Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico recently delivered a talk on social justice and socialism at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, N.C. The school’s mission is “dedicated to continuing the vital tradition of Catholic education by integrating the very best academic curriculum with the deepest spiritual wisdom of Catholic Christianity.” Rev. Sirico’s talk was part of the school’s Robert L. Luddy Speaker’s Series.
In a new commentary, “Beck Vs. Wallis,” Acton Research Fellow Marvin Olasky takes another look at the dispute between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis over the meaning of social justice. Olasky, provost at The King’s College in New York, offers suggestions on how to respond to those who would define social justice as merely the expansion of the welfare state.
I can understand Glenn Beck’s frustration. As the Beck-Wallis tempest swirled on March 11, I spent 3½ hours in a long-arranged debate with Wallis at Cedarville University. He kept trying to position himself as a centrist rather than a big government proponent. Furthermore, modern usage by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.
How to respond? I’d suggest four possible ways, one of which is a variant of Beck’s: Challenge those who speak of “social justice” in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.
A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.
A third way: Accept the left’s focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government’s monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.
Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.
See the “note” at the end of Olasky’s column for more resources on social justice.
And add these Acton events to your calendar:
– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31 (***tonight***), Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.
Earlier this week the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced that the NIV Stewardship Study Bible was one of five finalists in the Bibles category for the 2010 Christian Book Awards.
If you are like me, the question begs, “Exactly how many new Bibles are published every year?” That question is quickly followed by another, “How many Bibles does the Christian world need anyway?” You may or may not be surprised to know that there is a Bible for just about every audience and subject. There is a Bible for NASCAR enthusiasts. There is a Bible for Grandmothers (itself a finalist for the ECPA award in 2009). There is even a Duct Tape Bible (perhaps this one addresses all the times caulk and duct tape are used in Scripture?).
For whatever reason or motivation, Christians and non-Christians alike gravitate to the Word of God and seek new insights as to how to apply Scripture to their lives. At that, God’s Word is a healthy place to gravitate. Given the current moral and economic climate of our world, stewardship––and specifically God’s design for our stewardship of his resources––weighs heavy on the minds of many around the world. What is the appropriate Christian response to health care? How can we best serve the poor and war-torn regions of our world? What is a proper Biblical perspective to environmental concerns? What would God call us to do in the wake of destruction and brokenness brought about by earthquakes in Haiti, or tsunamis in Indonesia? Where do personal finances and generosity fit into my Christian life in light of economic uncertainty?
All of these are ultimately questions of stewardship that bombard us regularly. The NIV Stewardship Study Bible fills a very real void as Christians seek to understand effective stewardship through the lens of Scripture.The Bible’s release last fall could not have been more timely in light of world events and concerns. As our world wrestles with multiple challenges rippling throughout man’s economy, the NIV Stewardship Study Bible illuminates God’s economy and helps us personally navigate through the issues of our day in order to become effective stewards by God’s design.
The Stewardship Council and its strategic partner, the Acton Institute, are honored to see the NIV Stewardship Study Bible considered as one of the finalists for this year’s Bibles category. Our measurement of success, however, is not ultimately based upon its initial impression, but rather on its impact in and through lives of those seeking to become faithful and effective stewards.
If you want to check out the helpful resources within this Bible, this video is worth watching. And if you are on Facebook, become a fan of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, or follow our Twitter stream @Oikonomeo, which means “to be a steward.”
In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine some of the issues surrounding concern for our planet’s growing human population. In “The Science of Stewardship: Sin, Sustainability, and GM Foods,” I argue that increased food production, augmented by advances in genetic modification, has a key role to play in meeting the needs of future generations. And in this way companies like Monsanto have contributed greatly to our ability to address the need for increased yields.
They have done so in great measure by combining tech with technique, or as the Forbes piece puts it, “marrying conventional breeding with genetic engineering.” Just as important as getting seeds that have the right genetic “tech” is mastering all the variables and skills needed to make plants grow properly, from soil makeup, to cultivation techniques, to timing. On the question of timing, for instance, there’s always more research being done on the best time to plant different kinds of crops.
A recent Popular Science feature, for instance, labeled the “bean counter” one of “The 10 Worst Jobs In Science” for being “most tedious.” So that even “after 10,000 years of intensive agriculture, we still don’t understand key things, like the best moment to plant soybeans.” And that’s why graduate students like Andrew Robinson at Purdue will “spend the next few years hand-counting beans from about 750 plots.”
But the question of increased population isn’t as innocent as might first appear. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that concern about the increase of the world’s human population often masks latent or not-so-latent misanthropy.
And on the other hand, as many have pointed out, it’s not the number of people in itself that largely determines global environmental impact, but rather the lifestyle of those people, their consumption habits, as well as the underlying economic structures, that function as determinative factors.
But even so, increased yields might help alleviate some of the difficulties with realizing large-scale urban farming, for instance. And while “complete self-reliance” of cities on local food sources “is not currently sensible,” and perhaps really shouldn’t be pursued, the prospects of getting significant produce from smaller plots looms large as an economic possibility given advances in both biotech and technique. There is real hope here economically and environmentally for places like Detroit.
