Category: Virtue

Today at Ethika Politika, Fr. Gregory Jensen, a contributor to the PowerBlog as well as other Acton publications, explores the potential of the Orthodox Christian ascetic tradition as a response to the paradox of American individualism:

We come to know each other in our uniqueness “only within the framework of direct personal relationships and communion…. Love is the supreme road to knowledge of the person, because it is an acceptance of the other person as a whole.” Unlike the more theoretical approaches we alluded to above, to say nothing of our own neurotic strivings, love doesn’t “project on the other person” our own “preferences, demands or desires.” Rather love accepts the other as he or she is, “in the fullness of [his or her] uniqueness.” This is also why our highly individualistic culture struggles with a whole range of problems related to sexuality. It is “in the self-transcendence and offering of self that is sexual love” where husband and wife learn to live in mutual acceptance of each other’s uniqueness (Yannaras, p. 23).

For the theological anthropology of the Orthodox Church, “‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person” (p. 22). Christian asceticism has as its goal the liberation of the truly personal from the merely individualistic. In the full and proper sense, moreover, the liberty that ascetical struggle offers is not simply an absence of constraints (a “freedom from” if you will) but a “[p]erfection and sanctification” that makes possible the person’s “restoration to the fullness of [his or her] existential possibilities” and so to be what he or she “is called to be — the image and glory of God” (p. 109).

Read more . . .

Philip at the Solovki monastery

In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, the “In the Liberal Tradition” section profiles Metropolitan St. Philip II of Moscow for his defense of faith and freedom in the face of the tyranny of Tsar Ivan IV, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible.” In contrast to Ivan, who used his power to oppress his own people, Philip taught, “He alone can in truth call himself sovereign who is master of himself, who is not subject to his passions and conquers by charity.” Among the many spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition geared towards freeing a person from being “subject to his passions,” we can see Philip’s love of labor in his many projects at the Solovki monastery in the years before he was made Metropolitan of Moscow. (more…)

Millennials (born 1982-1994) often get a bad rap for being narcissistic and difficult to employ. However, according to new research by Ranstad, today’s young adults have more in common with those born before 1946 (mature workers) with respect to positive workplace sentiments than any other generation alive today. According to the research,

When asked about their feelings toward their current job, millennials and mature workers responded more favorably than other respondents across the board. In fact, 89 percent of mature workers and 75 percent of millennials say they enjoy going to work every day, and a majority of both groups feels inspired to do their best at work (95 percent of mature respondents and 80 percent of millennials). These workers additionally perceive a higher morale in the workplace than other age groups, with 69 percent of millennials and 64 percent of mature workers finding a positive energy at work, compared to just a 53 percent average among other generational groups.

One important difference between millennials and mature workers is that young adults would give serious consideration to a job offer from another company (57 percent), if given the opportunity this year, and 47 percent would proactively seek out a position with a different employer; however, only 20 percent of mature workers would consider making a career move and even fewer (12 percent) would look for a new job. Given their respective stages of career this difference between the generations should not be too surprising.

When people are in positions where they are ennobled through their work, it is a benefit for employers, employees, and the overall economy because it increases productivity. But there’s more. When we experience joy and dignity through our work, it provides opportunity for God’s people to reflect on the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection, as Pope John Paul II explains in Laborem exercens,
(more…)

Coolidge cover copyToday, career politicians are out of fashion. In light of Washington’s dysfunction and a hyper partisan culture, the words of politicians offer little reassurances. Their deeds even less. One career public servant is finding his popularity on an upswing exactly eighty years after his death. I asked my grandfather, who turns 97 in July, to rank America’s great presidents? He immediately answered Ronald Reagan, almost reflexively. And then paused for a few moments and declared, “That Calvin Coolidge fellow was good too.”

To remember Coolidge is to remember an altogether different America. One that was rapidly modernizing but still deeply connected to rural life and its foundations. But even for his era, John Calvin Coolidge was a throw back, a man who emerged deep from within Vermont’s rugged hills. The symbols of his humble origins were magnified after the unexpected death of President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Coolidge, awakened in Vermont, was immediately sworn in to the greatest office in the world by kerosene lamp by his father, a public notary.

Oft forgotten or lampooned as a “simpleton,” there are no grand monuments for America’s 30th president. He certainly wouldn’t have sought such recognition. But in Coolidge by Amity Shlaes, she offers a kind of monument not just to Coolidge’s economic heroism, but his character.

Coolidge governed and taught from the deep well of America’s Founding and eschewed the material for the spiritual, declaring, “The things of the Spirit come first.” He was leery of progressive schemes saying, “Men do not make laws. They do but discover them.” He added, “If we wish to erect new structures, we must have a definite knowledge of the old foundations.”
(more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Passion for Government Leads to Neglect of Our Neighbor,” I examine how the disconnect between desires and deeds with reference to helping the needy among us perpetuates unbalanced budgets and spending on debt to the detriment of future generations. I highlight how St. John the Baptist came to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17) by exhorting people to look to their neighbors and the small but practical ways they can serve them in love:

During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?

