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Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky examines the possibilities in his Townhall.com column.

On National Review Online, Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, takes a look at the new Father-General of the Society of Jesus and what’s ahead for “one of Catholicism’s most influential — and controversial — religious orders.”

The Jesuits are dealing with a steep decline in numbers and other serious problems, as Sam points out:

Many Jesuit universities have become virtually indistinguishable from your average left-wing secular academy. Some Jesuits candidly say the order’s intellectual edge began seriously fraying in the 1970s, corroded by an idolatry of the contemporary — marked particularly by an embrace of Marxist critiques that would engender bad politics and even worse theology, including efforts to water down Christ’s uniqueness in the name of that ubiquitous word: “dialogue.”

By the early 1980s, Rome had had enough. In 1981, John Paul II took the radical step of suspending the order’s normal governance. In 1983, Fr. Kolvenbach was elected Father-General. Though widely considered a good man, it’s unclear he affected any significant change in the Jesuits’ direction.

For example, three of the last four Catholic theologians publicly notified by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that their writings contradict basic Christian beliefs were Jesuits: Frs. Jon Sobrino, Roger Haight, and Jacques Dupuis. Some see this as the price of doing cutting-edge theology. Others view it as the result of simply muddled theology.

Read “End of the Jesuits?” on NRO here.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, January 24, 2008
Ronald Reagan delivers his radio commentary

When I lived in Egypt one of the Egyptian drivers for diplomats at the American Embassy in Cairo explained how people had to wait five to seven years for a phone. He proudly stated he was on the list, but poked fun at the long wait for service. Of course, he also added that you might be able to speed the process up by a few months with bribes, or as it is more affectionately knows as in Egypt, “baksheesh.”

Ronald Reagan loved to tell jokes about the former Soviet Union, especially about the stark differences between the United States and Soviet economic systems. It was a tactic he often used to take the hard edge off his criticism of the Soviets, while still drawing sharp contrasts between the competing systems. It also deftly showed his solidarity or sympathy with the Russian people.

Often to the horror of some of his top foreign policy advisers, he loved delivering the jokes directly to Mikhail Gorbachev at summit meetings. Gorbachev would politely smile or sometimes counter by adding that the joke was just a caricature of the Soviet system. But Reagan had carefully collected many of the jokes from former citizens of the Soviet Union, diplomatic officials, and some of them were passed to him by the CIA. Many of them were real jokes that had circulated inside the Soviet Union.

Many of Reagan’s jokes were a critique of the insufficiency of the Soviet system.

A Russian man goes to the official agency, puts down his money and is told that he can obtain delivery of his automobile in exactly 10 years. “Morning or afternoon,” the purchaser asks. “Ten years from now, what difference does it make?” replies the clerk. “Well,” says the car-buyer, “the plumber’s coming in the morning.”

Another joke Reagan liked to deliver summed up his thoughts well. Two Russians are walking down the street, and one says, “Comrade, have we reached the highest state of communism?” “Oh, no,” the other replies. “I think things are going to get a lot worse.” (more…)

Add Colorado to the list of state governments sharpening the points of the already thorny problem of church and state. Catholic News Agency reports on a kerfuffle between Archbishop Charles Chaput (on behalf of Catholic Charities of Colorado) and the state’s legislature over a pending bill that would restrict religious organizations’ ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring. (The regulation applies, of course, to groups that take government funds.) In other words, a non-profit such as Catholic Charities would not be permitted to make adherence to the Catholic faith a qualification necessary to be a manager, even a director, in the organization. Obviously this is a cause for concern for an institution claiming to have a distinctly Catholic identity.

There are at least a couple interesting angles to this story. First, this is yet another example of the spread of a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of church-state separation in the American context. Place blame where you like: I choose the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson v. Board of Education, which burdened the legal system with the unfortunate phrase “high wall of separation.” Creative and mendacious judges notwithstanding, the First Amendment does not prohibit any and every relationship between churches and governments, especially state governments, and including funding that has as its purpose social programs rather than church functions (as in the case of Catholic Charities). We went through this whole thing when the current president proposed his faith-based initiative, but evidently not everybody attained clarity on the issue.

Second—also a throwback to the faith-based initiative debate—there is the related but distinct question of whether it is wise, helpful, and ultimately beneficial to all parties to have state funds funneled through religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. The question has been raised with specific reference to Catholic Charities USA by, among others, Acton’s Fr. Sirico, going back at least to the mid-1990s. More recently, the issue has been forced by, for example, California’s 2004 attack on Catholic Charities over the provision of birth control in employees’ health insurance, Massachusetts’ mandate on adoption by gay couples, and now this. To their credit, the pertinent Catholic authorities have usually refused to compromise in these cases.

