Twenty years ago, mainline Protestant denominations supported legislation that protected religious freedoms. Today, those same denominations have decided that advancing the sexual revolution is more important than defending the conscience of their fellow Christians.
Today at Ethika Politika, I seek to answer the question, “What does human dignity look like in real life?” It is fine to talk about it in the abstract, but what does it look like on the job or as a parent?
Real, flesh-and-blood human persons do not evoke our respect as naturally as an abstract treatise on human dignity might imply. I am reminded of one Peanuts comic in which Linus shouts, “I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!” People, as a general rule, all tend toward some form of nerdery, some weird little obsession — such as sports, video games, philosophy, music, or literature — or at least some personal (usually minor) neurosis, like an aversion to a certain smell or fear of spiders or always having to have the last word.
And, frankly, Linus is right, even if he overstates his case. It is a common if not essential feature of personhood that any given person, with enough exposure, will grow annoying to our unsanctified hearts.
On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)
One of the hot new trends in religious opinion today is to advocate for an “Islamic reformation.” This past weekend the Wall Street Journal ran two articles on the subject: “Islam’s Improbable Reformer” and “Why Islam Needs a Reformation.” Presumably, the assumption is that an Islamic Reformation would bring about the same beneficial changes as the Protestant Reformation.
As a committed Protestant (Reformed, Evangelical, Southern Baptist) I believe the Reformation was indeed one of the most significant, and largely beneficial, events in world history. But I imagine it must irk my Catholic friends to hear the implied claim that modern radical Jihadism is similar to the Catholic Church of the early Renaissance era. (In an ironic twist, some people claim that, in many ways, ISIS is the Islamic equivalent of Protestant Reformers.)
The reality, though, is that no one calling for an Islamic reformation wants Muslims to become like Calvinists of 16th century Geneva; what they want is for Muslims to be like the Episcopalians of Boston circa 1965. Those calling for reform of Islam want Islam to be like liberal mainline Christianity: all the trappings of the faith without all that pesky doctrine that might stir up trouble.
The problem with this idea—apart from it being tone-deaf and offensive to two world religions—is that it relies on the completely untenable foundation of assuming Islam is similar in relevant ways to Christianity.
While in Argentina for Acton Institute’s March 18 “Christianity and the Foundations of a Free Society” seminar, President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico conducted a wide ranging interview with La Nación, the country’s leading conservative newspaper. For more on the event, jointly sponsored with Instituto Acton Argentina, go here. What follows is an English translation of the interview. The original version, titled “Una sociedad con bajos impuestos es más próspera” in Spanish, may be found here.
La Nación: Why did you decide to devote yourself to economics in relation to ethics and religion?
Sirico: In the 1970s, while living in California, I was away from the faith and was involved in a number of leftist social change movements. Someone gave me some books to read on economics, which I did. This set off a chain reaction which resulted not only in rethinking my more socialist activism, but also in my return to the Catholic Church and eventually continuing on to seminary and the priesthood. Once ordained, I continued to write and speak about these matters and eventually formed an Institute which engages many scholars and writers of all religious persuasions to discuss these kinds of ideas. (more…)
When a country is well governed, poverty and a mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is ill governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of. — ConfuciusOn the CNBC Squawk Box program, Michael Schuman, a Time Magazine writer, explains how the ideas of the Chinese philosopher Confucius “could be influencing Asia’s economic rise and why American CEOs may benefit by understanding the history behind the philosophy.”
In a commentary on the segment, Newsbusters said it was “surprising that NBC promoted the video given the network’s history of criticizing capitalism and small government.” The conservative media watchdog group pointed to the views of disgraced anchor Brian Williams:
Suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams also demonstrated a liberal bias on numerous topics, including on economic issues. Williams has criticized the wealthy, been baffled by opposition to Obamacare and critical of not hiking the minimum wage. Just as many in the news media attacked former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his taxes, Williams used them to hit Romney for having “unfathomable wealth.” (more…)
Being “missional” and showing a concern for justice for the poor have become issues of increasing concern among American evangelicals. Yet the focus tends to tend to be on urban minorities instead of the largest percentage of Americans living under the poverty line.
If you want to hear crickets in a room full of educated, missionally minded, culture-shaping evangelicals, says Anthony Bradley, ask this question: “What are you doing to serve the needs of poor white people?”
The way that a culture understands the nature of God shapes its conception of man, reason, and society, says Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg. Though this presents enormous challenges for the Islamic world, it also has significant implications for the sustainability of Western civilization:
In 1992, the political scientist Samuel Huntington ignited a debate among scholars of politics and international affairs when he proposed that civilizational differences would be an increased source of conflict in a post-Cold War world. Widely seen as a competitor to the “end of history” thesis proposed by Francis Fukuyama, Huntington’s argument was developed in the pages of Foreign Affairs before being expounded in book form in 1996. It acquired more traction—and criticism—in the wake of 9/11 and Islamic jihadism’s subsequent expansion across the globe.
Leaving aside the specifics of Huntington’s thesis, his very use of the word “civilization” was one point of criticism. The expression implies that some cultures are more advanced than others. In an age when many are in thrall to various versions of moral and cultural relativism, this doesn’t go over well.
In today’s Acton Commentary, I highlight a little book by the Lebanese diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (1962). With regard to its continuing relevance, I write,
Malik would urge us to have the courage to take up our crosses today, each in our own capacities and competencies, putting the life of the spirit first, not settling for easy answers and scorning all distractions. “There are three unpardonable sins today,” wrote Malik in 1962 — but just as relevant now — “to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”
Above all, Christians can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ. “To be fair, to be positive, to be thankful — these are highly desirable Christian virtues today,” wrote Malik. But he did not stop at that commendable fairness, cautioning, “And of course you are not fair at all if, in trying to be fair to others, you are so fair as to cease to be fair to Christ Himself — Christ who was much more than just fair to you and me when He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross.”
Malik’s impressive work deserves more attention than it has received in recent years. And his record speaks for itself: In addition to co-drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, sitting as president of the U.N.’s General Assembly in 1958, acting as Lebanese ambassador to the United States, and dedicating his life to fighting communism and defending human rights, Malik was also a philosopher and theologian and served as vice president of the United Bible Societies from 1966 to 1972 and president of the World Council on Christian Education from 1967 to 1971. Such monumental work for both the common good and the kingdom of God ought not to remain obscure to Christians today.
You can read my full commentary on his 1962 work Christ and Crisis here.
Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.
Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.
The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.
As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)