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The Acton Institute is proud to unveil the first edition of our brand new audio podcast, Radio Free Acton! We’re excited about the possibilities of taking our podcast to the next level, and we hope that if you haven’t already subscribed to our feed, that you’ll do so now. Just add this link to whatever podcasting program you use, or subscribe through iTunes right here.

For our first show, I’m joined by Jordan Ballor, Ray Nothstine, and John Couretas to discuss the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan. This particular race has provided a rich vein of material for those interested in the intersection of religion, economics, and politics, and we dig into all of those issues as they relate to candidates Romney and Huckabee especially. Additionally, we hear from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse on how Marxist thinking about the traditional family still influences the modern left.

To download the podcast, click here (13.6 mb mp3 file).

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some of the most extensive discussion of a very extensively discussed subject here in the U.S.—religion and politics—occurs at the Pew Forum. The online proceedings of an early December conference on the subject were just brought to my attention. Of particular interest is the transcript of the presentation by John Green. Green, who cooperated with Acton years ago on our survey of economics in seminaries, is arguably the most respected and most widely quoted authority on religion and electoral behavior. Personally, I approach the whole polling industry with a large dose of skepticism, but with all the requisite caveats in place, Green’s work is indeed among the best in the business.

The transcript, with full Q&A, gets rather lengthy, so I’ll focus on a couple points. One is that it is remarkable how the distinction between “active” or “churchgoing” and less active, non-regular churchgoers has assumed preeminence in analysis of religion and politics. Green suggests that the distinction may not be as politically significant this year (and he may be right, although I think that depends greatly on which two candidates end up with the nominations). Yet the difference has clearly become a focus of investigation, a significant (and positive) change from the days when most analysts approached the subject with the blunt categories of “evangelical Protestant,” “mainline Protestant,” and “Catholic.”

The second is that EJ Dionne, with whom I frequently disagree, makes some of the most salient and incisive points. The section begins here. A sampling:

I believe, and this will be a controversial statement, that the era of the religious right is over. Now, as Bill Clinton would say, I suppose that depends on what the meaning of the words “religious right” is, but I believe the religious right, viewed as a conservative political movement within the Republican party that rose from 1978 or 1980, is breaking up, in significant part because the evangelical community itself is changing and also because the issues confronting the country are changing. Again, I’m not predicting that this group will suddenly shift overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, but I think we’re going to see a very different style of politics in the coming years.

If you put untroubled and troubled skeptics together, that’s 26% of the electorate. So if anyone wonders why Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and all those folks have sold so many books, 26% is a very significant number of Americans. If you combine that 26% with the reluctant believers group, that is over a majority. It is simply not true that if you go out and say how religious you are and talk about it all the time, you are automatically appealing to a majority of the electorate.

But also, I think Huckabee is very interesting because Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who does have strongly conservative positions on the social issues, has actually been broadening the evangelical agenda. He speaks critically of Wall Street; he has linked his Christian commitment to a concern for the poor and their access to education and health care. I think Huckabee may understand better than most politicians how much the religious conversation is changing within his own evangelical community. I think the most interesting criticism of Mike Huckabee came from Fred Thompson, who called him a pro-life liberal. There are, indeed, times when Mike Huckabee sounds a little bit like our friend Jim Wallis.

There are also fascinating differences by state, and I had a long list of these, and I won’t belabor you with them, but I actually once took apart the 2004 exit polls to look at how the religious question played state-by-state. You’ll find that the religion gap barely exists in Louisiana; is enormous in Minnesota and Washington State; and that California was the only state in which Bush failed to secure a majority among weekly churchgoers. Now, all these may have demographic explanations. In Louisiana, the Democratic share among regular church attenders was boosted by African Americans and, to some degree, Cajun Catholics. Minnesota and Washington have relatively small African-American populations, and in California the Democratic vote is boosted by Latino Protestants.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

I’m passing along this message from Kara Eagle, a program officer here at the Acton Institute. If you are a blogger and are interested in learning more about the pursuit of a free and virtuous society, keep reading:

Greetings!

As a blogger who is interested in the relationship between morality and freedom, you are invited to apply to attend the June 10-13, 2008 Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI. A limited number of special fee and travel fellowships are available to those bloggers who qualify and are willing to document their experiences at Acton University on their weblogs. This could be a daily reflection on the interaction and discussion, a final summary of the event, or anything in between. We expect that the engaging speakers, topics, and attendees will give you plenty to talk about.

This year’s updated curriculum will once again provide an in-depth four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. As a participant of Acton University, you will be guided by a distinguished international faculty and will delve into the moral, cultural, economic, legal, and theological underpinnings of the social order that values human liberty. You can build your own curriculum, choosing from more than 50 courses ranging from the theological and philosophical, to the policy-oriented and practical.

