Archived Posts March 2010 - Page 3 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

Joseph D. Martinez, a 2008 alum of Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society program, produced a great video to introduce readers to my new book, Liberating Black Theology (now in the Acton Book Shoppe. Buy it here). Thanks, Joe!

“Liberating Black Theology” book promo from Joseph D. Martinez on Vimeo.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

It is a good thing from time to time to step back and remember just what it is that we who believe in the free society fight for each day. I stumbled across Michael Totten’s exploration of Romania – Twenty Years After the Fall of the Tyrant. With the passage of time, it is easy to forget – at least for those of us who never directly experienced it – just how suffocating and cruel the Communist dictatorships of the 20th century were.

“Communism changed our mentality,” said Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania’s Money Channel. “We are still fighting now to come back to what we were. We lost the culture of private property. We lost this sense of privacy and respecting each other’s time and respecting people as individuals, as human beings. That was the worst thing that happened to us. This is why we are struggling so much now to get back to the capitalist society, to the free market, which can run only if there is respect for private property…”

Totten details the continuing consequences of totalitarian rule in Romania, and the country’s struggle to rebuild itself. All in all, a fine reminder to all of us who experience the blessings of liberty to never take those blessings – or the systems that were built to protect and preserve them – for granted.

See also: The Architect as Totalitarian by Theodore Dalrymple

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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In many urban areas, maintaining Catholic schools and maintaining some semblance of educational choice are synonymous: the old Catholic schools represent the only alternatives to a big, clumsy, and often unsatisfactory public school district. The issue is especially poignant because the student populations served by these schools are frequently the most educationally challenging populations in the nation. Thus, proponents of school choice are dismayed at the continued shuttering of dozens of major-city Catholic schools across the country. The search for solutions—such as conversion to charter schools, highlighted in this recent story from Baltimore—continues.

A phenomenal new resource in this area is Saving America’s Urban Catholic Schools, just released by the Philanthropy Roundtable. The main purpose of the book is to guide philanthropists who want to assist, but it would be beneficial reading for anyone interested in education policy or involved in education as a teacher or administrator. It covers some of the same territory, and takes much the same perspective, as my 2009 CSTS volume, Catholic Education and the Promise of School Choice, but it delves more deeply into topics whose surface my analysis merely skimmed. Authors Stephanie Sarocki and Christopher Levenick persuasively show why this problem is urgent not only for Catholics but for all Americans, while they balance the portrayal of crisis with real-world examples of victory against long odds and concrete ideas for future improvement. Highly recommended.

LifeSiteNews.com recently asked me to comment on statements made by Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Vatican bank, about the economic effects of demographic decline in Western industrialized countries. Tedeschi told the Zenit news service that the “true cause” of the financial crisis is the low birth rate in these countries.

“Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”

“With the decline in births,” he explained, “there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world. And there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective.

“In practice the fixed costs of this economic and social structure increase. How dramatically they increase depends on how evidently unbalanced the structure of the population is and how much wealth it has. The fixed costs however increase: The costs of health increase and the social costs increase.”

This is from reporter Peter J. Smith’s article on LifeSiteNews.com:

Sirico explained that the Vatican economist’s view opposes that of population control groups, who subscribe to a different vision of economic activity: what he called a Marxist or “redistributivist” paradigm: “If there is a pie and there are more people added to the pie then there is more poverty.” But the reality, Sirico says is that “the pie is dynamic.”

“Mr. Tedeschi is saying is that: no, the human person is himself creative. Human beings are not mouths that consume, but minds that produce,” he said. Sirico added that John Paul II hit on this very point in his social encyclical Centesimus Annus, when he wrote that “Man is man’s greatest resource.”

Because human beings are also creative producers, the excess of what they produce becomes the basis for trade in the economy, and the creation of wealth, said Sirico. Contrary to population controllers obsessed with overpopulation, he noted, it is incredibly population dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong that are incredibly rich, while sparsely populated areas of the globe such as Angola are comparatively very poor.

Read “President of the Vatican Bank: Zero Population Growth Responsible for World-wide Recession” on LifeSiteNews.com

Choosing the Common Good from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I review a new statement titled Choosing the Common Good (download it here) from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. In the introductory video linked above, The Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, introduces Choosing the Common Good and discusses the key themes in Catholic Social Teaching “as a contribution to the wide-ranging debate about the values and vision that underpin our society.”

Here is the text of my commentary:

Two Cheers for the Bishops of England and Wales

What a difference 15 years can make.

Back in 1996, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a document, The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching, to address political issues facing Britain at the time. Leaving aside the incoherence that characterized much of that text, a distinctly skeptical tone about market economies pervaded the document – almost to the point of being an anti-Thatcherite screed.

The 1996 document was written with a view to informing Catholics’ consciences before Britain’s 1997 General Election. Shaping Catholic consciences is, after all, part of a Catholic bishop’s job. But it was very difficult to read the 1996 text as anything other than a less-than-subtle appeal to vote for the then-opposition Labour Party.

