Category: News and Events

Bartholomew I

My commentary this week looked at “Encountering the Mystery,” the new book from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox Church.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The Turkish Daily Hürriyet is reporting today on a proposed government revision of the “insulting Turkishness” law.

The European Union has been calling Turkey to amend the article 301, which has been the basis for charges against past cases against Turkish intellectuals such as Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, and Orhan Pamuk.

[Justice Minister Mehmet Ali] Sahin, also said the deputy parliament leaders of AKP will decide when to send the proposal of the amendment to the parliament.

According to Sahin’s statement, the article’s new status would be as follows:

Article 301: The insulting of the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, as well as the institutions and organs of the state

1-A person insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, the State, the Turkish Parliament, the government of the Turkish Republic, the justice organs of the state, as well as the military or policing organizations of the state, will receive anywhere between 6 months to 2 years prison sentence.

2-Statements explaining thoughts which are expressed with the purpose of criticism are not to constitute a crime.

3-Any prosecution based on article 301 is to be tied to specific permission from the office of the President of the Turkish Republic.

Read “A Patriarch in Dire Straits” here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
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Success unsettles the principles even of the wise, and scarcely would those of debauched habits use victory with moderation.
– Sallust

Last Saturday Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal. In his speech marking the occasion, President Bush said that Carson has “a tireless commitment to helping young people find direction and motivation in life. He reminds them that all of us have gifts by the grace of the almighty God. He tells them to think big, to study hard, and to put character first” (emphasis added).

One of Carson’s themes in his speeches and writings is the comparison of America to Rome, in that the latter foundered when its basic morals were corrupted. America, says Carson, is at a crisis point similar to Rome in the centuries before its decline (for a study of the move from “virtue” to “values” and beyond in the modern West, see Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The De-moralization Of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values).

The Roman historian and politician Sallust wrote of the situation in the first century BC in his first published work, The Conspiracy of Catiline,

When wealth was once considered an honor, and glory, authority, and power attended on it, virtue lost her influence, poverty was thought a disgrace, and a life of innocence was regarded as a life of ill-nature. From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, and pride prevailed among the youth; they grew at once rapacious and prodigal; they undervalued what was their own, and coveted what was another’s; they set at naught modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint.

It furnishes much matter for reflection, after viewing our modern mansions and villas extended to the size of cities, to contemplate the temples which our ancestors, a most devout race of men, erected to the Gods. But our forefathers adorned the fanes of the deities with devotion, and their homes with their own glory, and took nothing from those whom they conquered but the power of doing harm; their descendants, on the contrary, the basest of mankind have even wrested from their allies, with the most flagrant injustice, whatever their brave and victorious ancestors had left to their vanquished enemies; as if the only use of power were to inflict injury.

Lord Acton was another historian who felt that part of the discipline’s interpretive craft was to render moral judgments about events in human history.

Following his appointment as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, in a lecture on the study of history in 1895, Lord Acton urged his audience “never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.”

Commentator Perez Zagorin judges that Acton’s “claim that moral judgment on past crimes and misdeeds is one of the supreme duties of the historian was at odds with the entire trend of historiography in his time and set him apart by its rigor from all the noted historians and thinkers about history of his own generation and thereafter.”

But how, after all, can we learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past if we are unwilling or unable to make moral judgments?

Radio Free ActonThe Radio Free Acton crew expands to include Michael Miller, Director of Programs here at Acton, and Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley, who join regulars Marc Vander Maas and Ray Nothstine to discuss the fallout from a busy week in the world of faith and politics. Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the GOP looks likely to have its nominee: Senator John McCain. Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race, but are his economic views hampering him in his effort to unite evangelicals? Barack Obama has inspired many with a campaign that is not afraid to use religious language and references, but how do Obama’s beliefs translate into real-world action? You’ll hear our take on these issues, plus a preview of Thursday’s Acton Lecture Series event with Dr. Glenn Sunshine.

