Archived Posts January 2012 | Acton PowerBlog

Today I’m at the Caring For the Common Good: Why It’s Important To Integrate Faith, Work, and Economics one-day symposium at Cedarville University. As I have opportunity, I will blog regarding the lectures and panel discussion.

First to speak was Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide on the topic of Caring For the Common Good. He spoke on three basic areas: do the poor have stewardship responsibilities, subsidiarity, and protest & invest.

On the first, Rudy noted the poor have stewardship and justice responsibilities. In addition, they are included in the charge of the Great Commission. Finally, they are empowered through Christ. The poor has intrinsic dignity as like the rest of society were created by God.

On the second, it is important to realize those connected most closely to the problem will oftentimes have the first responsibility to solve the problem. John Cowperthwaite, former Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971 has said, “In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if it is often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”

On the third, we must be knowledgeable when applying our good intentions to poverty. Sometimes our good intentioned efforts can unwittingly deprive the poor of justice. For example, a church in the US wanted to help provide relief to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and gathered jars of peanut butter and sent them to Haiti. Though good intentioned, these efforts impacted a local Haitian entrepreneur.

I hope to update this more as the day continues.

Update: Second to speak was Matt Zainea of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Matt spoke on the topic: Theology and Economics: Seeing the Whole.

Economic terms are woven into the Scriptures. An example is the usage of “redemption” in the context of salvation. Another illustration is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. God designed us to be producers and are considered wicked and lazy when like the third servant fail to do so.

Oftentimes a fractured Biblical understanding of economics is communicated as one of more aspects are left out. The complete Biblical understanding starts with us as image bearers being called to work thus able to own property within community operating in shalom. As image bearers, we are called to work and through work our image and calling is shown to the world. Udo Middleman says, “Only in creativity do we externalize the identity we have as men made in the image of God. This then is the true basis for work.”

The externalization of work creates property. Property rights exist, but what is really protected is man’s creative mental activity – his ideas which are externalized into things which he owns and has a right to possess and enjoy.

Work and property are essential elements to create community. One person’s creative activity is to be qualified by other people’s creative activity. Creativity is to be mutually stimulating. Community should be marked by a healthy interdependence.

Shalom is God’s vision of how he wants His people to live together. Shalom is a Christ-centered community flourishing through the interdependent usage of His resources. This is the best model to use even in a broken world.

Update: We ended the day with a panel discussion on the topic of social justice and Scripture. Panel members include Cedarville professors Dr. Jeff Haymond and Dr. Bert Wheeler along with Mr. Zainea and Mr. Rudy Carrasco. Audio for the discussion will be posted in this post and on the Acton website within the next couple weeks.

Acton On The AirDr. Donald Condit is a regular contributor to Acton on matters relating to health care, most recently with his commentary on the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. That commentary was the starting point for an interview with Sheila Liaugminas on A Closer Look on Relevant Radio last Thursday.

You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:

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Link with his Cross ShieldEarlier, I wrote a blog post about The Legend of Zelda and Theology by Jonathan L. Walls. At 173 pages, the book is a collection of 10 essays from various contributors. Its goal is twofold: to present Christianity to Zelda fans who might not know much about it and to give those familiar with Christianity insight into how Zelda relates to the religion. It explains intricacies of Zelda for those unfamiliar, and thankfully the descriptions are brief for those of us who know our Zelda lore. Unfortunately there is some overlap with the synopses of Zelda across essays, but that’s a minor complaint and is only natural given the format of the book.

Jonathan Walls gives a very clear disclaimer about this book in his introduction that cannot be ignored:

…none of us claim to have found the intended meaning behind the Zelda mythology’s symbolism when we relate it to Christianity. A very astute theological thinker and friend warned me of the error of superimposing Christian beliefs onto games that very well may have been made without Christian beliefs in mind. Let me assure you, we intend no superimposing.  Attempting to find an intentional and exclusive allegorical connection between Zelda mythology and Christian theology would be utterly erroneous and a dead end.

That being said, it’s time to look at how Zelda’s hero Link, Ganondorf, Zelda herself, and the games look from a Christian worldview according to Zelda and Theology.

