Category: General

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Anders Chydenius (1729-1803)

The answer of the Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) applies equally well to his younger contemporary Malthus as to 21st-century neo-Malthusian paganism:

Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’

Indeed, the biblical answer to Chydenius question would seem to clearly be, “No.” Remember, after all, you are worth more than many sparrows.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, August 13, 2008

As The Dark Knight sets box office records, and the Acton Institute plunges deeper into the business of film production, it might be an opportune time to revisit the question of Christianity and movies.

Scads of ink have already been spilled on the subject, which is of course part of the larger question of the relationship between Christianity and art, upon which many great minds have ruminated. (See, for example, Jacques Maritain on Art and Scholasticism.)

On the PowerBlog, besides the occasional movie review, John Armstrong (here) and Jordan Ballor (here and here) have alluded to the broader questions raised at the intersection of morality, movie production and viewing, and evangelization.

A provocative recent contribution to the discussion comes from Time magazine’s Anthony Sacramone, writing at On the Square. Sacramone refers to the defunct Motion Picture Production Code (one part of an interesting history of Catholics and American movies) in the course of a critique of the contemporary Christian Movieguide, concluding,

There should be a happy medium between resigning oneself to the rank nihilism emitted from cineplexes like stink lines from an R. Crumb cartoon, and pining for the days when the Production Code had to be formally amended to permit Rhett Butler’s valedictory “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 6, 2008

In our continuing efforts to remain relevant and “cutting edge” on the Internet, the Acton Institute has rolled out the LOLord Acton Quote Generator widget, visible in the PowerBlog’s upper left-hand corner. The LOLord Acton Quote Generator is an effort to expose the world to Lord Acton wisdom via the use of LOL-ized quotations taken from various letters and writings of Lord Acton. The best part is that the widget is viral – you can get it and install it on your webpage, blog, or Facebook profile so that you can share these quotations with your friends.

LOL text has become an Internet phenomenon, starting with sites like those that feature LOLcats. Theologians from the history of the church have been LOL-ized (early, medieval, Reformation, modern) and now Lord Acton joins the ranks of those figures with wisdom from the past deemed worthy of communication to present generations.

We’ve also added some Facebook integration to the blog, allowing you join our blog network and see updates to the PowerBlog via Facebook.

Another great new feature, also on the left side-bar, is the inclusion of a PowerBlog Food For Thought box. This box will update several times a day and will give you access to some of the things that we’re reading. Don’t miss out on important news – keep up with us and be informed! We’ve added a poll feature on the right side-bar, so you can cast your vote on pressing questions of the day.

And finally, we’ve also included an Acton News & Commentary box that links our most recent weekly commentaries. Our weekly commentaries provide opinion and discussion on current issues and events and should be part of your weekly reading.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An update on my post about “Canada’s Faltering Freedom” a few weeks ago: Common sense seems to have prevailed up north, as Canada’s human rights commission dismissed a complaint against journalist Mark Steyn for comments made about Islam, while the same body cleared a Catholic magazine of wrongdoing for its comments about homosexuality.

Rightfully, religious leaders in Canada are not relaxing in the wake of these minor victories. Citing other abuses by provincial human rights panels, Calgary’s Bishop Frederick Henry is leading a charge for reforming Alberta’s—and the nation’s—human rights commissions. Godspeed, bishop.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, June 26, 2008

Awhile back I passed along some insight into J. K. Rowling’s view of tyranny, as expressed in the words of Albus Dumbledore. Here’s another bit from Rowling’s wizard on the related topic of power:

I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. 718).

That section recalls for me Lord Acton’s famous words, which adorn this blog’s masthead. Here’s that quote, within the context of its surrounding sentences, “Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

Something to keep in mind this election season, I think.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Acton Institute is branching out into the technology sector with its new Acton branded flash drives.

We initially offered these drives to attendees of Acton University where they were received with cheers from bloggers and others who still remember—with a shudder—the horrors of the old 3½ floppies (remember the good old “tape hack” you could use to trick your computer into thinking that it was a DD and not an HD disk?) and even the ginormous 5¼ floppies.

These USB2.0 flash drives hold a handy 1Gb of your favorite portable files, be they MP3s, photos from your recent vacation, or documents for school or work. Just plug one into a USB port (2.0 preferred) on your computer and you’re good to go!

Acton USB Flash Drive

Buy the Acton USB Flash Drive ($20.00 USD) today at the Acton BookShoppe, and support the pursuit of a free and virtuous society.

Don’t forget to check out the other hot sellers including The Call of the Entrepreneur, Slitting the Sycamore, and A Biblical Case for Natural Law.

The problem is not unique to Canada, nor entirely absent from the US, but our neighbors to the north seem to be doing their best at the moment to lead the so-called free world in denying what Americans call the First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.). In fact, the Canadian government’s quashing of the expression of opinion—executed through its “human rights commission”—is downright frightening. It is trite to describe this kind of thing as Orwellian, but that’s what it is.

In Canada and elsewhere, the unpopular opinions most in danger of being declared verboten tend to revolve around two issues: Islam and homosexuality.

The case of Mark Steyn, in hot water for criticizing Islam, has gotten some press, because he’s a well-known writer attached to powerful friends. See here and here.

This recent piece by David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen recounts some other cases, equally disturbing, which have gone less remarked.

Here’s some insight into J. K. Rowling’s perspective on tyranny, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, speaking of the arch-villain of the series:

Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many vicitms, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different! Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action… (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 510).

My most immediate thought upon reading this passage was the account of King Herod in the book of Matthew.

Rowling’s work is worth paying attention to, if not for its insight and its own merits (which there certainly are), then at least for its importance as an influence on popular views of life, liberty, and love.

