Archived Posts December 2012 » Page 4 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: sstanley
posted by on Thursday, December 20, 2012

PropertyCoverÉtienne Cabet, a French philosopher and founder of a utopian socialist movement, once said: “Communism is Christianity.” The concept of property has existed longer than Western Civilization; trying to understand what property is and who can claim it has been an important issue for centuries. But, what is the Christian view of private property and ownership?

Cabet, and others who believe that Christianity supports the concept of communism or socialism, base their opinion on one particular passage of Scripture. In Acts: 32-37, Luke tells us that no believer:

Claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. NIV

One interpretation of this passage says that the Church does not support private property, but the Christian perspective on the institution of property is not so simple. Wolfgang Grassl, professor of business administration at St. Norbert College (De Pere, Wis.), addresses this complicated and controversial issue in Property, the latest in the Christian Social Thought series from the Acton Institute.

Grassl points out that the issue of property is absolutely central to Western civilization and Christian social thought. He goes as far to say that understanding property is essential in order to understand the human person. Grassl quotes Pope John Paul II, who addressed the complexity of this issue in Centesimus Annus. He said: (more…)

“There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” wrote Judge Brian Cogan in his ruling issued two weeks ago against a Justice Department motion to dismiss the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the HHS mandate. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.”

More federal judges are coming to the same conclusion. Earlier this week a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. issued a partial but significant victory to Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College in their lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception and abortifacient mandate.

The Obama administration had announced plans to create a new rule protecting the religious liberties of these Christian colleges and other similarly situated religious groups. But to date, the administration has not yet taken the steps necessary to make that promise legally binding. Lower courts dismissed the colleges’ cases while the government contemplated a new rule, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided the cases should stay alive while it scrutinizes whether the government will meet its promised deadlines.

“The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.”

Conservation Trust THConnellI found this profile of Mark Tercek, the former Goldman Sachs managing director who was tapped to head the Nature Conservancy, raises some profound issues concerning the relationship between economics and the environment:

Tercek, 55, didn’t come to the Conservancy to fight financial brush fires. With the help of his board and the input of the Conservancy’s 600 scientists, he wants to remake the face of the American and global environmental movements. He has no quarrel with the current model—largely built on the strategies of confront, litigate, regulate. But by itself, that approach has proven inadequate. “All the things we care about—forests, coral reefs, fish stocks, biodiversity—we have less of instead of more of, despite everyone’s best efforts,” Tercek says.

Environmentalism, he fears, has become too elitist, too white, too partisan, too full of doomsayers, too concerned with saving nature from people instead of for them. He’d like to expand environmentalism to include the world’s largest polluters so that ecologists and corporations can work jointly to preserve nature because it’s the smart economic choice.

That last point is critical. Sustainable and responsible economic growth is based on properly valuing the natural environment. All too often environmental damage and degradation is due to improperly valuing and inadequately appreciating natural resources. In many cases it is because of a lack of well-defined property rights and responsibilities.

To use the language of Acemoglu and Robinson, unsustainable economic activity is extractive rather than inclusive. Consider how Tercek is actively and positively engaging Dow Chemical for an inclusive approach:

Tercek’s biggest bet yet is the Conservancy’s five-year partnership with Dow Chemical (DOW), announced a little more than a year ago. During the project, 20 Conservancy scientists are getting unprecedented access to Dow’s facilities, starting at Dow’s sprawling Freeport (Tex.) plant. The idea is to help the chemical giant do an inventory of its global land and water assets as a way of allowing Dow to put a value on its “natural capital” and to determine how to best protect and enhance it.

“I know there’s a lot of skepticism about these corporate initiatives, but for Dow to agree with us philosophically that it relies on nature for business reasons and to begin to put a business value on its natural assets, that’s huge,” says Tercek.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, December 20, 2012

Domino’s Founder Files Lawsuit Challenging HHS Mandate
Dominique Ludvigson, The Foundry

Tom Monaghan, founder and former owner of Domino’s Pizza, is the latest business owner tofile a lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization as “preventive services” in their health care plans.

Western Europe vs. Religious Freedom
Mary Ann Glendon and Azizah al-Hibri, The National Interest

When most people picture Western Europe, they envision well-established democracies where fundamental freedoms are vigorously protected.

Q&A about ‘First Freedom’ documentary with Matthew Holland
David Ward, Deseret News

When it comes to religious liberty, I don’t think the contributions of George Washington have been adequately appreciated.

The Rich, the Poor, and the Significance of Wealth Creation
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

How should Christians understand wealth and poverty as it relates to our faith?

