Archived Posts January 2012 - Page 2 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

Where is God already at work? Who is making an impact in their sphere of influence? What can you do to make a difference?

The “mountains” in my title here describes the ways some have divided culture, erroneously setting apart the areas in which we would need to impact (business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion) in order to realize real, sustainable change in the Christian world.

Transformation 2012 is a one-day virtual conference designed to equip and engage Christians for workplace, city and nationwide transformation. Through keynote sessions, organizational showcases, panel discussions, and real-life stories, attendees will learn what God is doing to realize transformation and how He wants to use us in that endeavor.

Acton Institute will be an exhibitor at this conference on February 18th. This will give us an opportunity to showcase resources such as Call Of the Entrepreneur, Birth Of Freedom, Business As A Calling, and Work: The Meaning Of Your Life. Attendees will enter our virtual booth online from their computer, browse the resources we have placed there and will be able to interact with the Acton representative by online chat. Click here for more information on the conference and please share this with friends and co-workers whom you feel would benefit from such an event.

[Thanks to RealClearWorld, ThePulp.it, NewsBusters and PewSitter.com for linking to this commentary.] Over at the American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to Europe’s “perceptible inability” to acknowledge some of the deeper dynamics driving its financial crisis. And these are primarily a “slow-motion population implosion” complicated by the exodus of young European Union citizens and the return of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to their homes in developing nations. That is an ominous development for a region where the dependency rate — the ratio of retirees per member of the labor force — has ratcheted up as the welfare state has ballooned over several decades.

Gregg:

These facts have made some Europeans willing to ponder the necessity of labor-market and welfare reform, not least because those countries that have weathered the crisis better than others (e.g., Germany and Sweden) actually implemented such changes in the 2000s. Getting Europeans to talk publicly about the continent’s population-trends and their economic consequences, however, is a different matter.

Why? One reason is that many Europeans have long been in thrall to the over-population gospel. Long before Paul Erhlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) — whose doomsday future-scenarios of a world devastated by famines, mass disease, and social unrest unleashed by overpopulation never materialized — numerous European economists had bought into this thesis.

In 1798, the Anglican vicar and one of the first modern economists, Thomas Malthus, published his Essay on the Principle of Population. This argued that growing populations would produce an increasing labor-supply. The result, Malthus insisted, would be lower wages and therefore mass poverty. “The power of population,” he claimed, “is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” Another English philosopher-economist, John Stuart Mill, was so convinced by Malthusian arguments that he actually spent time in London parks distributing birth-control pamphlets to bemused onlookers.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “Europe in Demographic Denial” on the American Spectator.

Beginning in 1908 as the “Octave of Christian Unity,” the eight days from January 18 to January 25 are designated as the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” and observed by many major Christian traditions and denominations.

All around the world, Christians who sometimes do not always get along so well (to put it lightly) put aside their discord to pray for renewed harmony and reconciliation. For example, in Bucharest, Romania, ecumenical prayer services are being held on nearly every day of this week rotating between Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical (Lutheran), Anglican, Armenian, and Romanian Orthodox churches.

In his recent book The Unity Factor, published by Christian’s Library Press, John Armstrong outlines his vision for a deeper unity between Christians of various traditions. “Christians are called to unity in love and to unity in truth,” writes Armstrong, emphasizing the need for Christians to once again share one faith, one church, and one mission.

Furthermore, Armstrong urges that

comprehensive biblical love is the defining identity and hallmark of all true followers of Jesus. I believe this is the central truth we must recover if we want the world to take notice of our witness. Today, the world mocks much of what we say and do. A great deal of this is deserved. This, however, was not the case in the earliest centuries of the church. Christians’ deep sense of shared, familial love led them to love even more deeply. As our present world polarizes politically and socially, the church must refuse to follow the ways of the world, returning instead to this unity factor.

I hope that all Christians will take some time this week to join millions of others who pray for that “comprehensive biblical love” and “unity in truth” that characterized Christians of the ancient, united Church.

The Unity Factor can be purchased through our bookstore.

