Category: News and Events

Awhile back I referenced the Post-Reformation Digital Library, a project which I had some role in developing. I’m appending below the full news release. This is a great resource that’s already getting some recognition around the world. It also represents the kinds of projects that will become increasingly important in the age of digital information dissemination.

The PRDL is always looking to increase its coverage, so if there are figures in the various traditions that are overlooked, or works that we’ve missed, please feel free to comment at the site and suggest updates. We’re especially hoping to add sources in early modern Orthodoxy (as they are available).

Meeter Center Launches New Web-based Resource for Reformation and Post-Reformation Studies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (October 31, 2009) — A newly-available research tool, sponsored by the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies and the Hekman Library at Calvin College and Seminary, promises to aid the work of scholars from around the world. The Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL) is a select bibliography of primary source documents focusing on early modern theology and philosophy, spanning publicly-accessible collections from major research libraries, independent scholarly initiatives, and corporate documentation projects.

The core of the PRDL project involves the organization of thousands of documents available in digital form from sources including Google Books and the Internet Archive. Also included are the offerings of select libraries from Europe and North America, which are beginning to make digitized forms of their holdings available to the public. The project covers the work of hundreds of authors from a wide variety of theological, philosophical, and ecclesiastical traditions, from figures like John Calvin and Martin Luther to the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and Jacob Arminius (1560-1609).

According to David Sytsma, moderator of the PRDL editorial board, the current availability of a vast array of materials is unprecedented in academic history. “The opportunity presented by this kind of digital access is matched by the challenge to the individual researcher to deal responsibly and comprehensively with a broad cross-section of source material,” observes Sytsma, a doctoral student in historical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. “The PRDL is one way to help ensure that the reach of technical digitalization does not exceed the grasp of the scholar,” he says.

The first stage of the PRDL project involved the collaboration of dozens of scholars from around the world on a privately editable website, or wiki. Once a standard level of comprehensiveness was achieved, the wiki was transitioned to a publicly available bibliography hosted by the Meeter Center. The site will continue to be updated and users will be able to suggest revisions via interactive web forms.

Dr. Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Seminary and current chair of the Meeter Center Governing Board, notes the potential of the PRDL to advance research in a variety of disciplines. “The Post-Reformation Digital Library will be a boon to both students and professional researchers alike,” he says. Muller also serves as a member of the PRDL editorial board, as does Lugene Schemper, theological librarian at Calvin College and Seminary, who oversaw the migration of the resource to Hekman Library’s LibGuides system.

Members of the PRDL editorial board represent institutions from across North America and Europe. In addition to Muller and Schemper, the PRDL editorial board includes: Jordan J. Ballor (University of Zurich/Calvin Theological Seminary); Albert Gootjes (Calvin Theological Seminary/Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva); Todd Rester (Calvin Theological Seminary); and moderator David Sytsma (Princeton Theological Seminary).

Schemper led a roundtable discussion of the PRDL and other digital research tools at the Fall meeting of the Chicago Area Theological Library Association earlier this month. Board members Jordan J. Ballor, David Sytsma, and Todd Rester are scheduled to present on the PRDL at a “New Technologies” session at next year’s annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, to be held in Venice, Italy (April 8-10).

Access the Post-Reformation Digital Library:

http://libguides.calvin.edu/prdl

Contact Jordan J. Ballor at (616) 617-7669 or jballor1@calvinseminary.edu for more information.

About the Meeter Center:

The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is a research center specializing in John Calvin and Calvinism that opened in 1981 and is located at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/about/

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 23, 2009

Contrary to the belief of some, the two realities referred to in the title of this post are not identical.

But the discussion around a recent Boston Globe article reminds me of the saying from Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, “Capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy is like Christianity without the threat of hell. It doesn’t work very well.” It may well be that capitalism without the threat of hell doesn’t work very well either.