To be clear, I think the Colorado legislature is mistaken and this and other similar assaults on the prerogatives of Catholic (or any other religious) institutions are unjust and unconstitutional. Yet it may be time once again to make the proposal, which would solve the problem and which will doubtless be categorically rejected by Catholic leaders and government officials alike: pull back the reach of the state’s provision of social assistance and let private donations fund Catholic Charities and all such charitable groups.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Related to John’s post about “natural” capitalism (and as I previously promised in the context of the “new” evangelicalism), I’d like to point to this summary of the contemporary situation from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, speaking of a left/right political divide:

This bifurcation is itself an important clue to the central characteristics of modern societies and one which may enable us to avoid being deceived by their own internal political debates. Those debates are often staged in terms of a supposed opposition between individualism and collectivism, each appearing in a variety of doctrinal forms. On the one side there appear the self-defined protagonists of individual liberty, on the other the self-defined protagonists of planning and regulation, of the goods which are available through bureaucratic organization. But in fact what is crucial is that on which the contending parties agree, namely that there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely so that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals. Given this deep cultural agreement, it is unsurprising that the politics of modern societies oscillate between a freedom which is nothing but a lack of regulation of individual behavior and forms of collectivist control designed only to limit the anarchy of self-interest. The consequences of a victory by one side or the other are often of the highest immediate importance; but, as Solzhenitzyn has understood so well, both ways of life are in the long run intolerable. Thus the society in which we live is one in which bureaucracy and individualism are partners as well as antagonists. And it is the cultural climate of this bureaucratic individualism that the emotivist self is naturally at home.

There has been a lot of confusion over Mike Huckabee’s invocation of the term “vertical politics,” but I think it is one attempt (perhaps futile) to come to terms with this feature of modern political life. The fact that the chattering classes exist in a two-dimensional realm explains why they have trouble understanding such attempts at transcending a binary political continuum. Such attempts at transcendence seem to me to be necessary given a view that holds to a hierarchy of moral goods (perhaps a minority view, nowadays).

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Over at the OrthodoxNet.org blog, editor Chris Banescu had an entertaining exchange in the comment boxes with a writer who asserted that “capitalism can be just as infected with materialism and the concomitant need to tyrannize as communism.”

Here is Chris’ response:

Capitalism is really not an ideology. It simply describes reality, like mathematics and economics describe reality. It’s a word that explains how free human beings interact voluntarily with one another to exchange value and how they invest the excess of the fruits of their labors to produce more or gain more value. It is value and morally neutral.

You are positing your argument from the Marxist and leftist ideological point of view that made up this bogeyman they called “capitalism” as if it was some alien force dreamed up by rich to oppress the poor. That is a lie. You should know better than that.

On the other hand you are right that materialism is a moral failure, but that is the fault of the moral choice of individuals and groups, not the fault of capitalism. That’s like saying that it’s the fault of mathematics when someone does a wrong addition or multiplication, or the fault of accounting when someone embezzles money from their employer and writes down the incorrect cash register total.

When man deposits his money in a bank and requires interest payments, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys food, clothing, furniture, medicine, etc.. from someone who produced it, he is practicing capitalism!

When he expects to be paid a fair salary for the work that he’s doing, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any retirement or pension fund, he is practicing capitalism!

When he buys property and hopes value will increase, he is practicing capitalism!

When he lends money to someone else and wants interest in return, he is practicing capitalism!

When he invents something new and unique and wants to sell it to someone else for a profit, he is practicing capitalism!

When he is the beneficiary of any government program providing social assistance, he directly benefits from others who practiced capitalism and created the profits the gov’t can now use and distribute to those in need!

When Churches and Synagogues get donations from people who first had to work and earn it, they are the beneficiaries of capitalism.

Even communists and socialists rely on capitalism to actually produce anything of value and generate the value and returns that fund and fuel their governments.

This week, January 18-25, is the worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (HT). The week is “encouragement of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.”

To mark the end of the week, the WCC’s general secretary Samuel Kobia and Pope Benedict XVI “will meet in Rome on 25 January, at a ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The WCC said in a statement on 21 January that Kobia will meet the Pope in a private audience along with members of the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC, during a yearly working group meeting in Rome from 21-26 January.”

For Protestants, the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century ostensibly held the greatest promise for promoting unity among the diversity of Protestant confessions and denominations. But the social activist impulse in the ecumenical movement has not only put off many theological traditionalists, it has undermined and poisoned the prospects for ecumenical organizations to make real progress. Paul Ramsey’s criticism of this impulse in the ecumenical movement is as salient today as it was forty years ago (Who Speaks for the Church? Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967). I want to pass along the observations of two theologians on the relationship between theological “conservatives” and the ecumenical movement.

In 1978, James Gustafson observed, quite rightly I think, that “the situation of Protestant churches with regard to moral teachings is only a little short of chaos.” Thirty years later Protestantism has moved well past chaos to complete anarchy. And so what Gustafson observed at the time is even more true today: “there is an unspoken longing in Protestant church bodies, and Protestant-dominated ecumenical bodies, for greater authority for moral teachings.”

Avery Dulles, professor of theology at Fordham University, wrote in the early 1990s that “the churches that have held most steadfastly to the deposit of biblical and patristic faith, and those that have best resisted the allurements of modernity, may have most to offer to an age that is surfeited with the lax and the ephemeral.”

Unfortunately those who may have the most to offer are those who are the least welcome at ecumenical gatherings. The time has come for the ecumenical movement (the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches) to place their emphasis on real and substantive representation of differing viewpoints among their constituency on a host of issues.

