Archived Posts May 2012 » Page 10 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

I recently came across an interesting academic journal, Diaconia: Journal for the Study of Christian Social Practice. One of the sample articles available is by Herman Noordegraaf of the Protestant Theological University in Leiden. His piece is titled, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor” (PDF).

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is a theme issue on “Modern Christian Social Thought,” and a series of pieces take up a line of recent history in the Netherlands. A significant article by Rolf van der Woude, senior researcher at the Historical Documentation Centre for Dutch Protestantism at the VU University Amsterdam, examines the changes in Reformed thought on the social question from the First Social Congress in 1891 to the Third Social Conference in 1952. As van der Woude concludes, in the post war era, “A new generation believed that the beast of the state, caged for so long, had now been tamed. At the end of the 1950s, Van den Heuvel’s generation retreated, the Netherlands entered a period of economic boom, and a generous welfare state was rapidly erected from the ground up wherein welfare was no longer a matter of charity but a matter of justice guaranteed by the government. The beast of the state had become an ally.”

Noordegraaf’s piece can be read as a companion article to van der Woude’s, tracing the development (or lack thereof) in Christian social thought in the Netherlands over the last half century. As Noordegraaf writes, the situation has largely remained the same, in that the church’s primary responsibility is understood not merely to have to provide material assistance to the poor, but rather advocate for reliance on the welfare state for such provision. As Noordegraaf writes, a declaration on the problem of poverty in 1987 codified the approach of “aid under protest,” in which the churches provide aid to the poor but only under protest that the government was not meeting welfare needs appropriately. The statement reads:

We reject the way people are once again made dependent on charity. We plead for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government. For this reason, financial aid given by churches in situations of need should be combined with protest against the causes of this need to government and society.

Noordegraaf’s observation is that the churches, both locally and denominationally, have been too concerned with meeting the momentary concrete needs of the poor and need to pay more attention to the mandate to lobby the government for more expansive social welfare programs. The point is that the need for Christian or church-based charity indicts the lack of justice under a modern constitutional state, where freedom from need and want ought to be simply guaranteed.

As Nordegraaf concludes concerning recent trends, “More and more, as the above mentioned reports show, churches have been involved in material aid: when people are in need and ask for help, you give it. It is a kind of safety net under the increasingly porous safety net of the state.” He continues, “The fact that the churches found this problematic reflects their belief that the principles of the welfare state are worth fighting for. This has to do with a vision of the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.” Noordegraaf concludes that “it is in harmony with the calvinist approach of the responsibility of the state that churches try to make clear to government and to society at large that they have helped with material aid. This signalizing can take many forms: in letters, reports, talks, discussions, programmes in the media, articles in newspapers and so on. In this way, individual aid is combined with advocacy in the public domain.”

I commend these two articles to your reading: Rolf van der Woude, “Taming the Beast: The Long and Hard Road to the Christian Social Conference of 1952,” and Herman Noordegraaf, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor.”

They will make clear just how much things have changed over the last 120 years in the Netherlands, when Abraham Kuyper emphasized the priority of Christian giving in 1881, arguing that “the holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your savior.” Such emphasis on private Christian charity is now understood to be retrograde and obsolete.

For PowerBlog readers, we’re posting the video from Andrew Morriss’ April 26 Acton Lecture Series talk in Grand Rapids, Mich., on “The False Promise of Green Energy.” Here’s the lecture description: “Green energy advocates claim that transforming America to an economy based on wind, solar, and biofuels will produce jobs for Americans, benefits for the environment, and restore American industry. Prof. Andrew Morriss, co-author of The False Promise of Green Energy (Cato, 2011), shows that these claims are based on unrealistic assumptions, poorly thought out models, and bad data. Rather than leading us to an eco-utopia, he argues that current green energy programs are crony capitalism that impoverishes American consumers and destroys American jobs.”

Morriss, an Orthodox Christian, begins with a quote from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Istanbul, Turkey-based hierarch. Bartholomew said this in response to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed:

Our Creators granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?

“The Ecumenical Patriarch and I don’t see eye to eye on this,” Morriss said. “I think he’s asking the wrong questions.”

Also see the PowerBlog post “Green Patriarch: No Nukes.”

In his book, Morriss and his co-authors warn that “the concrete results of following [green energy] policies will be a decline in living standards around the globe, including for the world’s poorest; changes in lifestyle that Americans do not want; and a weakening of the technological progress that market forces have delivered, preventing us from finding real solutions to the real problems we face.” Many of those lifestyle changes will come from suddenly spending far more on energy than we’d like. Green technologies mean diverting production from cheap sources, such as coal and oil, to more expensive, highly subsidized ones, like wind and solar. These price spikes won’t be limited to our electricity bills either, the authors argue. “Anything that increases the price of energy will also increase the price of goods that use energy indirectly.”

The better solution to improving America’s energy economy, the book shows, is to let the market work by putting power in the hands of consumers. But “many environmental pressure groups don’t want to leave conservation to individuals, preferring government mandates to change energy use.” In other words, green-job proponents know they’re pushing a bad product. Rather than allow the market to expose the bad economics of green energy, they’d use the power of government to force expensive and unnecessary transformation.