Listen Online

Or Download this show as an MP3 (right click on the following link and select “Save As”).
http://bonhoeffer.acton.org/acton_media/mp3/2008-02-08_Acton Institute.mp3

The Acton Podcast is available here:
http://www.acton.org/main/rss.php?l=121

One of my biggest disappointments in seminary was learning that there were some members of the faculty and student body who saw little redeeming value in the American experience. Patriotism was seen as somehow anti-Christian or fervent nationalism by some, and love of country was supposed to be understood as idolatry. I address a few of the issues at seminary in a blog post of mine “Combat and Conversion.” Often people who articulated this view would explain how patriots are not evil people necessarily, just misguided and lacking proper theological enlightenment.

Andrew Klavan has a thoughtful and engaging piece in City Journal titled, The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. Klavan’s piece is powerful because it draws out much of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the left. A grave error is still being committed by foisting a moral relativism on American conflicts and defense, as if these conflicts are somehow no different than conquests by anti-democratic nations and despots. Klavan makes a case that contemporary liberals are actually anti-liberty, standing against the principles of the founding of our nation.

Perhaps what is most bizarre is the new moral relativism we see in places like Berkeley, where elected officials seem to be siding with the enemy rather than our own country. Hollywood is of course no exception, and the author dutifully traces their ideological transformation through the years and with various conflicts. Klavan states:

When warlike racial nationalism resurged in the thirties, only an answering “atavistic emotion of patriotism,” as Orwell wrote, could embolden people to stand against it.

Though European intellectuals and their left-wing American acolytes are loath to admit it, the U.S. had already provided an excellent new rationale for that emotion. Our Founding redefined nationhood along social-contract lines that Europeans can still only theorize about. Our love of nation at its best was ethical, not ethnic. Our patriotism was loyalty not to race, or even to tradition, but to ideals of individual liberty and republican self-governance.

Klavan also has much to say about contemporary Hollywood films:

In Redacted, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs—as in more successful thrillers like Shooter and The Bourne Ultimatum—virtually every act of the American administration is corrupt or sinister, and every patriot is a cynically misused fool. Every warrior, therefore, is either evil himself or, more often, a victim of evil, destined for meaningless destruction or soul-death and insanity. These movies’ anti-American attitudes strike me not as the products of original vision and reflection but rather as the tired expressions of inherited prejudices. The films work the way that prejudice works, anyway: by taking extraordinary incidents and individuals and extrapolating general principles from them.

When I lived on a former Strategic Air Command Air Force Base in New Hampshire, I remember going out to the flight line with my dad, who was a KC-135 pilot, to watch all the different military planes land. Some people of course would see the planes as weapons of destruction funded by self-serving imperial interests. I guess I always saw it as an amazing and heroic response to those who threatened liberty and a magnificent freedom birthed out of the “the shot heard round the world,” words which are inscribed on the Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. Klavan sums up the sentiment well:

Liberty, tolerance, the harmony of conflicting voices—these things didn’t materialize suddenly out of the glowing heart of human decency. People thought of them, fought and died to establish them, not in the ether, but on solid ground. That ground has to be defended or the values themselves will die. The warriors willing to do this difficult work deserve to have their heroism acknowledged in our living thoughts and through our living arts.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
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A new Acton Notes is now available online. Acton Notes is a monthly newsletter published by the Acton Institute. This month’s issue features an article by Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, about Socialism. Rev. Sirico points out a couple of ways in which to confront those who mistakenly hold to the fashionable ideology.

If a person identifies with the idea of common ownership of the means of production, point out that this is impossible because you hold no rights over anything. “Ownership implies the right to control and sell the good, which cannot be done if everyone is said to own something,” writes Rev. Sirico. Common ownership, he points out, is actually State ownership. Another point with which to confront a Socialist is the absence of money. Point out the significant failures that the Soviet Union experienced when attempting to implement this policy. Close with words from Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Spe Salvi. Read the President’s Message to find out more.

Other contents of the February issue include:

  • First Brazilian TFAVS Receives High Marks from Participants
  • From Acton Conference to University Doctorate
  • What Would Jesus Buy? Rev. Sirico on Fox Business News
  • Glenn Sunshine to Discuss Wealth, Work, and the Church
Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
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From a review in the New Yorker magazine (HT) of David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215, in which the author

clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.” It was “one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire.” This is a bold hypothesis.

