Archived Posts July 2007 » Page 6 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This is a not-so-compelling argument that “information should be free.”

Logos Research Systems Inc., which produces Libronix biblical and theological research software, was vandalized this past weekend by “a man throwing Froot Loops cereal and pieces of paper out of an apartment window in the shipping department building Saturday morning.”

The Bellingham Herald reported that he “told officers he felt the company was charging him money for Bibles when he could get them for free.”

Readings in Social Ethics: Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved?

  • The soteriological status of the rich: “So also let not the man that has been invested with worldly wealth proclaim himself excluded at the outset from the Saviour’s lists, provided he is a believer and one who contemplates the greatness of God’s philanthropy; nor let him, on the other hand, expect to grasp the crowns of immortality without struggle and effort, continuing untrained, and without contest” (III).

  • The absence of the necessities of life drive people to consider only material needs: “For although such is the case, one, after ridding himself of the burden of wealth, may none the less have still the lust and desire for money innate and living; and may have abandoned the use of it, but being at once destitute of and desiring what he spent, may doubly grieve both on account of the absence of attendance, and the presence of regret. For it is impossible and inconceivable that those in want of the necessaries of life should not be harassed in mind, and hindered from better things in the endeavour to provide them somehow, and from some source” (XII).
  • Wealth is a precondition for charitable giving: “And how much more beneficial the opposite case, for a man, through possessing a competency, both not himself to be in straits about money, and also to give assistance to those to whom it is requisite so to do! For if no one had anything, what room would be left among men for giving?” (XIII)
  • The good of affluence: “Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument” (XIV).
  • The internal condition is of primary concern: “So also a poor and destitute man may be found intoxicated with lusts; and a man rich in worldly goods temperate, poor in indulgences, trustworthy, intelligent, pure, chastened” (XVIII).
  • Lofty claims about the results of giving: “One purchases immortality for money; and, by giving the perishing things of the world, receives in exchange for these an eternal mansion in the heavens!” (XXXII) Could such language be construed in a negative way? In what way is it right to say that one “purchases” eternal life? In what way is it not right?
  • Promiscuous giving: “How then does man give these things? For I will give not only to friends, but to the friends of friends. And who is it that is the friend of God? Do not you judge who is worthy or who is unworthy. For it is possible you may be mistaken in your opinion. As in the uncertainty of ignorance it is better to do good to the undeserving for the sake of the deserving, than by guarding against those that are less good to fail to meet in with the good. For though sparing, and aiming at testing, who will receive meritoriously or not, it is possible for you to neglect some that are loved by God; the penalty for which is the punishment of eternal fire” (XXXIII).
  • How does charity relate to baptism? “Forgiveness of past sins, then, God gives; but of future, each one gives to himself. And this is to repent, to condemn the past deeds, and beg oblivion of them from the Father, who only of all is able to undo what is done, by mercy proceeding from Him, and to blot out former sins by the dew of the Spirit” (XL). Recall Cyprian of Carthage.

In today’s Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses free trade and the conditions it creates for peaceful and flourishing societies.

Every few years, a new round of trade negotiations hits the news, and the same debate takes place on the merits of free trade. But this time around, as we discuss a new round of trade relaxations between the U.S. and Latin America, there is an added element.

The religious left has entered to argue against free trade on grounds that it is incompatible with humanitarian concerns. Somehow, they argue, free trade rewards large corporations at the expense of all workers in all countries. They say that free trade amounts to a kind of American imperialism.

For example, a number of Catholic clerics in Costa Rica have weighed in against a free trade agreement with the U.S. on grounds that the agreement as it stands does not have a “human face.”

I admit that I can’t follow their logic. The case for free trade between nations is no different than between you and your local grocery store. All parties to the exchange benefit. What is to be gained by preventing exchanges that people want to make from taking place? Who could possibly benefit from that?

Read more on the Detroit News editorial page.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Genuine giving can be a very hard thing to do, especially when talking about money and finances. The Gospels make this abundantly clear with the story of the rich young ruler. I remember attending a church where the tithes were brought forward to the altar and being tempted to come carrying an empty envelope on several occasions.

Getting ready for my move to Grand Rapids, I had the opportunity to give away some things which were valuable but I no longer really needed. Upon arriving of course I realized I could have and should have given more.

John Armstrong in a blog a couple of weeks ago pointed out, “65% of individual giving comes from homes with less than $100,000 in annual income… That’s an important nuance. Importance nuance for sure!”

In fact for a long time I lived in Mississippi, a state which is rather well known for being poor. But Mississippians have consecutively ranked among the most generous givers on several occasions (figured by amount given as a share of income).

The apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians is saying something important in that giving should be done with considerable design and reflection. A well informed and thoughtful giver can help develop a cheerful giver. Seeing your money and capital empowering people can be powerful, and seeing it mismanaged can be disheartening.

