Archived Posts July 2008 » Page 2 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the July/August issue of Touchstone, which features a cover story by Acton research director Sam Gregg, “The European Disunion,” a bit of wisdom is passed along to us by senior editor Anthony Esolen in the magazine’s section, Quodlibet:

If you have a virtuous people, you don’t need quite so many laws, and the laws you do pass will have a lot less to do with restraint than with man’s creative participation in God’s governance of the world.

This statement captures well the sentiments I expressed regarding the relation of Christianity to political freedom, which appear in Kevin Schmiesing’s post, “Freedom and Christianity,” at American Creation.

The Winter issue of Religion & Liberty is now available online. The interview with David W. Miller is titled, “Theology at Work: Faithful Living in the Marketplace.” Miller is the executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, and co-founder and president of the Avodah Institute. Miller brings an unusual “bilingual” perspective to the academic world, having also spent sixteen years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. Miller’s book, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement was published in 2007.

Joseph K. Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, offers his own analysis of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey with a piece titled “Brand Loyalty in the American Religious Marketplace.” Knippenberg notes:

My preliminary bottom line is this: in terms at least of nominal adherents, American Protestantism is doing well, better than any other faith tradition except Hinduism, which has the “advantage” of being a culturally distinctive religion closely identified with a particular community of relatively new immigrants. What’s more, Protestants who leave their childhood denominations are much more likely to move to another Protestant denomination than they are to leave religion behind altogether. Indeed, they are for the most part more likely to move to an evangelical denomination or church than they are to leave religion behind. For our hitherto dominant American religious tradition, the flow toward evangelicalism is stronger than the flow out of religion altogether. I haven’t seen that headline yet.

John Couretas reviews Thomas C. Oden’s Deeds not Words: The Good Works Reader, while I penned a review of Ronald J. Sider’s book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Rev. Robert Sirico’s column offers an analysis of “Ethics and the Job Market.”

Also, Religion & Liberty paid tribute to William F. Buckley who passed away in February of this year. In his autobiography of faith titled Nearer, My God, Buckley declared:

It is of course obvious that it is mostly features of this world from which we take our satisfactions. The love of our family, the company of our friends, the feel of wind on the face, the excitement of the printed page, the delights of color and form and sound; food, wine, sex. But there is that other life that only human beings can experience, and in that life, and from that life, other pulsations are felt. They press upon us, in the Christian vision, one thing again and again, which is that God loves us. The best way to put it is that God would give His life for us and, in Christ, did.

Skyrocketing energy costs have, among other effects, led to interesting political maneuvering. Specifically, the question of expanding of domestic energy resources (e.g., offshore drilling) has become live for this first time in decades. For that to happen in the current Congress, of course, requires that there be at least a certain measure of bipartisan consensus. As Michael Franc explains on NRO today, there have indeed been a few Democratic defections to the pro-drilling side. These Democrats are caught between the popularity of expanded oil and gas exploration on one side and, on the other, both the traditional Democratic allegiance to the enviornmental lobby as well as the unyielding stance of the Party’s leadership.

Lifting restrictions on drilling will assist the market in creating additional supply, even as demand has already been affected by rising prices. It is important that environmental concerns not be tossed to the wind in a rush to relieve the strain on American pocketbooks, but that seems unlikely in the current political environment. In fact, the negative environmental impact of drilling in places like ANWR has always appeared questionable. It seems more likely that opposition to offshore and other drilling was fueled by NIMBY sentiment rather than demonstrably significant environmental damage.

There is the argument that offshore drilling will have little impact on prices, at least or especially in the near future. It is important that the potential for such sources be assessed realistically and not exaggerated, but the “10 years from now” objection is not compelling. If it’s a good thing to do, then we should start. Not doing so simply pushes the horizon ten years further down the road.

By no means can I claim the ability to weigh accurately the costs and benefits of expanding domestic energy exploration. That’s why it’s important to let the price mechanism operate freely and let the market respond in turn. If lifting drilling restrictions moves us in that direction, then I favor it.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the differing mainstream cultural views of gun rights and abortion in the United States and Europe. The point of departure is last month’s Supreme Court decision in DC v. Heller (07-290) striking down the District’s handgun ban (SCOTUSblog round-up on the decision here).

In “Guns, Foreign Courts, and the Moral Consensus of the International Community,” I write that the “tendency to invoke foreign jurisprudence is becoming more troubling as it becomes clearer that the moral consensus that once united Western nations has almost entirely broken down.”

As Paul J. Cella commented on a number of related stories at home and abroad, “We are only a tendentious opinion from one of the Liberal Usurpers on the Court, or their creature Kennedy, under the spell of the New York-DC elite adulation — one tendentious opinion citing foreign law, or sweet mystery of life, or mystical evolving standards, away from the same tyranny that would send the homeowner who defends his wife against thugs to jail, while showering the thugs with sympathy.”

At the same time the Court was deciding Heller, it ruled “that imposing the death penalty for child rape violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” La Shawn Barber has details on the difficulties surrounding that decision, but in relation to the topic of my commentary I want to point out that the EU Constitution in its original form as circulated for ratification in 2004, under Article II-62, titled “Right to life,” held in part, “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.” At the same time this article made no explicit or special mention of abortion.

