Archived Posts 2011 » Page 53 of 56 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yesterday I noted some items related to the question of punishment and restorative justice in the American criminal justice system. And in the past we’ve looked here at the PowerBlog of the issues surrounding political and social activism on prison rape.

Now today Joe Carter, web editor at First Things, considers the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the broader cultural attitudes toward prison rape:

While such laws are a useful beginning, what is needed more than any legislation is a change in attitude by the American public. While jokes about conventional rape are always considered in bad taste, humor about prison rape is common and broadly accepted.

Joe makes an important case, and it is worth serious consideration. Given his position on water boarding and torture more generally, I’m sure that Joe agrees with what I’ve written previously on this issue: “Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.” One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.

With regard to the relationship between humor and prison rape, Joe is right to point to the double standard. One commenter on one of my previous posts contended, however, that “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.” You can judge for yourself the accuracy of that claim.



But I wonder too whether one aspect of why prison rape humor is so relatively prevalent in our culture is that, as Joe has noted in his always worthwhile 33 Things, comedy has something to do with “making immoral behavior seem harmless.” In this sense, then, the danger isn’t that humor about making prison rape seem moral, but rather that it makes prison rape seem inconsequential or “benign.”

Continuing our recap of last year’s Acton Lecture Series in anticipation of Thursday’s opening lecture of the 2011 ALS (which you can register for right here), we’re pleased to present the video from February and March of 2010.

On February 18, 2010, Acton’s Director of Media Michael Miller Delivered a lecture entitled “Does Capitalism Destroy Culture?” His lecture discussed the positive and negative impact of capitalism in society today. Miller pointed out that it’s not just Christians that are worried about culture and that it is just not a right or left issue. Many are also worried about rampant consumerism and the perceived danger of technology. Miller also addressed the Southern Agrarians and their conservative critique of industrialization. Video is below:

A month later on March 18, we welcomed Rudy Carrasco to our podium to deliver a lecture entitled “Do the Poor Need Capitalism?” A 2009 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that the number of people in the world living on less than $1 per day fell from 403 million in 1970 to 152 million in 2006. An analysis from the American Enterprise Institute says the biggest factor was the rise of the middle class in China and India, at a time when the world’s population grew by 3 billion. Carrasco discussed whether capitalism is a greater asset than liability in the fight against poverty, and whether capitalism must be moderated by virtue and morality before a Christian can embrace it. Again, the video is below:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 1, 2011) — A new survey of 5,500 organizations by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania ranked the Acton Institute among the best global social policy organizations and in the top 50 think tanks overall in the United States.

The 2010 Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings, directed by James G. McGann of the International Relations department at Penn, put Acton at No. 12 on the Top 25 Social Policy Think Tank list. Acton was ranked No. 47 among the top think tanks in the United States. Overall, there are more than 1,800 think tanks in the United States, according to the survey.

McGann noted in his report that think tanks are indispensable to the creation of a “robust” civil society which, in turn, creates a “virtuous cycle” of consolidation for the public good. The potential for think tanks to build a healthier, more closely knit society, he said, was “far from exhausted.”

The rankings show that the two decades of work by the Acton Institute and its supporters aimed at the creation of a “free and virtuous” society are widely recognized by journalists, scholars and public policy experts, Executive Director Kris Mauren said. “Increasingly, Acton’s research is being used where policy issues engage the faith community,” he said. “There’s a growing realization that good intentions must be connected to sound economics.”

Mauren said he was particularly heartened by the growth of global networks and the partnerships between think tanks that were highlighted in the report. Acton’s international reach has expanded greatly in recent years through the expansion of its affiliate program, the publication of web content in several languages, and its association with groups like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. The translation of the Acton documentaries Call of the Entrepreneur, Birth of Freedom and the Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum into more than a dozen languages has also made them available to think tanks and broadcast networks outside the United States. The Call of the Entrepreneur has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Polish, French, Slovak, Romanian and (in 2011) Portuguese.

For more on the 2010 Global Go To Think Tanks Rankings, and to download the report, please visit www.gotothinktank.com

Link to news release here.

The Detroit News today published a new column by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

Civility, not just after tragedy

The Rev. Robert Sirico

The tragic shootings in Tucson that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded and a score of others dead or wounded have sparked a national discussion about how we conduct our public discourse.

This is something we should all welcome, in an age of instantaneous media and its often vitriolic political and social debate.

For those of us who are Christians, our guide should always be to speak the truth in love. That is, we witness to the truths that are revealed to us by the Lord, without shying away from critical issues or glossing over important differences we have with others. This is especially important in an era of globalization and the need for greater interfaith relations, where words or phrases can so easily be misunderstood. And it’s possible to have this dialogue in a reasonable and respectful fashion.

Yet, I find it not a little strange that many of the voices calling now for civility and temperance in our political discourse were, not long ago, either silent in the face of hateful language or participants.

I speak, of course, of the religious left, which was so much a part of the “Bush derangement syndrome” in recent years and, with the rise of the tea party movement, seems to have shifted its fire in that direction.