I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all. (more…)

I have recently accepted the honor of becoming a contributing editor at Ethika Politika, and I begin my contribution in that role today by launching a new channel (=magazine section): Via Vitae, “the way of life.” In my introductory article, “What Hath Athos to Do With New Jersey?” I summarize the goal of Via Vitae as follows:

Via Vitae seeks to explore this connection between the mystical and the mundane, liturgy and public life, the kingdom of God and the common good. While I value technical discussions of public policy and believe that the work of advocating for civil laws that reflect the law of God constitutes a true vocation, I see a lacuna in our discourse when it comes to the habits necessary to enable persons to live morally in the first place, however just or unjust the law itself may be. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, February 26, 2013

With the most recent fiscal cliff approaching this Thursday (February 28), it is worth asking, “How did we get into this mess?” My answer: a little leaven works its way through a whole lump of dough….

Touchstone Magazine
(March/April 2013) recently published my article, ”The Yeast We Can Do,” in their “Views” section (subscription required). In it, I explore the metaphor of yeast in the Scriptures—how little things eventually work their way through our whole lives and can lead to big consequences. In some cases, I point out, this is a bad thing. For example, I write,

According to Evagrios the Solitary, one of the early Christian hermits of the Egyptian desert, our spiritual struggle can be summarized quite simply: it is because we have first failed to resist little temptations that we eventually fall to greater ones. Following John the Evangelist’s warnings against succumbing to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), Evagrios identifies three “frontline demons” in particular: gluttony, avarice, and seeking the esteem of others.

Little by little, when we give in to small temptations, they eventually work their way through our whole lives, leaving us vulnerable to bigger, related areas of temptation.

Now, how does this relate to our over $16.5 trillion national debt and annual deficits over $1 trillion for the last four years that brought us to a looming sequestration deadline, with little time to come up with some solution to drastically cut spending to get our finances under control, adversely affecting the lives of millions? Well, as I said, a little leaven works its way through the whole lump of dough. (more…)

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Calvin Coolidge is ripe for national recognition and his wisdom is being sought out perhaps now more than ever. If you’re a voracious reader of commentary and columns you’ve noticed his common sense adages are being unearthed at a rapid pace. Most of the credit and recognition for the Coolidge revival goes to Amity Shlaes. Her newly released and splendid biography Coolidge can’t be recommended enough. (Full review on the PowerBlog forthcoming)

Coolidge was the last president to oversee federal budget surpluses for every year in office. He cut taxes and government while preaching the wisdom of the American Founders. He was dismissed by many intellectual contemporaries and most historians ignored him or discounted him as some sort of throwback that came to power by luck. A mere placeholder in between the more important Progressive and New Deal eras. But as our spending and debt crisis continues to spiral out of control, America is starving for economic heroes. There is so little courage in Washington to make the tough choices and address the crisis directly. The spending binge has become a mockery of America’s foundations and ideals.

However, This fiscal insanity, debt, and rapid centralization of power is magnifying Coolidge’s heroics. His words and deeds are really timeless though, and deeply rooted in America’s Founding. The principles and lessons only need to be put into practice. Below is a great excerpt from the introduction of Shlaes’s biography:

Our great presidential heroes have often been war leaders, generals, and commanders. That seems natural to us. The big personalities of some presidents have drawn attention, hostile or friendly: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt. There are plenty of personal events in Coolidge’s life, many of them sad, but he was principally a man of work. Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Thursday, February 14, 2013

It is arguable that celebrated rapper Lil’ Wayne has completely lost his mind. In his newly released, grossly pathetic song “Karate Chop” the rapper spits in the face of the family of civil rights martyr Emmett Till by juxtaposing a reference to sexual conquest with the brutal race-driven murder of the teenager in 1955. In the song “Karate Chop (Remix),” Lil’ Wayne says that he intends to “Beat that p**sy up like Emmett Till.”

For those unfamiliar with the story, Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. After being kidnapped, he was beaten for several hours. His murderers then gouged out one of his eyes before shooting him and tossing into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck so his body wouldn’t float up to the surface. The plan failed and his body was discovered a few days later by two boys fishing. The incident launched a national outcry for justice when the truth about Mississippi racism was put on display when Till’s mother insisted that her son have an open casket funeral.

It is difficult to make sense of what was going through the minds of all those associated with the song. And who at Epic Records thought it was a good idea to release this song? Lil’ Wayne’s music continues to hold its place as an enemy of civil society. Syracuse University professor Dr. Boyce Watkins rightly observes,

Hip-hop music is one of the most powerful and persuasive art forms in the history of the world, and it is now being used to enslave the minds of young black people so that they might become food for the prison industrial complex. Lil Wayne’s reference to Till is just the latest effort to dumb down black America and to produce messages that are nothing short of disgustingly toxic.

As an African American, L.A. Reid, chairman and CEO of Epic Records, should not only be ashamed of his organization for releasing the song but he should be prepared for significant market response. The entire song is a celebration of debauchery and immorality, and the fact that Lil’ Wayne’s music has fans at all, reveals how debase American culture is today. Moreover, given the fact that Wayne’s music is popular among teens and young adults of all races and economic classes and that Lil’ Wayne will continue fill stadiums for concerts might be a signal for my America’s new nickname is slowly becoming “Gomorrah.” As we can see the market is reflecting the moral commitments of American consumers. Lil’ Wayne’s music will only go away when American consumers refuse to support filth.