Category: General

One of my favorite historians of religion, who has recently acted more as a contemporary observer of religion than an historian, is Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University. His newest book, God’s Continent, takes on the grimmer views of where Europe is headed. The focus is religion, but of course politics, economics, and foreign policy are all tied up in the issue as well. I happen to have a lot of sympathy for the darker view, represented not least ably by our own Sam Gregg (e.g., here and here). My pessimism has been tempered somewhat lately—among the reasons being comments by knowledgeable friends who see something significant in the election of Nicholas Sarkozy in France, and now by Jenkins’ book. But I remain skeptical of the optimistic view; Richard John Neuhaus’s review of Jenkins’ book in First Things gets it about right, I think.

Speaking of Milton Friedman, here’s a link to a paper that looks interesting: “Transcendental Commitments of Economists: Friedman, Knight, and Nef” (HT: Organizations and Markets).

Acton president Robert A. Sirico’s reflection on Friedman’s legacy last year noted, “Friedman was a true Enlightenment disciple and feared that truth claims could lead to coercion.”

Some time ago I posted an entry on remarks made by Fr. David Couturier that I deemed to be wrongheaded. Recently Fr. Couturier contacted me via e-mail offering a courteous and thorough clarification of his statements. By way of correction of my original post, and in light of the topic’s potential intrinsic interest to readers, I’m copying below some excerpts from that message and the ensuing e-mail dialogue.

[Fr. Couturier:] I would like to clarify that I strongly and firmly believe in the Franciscan’s direct and personal charity and love of the poor. After all, St. Francis did not kiss an institution,but a leper! One cannot get more personal than that!

My talk was not meant to suggest that Franciscans abandon charity for and among the poor by direct and personal means of self-sacrificing and theocentrically ordered love. I wanted to challenge Franciscans that we must do more, as well… While it is not our role to offer political solutions, as Pope Benedict suggests, we are to offer rational arguments and the spiritual impulse to all the faithful (including religious) to align all things to the will of Christ’s love,including those things at the social, organizational and political level.

Might I suggest that both Dr. Mirus and yourself misread me (or I was unclear)…

If today we have the means to influence the diplomats of the world when they decide the fate of the poor at the United Nations, can we not perhaps help at that level?…

You are correct in warning us that we ought not let this new level of charity dispense us from our primary obligations. I do not believe that it does and I did not mean to suggest as much…

[Schmiesing:] … Your clarification certainly satisfies me to a large extent, if not completely. I agree that there is no reason for Franciscans (or any other group) to be absent from the political process at any level, nor to refrain from offering “rational arguments and the spiritual impulse,” as you say. I do think that for Capuchins (and all other religious), the emphasis should be squarely on the direct and personal charity that you extol. Actually, the same should be true for all Christians. But the differentiation of the roles of clergy and laity outlined by the documents of Vatican II–among other sources in the Church’s tradition–does suggest that the calling to involvement in political life in general–including, I would think, UN lobbying and so forth–is more properly a lay calling…

[Fr. Couturier:] …I agree with you that religious priests do not and should not have the same role as the laity. The development of political solutions to global problems belongs properly to the laity and not to the clergy. We are not politicians or political leaders… At the same time, we do have a role in promoting peace and justice, in setting out rational arguments, in explaining the Church’s social teaching, and in advancing the opportunities whereby the laity take up their role.

That is precisely what we do at Franciscans International… We explore and explain the Church’s social teaching and reflect on the message of St. Francis and try to apply it to contemporary issues. Remember that the Franciscan Order is largely composed of lay men and women. St. Francis founded three branches of the Franciscan Order: the first Order of men, the second Order of women, and the third order of lay men and women. The majority are lay men and women. They have a right and obligation to live out their baptismal call and thus advocate for social justice and social conversion.

…Over the last number of years, we have brought hundreds of ordinary lay men and women from our poorest missions to speak to the diplomats of the world. The diplomats legislate but are often divorced from the real life situations of the poorest of the poor. We give the poor the training and the opportunity to speak face to face with diplomats. It has a profound impact on diplomats who are accustomed to their diplomatic language to hear the straight talk of the ordinary poor of this world.

I believe this is consistent with the teaching of the Church, a proper role for someone like myself, and is faithful to the roles that the Church has given us…

Over at the Huffington Post blog, David Roberts, a staff writer for Grist.org, describes the relationship between activist causes, like women’s reproductive rights and “sustainable development,” and population control.

