Archived Posts November 2009 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, November 30, 2009

Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse site, reviews Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new book, The Modern Papacy, in the Nov. 28 issue of the Weekly Standard. Anderson says the book is “a significant contribution to the study of John Paul and Benedict’s thought.” Excerpt of “The Holy Seers” follows (for the complete article, a Weekly Standard subscription is required):

Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict as more or less united in the main trajectory of their dialogue with modernity. For ease in classification, this can be grouped in four domains: science, reason, faith, and revelation. While the scientific method has provided mankind with many indisputably helpful discoveries, the modern papacy argues that to embrace the instrumental, technocratic rationality at the heart of the scientific process as if it were the entirety of rationality is to narrow the range of realities accessible to rational inquiry. While the scientific approach can discover truths about empirical physical realities, it can provide little help in discussions of justice, love, and beauty–whether they be about earthly domains or transcendent ones. Only by broadening the conception of rationality beyond the empirically verifiable realm of the scientific, John Paul and Benedict argue, can man arrive at the truths necessary to secure his full flourishing. In other words, man needs to embrace science without embracing scientism.

Recovering the sapiential dimension of reason that considers the big questions regarding the meaning and destiny of human existence and the significance of human action is a key part of recapturing a more robust conception of human rationality. As Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict, a major aspect of their engagement with modernity has been to show that reason can discern objective standards of right and wrong, good and evil, as well as ascertain the existence of God and certain key aspects of his nature.

Most important of all is to see, with Benedict, that “at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.” Gregg explains that, in Benedict’s view, “agnosticism and atheism ultimately rely upon a rational affirmation that all is ultimately based upon irrationality.” But even while defending reason’s lofty vocation, John Paul and Benedict stress that being rational isn’t enough, for rationality itself points to the existence of truths that reason alone cannot grasp, truths that can only be known through God’s revelation, accepted by faith. In other words, man needs to embrace reason without embracing rationalism.

When reason concludes that there are truths about God and the universe that reason itself cannot ascertain, that man’s finite reason cannot exhaust the infinite, this could open the door to legitimizing faith in anything–and everything. Gregg is careful to point out that the modern papacy’s engagement with modernity is just as critical of theistic thinkers who attempt to ground faith’s legitimacy in what amounts to little more than blind leaps.

A few weeks ago Hunter Baker posted some thoughts on secularism and poverty, in which he wrote of the common notion that since private charity, particularly church-based care, had failed to end poverty, it seems only prudent to let the government have its chance.

Hunter points out some of the critically important elements in creating a culture of prosperity and abundance, what Micah Watson calls “cultural capital.”

But it’s worth examining in more detail the point of departure, that is, considering the relationship between the church’s approach to charity and the creation of the welfare state. Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write of this in a brief essay contained in their book, The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship, first published in 1980.

DeKoster and Berghoef argue in “The Church and the Welfare State” that “The Church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” But they also contend that the diaconal office is the key to answering the challenge posed by the welfare state: “The Church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems. IF enough deacons caught the vision!”

The church helped to bring about the welfare state in two ways. First, the Church embodied the idea of loving self-sacrifice in service of others. “The Word which the Church proclaims demands charity and justice for the poor. As this Word has permeated at least the Western world, an alerted public conscience has demanded public welfare,” write DeKoster and Berghoef. “The Church is the parent of the welfare community.”

But this “welfare community” became secularized when the Church “did not, and perhaps in some respects could not, measure up to her own ideals. Not all the starving were fed, not all of the homeless given shelter, not all of the oppressed and exploited relieved. The cries of the needy ascended to heaven. The Lord answered with the welfare state. The government undertakes to do what the Church demands and then fails to achieve by herself.”

In this sense, the welfare state is understood to be God’s preservational (thus imperfect) answer to the failed duty of the Church:

Thus the Church is, both by commission and by omission, author of the welfare state. Deacons start from here. Government has undertaken to do what conscience, tutored out of the Scriptures, demands but fails, through the Church, entirely to achieve.

In the brief essay Berghoef and DeKoster go on to outline some practical steps that can be taken to address this failing and rein in the scope of governmental responsibility. Some of these specifics need updating given what has happened in the United States over the last thirty years. But the vision of The Deacons Handbook, that the core of the answer lies in the diaconate, is a worthy and compelling insight.

Hunter will be pleased to note that among the practical advice given by Berghoef and DeKoster is that the meaning of the First Amendment needs to be reconsidered. Their advice for the deacon? “Do a study of what is so readily called ‘the separation of Church and state’.” This aligns with the argument Hunter makes in his new book, The End of Secularism.

This much remains true:

What is important, with an eye on tomorrow, is to discern what constructive relations may be developed between alert diaconates and public welfare. And it is immediately obvious that diaconates are uniquely qualified to amend what are commonly perceived as defects in the welfare system.

Check out an excerpt from the original edition of The Deacons Handbook containing the essay, “The Church and the Welfare State.” And sign up over at Christian’s Library Press to keep informed about upcoming releases in 2010, including new editions of The Deacons Handbook, The Elders Handbook, and more.

Deacons Handbook Excerpt

Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome office, was asked by Vatican Radio to comment on the debt crisis in Dubai that has been causing concern in world financial markets over the last week. To listen, use the audio player below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.



A blessed Thanksgiving to PowerBlog readers.

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Blog author: jwitt
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Got the socialism blues? Worried that a friend or maybe a teenage son or daughter may contract a nasty case of it? Marvin Olasky at World magazine recommends former Acton research fellow Jay Richards’ 2009 HarperOne book, Money Greed and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and not the Problem:

Among the myths Richards demolishes: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its real alternatives), the Piety Myth (focusing on good intentions rather than results), and the Materialist and Zero-Sum Game Myths (believing that wealth is not created but simply transferred).

Richards, one of that rare breed with a theology doctorate but an understanding of economics, also points out the errors of the Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed), the Usury Myth (that charging interest on money is immoral), and the Freeze-Frame Myth (that what’s happening now regarding population, income, natural resources, or so on, will always happen).

Want to administer some of the immunizations in delicious DVD form? Try a high-quality, narrative-driven Acton documentary that was irenic enough to air on scores of PBS stations around the country but with enough red meat to also air on Fox Business: The Call of the Entrepreneur shows why entrepreneurs and capitalism are part of the solution, and why socialism delivers the opposite of what it promises. The story of Jimmy Lai–the boy who escaped Communist China, founded a media empire, and confronted the Chinese leaders behind the Tiananmen Square Massacre–is alone worth the price of admission.

It’s ironic – and tragic – that as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s defeat in Europe, the comic-opera that is Hugo Chavez’s “21st century socialist” Venezuela is descending to new lows of absurdity. Beneath the buffoonery, however, there’s evidence that life in Venezuela is about to take a turn for the worse.

By buffoonery, I mean President Chavez’s decidedly weird statements of late. These include threatening war against Columbia, advising Venezuelans that it is “more socialist” to shower for only three minutes a day, telling his fellow citizens to eat less because “there are lots of fat people” in Venezuela, eulogizing convicted murderer Carlos the Jackal as “a revolutionary fighter”, defending Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “brother”, and wondering whether Idi Amin was so bad after all.

It’s not unusual for Latin American caudillos to say things that suggest a growing detachment from reality. The truth, however, is that for all Chavez’s eccentricities, it would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as nothing more than egomaniacal ravings. (more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Dennis O’Donovan this morning on Religion, Politics and the Culture on WLVJ in south Florida for a wide ranging, hour-long discussion on health care reform and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ role in the debate, among other topics. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.