Category: General

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, January 17, 2007

There is no ordering of the state so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.

Deus Caritas Est

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Friday, December 29, 2006
Does St. Nick have insurance?

I have just returned from a week of holiday rest, and began tackling my 250 lb. email inbox. Flipping through a number of Christmas greetings and Fruitcake (Xmas spam), I came across a quick message from a dear friend, an email of the sort where the message is in the subject line, and the text is left empty (save for common signatures or disclaimers). My friend is a lawyer, I respect him very much, but I had to laugh at how his message was presented (which, I am sure, was unintended). It looked like the following (edited for privacy, of course):

SUBJECT: Merry Christmas

[Text]: IRS Circular 230 Tax Disclosure Statement: To comply with IRS requirements, please note that this communication (and any attachments) are not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the tax laws of the United States, or promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication (and any attachments). Please contact me if you have questions about this disclosure statement.

This message is intended only for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. It may contain privileged, confidential information that is exempt from disclosure under applicable laws. If you are not the intended recipient, please note that you are strictly prohibited from disseminating or distributing this information (other than to the intended recipient) or copying this information. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail or by telephone at (XXX) XXX-XXXX. Thank you.

Of course, this is a standard disclaimer attached to all his emails. But it is worth noting the irony that in today’s sue-phobic society, even “Merry Christmas” can contain a legal disclaimer.

And though I am risking violating the above terms, I would like to wish all PowerBlog readers a very Merry Christmas season.

(*) See Acton’s take on tort reform.

From the new Solzhenitsyn Reader, which I highly recommend (especially if you are behind on your Christmas shopping):

Human society cannot be exempted from the laws and demands which constitute the aim and meaning of individual human lives. But even without a religious foundation, this sort of transference is readily and naturally made. It is very human to apply even to the biggest social events or human organizations, including whole states and the United Nations, our spiritual values: noble, base, courageous, cowardly, hypocritical, false, cruel, magnanimous, just, unjust, and so on. Indeed, everybody writes this way, even the most extreme and economic materialists, since they remain after all human beings. And clearly, whatever feelings predominate in the members of a given society at a given moment in time, they will serve to color the whole of that society and determine its moral character. And if there is nothing good there to pervade that society, it will destroy itself, or be brutalized by the triumph of evil instincts, no matter where the pointer of the great economic laws may turn.

Two new and intriguing books from Cambridge University Press have crossed my editorial desk recently. Anticipate reviews to appear in the Journal of Markets & Morality sometime next year; but in the meantime I wanted to give them each a plug.

Both draw on the philosophical tradition of the natural law to address contemporary debates in social/political thought. The argument of Christopher Wolfe’s Natural Law Liberalism is summed up in a blurb by Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley: “No one who reads this book should continue to think that natural law is somehow incompatible with liberty, human equality, and limited democratic government.”

Speaking of Notre Dame, Mary Keys is an associate professor of political science there, and she offers a treatise on Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good. Her point of departure is the inadequacy of contemporary efforts to articulate a compelling vision of the common good, such as John Rawls (liberal), Michael Sandel (communitarian), and William Galston (pluralist).

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, November 16, 2006

From time to time, I come across something that forces me to stop, step back, and marvel at the wonder of human creativity. The movie below is one of those things.

Airplanes are so commonplace that we often take them for granted. Here at Acton, many of my colleagues are regularly catching flights to all sorts of points on the globe, and it isn’t unusual for me to hear some grumbling about the airlines and the annoyances that come along with modern air travel. But you won’t hear that from me – I have never lost the fascination with airplanes that I had as a young child, and I treasure the opportunity to fly.

Imagine – I could get onto an airplane today, climb to an altitude over five miles above the surface of the earth at speeds approaching 800 feet per second, all while balanced on a point where the opposing forces of thrust, drag, lift and gravity are in perfect harmony, and all in relative comfort. And in doing so, I would join into an intricate international choreography of aircraft that end up creating the delicate and beautiful patterns that you see above.

Take a moment today to appreciate the gift of liberty that can unleash human creativity. And then take some time to stand in awe of the Creator who our human creativity only dimly reflects.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, October 19, 2006

I spent another wonderful day in Washington, D.C. today. It was a gorgeous fall day in every way. I had an opportunity to spend several hours with Rev. Dan Claire, who works with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and also pastors The Church of the Resurrection, a fine young church on Capital Hill. (I hope to preach there in 2007.) Dan is an unusually gifted Christian leader with a real vision for a missional church in an emerging context. He, and two other ministers who work with him, have seen rapid growth and exciting response to the gospel over the past four years. Dan is also completing a doctoral program in biblical studies at the Catholic University of America, which we toured following lunch. We also visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of American Catholicism’s greatest buildings. (It is truly gorgeous and reverential place, though the Marian elements did not move me. Some of the more clearly biblical elements, expressed in various mosaics, are breathtakingly beautiful.)

During the morning hours I made two sight seeing stops. The first was at the National Zoo where I saw the most famous guests in Washington, two panda bears from China who grace the newly opened Asian Trail. Then I found a historical site that few know even exists, the Woodrow Wilson House, located at 2340 S Street NW. This historic home is the only presidential museum in the District. (The 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, is buried in the District, near the National Cathedral.) I am interested in Wilson for several reasons. His presidency, in so many ways, was the first “modern” presidency. Our role in the world changed under his leadership more than under any previous president. I am also interested in Wilson because of his deep devotion to a thoughtful version of Reformed Christianity, of which I feel sure some readers are not aware.

