Category: General

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 16, 2008

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.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. is remembered fondly by American aviators who defended and sacrificed for this nation in World War II to the present day. He is remembered for his touching poem High Flight, which he penned in 1941.

Magee was born to an American father and British mother in Shanghai, China in 1922. His parents were Christian missionaries in the country. Well educated in China, England, and the United States, Magee received a scholarship to Yale University, where his father was then serving as a chaplain. With the outbreak of World War II, and the British Isles under German threat, Magee postponed college and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. The United States had not yet entered the war, and hundreds of Americans served as combat aviators with the Canadian Air Force.

Magee received his pilot wings in June of 1941. He served in the defense of the British homeland against the Luftwaffe. In August of 1941, Magee was test flying the new Spitfire MK I at high altitude. The inspiration of the flight led him to write High Flight, which came to him in the sky, and he completed the poem on paper soon after landing.

He sent a copy to his parents, and his father reprinted it in church publications. Sadly, Magee died just a few months later in a mid-air collision with another airplane in December of 1941. An English farmer said he saw Magee struggle to open the canopy, and was finally able to bail out, but by then he was too low to the ground for his parachute to open. Magee was only 19 years old.

The poem would however continue to gain praise as the war continued. The Library of Congress featured the work in an exhibit titled ‘Faith and Freedom’ in 1942, and it was published in the New York Times. Also, several biographies were written about Magee as the popularity of the poem skyrocketed.

It is a poem that is loved and cherished by many aviators everywhere, especially those who have defended this nation in the sky. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy memorize the poem. American pilots shot down and tortured in North Vietnamese prison camps during that war drew inspiration from Magee’s words. Lines from the poem are quoted on the headstones of many military pilots buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It gained still further fame when President Ronald Reagan quoted the first and last lines of the poem in his moving words of tribute to the American astronauts who perished in the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy in 1986. “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan said.

Dedicated to those who have given their life in defense of the nation, High Flight is printed in its entirety below:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

There is a fascinating article from City Journal‘s Myron Magnet titled, “Mr. Sammler’s City,” which gives some insight and background to Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet. This is one of Bellow’s novels I read for my research on Henderson the Rain King, and Magnet’s piece serves as an excellent primer.

Here’s a sample:

Sammler, for his part, can’t help recalling that almost all modern revolutions, from the Jacobins to the Nazis and the Communists, have ended with the streets running with blood, because murder has been at their heart, rather than an incidental means to an end. For revolutionary leaders like Stalin, “the really great prize of power was unobstructed enjoyment of murder,” while the revolutionary masses in turn “loved the man strong enough to take blood guilt on himself. For them an elite must prove itself in this ability to murder.”

Each modern revolution (the American one alone excepted) overturned civilization’s ultimate restraint and became “a conspiracy against the sacredness of life.”

As they say, read the whole thing. And then go read the book.

Colonel Robinson Risner 1973 – Retired as Brigadier General in 1976

“I want to show that the smartest and the bravest rely on their faith in God and our way of life,” was Robinson Risner’s answer to why he wrote The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of American prisoners of war from North Vietnam and the publication of Risner’s often horrific but ultimately triumphant account.

Many books written by and about American military prisoners during the Vietnam War focus on the deep Christian faith of many of these captives. Their prayers and cries to God depict desperate circumstances, but also a sustaining and unwavering faith in the face of horrendous torture and cruelty. Risner’s account expresses a beautifully simple faith. By simple I mean he absolutely believed in the power of prayer and for God to give him strength to endure his dark trial. He notes in his book:

To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.

Finally, though, the pain and aching increased to where I did not think I could stand it any longer. One day I prayed, ‘Lord, I have to some relief from this pain.’ I quoted the Biblical verse that He would hear us and that we would never be called upon to take more than we could bear.

Risner was shot down twice over North Vietnam. He was captured the second time in September of 1965 and taken to the Hanoi Hilton. As a senior ranking officer Risner was marked for additional torture and solitary confinement while in prison. Eventually he would spend a number of years in solitary confinement.

Risner was also featured on a Time Magazine Cover in April of 1965 as an American pilot serving in Vietnam. Risner’s picture on the cover of Time undoubtedly contributed to his abuse and the resolve of the North Vietnamese to break his spirit and beliefs. The North Vietnamese felt he was a celebrity figure in America, and breaking him would lessen the resolve of others who looked to him for leadership. Senator John McCain, the most well known prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, credited Robinson Risner as one of the leaders who helped sustain him and that Risner would always be a hero to him.

Risner and other senior officers orchestrated a campaign of resistance to limit and sabotage the use of military prisoners for propaganda purposes and to maintain a military posture and morale all despite continued torture. Risner showed his resolve after spending 32 days in stocks attached to his bed, and forced to lie in his own waste. When he was brought to his first torture session his arms were bound and his shoulders were pulled out of his sockets. Then his feet were hoisted up behind him, and his ribs were separated. Risner tried to slam his head against the cement in order to knock himself out because the pain was so unbearable. Risner describes the pain as incredibly horrific and the screams were so deep and vicious he did not think they were his own.

He discusses a time when he was in stocks for so long he had to get out and by prayer he says he was able to unlock them. Another time he prayed for the annoying prison speaker to stop its incessant noise and it ceased. Risner’s book is full of fascinating stories and the will of so many American fighters to always resist in whatever way they could. He talks about the importance of communication, the tap code, and how it saved lives.

