Archived Posts 2009 - Page 2 of 45 | Acton PowerBlog

NRO’s Corner published my article on Pope Benedict’s recent remarks to Brazilian bishops on liberation theology:

It went almost unnoticed, but on December 5, Benedict XVI articulated one of the most stinging rebukes of a particular theological school ever made by a pope. Addressing a visiting group of Brazilian bishops, Benedict followed some mild comments about Catholic education with some very sharp and deeply critical remarks about liberation theology and its effects upon the Catholic Church.

After stressing how certain liberation theologians drew heavily upon Marxist concepts, the pope described these ideas as “deceitful.” This is very strong language for a pope. But Benedict then underscored the damage that liberation theology did to the Catholic Church. “The more or less visible consequences,” he told the bishops, “of that approach — characterised by rebellion, division, dissent, offence and anarchy — still linger today, producing great suffering and a serious loss of vital energies in your diocesan communities.”

Today, even some of liberation theology’s most outspoken advocates freely admit that it has collapsed, including in Latin America. Once considered avant-garde, it is now generally confined to clergy and laity of a certain age who wield ever-decreasing influence within the Church. Nonetheless, Benedict XVI clearly believes it’s worth underscoring just how much harm it inflicted upon the Catholic Church.

For a start, there’s little question that liberation theology was a disaster for Catholic evangelization. There’s a saying in Latin America that sums this up: “The Church opted for the poor, and the poor opted for the Pentecostals.”

In short, while many Catholic clergy were preaching class war, many of those on whose behalf the war was supposedly being waged decided that they weren’t so interested in learning about Marx or listening to a language of hate. They simply wanted to learn about Jesus Christ and his love for all people (regardless of economic status). They found this in many evangelical communities.

A second major impact was upon the formation of Catholic clergy in parts of Latin America. Instead of being immersed in the fullness of the Catholic faith’s intellectual richness, many Catholic seminarians in the 1970s and 1980s read Marx’s Das Kapital and refused to look at such “bourgeois” literature such Augustine’s City of God or Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

This undermined the Church’s ability to witness to Christ in Latin America, not least because some clergy reduced Christ to the status of a heroic but less than divine urban guerrilla and weren’t especially interested in explaining Catholicism’s tenets to their flocks.

Then there has been the effect upon the Church’s ability to engage the new Latin American economic world that emerged as the region opened itself to markets in the 1990s. Certainly much of this liberalization was poorly executed and marred by corruption. Nonetheless, as The Economist recently reported, countries like Brazil — once liberation theology’s epicenter — are emerging as global economic players and helping millions of people out of poverty in the process. The smartest thing that Brazil’s left-wing President Lula da Silva ever did was to not dismantle most of his predecessor’s economic reforms.

Unfortunately, one legacy of liberation theology is the inability of some Catholic clergy to relate to people working in the business world. Ironically, business executives are far more likely to practice their Catholicism than many other Latin Americans. Yet liberation theology has left a residue of distrust of business leaders among some Catholic clergy — and vice versa. Distrust is no basis for engagement, let alone evangelization.

The good news is that the Church in Latin America is more than halfway along the road to recovery. Anyone who talks to younger priests and seminarians there today quickly learns that they have absorbed the devastating critiques of liberation theology produced by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 1980s. If anything, they tend to regard liberation theologians, like the ex-priest Leonardo Boff, as heretical irrelevancies.

Indeed, figures such as Boff must be dismayed that the Catholic Church has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of populist-leftists such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. As Michael Novak observed in Will It Liberate? (1986), liberation theologians were notoriously vague when it came to practical policy proposals. But if any group embodies the liberationists’ economic agenda, it is surely the populist Left, which is currently providing us with case studies of how to drive economies into the ground faster than you can say “Fidel Castro.”

As time passes, liberation theology is well on its way to being consigned to the long list of Christian heterodoxies, ranging from Arianism to Hans-Küngism. But as Benedict XVI understands, ideas matter — including incoherent and destructive ideas such as liberation theology. Until the Catholic Church addresses the legacy of this defunct ideology — to give liberation theology its proper designation — its ability to speak to the Latin America of the future will be impaired.

Blog author: mmiller
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By

With all of the blizzards, cold temperatures and the circus-like atmosphere in Copenhagen last week, it looks like people are becoming more and more skeptical of global warming—or I should say climate change.

But in times like these we have to remember that blizzards, or even historical low temperatures, are irrelevant–because it is not LOCAL warming, it is GLOBAL warming.

The only time LOCAL temperatures have any significance is when they are hotter than normal–then it becomes empirical evidence. I know it is hard to figure this out. I don’t really understand it either, but that is why we have all those people in Copenhagen to help us.

