In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Institute President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses the pope’s recent comments. “If the pope got up and read the phone book, it would grab headlines,” Sirico quipped.
Today at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.
My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.
As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”
Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.
At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.
As King puts it,
It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.
Horrific acts of violence and the dangers of free expression have been on everyone’s minds lately. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the ongoing terrorism by Boko Haram, and countless other attacks and atrocities, many commentators are discussing violence in the name of Islam and limits on free expression. One of these people is Pope Francis, who discussed the Charlie Hebdo attack during a flight to the Philippines. Another, who actually made the remarks almost ten years ago at the University of Regensburg, is Pope Benedict XVI. Director of Research at Acton, Samuel Gregg, and editor-at-large of National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez, recently discussed Benedict’s Regensburg address, violence in the name of Islam, and free expression.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What do you make of the controversy over Pope Francis’s comments, on the plane ride to the Philippines, about free expression?
Samuel Gregg: The context, of course, was his remarks about the unacceptability of violence in the name of religion. The pope affirmed that such violence is indeed unacceptable. Pope Francis also indicated that he thinks freedom of expression is essential. The difficulty, to my mind, surrounds his comments that freedom of expression cannot be a basis for offending other people with regard to religious matters. We all know that freedom of expression isn’t absolute.
Resident Scholar at AEI and Georgetown University Professor Emeritus of Government, Walter Berns, passed away on January 10, 2015. Director of Istituto Acton, Kishore Jayabalan, recently reflected on his time in Bern’s classroom and how that greatly influenced him:
Simply put, I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t audited the last course he taught at Georgetown. Slogging away as an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, I dreamt of graduate school while taking Latin and Greek courses at the Department of Agriculture night school (who knew such things existed at taxpayer expense?), but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. On the advice of my friend John J. Miller, I called Mr. Berns, who immediately told me he was about to retire from teaching and would be of little help to me for future studies. I replied that I only wanted to audit his course, which he very graciously let me do.
Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, joins host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss the level of discomfort that some conservative Catholics have felt in recent months with the pontificate of Pope Francis. Is the pope a liberal, as he is sometimes portrayed by the media? Does he hold to longstanding teachings of the Catholic Church? Gregg and Kresta address these and other issues, and take calls from listeners in this half-hour long interview.
Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg has a busy calendar of media appearances these days; late last week, he joined host Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look for a full broadcast hour to discuss the upcoming year in politics and wider society. That interview is available for your listening enjoyment via the audio player below. He’ll also be appearing this afternoon during the five o’clock hour on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon; streaming audio will be available at that link.
Hipster head-bobbing is permitted:
There’s beauty everywhere. We just don’t see it…Life is a mystery to be lived continuously, not a problem to be solved suddenly…
In this life, we are so full and foolish that we appreciate only a few of these things, since we have more and more slaves that we have to take care of, and therefore we have less and less time every generation — less and less leisure. Our slaves are not made of flesh and blood anymore, thank God, but they’re made of steel and plastic and computer chips. We are happiest when we play with endlessly fascinating simple things, like the sea or sticks and stones, instead of with expensive computer games that bore us so quickly that we require new ones every month. This is an image of the human condition.
…Everything that exists has some truth, some goodness, and some beauty. Everything is divine revelation. We are creators because we are created in the image of the Creator. We are artists because God is, and it’s because we dimly know this that we weep with both joy and sorrow when we meet someone pulls up the curtain an inch — the curtain that separates the heavenly vision from the earthly.
…How do we use this to save the world? How do you appreciate beauty? You just love it. How do you appreciate goodness? You just love it. How do you find the truth? You love it. Seek and you shall find. Truth, goodness, and beauty. You just do it. It’s like, “How do you love? How do you pray? How do you live?” Just do it.
I grew up with the attitude that wealth was measured by whether the sun was shining and the fish were biting and whether my belly was full and the family larder stocked with canned vegetables and fruit as well as fresh meat and poultry raised on our tiny 80-acre farm in Michigan. To quote Dylan Thomas: “And the sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams.” Certainly there were items and conditions we desired, desires often unmet but with little or no detriment to my siblings and me. When one of us would watch a TV commercial, and lament the absence of any given material possession in our respective lives, our mother would tell us: “If ifs and buts were fudge and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” For his part, dad would say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
These phrases also hold true when applied to the repeated proxy shareholder resolutions of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. If both my parents still were alive, and the figurative Fern Hill of my youth once again in their possession, I’d suggest to the religious investors of ICCR hold a retreat on the premises. My parents could’ve instructed the good nuns and clergy that their “ifs and buts” and “wishes” related to reducing carbon emissions, if successful, would make energy beggars of us all, reduced to riding horses or bicycles.
Although recent reports indicate U.S. households will spend an estimated average $550 less on gasoline in 2015, ICCR seems to say while endeavoring to drive up energy costs by demanding economically indefensible measures. Among ICCR’s current efforts is backing the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut 30 percent of emissions by electric power plants. (more…)
John Couretas’s link today to the recent Christianity Today article on how Russian evangelicals “thank God for Putin,” reminded me of this excellent post last month from Joseph Pearce on the complexities of religious tribalism in the Ukraine crisis. As ought to be expected, despite the Cold War posturing of both Western and Eastern media, the situation is not as simple as East vs. West or, for that matter, good vs. evil:
Regardless of the relative merits of each side’s claims in the Ukraine, it struck me as unfair to blame the Catholic Church for the actions of western Ukrainian forces. It is true, of course, that the people of western Ukraine are mainly Catholic whereas those in the east are mainly Orthodox. In this sense, it can be conceded that the war is “ethnic,” in the sense that two different cultures are struggling for dominance or for separation. It is, however, not fair to categorize the war as “religious.” It would be much more accurate to describe it as political in the sense that it is a clash of nationalities: ethnic Ukrainians in the west and ethnic Russians in the east. The western Ukrainians blame their eastern neighbors for their suffering under the Soviet system; the eastern Ukrainians blame their western neighbors for their collaboration with the Nazis and the hated SS during the second world war. There are communist “conservatives” in eastern Ukraine who long for the patriotic “glories” of Soviet imperialism, and there are many neo-Nazis in positions of power in the western Ukrainian government.
It is, however, not fair or accurate to describe the struggle between the two warring parties as religious, except in the decidedly irreligious sense of its being a sectarian struggle in which religious affiliation is little more than a badge worn in the service of tribalism.
I happen to be particularly sensitive to this crucial distinction between that which is genuinely religious and that which is merely tribal. Many years ago, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was heavily involved in the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between the so-called Catholics and the so-called Protestants. In those days, long before my conversion to Catholicism, I was on the side of the Protestants, even though I had no religion. I was technically, I suppose, an agnostic. I was not an atheist because God was not important enough to me. Frankly I did not care whether He existed or not. I was a Protestant, not because I cared about the way that Luther or Calvin differed from the Catholic Church but because I hated the IRA.