Archived Posts April 2008 - Page 4 of 5 | Acton PowerBlog

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

“How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray,
when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world?”

A statue memorializing Bonhoeffer as a martyr stands on the West Front of Westminster Abbey.

Born on February 4, 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his theological education in 1923 to the mild surprise of his upper middle-class family. Following what he would later call a sort of conversion experience, Bonhoeffer intensified his focus on contemporary theological problems facing the church. With the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany in the early 1930s, Bonhoeffer was among the first of the German theologians to perceive the pervasiveness and significance of the looming threat.

When the pro-Nazi German Christian party won the church elections in the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer quickly opposed the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer’s consistent and committed resistance to the Nazi regime included his support for and pastoral participation in the Confessing Church along with other prominent Protestant theologians like Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller. His resistance also lent new depths to his intricate association with the broader ecumenical movement.

When the effectiveness of the Confessing Church’s opposition to Hitler was blunted and his efforts to bring the moral authority of the ecumenical movement to bear met with failure, Bonhoeffer became involved with the so-called Abwehr conspiracy, which was intended to assassinate Hitler and end the war.

After imprisonment for his role in the escape of Jews to Switzerland, Bonhoeffer was implicated in the failed assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. At the age of 39, he was hanged by the SS at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the liberation of the area under Allied troops.

In the weeks and months before his death, Bonhoeffer meditated at length upon the text of Jeremiah 45, which promises both suffering and deliverance to God’s people. Bonhoeffer understood suffering and persecution to be a mark of true discipleship. In his famous text Nachfolge (ET: The Cost of Discipleship), Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Church knows that the world is still seeking for someone to bear its sufferings, and so, as it follows Christ, suffering becomes the Church’s lot too and bearing it, is borne up by Christ.”

Bonhoeffer’s death has been passed on through the account of the concentration camp’s physician, who said, “I saw pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed.” This account is included by Bonhoeffer’s friend and biographer, Eberhard Bethge, reappearing again and again in the literature about Bonhoeffer.

But journalist and theologian Uwe Siemon-Netto writes of an even more chilling truth, “Apparently the doctor made up this tale in order to avoid punishment later in a war crimes trial. Joergen L.F. Mogensen, a Danish diplomat imprisoned in Flossenbürg, denied the existence of a scaffold or gallows in that camp. Mogensen is certain that Bonhoeffer’s life ended in the same ghastly way as his two Abwehr superiors, Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and Maj. Gen. Hans Oster.”

Siemon-Netto continues, “They were slowly strangled to death by a rope snapping up and down from a flexible iron hook that had been sunk into a wall. When they lost consciousness, they were revived so that the procedure could be repeated over and over again. The man who revived them was evidently none other than the camp doctor, Mogensen believes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and death are a testament to his commitment to the Christian faith and his ardent opposition to the absolutism and idolatry of Nazi Germany.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A few weeks ago I blogged about the California homeschooling ruling. (And Chris Banescu wrote about it in an Acton Commentary.) As you may have heard, the ruling was vacated so the threat has gone away, for now.

But in the meantime, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Morse offered some interesting thoughts on the matter at ToTheSource. Especially striking to me was this passage:”Perhaps this California homeschool dispute represents a larger conflict over the future of society. Whose children are these, anyway?” She goes on to cite the argument of a recent book, “that the competition for the control of children will only increase as children become more scarce.”

Remember that study two years ago showing conservatives having more children than liberals? Connect the dots. I feel a conspiracy theory brewing.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

If you’re looking for the latest on how “Sensationalist Reporting Muddles Catholic Social Teaching”, check out these recent contributions:

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a perceptive op-ed, noting the negative consequences of relaxed strictures on items such as sex and eating meat on Fridays. The author uses economic thinking to justify more traditional mores:

Larry Iannaccone, an economist at George Mason University who has studied religions, notes that some of the most successful, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Pentecostal Christians, which have very fervent congregations, have strict requirements. Religions relax the rules at their own peril.

“Religions are in the unusual situation in which it pays to make gratuitously costly demands,” Mr. Iannaccone said. “When they weaken their demands they make on members, they undermine their credibility.”

[Snip]

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the church has been pushing the other way. Pope Benedict XVI has brought back rites abandoned after Vatican II and reasserted the church’s hold on truth.

In this context, it could be tricky to update sins in a way that could de-emphasize individual trespasses and shift the focus to social crimes bearing a collective guilt. New sins might be a better fit for the modern world, but they risk alienating the membership.

On a lighter note, The Weekly Standard‘s P.J. O’Rourke has some fun at Bishop Girotti’s expense:

Not to argue theology with the Vatican, but environmental pollution is hardly among Satan’s strongest temptations. Pollution is not a passion we resist with an agony of will for the sake of our immortal souls. I’ve been to parties where all seven of the original deadlies were on offer in carload lots. Never once have I heard a reveler shout with evil glee, “Let’s dump PCBs in the Hudson River!”