Take, for example, the Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee, who in recent weeks has become an apostle of civility. This is the same man who said this in response to the “shellacking” that the Democrats got in November: “There was very little values-narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns.”

Really? This was true of those millions of Americans who were pushing back against out-of-control government spending, ruinous debt, an intrusive and badly flawed health care bill, and a general sense that our nation was losing its moral bearings?

Remember, if you will, the invective and hate hurled at former President George W. Bush over the Hurricane Katrina response. Entertainer Kanye West famously said at the time that Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”

Where was the hue and cry from the liberal pastors and priests over West’s outrage? In fact, former Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, said the Bush administration funding for AIDS relief and malaria eradication programs for Africa probably saved 10 million lives worldwide.

Following the election of Bush in 2000, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a “civil rights explosion.” He stood in front of the Supreme Court and vowed to “take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him.” I had my differences with Bush on a number of important issues. But he endured eight years of attacks, some of them vile, like this and the “social justice” ministers said nothing about it.

We all need to raise the level of public discourse, and not just as it applies to our political favorites. The Christian’s calling is to purify the heart, because it is the seat of the passions. And all actions begin there.

St. John Chrysostom, in a famous homily on fasting, warned us not to be too legalistic in its observance. More important than the foods we are abstaining from are our actions and the “disgraceful and abusive words” which we sometime use to “chew up and consume one another.” In this he echoes the words of Jesus Christ, who taught us that “what goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11).

The point here is to remind us that our words have weight and effect. Yes, let’s proclaim the truth, and do it in a civil and even a loving fashion. That’s the civility that both the left and the right deserve.

In a fine post over at the History News Network (HT: Religion in America), Jennifer Graber, assistant professor of religious studies at The College of Wooster and author of the forthcoming book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, reflects on what the Michael Vick saga (to date) shows us about American attitudes towards crime, punishment, and redemption.

Graber briefly traces the development of public policy and social attitudes towards punishment for violent and heinous crimes. She writes,

In the colonial era, government authorities issued tough criminal sanctions. They branded thieves; they put forgers in the stocks; they hanged murderers and even counterfeiters. The punishments came swiftly and were intended to hurt and to shame. They might deter future criminal activity. But no one expected them to prompt a criminal’s personal reformation.

But things began to change by the time of the American Revolution. At this time, she writes, “Americans encountered a host of new ideas about law, punishment, the body, and individual rights. Some citizens used these notions to call for a dramatic transformation of American criminal punishment.”

So there is a mixed legacy in contemporary attitudes toward punishment and imprisonment, particularly from a Christian perspective which emphasizes the personal transformation that is possible through God’s grace.

In round after round, the reformers claimed that a Christian nation necessarily supported criminal punishments designed first and foremost for reformation. Officials retorted that public safety demanded a realistic approach to corrections, one that used bodily punishments and shame to put unrepentant inmates in their proper place. This endless debate gave us the prisons we have today, institutions caught between simultaneous impulses to punish and redeem.

I survey four different Christian views on these matters in a 2008 law review essay, “To Abolish or to Reform? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF). As I show in that piece, “it is more accurate to speak of a plurality of restorative
justice movements than of a unified and univocal restorative justice movement, particularly with respect to the variety of Christian approaches.” As Graber aptly notes, there are a variety of approaches to the relationship between punishment and restoration. Some hold that the two must go together, while other views hold they are antithetical to one another.

One lesson from the Michael Vick case, I believe, is that imprisonment can have a transformative effect, even if that transformation is note the sole, or even one intended, purpose of incarceration. Imprisonment is one way that society makes it clear to someone that particular behaviors are out of bounds and deserving of significant consequences. It puts the indelible stamp of “No!” on someone’s actions.

As for Vick, he’s recently made public his Christian commitment. Reflecting on his conviction and imprisonment at last week’s Super Bowl Prayer Breakfast, “I wanted a chance to redeem myself,” he said. “Pre-incarceration it was all about me. When I got to prison, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. The one thing I could rely on was my faith in God.”

Vick’s case is only one of the most recent of many such stories of prison redemption. It’s been said before, “Prison saved my life.”

Peter Wehner on Commentary Magazine’s Contentions blog looks at the recent joint statement on civility from Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson:

… what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Read the whole thing at Contentions.

Ronald Reagan is in the news quite a bit these days. President Barack Obama is even trying to model himself after the popular president, as this piece in Time points out. Reagan’s centennial birthday is February 6. The Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library Centennial homepage is the essential site for information on the celebration.

On February 17, those in the Grand Rapids area should plan on attending Acton on Tap at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids for a discussion about the faith of Ronald Reagan and its impact in America and the world. The discussion starts promptly at 6:30 p.m., plan on arriving a little earlier for a good seat. My commentary from last week is a good primer for the event. Paul Kengor also has an excellent piece in USA Today about Reagan and his faith.

