Archived Posts January 2011 - Page 2 of 3 | Acton PowerBlog

An interesting report in The Economist on the rise of flashy and free spending entrepreneur “gazillionaires” in India and China and how they are perceived:

In much of India, life is getting perceptibly better each year. Wealth per person has vaulted by 150% in the past decade, from $2,000 to $5,000. Many Indians think the nation’s entrepreneurs deserve some of the credit. In Dharavi, a slum outside Mumbai, an illiterate mother called Aruna sits in her tiny one-room flat, which is home to ten people. Asked how she feels about the rich, she says: “They have worked hard. And we must work hard, too.” Her eldest daughter has a job entering data at a bank. The next one is studying diligently. The family may be near the bottom of the ladder, but it sees a way up.

But this in China:

The perception that commercial success often depends on political ties makes inequality in China more galling. In the mid-1980s Chinese incomes were more evenly distributed than India’s—hardly surprising, since China was nominally communist and India is afflicted by a caste system. But now China is less equal than India, with a Gini coefficient of 0.4 to India’s 0.37. China has 800,000 dollar millionaires, but also 400m people who live on less than $2 a day.

Radio Free Acton hits the web once again today, this time featuring an exchange between Hunter Baker, author of The End of Secularism, and Jonathan Malesic, author of Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity. Their conversation continues an exchange begun in the Controversy section of the latest issue of Acton’s Journal of Markets & Morality. Should Christians be overt about their faith when operating in the public square, or should Christian identity remain concealed in order to protect the faith from being drained of any real meaning? Baker and Malesic provide some thought-provoking perspectives on this vital question. [Ed. note: As an exclusive for PowerBlog readers, you can read the Malesic/Baker controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality here.]

Additionally, we’re pleased to bring you an interview with Rev. John Armstrong recorded after his December 1st Acton On Tap event on Ecumenism and Ideology, in which we discuss what authentic ecumenism really is, as opposed to ideology.

To listen, use the audio player below:

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Sheep and the Goats: Work and Service to Others,” I visit Lester DeKoster’s interpretation of the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. Although not many have discussed this as an “economic” parable, DeKoster’s point is that anyone who truly serves another through legitimate work, whether paid or unpaid, can be understood to be a “sheep.”

Work, for DeKoster, is “the form in which we make ourselves useful to others, and thus to God.”

I don’t discuss another point DeKoster makes in his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life–A Christian Perspective, that relates to what results from the aggregation of individuals’ work. The answer is civilization: “Work shares in weaving civilization, which is the form in which others make themselves useful to us, by providing us with the tools for doing our work well.”

DeKoster points to the chair in which you sit while you read, or any of the other myriad objects that surround you, that could only have been produced by the contributions of countless workers through the assembly line and supply chain. Joseph Sunde over at Remnant Culture has a post up today that echoes this, focusing on the example of the toaster. His poignantly asks whether this illustrates “that free trade is primarily about collaborating and sharing? Hasn’t free trade shown that it holds great power for expanding, connecting, and shaping a global community?”

Or as Kevin Schmiesing has put it, “No Man is an Economic Island.

With health care moving back to center stage in Washington, we’re publishing Dr. Donald Condit’s Acton monograph A Prescription for Health Care Reform as a free eBook readable in a variety of formats. This excellent work continues to be available for $6 (paperback) in the Acton Bookshoppe.

For your free eBook, visit Acton’s Smashwords page. The Condit book will soon be available in the Kindle store (no charge for that, either) and in other eBook retail sites. We’ll keep you updated when they become available.

Via Smashwords, you can download digital versions of the 81-page health care monograph for eBook readers, smart phones and computer screens.

The monograph was released before the passage of the Patient Protection Act in March. Dr. Condit has recently authored an update in the November 2010 issue of the Linacre Quarterly, published by the Catholic Medical Association. The medical association has graciously offered readers of the Acton PowerBlog an open link to Dr. Condit’s new article, “Health-Care Counter-Reform.”

The Jan. 5 Acton commentary was based on the Linacre article. Read “Obamacare and the Threat to Human Dignity” by Dr. Donald Condit.

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (13.2) is now available online to subscribers. This issue features a fine set of articles from Manfred Spieker, Gregorio Guitián, Joseph Burke, and Jim Skillen. It also has the usual range of book reviews, so ably overseen by the journal’s book review editor Kevin Schmiesing.

This issue also has two special features. The first is a controversy between Jonathan Malesic, assistant professor of theology at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and the author of Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity (Brazos Press, 2009), and Hunter Baker, associate dean of arts and sciences at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and the author of The End of Secularism (Crossway, 2009). In a lively and wide-ranging discussion, Malesic and Baker debate the question, “Is Some Form of Secularism the Best Foundation for Christian Engagement in Public Life?”

