Category: Publications

Angola Inmates in the Auto Body Shop.

Angola Inmates in the Auto Body Shop.

When I drove into Angola, La., to interview Warden Burl Cain and tour the prison grounds, I wasn’t nervous about talking with the inmates. I had already read multiple accounts calling Angola “perhaps the safest place in America.” The only thing I was a little nervous about was being an Ole Miss football partisan amidst a possible sea of LSU football fans. Even for such an egregious sin in Louisiana, at Angola, I was extended grace and hospitality. It made sense though, because above all else, Angola is a place of contradictions. People are locked away, most of them forever, but I saw and felt genuine hope and compassion. Historically, it was well known as one of the most brutal and violent prisons, but I felt much safer and at home inside the prison than I did in Baton Rouge. I met inmates who had committed horrible crimes, but had equal or more theological and biblical knowledge than I do, a seminary graduate.

I met thoughtful and reflective people who crave authenticity. You can tell a transformation had occurred and honestly the realness of many of the inmates I met was convicting for my own faith and life. Angola can’t but help change you and a big reason for that is Warden Burl Cain. I interview him in this issue of R&L. Cain is helping to encourage and foster the growth of men the rest of the world have long given up on.

There is a lot of great content in this issue. Wesley Gant contributes an essay titled “The Perfectibility Thesis — Still the Great Political Divide.” It’s an excellent overview of ideological divides and the aim and purpose of government. Dylan Pahman offers a review of Ronald J. Sider’s Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement. I review Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year by Charles Bracelen Flood.

The “In the Liberal Tradition” tribute honor this issue belongs to President Calvin Coolidge. During his inaugural address today, President Obama challenged Americans to live up to the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. A great study of those meaning and ideals was offered by Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of the founding document. There is more content in this issue, and the next issue will feature an interview with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk.

Update: Rev. Jensen has posted part 2 of his review. You can read it here.

Rev. Gregory Jensen, who writes at the Koinonia blog, recently reviewed Rev. Robert Sirico and Jeff Sandefer’s new book A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey.

This is what he had to say about it:

Prudence along with justice, temperance and courage, is a cardinal virtue. Unfortunately as contemporary Western culture has become more secularized it has formed generations of men and women who are deaf to the music of human virtue.  Many of us embrace a vision of human life that counsel spontaneity not habit as the mark of a life well and fully lived.  And since any discussion of virtue necessarily brings with it a discussion of tradition such a conversation is an affront to the atomistic individualism that is at the center of contemporary culture.

And as I read [Hero's Journey] something unexpected and wonderful happened—I began to see myself in a new light. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 14, 2013

Field Guide to the Hero's JourneyIn the current Acton Commentary, I take a look at the common temptation to consider ourselves as somehow uniquely beyond the mundane obligations of the moral order. I do so through the lens of the hero of Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, and a particular moral dilemma he faces.

I read through A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey last week, and was struck by the significance given to this insight in chapter 3, “The Importance of Setting Guardrails.” In a short essay, “The Road Not Taken,” Jeff Sandefer discusses his relationship with Jeff Skilling, and how he “watched Skilling’s meteoric success at Enron, and saw him acquire enough money and power to make the need for ethical guardrails seem old fashioned.”

Sandefer, who teaches in and founded the Acton MBA in Entrepreneurship program, draws a couple of pedagogical lessons from Skilling’s case:

After watching the rise and fall of Enron, and the corrupting influence of money and power, I started encouraging my students to make a list of “I will nots”–actions like cheating on a spouse or embezzling money–the lines that they promise never to cross, no matter the temptations.

I also encourage my students to write a “letter to self,” with advice to themselves, to be opened whenever they might be tempted to cross such a line, and seal it and place it in a safe place, to be opened when needed, as it surely will be. Because the more success you have, the more likely it is that the letter and ethical guardrails will be needed.