During the debate about how to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis, lawmakers on both sides have considered reducing the charitable tax deduction. That strikes many people as the wrong approach (especially those of us who work for non-profits!) even though we may not be able to explain why it’s such a bad idea.

Fortunately, John Carney has provided a superb explanation for why reducing or removing this deduction is counterproductive. For instance, changing the charitable deduction as Carney notes, has the same effect as another deduction that most of us didn’t even know exist: the deduction for volunteers.

Imagine that you serve a charity that pays you $15 a hour for your labor. Instead of cashing their checks, though, you immediately donate that money back to the charity. If this income was taxed and deduction was allowed, it would mean we were paying a tax on the time we volunteer to charities. But as Carney explains, this is the same thing as when we provide “free” labor to a charity. The income we forgo is equivalent to donated income.
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Writing over at The Atlantic, American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers shares the unsettling story of what a growing number of Swedish activist groups and political factions are attempting to do to “traditional” gender roles.

Is it discriminatory and degrading for toy catalogs to show girls playing with tea sets and boys with Nerf guns? A Swedish regulatory group says yes. The Reklamombudsmannen (RO) has reprimanded Top-Toy, a licensee of Toys”R”Us and one of the largest toy companies in Northern Europe, for its “outdated” advertisements and has pressured it to mend its “narrow-minded” ways. After receiving “training and guidance” from RO equity experts, Top-Toy introduced gender neutrality in its 2012 Christmas catalogue. The catalog shows little boys playing with a Barbie Dream House and girls with guns and gory action figures. As its marketing director explains, “For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we have had to adjust.”

Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating—less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of the Sweden’s Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman,proposed a “man tax”—a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun “hen” to be used in place of he and she (han and hon).

It’s easy to laugh off such seemingly ludicrous things as this, but we’re talking real indoctrination of precious and impressionable “hearts and minds” here. And the Swedish government is directly involved. (more…)

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, my friend (and coauthor) John Coleman argues that business professionals can benefit from reading poetry. While his article is not directed at people of faith, I think his claims are particularly relevant to Christians in the business world:

Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Engagement with Acton on Right to Work
Brian Dijkema, Cardus

A helpful piece by Jordan Ballor suggests that right to work legislation disestablishes unions from the state.

An intriguing look inside religion and Congress: Who prays and for what?
Andrew Malcolm, Investor’s Business Daily

Despite the sacred separation of church and state in American governmental tradition, religion is an everyday fact of life for most Americans and is reflected in the operations of its government.

Alleviating World Poverty: A Progress Report
Wendell Cox, New Geography

There has been a substantial reduction in both the extreme poverty rate and the number of people living in extreme poverty since the early 1980s, according to information from the World Bank poverty database.

The Church and the Mandate
George Weigel, National Review Online

As the Catholic Church and the Obama administration approach the first anniversary of what has become the most serious confrontation between the Church and the federal government in U.S. history — a confrontation caused by a regulatory mandate implementing Obamacare — a review of the strategic situation is in order, with an eye to the terrain ahead.

Field Guide to the Hero's JourneyActon is offering a free Christmas gift: a free Kindle download of the new book, A Field Guide to the Hero’s Journey.  The book, co-authored by Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico, has been called a “the modern ‘how-to’ for entrepreneurs working on accomplishing big things” by Andreas Widmer, and is a terrific book not only for adults but for young people.

You can also listen to the authors discussing their collaboration on this book on this Radio Free Acton podcast. The book will be free on Amazon until Dec. 23 at 3 a.m. EST.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In his latest Forbes column, Rev. Robert A. Sirico explains why despite the tragedy in Newton we can speak of joy during this Christmas season:

When we ask our bewildered why? – we are not looking for data points.  Even less should we offer glib responses in the face of this shattering loss – this modern-day slaughter of the innocents. We are, instead, seeking the meaning in the face of thismysterium iniquitatis.  The meaning we seek is not so much the significance of evil as the meaning, the value and the dignity of those young lives, of our lives – indeed of life itself.

And it is precisely here that the words of the Gaudete, have their effect – if we take the time to ponder what it means.

The ultimate response to the evil made manifest at Newtown, or at the shopping mall in Portland, or at Columbine, or in the abortuaries, or in the concentration camps, or anywhere that  evil holds sway over humanity at any time and in any place whether exposed or hidden going all the way back to the beginning of time – is the love made manifest precisely in the midst of so broken and dented a world where such things are conceivable.

The full text of his essay will also be published in today’s Acton News & Commentary. Subscribe to the free, weekly commentary and other Acton publications here.