The other special feature in this issue is our second occasional installment of the Status Quaestionis. Conceived as a complement to our Scholia, which are original translations of early modern texts and treatises on ethics, economics, and theology, the Status Quaestionis features are intended to help us grasp in a more thorough and comprehensive way the state of the scholarly landscape with regard to the modern intersection between religion and economics. This Status Quaestionis is an original translation of a piece by the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), “General Biblical Principles and the Relevance of Concrete Mosaic Law for the Social Question Today.” This piece was written by Bavinck for the First Social Congress in Amsterdam in 1891. This congress is famous for its opening address, given by the Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper (available in translation as The Problem of Poverty). John Bolt, professor of at Calvin Theological Seminary and editor of the four volume English edition of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2003–2008), provides an extensive and insightful introduction to Bavinck’s essay and the broader context of European Christian social thought in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

This issue of the journal also marks the end of the tenure of the journal’s founding executive editor Stephen Grabill, who now is director of programs at the Acton Institute and editor emeritus of the journal. Here is an excerpt from my editorial (PDF):

Dr. Stephen Grabill’s time as editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been characterized by close editorial care and precision, a commitment to responsible scholarly expression, and innovation in terms of content and delivery. At the close of his time as executive editor, Dr. Stephen Grabill is most deserving of the “well done” said to a “good and faithful servant” of freedom and virtue (Matt. 25:31).

Dr. Grabill’s farewell editorial is also available and worth reading as a retrospective on the journal’s first thirteen years of publication (PDF).

Given the journal’s ongoing policy of distinguishing between current issues (the two latest issues) and archived issues (which are freely available), this means that issue 12.2 is now fully and freely available to the public.

For access to the two current issues, including the newly-released 13.2, I encourage you to consider subscribing as an individual as well as recommend that your institution subscribe to the Journal of Markets & Morality.

A popular citation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s justly-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is his reference to natural law and Thomas Aquinas:

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

The Witherspoon Institute has announced today its project, “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism,” which “will serve as an online resource center for students, teachers, and educated citizens to learn about the intellectual traditions of natural law and natural rights, particularly within American political and constitutional history.”

The current list of essays by contributors is expansive and impressive, and includes an essay by Acton’s own director of research Sam Gregg, “Natural Law and the Law of Nations.” Be sure to check out this resource from the Witherspoon Institute. I’m eager to see how the site develops and grows. I’m also interested in seeing who will write the currently missing essay (or set of essays) on the Reformation and natural law (including modern Protestantism and natural law). Sigmund’s essay currently covers the period, but much more needs to be said.

Currently the “Early Modern Liberal Roots of Natural Law” primary source section includes Locke, Hobbes, and Montesquieu. This is of course an important stream of natural-law thinking in the early modern era, but hardly the only one and certainly not the only one with later influence.

Additionally, to be of more scholarly use, I think the primary source collection should point toward digitally-accessible forms. I talk about this in the context of theology and economics in an editorial in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Printed Source and Digital Resource in Economics and Theology” (PDF), and point especially towards the example of the Post-Reformation Digital Library (see, for instance, the pages on Locke and Hobbes).

This is the Acton Commentary for January 12.

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations,” wrote French observer Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s. “If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.” Could this organizing spirit hold the potential to transform the nation’s health care?

With the House in Republican hands, it appears that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be at least in part modified. Undoing the most ill-considered pieces of the bill would be good, but the need for reform remains. Americans’ dissatisfaction with the existing system gave impetus to change in the first place; going back to the status quo ante is not advisable.

As is often the case, a crucial aspect of health policy reform is recognition that government policy, no matter how brilliant, cannot solve all of our problems. For example, one vital step on the path toward a healthier America is reigniting a sense of personal responsibility for health-affecting decisions. Policymakers can promote but not ensure progress toward this goal. The recent successes of some small town initiatives demonstrate how voluntary associations can play an important role.

Nevada City, Calif., resident Carole Carson created the Nevada County Meltdown to encourage and assist people in her community who wished to lose weight. Working from her own experience of the necessity of support from family and friends, Carson and fellow organizer Mike Carville set up a contest where teams competed to shed pounds.

The whole community backed the effort. Health professionals offered services such as blood pressure checks. Restaurants implemented low-calorie menus. Groups organized walks and other fitness activities. Healthy living became a common goal, its benefits extending beyond physical wellbeing. “The most important thing about it,” observed one participant, “was that it was such a fabulous community thing.”

Other towns that imitated Nevada City’s program achieved similarly edifying results. In Fossil, Ore., some weight loss contestants’ health improved so dramatically that they were able to avoid pending orthopedic surgery and discontinue insulin shots for diabetes.

