Archived Posts January 2013 - Page 14 of 20 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, January 14, 2013

Foreign fighters seek Islamic state in post-Assad Syria
Yara Bayoumy, Reuters

“Yes, they have the sword and beheading, but only for those people who deserve it,” said Hadi, a bearded rebel who spoke in the corridor of a bombed-out building that served as a gateway to a frontline.

Should Christians Care About Incentives? A Biblical Perspective
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Why do we do good things? Why do we carry out acts of love and charity? Conversely, why do we make bad decisions, or choose to do evil or harmful things? The answer may surprise you.

Stanford Law School Launches Nation’s Only Religious Liberty Clinic
Alex Murashko, Christian Post

Stanford Law School has established the nation’s only Religious Liberty Clinic, enabling students under the professor’s supervision to represent clients who are fighting to win legal battles on the grounds of religious freedom in America.

Did Jesus tell the Apostles to buy weapons? Yes. To use them?
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, Fr. Z’s Blog

I have been thinking through the “gun” controversy. I am also thinking about what it means for me, a priest. For example, what does a concealed carry weapon (CCW) mean for a priest versus for a layperson?

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 14, 2013

Field Guide to the Hero's JourneyIn the current Acton Commentary, I take a look at the common temptation to consider ourselves as somehow uniquely beyond the mundane obligations of the moral order. I do so through the lens of the hero of Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, and a particular moral dilemma he faces.

I read through A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey last week, and was struck by the significance given to this insight in chapter 3, “The Importance of Setting Guardrails.” In a short essay, “The Road Not Taken,” Jeff Sandefer discusses his relationship with Jeff Skilling, and how he “watched Skilling’s meteoric success at Enron, and saw him acquire enough money and power to make the need for ethical guardrails seem old fashioned.”

Sandefer, who teaches in and founded the Acton MBA in Entrepreneurship program, draws a couple of pedagogical lessons from Skilling’s case:

After watching the rise and fall of Enron, and the corrupting influence of money and power, I started encouraging my students to make a list of “I will nots”–actions like cheating on a spouse or embezzling money–the lines that they promise never to cross, no matter the temptations.

I also encourage my students to write a “letter to self,” with advice to themselves, to be opened whenever they might be tempted to cross such a line, and seal it and place it in a safe place, to be opened when needed, as it surely will be. Because the more success you have, the more likely it is that the letter and ethical guardrails will be needed.

There are opinions about heroic or virtuoso morality, such as those espoused by Nietzsche or Machiavelli, that would place the heroic figure beyond mundane moral categories, beyond the good and evil of common folk. But truly heroic morality is mundane, precisely because the great and powerful are not exempt from the basic obligations of the moral order. As Lord Acton put it, “If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.”

Rev. Robert Sirico’s essay in chapter 3 of A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey takes a look at the complementary idea that it is as important how we behave when no one (other than God) is looking as when we are in the public eye. I recommend checking out this fine book for inspiring insight into how “anyone can do great things, can live a life that’s remarkable, purposeful, excellent, and yes, even heroic.”

Samuel Gregg on Money Radio 1510, Scottsdale, Ariz.:

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Samuel Gregg on the Janet Mefferd Show::

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Gregg’s new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future is now available. You can purchase the hardcover or Kindle version here.

Daniel Hannan, British Conservative Member of the European Parliament, said “‘Becoming Europe’ might not sound so bad: old buildings, long lunches, generous welfare. But, believe me my friends, it’s not where you want to be. Europe is a terrifying example of what happens when the state gets too large and the money runs out. Don’t imagine that it couldn’t happen to you.”

Also, the Westminster Institute near Washington will host a book event for Gregg next month. (more…)

Blog author: abradley
Friday, January 11, 2013

For those who voted for Mitt Romney, the Presidential Inauguration on January 21st could be a difficult day. Presidential elections have always been simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Today, alarmists on the left and the right place television advertisements, preach sermons, design billboards, and the like, proclaiming the apocalyptic consequences of the wrong person assuming the office of President of the United States. In the last election, Republicans and Democrats spent over $1 billion each courting support and votes from us, the people. But were all the negative ads, nasty rhetoric, baby kissing, money, and black-tie dinners really necessary given the fact that neither my vote nor yours actually determined the outcome of this presidential election? In all of U.S. history no single vote has been the deciding vote for president.

We are all aware that with respect to the presidency, voters last November were essentially voting in state elections in order to pass along to their representatives in the Electoral College which presidential candidate they prefer. Therefore, the actual weight of our votes varied by state since every state gets a number of electors that is the total of all of its representatives in each house of Congress. The fairness of this system has been debated for decades, and I offer it to remind us that we do not rely on direct democracy to select our president. America’s Founders understood this as a formula for future tyranny.

