Archived Posts October 2011 - Page 5 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Thursday, October 20, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be honored with the 2011 Faith & Freedom Award in Grand Rapids. The award will be accepted by former Thatcher adviser John O’Sullivan at Acton’s 21st Annual Dinner. O’Sullivan is currently vice president and executive editor Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Still a close friend of Thatcher, O’Sullivan defined the essence of ‘Thatcherism:’

Thatcherism is a combination of economic liberty, traditional conservative and Christian values, British patriotism, and a strong attachment to the United States and other like-minded countries in the English speaking world. In her intellectual life – her occasional lectures, her reading, her participation in seminars – she has been extremely consistent in her attachment to these ideas.

Religion & Liberty interviewed Thatcher in 1992. For a closer look at her special friendship with President Ronald Reagan, take a look at my review of Nicholas Wapshott’s Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage published in 2008.

“The Iron Lady” title was bestowed upon her upon by the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star in 1976 because of her piercing denouncement of communism. Thatcher, who of course loved it, allowed the moniker to stick. Below is a superb video of Thatcher sweeping away the socialist state.

Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg tackles the question of religious liberty in Islamic states this morning, over at The American Spectator. In a piece titled “The Arab Spring’s Forgotten Freedom,” Gregg describes the tensions between Christians seeking religious freedom in the Middle East and the Islamic states they inhabit, and then looks hopefully to the source of a resolution.

For at least one group of Middle-Easterners, the Arab Spring is turning out to be a decidedly wintery affair. And if confirmation was ever needed, just consider the escalation of naked violence against Christians throughout the region. The recent instance of Egyptian army vehicles crushing and killing Coptic Christians protesting against a church burning was merely one of numerous incidents that must make Middle-Eastern Christians wonder about their future under the emerging new regimes.

These trends appear to confirm that despite all the current freedom-and-democracy talk, much of the Islamic world continues to suffer from one particularly severe blind spot when it comes to human liberty. And that concerns the acceptance and protection of authentic religious freedom.

Gregg points out that the Christian population of the Middle East has plummeted since 1900 (when it was about 20 percent) for ethnic and for political reasons.

Islam confronts two specific dilemmas that raise questions about its ability to accept a robust conception of religious liberty.

First, from its very beginning, Islam was intimately associated with political power. That’s one reason why there is no church-state distinction in Islam that limits (at least theoretically) the state’s capacity to coerce religious belief or unreasonably inhibit religious-shaped choices.

Second, since approximately the 13th century, the dominant theological understanding of God’s nature within Islam has been one of Voluntas (Divine Will) rather than Logos (Divine Reason). And this matters because if you believe in a God that can, on a mere whim, act unreasonably, then it isn’t so problematic for such a Divinity’s adherents to engage in plainly unreasonable practices such as killing apostates.

If, however, God is Logos, the case for religious liberty is much easier to make insofar as a reasonable God would never demand compulsion in religion. Why? Because as St. Augustine wrote long ago, “If there is no assent, there is no faith, for without assent one does not really believe.”

Gregg sees hope, however, in thinkers like Turkish journalist and devout Muslim Mustafa Akyol, whose recent book Islam Without Extremes makes the Islamic case for religious freedom. Though most Western religious thinkers do little to plead the cause of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, Gregg thinks the central cause of the persecution, and thus the ultimate solution, is to be found in Islamic thought.

In the end, non-Muslims can’t resolve Islam’s religious liberty challenge. Only theologically educated, historically informed and believing Muslims can do that. In the meantime, those reading the Arab Spring as a uniformly-positive event might like to consider that it appears to be doing little to secure the freedom, if not the very existence, of ancient Christian churches, many of which were founded by people who in all likelihood knew Christ or his first disciples. The loss of such a civilizational and religious heritage would be immeasurable — and not just for Christianity, but for the future of liberty within the Islamic world itself.

Mustafa Akyol happens to be speaking today at a luncheon hosted by the Cato Institute. Acton’s executive director Kris Mauren will be providing commentary. If you are in Washington, D.C., you won’t want to miss it!

I can always find common ground with the Distributists I meet. We want to replace the government-corporate cronyism that characterizes so much of our current economic system. And we want our culture to raise up young people with the skills, virtues and freedom to accumulate productive capital and invest it in ways that promote human flourishing for themselves and others.

But then there’s the question of centralized political power in the economy. Sometimes when Distributism is described, you get the sense that Distributism and one of its leading early proponents, Hilaire Belloc, have always been committed to a largely grass roots, bottom-up strategy of change. But Belloc himself painted a different picture in An Essay on the Restoration of Property:

We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society…. The effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice. (P.29)

So when I have a conversation with Distributists, the first thing I like to clear up is what they mean by Distributism. Do they merely want people and companies to model best-Distributist practices voluntarily, so as to propagate Distributist ideas and behaviors in a free marketplace of ideas? Do they just want to get the federal government out of the job of picking winners and losers in the economy? Or do they also want to vote in politicians who will arrogate to the federal government expanded powers to seize and redistribute private property and keep it more evenly distributed?

Until those questions are cleared up, the opportunities for muddle and fog are just too great to bother wading in.

Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property, (Norfolk, Virginia: IHS Press, 2002).