The medical costs of obesity amounted to $147 billion in 2008, according to one study. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes consume 75 percent of the more than $2 trillion that Americans spend on health care. Many of these diseases, writes Dr. Donald Condit in A Prescription for Health Care Reform, are “influenced by modifiable risk factors.” Lifestyle changes that prevent or reverse such conditions are critical to reining in health care spending, not to mention improving the quality of life for those who are affected. The trick is motivating people to change.

Some government programs might help, but the more effective approach is the one taken by these communities, because it is based on a realistic understanding of human nature. “We’re social animals,” Carson says. “We have a profound impact on each other—for good or ill.”

This impact is most profound when it does not occur through compulsion of one sort or another (as government programs usually do) but when it employs a subtler array of social influences. When family members, friends, co-workers, and community leaders promote a cause or, better yet, demonstrate in their own lives the benefits of living a certain way, we are encouraged and potentially persuaded to emulate their actions. When we are compelled to do something, our natural reaction is to seek ways to circumvent requirements. When we are persuaded, we view the decision, the effort—and the accomplishment—as our own.

The experience of one man in the town of Albert Lea, Minn., confirms the range of benefits possible when a community unifies around the mission of health. After he joined a neighborhood walking team, he pulled out of depression, lost weight, and went off his diabetes medication. “It wasn’t just the walking,” a town official says. “It was the caring.”

This kind of health care reform can’t be orchestrated by policy experts in Washington. Yet it would go a long way toward solving the systemic problems that have proved so nettlesome to lawmakers, whose search for solutions usually overlooks the potential inherent in every village and neighborhood in America.

Tom Oden


In the forthcoming Winter 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with Thomas C. Oden. The interview mainly focuses on the importance and wisdom of the Church Fathers and their deep relevancy for today’s Church and culture. The content below however delves into Marxist liberation theology and the direction of Oden’s own denomination, The United Methodist Church. Some of the below portion will be available only for readers of the PowerBlog.

I’d like to add a short personal note about Tom Oden as well. His work and writings have been an immense blessing in my own life. His research was vital to my own spiritual formation in seminary and beyond. I have many friends and colleagues who would testify to the same. I still read his three-volume systematic theology as a devotion. It was a pleasure to spend time with him during this interview and his pastoral heart is every bit as big as his heart for scholarship.

— — — — — —

Thomas C. Oden is a retired theology professor at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, N.J. He is the author of numerous theological works, including the three-volume systematic theology The Word of Life, Life in the Spirit, and The Living God. Currently he is director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pa. He is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. He recently spoke with Religion & Liberty’s managing editor Ray Nothstine.

Obviously Marxist theology peaked in the 70s and 80s, to a large degree. Is liberation theology as a Marxist construct on the decline? And if so why?

Marxist praxis has been since the Gulag’s of Stalin, the Great Leap of Mao, and the poor economy and police state of Cuba. By the Berlin Wall it was intellectually caput. But theologians were late in recognizing its vulnerabilities. That is because they were far too indebted to the basic moral assumptions of modern consciousness: hedonic narcissism, absolute relativism, and naturalistic reductionism. The rapid decline of Marxist solutions was not recognized by many of its advocates, especially those in the knowledge class.

There are a number of different kinds of liberation theology, so if you’re asking about feminist liberation theology or black liberation theology, or more in a global sense of the liberation of colonized nations from Colonialism, those are all different questions.

I have a personal history of being slow to give up those illusions, but not as slow as many of my theological colleagues, still stuck in a pseudo-revolutionary dream. I was very deep into the socialist imagination until about forty years ago. I read a lot of Marx for 20 years before unmerited grace changed the direction of my life.

The Marxist vision of history is a deterministic one, an economic determinism that imagines it knows how history is going to turn out. It proved to be a very dangerous imagination. For Christians, the unfolding of universal history is guided by providence, but not so as to deny human choice. For a Marxist, that unfolding is due to an economic determinism which pits class against class. What you are trying to do in Marxism is raise the consciousness of the proletariat, in order that they will rebel against their oppressors. That basic model is easily seen analogously in most forms of liberation theology.

What I had to go through is a disillusionment of my Marxism. How did that happen? It happened by the recognition of the immense injustices created by Marxism. I’m talking about millions of people killed in Cambodia, one fourth of the population— a Marxist vision inspired in expatriate pseudo-intellectual salons in Paris.

When you actually look at the social consequences of Marxism, it is extremely hard to defend them. I found it harder and harder to defend them. The Marxist view of history is on the decline because it’s a historical failure. There are a few little pockets where it still pretends to be the future, as in Venezuela, which is mimicking Cuba. But look at Cuba. Cuba has already decided that communism doesn’t work after how many years now? Sixty sad ones. The Cubans are trying. They’re trying very hard, actually, to get their economy out of the box of a state operated system.

