Category: General

Blog author: eschansberg
Thursday, November 27, 2008
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In sports, there is a debate (between interesting and inane) about the meaning of a “Most Valuable Player” award: is it the best “individual” player (often measured in terms of a handful of statistics) or the player who is most valuable to his team (without that player, the team would not be nearly as good)?

The same could be said for holidays. For Christians, the “greatest” holidays are Christmas, Good Friday, and especially, Easter. But I’d argue that Thanksgiving is still the “best” holiday.

Christmas has a lot of cultural and consumerist baggage. Good Friday is vital but not the end of the story. And Easter gets overlooked easily– and in any case, doesn’t have an easy or appropriate way to celebrate it.

But Thanksgiving– at least in its ideal form– is awesome. It’s a time for extended family to gather and reflect, a four-day weekend which begins with gratitude and ends with worship, a grand opportunity to enjoy the fruit of the earth in combination with creative human preparation, and most of all, a time to enjoy God’s blessings and “give thanks”.

In this sense, Thanksgiving is like every other great holiday. It is meant to be a special celebration of that which we should celebrate every day. From Valentines Day to Mothers Day, from Veterans Day to July 4th, we set aside certain days for explicit celebration. But at the same time, the “event” is meant to be a continuous “lifestyle”– to celebrate, remember, or observe each of these every day of our lives. In this sense, all holidays are perhaps best understood through their etymology– as “holy days”– special but emblematic.

Speaking of etymology, I’m not certain that the words “grace” and “gratitude” are related. (A quick flip through my Websters does not resolve the question.) But they are certainly related conceptually. One angle on the Gospel is that Christians are grateful for God’s offer of grace and are then drawn to feeling and expressing graciousness in every aspect of their lives.

Thanksgiving allows Christians to celebrate God’s grace in its many forms– from the “common grace” extended to all to the providential graces of history through God’s sovereignty, from the universal grace available to all in Jesus Christ to the specific graces afforded to each of us in our daily lives.

In a sense, then, Thanksgiving allows us to celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter in one fell swoop. If so, maybe Thanksgiving is both the best and the greatest holiday of them all.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 13, 2008
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Speaking of the Nazis, I highly recommend Heiko A. Oberman’s essay, “From Luther to Hitler,” contained in the posthumously published The Two Reformations (Yale University Press, 2003). The piece is short and pointed, well worth the read, and just one of a number of excellent essays in that collection.

Here’s how Oberman concludes (p. 85):

I do not intend this analysis to serve the cause of exculpating the Germans who were fated to be born too early. Rather I hope to direct attention to the decade of decision between 1925 and 1935, particularly to the responsibility of academic leaders, who enjoyed a status of respect unparalleled in the rest of Europe. Among those leaders martin Heidegger, Emanuel Hirsch, and others constituted a kind of Nazi think tank that provided Hitler with some of his most effective ideological executioners. Although they are now restored to what may be their rightful glory as scholars, they have forfeited their claim to be regarded as citizens of humanity.

Ideas have consequences and academic leaders have a public responsibility. History, too, has a duty to judge the moral quality of those ideas and what consequences they had.

August 28 at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, the son of a black African delivered a rousing acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. It occurred 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and told America “I have a dream.”

Even Americans unconvinced that the Democratic nominee is the right choice for America should take heart from the fact that half a century after King struggled against vicious, institutionalized racism, the United States has become a place that can fairly consider an African-American for the highest political office in the land.

But if as King urged, we are careful to judge a person not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character, the convergence stretching across 45 years begs a question: Has Barack Obama’s political career embodied Martin Luther King’s dream of justice for all?

King dreamed of a day when his nation would “live out the true meaning” of a creed inscribed in the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The reality is, Barack Obama supports policies that aggressively, even violently undermine that dream.

One might assume I’m referring to the rights of the unborn, and certainly Obama has voted consistently to deny unborn babies the right to life. Obama even blocked modest attempts to end the gruesome practice of partial birth abortion. After the cervix is dilated in this procedure, the baby–who often is old enough to survive outside the womb–is partially delivered, feet first. The abortionist then sticks a needle into the back of the child’s head and suctions out her brains. As an Illinois state senator, Obama twice refused to support a bill banning the practice.

While this is worth noting, I had in view a more startling instance of Senator Obama deviating from Dr. King’s vision of justice for all. Recently California pastor Rick Warren interviewed Obama as part of the Saddleback Forum and, at one point, asked the candidate, “At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?” The senator said that answering the question was “above my pay grade.”

Most of the subsequent media analysis assumed that his answer applied only to unborn babies. But the senator’s voting record tells a different story.

In 2001 and 2002, as an Illinois state senator, Obama repeatedly declined to vote for the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill to protect newborns who survive late-term abortions. Senator Obama has asserted that problems in the wording of the bills drove his decisions not to support this and the partial-birth abortion bills. But in 2003 the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was sent to a committee Obama chaired, giving him the chance to modify anything about the bill he disliked. He never called the bill up for a vote.

Obama has presented himself as a pro-choice moderate. In fact, Obama is far to the left of his own party on the born-alive issue. A similar bill in the U.S. Congress was opposed by only 15 members of the House and was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. The bill was even supported by NARAL Pro-Choice America. This is not surprising: the bill outlaws infanticide. What is surprising is that Senator Obama could not find a way to support the bill.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” But Obama has refused to extend justice, even the most basic human right, to a segment of the youngest children among us.

Some people have tried to minimize the difference between King and today’s abortion-on-demand lobby by pointing to an award King accepted from Planned Parenthood in 1966. But in a Feb. 25 written release, King’s niece, Dr. Alveda Scott King, noted that King accepted the award when “abortion was illegal in every state and before Planned Parenthood started publicly advocating for it.” In Planned Parenthood’s citation for the award, “not only is no mention of abortion made, it states that ‘human life and progress are indeed indivisible.'”

King’s niece added, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the future of his children for personal comfort and safety,’ and, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ There is no way my uncle would condone the violence of abortion, violence that Planned Parenthood has always tried to mask, which brings painful deaths to babies and can result in torn wombs, serious infections, and emotional devastation for their mothers.”

The Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution that followed, called for a limited national government that protected the inalienable rights of its citizens. At least as regards health care, Senator Obama is advocating something quite different: an ever expanding nanny state intimately involved in our medical choices, and yet one unwilling to protect a newborn child’s inalienable right to life.

In his interview with Warren, Obama emphasized that as a nation we “still don’t spend enough time thinking about the least of these.” But who counts as “the least of these”? A newborn who has survived an attempt on her life strikes me as a pretty good candidate.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
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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
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
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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
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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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
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
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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
Thursday, June 26, 2008
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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
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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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.