There are no more Christian churches in Afghanistan — not a single public house of Christian worship is left standing. In other news, NATO success against the Taliban may have been intentionally exaggerated, although we already knew that progress in that country is… slow. It’s no surprise, of course, that the United States hasn’t been able to establish self government-in-a-box in a country where, according to the State Department, religious liberty has declined measurably even in the last year.

Religious liberty must be at the heart of any free society, because if it is not protected, all other defenses are sure to fall. The abuses of Christians in Afghanistan violate not only their rights of conscience, but also their rights of property and even of free movement — their churches are seized and they are imprisoned. Contracts with Christians are not enforced, converts to Christianity are openly persecuted, and Afghan politicians approve of all of this.

We should not expect that in ten years our diplomats could have effected a constitutional transformation of Afghanistan. Liberty “is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” as Lord Acton said, “from the sowing of the seed at Athens, two thousand four hundred and sixty years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered” in Western Europe. (He delivered that address in 1877, so you’ll want to update the numbers.)

But a backslide is cause for concern. It suggests that there is something wrong with the conception of human freedom that is motivating our efforts.

Mitt Romney’s faith made headlines again at the Values Voters Summit in D.C., where Robert Jeffress, who is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, proclaimed last week, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”

Jeffress, who introduced Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry before his remarks to the group, was not just proclaiming his support for Perry but signaling evangelicals to not vote for a Mormon. If there was any doubt about this, Jeffress told reporters back stage that Mormonism is a cult and that followers of Christ should be supported over non-Christians. Understandably, Governor Perry quickly distanced himself from the comments. As a caveat, Jeffress declared he could support Romney over the current president, who is a professed Christian as well, for the simple fact that Romney’s values fall closer in line with Jeffress’s worldview.

I wrote on the topic of Romney’s Mormon faith almost four years ago during the last presidential campaign cycle. Rev. Robert Sirico weighed in on Romney’s speech as well. Jordan Ballor offered a lengthy analysis of the issue back in 2006 in “Hugh Hewitt and the Mormon Question.”

My post came the day before Romney gave a national address at the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas, on faith in America. The speech was a move on Romney’s part to assure evangelical voters that he was worthy of their support and confidence. The speech of course was widely compared to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 address in Houston, Texas, where he set out to placate any concern or fears about a Roman Catholic in the White House. Kennedy is the first and only Catholic to serve as the nation’s president.

In a preview post for the Spring 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty, we interviewed Wayne Grudem and asked him this: “You supported Governor Romney in the last presidential election. Do you think there is a credible argument for not supporting Romney, solely because of his Mormon faith?”

Yes, an argument can be made that it is a significant political liability. I don’t think I recognized how strong the suspicion of Mormonism was, and the anti-Mormon sentiment among some evangelical Christians. Mormon theology is, frankly, very different from evangelical Christian theology on what we believe about the Bible, about the nature of God, about who Jesus is, about the nature of the Trinity, about the nature of Salvation and the nature of the Church. Those are incredibly huge differences in doctrine. And while I can support a Mormon candidate for political office, and I am very happy to work with Mormon friends on political issues, I cannot cooperate with them on spiritual issues because our theology is so different.

I still think that Governor Romney is a highly qualified candidate, and an honorable and trustworthy and wise man, and if he wins the nomination, of course I will support him and vote for him.

And finally, if you are local to Grand Rapids, I will be discussing religion and presidential campaigns at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids on November 10. I thought it would be a good opportunity to address the modern history of religion and presidential campaigns as well as the issues at the forefront now. What would be better to jump start the discussion with a look back on Kennedy and the Catholic question in his successful bid for the White House. Find all the details of that event here and there is a Facebook event page as well.

Blog author: kspence
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Acton director of research Samuel Gregg offers his thoughts on last night’s GOP Roundtable in this NRO Symposium. Gregg thinks the debate offered an important alternative to the government-driven economy talk that fills the news every other night of the week.

In a week in which two American economists from the non-Keynesian side of the ledger received the Nobel Prize for Economics, last night’s GOP debate gave us some insight into the depth and character of the various candidates’ free-market commitments and the different policy priorities which flow from the various forms of those commitments.

But if the ideas were strong, they were a reminder of separation between our free market ideals and our considerably less free economy:

For the most part, the candidates focused upon the institutional background that either impedes or facilitates economic growth: the regulatory environment, tax levels, trade policy, monetary policy, etc. Listening to the responses was a salutary reminder of the gap betweenAmerica’s free-market aspirations and rhetoric, and the rather different Eurosclerotic economic reality that has slowly envelopedAmerica– and not just over the past three years, but over several decades.

The only way we’re really going to get our economy going, is by addressing entitlements.

The surprising omission was substantial discussion of the issue of welfare reform and the related question of America’s public debt. While Obamacare was continually criticized because of its costs, that’s only part of the picture. Substantive entitlement reform is indispensable if we want to significantly reduce the spending and deficits that threaten to suck the life out of America’s economy. Addressing this subject is of course very politically risky because far too many Americans are more attached to the welfare state than they care to admit. But if fiscal conservatives aren’t willing to tackle this issue, then who will?

This past Sunday one of the songs in our worship service was the hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

Here’s the first stanza:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

If the new translation of Abraham Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, were to have a companion hymn, this might well be the perfect candidate.