Archived Posts January 2009 » Page 2 of 3 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, January 16, 2009

The Acton Institute released a new short video to mark Religious Freedom Day. The proclamation from President George W. Bush points to religious freedom as a fundamental right of Americans and, indeed, people of faith all over the world.

Religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. On Religious Freedom Day, we recognize the importance of the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. We also celebrate the first liberties enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which guarantee the free exercise of religion for all Americans and prohibit an establishment of religion.

Our Nation was founded by people seeking haven from religious persecution, and the religious liberty they found here remains one of this land’s greatest blessings. As Americans, we believe that all people have inherent dignity and worth. Though we may profess different creeds and worship in different manners and places, we respect each other’s humanity and expression of faith. People with diverse views can practice their faiths here while living together in peace and harmony, carrying on our Nation’s noble tradition of religious freedom.

The United States also stands with religious dissidents and believers from around the globe who practice their faith peacefully. Freedom is not a grant of government or a right for Americans alone; it is the birthright of every man, woman, and child throughout the world. No human freedom is more fundamental than the right to worship in accordance with one’s conscience.

More on religious freedom from the Acton Institute:

China’s March Against Religious Freedom. By Ray Nothstine
A Patriarch in Dire Straits. By John Couretas
Review of “Catholicism and Religious Freedom: Contemporary Reflections on Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.” By Marc D. Guerra
Turkey: Islam’s Bridge to Religious and Economic Liberty? Interview with Mustafa Akyol
Review of “The American Myth of Religious Freedom.” By Marc D. Guerra
“The Birth of Freedom” official site for documentary trailer and added features.

New from the Heritage Foundation:

“Religious Liberty in America: An Idea Worth Sharing Through Public Diplomacy.” By Jennifer A. Marshall
“Religious Freedom Day: A Timely Reminder.” By Ryan Messmore

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 15, 2009

It’s usually good to steer clear of apocalyptic predictions of any sort, but as temperatures struggle to break the 10 degrees fahrenheit mark under full sun here in the Great Lakes region, talk of a “demographic winter” feels more compelling than warnings of global warming.

More seriously, the release of a new film by that name is the occasion for Jenny Roback Morse’s reflection on the economics of population. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field and I am skeptical of any argument simplistically connecting population growth (or decline) with economic growth (or decline). But I am convinced that something as fundamental as demography must play a significant role in economic trends, and it does seem that, in general, economists and policymakers alike have neglected or at least failed to appreciate the importance of the issue. (For a counterexample, see Oskari Juurikkala’s analysis of pending pension crises: Pensions, Population, and Prosperity.)

It is hard to see how strong economic growth can be sustained in the face of a declining population: it’s just asking too much of technological advance and productivity gains.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nathan Hale has long been enshrined as a patriotic American icon for his last words before his hanging by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” M. William Phelps, who is the author of the new book The Life and Death of America’s First Spy: Nathan Hale, believes Hale never uttered those exact words. But in Phelps’s view, that wouldn’t in any way take away from the significance and importance of Hale’s legacy. One of the defining projects of any Hale biographer would be to make an attempt at separating the folk-lore from reality, and Phelps does a fine job in this account.

Phelps also focuses on how defining Hale’s Christian faith was in his brief life asserting “even at a young age, he put Christian values before all else.” Phelps describes Hale as a man who enjoyed his scholarly pursuits and friendships at Yale. The picture that is drawn of Hale is a young man who is committed to his faith, to his family, and serving others. In fact, after his graduation from Yale he went on to serve as a teacher in order to better prepare young minds for the world. One of the many moving accounts of Phelps’s book is the wonderful things people say about Hale as a teacher, as a Christian, and as a man of character. An acquaintance noted, “His capacity as a teacher, and the mildness of his mode of instruction, was highly appreciated by Parents & Pupils; his appearance, manners, & temper secured the purest affections of those to whom he was known.” Phelps also makes note of how he impressed people with his ability to express and explain the importance of liberty, and the oppression of the English Crown. His words were magnified even more because he chose them carefully and spoke from the heart.

Hale decided to take a leave of absence from teaching to join Washington’s Army. He was commissioned a lieutenant, and he wrote to his father to say, “A sense of duty urged me to sacrifice everything for my country.” Hale’s father already had five of his eight sons taking up arms against the British. Hale distinguished himself on the battlefield just as he did as a teacher by being focused on sacrifice, service, and his commitment to being a professional officer.

