live within their means and to limit their environmental footprint.”

Among the tiny house online community, there is a healthy realism despite the otherwise romantic appeal. Melissa Tack, who built and lives in a tiny house with her husband Chris, recently reflected, “This isn’t the life for everyone, people find their happ[iness] in many different ways. I have a friend that finds her happiness in 8-12 cups of coffee a day, and others that enjoy spending their time with friends and family. Living in a Tiny House is what you make it to be.”

Read the rest here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Catching Fire

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Tyranny Is the True Enemy,” I explore the latest film installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” I pick up on the theme that animates Alissa Wilkinson’s review at Christianity Today, but diverge a bit from her reading. As she writes, a major aspect of this second part of the series has to do with fake appearances and real substance, and the need to “remember who the real enemy is.”

Wilkinson is upset with the marketing buzz surrounding the film, arguing that it “declaws” the substantive message of the books themselves. There’s an element of truth to this. It comes home especially when watching an interview like this, in which Jennifer Lawrence seems to embody the idea that for a celebrity in today’s culture, “you never get off this train,” as Haymitch puts it to Katniss and Peeta on their own promotional tour.

But in focusing on the distracting nature of commercial merchandising of the films, I argue that Wilkinson ends up distracted from who the real enemy is. There is much that is morally problematic about the way that the Capitol operates. Wilkinson rightly shows the shallow consumerism and sensuality of Capitol couture. But the fact that this isn’t the real enemy, so to speak, can be shown by a bit of thought experiment.

Suppose that the consumption habits of the Capitol were far less odious to our moral sensibilities. Suppose the citizens all lived chaste, upright, and responsible lives in their city. Their oppression of the districts would be no less troublesome for all their virtuous consumption. The decadence of the Capitol only puts the real tyranny over the districts into sharper relief. John Tamny argues that to read Catching Fire as “anything other than a polemic against communistic, brutal government is a certain act of willful blindness.”

I won’t go quite that far, and I don’t agree that the film/book has nothing at all to do with critiquing consumerism, but I do think that such alternative readings often forget who the enemy really is. As Tamny (mis)quotes from Catching Fire, Katniss herself identifies the enemy as the one “who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.”

In the opening sequence of “Catching Fire,” Katniss is illegally hunting in an attempt to provide much-needed protein for her family. At one point, Katniss and Gale come across a flock of wild turkeys. This image is especially striking at the release of this film during the Thanksgiving season.

Far from promising a “turkey in every pot,” President Snow has no regard for the welfare of anyone in the districts. The citizens of the Capitol are all that matter, to the point that people like Katniss have to resort to illegal hunting and the black market for basic necessities like medicine and food.

There is a connection between hedonism and what might be called a “soft” form of tyranny characteristic of the vicious circle between the citizens of the Capitol and the government. And while tyranny in all its forms is to be rejected, the real enemy in the Hunger Games is the hard tyranny of President Snow and his jackbooted thugs. Everything else is, in the end, a distraction.

The Business as Mission movement, writes Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary, is creating alternative and wholesome sources of income while offering ‘restoration’ for survivors:

Human trafficking feeds on the vulnerable, and that includes the poor. Children are especially at risk, as they can be sold by parents into slavery and have little or no education or means of self-support. For the Business as Mission movement, this means intentionally focusing on areas that are economically depressed and unstable. Businesses can prevent trafficking by creating alternative and wholesome sources of income, and they can also offer “restoration” for survivors of trafficking. If a person is going to escape from the life of sex slavery, there must be an alternative, safe, sustainable source of income.

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

“We hear a lot about ‘too big to fail’ banks and other financial institutions,” says Jordan Ballor in this week’s Acton Commentary. “But what about a federal government whose size and scope have become so vast as to crowd out civil institutions?”

The existence of banks that are too big to fail is in significant ways the result of the actions of a government that is too big to flourish. Even a cursory glance at the federal spending figures over recent decades, and particularly over the last few years, is sobering. For the first time since 2008, the 2013 federal budget deficit is projected to be below $1 trillion, a surge of debt that has ballooned the federal debt to nearly $17 trillion. Even this most recent dip below a deficit of $1 trillion to $680 billion represents a historically high level of additional debt. Federal spending labeled “mandatory,” including outlays like Social Security and interest payments, has increased from roughly 6 percent in 1963 to nearly 15 percent of GDP fifty years later. These increases in unsustainable patterns of spending are driven largely by increases in entitlements: from 2002 to 2012 spending on Social Security increased by more than 35 percent, while Medicare spending grew by more than 63 percent.

Read the full text of his essay here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

gaiaIn this week’s Acton Commentary, Ryan H. Murphy asks, “Why don’t we bat an eye when extremists hope a pagan god will smite SUV owners?”

TV Tropes, a Wikipedia-style website, catalogs many clichés of fiction, including this, which the site calls “Gaia’s Vengeance.” Some variation on this theme can be found in major Hollywood movies like The Happening, The Day After Tomorrow, and Avatar. To take a specific example, Kid Icarus: Uprising, a 2012 Nintendo 3DS video game that has sold over a million copies worldwide, features a genocidal maniac of a nature goddess whom the player-protagonist must protect humanity from even while quipping, “I have to admit, she has a valid point.”

It’s this type of attitude that makes it appear that many activists, rather than recoiling from the global warming that they see as inevitable, instead welcome its onset as a day of reckoning for the prideful men who dare emit carbon into the atmosphere. If global warming ends up never causing serious problems for human beings, it would be as if a murderer was acquitted, not the release of a collective burden.

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

 

America’s debt is creating not servants of higher things but slaves to government, says Ray Nothstine in this week’s Acton Commentary.

As our nation’s $17 trillion debt spirals out of control, and spiritual disciplines decline in the West, we need to face the reality of America’s inability to collectively sacrifice. Even the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg seemed to pass this year with scant attention, as if such extreme sacrifice is alien and distant to our way of life today.

Washington’s brokenness is cheered by a majority of the political class, declaring a “crisis averted.” The “crisis” for a majority of the leaders in Washington, however, is not our debt or insatiable appetite to spend, but the notion that it might possibly involve limitations or must end in belt-tightening.

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

While Chrysostom speaks in terms of the morally good use of wealth, says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary, it is a standard inconceivable apart from private property.

As a pastor, I’ve been struck by the hostility, or at least suspicion, that some Orthodox Christians reveal in their discussions of private property. While there are no doubt many reasons for this disconnect, I think a central factor is a lack of appreciation for the role that private property can, and does, play in fostering human flourishing. It is through the wise and prudent use of our property that we are able to give ourselves over in love to the next generation and so give them the possiblity of likewise transcending a purely material way of life through an act of self-donation.

Read more here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

“Wishful thinking will not fix our nation’s spending and debt problem,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The longer we procrastinate, the harder it will be for us to actually do it.”

In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of wise stories and sayings from the first Christian monks, the following is attributed to one Abba Zeno: “Never lay a foundation on which you might sometime build yourself a cell.” This saying has at least two possible applications: 1) Do not start something you do not intend to see through. 2) Do not put off for tomorrow the asceticism you can do today. Unfortunately, both of these lessons are lost on our federal government when it comes to financial responsibility, and it is our children who will pay for the sins of their fathers.

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