The Problem of Evil

Jonathan Walls’ “Trouble in the Golden Realm: Ganondof and Hyrule’s Problem of Evil in Ocarina of Time” is one of the stronger entries in the book and looks at the philosophical problem of evil in the Christian and Zelda worlds. He channels C.S. Lewis often and identifies Pride as the “complete anti-God state of mind.” One such character with excessive Pride from the Ocarina of Time game is Ingo, a lazy ranch worker who is given control of the ranch by Ganondorf, the game’s primary villain. Ingo’s desire for power by calling the previous owner weak and himself hard working shows excessive Pride.

Walls goes on to tackle The Problem of Evil, summarized as: “If God is all-powerful and good, shouldn’t He just snap his fingers and wipe out all crime, hate and injustice from the world?” His explanations of free will and gratuitous natural evil are well articulated, relate to Zelda, and I’d even say they could prevent some non-believers from using The Problem of Evil as an argument against Christianity if they read the essay.

Secondary Worlds and J.R.R. Tolkien

Philip Tallon’s essay is in a “choose your own adventure” format. For instance, you can skip over the introduction to Zelda and J.R.R. Tolkien if you’re familiar with them. I read it straight through and it was still good, so the gimmick may be unnecessary. Tallon references Tolkien’s Andrew Lang lecture at the University of Saint Andrews on fairy stories. In this lecture, Tolkien elaborates on a secondary world called Faerie. Secondary worlds are, to Tolkien, a reshuffling of facts about our own world, as “only God has the power to create ex nihilo (out of nothing).”

The author acknowledges that Tolkien’s view of Faerie depends on fantasies being in the imagination and not visualized, as in video games. He counters with examples such as when “the gamer, on receiving from Nintendo Power a map of Hyrule with blank spaces at the edges, fills in the blank spaces with additional screens of his own creation.”  It is also noted:

Hyrule has retained a level of abstraction.  It is as if Miyamoto (the game’s creator) is aware of Tolkien’s worry that visual tricks might cancel out the imagination, and so intentionally hangs onto the charming children’s book quality of the first games.

This essay is lighter on relationships to Christianity, but does focus on Tolkien’s Christian faith and how Faerie relates in its presentation of magic and wonder.

The Afterlife and Majora’s Mask

Josh Corman’s entry about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask examines the afterlife, purgatory, and sanctification. In the game, Link acquires the ability to use the souls of fallen individuals to become them and complete tasks that they failed to do while they were living. This relates with Christianity in that the end of life is not the end of the spirit. Interestingly, the game never shows the characters reunited with their old bodies, which is where this concept differs from Christianity. This essay evokes a unique interest in Majora’s Mask, which is one of Zelda’s stranger and more complex games.

Zelda and Theology BookVirtues Explored

Two essays in the book focus on virtues in The Legend of Zelda. In “On Hylian Virtues: Aristotle, Aquinas and the Hylian Cosmogenesis,” Justus Hunter looks at the Hylian virtues of power, wisdom, and courage and relates them to Aristotle’s account of virtue. He then explains Augustine’s and Aquinas’ accounts of virtue and how they differ from Aristotle. Aquinas says virtues are caused by God and Hunter goes on to look at what the source of Hylian virtues might be.

The essay “High Rule? Vintage Virtue in The Legend of Zelda” by Benjamin B. DeVan is more approachable for those who don’t know a lot about Christianity and Zelda. It looks at altruism and its role in Zelda games, particularly the first two installments that were released in the 80’s. DeVan claims that Jesus was indeed an inspiration for Link:

For example: Ganon’s minions believe Link’s blood contains the power of resurrection. Link walks on water like Jesus, though Link requires the winged boots. Link’s shields and gravestones in both games bear the cross (though Link’s shield in later games bears the sign of the Triforce.)  The Adventure of Link once references a church bell ringing. Link descends beneath Death Mountain in one game and Death Valley in the other to defeat the Prince of Darkness and confront the Shadow/Dark/False Link.

He goes on to look for the source of morality in Hyrule:

The creative design of the gaming universe(s) inhabited by Link, Zelda and other Hyrule citizens parallels God’s work as the Grand Designer, High Rule(r) and Ultimate Source for morality in our world, whether or not people directly acknowledge it.

With this, the author targets atheists and their supposed sources for morality:

Atheists recount some motivations for moral behavior, describe examples and manifestations of morality and moral intuitions, but they do not, and perhaps cannot, supply an original source, authority or absolute adjudicator for moral principle, outrage and conviction. Is philosophical incoherence the price for denying a source for absolute morals?

