Archived Posts January 2013 » Page 4 of 14 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, January 25, 2013

Canary in the Coal Mine: Mounting Religious Restrictions in Europe
Roger Trigg, Religious Freedom Project

On January 15, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights issued judgments on four cases of great significance for the cause of religious freedom. What they say could well have repercussions beyond Europe itself.

Message to Obama Council: Economic Freedom Leads to Global Development
Helle Dale, The Foundry

We already know what leads to higher living standards in the developing world. It is not developmental aid; it is economic freedom, including free trade—not the strongest suit for the Obama Administration.

Russian ‘police state’ erodes religious liberty
Baptist Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created a “police state” and imposed new laws to progressively erode religious freedom, according to an annual report compiled by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work
Hugh Whelchel, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

During the Reformation, John Calvin, along with Martin Luther and others, helped Christians rediscover the biblical doctrine of work.

Guidelines for nonprofits are often misunderstood, says Dimitri Cavalli, and they are sometimes misrepresented by those seeking to quiet churches:

Every so often, there are calls for the federal government to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches. The most common arguments made for taxing churches are that exemptions deny the government important sources of revenue to pay its bills, and that many churches (usually the ones that continue to teach traditional sexuality morality such as the Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon churches) often abuse their tax-exempt status by violating IRS guidelines that prohibit them from engaging in political activity. The chronic obsession with the activities of the churches in the public square has obscured the fact that they are only a part of the overall nonprofit sector. According to data collected by the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations (with combined total assets of nearly $5.7 trillion as of August 2012) in the United States today—many of which are nonreligious institutions and organizations that, like churches, seek to influence public policy despite being tax-exempt.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life of Michael Angelo, 1912 - The Prophet JeremiahWhy do the wicked prosper? This plaintive query is a consistent cry from the psalmist and the prophets. As Jeremiah puts it, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

The concern in large part has to do with injustice; why do those who are so morally and spiritually bankrupt enjoy such great temporal blessings?

Over at the IEA blog, John Meadowcroft passes along an answer, at least insofar as it relates to the political structures of social democracy. Drawing on Friedrich Hayek, Geoffrey Brennan, and James Buchanan, Meadowcroft writes that “we should expect that the people most willing to work to attain political office will be those who expect to gain the most from holding it.” And it turns out that quite often those who stand to gain most from political office are those who, in the words of Brennan and Buchanan, “place higher values on the possession of such power.”

Meadowcroft concludes by invoking Hume’s “dictum that political institutions should be designed as if every person was a knave with no end other than his or her own private interests, even though we know that not all people behave knavishly.” The lesson for political power is that it ought to be limited such that the knaves who seek it for their own selfish ends (or those who are turned into knaves by the exercise of their power) ought to have their ambitions blunted by the constrained scope of their authority.

In the context of political power, the wicked tend to prosper, that is, they tend to become powerful precisely because it is so important to them to become powerful. The truth of this insight from public choice theory can also be applied more generally to the prophetic concern.

Why do the wicked prosper? The answer is in part, at least, because the wicked under examination here are the ones who are so attracted to material or temporal gain that they are willing do to pretty much anything to get it. They often achieve their goals, and thus prosper in this limited sense for a season. But in enabling them to achieve what they so desire, God allows their desire to become its own judgment.

A corollary to all this is that there is an obligation on the part of the church and other morally-formative institutions to do their best within their mandates to encourage and promote the development of those who might seek to exercise authority (whether political or otherwise), not as selfish knaves but as suffering servants. Since there are no systems or structures that are incorruptible, it is perhaps just as important to develop non-knavish leaders as it is to limit the scope of any particular leader’s power.

Hobby-Lobby-StoreJustice Antonin Scalia caused quite the stir by attending President Obama’s inauguration ceremony wearing a custom-made replica of the painter’s hat depicted in a famous portrait of St. Thomas More, the well-known Catholic statesman and martyr.

Whether Scalia intended it or not, observers quickly translated the act as a quiet game of connect-the-dots between the administration’s punitive HHS mandate and Henry VIII’s executioner, leading conservatives to applaud while progressives don their own less fashionable bonnets of protest.