With Washington’s Army in New York, more information was needed about the British troops in the area. Hale enthusiastically volunteered to go undercover to obtain the necessary information. Fellow officers tried to talk him out of it declaring the mission a “death sentence,” and declared that spying was unbecoming of the character of an army officer. Phelps notes:

I.W. Stuart described a spy as a ‘companion of darkness.’ There was no way of dressing the job up to appear less dishonest than it was. ‘If he moved in the light,’ Stuart wrote, ‘it is behind walls, in the shadow of trees, in the loneliness of clefts, under the cover of hills . . . skulking with the owl, the mole, or the Indian.’ One of the problems Nathan faced as a spy was that, on his best day, Nathan Hale was none of those. He embodied the spirit of that compassionate man Asher Wright described: the one who knelt by the bedside of a fellow, a devoted Christian who prayed for a soldier dying next to him in the marsh. He was not an impostor, an actor. However, Nathan’s commitment to the cause overrode any of the hazards. He had made a decision and saw it as his duty as an American soldier to follow through with it.

Phelps in his account also reinforces the fact that a well educated man was needed for the mission in order to procure the proper sketches and notes for General Washington. Hale went behind enemy lines disguised as a Dutch school teacher in farm clothes.

Phelps tries to put to rest the often cited account that Hale was spotted and turned in by a loyalist cousin named Samuel Hale, arguing instead new evidence favors that he was tricked into admitting his spying by a ruthless and savvier British Colonel, named Robert Rogers. In any event, on his way back to the American line, Hale was caught and disclosed the details of his mission and was sentenced to death by hanging the next morning for espionage. Hale was refused the presence of a chaplain and a bible before execution, which he had asked to be granted to him. Several British accounts testify to the immense courage Hale displayed and faced even with the certainty of his earthly demise. He warned the onlookers “to be prepared to meet death in whatever shape it may appear.” A captain in the Continental Army, Hale was only twenty-one when he was executed. Phelps declared of Hale:

Nathan accepted his sentence. He stood proudly, head tilted skyward, posture firm, hands tied behind his back. Then, in a phrase that has been misquoted throughout the centuries and turned into a slogan for patriotism, he said, ‘I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.’ This is perhaps the most often misremembered moment in the Nathan Hale story: What did he say moments before he was executed? The line attributed to him – ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’ – is only a paraphrase of what Nathan actually said, which was reported in the Independent Chronicle on May 17, 1781, as part of an article many believed William Hull narrated to the reporter. But contemporary scholars and historians have said the apocryphal quote was derived from the popular Revolutionary War play Cato. This poetic line fit with the heroism being created around Nathan’s legacy at the time it became popular decades after his death. His peers wanted him to be remembered not as a failed spy, but as a hero who spoke with patriotic self-worth at the moment of his death. In contrast, the Essex Journal, on February 2, 1777, reported Nathan’s final words as ‘You are shedding the blood of the innocent. If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down, if called to do it, in defence of my injured, bleeding country.’

Hale was left to hang for three days, then cut down and buried in a shallow unmarked grave somewhere “near present-day Third Avenue, between Forty-sixth and Sixty-sixth streets,” according to Phelps. His body was never recovered.

Phelps has crafted a story that helps to make Hale’s life remarkable outside of what he is most assuredly known for, his heroic death. His life confidently testifies to devotion to his Savior first, his country, and liberty. Phelps movingly concludes his biography by asserting:

When the British strung Nathan Hale up and hanged him, they did so to end his influence on the American effort. And yet, at the moment Nathan died on the end of that rope, the British gave birth to a national icon of liberty and patriotism. Nathan was, during his life, a captain in the American Continental Army who was willing to risk everything for the greater good of his country, a solider who was certainly, ill-prepared as a spy, but had a heart that led him to fulfill his duty. Sadly, death made him a martyr, a hero, an American solider to – rightly so – celebrate and honor. Yet he was – and could have been – all those things in life, too.

Acton’s Sam Gregg on Public Discourse:

At the level of government policy, a prominent instance of moral hazard was what some call the “Greenspan doctrine” of 2002. This involved the U.S. Federal Reserve stating that, while it was powerless to prevent the emergence of asset bubbles (such as the dot-com and housing booms), the Federal Reserve would do everything that it could to soften the effects of an imploding bubble. This included providing investors with the option of selling their depreciated assets to the Federal Reserve at a time of crisis. Not surprisingly, the result was a surge in excessive risk-taking by investors confident that, if everything did not proceed as planned, they could recoup their losses at someone else’s expense. In his recent book, Fixing Global Finance (2008), the financial journalist Martin Wolf underlines “the distortions introduced by government guarantees to risk-taking.” These, he writes, “create an overwhelming incentive to privatize gains and socialize losses.”