The Globe piece refers to a bit of research that links belief about punishment in the afterlife with economic development. This is important, since “knowing exactly how and when God influences mammon could lead to smarter forms of economic development in emerging nations, and could add to our understanding of how culture shapes wealth and poverty.”

It is promising that there is “a larger movement in economics, in which the field is looking beyond purely material explanations to a broader engagement with human culture, psychology, and even our angels and demons.”

The other day I was tracking down a quotation I heard repeated at a local gathering and came across an interesting book published in 1834. On the title page of the “Googled” Oaths; Their Origin, Nature and History someone had scribbled “full of information… a superior work.” The introductory paragraph reads:

It is well observed by an ancient writer [Hilarius of Arles] that would men allow Christianity to carry its own designs into full effect; were all the world Christians, and were every Christian habitually under the influence of his Religion in principle and in conduct, no place on earth would be found for Oaths; every person would on all occasions, speak the very truth, and would be believed merely for his word’s sake; every promise would be made in good faith and no additional obligation would be required to ensure its performance.”

A few years ago I was asked to help organize a “business ethics conference” for a Catholic diocese. At the end of the day it was in fact a fundraising event, but the cause was good — supporting urban Catholic schools — and everybody knew what we were doing. Former Gonzaga University President Fr. Robert Spitzer was one of the speakers and I’ll never forget his “utility based ethics versus principle based ethics” talk. Enron was the whipping boy of those times and the example made by Fr. Spitzer was rather easy to understand. Enron’s accountants had spent too much time wondering how much they could hide rather than questioning whether hiding was the right thing to do. Lately, we’ve had Barney Frank and his famous “roll the dice” strategy with low income housing loans take Enron’s place, but the Massachusetts Congressman doesn’t seem to be reaching for a scourge. Not for that sin at least.

Speaking of Massachusetts, Harvard University’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics had an interesting speaker on November 12th. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer [no relation -- you can be sure] spoke on the topic ”What Should Be the Rationale for Government Participation in the Market?” Since his resignation brought about by a prostitution scandal in March 2008, Mr. Spitzer has been teaching classes in Political Science to the kids at City College in New York and working at his daddy’s real estate firm. Kristin Davis, the former madam who supplied Spitzer’s needs and a reported Harvard alumnus wrote the Center’s Professor Lessig protesting the Spitzer apperance in which she described her former client as “a man without ethics.” The Spitzer appearance at Safra was characterized by some as the start of a “comeback.” We’ll see.

To sort this invitation out it’s probably worthwhile to read Safra Foundation Center’s mission statement:

Widespread ethical lapses of leaders in government, business and other professions prompt demands for more and better moral education. More fundamentally, the increasing complexity of public life – the scale and range of problems and the variety of knowledge required to deal with them – make ethical issues more difficult, even for men and women of good moral character.

But wait there’s more. Under the banner of one of the Center’s niches — Practical Ethics — we find the following:

“The diversity of the various methods and disciplines on which we draw and the range of the social and intellectual purposes we serve are too great to permit an orthodoxy to develop.”

For me, that leads to a version of I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.

On the heels of Spitzer’s Harvard appearance The Wall Street Journal ran a story titled “Networking for Social Responsibility” in which they report on other business ethic efforts at some of the nation’s colleges. Creating an ecumenical balance to Harvard’s Safra Center is Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship organized because ”a growing number of companies are turning to business schools these days for help in redefining what it means to be socially responsible.” In North Carolina at yet another college, Gil McWilliam, an executive director at Duke Corporate Education says, “One reason for the heightened interest in social responsibility is that companies seeking to expand globally need to first understand what social issues matter most in their target countries.”

Speaking about expanding globally, several years ago some guys I knew in the real estate business got introduced to some rich Chinese from the mainland. They were looking for investors and opportunities but ran into this cultural roadblock everyone called Guanxi. That doesn’t sound like our word for it, but Guanxi translates as a payoff or bribe. “Everybody does it.” they told me.

