Category: Christian Social Thought

A model highlighted from Africa Fashion Week

A model highlighted from Africa Fashion Week

We’ve all seen the pictures: a little African boy wearing nothing but an dirty, over-sized t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a U.S. sports team, or a little African girl, dressed in rags and pitifully surrounded by flies.

As you might imagine, Africans don’t particularly appreciate the rest of the world viewing them this way.

Frustrated by the constant images of poverty and disaster, a new Twitter movement started by young Africans shows that the continent is much more diverse and complicated than the mainstream media’s portrayal. The hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou has been tweeted by more than 45,000 in the past month.

Diana Salah (@lunarnomad), a 22-year-old Somali-American student living in Seattle, helped to start the social media campaign, she told Fusion: “I got involved because growing up I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent.

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pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Insitute’s Rome office – Istituto Acton –  has issued the following statement today regarding Pope Francis’s much-awaited enviromental encyclical Laudato Si’. Among other things, Jayabalan notes: “[Francis] seems to blame markets, over-consumption and especially finance, rather than human sin, for all our environmental problems.”
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At an auction in 2007 Andreas Gursky turned 99 cents into $3.34 million.

Well, sort of. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say he turned 99 Cent II Diptychon, a photograph depicting an interior of a supermarket, into a few million. At the time this was the most expensive photograph in the world:

andreas-gursky-99-cent-ii-diptychon-2001

Even more amazing is that this was the third print of the same image that had sold for millions. Two others sold in 2006, one for $2.25 million and another for $2.48 million. Altogether the images earned $8.07 million. Not bad for a snapshot of a grocery store.

Gursky digitally altered the image to reduce perspective, forcing the viewer to see a familiar sight from a different perspective. Mostly what we notice in the picture is colors. In focusing on that aspect, though, the image draws our attention away from something beautiful and complex that we often take for granted. I’m neither an artist nor an art critic but I want to draw your eye to that feature.

Imagine if we zoomed in closer on the photograph. We might see something like this:
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Children-of-VietnamFor the past hundred years, a common worry about population was that we’d soon have more people than the Earth could sustain. Today, we have the opposite concern: In the near future, there may not be enough people to support an increasingly aging population.

To simply maintain its current population, a country needs the average number of children born to women in their country (over her lifetime) to be 2.1. Few industrialized countries come close to that replacement rate: Ireland (2.0), Australia (1.8), Canada (1.6), Japan (1.56), China (1.54), Spain (1.5), Germany (1.4), Poland (1.3), South Korea (1.2), etc.

To solve the problem of decreasing populations, says Eric Teetsel and Andrew T. Walker, our cultures must rediscover the importance of children.
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I was reading through Abraham Kuyper’s inaugural speech at the founding of the Free University in Amsterdam, in which he lays out his vision of “sphere sovereignty,” and this passage struck me as particularly noteworthy. It is reminiscent of the appeal that Aslan makes to the “Deeper Magic” wrought at the dawn of creation in Narnia (and by which, incidentally, he overcomes the tyrannical claims to absolute sovereignty made by the White Witch):

Sphere sovereignty defending itself against State sovereignty: that is the course of world history even back before the Messiah’s sovereignty was proclaimed. For though the Royal Child of Bethlehem protects sphere sovereignty with His shield, He did not create it. It existed of old. It lay in the order of creation, in the structure of human life; it was there before State sovereignty arose.

Kuyper goes on to say much more about sphere sovereignty, including the historical form the struggle between sphere and State sovereignty has taken.

Read “Sphere Sovereignty” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). There’s also another version of the speech available here.

And check out more details on the ongoing work of the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society.

new-york-cityLarge cities in the northeast like Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and so on, are often caricatured as wastelands of non-religious, unchurched, overtly secular theaters. Caricatures of this type seem odd given the fact that many of America’s oldest religious institutions are actively operating in those regions. One of my friends is quick to point out that every week people sit on church pews in northeastern churches that older than many states out west. For example, by looking at the Christian presence in the New York City area alone, research shows that the northeast might not be as religiously barren as many believe.

I recently contacted Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey through NYC Religions, to set the record straight on the New York City area. Since 2010, Carnes and his team have visited thousands of religious houses of worship, from all religious traditions cataloging the religious activity in New York City. In light of what he and his team have seen on the ground, Carnes has come to the conclusion that the best description of New York City is that it is a “post secular” city—a condition somewhere between a secular and sacred.
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What is the best test of the common good? How do you know if you have a society characterized by the flourishing of persons in community? Andy Crouch argues that we should look at the flourishing of the most vulnerable.

“There are all kinds of conditions in which the affluent, privileged, powerful majority can flourish,” notes Crouch in his talk at QIdeas in Nashville. “But the far more demanding test in any society is the fate of the most vulnerable—the youngest, the oldest, the most frail, the most marginalized.”

Crouch contends that “If you care about the flourishing of persons—especially the vulnerable in community—you will care about freedom of religion.”

(Via: Justin Taylor)

JuniusCoverCLP Academic has now released The Mosaic Polity, the first-ever English translation of Franciscus Junius’ De Politiae Mosis Observatione, a treatise on Mosaic law and contemporary political application. The release is part of the growing series from Acton: Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Junius (1545–1602) was a Reformed scholar and theologian at the Universities of Heidelberg and Leiden, and is known for producing a popular Latin translation of the Bible and De theologia vera, which became “a standard textbook in theological prolegomena among Reformed Protestants.”

In their introduction, editor Andrew McGinnis and translator Todd Rester offer more on the historical context and the questions Junius aims to answer, explaining how he was “personally called upon by ‘good men’” to “address the contemporary political implications of the laws of Moses.” (more…)

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.