Read more >>>

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online for current subscribers. This issue features the timely and challenging article, “Subprime Lending and Social Justice: A Biblical Perspective,” by William C. Wood, professor of economics at James Madison University and director of JMU’s Center for Economic Education. Prof. Wood notes that within the context of Christ’s call to love our enemies as well as our neighbors, “Christians cannot be complacent about credit markets even if they appear to be economically efficient as voluntary transactions.”

The concern for the poor and love of others that Wood observes particularly in the New Testament is also a major theme of the new Scholia translation. Wolfgang Musculus, a second-generation reformer and major biblical commentator of the early modern era, penned his commentary on the book of Psalms in 1551. Here for the first time is Musculus’ full commentary on Psalm 15 translated into English in conjunction with the exegetically-related appendices on oaths and usury. With regard to the question of usury, in his introduction to the Scholia Jordan J. Ballor writes, “Musculus’ reflections on usury in Psalm 15 are significant because they represent a stream of Protestant thought that largely has been ignored by economic historians.” Musculus himself contends that lending at profit to the least among us “is not only condemned as inhuman by the laws of Christ but also by the laws of nature. For it is plainly inhuman to pursue a profit from the sweat and calamities of the poor.”

Also in this issue:

The editorial by executive editor Stephen Grabill, “Hope Amid Financial Calamity,” and article abstracts of current issues are freely available to nonsubscribers (you can sign up for a subscription here, including the very affordable electronic-only access option). And as per our “moving wall” policy of two issues, the most recent publicly-available archived issue is volume 10, number 2 (Fall 2007).

If you are a student or a faculty member at an institution of higher learning, please take the time to recommend that your library subscribe to our journal. If you are in interested layperson or independent scholar, please consider subscribing yourself.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In this weeks’ Acton Commentary, Acton Adjunct Scholar William R. Luckey adopts Hayek’s use of the Greek terms “cosmos” and “taxis” to explain why economic life is not something that can be controlled with ever more laws, regulations and quick fixes. “Society and the market conform to the cosmos rather than the taxis,” he writes. “Both are self-generating, a function of billions of interactions between thinking human beings all over the globe.”

Read the commentary at Acton’s website and share your comments below.

Blog author: eschansberg
posted by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A friend persisted in asking me to read The Shack. Although it has been a “#1 New York Times Bestseller”, it came on the radar when I was in a busy season, so I’m not sure I would have read it or even noticed it– without his encouragement.

I’m really glad I read it. Beyond enhancing my “cultural relevancy” (LOL!), The Shack was thought-provoking. Although I’m not sure I agree with everything in it– especially where one must speculate a good bit to draw inferences– I’m a wheat & chaff guy. And for whatever chaff Young delivers, he brings a lot of wheat to the table as well.

Young’s book is well-crafted and an easy read. On occasion, the conversations come off as stilted, but that’s difficult to avoid in a book so dominated by dialogue. And the book might not be easy to handle emotionally or theologically for some people– an important point to which I’ll return shortly.

In a nutshell, comparing it to some other relatively famous books, I’d say it’s:

1.) 50% The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis;
2.) 30% The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee or The Saving Life of Christ by Ian Thomas; and
3.) 20% Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.

1.) The Shack is a cousin of Lewis’ book on Heaven and Hell in that it speculates on biblical topics that are vital but not clearly delineated in the Scriptures…

And like Lewis, Young works (effectively) to give himself wiggle room within his artistic portrayal. (Young uses basic literary devices at the beginning and the end of the book.) This is absolutely key because it indicates the speculative nature of his work– and it signals that Young does not take himself or the details of his picture too seriously.

2.) The Shack points to the importance of the “Spirit-filled life” within “sanctification”. I benefited tremendously from more traditional, straight-forward works like Nee and Thomas. But Young is trying to communicate some of the same principles through narrative/fiction.

This is both vital and vastly under-sold within the Church. Too often, people try to “live out the Chistian life” in their own power– “the flesh”. The result is sub-optimal in terms of outcomes, motives, perseverance, energy, and so on. But it isn’t meant to be that way. Christ himself said that it was for our own good that He would leave the Earth– so that the Spirit would come to empower believers to live that life through us (Jn 14:26, 16:7)….

3.) Young’s work is like Osteen’s in that it can be misread by some– and is, at the same time, especially relevant for certain audiences. I’ve already argued this in my review of Osteen’s book. I would recommend both books to most people who have been “wounded” by circumstances, a church, or the Church– especially if they can read it alongside a mature believer.