If all environmental pollution were stopped forthwith–as any proper sin ought to be–wouldn’t this result in “causing poverty”? Eschewing New Deadly Sin #3 forces us to commit New Deadly Sin #4. And New Deadly Sin #5 as well, since “social injustice and inequality” cannot be eliminated without global economic progress. Furthermore, that progress depends in part on New Deadly Sin #6, the genetic manipulation entailed in the bioengineering of new
high-yield crop varieties to feed the hungry. Here we have Bishop Girotti, who is supposed to be leading us to God, leading us instead to a hopeless paradox and the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, despair.

Speaking of which, modern economists despair of any way to quit causing poverty except by accumulating excessive wealth–the excess supplying the capital needed for global economic progress. Also the Right Reverend should get out more and take a walk around Vatican City. A Mother Teresa leper hospital it ain’t.

And don’t forget to examine your conscience against O’Rourke’s own new deadly sins as well …

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, April 4, 2008

Catholic institutions provide a large percentage of the worldwide care devoted to those infected by HIV. That, combined with the Church’s stand on the immorality of contraceptive use, puts it at the center of debates about AIDS and condoms.

There have been several cases over the last two decades of criticism of religious organizations for compromising their faith dimension for the sake of some other end (often government dollars).

At the intersection of these two trends is a new controversy over Catholic Relief Services, the umbrella organization for much of the Church’s charitable work. Some are questioning whether CRS’s new policy on the dissemination of condom information is in line with Catholic teaching not to mention sound health policy.

Germain Grisez summarizes the problem in a First Things blog entry.

Jeff Mirus offers a fuller treatment at his Catholic Culture blog.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, April 4, 2008

This is just a brief note to mark today the third anniversary of the PowerBlog. We’ve worked hard to bring a variety of viewpoints and thoughtful perspectives to bear on a range of topics, with an attempt to keep the focus generally on issues we think would be of interest to our readers. The last few months have seen a number of new contributors crack the PowerBlog lineup, and we’re pleased with the results. We hope you are too.

In the future we plan to bring you more book and movie reviews and more translations and opinions from our international contributors, while continuing to bring attention to the intersection between religion and liberty. As always, suggestions for improvement, questions, and comments are welcome. We also want to continue to engage more thoughtfully and purposefully the vast potential of social networking, Web 2.0 and beyond.

For keeping us abreast of the current trends and continually making innovative changes to the blog’s functional and aesthetic structure, special recognition goes to our webmaster Jonathan Spalink. His advice and insight has been solicited by numerous folks duly impressed with his work.

Thanks to the faithful and occasional readers of the PowerBlog for providing us a lively forum in which to engage the issues of the day. Without you, none of this would be worthwhile.

Acton Institute PowerBlog

Blog author: eschansberg
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008

This evening, I attended a showing of Michael Moore’s movie Sicko

I wasn’t expecting much, so maybe it was easy to exceed my expectations. But I was pleasantly surprised that the movie wasn’t far more painful for me to watch. Although certainly not without its flaws, it has something to add. And the movie was well-made, humorous in places, poignant in others– effective and provocative.

Moore is quite critical of insurance companies and HMO’s– and quite complimentary of the health care systems of France, Cuba, Canada, and England. With that combination, you would expect him to be optimistic about the United States moving toward single-payer health care. But his cynicism toward our government– in particular, the often-unsavory relationship between politicians and interest groups– leads him to criticize our system (correctly in many cases) without embracing government as a practical means to his desired end.

Some examples? Early-on, he mentions that Medicare fails to cover a lot of things (although he fails to pile on by talking about the program’s extraordinary expense). And he points to the government’s selective provision of health care to the heroes of 9/11. He also notes that the government provides awesome health care for the detainees at Guantanamo. (He could have bolstered this with the observation that our troops receive health care that is largely illegal in the states– since interest groups have restricted competition from competent providers like physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners.) Implicitly, he notes the absurdity of restricting trade in pharmaceuticals, health care services, and health insurance. In a word, he isn’t happy with the status quo, but he’s not at all optimistic that our government can or will fix the problem.

The problem with health care– from the point of an economist– is that government is too heavily involved in health care: in addition to the above examples, we could also list Medicare, Medicaid, and most notably, government’s subsidy of health care insurance (as a non-taxed form of compensation).