Fast-forward to 2010. With a General Election imminent in Britain, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued a new document, titled Choosing the Common Good. To the joy of many, it is a remarkably sound text. Characterized by a focus on principles, sobriety of expression, and avoidance of tedious policy-wonkery, the English and Welsh bishops have authored a document that repays careful reading. (more…)

Via Victor Claar (follow him on Twitter here), an op-ed in The Oracle (Henderson State University’s student paper) by Caleb Taylor, “Tiger Woods and Capitalism.”

A taste: “Contrary to what Michael Moore thinks, capitalism promotes moral and ethical behavior. In Woods’ case, it punishes poor behavior. Sponsors such as Nielsen, AT&T, Gillete and Gatorade have all either suspended or removed their endorsement deals with Tiger due to his moral mistakes.”

El alivio de la pobreza y el desarrollo económico dependen en gran medida de la creación de riqueza que proviene de la iniciativa empresarial y de negocios. Pero ni el comercio ni la libertad empresarial podrán florecer en un ambiente donde la estabilidad monetaria está ausente, el sistema bancario es débil, los derechos de propiedad carecen de protección, y el marco legal es arbitrariamente quebrantado. ¿Cuáles son los fundamentos morales y económicos de estas instituciones? ¿Cómo se pueden crear y proteger a través del tiempo?

El jueves 18 de marzo del 2010, el Acton Institute se une a la Universidad Austral y el Instituto Acton Argentina para co-patrocinar una conferencia de un día en Buenos Aires, Argentina, para examinar esas y otras preguntas en el Marriott Plaza Hotel. Académicos de renombre, expertos en políticas públicas y empresarios, abordarán el papel que desempeña la moneda, la banca, los derechos de propiedad y otras instituciones de crecimiento económico para promover la prosperidad de los países en vías de desarrollo y lo que depara el futuro para estos países. Se brindará especial atención al caso de Argentina. Esta es la segunda del ciclo de siete conferencias sobre “Pobreza, Libre Empresa y Desarrollo Humano Integral.”

Título: “Instituciones, Ética y Finanzas”
Ubicación: Marriott Plaza Hotel Buenos Aires, Florida 1005 Buenos Aires
Fecha: Jueves 18 de Marzo 2010
Hora: 8:30-14:00
Expositores:

• Dr. Roberto Bosca, Profesor Adjunto de Doctrina Social de la Iglesia, Universidad Austral
• Dr. Samuel Gregg, Director de Investigación, Acton Institute
• Dr. Peter Heslam, Director del Proyecto “Transforming Business”, Universidad de Cambridge
• Mr. Michael J. Miller, Director de Programas y Medios, Acton Institute
• Profesor Ramón Parellada, Tesorero y Miembro del Consejo Directivo Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Director Polímeros y Tecnología, S.A.
• Mr. Damian von Stauffenberg, Fundador y Presidente de MicroRate
• Dr. Gabriel Zanotti, Director Académico de Instituto Acton Argentina

(Information on the March 18 “Institutions, Ethics and Finance” conference in English here.)

The Civil Society Trust reviews Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God” (buy it here) and reflects on government compassion.

We can read in Genesis that man was created by God, in His own image. Richards expands on that in a way that struck me as particularly novel. If God is the Creator with a capital ‘C’, then being created in His image, mankind has been endowed with the ability to create as well — we are creators with a little ‘c’. And mankind’s progress through history, with all of our worldly creations, should demonstrate that. But what have we “created” via our government, in the name of compassion? Is it working?

At the end of the day, most of the programs and policies of government initiated in the name of helping people amount to rounding up resources from the private sector and redistributing them to others. And there are plenty of people who argue we need to do more of that. But if these programs and policies are in fact not working, or perhaps even making things worse, and yet we continue to do them, I would suggest that we are ignoring the original goal of helping others and instead focusing on how these programs make us feel instead.

My guess is that it is a very rare sermon that gets into these areas. That is a shame, because it flies in the face of what believers in God are taught. As Saint James wrote (James 2:14-26 NRSV), “faith without works is dead.” But is faith though repeatedly failing works alive?

Read The Costs of False Compassion on the Civil Society Trust.

Last Saturday Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group called Italian National Civil Protection, made up largely of volunteers. This is the organization that provided much of the crowd control at two of Rome’s largest public events, the World Youth Day in 2000, and the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. (I was in Rome for both events and can personally attest to the surprising order these volunteers brought. If only the same order could be seen in everyday Roman life … )

Benedict took the opportunity to remind the volunteers of their particular vocation to protect persons and their dignity and also compared their service to that of the Good Samaritan. These volunteers choose to serve when others decline out of indifference or hardness of heart.

