Category: News and Events

Blog author: sstanley
Friday, September 19, 2014
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DegenerationSamuel Gregg, Director of Research at Acton, recently reviewed Niall Ferguson’s latest, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die. In the book, Ferguson discusses the symptoms of a decaying society and explains what causes rich economies to decline.

Though the book is a short one and written for a nonspecialist audience, Ferguson develops a very strong case to illustrate how the hollowing out of the rule of law, the deterioration of representative government into soft despotism, the increasingly crony-capitalist features of today’s market economies, and the ongoing implosion of civil society are now costing us dearly. Part of the problem, Ferguson makes clear, is that there is no easy fix to these particular problems. One cannot vote something like rule of law back into existence. A flourishing civil society does not simply spring forth ex nihilio. Unfettering the market from literally tens of thousands of regulations is no easy exercise and cannot be accomplished by the stroke of a pen.

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A painting from the "Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child" exhibit

A painting from the “Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child” exhibit

This November marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This momentous occasion symbolizing the decline of Soviet Communism is sure to be met with joyous celebration, not only in Germany, but around the world.

While November signifies Soviet Communism’s decline it also commemorates one of its darkest, most horrendous hours. Annually on the fourth Saturday of November, Ukrainians remember the brutal, man-made famine imposed on their country by Joseph Stalin and his Communist regime in the 1930s. The tragedy, which became known as the “Holodomor” (“death by hunger”) resulted from Stalin’s efforts to eliminate Ukraine’s independent farmers in order to collectivize the agricultural process.

Estimated to have claimed, through murder and forced starvation, the lives of almost 7 million Ukrainians, the Holodomor is recognized as a genocide by more than a dozen countries, including the United States.

In an effort to expose this largely unknown chapter of Ukrainian history and the corrupt ideology which caused it, the Acton Institute will host an evening combined lecture and art event on November 6th titled, “The Famine Remembered: Lessons from Ukraine’s Holodomor and Soviet Communism.” The presentation will feature Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art’s education committee chair, Luba Markewycz. Markewycz will share her exhibit, “Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child,” composed of artwork created by contemporary children throughout Ukraine. Gregg will discuss the historical context and the ways in which the Holodomor amounted to an assault on human dignity, individual liberty, private property, and religious freedom.

We invite you to come learn about this important part of history and see it depicted through art. For more information and to register, please visit the event webpage.

United_States_ConstitutionThis afternoon I delivered the Constitution Day lecture at Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids. The school did an excellent job promoting the event and I was thankful for an opportunity to speak about our founding documents and introduce Acton ideas and thought to law students. Much of my discussion centered upon Calvin Coolidge’s notion that there is a “finality” and rest within our founding principles. When we endeavor to move beyond the principles of our founding; we begin to move backwards not forward. It was Coolidge who said, “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”

Today, we desperately need to recapture the truth that the whole purpose of our Bill of Rights and Constitution is to limit the federal government. As James Madison declared in Federalist #45, “Those powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. In my talk, I stressed the importance of staying faithful to the Constitutional text. My background is theology not constitutional law, but in seminary I was always reminded by my professor Ben Witherington, that “a proof-text without a context, is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.” That is true of our founding documents, just as it is true of Scripture.

Our government exists to protect our natural rights. Coolidge, who was sandwiched between the progressive era and the New Dealers, told Americans something that is just as relevant now as it was then: “The pressing need of the present day is not to change our constitutional rights, but to observe our constitutional rights.” Coolidge and Ronald Reagan probably talked more about the U.S. Constitution than any other 20th century presidents. I concluded my remarks by quoting Ronald Reagan’s 1987 State of the Union Address where he talked about the exceptional nature of our Constitution: (more…)

MatthewChristian’s Library Press has now released Matthew, the third primer in its Opening the Scriptures series. You can purchase it on Amazon today.

Written by Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher Cornelis Vonk, and translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman, the volume provides an introduction to the book of Matthew. Like others in the series, it is neither a technical commentary nor a collection of sermons, but rather an accessible primer for the average churchgoer.

Matthew focuses heavily on the Gospel itself, providing an accessible interpretation of its unique messages and themes, but always tracing each back to the larger unfolding God’s ultimate plan and to the grand totality of Scripture. This is true for all volumes in the series, but is particularly valuable here, given Matthew’s routine references to the Old Testament (no fewer than 59 times, compared to 25 in Mark, 32 in Luke, and 13 in John). (more…)

“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World (the book)

The following clip is an excerpt from the first episode of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles (the film series), and seeks to set the stage for uncovering the bigger picture of our salvation. The question: What is it actually for?

We are all working within a fallen order, yet God’s gift of his very own son provided a way and a means through which we can be redeemed and restored, and unleash our gifts unto others in turn. (more…)

Chelsen Vicari

Chelsen Vicari

If you’re familiar with the Acton Institute and with the discussions that take place here on the PowerBlog, you’ll know that Acton has had a lot to say about the Religious Left. (For instance, here’s an example from 2008 featuring Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico). This is to be expected, considering that the way we approach economics and society generally are often very different, and lead to very different ideas on how to build a stronger society and solve the problems that stand in the way of that process. But it seems fair to say that sometimes, these differences go beyond simple arguments over economics or policy disputes: there seem to be very real differences in the way the Christian Right and Left view the very faith that they claim to share.