There are opinions about heroic or virtuoso morality, such as those espoused by Nietzsche or Machiavelli, that would place the heroic figure beyond mundane moral categories, beyond the good and evil of common folk. But truly heroic morality is mundane, precisely because the great and powerful are not exempt from the basic obligations of the moral order. As Lord Acton put it, “If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.”

Rev. Robert Sirico’s essay in chapter 3 of A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey takes a look at the complementary idea that it is as important how we behave when no one (other than God) is looking as when we are in the public eye. I recommend checking out this fine book for inspiring insight into how “anyone can do great things, can live a life that’s remarkable, purposeful, excellent, and yes, even heroic.”

mobile-cover

Alan Wallace, editorial writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune, reviewed Sam Gregg’s new book Becoming Europe.

In his article, “Where America is, where it’s going,” Wallace notes that:

Americans increasingly say their nation‘s becoming more like Europe; the Acton Institute‘s research director, [Sam Gregg] tackles that trend and its dangers, which he thinks are greater than many of them realize. He explores the “Europeanization” of the United States via the welfare state, debt, government‘s share of GDP, crony capitalism, taxation, labor regulations, public-sector unionization, an aging population and what the publisher calls “the emergence of an ossifying political class” more concerned with self-preservation than with economic reform. Gregg also examines the role played by the values and institutions that inform our economic culture and priorities. He says America isn‘t Europe yet and sees a path to recovery in what distinguishes our economic culture, but warns that the more European the U.S. becomes, the harder that trend will be to reverse.

Read the entire article here. Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future will be available on Tuesday, January 8. You can pre-order the hardcover or Kindle version here.

Warden Burl Cain (photo by Erin Oswalt)

Warden Burl Cain (photo by Erin Oswalt)

In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In September of 2012, I made a trip down to Angola, La. to tour the prison and interview the warden. I authored a commentary in October that touched on some of my experiences visiting the inmates and prison staff.

Cain is the longest serving warden in the history of the penitentiary, a position he has held since 1995. The prison is more commonly known as “Angola.” Cain is the most well known prison official in the country. He is the subject of the book Cain’s Redemption and has been featured in documentaries and numerous television programs.

Cain is well known for his work as reformer of prison culture and his promotion of moral rehabilitation. He serves on the board of Prison Fellowship, a ministry founded by Chuck Colson. Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming interview:
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Christian’s Library Press has released the third book in their Work & Economics series, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship by Charlie Self. Dr. Self is director of PhD studies in Bible and theology and associate professor of church history at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.

Previous books in the series were Flourishing Faith by Chad Brand and How God Makes the World A Better Place by David Wright.

While Pentecostal Christianity is just over a century old its impact in that time as an evangelistic force for Christ has been astonishing. One foundational scriptural understanding of the Pentecostal movement is that the Spirit empowers us to carry out the work of the gospel.

Regarding Flourishing Churches and Communities, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary President, Dr. Byron Klaus says:

“Dr. Self offers a clear witness to theological reflection that portrays the Pentecostal tradition in light of twenty-first-century realities. This volume clearly affirms that the empowerment of the Spirit, focusing on the continuing  redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, also can infuse our communities to prosper when we acknowledge Christ’s kingdom rule over all of creation.”

This book is available online from Christian’s Library Press here. Additionally, the Kindle edition is available here.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, December 12, 2012

G. K. Chesterton
(one of the founding fathers of distributism)

Today at Ethika Politika, in response to a few writers who have offered, in my estimate, less-than-charitable characterizations of capitalism, I ask the question, “Which Capitalism?” (also the title of my article). I ask this in seriousness, because often the free economy that people bemoan bears little resemblance to the one that many Christians support. In particular, I ask, “Which Capitalism?” in reference to the following from Pope John Paul II, who outlines in his encyclical Centesimus Annus (no. 42) two different forms of capitalism as follows:

The first is “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector” that “is the victorious social system” since the fall of the Soviet Union and that “should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society.” The second is “a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.”