Although I don’t expect actual heads to roll anytime soon, the symbolism is fitting indeed. This an administration that seeks to lure Christians away from their consciences through threats of economic penalties and pain. If your religious beliefs happen to clash with the coercive methods and materialistic aims of this administration, blood shall be spilt on the altar of “access.”

The irony abounds. Keep in mind that President Obama ran a campaign that ridiculed Mitt Romney as an Ebenezer Scrooge who clings to his coins without empathy for others and without regard for ethics and morality (all despite Romney’s strong record of charitable giving, might I add). Then and now, this same President seeks to persecute good people like Hobby Lobby’s CEO through economic penalties in the millions of dollars, all for the abonimable sin of caring about and believing in something before and beyond the dollar.

If the great secret of capitalism is its power to leverage and channel the human spirit toward more transcendent ends, the great irony of progressivism is its propensity to take on the image of its own materialistic critiques. (more…)

The Acton Institute has again been named a leading think tank by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program. Writing about this new, 2012 ranking, Alejandro Chafuen, explained what constitutes a good think tank on the Forbes website:

A “market-oriented” think tank is grounded on the reality that respect for private property within a context of rule of law with limited government has been the path for  the wealth of nations. Think tanks that are not market-oriented study how to redistribute wealth, how to increase taxation, or  the optimum rate of monetary debasement. Governments have typically relied on their own internal think tanks for that research, and complemented it by research from state-subsidized universities. Market-oriented think tanks focus on finding private solutions to public problems.

Chafuen is president and chief executive officer of Atlas Economic Research Foundation and board member of the Acton Institute. You can read his full article, “Thinking About Think Tanks: Which Ones Are the Best?” at Forbes.com.

The full news release from the Acton Institute follows:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Jan. 24, 2013)—The University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program ranked the Acton Institute among the top social policy and top U.S. think tanks with the release of its 2012 Global Go-To Think Tanks Report. In addition, Acton was cited for having one of the best advocacy campaigns.

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Is Christianity and the Christian worldview the path to a free society? Chinese bloggers are asking that question. Many believe the fascination with American politics and democracy is at an all time high in China. Technology and internet access is surely responsible for much of the trend. From one report,

Obama’s inauguration was a top trending topic on Sina Weibo, China’s massive microblogging site, with over 25 million posts on Jan. 21. Of these, one comment by a Weibo user by the name Wugou1975 was forwarded over 2,000 times, garnering over 500 comments. The blogger posted a photo of Obama taking the presidential oath with Supreme Court Justice John Roberts:

‘Some Chinese find it unbelievable that this secular country’s democratically elected president was sworn in with his hand on a Bible, not the Constitution, and facing a court justice, not Congress. But actually, this is the secret of America’s constitutional democracy: It’s not just the Constitution or the government’s “separation of powers.” Above that is natural law, guarded by a grand justice. And below is a community of Christians, unified by their belief.’

Undeniably, there has been and continues to be a systematic attack upon the Christian roots of the West and this nation. Marcello Pera, who teaches at the Pontifical Council in Rome, sums it up well:

“With its words, liberal secularism preaches freedom, tolerance, and democracy, but with its deeds it attacks precisely that Christian religion which prevents freedom from deteriorating into license, tolerance into indifference, democracy into anarchy.”

There is a level of irony in Chinese bloggers recognizing the significance of the religious foundations of democracy, while many Western scholars have abandoned or even attacked such notions. America’s religious heritage is vibrant and was a unifying factor promoting shared values and purpose throughout its history. The American framers knew religious vibrancy was required for ordered liberty and virtue to reign and prosper throughout society. Alexis de Tocqueville praised these characteristics and noted it was the foundations of America’s freedom and strength of its people. When it comes to the basis of our rights and foundations of government, Jefferson asked,

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, January 24, 2013

At the Times, Religious Liberty is a Right-Wing Cause
Matthew J. Franck, First Things

Evidently, for the Times, devotion to religious liberty is now a right-wing cause. And it’s not as though the newspaper went looking for devotees of religious liberty and found only conservatives.

Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private
Peter Berger, The American Interest

In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space.

Charity to Match Our Poverty
Matthew Hanley, The Catholic Thing

Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services presently take in tens, even hundreds of millions from the government. That may not always be problematic, but securing and managing those grants requires employees who know how to talk their talk.