The Keynesians will have little to cheer about in this story. Yesterday I saw this report from CNN Money that said U.S. consumer credit card debt fell by 11 percent in 2011. Mississippians led the Union by reducing their card balance by 23 percent. While total household debt fell by only 1 percent last year, it is still a towering accomplishment when compared to the U.S. federal debt increase.

This is exactly the point Jordan Ballor and I made in our 2008 commentary “The Fiscal Responsibility of Mall Rats and Bureaucrats.” In that piece, we pointed out that the federal government is a significantly poorer steward of our resources when put up against the supposedly “materialistic” and “selfish” consumer.

The inability of the federal government to curtail spending should be considered a form of insanity when one simply looks at the numbers. Instead, as I pointed out before, government spending is now so sacred for some in the religious community, it is a shrine that must be encircled.

The Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania this morning released its “2011 Global Go To Think Tanks Rankings” and associated trends analysis. The full report will be posted here soon.

The Acton Institute was ranked No. 12 globally on the “Top Thirty Social Policy Think Tanks” (the same ranking as in the 2010 survey) and No. 39 on the “Top Fifty Think Tanks in the United States” ranking (up eight places).

James McGann, the director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, said the genesis of the rankings project “developed from a series of requests from donors and journalists to produce national, regional, and international lists of the preeminent think tanks. Our ongoing efforts with respect to the rankings are now defined by our drive to understand the role of think tanks in governments and civil societies globally, so that we can help to improve their capacity and performance.”

McGann said that the rankings process “relies on a shared definition of public policy research, analysis, and engagement organizations, a detailed set of selection criteria, and an increasingly open and transparent nomination and selection process. Particularly with this year’s improvements, we believe this process to have tremendous utility for think tanks, policymakers, donors, and the public. We are especially pleased with the increased participation from developing and BRICS countries, which allows us to bring special attention to the important work they are doing, often under a set of circumstances with a set of obstacles all their own.”

The BRIC countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The number of think tanks operating out of these five countries increased by more than 100 percent between 2008 and 2011, from 419 to 985 think tanks, according to the report. China and India have the second and third most think tanks, respectively. In total, 425 think tanks are listed as based in China. The United States leads with 1,815.

Congratulations to the Washington-based Brookings Institution for earning the distinction of “Top Think Tank in the World” for 2011.

From Penn:

Launched in 2006, Penn’s “Global ‘Go-To Think Tank’ Rankings” annual report has become an authoritative source for the top public policy research institutes in the world. James G. McGann, assistant director of Penn’s International Relations Program, directs the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at Penn. This year the report focuses on the rise of the G20 countries and the role of think tanks in the Arab Spring and other global trends.

This year’s ranking report is based on a 2011 worldwide survey of more than 1,500 policy makers, scholars, journalists, current and former think-tank executives, public and private donors, intergovernmental agencies and academic institutions. Approximately 5,300 think tanks were nominated for inclusion in 30 category rankings.

About the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program:

As part of the International Relations Program at the University of Pennsylvania, the TTCSP conducts research on the role policy institutes play in governments and civil societies around the world. TTCSP was established in 1989. TTCSP maintains a database and network of over 6500 think tanks in 213 countries. Often referred to as the “think tank’s think tank,” TTCSP examines the evolving role and character of public policy research organizations. Over the last 25 years, the Program has developed and led a series of global initiatives that have helped bridge the gap between knowledge and policy in critical policy areas such as international peace and security, globalization and governance, international economics, environment, information and society, poverty alleviation, and health. These international collaborative efforts are designed to establish regional and international networks of policy institutes and communities that improve policy making as well as strengthen democratic institutions and civil societies around the world. TTCSP works with leading scholars and practitioners from think tanks and universities in a variety of collaborative efforts and programs and maintains the world’s leading research database and directory of think tanks. TTCSP produces the annual Global Go-To Think Tank Index that ranks world’s leading think tanks with the help of a panel of over 1500 peer institutions and experts from the print and electronic media, academia, public and private donor institutions and policymakers.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
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I had the pleasure of being a guest on today’s installment of Coffee & Markets, the fine podcast hosted by Kevin Holtsberry and Pejman Yousefzadeh. I got to talk about Abraham Kuyper and his essays on common grace, particularly in the areas of science and art.