All three of the authors I take issue with are Roman Catholic and two of them have voiced their support for distributism as an alternative to capitalism. However, I ask with all sincerity, “[S]hould not distributists be asking whether distributism is a form of capitalism, rather than setting it up as an alternative to capitalism?” Given the high praise given by Pope John Paul II to capitalism, rightly understood as the free economy, ought not distributists simply be arguing that they, perhaps, have some valuable insights for supporters of capitalism, rather than opposing distributism to capitalism, uncharitably understood? (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Earlier this week we noted that Patrick Brennan posted a paper, “Subsidiarity in the Tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine,” which unpacks some of the recent background and implications for the use of the principle in Catholic social thought. As Brennan observes, “Although present in germ from the first Christian century, Catholic social thought began to emerge as a unified body of doctrine in the nineteenth century….” Brennan goes on to highlight the particularly Thomistic roots of the doctrine of subsidiarity, “a new idea creatively culled from the depths of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition that had roots in Greek philosophical speculation.”

While recognizing the innovativeness of Taparelli’s thought and the genius of 19th and 20th century revivals of neo-Thomism, it is also worth noting the basic “catholicity,” or universality, of a doctrine like subsidiarity within the broader Christian tradition. If Christian social thought has been around since the first century, then so have its constitutive elements, in more or less developed form. And pace Brennan, it is not clear to me that there is one univocal version of subsidiarity, at least as it arises out of the early modern period.

With this in mind, I have just posted two papers that explore the early modern backgrounds of subsidiarity and related concepts like natural law which focus particularly on the provenance of these ideas in the Reformed tradition.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I remember when I was a kid and would ask why we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. What about Children’s Day? To which I would receive the inevitable response, “Every day is Children’s Day.” I use the same response now when some smart-alecky kid pipes up with this kind of question.

That may be true, in a sense, but today (Nov. 20) is also “Universal Children’s Day.” This event is a vehicle in part for UN advocacy on behalf of the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the last issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Johan van der Vyver examined the convention, with an eye particularly toward the complications of ratification and implementation in the United States in comparison with that of South Africa, in his piece, “Children’s Rights, Family Values, and Federal Constraints.”

Van der Vyver argues, “There is strong opposition against ratification of the convention from within the ranks of evangelical Christians, based essentially on a perception that the convention undermines family values. However, this article argues that the main obstacle confronting the United States in this regard derives from the constitutional dispensation of federalism.” The basic point, says van der Vyver, is that the autonomy of the family unit is not essentially undermined by the convention, but that the particular polity of the U.S. government and the nature of the process of treaty ratification is what stands in the way of American participation.

As to a classical expression of the place of children within the family and the significance of the family as a social institution, it’s worth noting the recent translation of the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s treatise, The Christian Family. This is a wonderful book, full of insights into the nature of social relationships, the divine institution of the family, and the importance of the family to a free and virtuous society.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 19, 2012

Dr. Kuypers zorg voor de kleine luyden

A rare work in which Kuyper dispatches a particularly troublesome vampire.

However history remembers me … it shall only remember a fraction of the truth.

The multi-talented Abraham Kuyper is sometimes difficult to introduce. I often use the descriptors, “theologian, statesman, journalist” to highlight his many interests and talents. But there is much more than this to the life and work of this complex and compelling figure. As a recent introduction to Kuyper’s thought puts it, “Kuyper was a man of many hats: statesman, politician, educator, preacher, churchman, theologian, and philosopher.”

Kuyper was, indeed, the head of state of the Netherlands from 1901-1905, and had previously led a church movement that formed a new denomination, initiated the publication of two newspapers, wrote a series of essays, books, and editions of works across decades, and much, much more. He is the real-life kind of persona that the words recently placed in the mouth of a fictionalized Abraham Lincoln, who apparently enjoyed a career as a vampire hunter before his ascendancy to the nation’s top political office, would aptly apply to: “However history remembers me before I was a President, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth…”
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