Given the campaign rhetoric, the millions of dollars spent soliciting voters, the way some religious leaders bound the consciences of their followers, and so on, I wonder if these activities gave voters the false impression that their individual presidential vote will make a difference and that politics is the only means of social change in America. In the 1968 article, “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting,” published in the American Political Science Review, William H. Riker and Peter Ordeshook made the point that, given the way our system works, an individual voter has virtually no chance of influencing the outcome of the election. Moreover, according to recent work of Columbia University professor Andrew Gelman, an individual voter has possibly less than 1 in 100 million chance of determining the outcome of the current race to the White House. In fact, it may be better to think of November 6th as the day when tennis fans show up to cheer their favorite player but do not have a direct impact in the outcome of the match.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 11, 2013

During the mid-1990s I spent a tour of duty as a Marine recruiter in southwestern Washington State. One of my primary tasks was to give talks at local high schools, but because many of the guidance counselors were not exactly pro-military, I was expected to give generic “motivational” speeches.

I soon discovered my idea of what constituted a motivational speech was not widely shared.

honor-courage-commitment“Your parents and teachers have not been straight-forward with you,” I told the students in my first presentation. “You’re not really all that special. There are hundreds of thousands of kids just like you. And the fact is that you cannot be anything you want. Most of you don’t have the physical skills necessary to be a pro-athlete or the mental acuity to be a neurosurgeon. If you want to be successful in life you are going to choose a vocation that fits with your aptitude and abilities. And you’re going to have to compete with others who are smarter and more talented than you are. You don’t have to be the best and brightest, but you do need to be the hardest-working.”

Needless to say, that message wasn’t well received by the students. Having a dream is the most important thing in life, one young girl told me and asked why I wanted to crush her (wildly unrealistic) ambitions. Another student, a slight, bespectacled young man said that while there were no 5’9” centers currently playing in the NBA, he’d be the first because he “wanted it more than anything else in the world.”

But while I was taken aback by the cluelessness of the students, I was even more surprised by the reaction of the teachers. They made it clear that I would not be invited back for I had undermined their attempts to build the “self-esteem” of the kids. I asked if they really believed that Johnny was going to be a basketball star and that Susan was going to achieve her outlandish dreams of being a famous actress. Of course they didn’t, but they couldn’t understand why that would matter. They seemed to believe that while an inflated sense of self-worth wasn’t a sufficient condition for success, it was certainly a necessary one. Therefore they believed that it was their duty to make sure that as many of the kids as possible “believed in themselves.”

The teachers couldn’t recognize that they were setting their students up for a life of failure by instilling in them “illusory superiority”, a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others. This is sometimes referred to as the Lake Wobegon Effect, named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 11, 2013

Pop Goes the Culture
Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard

One man’s quest to preserve and defend the good, the true, and the beautiful.

The Giglio Imbroglio — The Public Inauguration of a New Moral McCarthyism
Albert Mohler

A new chapter in America’s moral revolution came today as Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio withdrew from giving the benediction at President Obama’s second inaugural ceremony.

Tulsi Gabbard, the first ‘practicing Hindu’ in House of Representatives
Chidanand Rajghatta, The Times of India

Gabbard said her practice of Hinduism awakens the karma yogi in her, motivating her to serve others without thinking about rewards.

School Vouchers A Smart Choice For Students
Alex Entz, Doublethink Online

When evaluating a policy proposal, economists typically must weigh two oft-competing interests: efficiency and equity. School vouchers are one issue where these two typically-antagonistic forces align.

Radical Together, David PlattOver at Thought Life, Owen Strachan uses David Platt’s book, Radical Together, as a launching pad for asking, “Are you and I making and using money as if there is no such thing as the work of the gospel?”

I’ve already written about my disagreements with Platt’s approach in his first book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and Strachan expresses similar reservations. While appreciating Platt’s emphasis on “exaltation of and dependence on a sovereign, awesome God,” Strachan is concerned that on the topic of wealth—a primary target of Platt’s—readers might easily rush to the assumption that wealth and prosperity are bad altogether.

Evangelicalism desperately needs Platt’s laser focus on the gospel and missions. The church exists to make disciples for the glory of God, both locally and abroad. I would only point out that I think that wealth and philanthropy can actually be our friend here. In other words, if you want to apply the “radical” model–with its many strengths–I can think of few things more radical than using one’s wealth for gospel purposes. Maybe the most spiritual thing to do to support the promotion of the gospel is this: stay in your job, save and invest scrupulously, and keep pumping out money to support missionaries and pastors.

Here’s just one example of thousands we could give on this point. A forgotten man named Henry Parsons Crowell made vast amounts of money through the Quaker Oats company. Did he hoard it? Nope. He gave away 70% percent of his massive income and helped bankroll Moody Bible Institute, the school that…has sent out thousands upon thousands of missionaries in its century of ministry. Yes, every time you eat Quaker Oats, you’re paying masticular homage to a man who–merely by giving money–helped catapult the gospel all over the world

…This is a testimony to what wealth, including but not limited to truly fabulous wealth, can do if committed to the Lord. It’s one of countless others we could share of evangelicals of great or small means who tucked money away not for themselves, but for the work of Christ’s church. (more…)