These essays are available in translation in Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, the first selection from the broader three-volume Common Grace translation project.

Check out the podcast and some related links over at the Coffee & Markets website.

In The Christian Post, Napp Nazworth profiles Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art. The article looks at the power the Abraham Kuyper translation project will have in transforming the way evangelicals engage the broader culture. Acton’s director of programs and international Stephen Grabill spoke with The Christian Post:

While some evangelicals have grown appalled by the increased political activism of their brethren and withdrawn from politics, others have become so deeply tied to partisan and national loyalties that their loyalty to Christ has become indistinguishable from their loyalty to political party and country.

Early 20th century theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper would be appalled by both of these reactions, according to Stephen Grabill.

Grabill is editor for the “Kuyper Translation Project” and serves as Acton Institute’s director of programs and international. Kuyper’s work has gained a renewed interest but less than 10 percent of his work has been translated into English. The Acton Institute and Kuyper College is attempting to remedy that with the “Kuyper Translation Project.”

Observing the political landscape today, Grabill commented to The Christian Post, “Part of what we know that is going on out there is an effort for evangelicals to take their faith in the public square in a lot more sophisticated way than has happened in the past.”

Kuyper Translation Project is currently working on translating Kuyper’s three-volume Common Grace. Wisdom & Wonder has already been published by Christian’s Library Press as a “teaser text” for the whole project.

The first volume of Common Grace is set to appear in the fall of 2012.

Calvin Coolidge quipped shortly before his death, “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.” The words came not long before FDR’s ascendency to the presidency and not long after the upsurge of government activism that started in the Herbert Hoover administration. Coolidge, even for his time, was seen as old fashioned, a throw back to simpler values, ethics, and principles. Coolidge cut the name tags out of his suits when he asked his wife to resale them, so not to profit from his name and position. He was lampooned for his hands off approach to the presidency. Ronald Reagan was even teased by the Washington Press Corps for hanging up a portrait of Coolidge in the White House. By many academics today, Coolidge is chiefly mischaracterized as a simpleton largely from quotes like “The chief business of the American people is business.” In that speech in 1925 delivered to newspaper editors, Coolidge also went on to say, “Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.”

I can’t help but feel that a new appreciation for Coolidge is long overdue. Why? Because almost everything Coolidge warned against is happening now. As the nation faces government mismanagement, rapid growth of centralized power, crippling debt, decline of purpose, and moral decay, the clarity of his ideas are magnified. Coolidge is also the subject of a new biography by Amity Shlaes due out in June. As a public servant, he is vastly underrated for his writing and speeches. He spoke in a manner that was easily understood and he popularized the message of thrift, limited government, religious principles, and conservatism. But there too was an intellectual depth to his remarks about conservatism not seen today by the popular dispensers of those ideas.

One wonders if there will be a major candidate in the general presidential election to offer a defense of the free economy. And in doing so, can defend the great need for morality and virtue within the free market.

Below is a speech Coolidge gave in 1916 as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts on the issues of character, the commercial society, and materialism. The remarks were given to the Brockton, Mass. Chamber of Commerce. Coolidge’s remarks are printed in their entirety.

Man’s nature drives him ever onward. He is forever seeking development. At one time it may be by the chase, at another by warfare, and again by the quiet arts of peace and commerce, but something within is ever calling him on to “replenish the earth and subdue it.”

It may be of little importance to determine at any time just where we are, but it is of the utmost importance to determine whither we are
going. Set the course aright and time must bring mankind to the ultimate goal.

We are living in a commercial age. It is often designated as selfish and materialistic. We are told that everything has been commercialized. They say it has not been enough that this spirit should dominate the marts of trade, it has spread to every avenue of human endeavor, to our arts, our sciences and professions, our politics, our educational institutions and even into the pulpit; and because of this there are those who have gone so far in their criticism of commercialism as to advocate the destruction of all enterprise and the abolition of all property.