To say the least. It is of course true that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Muslims had been in possession of a number of Aristotle’s works in Arabic that were not readily available in the Latin West. It isn’t so clear, however, that the depth and breadth of Greek philosophy and the classical virtues were saved by Islamic philosophers during the West’s “dark” ages. There’s much more on that here, including this summary:

The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved.

In any case, here’s the take of the New Yorker reviewer on Lewis’ book:

I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.

So, the development of free market economies so often attributed to Western civilization are actually due to Muslim nation-states…and for that reason we ought to prefer European culture!

How refreshing!

The Wall Street Journal jumps on my bandwagon:

We’re all for putting more money in the hands of the poor and moderate earners, especially via stronger economic growth that will give them better paying jobs. But the $250 or $500 one-time rebate check they may now receive has to come from somewhere. The feds will pay for it either by taxing or borrowing from someone else, and those people will have that much less to spend or invest themselves. We are thus supposed to believe it is “stimulating” to take money from one pocket and hand it to another.

To put it another way, when the government calculates gross domestic product, it expressly omits transfer payments. It does so because GDP is the total of goods and services produced in the economy, and transfer payments produce no goods and services. The poor will spend those payments on something, but the amount they thus “inject” into the economy will be offset by whatever the government has to tax or borrow to fund the transfers. No wonder stocks sold off yesterday after Mr. Bernanke endorsed this 1970s’ economic show.

A fiscal stimulus that really stimulates would change incentives, and do so permanently so workers and investors can know what to expect and take risks accordingly.

It’s fun to watch as layers are gradually peeled away from the conventional wisdom to reveal that the CW is, well, wrong. Old CW: Evangelicals are marching in lockstep behind Mike Huckabee; Emerging CW: Evangelicals are just as fragmented in their opinions at this point in the nominating process as anyone else.

Mr. Huckabee did well with churchgoers [in Michigan], but the bigger story is so did other Republicans. According to exit polls, of the 39% of Michigan voters in the GOP primary who described themselves as born-again or evangelical, Mr. Huckabee won 29%. A full 57% instead voted for either Mr. Romney (34%) or Mr. McCain (23%). Of those who said a candidate’s “religious beliefs matter a great deal or somewhat,” Mr. Romney won 36%, Mr. McCain 26% and Mr. Huckabee 25%…

…The conventional story line has also ignored the problem of Mr. Huckabee as a candidate. The former governor did well in Iowa in part because he surged late and stayed a few steps ahead of a critical examination of his positions and record. The evidence in South Carolina suggests that as religious voters have learned more about him — and as they’ve started to meditate on the economic and national-security stakes in this race — they’re taking a good, hard look around.

They’ve got plenty of choices. Mr. Thompson has been successfully pounding Mr. Huckabee in debates and ads as a “liberal” on economic and immigration. Mr. Romney, at a rally in Columbia on Wednesday, ran hard on his promise to “strengthen families.”

Even Mr. McCain — who is benefiting from this social-conservative dogfight (leaving him with much of the independent and moderate vote that went for him in 2000) — rolled into South Carolina with a belated pitch for the core Republican base. At an event in Greenville, the Arizonan unveiled an endorsement from conservative Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, and highlighted his pro-life record and his promises to appoint strictly conservative judges.

I suppose you could call me one of those evangelical voters, and I’ve never been sold on Huckabee – primarily because of economics and foreign policy. With all the media hype over Huckabee’s “evangelical-powered” Iowa win, I was beginning to feel a bit lonely. It’s nice to be able to look at the real numbers and find out that I was never really alone. But even beyond that, it’s nice to know that evangelical voters are not necessarily going to give a candidate a pass on taxes, big government and wartime policy simply because he or she is a Christian.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, January 17, 2008
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Think, Congress! THINK!

Congressional logic:

As the increasingly troubled economy emerges as the trump issue of the 2008 political season, senior congressional Republicans said Wednesday they would put aside demands to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent if that was what it took to get quick action on a stimulus package…

…The White House has not addressed the issue in detail, but Bush, who has been traveling in the Middle East, is scheduled to hold a conference call today with congressional leaders. To avoid a veto, they hope to get his nod in advance on the outlines of a plan that would probably include a $500 rebate check for taxpayers, extended unemployment benefits for the jobless, and incentives for businesses to expand and create jobs.