As Christians we know we are created and made in the Image of God. God is of course by nature love and compassion, and his revelation and grace is made evident by his Triune character. In trying to be like the image of God we should be cheerful and faithful in loving other humans. God certainly models perfect love and relationship and we are called to model the imago Dei. When Christ fed the multitudes and healed the sick he was not only meeting physical and spiritual needs but was filled with compassion.

Likewise we should be giving in like manner, cheerful and filled with compassion. I remember working in D.C. and experiencing anguish with some of the nastiness and loneliness on Capitol Hill. I was doubting a lot of things in general and, while walking through the famed Statuary Hall, I saw the statue of Father Damien of Molokai who literally gave his life for the lepers on the island of Molokai. My eyes welled with tears and I was once again reminded there are servants who greatly contrast other servants.

In the words of Isaiah, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Here’s a great story by Jennifer Brea touching on a lot of favorite Acton topics. Brea observes that many Africans are getting wise to the fact that Western direct aid may be hurting more than helping their continent. We’ve long decried government-to-government aid and advocated expanded trade instead. More pointed is the article’s indictment of private charitable aid as well. Brea concedes the positive dimensions of such charity, but argues convincingly that Africans’ welfare really lies in the hands of Africans themselves—and in the creativity and entrepreneurship that can only be fully realized when full responsibility is also theirs.

Another interesting piece of the story: Treating Africans as “partners” in the global economy rather than as beneficiaries of global charity is what has helped China take a leading role in the region. That’s a theme that Anthony Bradley broached in his commentary last month.

I ran across this review essay by J. Daniel Hammond responding to S.J. Peart and D. Levy’s The Vanity of the Philosopher: From Equality to Hierarchy in Postclassical Economics over at SSRN, “In the Shadows of Vanity: Religion and the Debate Over Hierarchy.”

In Hammond’s words, he wants to fill in a gap in Peart’s and Levy’s account: “The purpose of this paper is to make a start at casting light on the role of religion in the debate over race and hierarchy in 19th century England.”

One of the key turning points in Hammond’s argument is the following supposition: “Catholicism may have played a larger role in the debates over racial hierarchy than would be suggested by the Roman Catholic proportion of the English population and clergy.” Rehearsing the history and nature of the English reformation, Hammond, who is an economist at Wake Forest, writes that in the late nineteenth century, religious liberty for Catholics in Britain increased.

Here’s where Hammond’s analysis gets somewhat strange. He writes that “the brotherhood of the entire human race was a Catholic doctrine. This principle is repeated over and over in papal encyclicals, and having been forcibly removed from the Catholic Church by the English reformers under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, the English people were for 300 years outside the ambit of the Catholic magisterium.”

Hammond relates a litany of papal statements against slavery. His conclusion: “If Englishmen were to conclude that slavery was wrong, or that African Blacks and Irish were their brothers, this would be on grounds other than exhortation from the Catholic Church. Not being in communion with the Church of Rome, Anglicans were without doctrinal protection from the very human temptation to treat only those humans who are like us as our brothers.” This absence of Catholic influence on Britain apparently opened up the nation to increasing support for racism.

Although Anglicans and British Protestants were not influenced to any great extent by papal teachings, it does not follow that they “were without doctrinal protection” from racist social forces.

Let me give just one example. The Puritan Richard Baxter, writing in the late 17th century, articulates an argument for the essential similarity shared by all human beings.

He writes, “It’s well known, That the Natives in New England, the most barbarous Abassines, Gallanes, &c. in Ethiopia, have as good natural Capacities as the Europeans. So far are they from being but like Apes and Monkeys; if they be not Ideots or mad, they sometime shame learned men in their words and deeds.”

Indeed, given the appropriate occasions for the actualization of their capacities, these people have proven themselves capable of the equal intellectual feats. After all, says Baxter, “I have known those that have been so coursly clad, and so clownishly bred, even as to Speech, Looks, and Carriages, that Gentlemen and Scholars, at the first congress, have esteemed them much according to your description, when in Discourse they have proved more ingenious than they. And if improvement can bring them to Arts, the Faculty was there before.”

While the “brotherhood of the entire human race” is a Catholic doctrine, it is certainly not exclusively a Catholic doctrine, as cases like Baxter and William Wilberforce show. Hammond’s instinct to better integrate religious contexts into the historical account is laudable. The execution of this idea could be done in a much more nuanced and historically responsible way, however.

With a background in ministry and journalism (complementary vocations?), Ray Nothstine joins the Acton Institute this week as Associate Editor. He will be working on Acton’s Religion & Liberty (new issue just out) and shepherding the monthly Acton Notes publication. And, of course, weighing in on the PowerBlog.

