Category: News and Events

Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Thursday, November 8, 2007

Here is a fantastic quote about America that deserves a hearing:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who–with their hands, their intelligence and their heart–built the greatest nation in the world: “Come, and everything will be given to you.” She said: “Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.” America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That’s what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

America needs to remember the things that made us great. Liberty is the fruit of responsibility and virtue. Let us take heart.

The speaker was none other than French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his address to Congress earlier this week. You can find the entire text of his speech here

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 8, 2007

Today was a pretty full day that just wrapped up a few minutes ago. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, opened up the day with a keynote address, “Pioneering the New Media for Christ.”

Mohler emphasized the communicative mandate of the Christian faith: “To be a Christian is to bear the responsibility to communicate.” Setting this statement within the context of stewardship, Mohler emphasized the biblical foundations for a Christian view of communication. In creation God made human beings in his image, as communicative and rational beings. The account of the Fall in Genesis 3, however, provides us with the context of sin.

Although Mohler didn’t make the link explicit, the Fall’s effect on communication comes to expression in the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel. So language can be both used properly and misused (to lie, to slander, to gossip, and so on). But after Creation and Fall comes Redemption, which is expressed in terms of the divine communication, the revelation in Jesus Christ (the Logos of John 1).

Mohler engaged Francis of Assisi’s instructions to teach and preach “with words when necessary.” Admitting that actions must be consistent with our declarations, Mohler asserted that words are always necessary. “No one is going to intuit the Gospel,” he said. Citing Romans 10, Mohler noted that faith comes by hearing the Word.

With a brief theology of communication in view, Mohler examined the varieties of technological means that have been used to transmit the Gospel. Christians, he said, are a people of the Book, a “literary” people. Noting that Christians initially used radio to a greater extent than television, Mohler provided the basis for a comparison of various kinds of media.

In this way, the advent of the Internet is more like radio than TV, insofar as the ease of access, production, and broadcasting, in North America is far more extensive than was popular access to TV in that medium’s early days (78% of Americans have access to a computer, and that percentage is markedly higher the younger the target group).

Mohler’s address provided evidence for the claim that blogging, podcasting, and videocasting are legitimate and important media for Christians to responsibly and prudentially engage the culture and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The talk raised the following issues for me. Given that “Godblogging” as a phenomenon is “talk about God” in a particular form, the possibilities for identifying the parallels, relationships, and continuities between “Godblogging” and “theology” (God-words) are plentiful. I also considered Augustine’s treatise on Christian rhetoric, De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), especially Book IV, as a source of seminal relevance.

On a more minor point, Mohler attributed the lack of Christian engagement in film in the early days of Hollywood to economic and artistic deficits. It seems to me that there was just as much a cultural deficit, which is perhaps what he meant by an artistic deficit, in the sense of the inability to appreciate beauty wherever it exists. There was (and still is among some) a profound and deep distrust of the theater and film (and television by extension) as inherently deceitful and powerful tools of diabolical power, given the pagan backgrounds of the theater.

Here’s what the CRC’s 1928 Synodical Report on Worldly Amusements had to say about film in particular:

It is also common knowledge that the moving picture industry is to a large extent in the hands of unscrupulous men, whose only concern is large financial profits regardless of the moral influence of the presentations. A large number of these pictures are a shameful exploitation of the sex-instinct; and many other exert a baneful influence through the portrayal of crime, a flippant attitude toward parental authority, the dignity of hte govenrment and of the church. Because of these things the movie-theater is undeniably one of the most destructive forces in our country, morally pestilential.

Based on these and other observations, the committee recommended abstinence from theater attendance by Christians.

With that minor caveat, Mohler’s address was full of Christian wisdom about the technology of our culture and Christian engagement. More to follow in the morning.

Also: The folks at Stand to Reason are live-blogging the event. There are a number of posts on Mohler’s talk.

GodblogCon 2007 hasn’t quite started yet, but one of the privileges of attendance at this year’s conference was an opportunity to see an early screening of “The Kite Runner,” (courtesy Grace Hill Media) directed by Marc Forster (who has also directed “Stranger than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland”). The film is based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.

Michael Medved helped to host the event late last night, introducing the film and as a special treat leading a Q&A session with the movie’s lead actor Khalid Abdalla. There was a decent turnout, including Dr. Al Mohler, who is giving the first address at the conference this morning. The film’s story revolves around the lifelong friendship between Amir (played by Abdalla as an adult) and Hassan, and is set in Afghanistan in the late 1970s before the Communist invasion, later during the rule of the Taliban, and in America.

Considering the depiction of Amir and Hassan’s relationship in the film, I often considered their relationship to have a similar dynamic as that between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are a number of parallels, not least of which is the fact that in one way or another both Hassan and Sam are “servants” or employees of their master’s family. Tolkien is said to have modeled Sam on the British “batmen” of the first World War, soldiers who loyally and unswervingly served their officers.