Let’s think about this for a second:

  • There’s at least a tacit acknowledgment here that it’s better for the nation for this money to be in the hands of consumers instead of the government, because they’ll go out and spend it in order to “stimulate” the somewhat sluggish economy.
  • In order to get more money into the hands of consumers in the short term, Congress is probably going to allow tax rates to rise pretty significantly over the longer term, thus removing (presumably) a lot more money from the economy than the $150 billion that this neat little package is estimated to cost.

I know it’s difficult for Congress to think outside of the box, but let’s try for just a minute: What if… instead of handing out a $500 bribe to the voters, you actually made the US a more attractive place to do business? Perhaps by actually reducing the size, scope and cost of government, thereby leaving more of that cash in the private sector where it belongs – where wealth is created instead of just siphoned off of productive people? Heck, you might even obviate the need for those extended unemployment benefits and business incentives, because the drag on the economy from the cost of government would be significantly smaller…

But it is an election year you know. So what are you going to do with your $500?

Every Black democrat in America should read today’s column by Nathan McCall in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution titled “Clinton gets proxy to play race card.” Hilary and her supporter’s antics are now playing the race card against Obama. Why? Perhaps the Clinton’s didn’t expect a non-white person to be in contention against established power brokers. Democrats with black leadership is meant for rhetoric only many would say.

McCall reminds us that Hillary Clinton seems ultimately self-interested and will use blacks as a means of getting into office if necessary (just as her husband did). Of course, this is not new. Democrats have been pimping the black community for years now.

This explains why the Democrats refuse to address the black genocide in America through abortion. Nearly 90 percent of all abortion facilities are in or near minority communities and over 43 percent of all black pregnancies end in abortion– this is nothing less than a predatory removal of blacks from American society.

What’s even worse is that many blacks are willing to be reduced to being political pawns in the Clinton power surge.

Did Hilary Clinton recruit Bob Johnson, the billionaire former owner of Black Entertainment Television, to work in her “house” to do her bidding against Obama? Johnson made reference to Obama’s drug use while proffering the mythology about the Clinton’s deep commitment to black issues. What commitment? There is no evidence that the Clinton’s did anything for black people other than offering rhetoric and empty platitudes.

McCall reminds us that Johnson contributed little to black progress himself by creating a network to peddle misogynistic and denigrating images of black life as normal. Clinton’s enlisting a man who developed dehumanizing programs is even more evidence that black people are just a means to her political ends. John Edwards would never stoop to that level.

As McCall observes “having an African-American do her bidding on the racial front frees Hillary to stake out the moral high ground.” Black America’s beginning to see this more and more.

It gets worse. Bill Clinton’s reference to Obama’s vision as a “fairy tale” should be seen as nothing less than condescending. A fairy tale? Why does Bill think it ridiculous that a man like Obama could become president? What is it about Obama that stands out?

Clinton also referred to Obama as a “kid.” Or maybe Clinton should have just called him “boy” like the Jim Crow era ideologies would dictate. What do the Clinton’s really think of Obama? We’re learning America! It’s leaking out as the Clinton’s panic and recruit hoodwinked blacks into their house to do their bidding as McCall suggests. Why do the couple not feel that Obama is intelligent or mature enough to be president?

As McCall points out was Clinton “a kid” at 46 when he became President?

The Clinton’s have turned the democratic race into one about race. Their true views are leaking as they realize that their dream of ascending to presidency using blacks as a means may be collapsing because of a brown man.

Does the Clinton camp believe blacks to be stupid and not to catch their reductions of Obama in such a way that has nothing to do with the content of his character?

I am not an Obama supporter, by any means, but why black Democrats believe that Hilary Clinton actually cares about black issues exposes just how well the Clinton’s have bamboozled black America. McCall is right that the Clinton’s “aggressively racial maneuvers” may backfire on them on them in the end as their true views of blacks get exposed.