Ray Nothstine (pronounced NOTE-stine) holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, which he received in 2005. He gained ministry experience at churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. Earlier, he was a staff assistant for Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of an Air Force officer, Ray has lived in such places as Okinawa, Egypt, Hawaii and now … Grand Rapids.

He began his writing career as a student and has continued as an intern and free-lancer for a number of publications and organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD, you may recall, recently elected PowerBlogger John Armstrong to its board. See some of Ray’s work on the IRD site here and here.

Welcome Ray!

The NAACP held a mock funeral yesterday for the N-word. That’s nice. Many would argue that it’s a horrible word and should never be used under any circumstance.

“Today, we’re not just burying the N-word, we are taking it out of our spirit, we are taking it out of our minds,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said to a crowd gathered at the city’s riverfront Hart Plaza. “To bury the N-word, we’ve got to bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let’s bury all the nonsense that comes with this.”

I wish that the “N-Word” was the biggest problem in black communities (or a big problem at all). There are far more important words and phrases that the NAACP should be holding mass funerals because maybe these other areas would make the use of “N-word” inapplicable.

Here are a few suggestions of words and phrases that the NCAAP needs to bury soon:

(1) “Bitch”
(2) “Ho” and “pimp”
(3) “My baby’s daddy (or mama)” or “I take care of all my kids, I buy them what they need”
(4) “It’s because of racism”
(5) “I’m gonna have a baby even though I’m not married”
(6) “School is whack”
(7) “I didn’t get in because I’m black”
(8) “It’s white people’s fault”
(9) “Who cares if I graduate from high school?”
(10) “The government will save us”
(11) “All blacks must think like white, liberal elitist democrats”
(12) “Mysogynistic hip hop is art”
(13) “I don’t need a man, I can take care of myself”
(14) “Sports (and Entertainment) is my only way out”
(15) “It’s because of slavery”
(16) “Church? That’s for my grandma”
(17) “My car needs rims now”
(18) “What’s a savings account?”
(19) “Do yo’ chain hang low”
(20) “Open up ya mouth, ya grill gleamin”
(21) “What’s wrong with strippin’?”
(22) “Blacks can’t achieve without government forced affirmative action”
(23) “He ain’t real he’s just ‘acting white’”
(24) “Only focus on developing black females”
(25) “I got arrested because of the racist criminal justice system”

Readings in Social Ethics: Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms.

  • Perseverance a work of divine providence: “But, moreover, what is that providence, and how great the clemency, that by a plan of salvation it is provided for us, that more abundant care should be taken for preserving man after he is already redeemed! (1).”

  • The order or law of life for the believer: “For when the Lord at His advent had cured those wounds which Adam had borne, and had healed the old poisons of the serpent, He gave a law to the sound man and bade him sin no more, lest a worse thing should befall the sinner (1).”
  • Do works of themselves purge the stains of sin? How do works committed by the regenerate relate to baptism? “And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labour, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God (2).”
  • What does Cyprian promise will happen to the wealth of the giver? (9-12)
  • Do the poor have a lesser responsibility to give than the rich?
  • A summary of the blessedness of charity: “An illustrious and divine thing, dearest brethren, is the saving labour of charity; a great comfort of believers, a wholesome guard of our security, a protection of hope, a safeguard of faith, a remedy for sin, a thing placed in the power of the doer, a thing both great and easy, a crown of peace without the risk of persecution; the true and greatest gift of God, needful for the weak, glorious for the strong, assisted by which the Christian accomplishes spiritual grace, deserves well of Christ the Judge, accounts God his debtor (26).”
  • Is there occasion given here in Cyprian’s work for a doctrinal deviation in the form of works righteousness or a prosperity gospel? Might these not be deviations but rather what Cyprian intended? Why or why not?

In yesterday’s WaPo, George F. Will assesses FDR’s domestic legacy, “Declaration of Dependence.”

It’s not a pretty tale: “The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics.

This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.”

In a previous issue of Religion & Liberty, Prof. Steven Gillen writes that FDR helped to

redefine freedom and liberalism in America. In speeches throughout the 1930s the president declared, ‘I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of a privileged few’ and called for a ‘second bill of rights’ that included governmentally-guaranteed rights to remunerative jobs, decent homes, and adequate health care. Not surprisingly, FDR’s neo-liberal justification of his ‘New Deal’ expansion of the economic role of the federal government enormously appealed to the heavily poor Catholic base of his Democratic Party during the Great Depression and still dominates much of the ‘liberal’ thinking with respect to liberty, rights, and the role of government in America today.

Acton research fellow Kevin Schmiesing also discusses the history and legacy of the New Deal in his book, Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II.

A review of Schmiesing’s book by Thomas E. Woods notes of Schmiesing’s reappraisal of Catholics and the New Deal, “Schmiesing has made an important contribution because he reminds us that a great many considerations, including the dangers posed by political centralization and broad construction of the Constitution, may inform the Catholic conscience on economic matters.”