Archived Posts March 2012 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, March 30, 2012

From the first chapter, titled “Preparation for Lent,” of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s Great Lent:

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the “other”–his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity–and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man,” of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is “lovable” in him, of that which is from God.

In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of “social activism” with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a “social activist” the object of love is not “person” but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract “humanity.” But for Christianity, man is “lovable” because he is person. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest.” Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about that abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now–the only decisive time for love.

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews a new document from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace titled, “The Vocation of the Christian Business Leader.” This follows the PCJP’s controversial “note” on the global financial system issued in October. Gregg says the “Business Leader” document:

Though it doesn’t shy away from making pointed criticisms of much contemporary business activity — and there is much to criticize — the Note articulates, perhaps for the first time in the Catholic Church’s history, a lengthy and thoroughly positive reflection from a body of the Roman Curia about the nature and ends of business.

Unlike the October 2011 Note, this new document avoids grand theorizing about the nature of economic development throughout the 20th century. Nor does the Note lend itself to absurd claims that the Church is to “the left of Nancy Pelosi” on economic issues. Instead, this text’s analysis of life as a business leader is rooted in a sophisticated appreciation and application of the principles of Catholic moral and social teaching. It also reflects a background of solid natural law reasoning about what Benedict XVI has called “integral human development,” and recognizes the sheer diversity of forms assumed by business in the modern economy. To that extent, the Note reflects a very welcome (and much over-due) “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” method of analysis of life in business.

So what are some of the document’s key themes?

Read “In Praise of Business: A New ‘Note’ from Justice and Peace” by Samuel Gregg on National Review Online.

Yesterday in his personal column for the Diocese of Madison’s Catholic Herald, Bishop Robert C. Morlino issued a call to arms to Catholics battling for their religious freedom.

But such a battle, he says, is one that should emulate Christ’s loving nature, while being resolutely clear and firm in rejecting the obligation of Catholic institutions to provide healthcare that includes contraceptives and abortifacients under the Obama administration’s controversial HHS mandate (see recent reactions below on EWTN by U.S. bishops and Acton’s President, Rev. Robert Sirico).

While no doubt the Madison bishop is aware of Christianity’s bloody history of self-sacrifice in defense of religious liberty, any fight should not, in his opinion, automatically involve escalations of physical violence and warfare.

This non-violent perception is very unlike that of the Hollywood film of heroic Catholic martyrdom - Cristiada - which I reviewed last week at a Vatican screening. Perhaps many of us might daydream of Bishop Morlino trading in his miter for a sombrero and staff for a rifle to become the invincible Zorro-like Generale Gorostieta of the Cristiada film – gunning down one federale after another all the way to a Catholic coup d’état of ObamaCare.  Surely mental fodder for another Hollywood epic drama!

For this Catholic bishop it is the simple power of Christian Truth and Charitable Love that will help Catholics prevail in their frustrating battles with the U.S.  government.  The laity need to arm themselves with these two great weapons of faith. Bishop Morlino believes in putting up a good fight, especially one that respects the Vatican II’s encouragement of building up an effective, reasoning Catholic culture of  “lay mission”.

In witnessing the 500-strong that protested peacefully in front of a Madison federal building, Morlino was proud to see the laity shouldering the burden in defending Catholic religious liberty in a charitable, yet determined fashion:

I was privileged to be a witness to religious freedom and freedom of conscience with nearly 500 faithful people at the Federal building in downtown Madison. Such rallies had been quickly organized around our nation and I know that not all who might have come were able (or even aware of the events).

Those who were able to gather, however, were in large part Catholic (though not all), and in being there, they were really doing what the Second Vatican Council meant by “lay mission,” that is, applying the standards of God’s Kingdom to the real world.

That is the true role that the Church was trying to enliven in the laity through Vatican II — faithful people witnessing actively to today’s world, bringing the Church into the world of today (as opposed to the idea that the main way one can be an “active” Catholic is by performing different liturgical roles)…

Let’s make sure we are charitable, but let’s make sure we are clear and we are heard. Sometimes we can be tempted wrongly to think that charity and reasonableness are excuses for acting like wimps.

To read the rest of Bishop Morlino’s column and his pastoral advice to Catholics go here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, March 30, 2012

“Unless incentives suddenly stopped mattering during this recession, says Casey B. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, “it appears that the expanding social safety net explains some of the excess nonemployment among unmarried women who are heads of households.”
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Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser explains why entrepreneurs are important for our struggling economy:

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Thanks to George McGraw, Executive Director of DigDeep Right to Water Project, for his kind and thoughtful Counterpoint to my original post.  He and his organization are clearly dedicated to the noble cause of providing clean water and sanitation to all, a cause which everyone can and should support.  It is also a very sensible objective that would aid the world’s poor much more than trendier causes such as “climate change” and “population control” which tend to view the human person and his industriousness as fundamental problems to be solved through central planning, birth control, sterilization and abortion.

McGraw is certainly right to say that the Holy See does not believe that water should be free for all, despite the purposely provocative title of my post.  And the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace document does indeed presuppose market mechanisms for the distribution of water resources.  My fear, however, is that while paying lip service to the validity of market economics and the role of profit, many religious-minded people still have a low opinion of business and fail to recognize that markets have been and remain the best way to allocate resources, especially absolutely necessary ones such as food and water.  The profit motive may not be the most high-minded way of caring for the poor, but it has proven to be the most reliable and effective one.  No one claims that markets are perfect; they are still more likely to meet human needs that the alternatives, whether these are government services or private charity.