Because of the subsidy, ironically, those who can afford health care insurance have too much of it. First, by definition, something that is subsidized will be purchased too much (at least in terms of efficiency). Second, imagine how insurance typically operates: it covers rare, catastrophic events. In contrast, health care “insurance” covers everything from allergy shots to cancer. By way of analogy, car insurance of this type would cover everything from door dings and oil changes to severe car accidents. And what would happen to the cost of oil changes, the paperwork associated with oil changes, etc.? We’d have exactly the same sort of mess we have in health care.

With government’s current level of involvement– very far from a market-based system– one can make an argument that a single-payer plan would be an improvement over the status quo. But of course, one can also argue that a single-payer plan would be even worse. A quick look at our education system and the post office indicate that a government-run monopoly is unlikely to deliver decent quality with any kind of efficiency or without special interest politics. This seems to be Moore’s dilemma in the proverbial nutshell.

Sure, there were examples of poor analysis in the movie. For example:
-There was a strange reference to “full employment” in England (when all of Europe struggles with significantly more unemployment than us– due to various employer mandates Moore seems to appreciate);
-He repeats the common reference to U.S. infant mortality rates (vastly oversold since we treat premies different for the purposes of that statistic);
-He repeats the tired canard that schools just need more money (while they already spend more than $10K per student; how much more money do you want to inject into a government-run entity with tremendous monopoly power?); and
-His analysis of other countries seems to miss the important factor that their populations are smaller and more homogeneous than ours.

And I suppose that other viewers– perhaps most who would see Moore’s film– could see a call for bringing socialized medicine to the U.S. in Moore’s work. But a more nuanced reading of the film points to an idealistic but laudable desire that our health care system would be something better– without holding out much hope that our politicians will be able to deliver us closer to that outcome.

– Also see Dr. Don Condit’s Acton Commentary: What’s Wacko about Sicko? – Ed.

Blog author: michael.severance
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Roman Catholic Church’s authoritative reference source, the Annuario Pontificio (Papal Yearbook), is published in March of every year. It is a weighty book in more ways than one: It comprises of over 2,500 pages, has a very limited print production of 10,000 copies, and contains just about every bit of information you would want to know about the make-up of the Church.

The publication of the 2008 Annuario made news earlier this week when, in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the editor announced that for the first time in history there are now more Muslims than Catholics in the world. Read Acton’s translation of the article below.

According to Msgr. Vittorio Formenti, in 2006 the Muslim population became the single largest segment among world religions, surpassing Roman Catholicism by 1.8 percentage points: 19.2 percent compared to 17.4 percent.

It should be noted, however, that the Church is only sure of its own numbers; the Muslim statistics come from the United Nations. Comparing two sets of numbers gathered with different methodologies does not necessarily result in an accurate picture.

It is not, however, all that surprising to those who are aware of current demographic studies. The Church has also issued widely-documented warnings on diminishing family size among Catholics as the result of widespread use of contraception, public advocacy of non-procreative and delayed marital unions, and unfriendly fiscal policies on the family. These negative trends are particularly evident in Catholic Western nations such as Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal.

It would be a mistake to read Msgr. Formenti’s interview as alarmist, however. He notes that when Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants are also taken into account, Christians remains a much larger segment of the world’s religious population, totaling about 33 percent, nearly double that of all Muslims.

Catholicism has also experienced a modest upward growth trend in three areas: the total number of faithful (+1.4 percent); ordained diocesan priests (+0.023 percent); and seminarians (+0.9 percent). These percentages are small but demonstrate growth in areas that had been in decline in the last few decades.

And finally, despite what the statistics say, Catholics are prohibited from giving in to the sin of despair. “The gates of hell shall not prevail….” (Matthew 16.18-19) (more…)

Blog author: kosten.joseph
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008


Yesterday I enjoyed a stimulating presentation of Harvard Law Professor and current U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon’s new Italian-language collection of essays, Tradizioni in Subbuglio (Traditions in Turmoil). Glendon has previously spoken at Acton’s closing Centesimus Annus conference at the Pontifical Lateran University and her address has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets and Morality.

Situated near the Pantheon at the Istituto Luigi Sturzo, the event was attended by professors, lawyers, journalists and Vatican officials. Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton, and I attended the book release which turned into a mini-conference on human dignity and human rights.

Prof. Valerio Onida, an Italian judge, commented that Glendon’s writings “represent a positive outlook that is diverse and encompasses many aspects of humanity. Human dignity, as represented in this work,” Onida continues, “is urgent for the whole world. The problems that affect some aspects of humanity affect the whole global human community.” Veering away from the direct commentary on the book, Onida expressed his view that the real problem “is that there are so many people who do not enjoy basic human rights.” In closing, Prof. Onida expressed thanks for the discourse of Mary Ann Glendon because “it explores these issues and clarifies the limitations of legislation.”