One of the significant benefits of the program is the opportunity to interact and network with people from diverse educational, vocational, and international backgrounds who all share a concern about issues at the heart of faith and freedom. For instance, the 2007 Acton University conference included participants representing 44 different countries! Undergraduate and graduate students, non-profit professionals, clergy, professors, and business people will find Acton University particularly relevant, but anyone interested in deepening their understanding of the integration of sound economics, rigorous philosophy, and the Judeo-Christian faith is encouraged to attend.

If you are a participant on a group or institutional blog and are unable to attend, feel free to nominate another frequent contributor to your blog by sending me their name and email address.

Please visit www.acton.org/actonu where you will find the online registration form along with complete conference information. Be sure to reference this message when you fill out the form. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me via email or at 616.454.3080. We hope to see you in June!

Kara Eagle
Program Officer
Acton Institute
616.454.3080

Alan Donagan, the moral philosopher, in his text The Theory of Morality reflects upon Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make mankind in our image…”). This text can be seen, he writes,

as an affirmation that the earth and all that is on it exist for the sake of the rational beings who live in it; that is, for the sake of man. Yet mankind at large, like any limited human society, is a partnership of the living with the dead and the unborn. The right of the living to use the earth does not entitle them to despoil it. They must respect those who come after them, and not their contemporaries only.

It’s a good thing to remember, and not just with respect to the care of the earth as specifically concerns the environment, but with stewardship of other things, such as oure shared culture, religious doctrine and tradition, and as Dr. J. and others have written recently, fiscal and monetary responsibilities.

Robert Samuelson is absolutely right in today’s column. The next generation faces an increasing proportion of the Federal budget that goes to pay the expenses of retired workers. We can’t go on like this. These costs amount to a massive barrier to fertility for the next generation:

Our children face a future of rising taxes, squeezed — and perhaps falling — public services, and aging — perhaps deteriorating — public infrastructure (roads, sewers, transit systems). Today’s young workers and children are about to be engulfed by a massive income transfer from young to old that will perversely make it harder for them to afford their own children.

That is, we are signing up to look like Europe. Samuelson continues:

No major candidate of either party proposes to do much about this, even though the facts are well-known.

Spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — three programs that go overwhelmingly to older Americans — already represents more than 40 percent of federal spending. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office projects these programs could equal about 70 percent of the present budget by 2030. Without implausibly large budget deficits, the only way to preserve most other government programs would be huge tax increases (about 40 percent from today’s levels). Avoiding the tax increases would require draconian cuts in other programs (about 60 percent). Workers and young families, not retirees, would bear the brunt of either higher taxes or degraded public services.

I agree with Samuelson. We need to act now to make the necessary corrections. I am a Baby Boomer. I’ve been talking about this, and I must say, planning around these facts for my entire adult life. It’s time to act.

Crossposted at my blog.

What have many academics and a good number of religious leaders learned from the collapse of communism and the failures of so many utopias of socialism that couldn’t deliver on their promises? Well, nothing. In “The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI on Socialism,” Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at a critique of the socialist impulse offered by the Pope in his new encyclical Spe Salvi.

In the article, published on InsideCatholic.com, Rev. Sirico discusses the futility of a salvation based on a materialistic worlview:

History is strewn with intellectuals who imagined that they could save the world — and created hell on earth as a result. The pope counts the socialists among them, and Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.

Socialist theorizers simply cannot wish away economic realities. “The economic problem is intractable,” Rev. Sirico writes. “Simply asserting that the new world will magically appear begs critical issues, such as how we are to feed, clothe, and house people.”

Pope Benedict sees this flaw clearly. This is from Spe Salvi:

Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.

This utopian impulse, Rev. Sirico says, blinds the socialist to unchangeable realities of the economic order:

… the pope has put the problems of economics exactly in the right light: the practical issue that needs to be settled within the framework of a sound morality and understanding of human nature. Socialism fails for a precise and practical reason: It has no system for pricing factors of production to make economic calculation possible. Prices come from the exchange of the very private property with which socialism dispenses.

Read the encyclical letter Spe Salvi on the Vatican Web site here.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A few radio appearances to let you know about today:

  • Michael Miller made an appearance today on the Accent Radio Network to discuss the role of faith in the public square, especially in light of the ongoing presidential primary process. You can listen to the audio from The Right Balance with Greg Allen by clicking here (2.2 mb mp3 file).
  • On Monday, Dr. Jay Richards joined host Jim Brown on WRNO in New Orleans, Louisiana to discuss the impact of religion on Mike Huckabee’s win in the Iowa Republican Caucus last week. If you haven’t had a chance to check out that audio yet, you can do so by clicking here (1.4 mb mp3 file).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A new interactive video sharing site for activism and “ideas,” Big Think (HT), including entries from experts like Niall Ferguson, Jagdish Bhagwati, Paul Krugman, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (along with the requisite spate of politicians).

