When the Vatican last week issued a stinging rebuke of Fr. Jon Sobrino, a noted proponent of Liberation Theology, predictable complaints ensued about the Church squelching “dissent.” However, as Samuel Gregg points out, Fr. Sobrino’s books were not only based on faulty economic thinking, his works placed him outside the bounds of orthodox Catholic teaching about the faith. “For Fr. Sobrino, the ‘true’ Church is to be found in the materially poor at a given time, rather than in those who adhere to the apostolic Catholic faith transmitted from generation to generation,” Gregg writes.
Last week, Acton’s Rome office, Istituto Acton, held a conference entitled “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom” at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
(See this Zenit piece for a brief, if unexciting, summary of the event.)
In addition to the news angle concerning China, I’d like to say that all three speakers agreed on one point – the rivalry between Church and State on the claims of primary human attachments.
This should come as no surprise to students of ancient political philosophy, especially that of Plato and Aristotle. Today we tend to denigrate the notion of politics to anything that concerns public images and “spin”. But the ancients understood politics to mean the life of the city that encompasses virtually every aspect of human life, including religion and economics. The gods of the ancient city often served civic purposes so as to reduce any tension between divine and civic mandates.
How is Christianity different? No doubt, God deserves our utmost devotion, but since Christ did not found a political regime, how are Christians to understand their civic obligations? What happens when the divine and the civic clash? Do a Christian’s political obligations depend on the nature of the political regime (i.e., democratic, aristocratic, or monarchic, and whether it serves the common good or is tyrannical)? Is there a “best regime” according to Christian thought, or are all forms of political life radically incomplete? How does the Christian notion of “love thy neighbor” and even one’s enemies affect political life?
These were just some of the questions raised in my mind by the conference speakers, especially when considering the contrast between the liberal West and communist China. Cardinal Julián Herranz seemed to be as wary of a deeply secularized liberalism as any outright persecution of the Church, while Prof. Raphaela Schmid and Fr. Bernardo Cervellera had different perceptions of the situation of Christians in China.
This was just one event of the Centesimus Annus series, all of which have featured the highest level of speakers and topics. If you need yet another reason to visit Rome in the spring, attend the May 2 conference.
I grew up in the South. I also grew up during the Jim Crow era. I asked a lot of questions and made a lot of white folks very angry when I did. I hated the “separate but equal” hypocrisy and I was never, in my heart of hearts, sympathetic with the illogic of racism as I knew it. As a teen I was called into the senior pastor’s office and told to stop spreading racial unrest among the youth of the church. I was threatened and reprimanded by an angry and imposing authority figure. I learned there were deep feelings about race in Memphis and I had better be careful.
With this background I watched the recent appearances of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Selma, Alabama, with more than passing interest. The significance of this particular Sunday of March 4, as many of you know, was the 42nd commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the day when Alabama state troopers beat civil rights marchers who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to enter the town of Selma in 1965. I entered the University of Alabama in the fall of 1967. The impact of that infamous date was huge on that campus. Only months before my entrance Governor George Wallace had boasted of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” while he stood in the door of the admissions office at the university, seeking to forbid the enrollment of our first two black students. I also stood with several black students on nasty occasions while they were verbally abused, and even pushed around, by racists. It was a bitter and ugly time but it was a time that needed change as well. I thank God for the Civil Rights movement and still regret that the white church did so little to help it back in the 1960s.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."
Google recently announced that it has purchased the Trendalyzer software from Gapminder, a Swedish non-profit (HT: Slashdot). Trendalyzer is the brain-child of professor Hans Rosling, who was lecturing on international development “when it struck him that statistics were an underexploited resource, often presented in an incomprehensible fashion. To solve the problem he developed – along with his son – a new kind of software.”
One interesting aspect of this purchase is that the software’s inventor won’t profit from its sale, since it was run under the auspices of a non-profit and was financed by public money. “It’s not an operating business that was sold, just the software and a web site. Although I would gladly accept that kind of money,” said Rosling.
To see the software in action, see the video of a lecture given by Rosling in February of 2006. Don’t just pay attention to the software, however. Rosling has some pretty important observations about how the West views the “developing” world.
