Archived Posts May 2012 - Page 7 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

This was the topic of our latest Campus Martius discussion group at the Istituto Acton office in Rome. Our guest speaker was law professor David Forte, who presented some of the challenges in furthering liberal democracy in Muslim-majority countries.

Having studied and spoken on Islamic law for many years, Prof. Forte is no extremist on the question and had been generally optimistic about the democratization of the Muslim world. In the wake of the “Arab spring” and increasing persecution of Christians and other minorities in Muslim countries, he now calls himself a “cautious pessimist.” For his explanation, go to this Zenit Rome Notes feature by Edward Pentin. It’s especially noteworthy that “lapsed Catholics” (i.e., the vast majority of Catholics in the West) are considered ripe for conversions by Islamists; the same can indeed be said of “lapsed liberals,” as I will explain.
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Blog author: aknot
posted by on Friday, May 11, 2012

The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature highlights religious freedom this week by asking the question: “Should Churches Get Tax Breaks?”

The contributors, who span the continuum of opinions on the issue, include Susan Jacoby, Christopher L. Eisgruber and Lawrence Sager, Winnie Varghese, Dan Barker, and Mark Rienzi.

Jacoby, who recently debated the merits of Christianity in American politics and Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church, is an advocate for secularism and author of The Age of American Unreason. Jacoby argues that if a church wants federal help, it must play by the government’s rules:

 In cases involving freedom of conscience, government policy—like the Bill of Rights—should always be on the side of the individual. If churches don’t like the strings attached to public money, they are free to refuse taxpayer subsidies. The First Amendment was not written for an America in which religion claimed the right to have it both ways.

Eisgruber and Sager, coauthors of Religious Freedom and the Constitution, argue for “exemptions for noble work, but no extra exemptions just because it was done in the name of God,” saying: (more…)

Recently, a Christian student group at Vanderbilt University has been told by the school’s administration that it will lose its recognized status on campus unless the group removes its requirement that its leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” Administrators at the school had previously ruled that religious organizations must now allow any Vanderbilt student to be a candidate for a leadership office, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation. For example, a Christian student group would be forced to allow the candidacy of an atheist and Jewish groups would be forced to allow Wiccans to be considered for the group’s leader.

The irony, says John Murray, is that the very freedom Vanderbilt administrators have to deprive students of their freedom of religious association derives from a 19th-century Supreme Court case that led to the proliferation of Christian colleges such as Vanderbilt:

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Blog author: aknot
posted by on Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why the disconnect between work and worship? To reckon with this question, the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) blog recently launched a series on “Work and the Church Today.”

In part one, Hugh Welchel, Executive Director of the IFWE, addresses the widening distance between the pew and the cubicle and, in response, prods the Church to invest itself in the lives of its businesspeople. Without any integration of faith and work, he says, professionals will continue to feel discord between their religious and working lives.

Welchel concludes with a widened definition of vocation. He cites Tim McConnell, formerly of the Center for Christian Study, to advocate a view of vocation that groups Sunday and Monday morning under the same umbrella of Christian service. According to McConnell, vocation should be “an element of Christian discipleship; a habit of the mind and heart of listening for and responding to the voice of the Lord.”

IFWE’s introduction to the topic is a helpful one. It is also worthwhile to check out parts two and three. And while on the topic, be sure to check out the work of Abraham Kuyper, who has written extensively on Christian engagement across spheres. His work is featured in Wisdom and Wonder, part of a Kuyper translation project with which the Acton Institute is affiliated.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, May 10, 2012

Over on First Things, Michael W. Hannon, David J. Pederson, and Peter A. Blair write about the injustices of inequality. In many parts of their short article they had me nodding in agreement. But as with much that is written about income and wealth inequality, the article makes assertions that seem to have no basis in economic reality. For instance, the authors seem to claim that income inequality leads to power inequality which “harms civic friendship.”
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 10, 2012

In a paper at the symposium I noted in yesterday’s post, Richard Helmholtz described the application of natural law in a particular case in which the judges observed that “charity begins at home,” since “it is a natural impulse to do good to one’s own family.”

Because of the wonders of digital publishing and public libraries, I was able to borrow an ebook version of Winter’s Bone from my local library. As I noted yesterday, there’s a scene in the film that powerfully evokes a recognition of natural moral obligations, in this case to one’s neighbor.

In the book version, however, this scene is even more prominent, as it concludes the very first chapter (in the book, Ree’s brother is named Harold):

She heard the door behind her squeak and Harold, age eight, dark and slight, stood in pale long johns, holding the knob, fidgeting from foot to foot. He raised his chin, gestured toward the meat trees across the creek.