That said, the book could easily be misunderstood and misapplied by those who tend to read things (too) literally. Despite the ample praise the book has received, I think that’s the reason for the bulk of the criticism launched at it….

Derek Keefe provides a nice overview of the debate on the Christianity Today blog….

Among other things, this growing backlash broaches important questions about the proper relationship between art, theology, and the Church for evangelicals and their close kin….Switching directions, we must also ask what it means for Christian traditions and communities to be faithful to artists and their craft. This, too, is a theological question: How does the Church show good faith toward those sub-creators in God’s human economy whose very creative inclinations are evidence that they bear the image of a God who delights in creating?…My hunch is that we probably see a failure to keep faith on both sides here, and that it would be a good thing for all of God’s Church to discuss the when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of our mutual infidelities.

In a word, I’d recommend The Shack to those who are mature in their faith, those who have seen Christianity as duty and religion, those who are not prone to take things to literally/seriously, those who have endured profound pain and disappointment, and those who have been “burned by the church”.

In any case, may God use The Shack as a blessing to those who read it.

For the full review, click here.

I’ve been meaning to do an in-depth post examining the various troubles facing the recycling industry. One day I’ll get to it. For now, though, I’ll settle for the rather snarky observation that some newspapers are finally worth the paper they’re printed on.

That’s right, the value of a ton of recycled mixed paper is exactly zero right now. There are those who argue that the economics of recycling are still solid, even though the demand for recycled commodities has sharply declined in recent months.

That may well be true, but now more than ever some discernment is needed. As Christians concerned about proper stewardship of the environment, we need to use our minds as well as our hearts and test the spirits, so to speak.

The right answer to the drop in the value of recycled commodities doesn’t seem to be an uncritical spending spree. That is, we shouldn’t buy flatscreen TVs and other electronics from China just in order to give the recycling industry a boost. Recycling qua recycling isn’t all its cracked up to be. And if there’s less demand for recycled commodities, that in part means that people are reducing (and even re-using). Remember the “three Rs”? Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

But continued recycling might make sense (and dollars) in other areas (metals, for instance, are perhaps the most valuable recycled commodities, with a nearly infinite capacity for re-purposing). Not all recyclable commodities are (re)created alike.

When the industry doesn’t need to be supported by taxpayer money and the items are valuable enough to have someone come and collect them (rather than me having to pay in one form or another to have them recycled), then I’ll be a true believer.

And speaking of unintended consequences, just how much electronics waste is the mandated switch to digital TV in the United States going to create?

Unemployment hit 7.2% in December, the highest since January 1993– as the economy was recovering from the pseudo-recession of 1991-1992.

In November 1982, the unemployment rate was 10.8%.

Since the “natural rate of unemployment”– the part of unemployment you can’t get rid of (at least without severe long-term consequences)– is generally thought to be 4.0-4.5%.

So, today’s unemployment rate is 2.7-3.2% higher than the natural rate– less than half of the unemployment above the natural rate in 1982 (6.0-6.3%).

And of course, we’re nowhere near the unemployment of the Great Depression when the rate was in double-digits for more than a decade, including 19% in 1939– the 6th year of the (wildly over-rated) “New Deal”.

After finals, I cranked through some books! Among those, one of G.K. Chesterton’s fictional works, The Flying Inn.

Chesterton was a prolific author. He’s well-known in some circles for his fictional work, particularly his “Father Brown” mystery series. (I haven’t tried those yet.) In this realm, I had read (and enjoyed) the classic The Man Who Was Thursday.

His non-fiction is oft-quoted but rarely read (like Dorothy Sayers and to a lesser extent, C.S. Lewis). That’s a shame, because it is a real pleasure to read. (It is a bit challenging– think Lewis’ thicker stuff.) He’s a gifted writer with a sharp pen and wit for the ideas he’s challenging and inspirational in the things he describes. In that arena, I have read Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man, and most recently, an edited volume of his writings on family.

The Flying Inn was an easy read and a fun romp. Along the road– and the travels of the primary characters– Chesterton takes a number of funny/serious pokes at prohibition, legalism, bureaucracy, power vs. authority, the limits of law, class-based hypocrisy on entertainment and “art”, “progressivism”, Islam, Nietzsche, political correctness, “higher biblical criticism”, and pompous individuals….

For excerpts of interest from TFI itself and excerpts from a review of TFI, check out the longer blog entry on SchansBlog