Power and A Link to the Past

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is my favorite game from the Zelda series. Jeremy Smith does a good job in looking at the role of power in the game and addresses the question, “Why spend time helping people when it won’t matter when they’re gone?” In A Link to the Past, a parallel “Dark World” is created by Ganon that will disappear along with all of its inhabitants when he is vanquished. Smith finds that the religious guide in the game, Sahasrahla, would be a proponent of a cataclysmic Christ “who sees sees the spiritual struggle and wants nothing but to vanquish all things dark, as the legend tells”. On the other hand, Link emulates a catalytic Christ “who acknowledges the spiritual struggle but does not allow this to interfere with helping individuals and expanding the circle of God’s grace to people beyond.”

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda and Theology is certainly a thought-provoking book.  A few of the essays not mentioned here are a bit less exciting, but I wouldn’t call any of them bad. Some of the powerful essays will likely make connections and turn a few lights on for gamers who weren’t particularly religious before.

On the other hand, if you’re a devout Christian I recommend the book to illustrate why Zelda is possibly the greatest series of video games out there. What are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy at Amazon.

Dr. Donald P. Condit, the author of the Acton monograph A Prescription for Health Care Reform, responds to the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers and insurers must provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. For more on this issue, see Acton’s resource on “Christians and Health Care.” Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

An Unconscionable Threat to Conscience

By Donald P. Condit, M.D.

In May 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame where he proclaimed, to naïve applause: “Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics … ”

What a difference a few semesters make. Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ordered most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge.  Taxpayers and premium payers are complicit in paying for these “preventive health services” whether they object or not. 

Sebelius deferred, until after the 2012 election, the deadline for religious employers to comply. Meanwhile they must provide instructions so that employees can obtain abortions and services only considered “treatment” if one considers pregnancy a disease. 

With the passing of time, it has become painfully obvious how relativistic and clouded are this administration’s sense of ethics.  The subsequent threat to our liberty is crystal clear and faith leaders representing diverse traditions are speaking out against the White House’s assault on religious freedom in the most forceful way.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), did not pull any punches:  “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Archbishop Dolan met the challenge of this HHS edict: “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

Last month, in advance of the ruling, a group of more than 60 Protestant and Orthodox Jewish religious were out front on this issue when they released a letter to President Obama. The religious leaders pointed out that, “It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy broadly providing help that goes beyond worship and prayer.”

Last week, the National Association of Evangelicals said it was "deeply disappointed" by the administration’s ruling. “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”

On the Huffington Post, Romanian Orthodox priest Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, an early supporter of President Obama, said the HHS ruling was a “direct attack” on religious freedom in America and the beginning of more attacks on the faith of Americans. He’s also changed his mind about the president. “Well I now feel I was duped and his brand of change is not what America needs at all,” Preble wrote.

The Catholic Medical Association also responded: “This latest attack by the Obama administration on religious freedom and free speech rights should be of grave concern to all Americans because it is destructive of individual rights and of the common good. It should be challenged and resisted by all legitimate means.”

This HHS decree tremendously threatens the liberty and consciences of organizations across the United States that provide vital health care, social services, and education – to people of all faiths, and no faith – to millions of people by hundreds of thousands of employees.

The scope of these services in the American Catholic world is immense. One in six patients receives care in a Catholic hospital in the United States. There are more than 50 Catholic health care organizations with more than 750,000 employees. More than 150,000 professional  educators serve more than 2 million students a year in Catholic primary and secondary schools.  There are more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities that   educate more than 900,000 students annually.

Pope Benedict XVI’s diagnosis seems prescient.  As Dean of the College of Cardinals, his 2005 homily at the Papal Conclave warned that, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.”

President Obama’s relativistic ethos obscures the truth behind the right to life, the right to conscience protection, and the right to free speech.  His administration’s apparent compulsion for re-election and control over so many foundational elements of our society has led to oppressive policies. This HHS mandate is another tangible example of the threat of relativism.

Let us pray for, and work toward, restoration of consciousness of truth in this country. 