Most of these ethics centers have “green” and “eco-friendly” in their brochures and promotional materials. Synonyns in the Thesaurus of social responsibility. But those words sound empty when one hears them from Maureen Kelly, founder of Tart Cosmetics who, during a video interview for The Wall Street Journal tossed them out unsparingly while touting her start up cosmetic company — she uses recycled products because her customers care about global warming — but was unashamed to tell us that her big break came when she lied to a potential customer about an order she had from one of their competitors in order to seal a deal. Maybe she can sign up with the folks at Harvard, or BC or Duke for some remedial work. Or not.

Because that brings us back to where we started — with oaths? How about “the truth and nothing but.”

With the health care debate heating up once again, and a vote pending on the legislation on Saturday in the US Senate, here are a few bits of commentary on the process from Acton’s audio archives that will help you to understand some of the important issues at stake:

  • September 10, 2009: Dr. Kevin Schmeissing joins host Al Kresta to analyze President Obama’s address to Congress on health care reform:

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  • September 10, 2009: Dr. Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, discusses how Catholic principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity apply to the current health care debate with Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio:

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This morning, Kishore Jayabalan – Director of Acton’s Rome office – joined hosts Melanie Morgan and Ernest Istook on America’s Morning News to discuss the ongoing controversy over abortion coverage in the hotly debated Obama/Pelosi/Reid health care bills currently under consideration by Congress, and to give some perspective on how the Catholic Bishops have dealt with the issue to date. You can listen using the audio player below.

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How do we restore confidence in free markets? Formulate a robust explanation of their moral value. Read Economic Liberalism and its Discontents on Public Discourse.

In his recent book The Creation and Destruction of Value, Princeton University’s Harold James observes that the 2008 financial crisis resulted in more than the devastation of economic value. It also facilitated a collapse of values in the sense of people’s faith in particular ideas, institutions, and practices. Among these, few would question that economic Liberalism’s credibility was significantly undermined.

As time passes, more people may recognize that the financial crisis owed much to factors that had little to do with markets as such. As several scholars illustrated in the 2009 monograph Verdict on the Crash, the causes included regulations that encouraged irresponsible behavior by banks, imprudent central bank policies, not to mention outright collusion between politicians and government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Unfortunately for promoters of free markets, knowledge of these facts will take time to counter the widespread perception that economic liberalism—manifested in financial liberalization, privatization, deregulation, and increased competition—contributed significantly to the 2008 crisis.

In the meantime, those committed to economic liberalism have a chance to rethink and reformulate the case for markets. Certainly the efficiency arguments for economic freedom will be revisited, refined, and rearticulated. But it’s also an opportunity for economic liberals to reexamine what is often a weakness in their position—the principled case for markets.

This weekend’s Grand Rapids Press featured a story about the release of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible. Ann Byle writes,

Three Grand Rapids-based organizations and numerous local residents joined forces recently to create a study Bible that focuses on stewardship.

The Acton Institute, the Stewardship Council and Zondervan brought the NIV Stewardship Study Bible into print after more than five years of work that began with Brett Elder, the council’s executive director.

Elder traveled the world speaking on generosity. He said people were receptive to his message, but pastors and church leaders asked him for resources to equip their congregations.

“The only resource that transcends culture is Scripture,” said Elder, who began searching for a Bible to fill that need.

Check out the whole story here. And visit the NIV Stewardship Study Bible website to enter the Stewardship 1000 challenge.

Black leaders constantly remind Americans of our racism. Should not these same leaders protest the expansion of government control contained in the health-care reform bill currently working its way through Congress?

Here’s why. Notwithstanding their rhetoric of freedom and empowerment, many prominent black leaders appear content to send blacks back to the government plantation—where a small number of Washington elites make decisions for blacks who aren’t in the room. Why do minority leaders not favor alternatives that demonstrate faith in the intelligence and dignity of people to manage their own lives?