For an enjoyable reflection on the Copenhagen Meeting and the concurrent blizzards take a look at Copen-Babel written by former Acton colleague Jay Richards.

Enjoy the Snow.

As a follow-up note to my previous post, “Wealth and Fidelity, Golf and Marriage,” it’s worth exploring in some more detail the multi-billion dollar phenomenon that has been called “Tiger, Inc.” and the relationship between power in sports, wealth, and politics.

Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has found relevance in a number of contexts beyond those of its initial utterance. It is most frequently used nowadays to refer to the kind of fullness of power enjoyed by politicians, celebrities, and pop royalty, those who are or consider themselves above the law, morally and sometimes legally.

COVER ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL ELINS

COVER ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL ELINS

In its January 2010 issue, which went to print before Tiger Woods’ alleged affairs became public, Golf Digest featured a section on what Tiger Woods could teach Barack Obama (and vice versa). It makes for some painful, awkward reading at times in light of what’s happened since.

For instance, author Joe Queenan says that “Tiger never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.” Jackie Burke Jr., who shares Tiger’s permanent locker at Augusta National, similarly notes that “Tiger never answers questions recklessly, and he often pauses to consider his answers before he speaks.” Sometimes those pauses can stretch into days and weeks, apparently.

The critiques of Tiger and what he might learn from Obama sometimes read prophetically. Veteran player and commentator Judy Rankin notes that Tiger “has the ability to be even more memorable than he already is, simply by giving people the occasional personal moment.” Author Bruce McCall says Tiger needs “to be more than grudgingly civil to the vast human throngs awed to be in your presents. That adoration is what supports your empire and unimaginable wealth, so give something back.”

Religion & LibertyThe Acton Institute knows a thing or two about poor fortune in the timing of a publication. An issue of our own Religion & Liberty went to press featuring a cover interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford right before his international affair became the stuff of tabloids and gossip pages. This interview was in fact the last one in which he gave an in-depth look at his view of faith and public life before his adultery became public, and so even as painful as it might be to have this kind of thing happen as a publisher, it often does in fact serve some journalistic purpose, as a baseline for critique if nothing else.

In the case of the Tiger Woods feature in Golf Digest, it gives us a permanent snapshot of how Tiger Woods was viewed right before all of this came out, such that the nominal leader of the free world was considered in need of learning a thing (or ten) from him.

One of the comments on the previous post noted a connection between infidelity in so-called personal life and public life, citing Bill Clinton in particular. A recent SNL sketch makes this kind of connection even more apparent:

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By

A new NBER working paper promises to blow up the myth that it is primarily the wealthy that will bear the cost of taxes on carbon emissions. In “Who Pays a Price on Carbon?” Corbett A. Grainger and Charles D. Kolstad explore the possibility that “under either a cap-and-trade program that limits carbon emissions or a carbon tax that imposes an outright tax on these emissions, the poor may be among the hardest hit. Because they spend a greater share of their income on energy than higher-income families, households in the lowest fifth of the income distribution could shoulder a relative burden that is 1.4 to 4 times higher than that of households in the top fifth of the income distribution.”

One of the assumptions of the study is that “all costs are passed on to the consumer,” which seems to be appropriate given the state of things in the oil refining business, for instance. As Christopher Helman writes in Forbes, “Even though rising fuel costs and taxes can mostly be passed along, they depress demand for refining. That causes refining margins to implode.” This brings up another set assumptions in the NBER study, however, that doesn’t account for modifications in demand, worker wages, or investor returns.

The authors are also improbably sanguine about the possibility of using the government to redistribute tax revenues to the poor to offset the regressiveness of the tax: “A price on carbon could yield substantial government revenues, and careful recycling of these revenues could offset the regressive nature of a national GHG [greenhouse-gas] emissions policy.” These revenues could also form the basis for a whole new government bureaucracy, which is much more likely than “careful recycling.”

But even with all those caveats, the point that the poor are almost always disproportionately impacted by policy decisions like this is an important one, which raises moral considerations beyond the dominant paradigm surrounding the question of carbon emissions, which simply pits the the impoverished two-thirds world against the developed world.

If ever G.K. Chesterton’s old quip about heresy being “truth gone mad” was in full view, here comes a report from England whereby Fr. Tim Jones, an Anglican minister, had actually encouraged the poor to shoplift from large chains this holiday season.

… the minister’s controversial sermon at St. Lawrence Church in York has been slammed by police, the British Retail Consortium and a local MP, who all say that no matter what the circumstances, shoplifting is an offence.