Here, for instance, is Richard Cizik, vice president of Govermental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, answering the question, “How should the Bible be interpreted?”

Here’s a sample: “Your argument is not with me. Your argument is with God.” Cizik’s video is probably sixty seconds too long. But hey, the site is only in “beta.”

I’m a big fan of Touchstone’s blog and the posts of senior editor S. M. Hutchens in particular. A very deep guy. That’s why I was intrigued when I found a book review of his in the New Atlantis entitled "The Evangelical Ecologist" while googling myself (if that doesn’t sound too crude).*

He’s responding to E. O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, in which Wilson

asks the imaginary Baptist pastor to whom the book is addressed to search his faith for reason to make common cause in earth-saving with Wilson’s own secular humanism, the dogmatics of which assert that “heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves on this planet.

Wade through Hutchens’ dialectic and what emerges is a fantastic insight into how easily the Church can be gripped by the humanistic evangelism of the environmental movement, where conservation of Creation is an end in and of itself, and God’s privilege to destroy and remake the earth becomes as much of an anethama to us as Peter’s revulsion to the Cross.

Get thee behind me, satan!

The Westminster Catechism "suggests" the chief end of man is to glorify God, but it’s pretty easy to find ourselves absorbed in thinking a green earth is an end rather than a means. Similarly, our common use of Psalm 24 to proclaim God’s ownership – and by extension, proclaim our stewardship – rarely sweeps us into verses 3-4 (only the pure in heart stand in God’s holy presence), let alone verses 7-10 (Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle…). But it should.

No, not should. It must, because He Is.

~

HE’S ALSO FOUND the spot that I couldn’t itch the past couple of trips to Boise. [Click and scroll down for my thoughts under Ed Brown's lecture notes. db]. There I found myself among Christ-loving people who earnestly believe God would never, could never, destroy the earth as we know it to establish a New One, but instead wants the Church to serve and redeem the planet through our charitable stewardship.

Here’s Hutchens’ reaction to this sort of thinking:

Here, then, is the first inescapable offense Christianity gives to earth-piety: the earth as we know it empirically is not a final thing but a first creation. The second offense is that Christianity’s principal reason for the earth’s existence is to serve the cause of human redemption, to be defined and carried out not by what seems reasonable to man, but the purpose and method of God. The earth is presented to the faith as sacramental, and as sacrament its end is to be consumed so that a second and higher Creation may come. Its end is as the end of man who has been made from and returns to its dust, who must pass away so the Second and Eternal Man can arise to take his place in a new heaven and earth, the old having passed away. It is difficult to exaggerate the breadth and depth of the chasm that exists between biblical religion and earth-piety.

Thinking of the earth (and all those bullocks!) as a sacrament to be consumed might jive with the Old Covenant but doesn’t exactly lash up with John 3:16, where Christ’s sacrifice is by definition substitutional and given for "the world." And what about those who never returned to dust? Will Enoch or Elijah single-handedly keep Christ from assuming the throne? Not likely.

Regardless of which perspective you take on God’s ultimate intent for the planet just chewing on both is pretty humbling. It gets me to my knees in an earnest prayer to ask for wisdom to do whatever He wants me to do with the earth today, that His will will be done. And maybe that’s the point of such an exercise.

In the end Hutchens offers a scriptural antidote ("Let me suggest that the rule for proper treatment of the biosphere contemplated by the scriptures is not based in consideration of biological life itself, but upon the law of love of God and neighbor…"), an encouraging word on the good to be gained when all men recognize God’s majesty in nature, a reminder that all things are ultimately governed by God’s will, and a warning that the tendency of humansim is invariably worship of creation rather than Creator.

I appreciated getting all four of these today. Absorb the whole article when you have some time.

______________

*No, in case you’re wondering, he didn’t ask me whether "The Evangelical Ecologist" was protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License [Exodus 20:15], or whether I thought it was o.k. to be associated with an atheist like E. O. Wilson. But hey – that’s what grace is all about, right?

A noteworthy quote on voluntary poverty from Thomas C. Oden. Oden has consistently articulated the concern that modern Christian theology is often tainted by political agendas, such as the radical elements of liberation theology. Here, Oden rebuffs the myth that a historic and conservative Christian theology has been anything less than strong in its identification and assistance in defense of the poor. Oden is a United Methodist theologian who is also an emeritus professor at Drew Theological Seminary. In addition, Oden is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.

Some imagine that a high Christology necessarily tends to be neglectful of moral responsibility. Those who buy into the Marxist view of history tend repeatedly to sound this alarm. Insofar as such a distortion occurs, it is inconsistent with classical Christian teaching, where the assumption prevails that the confession of Jesus as Lord has insistent moral meaning and social implications. Christians who call for an identification with the poor do so out of a long tradition of voluntary poverty, which follows from Christ’s willingness to become poor for our sakes.

The Word of Life, Prince Press, 2001, p. 9.