In a sermon at Howard University, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright reminded university students that, “Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run.” During the presidential campaign, Wright explained to his parishioners that America is “a country and culture controlled by rich white people.” But if racists and “rich white people” control America, why do those sympathetic to Wright assume that those same people will look out for the health of blacks?

If Princeton religion professor Cornel West was right in his 2008 book, Hope on a Tight Rope, that “the very discovery that black people are human beings is a new one,” then shouldn’t blacks raise questions about centralizing health care decisions in a bureaucracy peopled by officials who are only recently cognizant of minorities’ humanity? “White brothers and sisters have been shaped by 244 years of white supremacist slavery, 87 years of white supremacist Jim and Jane Crow, and then another 40 years in which progress has been made” but “the stereotypes still cut deep,” West wrote. He admits “relative progress for a significant number of black people,” but warns that there has not been “some kind of fundamental transformation” in America. Dr. West asserts that “white supremacy is married to capitalism.” If that is true, then why would we want to set up a health-care system that strengthens the government sanction of health-care provision by businesses?

If Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson is correct about the current racial and structural injustice impeding poor blacks, then there is cause for concern. In response to Bill Cosby’s “conservative” reflections on black America in 2006, the Rev. Dr. Dyson wrote, “Cosby is hell bent on denying that race and structural forces play any role in the lives of the poor.” He continued by saying, “The plane of black progress lifts on the wings of personal responsibility and social justice.” If race and structural forces are at work against blacks, why not promote personal responsibility and justice by liberating them from dependence on those structures and putting them in a position to call their own shots?

If CNN analyst Roland Martin was right on February 18, 2009, when he said, “while everyone seems to be caught up in the delusion of a post-racial America, we cannot forget the reality of the racial America, where African-Americans were treated and portrayed as inferior and less than others,” then shouldn’t blacks be concerned about centralized health care, which will tether them ever more securely to a fundamentally corrupt political system? We cannot hope for change, after all: Martin insists that “the realities of race” are “being played out in our communities each day,” and had earlier reminded us that when it comes to white racism blacks should “accept the fact that some people will not change” (September 10, 2008).

Many black leaders seem confused on this point. If America has a race problem, then it will manifest itself in both public and private sectors. Expanding Medicare and Medicaid only subjects poor blacks to more government control. Economic empowerment and returning health decisions to black people are the only way to eradicate concerns about structural injustice. When health-care providers compete for their patronage, blacks are empowered and control their own destinies. Economic freedom in health care is a moral and civil-rights issue because for too long blacks have suffered the indignity of having political structures make surrogate decisions about their bodies.

Black leaders should encourage policymakers to make health more affordable by giving individuals absolute control over their earnings with concomitant power to choose their own health plan. Instead, they are conspiring with Congress to lead us back to the plantation.

The Economist marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by observing that there was “so much gained, so much to lose.” As the world celebrates the collapse of communism, who would have imagined that in less than one generation we would witness a resurgence of socialism throughout Latin America and even hear the word socialist being used to describe policies of the United States?

We relegated socialism to the “dustbin of history,” but socialism never actually died and in many ways it has actually gained influence. This may sound reactionary, even McCarthyist—but only until we understand socialism the way socialists understand it.

Yes, socialist economic ideas went out of fashion, but socialism has always been more than just economics. We tend to equate socialism with communism, Marxist revolutionaries, and state ownership of industry. But socialism is a much broader vision of the person, society, equality, and what it means to be free.

Karl Marx’s collaborator, Friedrich Engels, saw three major obstacles to the socialist vision: private property, religion, and “this present form of marriage.” Also central to socialist thought is a secular and materialist vision of the world that espouses relativism, sees everything politically, and locates genuine community in the state and not in families, churches or voluntary organizations.