You are a United Methodist and have been a lifelong Methodist scholar. What do you think about the future of the United Methodist Church? I think a lot of conservative evangelicals hear negative things about the denomination as it relates to theological liberalism. But what are some positive aspects?

Many aspects are far from depressing. The liberal Protestants still have the Scriptures, their hymnody largely intact, and their confessional standards, which in my tradition are the 25 Articles of Religion and Wesley’s Standard Sermons. We still have our doctrinal standards. They are a part of our constitution. They cannot easily be tampered with.

There is obviously an awful lot wrong with our present liberal bureaucratic form of governance. Our question is really: What is there to be learned from this? I’m now working on a four volume work on John Wesley. I think the key answer is Wesley himself. Liberal churchmanship is like being a Lutheran and not having read Luther, or being a Reformed Evangelical and not having bothered to read Calvin. We have a lot of Methodists that haven’t even touched the great wisdom of Wesley. Now let’s tie in Wesley with the patristic tradition. Wesley happened to be at Oxford at a time when there was a great patristic revival going on. That means that these early Christian writings were being avidly read in Lincoln College at Oxford in their original languages. Wesley could easily read Clement of Alexandria in Greek, or Cyprian or Augustine in Latin. He brought all this wisdom with him to the evangelical revival of the 18th-century. He published a lay person’s version of the Ante-Nicene writers.

I think that most of the Methodist tradition and the Anglican tradition from which it came, and as well, I believe, the Presbyterian and Lutheran traditions, are all experiencing the same kind of amnesia toward their own roots. In each of those cases, as in the case of Luther and Calvin and Wesley, all of these were far more grounded in the ancient Eastern and Western traditions of orthodoxy than in the contemporary church. So I want to see Methodists read Wesley. I also want to see them read the ancient Christian writers.

The core of the dilemma of liberal Protestant ecclesiology lies in our clergy and the seminaries that spawned them. The laity, on the whole has remained loyal to the faith once delivered to the saints. They come and sing the hymns of the church and they listen, sometimes to bad sermons, sometimes to good sermons. But the laity’s faith hasn’t really changed. It’s the clergy’s faith that has grown weak, and after fifty years of living within the liberal seminary ethos, I charge that largely to the confusions that have occurred in the seminaries. More specifically the responsibility has been flubbed by the trustees of seminaries. The original benefactors of the seminaries would be shocked. Donor accountability is lacking. The bishops have defaulted on their major task of being the guardians of Christian doctrine. The doctrine they agreed to uphold in their ordination vows. They have created a problem that will take a long time to correct.

We do have already within the United Methodist Church, a lot of very active, significant movements giving resistance to the “church of what’s happening now.” I’m thinking of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church that began in 1993 and now has over 600,000 correspondents. It’s not something either the bishops or seminaries can ignore.

Patriarch Kirill gives an emphatic “no” in a TV interview. He points to the catastrophe of the Bolshevik Revolution and what followed. Here’s a snip from Interfax:

“And then everything was broken. Eventually with great efforts, including terror, high economic indicators were reached,” the Patriarch said explaining further collapse of the USSR with the fact that the “backbone of national life was destroyed” in years of revolution.

“Today our life is worse not because we are Orthodox, but because we ruined our country and spiritual foundation of our life two times during one century. Protestant countries live better not because they are Protestant, but because these countries have not been at war, they developed their economy staying in rather favorable conditions,” the Patriarch summed up and wished so that God “gives us reason to save our political, social stability and develop ourselves both spiritually and economically.”

More at “Patriarch Kirill disapproves of those who say Orthodoxy is a reason of Russia’s economic lag.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 13, 2011
By

Mark Hanlon of Compassion International writes about his experience related to the place of local churches in relief work. Contrary to the belief of some that relief and development groups “couldn’t rely on churches to do the work they needed to do in the third world. They claimed that the needed expertise and skill sets simply weren’t there,” Hanlon writes,

In my three decades of experience in developing nations with Compassion International, I have witnessed the opposite. In the midst of chaos and fear, it is local churches — rooted in the neighborhoods and anchored on the side streets — that are actually some of the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems available.

He goes on to relate some of the details about Compassion’s work in Haiti following the earthquake last year.

He concludes:

The faithful, hard-working, often unheralded heroes of the Haiti crisis are the ones who were there before the 7.1 earthquake and who will be there for generations after.

They are the local Christian churches — the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems you may never have heard of.

For more on the response of development and aid groups to the Haiti disaster, see “One Year Report On Transparency of Relief Groups Responding to 2010 Haiti Earthquake” from the Disaster Accountability Project.