Destructive criticism is always easy because, despite some campaign oratory, some of us are not yet perfect. But constructive criticism is not so easy. The faults of commercialism, like many other faults, lie in the use we make of it. Before we decide upon a wholesale condemnation of the most noteworthy spirit of modern times it would be well to examine carefully what that spirit has done to advance the welfare of mankind.

Wherever we can read human history, the answer is always the same. Where commerce has flourished there civilization has increased. It has not sufficed that men should tend their flocks, and maintain themselves in comfort on their industry alone, however great. It is only when the exchange of products begins that development follows. This was the case in ancient Babylon, whose records of trade and banking we are just beginning to read. Their merchandise went by canal and caravan to the ends of the earth. It was not the war galleys, but the merchant vessel of Phoenicia, of Tyre, and Carthage that brought them civilization and power. To-day it is not the battle fleet, but the mercantile marine which in the end will determine the destiny of nations. The advance of our own land has been due to our trade, and the comfort and happiness of our people are dependent on our general business conditions. It is only a figure of poetry that “wealth accumulates and men decay.” Where wealth has accumulated, there the arts and sciences have flourished, there education has been diffused, and of contemplation liberty has been born. The progress of man has been measured by his commercial prosperity. I believe that these considerations are sufficient to justify our business enterprise and activity, but there are still deeper reasons.

I have intended to indicate not only that commerce is an instrument of great power, but that commercial development is necessary to all human progress. What, then, of the prevalent criticism? Men have mistaken the means for the end. It is not enough for the individual or the nation to acquire riches. Money will not purchase character or good government. We are under the injunction to “replenish the earth and subdue it,” not so much because of the help a new earth will be to us, as because by that process man is to find himself and thereby realize his highest destiny. Men must work for more than wages, factories must turn out more than merchandise, or there is naught but black despair ahead.

If material rewards be the only measure of success, there is no hope of a peaceful solution of our social questions, for they will never be large enough to satisfy. But such is not the case. Men struggle for material success because that is the path, the process, to the
development of character. We ought to demand economic justice, but most of all because it is justice. We must forever realize that material rewards are limited and in a sense they are only incidental, but the development of character is unlimited and is the only essential. The measure of success is not the quantity of merchandise, but the quality of manhood which is produced.

These, then, are the justifying conceptions of the spirit of our age; that commerce is the foundation of human progress and prosperity and the great artisan of human character. Let us dismiss the general indictment that has all too long hung over business enterprise. While we continue to condemn, unsparingly, selfishness and greed and all trafficking in the natural rights of man, let us not forget to respect thrift and industry and enterprise. Let us look to the service rather than to the reward. Then shall we see in our industrial army, from the most exalted captain to the humblest soldier in the ranks, a purpose worthy to minister to the highest needs of man and to fulfill the hope of a fairer day.

Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, has launched a new Center for Leadership which university alumnus Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., lauds as a project that “roots young men and women in virtue, forms them as leaders, and grounds them in sound philosophical thought.”

David Schmiesing, who directs the center and is also vice president of student life at Steubenville, said, “This is our most explicit and focused effort yet to train leaders for the Church and world.”

One of the resources provided to students through the Center is the university’s distinguished speakers series with the likes of Virtuous Leadership author Alexandre Havard and Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who is on the center’s board of advisors. Rev. Sirico spoke there on character, virtue, competence and vocation.

From the article by NCR writer Joseph Pronechen:

“We have a chance to speak with and meet with different distinguished speakers who have been all around the world studying incredible things,” said leadership student Camille Mica. “Getting the opportunity to talk with these speakers with such incredible credentials, I’ve learned a lot from them and been very encouraged and strengthened by their words and message and example.”

Though the leadership center will have a global outlook, Schmiesing noted that, ultimately, all leadership is local.

“If Catholic leaders don’t lead in their families, then all the other leadership is not going to be effective,” he said. “Leadership in the family is essential and applies to men and women. We’re teaching students in the center the skills, knowledge, virtues that will help them to be more effective in their families and then flow out to the churches, then to occupations.”

David Schmiesing is the brother of Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing.

Read “Training Leaders in Christian Virtue” on the website of the National Catholic Register.