Risner was especially adroit at showing little emotion when the North Vietnamese tried a carrot and stick approach. In fact, when American prisoners finally felt like they were going to leave for real after being informed, they showed no emotion. They would not give their captors the satisfaction. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, April 4, 2008

This is just a brief note to mark today the third anniversary of the PowerBlog. We’ve worked hard to bring a variety of viewpoints and thoughtful perspectives to bear on a range of topics, with an attempt to keep the focus generally on issues we think would be of interest to our readers. The last few months have seen a number of new contributors crack the PowerBlog lineup, and we’re pleased with the results. We hope you are too.

In the future we plan to bring you more book and movie reviews and more translations and opinions from our international contributors, while continuing to bring attention to the intersection between religion and liberty. As always, suggestions for improvement, questions, and comments are welcome. We also want to continue to engage more thoughtfully and purposefully the vast potential of social networking, Web 2.0 and beyond.

For keeping us abreast of the current trends and continually making innovative changes to the blog’s functional and aesthetic structure, special recognition goes to our webmaster Jonathan Spalink. His advice and insight has been solicited by numerous folks duly impressed with his work.

Thanks to the faithful and occasional readers of the PowerBlog for providing us a lively forum in which to engage the issues of the day. Without you, none of this would be worthwhile.

Acton Institute PowerBlog

Last night as I was driving to an appointment, I was listening to our local NPR affiliate here in Grand Rapids, and specifically to the show Marketplace. I happened to hear a story about how the government and economists were concerned that the money given to taxpayers via the “economic stimulus package” may actually be used for purposes other than retail spending, thereby not causing the intended “stimulus.” Not the first story of this sort that I’ve heard over the last few weeks.

The difference in this story was that it was being reported that the IRS was now being proactive in ensuring that the stimulus money was being spent “properly” by actually spending the money in advance for a certain class of taxpayers who had been identified as likely to not spend their rebates.

Naturally, I found the story outrageous. So outrageous, in fact, that I was talking back to my radio, and in fact probably talked right over the most important part of the story.

So today, when I noticed that Jordan Ballor had written a post on spending the stimulus, my mind immediately jumped to the outrageous story from the radio. I found the story link on the web, grabbed a few quotes from the transcript of the story that (I thought) I had heard in full, and posted away.

Only to have Jordan direct my attention a few moments later to the last line of the story:

Oh, c’mon, check your calendars, everybody.

Wow, did I feel stupid. Still do, actually.

Anyway, I didn’t have time at the moment to add a correction to the post as we were all busy packing up after today’s Chicago event, so I pulled the post off the blog. Now that I’m off the road, however, I’m re-posting it so that I can really embrace my stupidity. After the jump, enjoy a laugh at my expense. (more…)

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Thursday, March 27, 2008

This bit in this week’s Telegraph nails something I’ve been wrangling with for a while. Maybe you men out there can relate:

Many men believe the world is now dominated by women and that they have lost their role in society, fuelling feelings of depression and being undervalued. Research shows the extent to which men have had to change within one or two generations, adapting to new rules and different expectations. Asked what it meant to be a man in the 21st century, more than half thought society was turning them into “waxed and coiffed metrosexuals”, and 52 per cent say they had to live according to women’s rules. What they apparently want is what some American academics have dubbed a “menaissance” – a return to manliness, where figures such as Sir Winston Churchill were models of manhood.

It’s not a “feminization” thing really, and to push back here isn’t being chauvinistic. Most guys are cool with being softer around the edges especially when we connect it to loving our wives and daughters in ways that are meaningful to them.

But our culture has fallen into the trap of thinking husbands are supposed to love the way they do. We’re supposed to be our wife’s best girlfriend, with a winkie and chest hair added as a bonus. After all, we rationalize, it’s our wives who understand what love is all about, and men who don’t climb on board their way of thinking are dufuses or oafs and are certainly not interested in the relationship

But that doesn’t really cut it, does it guys.

A girlfriend that sometimes leaves the toilet seat up? That’s not what you really want either, is it gals.

A brother in our church’s men’s group stuck a copy of Emerson Eggerichs Love & Respect in my hands a couple months ago. Was up most of the night reading it. Also listened to an audio interview by James “What Wives Wished Their Husbands Knew About Women” Dobson, who essentially smacked himself in the forehead for promoting the husbands-must-think-like-wives mantra for so long that he missed the obvious.

It’s the point that the Telegraph’s reporterette finally gets to at the bottom of her article cited above:

Harvey Mansfield, a Harvard professor and America’s best known political philosopher, who tackles the topic in his book Manliness, says the issue is ignored. “A man has to be embarrassed about being a man. I am trying to bring back the word manliness. It’s not respected,” he said.

Men, says Eggerichs, are built for honor and respect. It’s as much our “love language” as when our wives wish we’d listen to them talk about their day or – hubba hubba – do the dishes or laundry.

(more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In the Catholic Church, the Easter Vigil liturgy is usually the ceremony during which catechumens (non-Christians) and candidates (non-Catholic Christians) are respectively baptized and received into the Church. In Rome this Easter there was a particularly noteworthy baptism, presided over by Pope Benedict. Magdi Allam is an Italian journalist who converted from Islam to Christianity. Instead of taking the common route of doing so as inconspicuously as possible—an approach that is perfectly reasonable given the risks entailed by such a move—Allam decided to permit his conversion to be a public affair and issued a statement about it prior to the event. It is an extraordinary document, containing an account of the working of God’s grace in his life as well as a ringing declaration of religious freedom. Here is one paragraph, in which Allam acknowledges the danger he faces:

I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

Zenit has the news story here and the full text of the statement here.