There should be room in the ecumenical movement for those who have “held the most steadfastly to the deposit of biblical and patristic faith.” The ecumenical movement would do much to reduce the alienation of such folks if it were more circumspect about offering up concrete political and thinly-disguised ideological policy proposals under the rubric of representing the united and universal church.

Prayer is a much better place than public policy both to start and to finish ecumenical dialogue. In that spirit, let us remember the prayer of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that all of us “may be one” together not on our own terms but only in him.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, January 21, 2008

It appears the citizens of an anti-democratic China have stood up to government authorities who are suggesting smoke free restaurants in preparation for this year’s Summer Olympics. The Beijing Disease Control and Prevention Center urged restaurants in the Chinese capital to completely ban smoking on their premises. While the smoking ban is only a suggestion, the article declares not a single restaurant has taken up the suggestion in the city of Beijing.

Even though the United States has fewer smokers by far, maybe we can send them some of our own big government anti-smoking officials to assist them in banning smoking in restaurants and bars. After all, they have been quite successful in our own country of squashing the rights of proprietors to make their own decisions about their business.

It looks like the first mistake of the Chinese government officials was in offering a mere suggestion to city eateries. The government’s tactic clearly lacked language that exudes a self-righteous and a morally superior tone. Language that assumes to know what is best for our own interest, over the interest of businesses owners to choose what is appropriate for their customers. Chinese bureaucrats have much to learn from freedom squelchers in our own country.

The attempt to diminish smoking in Beijing facilities is part of a larger public relations effort to spruce up the Chinese image across the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to say much for the current state of Western values when the Chinese government feels smoking is the biggest negative image maker in a country marked with notorious human rights abuses.

Whatever your personal opinion about smoking in public, I’ve always felt business owners should be able to make up their own rules about smoking in their facility. Apparently even the authoritarian government in China agrees, because after all, it was only a suggestion.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, January 21, 2008
St. Maximos the Confessor

Today the Orthodox Church remembers St. Maximos the Confessor, the great saint who — virtually alone — stood against the Monothelite heresy and its powerful allies in the Church and in the Byzantine Empire. The importance of St. Maximos (580-662) also is built on his work in the Philokalia, the collection of texts written between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Eastern Christian tradition.

Here is St. Maximos on truth (Third Century, 32):

Because it transcends all things, truth admits of no plurality, and reveals itself as single and unique. It embraces the spiritual potentialities of all that is intellective and intelligible, since it transcends both intellective and intelligible beings; and by an infinite power it encompasses both the ultimate origin and the ultimate consummation of created beings and draws the entire activity of each to itself. On some it bestows lucid spiritual knowledge of the grace they have lost, and to other it grants, through an indescribable mode of perception and by means of participation, clear understanding of the goodness for which they long.

On “divine power” (Third Century, 12):

Providence has implanted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through the working of divine power. This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by virtue and not by grace.

The editors of the Philokalia note that when St. Maximos “opposed Monothelitism, this was not because of some technicality, but because such a view subverted the understanding of the full reality of man’s salvation and deification in Christ. The Monotheletes wished to reconcile the supporters of the Council of Chalcedon (451), who ascribed two natures to the incarnate Christ, with the Monophysites, who believed that He has only one nature; and so they proposed as a compromise the theory that Christ has two natures, the one divine and the other human, and but only a single will. Against this St. Maximos maintained that human nature without a human will is an unreal abstraction: if Christ does not have a human will as well as a divine will, He is not truly man; and if He is not truly man, the Christian message of salvation is rendered void.”

Father Alexander Mileant describes the saint’s courageous stand against this heresy:

The heretics often went from urging and appealing Maximos, to threatening, abusing and beating him. Venerable Maximos was sent into exile several times and called back to Constantinople each time. On one occasion, St. Maximos was called back, and the imperial grandees, Troilus and Sergius, subjected him yet again to interrogation. They began to accuse St. Maximos of pride for esteeming himself as the only Orthodox who would be saved and for considering all others to be heretics who would perish. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 21, 2008

In the prefatory address to King Francis in Calvin’s 1535 edition of the Institutes, Calvin cites Hilary of Poitiers approvingly:

Indeed, Hilary considered it a great vice in his day that, being occupied with foolish reverence for the episcopal dignity, men did not realize what a deadly hydra lurked under such a mask. For he speaks in this way: “One thing I admonish you, beware of Antichrist. It is wrong that a love of walls has seized you; wrong that you venerate the church of God in roofs and buildings; wrong that beneath these you introduce the name of peace. Is there any doubt that Antichrist will have his seat in them? To my mind, mountains, woods, lakes, prisons, and chasms are safer. For, either abiding in or cast into them, the prophets prophesied.”

Augustine too had railed against the emphasis on station and authority rather than service, as he writes that “a bishop who takes delight in ruling rather than in doing good is no true bishop” (City of God, 19.19).

But lest you think that Calvin (or Hilary or Augustine, for that matter), were the sort to emphasize works at the expense of doctrine, consider this description of the relationship between doctrine and love from Calvin: “We have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But it must enter our heart and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us” (Institutes III.vi.4).