For more insight into the disconnect between the UN/EU on the one side and the US on the other over gun rights, see Kenneth Anderson’s illuminating post, “International Gun Control Efforts?” (HT: The Volokh Conspiracy).

As Mike Huckabee was wont to say, we wouldn’t have the First Amendment without the Second. And if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have knives (that explode?!).

The third week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The third leg of the journey took the bikers from Boise to Salt Lake City, a total distance of 444 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional focuses especially on the theme of discipleship, of following Jesus in this third week. One way in which we follow Jesus is in the community of disciples. And as the day 16 devotional reads, “You can share everything and take turns doing the heavy work, but without forgiveness the fellowship will never last.” This gets at what differentiates what has been called the “communitarianism” of the early church from the secular visions of a socialist utopia. Only the church can rightly understand the realities of sin and forgiveness and their consequences for social life.

Day 17 quotes 2 Corinthians 2:17, “We do not peddle the word of God for profit.” This is an important verse, because it reminds us of the primacy of spiritual realities to the gospel message. The devotional puts this contrast starkly: “We are not like the giants of the cosmetic industry, pushing chemicals for profit. Rather, we peddle an ancient formula, ‘fragrance of life,’ simply as a celebration of God’s grace.” I appreciate the rhetorical power of this kind of juxtaposition, but I fear that it misses the point. Paul isn’t deriding business and the pursuit of profit in its own proper sphere. Instead, he’s warning against allowing the principles suited for one sphere (business) to invade another (church).

To the extent that it is the successful business leaders who are implicitly understood to embody religious and spiritual discernment and leadership, this text is a much more powerful witness against the church being run as a business than it is against business as a profit-driven venture. Even so, the devotional speaks rightly when it says, “Paul’s point is that we don’t speak of faith to gain our own advantage.”

The week concludes with a trip from Idaho to Utah. The prayer for day 20 notes that “Utah ranks first among all states in proportion of income given to charity by the wealthy. Today thank God for their generosity, and pray that the money will be used wisely and effectively by these charities.”

To get involved in giving to effective charities, visit the Samaritan Guide, and take a look at the charities that are working in Idaho and Utah, including Boise’s SAFE Center and Salt Lake City’s Spiritual Training Program, both rated “excellent” for their Samaritan Guide entries in 2005.

While former Vice President Al Gore mesmerized activists at Netroots Nation this morning with a surprise visit to Austin, Texas, a different kind of conversation about global warming was taking place at the Right Online conference in the same city. The intensity and energy during the global warming session was by far the most passionate of any of the sessions I have attended here. It seems some conservative activists may be undecided about all the scientific data concerning global warming, but they understand some in the environmental and big government movements are using the climate change excitement to chip away at personal and economic freedoms.

Iain Murray
of the Competitive Enterprise Institute was present to discuss the topic with all the attendees. Murray cited the Cornwall Alliance as an important evangelical voice on this issue. He also summed up the failure of cap-and-trade measures in Europe and just how ineffective government spending on global warming has been across the pond.

Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity was very straightforward about not understanding all of the scientific data, but still added some very prudent points. Kerpen contrasted the United States with socialist leaning Western European nations by noting an American approach to finding solutions is best, because we need to be on the right side of the economics, while also being on the right side of the environment. Krepen noted that we need to move away from “socialist regulatory schemes,” adding, “we won’t be the innovators [for long term solutions] if we go down that route.” Krepen understood that if we sacrifice prosperity, we actually sacrifice the ability to achieve the greatest energy breakthroughs through entrepreneurial innovation.

At the end, I spoke briefly about the Acton Institute’s research on this issue and directed the attendees to Dr. Jay Richards’ lecture on global warming, as well as his remarks at Acton University.

Earlier in the day the best speeches were delivered by former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele and Michelle Malkin. Steele had some highly impressive comments on tax reform, wealth creation, and entrepreneurship.

By almost any measure, the first Right Online conference, as part of the Defending the American Dream summit in Austin, TX, has to be judged a success.

The organizers of the event weren’t sure quite what to expect. How many bloggers and new media folks would attend? On the first day the summit organizers had to rely on special support given by the hotel because initially there were not enough lunches available…there were so many more people in attendance than they had expected or even hoped.

Later in September a second Right Online summit will happen in New Jersey, followed by a national summit in Washington, DC on October 10-11.

In a key way the conservative movement is behind the curve, both in comparison with the progressive political movement and the Christian blogging community, but better late than never. While this year’s summits are the first of their kind and scope amongst political conservatism, last year the Acton Institute was a sponsor of GodblogCon, a conference for Christian bloggers and new media professionals and hobbyists. This year we’ll be supporting the fourth annual GodblogCon to be held in Las Vegas, NV on September 20-21.