Also, if you want a truly strange take on the popularity of the Harry Potter series, be sure to check out this article, “Harry Potter: The Archetype of an Abortion Survivor” (HT?: The Point).

On March 29, Carl Anderson’s A Civilization of Love (HarperOne, 2008) first appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list as one of hottest-selling books in America among the “Hard Cover Advice” category. Since then the author has been on an energetic European and American tour to promote his book. In just 200 pages, Anderson writes convincingly to elaborate a treatise to dispel dominant secular ideologies whose ethical frameworks falsely aim at human fulfillment and forming good and just societies.

The author is Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal society, and CEO of its top-rated life insurance company. Anderson brings to his writing a vast amount of practical experience tactfully combined with the rudiments of Catholic philosophy and theology to elucidate his philosophy of love and goodness.

Anderson’s first task is to enlighten his readers on the very meaning of love. He author dedicates his first few chapters to explain that a culture of love is not simply about encouraging romance; and in no way does a culture of love echo the loose liberal ideas behind the hedonistic behavior so vigorously idealized in Western society since the late 1960s. A culture of love is, rather, about self-responsibility, self-denial, hard work, unconditional generosity and steadfast dedication.

And yet, there is something more to love, at least in the Christian sense: Anderson’s primary axiom is that a civilization characterized by love is, above all, one which is rooted in the love of God and is ultimately other-directed. To make his point clear, Anderson spins Descartes’ fundamental existential premise “I think therefore I am” to reveal a deeper insight about man and his relationships: “‘I love therefore I am.’ Or perhaps even more profoundly: ‘I have been first loved, therefore I am.’” Anderson goes on to say that “Divine love implies an other…. Love involves (at least) two persons, two selves.” (chap. 3 “Craftsman of a New Humanity”, pp.35, 37).

Anderson’s second point is that love is marked by the freedom to act and to give; yet it involves a personal liberty which often challenges our spontaneous preferences and natural inclinations for comfort, company and security. “[Freedom] cannot be lived in isolation, that is, unhinged from other values such as equality and human dignity.” (chap. 1, “The Power of Christ to Transform Culture”, p. 10).

Carl Anderson colorfully speaks of Mother Teresa’s little known struggles while experiencing her own “dark night of the soul” in caring for lepers, drug addicts and AIDS victims in the streets of Calcutta.. Certainly not every day, he explains, was Mother Teresa rewarded with the joy of having improved the well-being of India’s most destitute citizens. Many days were, in fact, quite routine and so physically exerting on her body, that it would be very wrong to speak of any “good feelings” that resulted from her unconditional acts of charity. And yet “throughout her ministry she persevered and did not begrudge her work.” (chap. 4 “A Dignity That Brings Demands, p. 61)

Anderson believes that promoting human responsibility, based on personal acts self-giving and firmly rooted in imitating God’s law and love for his creatures, is the only way to make a culture a civilized one. The end result – as Anderson hopes – will be that human society bows ever the less to man-made social agendas and their accompanying large impersonal governmental agencies. As he writes: “Social engineering, even if well-intended, cannot in itself create a just society. Just society must arise out of the hearts and minds of those that live in it. If the precepts that Leo [XIII] proposed [in the 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum] – which are, after all, specific applications of natural law – were voluntarily obeyed by all people, the need for complicated laws and governments would be greatly reduced.” (chap. 6 “Globalization and the Gospel of Work”, p. 91.)

Carl Anderson gives good reasons to not rely on state welfare as a norm to provide loving care for the nation’s poor. He cites the millions of volunteer hours and financial support which Americans still give to private charities, including impressive contributions from his own Knights of Columbus councils. Yet, despite the inspiring statistics, Anderson warns his readers of seeking the opposite solution to welfare provision with the words of Benedict XVI: “If men have nothing more to expect than what the world offers them, and if they may and must demand all this from the state, they destroy their own selves and every human society.” (p. chap. 1 “The Power of Christ to Transform Culture”, p. 10).

Lastly, Carl Anderson gives perhaps his best example of how modern society may end up, by recounting the personal experiences of Czech playwright and former president, Vaclav Havel. After undergoing decades of forced social engineering, where the very fundamentals of human love and trust all but vanished from Czech society, Havel confesses: “The worst thing is that we lived in a contaminated environment….We learned not to believe anything, to ignore each other, to care only for ourselves. Concepts such as love, compassion, humility, and forgiveness lost their depths and dimensions. The previous regime…reduced man to a force of production and nature to a tool of production.” (chap 7, Ethics in the Marketplace, p. 109).

Carl Anderson’s book brings to light many pressing social issues affecting most modern nations. But unlike many philosophical works, Anderson provides a cause and a solution sustained by real-life examples and their consequences. I would highly recommend reading A Civilization of Love to reinforce many of the same principles promoted by the Acton Institute.

As the Drudge Report today hails the coming of the fuel-efficient Smart car, it might be worth pointing out other ways in which people are adapting to deal with higher fuel prices. I don’t mean to minimize any of the pain associated with skyrocketing energy costs, whether personal (I feel it, too) or economy-wide, but it is interesting to observe the myriad and often unexpected effects of price changes. It’s the market working. Or, to put it another way, it’s the human mind working to adapt creatively to the challenge of scarce resources.

The search for fuel-efficiency has, for example,…

…hurt the trucking industry, but given new life to long-suffering railroads.

…convinced growing numbers of urbanites to use mass transit.

…been a boon for bicycle shops.

…hurt many parts of the auto industry, but has also spurred a sharp advance in hybrid auto sales.