In his commentary this week, Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley looks at the phenomenon of a black president whose policies have “not led to significant progress for blacks.” Bradley is the author of the new book, Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development. Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

Despite Economic and Social Ills, Blacks Give Obama a Pass

By Anthony Bradley

With the approach of Black History Month we are reminded of the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president. Some black leaders, however, believe that Mr. Obama has let the black community down. For example, prominent voices like Dr. Cornell West and PBS’s Tavis Smiley, former supporters of Obama, believe that having a black president has not led to significant progress for blacks. The truth is that blacks are not only worse off under Barack Obama’s presidency but are grappling with deep-seated economic and social issues that the President himself has little or no expertise in solving.

In spite of these realities, some leaders are asking the black community to support Obama for odd reasons like race. For example, Tom Joyner, host of one of the highest rated morning shows in America, said in an October 2011 column, “Let’s not even deal with facts right now. Let’s deal with our blackness and pride — and loyalty. We have a chance to reelect the first African American president … And I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.” The historic enthusiasm is understandable but we must deal with facts that tell us race-based voting is futile.

Take unemployment, for example. According to a January report by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, black worker unemployment steadied around 15-16 percent in 2011, while unemployment for the rest of the workforce dropped below 9 percent. That is, in 2011 the unemployment rate for African-Americans stayed almost exactly the same and declined for everyone else.

Second, with respect to family issues, it is well known that blacks continue to lead the nation in single motherhood. According to 2008 figures, the most recent year for which accurate data is available, 72 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers compared to 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Native Americans. By extension, then, fatherlessness continues to undermine black progress in America. According to FathersUnite.org, 90 percent of runaway children, 85 percent of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders, 70 percent of all high school dropouts, and 85 percent of all youths sitting in prisons are from fatherless homes.

How would voting again for Barack Obama — simply because he is black — fix these problems? Barack Obama is not an entrepreneur nor can he be a father to the fatherless. The best thing that President Obama could do if elected for a second-term would be to remove all the barriers in the way of entrepreneurs so that they can do the things that they do well, such as provide the sustainable employment opportunities that allow adults to take care of their families and permit the marketplace to meet the needs of all of us. Government is neither designed nor equipped to create and sustain jobs. Thousands of years of experience show clearly: Only entrepreneurs have the gifts and expertise to create jobs. We need to encourage them because sustainable employment is the only long-term solution to poverty and unemployment.

With respect to family, one important thing President Obama can do is to continue to provide an encouraging example. Even if you do not agree with Obama’s politics, the president is certainly a model of a man who is committed to his wife and children. In fact, if more black men were committed to their children and their mothers in the way that President Obama is through the institution of marriage, many of the statistics listed above would plummet. However, there is no political solution that President Obama can promote because fatherlessness is fundamentally a moral problem. If we want to make a better black history – and leave a better legacy for our youth — we have to morally form black men so that they remain committed to loving women and children within the context of marriage.

If blacks want to chart a new course reversing these statistics, we should look not to politicians for answers but ask them to get regulatory barriers out of the way of entrepreneurs and moral institutions so that they can do what they have proven the best at for centuries — namely, create the conditions for virtuous human flourishing.

Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg recaps President Obama’s State of the Union address:

There is always something surreal about a Chicago politician talking about “fairness” and “playing by the rules.” There is something even more bizarre about a president talking about the need to expand energy production after his administration has generally undermined significant progress in facilitating energy development for three years in the middle of a recession. And who would describe Detroit as “on the way back”? A stroll down the ghost town otherwise known as downtown Detroit — which is teetering on the edge of being put into administration — would suggest the opposite. It’s not often that I agree with very much said by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, but this State of the Union speech illustrated that the lady was dead right in describing the Obama presidency as a bubble within a bubble.

Read it all on NRO.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I was asked for my initial reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the handsomely redesigned Think Christian posted them last night, “Jobs, Steve Jobs, and the State of the Union.”

As I point out, the president’s protectionist posturing is belied by the realities experienced by companies like Apple. The president is essentially telling companies: Ask not what you can do for your company, but what your company can do for America. My contention is that “in casting global trade in terms of a simple win/lose proposition, the president missed a wonderful opportunity to show that Americans need not be made better off at the expense of other countries.”