The Holy Father then reiterated one of the central themes of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, that while the State is responsible for the provision of justice, justice is not enough to make a society fully Christian. A Christian society must not rely on the State to provide what is most essential, i.e. charity, and must go beyond the strict provision of rights and duties. Here’s the key paragraph from Saturday’s talk, translated from the Italian:

As the Gospel reminds us, love of neighbor cannot be delegated: The State and politics, even with the necessary concern for welfare, cannot substitute it. As I wrote in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.” (n. 28). This recalls and will always recall personal and voluntary commitment. Because of this, volunteers are not “stopgaps” in the social net, but persons who truly contribute to outlining the human and Christian face of society. Without volunteers, the common good and society cannot last for long, because their progress and dignity depend in large measure on those persons who do more than their strict duty.

Of course, most people assume that the State is and should be responsible, at a minimum, for public order and safety. But with his praise and gratitude for the volunteers, the Pope is not suggesting that they should supplant the state’s legitimate functions. However, these legitimate functions rarely, if ever, incorporate a ministry of love, which is essential to a humane social order. When the volunteers successfully provide order and safety for millions of visitors to Rome, they are doing so much more than their “strict duty.” Indeed, they are showing us what a true “service of love” looks like.

in-the-land2In what is another book that points to America’s cultural divide, Gina Welch decides to go undercover at the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. An atheist, Yale and University of Virginia liberal graduate from Berkeley, California, Welch declares her undercover ruse was needed to better understand evangelicals.

In the Land of Believers, Welch decides to fake conversion, become baptized in the church, immerse herself in classes, and even goes to Alaska on a mission trip to evangelize the residents of Anchorage. But an exposé of apish Christian neanderthals never emerges. What does emerge is the authentic depth to the people she writes about deeply contrasted with her counterfeit self, and to a degree a larger secular culture that lacks authenticity. The relationships that emerge for her at Thomas Road are heartwarming and sincere. Her friends and acquaintances at Thomas Road even offer to get her a job teaching at Liberty University. They are sincerely concerned with her life and well being.

Evangelicalism is widely diverse, and members of Thomas Road represent a brand of Christian fundamentalism far different than that practiced by many evangelicals. Falwell of course was a favorite whipping boy not just among the secular left, but by many evangelicals as well. This point is often unknown by those unfamiliar with evangelicalism. In my evangelical seminary, Falwell bashing was standard fare. But the Southern Baptist Church, despite theological differences one may have with that denomination, has faithfully served as a giant thorn in the side of religious pluralism and moral decay. While some protestant denominations seek to better reflect a secular world in the name of relevancy, Southern Baptists stand against this dangerous stream.

One aspect Welch touched on nicely in her account was addressing the anti-intellectual streak of some believers at Thomas Road and also questioning the effectiveness of some of the ways the Gospel was presented to non-believers. But this was of course not a book about theological debates, but more about a church community. And the book slowly devolves more and more into an inner struggle, where the author feels guiltier about the illusion she has crafted. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the hurt she will dole out when her friends and fellow members find out she is a fraud and has been aping belief to write about their lives. Adding to the compassion and sincerity of her subjects, when after a year she finally tells two of her closest church member friends she is a fake, one who is a pastor, and she is going to write a book about them, they only offer forgiveness and grace.

Welch comes out of her undercover episode as she did when she came in, as an unbeliever. She of course has a more open mind now, and is able to have friendships with evangelicals. Bridging the cultural divide is one of the stated purposes of her account.

Welch also makes a lot of sweeping generalizations about evangelicals and pokes fun at their prayer language and beliefs. There was one statement she made though that caught my attention, although she meant it somewhat derisively. It was one of the few statements I highlighted in my reading of the book when she said “Evangelicals are a little obsessed with the crucifixion.” She offers up examples about their “obsession” with the cross which includes The Passion of the Christ film and animated preaching on the crucifixion. Last week I was talking to Jordan Ballor, a colleague here at Acton, about an individual who live tweeted their abortion, and we were discussing the sadness of the situation. After a long silence Ballor said, “but this is the world that God has seen fit to redeem.” Welch even provides a quote from a young preacher who says “We are never more like Jesus when we are forgiving the unforgivable.”

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” If we ever wonder if God has abandoned us, if we wonder if God loves and adores us we only have to look to the cross of Christ. In our many dark nights of despair and anguish we are awakened with the truth that God has made us acceptable in Christ. The reconciliation of God and humanity is perhaps the most vivid and basic theme of Scripture.

While Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple is a much more entertaining account in the undercover evangelical sagas, Welch’s account has value as well. Welch befriends a little girl on her missionary trip to Alaska and even reads a salvation tract to her, albeit reluctantly. The girl professes faith and later comes up to Welch and says she is going to write about God and draw a picture of her new friend, who is Welch. This account is rife with contrast and the greatest contrast of all is Welch’s unbelief with a childlike faith that Jesus commands of us. This is well depicted when Welch writes about several children and their openness to the Gospel. While Welch’s judgment, skepticism, and unbelief is at the forefront of this account, perhaps she is unaware just how much she presents the Gospel through her many contrasts of faith and unbelief, and an emptiness that encompasses a life outside of the Triune God.