The story is very compelling, and as Michael Medved observed more than once (and quite rightly so), the movie isn’t successful because it is primarily political, but is a success because it is so intimately personal and human. Khalid Abdalla emphasized that this was the first Hollywood movie to focus on this region of the world from a primarily personal and familial perspective, rather than one focused on governments, military aggressors, or tyrannic oppressors. Of course those elements are present, but they are depicted from a much more personal perspective that is more familiar to us than pedantic political narratives.

Amir and his father, Baba.

There are some great lines in the film, and there are likewise some great performances, not least of which is Abdalla himself as well as that of Homayon Ershadi, who plays Baba, Amir’s father. One of the more poignant and telling lines comes from Baba, who says of Afghanistan in the late 1970s that the mullahs want to “rule” our souls while the Communists “tell us we don’t have one.” I don’t want to give away too much of the plot if, like me, you haven’t yet read the book.

My wife Amy has recently read the book, however, finishing it last week, and here’s her reaction:

It isn’t very often that I would say I’m haunted by a book I have read, but that’s the only way to describe my feelings after turning the last pages of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The novel follows the life of Amir, a wealthy boy who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, but later emigrates to California with his father, Baba, following the Russian invasion.

Amir may physically leave his homeland behind, but he is unable to escape many of the things that happened there as a boy, including his friendship with and eventual betrayal of Hassan, the son of Baba’s Hazara servant. Hosseini eloquently illuminates Amir’s complicated relationship with his boyhood friend and servant.

From the very beginning, Amir is a gripping protagonist with whom you cannot help but sympathize. While his actions are polarizing and selfish, the complexity of his life against the background of ethnically-charged Afghanistan provides not only interesting character development but also rich insight into life in Kabul, including everything from competitive kite flying to racial tensions and Afghan traditions. It is hard to believe that this is the first novel from Hosseini, a former internist-turned-novelist. Tackling topics such as fear, regret, honor and loyalty, he poignantly touches on just about every raw aspect of human life, leaving no emotional stone unturned.

Most important, through the story’s many twists and turns, Hosseini’s vividly detailed writing will have you physically gripping the book with your hands as you anticipate what beautiful prose might lie at the next turn of the page. This is a book you will never forget.

You may have heard that the film’s release date was pushed back out of concern that some of the children who played parts in the film and who still live in Afghanistan might be in danger of reprisal over the film’s content. The film was scheduled to be released on November 2, and while none of the children have been removed from the country, plans have been set up to place them into safe houses during the initial stages of the film’s release in order to gauge the local reaction. The new release date is December 26, and I strongly urge you to see this film. Mark the release date on your calendar and be sure to support this film in its early theater release. You won’t regret it.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum takes a look at Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and his worshipful celebrity fans in the United States. Here’s the key paragraph from her column, The New Fellow Travelers:

In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called “useful idiots” once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration (John) Reed once felt — the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all of his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all of his wealth, fame, media access and Hollywood power, (Sean) Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, November 6, 2007
U.S.M.C. War Memorial

Last summer I visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. It is an impressive and moving tribute to the U.S. Marines, focusing especially on WWII to the present War on Terror. There was an even a section which chronicled the transformation of young recruits to Marines who embody the virtues of “honor, courage, and commitment.” David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times has written a piece titled, “From Boys to Marines.” The article is one in a series of articles about three teenagers and their wartime enlistment in the Marines.

In a culture which glorifies the adolescent, with media spots and television shows depicting men as simpletons and children, the Marines call attention to an entirely different value. In many cases, the War on Terror has been described as a war that is led by squad and platoon leaders. On the battlefield, Marines in their late teens and early twenties have to make life and death decisions, immediately affecting the future of the men and women around them.

The rigors of Marine boot camp, and The Crucible certainly transform the courage and character of an individual. My brother who is a Marine combat veteran of Iraq, emphasized the maturity and sacrifice of combat veterans with an analogy. In a recent conversation he said, “Somebody at work came up to me and said, son, you don’t know nothing about hard times.” Sometimes in the South, “son” can be used to talk down to somebody. My brother, who works in a lumberyard, responded to this customer’s remark with a miniature harangue.

One of the things I noticed about all Marines, is they all know the history of their fighting force. Marines easily rattle off names like Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler, Pappy Boyington, and Archibald Henderson. To many people the names ring hollow, but to Marines they are the very definition of icons. They are good heroes to emulate, especially when contrasted with many figures who are lifted up in today’s culture.

The new Marines chronicled in the Los Angeles Times article were described by their drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hibbs, who said, “I could tell right off they were good citizens, good people, good guys with good strong families, strong work ethics. Honor, courage, commitment – they already had it. It just has a new meaning to them now.”