The president also provided the latest instance of the yearly bi-partisan political ritual, in which the commander-in-chief is transformed into the cheerleader-in-chief, praising the American dream to high heaven and extolling the virtues of the American work ethic. The state of our union is always strong, it seems. “Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win,” said the president. He also claimed the priority of “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”

That the government’s attempts to underwrite this promise has played a large role in putting us in the dire fiscal straits we face today was a concern absent from the president’s speech. That the biggest threat to continued flourishing in this country is a spendthrift federal government continues to be ignored, while more and more promises about what government can and must do are made.

Anyone who would put foreigners to work is unpatriotic, it seems. Anyone who would point out the very real problems facing America are equally erroneous: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says the president.

Mark Twain said that patriotism is “supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And as Christians, we know that our ultimate purpose is not to promote our own individual (or national) interests at the expense of others. A government that uses trade and tax policies as a club to bring other nation’s to heel is little deserving of support.

Perhaps the best way we can support our country in this time of trial is to call our governmental leaders to account. As the president’s speech also made clear, we are entering the prime time of election season, and there’s no better way to hold politicians accountable than at the polls.

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Most readers will recognize Peter Drucker’s name as the author of many books about management.  The Austrian immigrant was revered in that field and sold millions of books.  Few realize, though, that his academic training was actually in international law and that he moved toward business out of his conviction that management is a liberal art.  I have embarked upon a research project to read and understand his social thought.  In the process of reading his first book, The End of Economic Man, I have run into many gems, including this one:

Realization of freedom and equality was first sought in the spiritual sphere.  The creed that all mean are equal in the world beyond and free to decide their fate in the other world by their actions and thoughts in this one, which, accordingly, is but a preparation for the real life, may have been only an attempt to keep the masses down, as the eighteenth century and the Marxists assert.  But to the people in the eleventh or in the thirteenth century the promise was real.  That every Last Judgment at a church door shows popes, bishops, and kings in damnation was not just the romantic fantasy of a rebellious stonemason.  It was a real and truthful expression of that epoch of our history which projected freedom and equality into the spiritual sphere.
This is not the stuff of The Effective Executive, but it is great stuff.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In a conversation this morning on the way into the office I complained of what I called the “tyranny of pragmatism” that characterizes the approach of many students towards their education. In this I meant a kind of emphasis on what works, and in fact what works right now over what might work later or better.

Then I was reminded of this little catechism that appears in the notes of Luigi Taparelli’s treatise “Critical Analysis of the First Concepts of Social Economy,” which appears in translation in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Taparelli writes of “an odd catechism attributed to the Anglo-Americans but that we believe most appropriate for that ignoble part of any society that takes utilitarianism for its guide.”

It proceeds thus:

What is life? A time to earn money.
What is money? The goal of life.
What is man? A machine for earning money.
What is woman? A machine for spending money, and so forth

What is the purpose of an education today if not primarily to teach us what works to make money right now?

Each year my alma mater, Aquinas College  of Grand Rapids, Mich., invites students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community to take part in a wide range of activities throughout the week of January 28th to celebrate the feast of our patron saint.   Although this week officially bears the name of a celebration in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is also a special time when members of the Aquinas College community celebrate the college’s heritage in the Dominican tradition.  This heritage is preserved through the college’s relationship with the Dominican sisters at the Marywood Dominican center and the Dominican charisms of prayer, study, community, and service.

During St. Thomas Aquinas week, the college community highlights each of the charisms in a special way through one or many of the various events that are organized. Fittingly enough, this year’s 21st Anniversary St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture will be given by Dr. Eleonore Stump of Saint Louis University called “The Problem of Suffering: A Thomistic Approach” on Friday, January 27 at 12:15 pm in the Wege Ballroom.  Dr. Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University  and author or editor of several books on Medieval philosophy, including Aquinas (2003), Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (2010) and the Oxford Handbook of Thomas Aquinas (2012).  The lecture is free, open to the public, and is sponsored by Catholic Studies – which is directed by Acton University lecturer Dr. John Pinheiro.

The next lecture in the works for the Catholic Studies program will be the Fourth Annual lecture in the Catholic Studies Speaker Series at Aquinas College.  This will be a special lecture on the Catholic intellectual tradition given by George Weigel on April 11, 2012.  Visit www.aquinas.edu for more information about these and other lectures that will be hosted byAquinasCollege throughout the rest of the academic year.