Roberts says he doesn’t directly address the problem of over-population because talking about it as such isn’t very effective. Apparently, telling people that they and their kids very existence is the “ultimate problem of all problems” doesn’t resonate very well. It “alienates a large swathe of the general public,” you know, the ones who still have some residual moral sensibilities.

So, instead, Roberts pursues items that he think will ultimately result in lowered populations…a subordination of these causes as means to the greater end. He writes, “Each of these — empowering women and spreading prosperity — is worth pursuing in its own right. Each is a powerful political rallying cry. Each produces a range of ancillary benefits.”

But of course the greatest benefit of them both is that they help in “scaling human population back.”

And as Roberts notes, the connection between radical environmentalism and population control has been devastating for the cause, leading him to conclude that overt population control rhetoric “is political poison.”

His concluding advice? “If you’re worried about population, work toward sustainable development and female empowerment.”

And, I might add, if you are able to similarly disguise a radical environmentalist agenda and separate out the perception of pursuing population control, why not work toward that too?

John Henry Newman called him “by far the greatest thinker America has ever produced,” but I venture to say very few Americans have ever heard of Orestes Brownson. (Acton devotees, of course, are unusually well informed and have seen him featured among our “Liberal Tradition” biographies.)

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., recently deceased, wrote a biography of Brownson some seventy years ago, but there had been little interest in the nineteenth-century Catholic convert from transcendentalism since then—until recently. The unmistakable signs of a rehabilitation of the reputation of Brownson include the Patrick Carey-edited series from Marquette University Press and ISI Books’ new collection of Brownson’s thought in its Works in Political Philosophy series.

Our religious and political rights are uniquely bound up together. Most young Americans, and far too many older native born American citizens, have little or no idea how important this truth really is.

The central idea behind this unique relationship in American political understanding is limited government. This is really what classical liberalism understood and fervently practiced. Modern liberalism has little or nothing to do with this understanding, preferring to stress ideologies that are neither truly liberal nor limited.

The founding fathers fervently believed that we were all created equal, with inherent rights to life and liberty given to us by God. This belief was rooted in both Judeo-Christian beliefs and some elements of Enlightenment philosophy. The securing of these rights was the very basis for a limited government. And a limited government was based upon the understanding that true power arose from the governed who were willing to consent to a just government.

There were some very big differences of opinion among our founding fathers, such as two very different views of America’s future as represented by Jefferson and Hamilton. In some ways these two distinct views clashed in the Civil War, as North and South came to represent these two differing positions. But regardless of these early differences what clearly united the founders was a deep respect for individual rights and for limited government. (more…)

Several months ago I was invited to serve on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Frankly, I was stunned by this invitation. I will attend my first meeting in Washington, DC, in a few months. IRD’s purpose statement says that it is: (1) An ecumenical alliance of U. S. Christians, (2) working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, (3) thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad. IRD board member Michael Novak has written that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s that “the first political institution of American democracy is religion” (which of course meant the Christian religion at that time). Novak speaks, in a statement such as this, of the bedrock vision of IRD. I deeply share this vision thus my desire to work with and serve alongside the staff of IRD in Washington.

IRD was born among mainline churches and Christians who felt that the social witness of their respective churches had been captured by people who denied the strong link between public morality and orthodox Christian teaching. To this day IRD is hated by many on the far left in the mainline who seek to paint it as a group of far right fundamentalists. If IRD board members like Richard John Neuhaus, Fred Barnes, Michael Novak, Tom Oden, Robert George and Ephraim Radner are fundamentalists then the term has no cash value left at all. These are all well-respected church leaders from both Catholic and Protestant churches who are all biblical ecumenists who openly and seriously embrace the historic Christian gospel.

IRD believes in a truly “counter-cultural church” as its president James W. Tonkowich put it in the present issue (Fall/Winter 2006) of Faith & Freedom: Reforming the Church’s Social & Political Witness. You can learn more about IRD at www.ird-renew.org. You will find helpful resources on the Middle East conflict, Christian-Muslim dialogue, ecumenism, and democracy. Helpful news and analysis of the latest events and controversies within U.S. churches appears on a regular basis as do back issues of IRD publications that are extremely helpful.

One example of the kind of fair and balanced work that IRD does can be seen in its recent coverage of the environmental debate among Christians. I think both sides are fairly represented while the stewardship of the earth is taken seriously and at the same time many of the over-the-top conclusions about global warming are challenged.

I am grateful to share a small part in the future of IRD. I invite your prayers for me, your support for IRD, and your interaction with this valuable ministry.

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."

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
Friday, December 29, 2006
By

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.