Should Christians Play Golf? Making Decisions at the Margin
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

We are rarely forced to make all-or-nothing decisions. Instead, we use our time to work, eat, and sleep. We use our income to purchase a combination of housing, meals, clothing, etc.

In the Washington Times, Nile Gardiner praises Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future, the new book by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg. Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation and a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst for The Telegraph, says Becoming Europe “should be on the desk of every member of the House and Senate who cares about the future of America as a prosperous and free nation.” Gardiner recommends the book for its “rich detail describing the economic and social ‘Europeanization’ of America, from the rise of vast welfare systems to growing skepticism of the merits of the free-enterprise system.” Excerpt from the review:

“Becoming Europe” is a meticulously researched and well-argued thesis that lays out what is at stake for the world’s superpower, as it faces a stark choice between European-style decline or a return to the original vision of America’s Founding Fathers, as well as the classical liberal teachings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Friedrich von Hayek and Adam Smith. Mr. Gregg, who is director of research at the Acton Institute, paints a grim picture of the direction America is taking but, nevertheless, conveys a positive message to his readers. Mr. Gregg argues that while America is indeed on the path to the European model, it can still turn back and avoid the fate that Europe looks doomed to suffer. In many respects, this is an optimistic book based upon faith in America’s ability to renew itself through rediscovering the principles of economic liberty.

I agree with Mr. Gregg’s assessment. As Gallup polling consistently shows, America is still at its core a conservative nation, one that cherishes the foundations of individual liberty. The fire of freedom still burns brighter on this side of the Atlantic than it does in the Old World, where the suffocating supranationalism of the European Union marches on, with the EU heading toward ever-greater political and economic centralization. The European nightmare can be avoided here, however, only if America’s leaders, at both a national and state level, are willing to stand up for economic freedom and reject the destructive ideology of big government. Washington is already on the path to Brussels, Paris and Athens, but it still has an opportunity to reverse course and avoid the road to economic ruin.

Read Nile Gardiner’s full review of Becoming Europe in the Washington Times.

justpoliticsIn the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty (22.3), I review Just Politics by Ronald Sider (read the full review here). While the book has much to commend it, my review ultimately ends up being critical. I do not believe it succeeds in constructing a solid social framework for Evangelicals comparable to Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, as is its stated goal. I write,

Just Politics may be a guide in the same sense that a field guide to birds can rightly be called a guide, but it does not succeed at being “a methodology”—like, for example, the scientific method—as is its stated goal. Or more to the point, unlike the Roman Catholic framework of subsidiarity, solidarity, and natural law or the neo-Calvinist framework of sphere sovereignty, the antithesis, and common grace, Sider’s framework (Part 3 of the book and the vast majority, nearly 140 pages) resembles more the things one would hang upon a framework than a framework itself.

Among the many things Sider highlights in field-guide-to-birds style (between “Starvation” and “Capital Punishment”) is this peculiarity under the category of the sanctity of human life:

Smoking

Smoking kills an estimated 438,000 Americans every year. Around the world, the death toll from smoking rises to 5 million each year.

The social costs are enormous. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that smoking costs the nation $75.5 billion each year in medical bills and $92 billion in low productivity. Lung cancer snatches fathers and mothers away prematurely.

Given the devastation caused by smoking tobacco, it is especially ironic that senator Jesse Helms, long heralded as one of the great pro-life supporters, strongly supported government funding to send American tobacco to developing countries under our “Food for Peace” program.

Christians must insist that the sanctity of human life applies to everyone, including people seduced by clever cigarette advertising. Christians must work for effective laws that prevent tobacco advertisements, forbid smoking in most public buildings and facilities, and educate the public on the dangers of smoking. American experience over the last thirty years demonstrates that this mix of government programs can reduce smoking and the deaths it causes.

I find the above statement both challenging and confusing. Let me explain…. (more…)

President Barack Obama has put gun control high on his second-term agenda, pushing also for more police forces and mental health services in schools. “The American mental health system is broken, but this back-door approach under the guise of preventing crime is not the way to fix it,” writes Acton’s Elise Hilton. “It will only further stigmatize the mentally ill, and prevent many from getting help.” The full text of her essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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