Blog author: kmarotte
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
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One month ago today, the people of North Korea learned that their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, had died. While the news triggered hysterical shock in Pyongyang, the event brought new hope to those who work hard to penetrate North Korea’s hermetic society. One after another, many of these NGOs and ministries released statements postulating that maybe, just maybe, Kim’s youngest son and anointed heir—Jong-un—would break with family tradition by promoting genuine liberty for his people.

Such hopes are certainly understandable. Due in large part to the regime’s aversion to private markets, extreme poverty is a fact of life for large swaths of the population. The World Food Programme, North Korea’s largest distributor of multilateral food aid, estimated in 2011 that six million people needed food assistance, while one in three children were chronically malnourished. Such issues have been endemic since the mid-1990s, when an extraordinarily bad famine claimed millions of lives.

North Korea’s record on religious freedom is no better. Once dubbed the “Jerusalem of the East” for its large Christian population and deployment of missionaries, all manifestations of Christianity were eradicated as Kim Il-sung consolidated his power in the early 1950s. Understanding the dissonance between Christianity and utopian government schemes (such as communism), Kim reportedly commented: “We came to understand that religious persons can only be broken of a bad habit if they are killed.” Today’s North Korea has sustained this policy, throwing Christians into labor camps (a death sentence for many), executing them for Bible ownership, and punishing families to the third generation for any sign of Christian influence.

Optimists who see promise in the leadership transition contend that Kim Jong-un’s time attending school in Bern, Switzerland exposed him to the fruits of a free society. Chinese reformer Deng Xiaoping, they remind us, likewise benefited from his time in Paris. But the rule is not a hard-and-fast one; both Mussolini and Marx spent a good deal of time in relatively freedom-oriented countries (Switzerland and England, respectively), but still settled on philosophies and policies incongruent with freedom and individual dignity. Optimists respond that Jong-un seems to have taken to Western culture, as he is a big fan of NBA basketball and Michael Jordan. His father’s penchant for Elvis Presley and Rambo, however, never did translate into wholesale adoption of Western-style democracy.

Whatever our hopes, change in the near term is highly unlikely. While Kim Jong-il had some 15 years to prepare for leadership under his father’s tutelage, Kim Jong-un had one-fifth that, having been seemingly tapped after his father’s stroke in 2008. On the fly, he will be forced to learn the delicate balance of political power in that country. His first priority will be to consolidate power, proving his legitimacy to the political establishment as well as the highly influential military apparatus (to this end, expect more saber-rattling toward South Korea). Intent to retain their current clout and influence, the powers-that-be are not particularly enthused about the prospect of an economically free and spiritually rich North Korea; Kim Jong-un will thus have strong incentive to squelch dissent wherever it appears.

The foundations have already been laid for heightened vigilance. After Kim Jong-il’s death, North Korean and Chinese border patrols were beefed up, new roadblocks and checkpoints were added, new barb-wire fencing was installed, and journalists were prevented from entering the border area. Small, tightly controlled markets were shut down (some of which have since reopened), and religious restrictions were tightened. Kim Jong-il would not have selected a reformist softy as his successor—and in Jong-un, he did not.

But what of a coup? Any sort of organized, successful upheaval would likely not come from the citizenry. After all, those reduced to boiling tree bark for dinner hardly have the wherewithal to overturn a highly consolidated and centralized system like North Korea’s. If anything happens—and at this point, the likelihood is small—it would likely emanate from the officer corps. There is said to be discontent among mid-level military professionals, many of whom have dedicated their lives to the regime and received little in return. Others may be bitter about the high military honors conferred upon Kim Jong-un and his uncle and close confidante, Chang Sung-taek—neither of whom was required to earn his way through the ranks. If an uprising along these lines did occur, the consequences would be far from clear, with liberty not necessarily an automatic result. “Revolution,” quipped a ruthless but clever Mao, “is not a dinner party.”

I pray that my skepticism is proven wrong. But until more promising evidence comes to light, new leadership in the halls of Pyongyang sadly signifies only a continuation of the brutal and miserable status quo.