I agree that there are circumstances in which food and water must be provided to those who cannot pay for them, but this does not make them “free” or without cost.  Someone else still has to produce and deliver them to the poor, and it will be the government who does the commanding at some level.  This is necessary in emergency situations, though still not always the best solution, as the relief efforts in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath proved.  My main concern is that introducing a legally-recognized “right to water” shifts the focus from the rights and duties of the private sector to those of the government, and away from the individual and toward the collective.  It should also be recognized that the public, subsidized provision of a good often displaces or “crowds out” private sector providers, to the detriment of the development of local businesses, a sine qua non if countries are to escape poverty.

Having worked for the Holy See at the United Nations, I witnessed all sorts of perverted thinking on the issue of human rights.  The UN was where, for instance, the Soviet Union and its satellites continually pushed for “economic, social and cultural rights” at the expense of the political and civil rights promoted by the West.  This was yet another cynical ploy to deny individual rights and collectivize society.  Since the end of communism, many of these “new” rights, also called “second- and third-generation” rights, have become less obviously ideological but remain problematic.  As the very notion of “generational” development makes clear, there is no clear standard by which to measure or order these rights.  This is the “progressive” rather than the truly liberal understanding of human rights and it ought to be rejected as such.  Two of my graduate-school professors, Clifford Orwin and Thomas Pangle, put it well in a 1982 essay on “The Philosophical Foundation of Human Rights”:

[Economic, social and cultural rights] are merely things that most people want, and that the poorer countries wish they could persuade the richer ones to give them. They are open-ended and hence often unreasonable.  There is no way, for example, that an underdeveloped country can provide adequate education or medical care for all its citizens.  By proclaiming these as universal human rights, however, such countries arm themselves with the most respectable of reasons for pressing for global redistribution of wealth.  No one can blame them for that; but we can question the status as “human rights” of what are, in a sense, letters to Santa Claus.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised by the Catholic World News report on my blog post that placed me in opposition to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  It’s not every day that I have to prove my Catholic bona fides, so I should clarify my understanding of what the Church means by the “right to water.”  (The RealClearReligion website may have contributed to the problem by titling its link to my piece “There is No Right to Water.”)  All Catholics and indeed all people of good will should believe that human beings are entitled to the necessities of food and water as human beings; in no way do I support depriving anyone of these at any stage of life.  And the Church is not wrong to identify “rights” that are due to the person as a result of his ontological dignity.  My point was that calling for a legally-recognized international human right to water may not be the best way to ensure that everyone actually has access to it; results should matter just as much as putting some nice-sounding words on paper.  The difficulty results, in my opinion, from the long-standing abuse of the term “human rights” that I previously mentioned and a lot of subsequent incoherence, not least coming from academics looking for justification for their soft-left-wing policy preferences.

The Church is, nevertheless, a pre-modern institution that has a different understanding of human rights and human nature than liberals and progressives do, and the presuppositions of Church teaching on human dignity are crucial.  As the late Cardinal Avery Dulles once put it, “The Catholic doctrine of human rights is not based on Lockean empiricism or individualism.  It has a more ancient and distinguished pedigree.”  Without emphasizing the presuppositions made by this pedigree, any call for new rights is likely to be misconstrued and misapplied.  We need to recover the fullness of Catholic moral and social teaching without exacerbating the problem, while also appreciating the role that private enterprise has within the liberal tradition.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, March 29, 2012

If you weren’t able to attend last week’s Acton Lecture Series event here at Acton’s Grand Rapids office, we’ve got you covered. we’re pleased to present video of Rudy Carrasco’s lecture, entitled “Business as Mission 2.0,” below.


The fine folks at Cardus, the noteworthy thinktank north of the border, have posted a review of The Best of the Reformed Journal.

John Schmalzbauer, who teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University where he holds the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies, concludes about the situation sixty years after the founding of the Reformed Journal:

Though the surnames remain the same, American politics has changed. Defending Franklin Roosevelt, Lester DeKoster once wrote that “laissez faire has never been Calvinism’s way.” A loyal New Deal Democrat, DeKoster was also an outspoken advocate of the free market, arguing that “The Lord God is a free enterpriser.” Today it is harder to find a pro-market advocate of the welfare state.

In 2012, Reformed intellectuals are divided on economic matters. While the ecumenical Acton Institute uses Abraham Kuyper to advocate for free market principles, scholars like Nicholas Wolterstorff speak of social justice.

Which vision represents the true neocalvinist approach? Can a Reformed understanding of social justice be reconciled with a vigorous defense of the free market? The Reformed Journal used to be the arena in which these questions were discussed; is there such an arena today?

As someone who came to the Reformed tradition as an adult (with a French-Canadian surname, no less!), the recent history of Reformed and specifically neo-Calvinist approaches to social questions is important. It helps us understand how the intellectual atmosphere of Grand Rapids, and by extension some significant portion of broader evangelicalism, has been formed. And to know where we are going, we must know where we have come from.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, March 29, 2012

In a political climate dominated by debates about individual mandates and restrictions on religious freedoms, an issue like road privatization isn’t likely to be on the top of anyone’s list of major concerns. But the excellent post on “The Mirage of Free-Market Roads” by Timothy B. Lee, a writer with Ars Technica and the Cato Institute, is worth reading even if you don’t care about toll roads. Lee provides an intriguing example of why we need to think clearly about how we apply principles to policy:
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Acton On The AirThis week has seen some pretty substantial Constitutional drama unfold in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court as the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment is put to the test. Relevant Radio host Drew Mariani called upon Acton’s Director of Research, Dr. Samuel Gregg, to give his thoughts on the course of the arguments so far and his thoughts on how Catholic social teaching applies to the issue of health care in general.

The interview lasts about 20 minutes; Listen via the audio player below:

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