Yahoo! Sports recently posted this interesting video about the Angola Prison Rodeo. In the Volume 22, Number 3 issue of Religion & Liberty, Ray Nothstine had a chance to go to Angola and interview Burl Cain, the longest serving warden. During the interview Cain says:
I cannot change our reputation because it still makes people shudder, “Angola.” Life magazine called it the bloodiest prison in America. And we can’t shirk the reputation because the people who come here are so violent. People don’t realize how much they can change.
And that’s why we really built the Rodeo up and have so many tours in this riverboat tour. When they stop here in Baton Rouge or St. Francisville, they get in a bus and they come here, because I’m trying to get people to see that this place is not like they thought, and that people can truly change.
I’ve heard it repeated in many times and in many places that for a gift to truly be a gift, there must be no responsibility of response on the part of the recipient. As I write in “Gift, Gratitude, and the Grace of Stewardship,” that view is precisely what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his excoriation of “cheap” grace.
One of the most striking illustrations to me of this dynamic came as I watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. One of the main characters is Tim Riggins, a fan favorite who begins the series as a student and ends it as a man. Over the last two seasons Tim’s maturation really comes through, as he has graduated from high school and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Tim’s got a troubled background that doesn’t need to be explained here, but suffice it to say that the only family he’s got is his older brother Billy. Despite his better judgment and discomfort with the idea, Billy convinces Tim to help him with his new garage, which by night becomes a chop shop operation. The brothers are eventually busted, but Tim generously and lovingly takes the rap for his brother, who has a new wife and child that he’s trying to support.
After some time, Tim is paroled and comes back to Dillon, Texas. As you might imagine, Tim isn’t the happiest guy around after his stint in jail. But what really angers him is his sense that his brother Billy hasn’t done enough with the gift of freedom he’s been given by his brother’s sacrifice. After the brothers fight, Billy asks, “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?” Tim responds, “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”
Tim has given Billy a great gift, and it’s clear that Billy feels a sense of responsibility. Tim recognizes it, too, which is why they both know that there is something, some obligation, to be “held over” Billy. That doesn’t make what Tim did any less of a gift. But it does illustrate that there is a deep connection between gift and gratitude, or what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”
Tim’s sacrifice, in this way, is an echo of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who showed the greatest love there is in laying down his life for us (John 15:13). The reality of this gift of costly grace ought to inspire in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility, to do something good with the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.
“We need people on the inside,” writes R.J. Moeller from Los Angeles. “We need talented actors, musicians, editors, and screenplay writers who can stake a claim for a differing worldview than that of HBO, David Geffen, and whoever wrote Milk.” Go West, young conservative!
The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
While some environmentalists claim that Judaism and Christianity have been neglectful of environmental concerns, the history of these faith traditions shows otherwise. Matthea Brandenburg looks at the patristic witness, using the recent work of an Eastern Catholic scholar who argues that prayer and a healthy, every-day asceticism can keep relations between Creation and Creator on solid footing. What’s more, we should also be cautious about secularized views of nature offered by contemporary Gnostics—technocrats with “special” knowledge. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here. (more…)
“Crime has been in decline,” says Acton Research Fellow Jonathan Witt, in an article for The American Spectator, “but current government policies are bound to reverse this trend.”
Against the backdrop of sluggish growth and high unemployment, one bright spot has been declining crime rates, with levels in the United States now about half what they were 20 years ago. This gradual decline holds true even in the perennially high-risk demographic of young men, suggesting it isn’t merely a knock-on effect of an aging population. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that current government policies may reverse this downward trend.
Witt’s article will also be featured in today’s Acton Commentary. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
“There has always been a generous spirit in America towards the downtrodden, but it’s time to realize that we are no longer being generous: the government is leading us merrily along the path of fiscal fugue,” writes Elise Hilton. So why are federal officials advising benefit applicants that they shouldn’t be “discouraged by funding issues”? The full text of her essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here. (more…)
But as I also note in the piece, there are some other instances of this classic shipwrecked literary device, including the TV show Lost. The basic point of these reflections on community and the human person is that no man is an island, even when they are on an island.
Consider this speech with the conclusion “if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone,” from Jack Shephard, in Lost episode 1.5, “White Rabbit.”
As the tagline of the “Hang Together” blog reminds us, the dynamic between human sociality and community is at the heart of the American experiment in ordered liberty. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Here’s a clip that gives an extended introduction into the project:
As Proenneke says, “I was alone, just me and the animals.” In his recent book Redeeming Economics, John Mueller relates how classical economists would often use the fictional example of Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked on an island and left to survive alone, to get at the anthropological knowledge necessary for a coherent political economy. In this week’s piece, I do something like this with Proenneke, whose experiment has the advantage of being something that actually happened. (more…)
When government provision is expected in all areas of life we begin to neglect our personal obligations to our families and neighbors, says Dylan Pahman, assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. “For the ancient Jews, intergenerational relations were a religious matter,” says Pahman. “The command ‘honor your father and mother’ (cf. Exodus 20:12) served as a bridge between duties to God and duties to neighbors. Our situation today may be quite different than that faced by Jews in the Roman Empire, but our problem is the same: We are missing the mark when it comes to our primary duties to one another.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here. (more…)
In today’s Acton Commentary, I explore the Christian conception of law as a necessary palliative to the anti-social effects of sin. “Since we do not always govern ourselves as we ought to, in accord with the moral order, there must be some external checks and limits on our behavior,” I write.
There’s a wonderful passage in Kuyper’s lecture on Calvinism and politics that gets at what political life might have looked like without sin and the resulting need for coercive restraint: “Had sin not intervened…as a disintegrating force, had not divided humanity into different sections, nothing would have marred or broken the organic unity of our race.” Only in such a case “would the organic unity of our race be realized politically,” in which “one State could embrace all the world.”
But, in fact, sin has intervened, and therefore, as I point out in today’s commentary, “law and legal constraint protect true liberty, and prevent our earthly existence from degenerating into a hellish existence, a libertinism in which our anti-social desires are given full rein.”