The fall of communism and two decades of globalization did not extinguish socialist hopes. The tactics changed, but the goals remained. Proponents of socialism traded in revolution for the gradualism of the Fabian socialists who encouraged use of democratic institutions to achieve socialist goals. They replaced political radicals like Lenin and Castro with the cultural Marxism of Theodor Adorno or Antonio Gramsci, who called for a “long march through the institutions” of Western culture.

This is the pedigree of Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, and the various sixties revolutionaries who now inhabit positions of cultural influence throughout the West. We are seeing the fruit of their efforts: socialist visions of family, religion, art, community, commerce, and politics pervade the culture.

I am not suggesting that Americans or Europeans live in socialist states. That would trivialize the suffering of those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. Rather, I am suggesting that socialist ideas have transformed the way many of us think about a host of important things. Ideas considered radical only 75 years ago are now considered quite normal and even respectable.

Look, for instance, at co-habitation rates and the number of people who do not believe in marriage or view it as a “bourgeois” institution. Directly or indirectly, they got these ideas from people like Engels and Adorno, who argued that “the institution of marriage is raised… [on] barbaric sexual oppression, which tendentially compels the man to take lifelong responsibility for someone with whom he once took pleasure in sleeping with….” The same-sex marriage movement and hostility to the traditional family follow Engels goal to destroy “this present form of marriage.”

In other realms, we see increasing secularization, religion being equated with intolerance and decreasing religious practice. Look at the common acceptance of ethical and cultural relativism and the fear of making truth claims lest one be labeled an extremist. Look at the unquestioned supremacy of materialist and Darwinist thought that dominates the scientific community, or the political correctness that pervades language. Look at our public school system, increasingly focused on indoctrination rather than education. We joke that the universities are the last bastion of Marxism. But who do we think writes the textbooks that teach primary and high school students? The “long march through the institutions” has been more successful than its early advocates could have dreamed.

Of course it would be simplistic to blame socialism for all that ails the West. But socialism has been the principal vehicle of many of these ideas, carrying them into the mainstream.

So how is it that, after such dramatic failures, socialism continues to allure? Perhaps because, as future pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, wrote, the Marxist dream of radical liberation still captures the modern imagination.

It’s a dream that will always betray, because sustained liberty requires a certain moral culture: one that respects truth and conforms to it; one that recognizes the inherent dignity and spiritual nature of the person; one that respects the role of the family and encourages a rich and varied civil society; one that acknowledges that culture and religion are more important than politics; one that respects rule of law over the arbitrary rule of men and rejects utopian delusions; one that recognizes that the difference between right and wrong is not determined by majority, consensus or fashion; and, finally, one that recognizes that the ultimate source of liberty is God and not the state.

The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe was one of the great victories for human freedom. But while the East suffered untold misery, perhaps it was too easy a victory for us in the West. We were lulled into thinking that socialism had been discredited, had lost its allure—that capitalist economies and abundant goods were sufficient to satisfy human desires. Perhaps we should have listened more closely to those like John Paul II or Alexander Solzhenitsyn who warned us about an empty materialism, an insidious relativism, and a vitiated culture.

The challenges of socialist thought are real. But there is hope. There is hope in the resurgent resistance to the unprecedented growth of government. There is hope in the millions of families who work hard and in the thousands who make sacrifices for freedom every day. This week we celebrate the victory of freedom and the collapse of applied socialism. Let us not come to a point where we look back with regret that we forfeited such a precious gift.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, November 11, 2009

373613_cover.indd Washington Post reporter and author Christian Davenport has told a deeply raw and emotional story in his new book As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard. This book does not focus on battlefield heroics but rather it captures the essence and value of the citizen- soldier. Most importantly this account unveils through narrative, the pride, the pain, and the harrowing trials of the life of America’s guardsmen and reservists. Davenport tells the stories of Mark Baush, Kate Dahlstrand, Craig Lewis, Miranda Summers, and Ray and Diane Johnson. He tells of their deployment and return home. For some it means the end of a marriage, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnoses, career and schooling problems, getting gamed by a grueling bureaucracy, and perhaps most common, a disconnect from the society at home after deployment.