Here is a description of the event from the Facebook event page:

February of 2011 marks Ronald Reagan’s centennial birthday. At the end of last year, President Barack Obama said he was reading Lou Cannon’s biography of the popular president, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. Many commentators have speculated that President Obama is studying the popular president in order to strengthen his connection with the American people. Join us as Acton’s Ray Nothstine leads a discussion about Ronald Reagan’s America, his faith, and the relevancy of his life and presidency for today.

On Thursday, Acton kicks off the 2011 Acton Lecture Series with an address by Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico entitled “Christian Poverty in an Age of Prosperity.” (If you haven’t done so already, you can register to attend the lecture at this link.) To set the stage for the 2011 series, I’ll be posting video of last year’s lecture series on the Powerblog all week long.

In January of last year, we welcomed Dr. John Pinheiro to the podium to discuss “Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding.” In his lecture, Dr. Pinheiro – associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids, Michigan - examined the American Founders’ understanding of liberty as rooted in a classical and Christian understanding of virtue. His talk touched on the reasons why George Washington argued that public happiness could be attained without private morality and why John Adams wrote that, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

In yesterday’s edition of the Grand Rapids Press, editorial page editor Ed Golder reflects on the implications of the historically-high levels of government spending, the deficit, and debt.

Most impressively, Golder notes where the government is actually spending money, and it is largely not in the areas of discretionary spending that so many politicians like to talk about. Golder writes,

Neither party is forthrightly honest about what needs to be done. Making the necessary cuts touches on very large and politically sacrosanct programs. About one fifth of federal spending, for instance, is defense. Can we seriously tackle the budget without looking at some prized weapons programs?

And the biggest category of spending, the one growing at the fastest rate, is entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health insurance for children.

We may have to accept the idea that rich people will pay more than poorer people for medical coverage. We will almost certainly, given life expectancies, have to work longer before receiving Social Security benefits.

Reform of defense spending is important. But the real key is entitlement reform. I’ve often thought that one lasting legacy of the Bush era (beyond the wars and the Great Recession) is found in his insistence on bringing to the national discussion the issue of entitlement reform, particularly Social Security. He wasn’t successful, but it did show some principled political courage to make Social Security reform a major policy goal of his administration.

Golder also relates this entertaining little anecdote:

Speaking to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids Monday, financial forecaster Jason Trennert, was asked by an audience member to handicap Washington’s ability to make meaningful headway in tackling the debt. He wryly quoted theologian Augustine of Hippo, who famously quipped, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.”

In other words: Sure, we’ll reform. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s here. Heck, tomorrow may be yesterday at this point.

That’s one other legacy of the Bush era that we are living with, the legacy of the mantra, “Lord, make me thrifty, but not yet.” That goes for the politician as well as for the citizen.

Golder rightly concludes by pointing to the need for leadership on these pressing fiscal issues. We’ve gotten to this place largely because of a lack of political leadership. “Our leaders have to talk frankly about what needs to be done – programs that will be cut, individual sacrifices that will have to be made,” writes Golder.

Instead of statesmen we’ve been electing those who could bring home the most pork for their districts and constituencies, damn the consequences. That needs to change, and it begins in the renewal of leadership in other spheres of social life, including the family, business, charity, education, and so on.

My commentary this week is about the deeper truths of Ronald Reagan’s witness, words, and deeds. Reagan has been in the news a lot, and will continue to be as we approach his centennial birthday. A great place to visit for all things concerning the Reagan centennial is the Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library Centennial homepage. President Obama even weighed in on Reagan, heaping praise on the popular president in USA Today.

It’s essential to look at what makes his words and ideas so important today. In my piece, I wrote that “It’s not the policies that point to Reagan’s greatness but his principles. His ideas are timeless because they evoke deeper truths about man, his relationship to the state, and most importantly, his Creator.”

Admiration of Reagan by people of faith has always been a paradox to some. He was the only divorced president. Reagan hardly ever attended Sunday services during his presidency and Nancy Reagan was known to consult an astrologer. Despite the mocking, in all the years I’ve studied Reagan, it’s clear his faith was the bedrock of his life.

One of his deeper interests was the book of Revelation and biblical prophecy, a topic he also liked to discuss with Billy Graham. This points to his optimism and the very fact that his believed that God has a descriptive plan for mankind after this world. Reagan biographers tell stories of embarrassed aides looking on as evangelical pastors laid hands on him and prayed for Reagan as he was moved to tears.

The attempt on his life can’t be underestimated in terms of impacting his life and faith. After he was shot, he declared, “Whatever time I have left is for God.” The meetings with New York’s Terence Cardinal Cooke and Mother Theresa after the assassination attempt were very emotional events in his life. He has been described as a “man of incessant prayer” and his daughter Patti said if she wanted to draw her father out “she would talk about God.” There are just too many fascinating anecdotes for this post. A good book on the topic of his faith is Paul Kengor’s, God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life.

I think it is true too that Reagan has almost been mythologized by many conservatives and proponents of limited government. Certainly, imperfections in his policies and character were evident and part of his history. I think the principles and the deeper truths of what he was communicating will always make his legacy enduring, especially as moral relativism becomes more pervasive.