Morriss is also an editor of the forthcoming Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson (Cato, September 2012) with Roger Meiners and Pierre Desroches. The blurb for the Carson book notes that she got a lot wrong:

Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. As an iconic work, the book has often been shielded from critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson a team of national experts explores the book’s historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas. The conclusion makes it abundantly clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. While the book provided some clear benefits, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong.

Morriss is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones Chairholder of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author or coauthor of more than 60 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books. He is affiliated with a number of think tanks doing public policy work, including the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In addition, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law. He is chair of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. His scholarship focuses on regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers. Over the past ten years he has regularly taught and lectured in China, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Nepal.

Morriss earned an A.B. from Princeton University and a J.D., as well as an M.A. in Public Affairs, from the University of Texas at Austin. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After law school, Morriss clerked for U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders in the Northern District of Texas and worked for two years at Texas Rural Legal Aid in Hereford and Plainview, Texas.

He was formerly the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois College of Law and the Galen J. Roush Profesor of Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Acton Institute is once again offering a free ebook; this time, Banking, Justice and the Common Good. From now until May 5, 2012 at 3 a.m. EST, you can click on this link and download the monograph for free.

We’d appreciate your comments and thoughts on the book. When you’ve finished, please go to the Amazon page for the book and leave a review.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Calls for freedom, democracy, and secularism end up with “none of the above,” says Hunter Baker:

(more…)

The philosophical demise of socialism has caused many on the economic left to change their complaint about free-market capitalism. While it may be effective, they now say, it comes at the cost of human goods like community and social solidarity. Such claims are now commonplace in policy debates. But are they true?

James R. Otteson explains why such criticism are not as strong as some people might think:
(more…)

In his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores the present decline—economic recession, a divisive, stagnant political climate and a deteriorating moral structure—of American civilization. Rather than citing religious excess or wide scale secularization as the problem, Douthat points his finger at what he calls “bad religion,” or, four basic heresies that present faux-Gospels contrary to the Christian faith.

Douthat’s solution, presented in the book’s conclusion, comes in the form of Christian orthodoxy, what one might call Good Religion. Without delving too far into critique, readers of all ecumenical stripes—even those without any—can profit from a quick examination of Douthat’s four points essential for traditional Christianity to reclaim a respected voice in the American public square.

First, Douthat calls for Christian engagement in the sphere of politics that is “political without being partisan,” marked by a “clear Christian difference.” He allows room for political disagreement while professing the necessity of Christian principles to mark the Christian ballot or campaign.

Second, Douthat endorses a Christianity that is “ecumenical but also confessional.” Douthat desires broader Christian discourse and unity, but vibrant doctrinal debate and a steadfast upholding of characteristic theological standards.

Third, Douthat calls for Christians to cut against the grain of contemporary society with a faith that is “moralistic but also holistic.” To present the Bible’s ethical system as a desirable path for a life, rather than a condescending rulebook, he says, is the great challenge for the Church of today.

Finally, Christian orthodoxy must be “oriented toward sanctity and beauty.” Christians occupy too sparse a share of today’s aesthetic landscape, he argues, calling for more distinctly Christian art the mirrors the novels of Marilynne Robinson or the poetry of Christian Wiman.

Douthat’s book will no doubt stimulate much discussion about Christianity’s place in politics, ethics and art. And voices like Douthat’s are an integral part of the debate. With any providence, both the Church and society will benefit greatly from a wider appreciation of Douthat’s hope:

 “My hope throughout has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.”

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Portrait of a Child Prince, Wikimedia Commons

“Anyone concerned with the future,” wrote Sergius Bulgakov,

is most anxious about the younger generation. But to be spiritually dependent on it, to truckle to its opinions and take it as a standard, testifies to a society’s spiritual weakness. In any case, an entire historical period and the whole spiritual tenor of intelligentsia heroism are symbolized by the fact that the ideal of the Christian saint, the ascetic, has been replaced here by the revolutionary student.”

Bulgakov is writing in 1909 about the young, sectarian intellectuals of Russian society, who according to Nicholas Berdyaev were “artificially isolated from national life.” They had taken upon themselves a sort of megalomania, assuming to be the heroic saviors of Russia, a sort of atheistic incarnation of Providence. The student, full of passion and idealism, had become the Übermensch for educated Russians, only barely subdued by the failed revolution of 1905. To Bulgakov, this idealizing of the youth amounted to a “spiritual pedocracy.” Russian society looked to the youth—the least experienced and therefore least wise—for spiritual leadership. Are we making the same mistake in America today? (more…)

When it comes to the issue of anthropomorphic climate change, I tend to be “acognostic”—I’m not convinced we even have the cognitive ability to determine whether climate change is occurring, much less whether it can be attributed to human activity. But I have no doubt that the responses to perceived climate change have already been disastrous for humanity.

Take, for example, the British government’s use of climate change as an excuse for population control. In 2010, a working paper published by the UK’s Department for International Development cited the need to fight climate change as one of the key reasons for supporting forced sterilization programs in India. According to The Guardian, the “document argued that reducing population numbers would cut greenhouse gases, although it warned that there were ‘complex human rights and ethical issues’ involved in forced population control.”

Despite such concerns, the British government funded the program—which has led to miscarriages, botched operations, and even death:

(more…)