Sunday is Veterans Day, a national holiday which honors the military veterans in our nation. My father was an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. At his retirement ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, he paid tribute to the men of the Eighth Air Force, who won the air war over Europe in World War II. The Mighty Eighth suffered horrific casualties, and played a critical part in liberating the continent from fascism. It was a not so subtle reminder to remember those who have sacrificed so much, and also a subtle reminder that it’s very classy to put the focus on others on your own day of tribute.

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”

A new blog has been added to our blogroll sidebar (along with a much-needed round of housecleaning on old and out-of-date links). Announcement below:

The Social Science Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of The Immanent Frame, a new SSRC blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere.

The blog is opening with a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, including recent contributions from Robert Bellah, Wendy Brown, Jose Casanova, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, and Colin Jager. Robert Bellah has called A Secular Age “one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime,” and there will be more to come on Taylor’s major work in the weeks ahead, with posts by Rajeev Bhargava, Akeel Bilgrami, Hent de Vries, Amy Hollywood, Tomoko Masuzawa, Joan Scott, and others. Meanwhile, Charles Taylor himself has just made his own contribution to the already ongoing conversations.

But The Immanent Frame won’t be limited to discussions of A Secular Age. Later this fall we’ll also host a series of posts responding to Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. And there will be posts on a variety of other topics too-from pluralism and the “post-secular” to international relations theory, religious freedom, and the future of shari’a.

This new SSRC blog will draw on, and is closely linked to, the Council’s expanding work on religion and the public sphere. We invite readers to email us with comments or questions at religion@ssrc.org.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 5, 2007

I’ll be leaving on Wednesday and returning on Saturday to attend GodblogCon 2007 in Las Vegas, held in conjunction with the Blog World & New Media Expo. The Acton Institute is a sponsor of this year’s GodblogCon.

I’ll be representing the PowerBlog at the conference, and if you are a reader of this blog and will also be attending, drop me a note in the comment box on this post. I’ll also be scouting talent for next year’s Acton University, which fills up quickly, so if you’re a blogger and are interested in coming to Grand Rapids to learn more about theology and economics, talk to me.

And in other news from around the blogosphere, check out the 2007 Weblog Awards, including entries in this year’s revived “Best Religious Blog” category.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, November 1, 2007

Heads up: Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley will be making an appearance today on NPR’s News and Notes program. Braodcast times may vary, so check your local NPR affiliate’s schedule to see if you can catch the show. If you miss it, you can check the show archives right here.

Update: Here’s the audio (3 mb mp3 file).

Update II: Rome office director Kishore Jayabalan commented on the S-CHIP issue for Vatican Radio today; listen by clicking here (230 kb mp3 file).

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Via Hot Air

For many Protestant Churches across the world, Sunday was a tribute to Martin Luther and the Reformation. October 31st marks the anniversary date when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. K. Konnie Kang of the Los Angeles Times, wrote a piece titled, “Protestants celebrate their heritage, the Reformation”. Kang also featured a quote that simply explains Protestant theology from the Rev. Nathan P. Feldmeth, who is a professor of medieval and Reformation history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Feldmeth declared:

“The Reformation was about the centrality of Christ in the life of the individual and centrality of the word of God in worship. At the heart of the Reformation is the doctrine of justification by faith — meaning people are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good deeds.”

Most people, at least those who are minimally knowledgeable of theology, understand basic Reformation theology. Some however, may not be aware of how the Protestant Reformation heavily influenced civil and religious liberty. I know it’s not taught in the public schools anymore, because I was never aware of this until I learned it on my own.

The pastor at the church I attended Sunday in Grand Rapids briefly talked about how the doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone) is directly related to the ideas and concept of the American Constitution. While Protestants interpret scripture through Christian tradition, for the reformers scripture trumps the decrees and councils of men. Likewise, for the American Founders at least, the U.S. Constitution is above any human official, elected or not.

Luther’s doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” also heavily influenced the emergence of representative democracy. In addition, the Presbyterian style of church government further set the stage for individual rights and liberties. Responsibility for the governance of the church is not just for the clergy , but laity as well. This model of church government, where elders serve as leaders can be contrasted with the episcopal style of church government, which better reflects a monarchy. King James I of Great Britain rightly predicted, “If bishops go, so will the king.” At its very heart, it expresses a belief that humans in their depravity cannot set themselves above the law of God, no matter their office.

When Martin Luther declared his “conscience was captive to the word of God” it had political repercussions. Luther’s protest showcased a primary debate about ultimate authority, and where this authority stems from. The legacy and impact of the Reformation directly affect our society today, especially in relation to government, human rights, and religious and political freedoms.