Delivering his festive lesson, Father Jones told the congregation: ‘My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

‘I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

It is true, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and a long tradition of Christian social teaching that private property, while sacred, is not absolute, so that in certain, rare and exceptional circumstances those whose lives are endangered may avail themselves of the property of another. (See this section of the Summa Theologica, for example.)

What is it about Fr. Jones’ language that raises the suspicion that he is less motivated by the well being of his poor parishioners than he is by a disdain for private property, especially when it is employed successfully (i.e., becomes “big chains”)? Follow the consequences of such a disregard for the 8th Commandment: levels of shoplifting rise in chain stores, which disproportionately attract lower income shoppers; the chain stores respond by either passing on their losses to their customers (thereby making life even more difficult for them) or the retailers reduce their overhead and fire their marginal employees (made up of lower income workers).

Need I continue? Anyone who wants to support a scholarship for Rev. Jones or other clergy like him to come to Acton University in June, please contact Kara Eagle here.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 21, 2009
By

I saw the latest blockbuster Avatar last night, and the early plaudits are true: this is a visually stunning masterpiece of “hybrid” cinematography, a “full live-action shoot in combination with computer-generated characters and live environments.”

But there are other, less compelling ways, in which Avatar is a hybrid of sorts. There are literal hybrids in the Avatars themselves, the genetically-altered bodies combining both elements of Na’vi and human genes to act as bodies for the Avatar “sleep walkers.” Other commentators have noted the lack of originality in the plot. Indeed, Avatar’s narrative seems to be a combination of other films and stories, and Avatar‘s only original contribution is the setting on the planet Pandora. In one sense, you could think of Avatar as The Mission set on an alien planet and with scientists instead of Jesuits.

Another film worthy of comparison to Avatar is last year’s CGI masterpiece, WALL-E, as both tread some of the same territory, so to speak. In both films humans have laid waste to the Earth, which is no longer capable of supporting a viable ecosystem. WALL-E spends a great deal of time set on the damaged planet, but Avatar only makes vague references to the “dead” planet where there is no green, and that the humans, the sky people, have killed their mother (Mother Earth).

It’s here that Avatar‘s message stumbles the most. Whereas in WALL-E responsible stewardship of the world was set within a compelling criticism of consumerism and waste, it is emotionally powerful without being sentimental, preachy, or clichéd. Avatar misses this kind of nuance. It plays on the worst stereotypes Westerners have about native and indigenous peoples to present a naive portrayal of the Na’vi, the alien inhabitants of Pandora.

In WALL-E, when humans use up the Earth, they essentially gorge and pleasure themselves in space, passively waiting to return to home one day. In Avatar, humans maraud other innocent worlds, looking for other ecosystems to kill. Now as Bill Easterly points out, this alone shouldn’t be enough to raise the ire of conservative critics against Avatar.

There is much that rings true in the film’s depiction of human greed and disregard for those considered to be “other.” As Easterly writes in another context, “those of us of Euro-American heritage would be a lot more convincing on Individual Rights by acknowledging that we have had as much trouble applying them as anybody else. We were pioneers in applying them to our own ethnic group, but we kept handing out free passes to kill other people’s rights.” This is one of the core messages of Avatar that is right on, and pundits and commentators on all sides of the political debate should be able to see this.

So it isn’t in its critique of genodice or murder that Avatar fails, but rather in its tone, its caricature rather than prophetic depiction of the human condition (war-mongering Marines come off especially flat and unconvincing). As an indictment of a kind of space colonialism, Avatar functions well, sometimes reaching a meaningful level of authentic rebuke. As a screed against the favorite peeves of the radical environmentalists and a paean to the neo-pagan deity, however, Avatar falls flat.

Blog author: ken.larson
Friday, December 18, 2009
By

Those three words Just Sign Here are what you’re told when you sign up for a cellphone, or buy a car or take out a bank loan. And it’s what you’re told to do when you buy a house whether or not there’s a mortgage. Just the buying part involves many disclosures about the nature of the property and pages of stuff to read and acknowledge. Over the years I’ve heard more than one escrow officer admit, “if you read all that stuff you’d probably never sign it.” But most of us learn to read it all — carefully.

My own children have been “misinformed” with at least one of their cellphone providers. “Yea but,” my daughters would tell me while complaining about a bill they had received. “They said I’d get free minutes and that I could quit anytime I wanted. I didn’t think they’d be charging this much, Dad.”

“Where’s your contract,” I’d ask.

“There’s one online somewhere — I think.”

Where am I going here? Healthcare Legislation and Climate Agreements.

Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada in The Senate of The United States of America will preside in that assembly over the next several days and press the elected members who are supposed to represent the citizens of their individual states, to vote on a proposed piece of legislation — ObamaCare — that they very likely will not have read, shown Republicans in the Senate or digested in conference. They are calling the exercise “historic” and brow beating anyone who is challenging them. As I write that includes 62% of the citizens in the U.S.A. according to pollsters.

In Copenhagen an assembly of what appear to be anti-Capitalists from around the world are pressing their enablers to agree to a treaty [read “law among nations”] that will commit the “rich” to pay the governments of the “poor” money — huge sums of money — to offset effects of climate change. This is happening within the context of what seems to be a gigantic hoax recently revealed by some errant emails. The Copenhagen idiocy is having its problems due to an issue of sovereignty. Some countries don’t want people looking at the way they spend money brokered to them through places like the United Nations [think Kofi’s son and the Iraqi oil for food scam and the French diplomat who skimmed millions off the top for personal gain and remember that the majority of nations in the UN have governments that lack “a rule of law.”].

For the Republicans and most politically conservative thinkers, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell describes the situation at his web site. But I’m drawn to the more mundane remembrances of times past when my childen rushed and made a bad judgement in the mobile user they signed with.

Only in America can elected officials exhibit the same lack of common sense when reading a contract as do so many of our teenagers.

consensus_alert1Breaking news: India, China walk out of climate summit

So much for the “God moment.” Seeing as how this was our last chance and all, I think I’m going to take the afternoon off to go get my affairs in order.

Mind Boggling: How could world leaders not come to a consensus when Chin-Strap the Polar Bear and the Guardian Angels of the Climate were all in agreement?  Unity in diversity!  It was so spiritual!  The mind reels.

CONSENSUS! No, seriously, the science is settled!

LAST MINUTE MIND-BLOWINGLY AMAZING UPDATE: This new “non-binding working agreement” negotiated at the very last minute by a bunch of panicked politicians trying to save face after a complete failure of a conference is almost exactly what we needed, I bet!

DESPAIR! It looks like we’re doomed after all:

U.N. climate talks fell into crisis on Saturday after some developing nations angrily rejected a plan worked out by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of other major economies for fighting global warming…

…Countries including Venezuela, Sudan and Tuvalu said they opposed a deal spearheaded on Friday in Copenhagen by the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil at the summit. The deal would need unanimous backing to be adopted.
Opponents said the document, which sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum 2 degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial times and holds out the prospect of $100 billion (62 billion pounds) in annual aid from 2020 for developing nations, was too weak.

An acrimonious session long past midnight hit a low point when a Sudanese delegate said the plan in Africa would be like the Holocaust by causing more deadly floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.
The document “is a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that channelled six million people in Europe into furnaces,” said Sudan’s Lumumba Stanislaus Di-aping.

I suppose the silver lining here is that at least for once it’s not global warming skeptics being likened to genocidal killers. But that’s small comfort as we watch the agreement to save the world from imminent destruction fall to pieces. Such a shame.

The question: Is this Copenhagen global warming conference an environmental pilgrimage for some? Says one demonstrator: “You can call it, like, some kind of a new religion, I don’t know … ” But the guy in the polar bear costume isn’t so sure.

Blog author: tabitha.blanski
Thursday, December 17, 2009
By

My Acton commentary this week looks at As We Forgive, a moving documentary about reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. As I reflected on forgiveness in my own life, my thoughts fell on a dear friend who died very young and my feelings towards the man who took his life.

The full commentary follows:

Two and a half years ago I lost my good friend, Tim. He had just reenlisted for his second term in the Army after having already served once in Iraq. On a late summer evening, while stationed on his base in Washington, a fight broke out. Tim tried to break it up and was stabbed in the neck by a fellow solider. He died shortly afterward at the hospital. Tim was 22. I haven’t ever thought much about the young man who took his life. And if I had the opportunity to meet him, I can’t think of any reason that I would. Tim’s killer is locked behind bars for the rest of his life, and for all intents and purposes justice has been served. For me it’s easier to forget that he still lives while my friend is dead.

For many in the small African country of Rwanda, however, it’s not easy to forget about death. Just over a year ago, I traveled with the Acton Institute to Rwanda in preparation for a new project on poverty. Although we were there primarily talking to entrepreneurs about wealth and poverty, it was impossible not to have questions about the 1994 genocide. In less than 100 days, nearly one million people were murdered and tens of thousands were responsible for these deaths. Flying into the country with that knowledge, a mere 14 years later, I didn’t know what to expect. I was anxious and unsettled, the same sort of tension that I felt while visiting Tim’s body at the funeral home. The weight of death stood in stark contrast to such a vibrant culture. (more…)