Following Onida, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (where Glendon served as president from 1994 until her appointment as ambassador), gave an excellent discourse covering Traditions in Turmoil as well as other socio-economic issues. He cited Tocqueville at several points, saying, “the manners of the people are more important than the laws. This was one of the basic differences Tocqueville saw between France and the United States.” Sanchez accordingly addressed the need for a moral culture in the fields of economics and politics. Complementing Glendon’s research and understanding of the human person, he declared that “Many types of institutions have an agenda, both in Europe and the United States. An understanding of fundamental human development is crucial for understanding the development of society. Indifference to values creates many problems we face in today’s society.”

Closing the presentation of her book, Glendon made a few brief comments. She reminded those present that “Traditions, if they are alive and healthy, are systems in movement. As Alasdair Macntyre has put it, a living tradition is constituted by an ongoing argument about the goods that give it point and purpose. As for turmoil, this troubling state is not necessarily bad for a living tradition. In fact, a period of turmoil—an encounter with new and disturbing elements—can be the springboard for a great period of creativity, as well as a time of risk.”

Glendon’s book contains several fascinating chapters, including ones on the cultural supports of the American democratic experiment, Rousseau and the revolt against reason, the illusions of absolute rights, and the 1995 UN Beijing Women’s Conference, where she served as the head of the Holy See delegation.

While it appears that Glendon’s work is not very well-known in Italy, that should change with the publication of this book and, of course, her term as ambassador.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rod Dreher links to a piece by Cato’s Brink Lindsey, “Culture of Success.” The conclusion of Lindsey’s piece is that familial culture is more important to child success in school and economic achievement than external assistance, in the form of tuition grants or otherwise:

If more money isn’t the answer, what does have an impact? In a word: culture. Everything we know about high performance in all fields of endeavor tells us that, while natural talent is a plus, there is no substitute for long hours of preparation and hard work…. Apply these lessons to doing well in school, and it becomes clear that the class divide in academic achievement is fundamentally a cultural divide. To put it in a nutshell, the upper-middle-class kid grows up in an environment that constantly pushes him to develop the cognitive and motivational skills needed to be a good student; the low-income kid’s environment, on the other hand, pushes in the opposite direction.

Lindsey, to his credit, recognizes the fact that these sorts of trans-generational, cultural and familial concerns typically lie outside the competence of his own libertarian ideological camp:

We insist on the central importance of individual responsibility for the healthy functioning of a free society. Yet, by the time people become legally responsible adults, circumstances not of their own choosing — namely, how they were raised and whom they grew up with — may have prevented them from ever developing the capacities they need to thrive and flourish.

I’m disappointed to find that Lindsey then makes the move to say that on that basis there exists “the possibility that government intervention to improve those circumstances could actually expand the scope of individual autonomy.” I’m not disappointed because the statement is false (it is in fact true), but because the government isn’t the first place we should look to find solutions to cultural problems. What about other institutions, most especially the church?

Dreher’s post is lengthy and worth a read in full, in part because it takes Lindsey’s piece as a point of departure to bring in a number of other insights and sources. Dreher writes of the government’s relation to culture among the poor,

…I don’t believe all the government programs we could possibly imagine will fundamentally change their condition, because their condition is not fundamentally a matter of material deprivation.

Culture is more important than politics, as Moynihan said. But he also said that politics can save a culture from itself. What kind of politics could save inner-city black culture from itself? Ideas? Because we certainly need them in society at large, not just the black inner city.

Dreher also echoes my question: “Here’s what I don’t understand: where are the churches in all this?”

Where are they? If they aren’t actively engaged in responsible urban evangelism, which many are, then they are probably doing (A) nothing or (B) lobbying the government to do something. A is bad and B might be worse.

Dolly Parton was featured on American Idol this week. One of the songs a contestant performed from her body of work was the song, based on her real-life experiences, “Coat of Many Colors,” and it teaches a lesson directly relevant to this topic.


Here’s the last verse, after the children make fun of her for her coat:

But they didn’t understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ted Turner in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today: (via)

One way to combat global warming, Turner said, is to stabilize the population. "We’re too many people; that’s why we have global warming," he said. "Too many people are using too much stuff." Turner suggested that "on a voluntary basis, everybody in the world’s got to pledge to themselves that one or two children is it."

Admitting that he’s "always suffered from foot-in-the-mouth disease," Turner added, "I’ve gotten a lot better, though. It’s been a long time since anybody caught me saying something stupid."

There’s an obvious retort here; I’ll leave that to you smart folks.

Will also leave Jordan to weigh in on the population control stuff. But I will point out that Turner is one of those guys for whom overpopulation is a problem (for whatever reason), but who never seems eager to be the first to leave the gene pool.

[Don's other habitat is the Evangelical Ecologist]