On this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Communications Specialist and regular PowerBlog Contributor Sarah Stanley speaks with Chelsen Vicari, Evangelical Program Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, about her new book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith. You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below.

Cross in Memory of Lithuanian Deportees.

Cross in Memory of Lithuanian Deportees.

Recently I read Leave Your Tears in Moscow, a harrowing and ultimately triumphant account of Barbara Armonas’s time in a Soviet Siberian prison camp. Armonas, who passed away at the age of 99 in 2008, was separated from her American husband and daughter in Lithuania at the outbreak of World War II. Her husband John Armonas and daughter, both born in the United States, fled Lithuania. Barbara and her son John Jr. stayed behind. Although Barbara had lived for a time in Cleveland with her husband, she was not yet an American citizen. The thinking was if her son remained with her, reunification of the family would be easier in a few months.

The News Herald in Ohio has an excellent profile of their story published in 2009. Armonas and her son were part of the Lithuanian deportations by the Soviet Union, at least 70 percent of the deported Lithuanians were women and children. In a farce trial, Armonas was eventually convicted of espionage and sentenced to the maximum 25 years in Soviet labor camps. Armonas, who was not political, published a damning account of collectivism and the socialist Soviet state in Leave Your Tears in Moscow. During Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States in 1959, Armonas’s daughter Donna pleaded to the Soviet Premier for the release of her mother. The encounter gained worldwide attention and eventually led to the release of Armonas and her son to reunite with their family in America. They had been separated for 20 years.

The book, published in 1961, raised awareness of the plight of Lithuanians under Soviet occupation. Below are a few quotes and excerpts from her memoir:
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Word is continuing to spread about For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the latest film series from the Acton Institute, which seeks to expand the Christian imagination when it comes to whole-life stewardship and cultural engagement.

With screenings and appearances at places like Q Nashville, Flourish San Diego, Acton U, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Regent University, to name just a few, Christians from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives are getting a taste of the series and responding with enthusiastic praise.

Andy Crouch offers the following:

Daniel Melvill Jones calls it “outstanding for its cohesive use of creativity and imagination”:

Every episode features at least one visual illustration that later becomes an analogy for the teaching. A Rube Goldberg machine that attempts to cook Evan’s breakfast backfires and become an example of the banality of utilitarian work. A ruined paper lantern that lands in Evan’s front yard is later used as a moving visual illustration of how our lives in the world are offered up to God as a prayer. A punk motorcyclist arrives on Evan’s front porch and uses puppets to tell a illustrating the importance of a believers call to hospitality…

…Anyone who watches the series will be introduced or reminded of these doctrines, but Evan is not content to let such truths sit dormant on the view’s mental shelf. He brings them home by closing every episode with a “letter to exiles”, a hand written monologue. In these letters encourages us with the reminder that we carry these truths into our lives as the redeemed children of God, not through our own power but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Vatican Radio reports that the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development is adjusting its economic forecast for major developed economies downward, with growth in the Eurozone projected to be only 0.8% in the coming year. Along with this forecast, the OCED is encouraging the European Central Bank to engage in a program of stimulus to offset the negative effects of such weak levels of growth.

For analysis on this story, Vatican Radio turned to Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, who explained that adjusting monetary policy would only mask the fundamental problems that cause slow growth in European markets, such as high taxes, burdensome regulatory schemes, and strict employment rules that make it difficult for employers to have any flexibility in hiring and firing.

You can listen to the full report and interview using the audio player below.

It may not be the silver bullet for every financial challenge facing states at the present, but those states adopting right-to-work (RTW) legislation are becoming more competitive. In your writer’s native Michigan, for example, RTW was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2012, and the results have been impressive. The American Legislative Exchange Council’s recently released 2014 “Rich States, Poor States” report places the Great Lakes State 12th out of 50. ALEC’s 2013 report placed Michigan at 25 between 1999 and 2009, and 17 in 2012. Michigan was ranked 50th in ALEC’s Economic Performance Ranking, which measures states’ economic performance between 2002 and 2009. Although RTW only accounts for one of the 15 variables ALEC considers, it places RTW and taxes at the top of the list:

[T]he two policy decisions that have the biggest impact on growth among the states are 1) the highest income tax rate faced by business and individuals, and 2) whether a state has forced-union policies or right-to-work statutes allowing workers to opt out of unions. If states are right-to-work and keep their corporate and personal income taxes low, and all other factors are held constant, this should go a long way to making those states a place where jobs, people, and capital move. Sure enough, our latest analysis covering 2002-2012 confirms this conclusion once again….

A survey of the literature on the economic effects of right-to-work laws confirms what the data above shows. Literature reviews done by two separate teams of researchers—Dr. Randall Pozdena and Dr. Eric Fruits, as well as Dr. Michael Hicks and Michael LaFaive—find significant support for the theory that right-to-work policies boost economic performance.In addition, both research teams’ own personal economic analyses come to similar conclusions that conform with the academic consensus. (more…)