Davenport focuses on some very important themes related to the disconnect some soldiers feel. It may be that guardsmen and reservists experience it to an even greater extent than soldiers in the regular Army. They in fact live and work in the civilian world. One example from the book is Craig Lewis, a former teacher who tries to find a job after his return from Iraq. He performs above and beyond the call of duty as a Blackhawk pilot, is promoted and given command of a company in the guard. But in the civilian world he had immense difficulty finding any sort of quality employment. Davenport notes:

Federal law required that employers, and even small companies, hold jobs for deploying reservists. Swept up in the wave of patriotism after 9/11, many sent their citizen-soldiers off to war with pats on their backs, flags waving. Many employers even made up the difference in pay. But as the wars slogged on, and soldiers were called to active duty again and again, the word reservist suddenly had a stigma attached to it.

Miranda Summers’ story in some ways mirrors the experience of many guardsmen and reservist in college at the time of deployment. Summers balances academics, social and sorority life, and her National Guard commitment. She is a student at The College of William & Mary, and later a graduate student at Brown University after her return from Iraq. At William & Mary she is asked when somebody finds out she is going to Iraq, “I thought only poor people go to war?” At Brown the experience is a little different when a student proclaims, “I have never met anybody in the military.” The opening of this book is deeply moving, when Davenport tells how Summers is embraced by a World War II veteran at the memorial commemorating that conflict in Washington D.C.

There is a saying that was put on a dry erase board at a Marine Corps operation center in Iraq which read, “America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall.” It conjures up all the frustration some in the military feel about the lack of sacrifice on the American home front and the general disconnect. It’s an alien concept to the total war of World War II or even the draft obligations of Vietnam. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines currently represent an all volunteer force. The Founders understood the dangers of the disconnect and Davenport makes note of this in his account:

The framers, having thrown off a king who could wage war without the hindrance of popular sentiment, knew this, and they had designed the system so that burdens of war were spread through out the population. Citizen-soldiers, then, weren’t a mere check against executive power, but rather the conscience of a nation. The cause had better be worthy of their sacrifice.

Davenport cites the famous Robert E. Lee quote, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.” He sharply then notes a concern shared by some military and civilian leaders alike, “What happened instead is that America had grown ignorant of war, which was just as dangerous, if not more so.”

But it is the masterful ability to tell a story that makes this author shine. Davenport hauntingly captures the pride, emotions, and frustrations of the citizen-soldier. Some of the stories can be quite heartbreaking and the reader feels sympathy for those profiled. At the same time, Davenport is able to articulate the pride and importance the characters feel towards the nation and their service in it. My own brother Chris was a reservist in the Marine Corps who served in Iraq in an intense combat environment. He said the disconnect and alienation is real. “It’s not like you can just go back to whatever it is you were doing and things would be the same,” he told me. Kate Dahlstrand not only had her husband leave her when she was in Iraq, she suffered nightmares and flashbacks after her return. When she tried to contact Veterans Affairs for help, she was brushed aside. Kate was able to remarry and eventually receive some quality help after meeting James Peake, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

This is an amazing book and the theme that examines the isolation and brokenness that some soldiers feel is very penetrating. For the Christian, and being somebody who has worked in ministry and studied for the ministry myself, I had one overarching thought through this entire account. And it’s an appropriate thought especially during the coming Christmas season, and that is Christ felt all of the emotions of pain, hurt, loss, abandonment, abuse, and betrayal. Augustine said of the incarnation, “nothing was lacking that belongs to human nature.” The account by Davenport is also a reminder of the complexity and the enormous task so many military chaplains face in the Armed Forces. On this Veterans Day it is important to remember all our service men and women, and Davenport has achieved that by telling the unique stories of just a few who represent so many.