As I also note in the piece, there are certainly moral limits that provide us space within which to pursue scientific advances and progress, but beyond which we “run the risk of aggravating our offense against God.” And it is not only up to scientists themselves, no matter how concerned, to recognize and articulate those limits.
On this the Bible has much to say. I made an attempt about 5 years ago to come to grips with these limits within which responsible stewardship occurs in the form of “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” I followed up that framework, which articulates a view largely affirming the instrumental use of plants, with a series denying a similarly instrumental use of animals.
“We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.” – Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr.
World Net Daily Books has republished the classic When Hell Was in Session, the chilling account of Admiral Jeremiah Denton’s almost eight years as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese (1965-1973). The book, cowritten with Ed Brandt, was reissued in November 2009 with a new epilogue. A naval aviator, Denton and his navigator Bill Tschudy were shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.
One of America’s greatest heroes, Denton became the face of the prisoners because of two events: he spelled out the word torture in morse code through eye blinks in a North Vietnamese propaganda film; He was also the first POW off the first plane upon their 1973 release. As he stepped off the plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he spoke for all the former prisoners:
We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.
“Under difficult circumstances” was an understatement. Denton and his fellow military captives faced extreme torture and brutal beatings because of their insistence on following the military code of conduct and not giving in to their captors. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his hard line defiance against the North Vietnamese propaganda machine and his courageous leadership despite prolonged physical and mental agony.
Denton’s account is more than a record of his imprisonment and torture, it is a deeply spiritual chronicle about his unshakable commitment to America and its ideals. He wonderfully contrasts this with the evils of atheistic communism. It is also a window into his own heart, as he depicts his faith in God despite extreme suffering. Denton spent over four years of his captivity in solitary confinement, with his hands and feet in chains during much of that time. During one heinous torture session Denton declared:
I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow to surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life.
Denton talks about how many of the prisoners embraced their faith and it was what sustained them in their captivity. It has been chronicled on the PowerBlog before in a review of General Robinson Risner’s The Passing of the Night.
The obvious reason that makes this account such a tremendous defense of freedom is because of the extreme price that was paid for defending it. But with words, Denton too is skilled in discussing the rarity of freedom and the significance of the American experiment. The updated epilogue discusses his work with President Ronald Reagan as a United States Senator from Alabama in defeating Marxist dictatorships in Latin America. In 1980 Denton was the first Republican elected to the Senate from Alabama since reconstruction and also the first Roman Catholic. In the new epilogue Denton offers a defense of the founding principles of the nation and laments the moral decay and secularization of America. He calls these factors a situation that is making America’s survival “extremely perilous.”
In his book there is another contrast that depicts his shock about the moral and cultural decline of America. After he left the Navy much of his work has focused on defending religious liberty and working to deliver global humanitarian aid through the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation. 85 years old now, Denton spoke at The National United States Marine Corps Museum in February of this year, where he quoted the Marine motto “Semper Fidelis,” in telling the assembled to stay faithful in the fight for the future of this country.
Now that President Obama has signed into law the massive health care overhaul legislation that was passed by the House of Representatives on Sunday night, it’s time to start noting what will no doubt be a fantastic series of unintended consequences of the legislation. Granted, I could probably turn this into a regular feature on the PowerBlog, akin to my series of Global Warming Consensus Alert posts. But I have a feeling that documenting the ongoing degradation of the health care sector in that manner would only lead to a radically deepening depression for me, so for the sake of my mental health I’ll just note the occasional bit of news on the matter without formalizing it.
First of all: Remember how this legislation was going to ensure that — starting this year — no child could be denied insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition? That was a big selling point for the President as recently as this past weekend, when Obama mentioned the provision in a Friday speech to an audience at George Mason University and on Saturday to Congressional Democrats. The only problem is that the provision wasn’t actually in the bill as sold by the President:
Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.
Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.
Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.
No worries though, because it turns out that the Obama administration believes that the problem can be fixed by issuing some new regulations.
Late Tuesday, the administration said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would try to resolve the situation by issuing new regulations. The Obama administration interprets the law to mean that kids can’t be denied coverage, as the president has said repeatedly.
All I can say is that it’s reassuring that our gifted bureaucrats can issue arbitrary regulatory “fixes” to correct obvious flaws in the massive legislation that Congress rammed through on a series of late night and weekend votes after a year of shady backroom dealing and legislative bribery produced a bill that most members of congress likely can’t fully explain, probably haven’t even read in full, and the people opposed by a wide margin even after passage.
Your health care is in the very best of hands.
Another delightful bit of news: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a “staunch backer” of the legislation just signed by President Obama, has now been “rattled” by the new law because he apparently just now realized something that should have been perfectly obvious to even casual observers prior to passage of the bill:
A dire warning from Bay State medical-device companies that a new sales tax in the federal health-care law could force their plants – and thousands of jobs – out of the country has rattled Gov. Deval Patrick, a staunch backer of the law and pal President Obama.