Wilson’s father was a devout Presbyterian minister. At one time Wilson thought that he would pursue the ministry but eventually he chose to become an educator, finally serving as president of Princeton University. After this call he was elected governor of New Jersey. This political turn led to his being elected president in 1912. His ability as a teacher was apparently unique and his students loved him. An introvert, he loved to study and write and was often misjudged because he did not enjoy long conversation and small talk. This hurt his public perception as president, especially following Teddy Roosevelt as he did.

At the Wilson House there is a display that was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. In that display there is a reference to Woodrow Wilson’s faith. I wrote the quote down in order to keep it. Here is what Wilson wrote:

Never for a moment have I had a doubt about my religious beliefs. There are people who believe only so far as they can understand—that seems to me presumptuous and sets their understanding as the standard of the universe.

Wilson was a historian and college administrator, as well as one of our most gifted presidents. He was a keen intellectual. He was not saying, by the above statement, that he never found problems in his study of the Bible or in his thoughts about Christian faith. It is evident to me that what he meant was that these problems never caused him to have real doubts about his beliefs because he knew his mind was not the final judge of truth in the universe. Not a bad expression of faith at all coming from a serious intellectual, or anyone else for that matter. I think it could be said that Wilson reflected the ancient Christian understanding that one believes in order to understand, not vice versa.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

A brief bit of Herman Bavinck, taken from his Beginselen der psychologie, 2d. ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1923); English translation Foundations of Psychology, trans. trans. Jack Vanden Born (M.C.S. Thesis: Calvin College, 1981). p. 92:

The freedom with which imagination brings forward its creation is, however, not a lawlessness. Unbridled fantasy produces only the outrageous. As fantasy is objectively, albeit indirectly, bound to the elements of the visible world, so it must subjectively be under the control of understanding. It must be led by moral ideas especially. But within these limitations fantasy is a splendid capacity.

See also, “The Morality of Narrative Imagination.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A while ago, I reported Damon Linker’s turn against his erstwhile colleagues at First Things. Now The New Republic online (free registration required) features an unusually productive and revealing debate between Linker and Atlantic Monthly‘s Ross Douthat on the threat, or lack thereof, posed by “theocons” such as Richard John Neuhaus (and the Acton Institute?).

I especially enjoyed their exchange on the role of religion in historical American social movements, which Douthat got the better of. This passage comes in the context of Douthat’s argument that the use of religious argumentation is hardly unusual in American history and that many political accomplishments that are widely considered beneficial would have been impossible, or at least more difficult, without it:

But the fact remains that the advocates of racial equality didn’t defend their ideals in secular-civic terms–or at least not nearly as often as they defended them in terms of the Christian morality that most of their fellow American shared. And they wouldn’t have succeeded without precisely these kinds of religious appeals, which were crucial to building white American support for black America’s civil rights…. I’m happy to concede that religious believers might benefit, at times, from couching their political arguments in nonreligious terms. But the deal you’re offering, in which religious Americans are supposed to abandon appeals that have the capacity to stir not only the reason of their fellow citizens, but their consciences and souls as well, sounds like a fool’s bargain to me.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, October 5, 2006

Anyone familiar with the history of conservative thought and politics in the United States knows that there have always been tensions among various strains of the “movement,” not least that between traditional Christians and secular libertarians. See, for example, George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America.

(To simplify severely, the Acton Institute can be seen as straddling this tension, often taking up policy positions that are shared by libertarians but hewing to Christian tradition with respect to the existence of objective moral norms, etc.)

It is within this context that one might consider Andrew Sullivan’s new book, The Conservative Soul. In one sense, Sullivan’s views are simply another instance of the ongoing tension between religious conservatives and libertarians. But then Sullivan is a special case because he considers himself Catholic (though hardly a traditional one). He also stretches his connection to conservatism to the breaking point (or past?) by characterizing anyone who accepts the possibility of knowing any truth with certainty as “fundamentalist.”

The basis for my comment is this scathing review by Mark Gauvreau Judge.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Talk about separation of Church and State.

Ah, Autumn in an even year. The crisp smell of approaching winter, the exploding color on the trees, and the sound of the desperate mad dash for votes. As I was travelling a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, a play Flannery O’Connor claimed was “good if you don’t know it, better if you do.” It is the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Caterbury who was killed under orders from a jilted King Henry II.

I thought a particular scene does a fine job of laying out the temptation that politcal power can bring, and it seemed to me that what the Tempter says to Thomas in the following passage about power and legacy might shed light on many political aspirations.

TEMPTER
The Chancellorship that you resigned
When you were made Archbishop — that was a mistake
On your part — still may be regained. Think, my Lord,
Power obtained grows to glory,
Life lasting, a permanent possession.
A templed tomb, monument of marble.
Rule over men reckon no madess.

THOMAS
To the man of God what gladness?

TEMPTER
Sadness
Only to those giving love to God alone.
Shall he who held the solid substance
Wander waking with deceitful shadows?
Power is present. Holiness hereafter.

THOMAS
Who then?

TEMPTER
The Chancellor. King and Chancellor.
King commands. Chancellor richly rules.
This is a sentence not taught in the schools.
To set down the great, protect the poor,
Beneath the throne of God can man do more?
Disarm the ruffian, strengthen the laws,
Rule for the good of the better cause,
Dispensing justice make all even,
Is thrive on earth, and perhaps in heaven.