The Acton Institute is an important bridge between these oft-overlapping constituencies. It’s our hope that through greater involvement with the conservative movement we can bring the importance of religious and moral formation to the forefront of that discussion, and that through our engagement with the Godbloggers we can broaden the influence and profile of religious new media. (Here’s a brief flashback from last year’s GodblogCon that gets at how these two phenomena intersect: “Giuliani and the Godbloggers.”)

As is so often the case, politics gets plenty of mainstream press coverage, while religion gets short shrift. Perhaps we can start to change that from both sides, showing how religion is an important aspect of responsible and comprehensive political coverage, and how religion itself is worthy of more and better press attention. Here’s a sample of old media coverage of this first Right Online summit:

The keynote speaker for the Right Online conference tonight was conservative columnist and political commentator Robert Novak. Talking about his latest book Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, Novak declared that if you want to know why they call him the Prince of Darkness in Washington it’s because he supports limited government, low taxes, and freedom in the economic sphere, and that’s “enough to make you the Prince of Darkness in Washington.”

Novak called Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama a “true and smart politician” for pivoting to the center in the general election campaign. Novak said that chief executive officers of leading industries come away from private meetings with Obama saying they “can live with an Obama presidency.” Novak said recent Democratic presidential candidates couldn’t count on such passive support in previous elections.

Novak also called Ronald Reagan “the only successful president in his lifetime,” and he criticized the Republican minority leadership in Congress. Novak also lavished praise on the fair tax. Novak ended his engaging speech on politics by declaring Calvin Coolidge the other successful 20th century president.

Novak also answered a large number of questions at the end of his address, much more than the usual you may find at a keynote address at a major venue like the one we had here in Austin. Novak is a Roman Catholic convert and called himself “a great believer in prayer.”

One question we didn’t get to ask Novak was how much the support of the religious left, consisting of organizational leaders like Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Brian McLaren, will be a strength to Obama’s campaign. We can get a sense of how Novak might have answered from a recent column, “McCain’s Evangelical Problem.” McCain is much more reticent to talk about faith while stumping on the campaign trail, and that certainly seems to open additional opportunities for Obama to pick up votes from young, impressionable, and starry-eyed evangelicals. Look for that demographic to be an important swing vote in November.

Update: See also, “McCain’s Lead Among Evangelicals Smaller than Bush’s in ’04.”

An excellent talk by from the Media Research Center, “Understanding and Critiquing Old Media,” opened today’s afternoon session at Austin’s Right Online summit. The speakers clarified some basics about journalism, such as the fact that typically reporters don’t write their own headlines (copy editors do) or that there is an unofficial reporter’s code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists.

A good deal of the talk revolved around consistent forms of bias found in the media, most of which are monitored closely by MRC’s watchblog NewsBusters. An archetypal form of bias by ignorance that exists in the media, often manifesting itself in bias by labeling, has to do with the mainstream coverage of religion.

The signature authority on this form of media bias is GetReligion, whose name is taken from William Schneider’s observation that the press “just doesn’t get religion.” A great example is the most recent GR post on the media’s constant politicization of statements from the pope and other Vatican officials, a theme we’ve long covered in this venue.

These sorts of online outlets represent a huge shift in the conversation about media. The word can now get out if there are errors, intentional or otherwise, in media coverage. Quotes taken out of context can be shown in their original form. Letters to the editor can be posted online whether or not the original source chooses to acknowledge them. New media is an important form of “citizen” journalism.

One question I have is whether or not citizen journalists should recognize and respect the “off the record” phenomenon that is a hallmark of professional journalism. If nothing is ever off the record now, I think there’s a dangerous possibility that such a reality will impoverish public discourse and create an environment of cynicism and opposition. There’s a reason that ability to speak “off the record” arose in the fourth estate and I don’t think we should simply cast it off as an antiquated relic without serious reflection.

One of the other key differences between old and new media is the form that authority, influence, and celebrity take in the latter. See, for instance, New York mag’s “The Microfame Game” and Vanity Fair‘s Blogopticon.

The Sam Adams Alliance hosted a session titled “Samsphere” here in Austin, Texas at the Defending the American Dream conference. After a brief biography of American Founder Samuel Adams, discussions turned to improving networking and message organization for individuals and groups committed to freedom and political liberty.

In a nutshell, the purpose of Samsphere is to network pre-existing bloggers together into single or shared networks. The Sam Adams Alliance also spent much of their discussion focusing on the importance of strengthening the grassroots aspect of community activism. The Chicago based thinktank also promoted their new web project, Blogivists.

Additional discussion was related to comparisons of conservative and libertarian online groups with the grassroots effectiveness of groups such as Daily Kos and MoveOn.org. We also had group discussions about how ideological differences play into the different organizational components of the political right and left, which led into discussions about the motivation and objectives of online activism.

By contrast with the Netroots Nation agenda, there are no sessions devoted to how faith relates to political conservatism. The absence of the faith element in this discussion is a reminder of just how well-positioned and unique the Acton Institute is within the broader community calling for limited government. During the session we were able to connect with a writer from the Reagan Coalition. Also, Erick Erickson from RedState.com dropped by and offered some helpful comments on limited government, election strategy, and organizational technique.