Coming soon to a theater near you (hopefully) – Evan Coyne Maloney’s Indoctrinate U. From the film’s website:
At colleges and universities across the nation, from Berkeley and Stanford to Yale and Bucknell, the charismatic filmmaker uncovers academics who use classrooms as political soapboxes, students who must parrot their professors’ politics to get good grades, and administrators who censor diversity of thought and opinion. With flair and wit, Maloney poses tough questions to America’s academics and university administrators — who often call campus security rather than give him straight answers. And Maloney gives a voice to those whose stories of harassment, intimidation, and censorship make our nation’s universities, supposed bastions of impartiality and free inquiry, seem mere mainstays of groupthink and indoctrination.
Judging by the trailer, the film looks to be quite a ride:
And don’t forget about Acton’s The Call of the Entrepreneur, which will be premiering soon as well.
The nearly decade-long battle between the European Union and Microsoft took another turn earlier this month, as the EU Commission offered a fresh threat to Microsoft: Submit to our demands or face stiff new penalties. The item at issue is an aspect of the 2004 ruling against Microsoft, in which “the Commission fined Microsoft and ordered it to provide its competitors with information allowing them to develop workgroup server software interoperable Windows desktop operating system.”
That ruling is still under appeal in a Luxembourg court, but the Commission is pushing Microsoft to comply with the original terms of the decision before that appeal is resolved. The EU has given Microsoft until the beginning of April to comply.
The crux of the Commission’s argument is that the interoperability information that Microsoft holds is not sufficiently innovative to be protected as intellectual property, and therefore should be released free-of-charge to competitors. But as Ronald A. Cass rightly asks, “how can such critical information, which is not readily discovered by others, also be deemed obvious and of limited value?”
The fact that Microsoft has licensed Quest Software under its European Work Group Server Protocol Program shows that there is value in the information, such that according to Quest the agreement will allow it “to expand upon its innovative interoperability solutions for customers working across heterogeneous server environments, such as UNIX and Linux.”
Jim Prendergast, executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership, responded to the EU Commission’s threats by saying, “These actions are a de facto trade barrier for American companies who must continue to meet a higher standard of regulation across Europe.”
Again, Cass notes that the decision of the Commission’s antitrust office, headed by Neelie Kroes, “suggests that trade secrets (information that is not disclosed and not patented) are by definition without innovative content — and therefore unworthy of any significant fee.”
A WSJ editorial concurs and criticizes this move because it arrogates the authority of determining the validity of patents in addition to all its other claimed powers: “Brussels no longer acts as merely prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in antitrust cases; it now claims the power to assess the worth of patents, too.”
What are some of the potential motivations for the EU Commission to take such steps? They are numerous. A giant corporation can be easily seen as a source of significant cash. The fines levied by the EU Commission could total more than $1 billion.
Then there is the perennial government instinct to expand the scope of its own powers. The Commission apprently bristles at any restriction of its authority.
Cass intimates that there is a larger trade issue at work. That is, EU officials want to put American companies at a competitive disadvantage by erecting “a de facto trade barrier.”
But there may be another aspect to this. Many EU governments are adopting open-source operating systems as cost-cutting moves. So, for instance, France announced late in 2006 that it would be moving from Microsoft to Linux (they recently decided on the Ubuntu distribution). The French government “believes it can save money using open-source software, despite the near-term costs of switching from Microsoft systems and retraining all employees.”
But those cost-savings could be hampered by Microsoft charging licensing fees for server interoperability. Novell has even noted that given the whole structure of licenses, fees, and costs associated with open-source software, “Microsoft is cheaper than Linux.”
Could the EU Commission be taking such an active role in reducing the costs of running Linux in order to reduce the costs paid by the constituent governments? That seems like a major potential conflict of interest and gives good reason to question the objectivity of the Commission in these cases. And if this is the case, it falls to the EU courts to uphold the integrity and objectivity of the rule of law in deciding Microsoft’s appeal.
Kevin noted earlier this week that the UK has issued a paper bill featuring Adam Smith. I also received notice this week that the Adam Smith Review is planning a conference in January of 2009, celebrating the semiquincentennial (250th) anniversary of the publication of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.
The conference announcement notes that scholarship has “come to appreciate the importance of Smith’s moral philosophy for his overall intellectual project.”
For more on just how Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments fits in with works like Wealth of Nations, see this article in the Journal of Markets & Morality by Robert A. Black, “What Did Adam Smith Say About Self-Love?” Black makes the following methodological point: “The first two chapters of [Wealth of Nations] must be read as a whole and in light of Smith’s idea of ‘sympathy’ from the Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS 1759) to get the full meaning of the appeal to self-love.”
Also, check out this nice introduction to Theory of Moral Sentiments from the Adam Smith Institute.
The Adam Smith Review is published by the International Adam Smith Society.