“Maybe tonight Blond Milton’ll bring us by one to eat.”

“That could be.”

“Don’t kin ought to?”

“That’s what is always said.”

“Could be we should ask.”

She looked at Harold, with his easy smile, black hair riffling in the wind, then snatched his nearest ear and twisted until his jaw fell loose and he raised his hand to swat at hers. She twisted until he bore up under the pain and stopped swatting.

Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.”

In this account from the book the relation between Ree’s family and her neighbors is more obviously that of “kin,” although even in the film this seems to be the kind of region where nearly everyone is related in one way or another.

Indeed, claims on the moral obligations of “kin” are a foundational theme on the development of the rest of the story’s plot. The audience takes the journey with Ree, discovering just what is expected of kin and what might be actually delivered in this concrete situation.

Whatever Ree gets, however, doesn’t come easy. In the book she’s sixteen years old with “a body made for loping after needs.”

Blog author: mhornak
posted by on Wednesday, May 9, 2012

You only have a few days left to visit the website and register for the 2012 Acton University conference – the registration deadline is next Friday, May 18. Guided by distinguished, international faculty, Acton University is a four day experience (June 12-15) held in Grand Rapids, Mich. During the conference, our goal is to offer you an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology and sound economics. If you have ever had the opportunity to attend Acton University, I’m sure that you’ll agree that it is a life-changing experience. If you haven’t had the chance to attend in the past, make this the year that you do!

The 2012 conference is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever. We’ve packed the conference schedule with over 80 sessions given by top-notch daytime and evening speakers. But you don’t need to take my word for it; take a look at our faculty list and course list to see for yourself what all the hype is about.

David Clayton, permanent artist-in-residence at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, has written an appealing piece at The Way of Beauty, that connects the seemingly unlikely arenas of liturgy and economics. His thoughts are based on The Wellspring of Worship, by Jean Corbon, in which Corbon associates work and culture to the human experience of worship and liturgy.

Clayton admits that linking liturgy and economics may be a stretch, but upon further examination shows that, with a proper understanding of the human person, the relationships we have and bring to both our worship and our work lives are intrinsically united. Our culture suffers a sense of distance and alienation, according to Clayton, that springs from lack of liturgy, then spreads into our economics:

…the sense of alienation of the person from society through variously too much work, the lack of it, or the wrong sort; the lack of genuine community in work that supports the family, and a culture bereft of grace and beauty with art that doesn’t look like art at all, music that doesn’t sound like music, ugly mass-produced goods and ugly houses, factories, civic buildings and churches. Many who have this view blame in varying degrees causes such as capitalism, the unfettered free market, mass production, industrialisation to name four.

I share this concern about the culture and the nature of work today, not as an economist about which I know very little, but just as someone who is part of society and works. However, like Corbon, I feel that the problem to be solved is liturgical…

Clayton then reminds the reader of the importance of anthropology:

My belief is that if we adopt a model of economics that is rooted in a liturgical view of the anthropology, then we can transform the industry and the economy into power houses for culture of beauty. It will never be perfect, but it can be a lot better.

While the author is an artist and not an economist, his ability to identify harmony and beauty in the world allows him to see the relevance that  harmony brings to our economic transactions and affairs. To be human is to be in relationship: with God and each other. That begins in our liturgical practices and permeates  society, and our day-to-day economic affairs, our work and our culture.

Read more….

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Virgil's Aeneas fleeing the sack of Troy with his father on his shoulders and leading his son by the hand.

“Even the conventional everyday morality,” writes Vladimir Solovyov,

demands that a man should hand down to his children not only the goods he has acquired, but also the capacity to work for the further maintenance of their lives. The supreme and unconditional morality also requires that the present generation should leave a two-fold legacy to the next,—in the first place, all the positive acquisitions of the past, all the savings of history; and, secondly, the capacity and the readiness to use this capital for the common good, for a nearer approach to the supreme goal. This is the essential purpose of true education….

According to Solovyov, there is a basic, commonsense morality by which most parents feel an obligation to leave an inheritance to their children and give them the opportunity and know-how to use it. He goes on to argue that this principle ought to be expanded generationally: “the present generation should leave a two-fold legacy to the next,” passing on what it has received and instilling in the next generation the ability and desire to use the heritage of human history for the common good. This, he believes, is the “essential purpose of true education.” As commencement ceremonies are celebrated throughout the country this month, how well, I wonder, do we match up to this standard in the United States today? (more…)

Over on The American, Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London, argues that population change is reversing secularism and shifting the center of gravity of entire societies in a conservative religious direction:

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