Archived Posts 2007 - Page 7 of 92 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, November 29, 2007

The schedule for the 2008 Acton Lecture Series has been released. The following is a quick overview of the line-up. Detailed descriptions of these lectures as well as time, location, and ticket information are available at the Acton Lecture Series page on Acton’s Web site.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse Freedom, the Family and the Market: A Humane Response to the Socialist Attack on the Family

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
January 3, 2008
Dr. Glenn Sunshine Wealth, Work and the Church

Dr. Glenn Sunshine
February 14, 2008
Rev. Robert A. Sirico The Rise (and Eventual Downfall) of the New Religious Left

Rev. Robert A. Sirico
March 13, 2008
Mrs. Grace Marie Turner Can We Repair What’s Wrong with our Health Care System through Christian Principles?

Mrs. Grace Marie Turner
April 10, 2008
Dr. Arthur C. Brooks Looking for Happiness, Finding Faith

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks
June 22, 2008
Mr. Michael Miller Asia: Lessons and Opportunities

Mr. Michael Miller
July 24, 2008
Dr. Jay Richards The Birth of Freedom: A look at Judeo-Christian Tradition to the Rise of Political and Economic Freedom in the West

Dr. Jay Richards
August 14, 2008
Dr. Samuel Gregg What’s Wrong With Latin America?

Dr. Samuel Gregg
September 18, 2008
Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, November 29, 2007

In my Acton Commentary this week, I argued against government funding for stem cell research.

The developments that served as my springboard have unsurprisingly prompted a lot of other reflections from various quarters as well. A sampling:

Joseph Bottum on politics, religion, and stem cells.

Fr. Thomas Berg on the reaction of the scientific community.

Malcolm Ritter on obstacles remaining in the path toward medically useful applications.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.

The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at

Blog author: jmorse
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Joel Kotkin explains that the fastest growing cities are not the ones that cater to singles, but those that cater to families. Read it all here.

Cross-posted at my blog.

This article at the WSJ reviews a book that purports to be about progressive environmentalism. Doomsday is out. Nobody cares. People need material well-being before they are interested in environmentalism at all.

Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want "an explicitly pro-growth agenda," on the theory that investment, innovation and imagination may ultimately do more to improve the environment than punitive regulation and finger-wagging rhetoric. To stabilize atmospheric carbon levels will take more–much more–than regulation; it will require "unleashing human power, creating a new economy."

Not perfect, but alot better than what passes for environmentalism most of the time.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Von Wernich at his 2007 trial in La Plata.

Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, has an article in today’s Detroit News on the recent conviction of Rev. Christian von Wernich, a Catholic priest sentenced to life in prison for his role in supporting the totalitarian regime during Argentina’s National Reorganization Process. Rev. von Wernich, a police chaplain, was accused of sharing the conversations he received with prisoners in the confessional with the police who then used them as evidence against those prisoners and in making further arrests of accomplices.

Sirico explains that the priest was clearly in the wrong to be sharing the secrets of the confessional with the state not only because the Church forbids it, but because there are some aspects of life that the state does not and should not ever control, namely our conscience. Sirico writes:

No matter what the sin is, the priest is under a moral obligation not to reveal it, and never to act upon the information he received. It is more than a secret in a regular sense. The priest in the confessional is acting in the person of Christ, hearing and offering forgiveness not on his behalf but on behalf of Christ. Priests are urged not even to think about what they have heard in the confessional afterwards.

The state has no right to access the confessional. Christ, not the state, has the first claim on the conscience of the individual. The sad story of von Wernich is again a reminder of the lesson of the Gospel that some things, but not all things, belong to Caesar; some aspects of life belong to God alone.

Does a good education demand an appreciation for history? It would seem so. What arguments are there to support such a contention?

Neil Postman writes,

There is no escaping ourselves. The human dilemma is as it always has been, and it is a delusion to believe that the future will render irrelevant what we know and have long known about ourselves but find it convenient to forget.

In quoting this passage from Postman’s Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Ronald Arnett says that history is “the metasubject needed in a good education.”

This contention is a correlate of C.S. Lewis’ opinion that old books are critically necessary to learning. In his introduction to an old book (Athanasius’ De Incarnatione), Lewis writes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Where Postman praises the study of history for what is constant in human nature, Lewis praises historical study for providing us a perspective from which to judge what is transient and contextual about our own times. Lord Acton, himself a greatly learned and distinguished historian once wrote, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.”

Lewis also makes an important methodological point about the preeminence of primary sources, as compared to secondary sources. That is, when we have a question about Plato or Platonism, the reader should first consult a book by Plato or a Platonist rather than “some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”

Christians know too that “the human dilemma” is to be understood within the narrative of redemption history (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation).

Those paying close attention to the developments in Christian higher education will take note of the increasing popularity of “great books” programs (see St. John’s College and The College at Southwestern). These are in some sense an extension of the impulse toward a classical academy model of elementary and secondary education.

For more on “what makes a great book,” visit this Scriptorium Daily podcast, which includes the insights of faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program at Biola University.