“This bill is a jobs killer,” said Ernie Whiton, chief financial officer of Chelmsford’s Zoll Medical Corp., which employs about 650 people in Massachusetts. Many of those employees work in Zoll’s local manufacturing facility making heart defibrillators.
“We could be forced to (move) manufacturing overseas if we can’t pass along these costs to our customers,” said Whiton.
The threat – echoed by others in the critical Massachusetts industry – had the governor vowing to intervene to block the sales tax impact.
“I am obviously concerned about the medical device burden here on the commonwealth, which has a very robust industry around medical devices,” Patrick said yesterday.
Well thanks! It would have been nice if you would have thought through the consequences of your support before Congress decided to pass this monstrosity, but better late than never, I suppose.
Enough for now. I’m off to go celebrate this exciting new era in which we can all be free to be artists, or photographers, or (ahem) writers without worrying about health insurance costs. Hey, Nancy Pelosi said it, and her word is like gold!
Over at Koinonia, Father Gregory Jensen looks at Frank Schaeffer’s vicious, bigoted attack on Robert George in Huffington Post. And George’s response in “Natural Law” and “far right Reconstructionist extremism!” on the Mirror of Justice blog.
As George argues in a 2006 essay, (Public Morality, Public Reason) like “devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other believers,” Orthodox Christians find ourselves in a “contest of worldviews . . . against secularist liberals and those who, while remaining within the religious denominations, have adopted essentially secularist liberal ideas about personal and political morality.” And as in these other traditions, so too in in the Orthodox Church this ” contest manifests itself in disputes over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia, as well as in issues of sex, marriage, and family life.” Finally, and as Schaeffer’s essay illustrates, “Underlying these specific conflicts are profound differences about the nature of morality and the proper relation of moral judgment to law and public policy.”
I suspect that George is correct when he argues that, at least in the civil realm, “the issues dividing the two camps are of such profound moral significance—on either side’s account—that merely procedural solutions are not good enough. Neither side will be happy to agree on decision procedures for resolving the key differences of opinion at the level of public policy where the procedures do not guarantee victory for the substantive policies they favor.” Whether this is also the case in the Church I can’t say.
What I can say is that if left unchecked, secularism will continue to make inroads and peal away the faithful. Slowly at first but then evermore quickly, much like a rising tide will erode a child’s seaside sandcastle. Central to an effective response to secularism is willingness for the Church, both theologically and canonically, to “maintain that on certain issues, including certain fundamental moral and political issues, there are uniquely correct answers.” In other words, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye toward those who publicly dissent from the Church’s moral witness. This is especially important when this includes public statements include inciting others to dissent as well.
Health Care Rights, and Wrongs
By Dr. Donald P. Condit
As Speaker Nancy Pelosi promoted passage of Sunday’s health care reform bill, she invoked Catholic support. However, those who assert the right to health care and seek greater responsibility for government as the means to that end, are simply wrong. This legislation fails to comport with Catholic social principles.
Claiming an entity as a right requires clear thinking about who possesses a claim to something while defining who must fulfill this obligation. We can clearly agree on responsibility to care for our neighbor and yet not promote federal dominion over doctors and nurses.
Some mistakenly quote Pope John XXIII‘s 1963 Encyclical Letter Pacem In Terris (Peace on Earth) discussing “the right to live… the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services (11).” In this context, the Holy Father speaks of health care as a natural right, with corresponding responsibilities, not as a direct obligation of the state. Nowhere in Pacem In Terris is government assigned accountability for food, clothing, shelter or health care.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recently reiterated the Church’s understanding of health care as a right. “At a minimum, it certainly is the duty of a just society. If we see ourselves as a civilized people, then we have an obligation to serve the basic medical needs of all people, including the poor, the elderly and the disabled to the best of our ability.” Yet, there are options for society to meet this duty apart from the federal government. (more…)
Channeling his inner Ralph Nader, John Stossel calls shenanigans on the GOP talking points touting the viability of nuclear power.
As I noted in the context of a recent commentary on Obama’s promise of a new generation of nuclear reactors, Ralph Nader has asked a prescient question: “If these nuclear power plants are so efficient, so safe, why can’t they be built with unguaranteed private risk capital?”
Stossel similarly says, “I like the idea of nuclear energy too, but if ‘America is on the cusp’ of a revival, then taxpayers shouldn’t have to offer billions in guarantees! In a free country, when something is a good idea, it happens. Private capital makes it happen, without government force.”
Stossel raises and dismisses the disposal issue, which I examine at some length here.
In the end, I agree with Nader and Stossel on this point. But as I’ve said I’m a bit more sanguine about the chances of nuclear to compete on a level playing field. The problem is determining how well it can do without guarantees or subsidies when so many other forms of energy are on the receiving end of government largesse. It’s not right to ask nuclear power to go unsubsidized when its competitors don’t have such limitations.
For a look at the playing field from 1999-2007, see this summary paper, “Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy Markets 2007″ (PDF). Historically nuclear power has been handicapped relative to the incentives given to other forms, including fossil fuels. Add to that the extra regulatory burden, and you can see why there’s been so little movement in building new power plants in the last thirty years.