Archived Posts May 2013 | Acton PowerBlog

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a professor at Yeshiva College in New York, says religious liberty does not mean we need to water down our beliefs in order to get along. Rather, he says that people of different faiths must learn to live as both “stranger and friend“:

The rabbi explained that “America is the first country in a long time founded around an idea,” and that religious freedom “is the philosophical lynchpin of what lies at the heart of American ideals.”

This theory is evident throughout American history, he said.

To illustrate his point, Rabbi Soloveichik recounted the story of Jonas Phillips, a Jewish merchant living in the early United States. He explained that shortly after the formation of the country, Jews wishing to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature were required to swear an oath upon a Christian Bible, a blasphemous act for the Jewish people.

[Jonas] Phillips [a Jewish merchant], who had fought in the Revolutionary War alongside other Jews and Christians, found that this requirement was in opposition to the founding principles of the country, Soloveichik explained. The merchant sent a letter to George Washington protesting this practice and affirming that “all religious societies are on an equal footing.”

The rabbi maintains that a just society “will accept these differences and respect a person’s freedom to abide by his or her religious beliefs, treating the individual ‘as equal, without sacrificing religious faith’ for social uniformity.”Read “Religious Differences Compatible With Freedom, Jewish Leader Says” at National Catholic Register.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Friday, May 31, 2013

Back in January, I was interviewed for the podcast Conversations On Orthodoxy. After some wonderful editing, the interview has recently been posted.

In particular, the focus of the interview is mostly on how I went from an American Evangelical upbringing to becoming a convert to the Orthodox Church. However, I wanted to link to it here because it concludes with some thoughts about my work at Acton. In particular, I talk about Acton’s vision for a free and virtuous society, its approach to ecumenism, and where I see my own research as an Orthodox Christian in the context of my work here and elsewhere.

You can listen to the podcast here.

As a small disclaimer, I would like to say that at one point it appears that I attribute dispensational eschatology to my alma mater Kuyper College, a school in the Reformed tradition (and therefore decidedly not dispensationalist). The sound bite in question actually is about my childhood church, but I did not make that clear enough during the interview, contributing to the mix up. Other than that, though, I think it turned out great and extend my thanks to Conversations On Orthodoxy.

300px-MotherTeresa_0902Forbes‘ Ralph Benko explains what a chance encounter with Mother Teresa taught him about good economic policy:

I had walked by a homeless man (or, as then was called, bum) sleeping on the 41st Street sidewalk. People sleeping on the sidewalk were a familiar sight in the New York City of that era. I hadn’t even noticed him.

But Mother Teresa had noticed him. And she had stopped to get him to his feet.

As I approached the group, Mother Teresa was glaring up at this wobbly fellow — someone nearly two feet taller than her. She had her forefinger pointed right in his face. A cop, who had wandered over, echoed her lecture to him:

“Now you listen to the little lady. Unless you help yourself there ain’t nothin’ we can do for you.”

Macroeconomics in a nutshell. This presented an axiom apparently lost on both major political parties today.

Read more . . .

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, May 31, 2013

sowell-intellect-raceThe more I read of Thomas Sowell’s latest book, Intellectuals and Race, the more I am persuaded that the era of progressivism may have been just as damaging to the history of black progress in American than the Jim Crow era. From the latter part of the 19th-century through the 1930s progressives sought to use government as a means of addressing the social ills of society. It was an era where leading intellectuals, in partnership with politicians, expanded the scope of the government’s decision-making authority to address the needs of the poor. It was an era where good intentions created more problems than policy makers anticipated. Sowell explains how these policies were especially harmful to minorities in chapter 3 of the book.
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According to the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s three largest universities (Michigan State, University of Michigan and Wayne State) are producing entrepreneurs at twice the national average. According to Michael Wayland, the report included:

…responses from more than 40,000 of the 1.2 million alumni of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The responses revealed that more than 19 percent of the alumni surveyed have started a company, and some have created more than one.

The study suggests a significant number of alumni are starting their own businesses, and more than 50 percent of those businesses are here in Michigan, contributing to our state’s economic prosperity,” said URC [University Research Corridor] Executive Director Jeff Mason in a statement. “The URC is committed to supplying the tools that can lead to new companies and more jobs.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, May 31, 2013

Poll: Most Americans Say Religion Is Losing Influence in U.S.
Frank Newport, Gallup

But 75% say American society would be better off if more Americans were religious

Flourishing: The Way Things Ought To Be
Hugh Whelchel, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

The Bible tells us that full shalom awaits God’s people at the end of this age, in the last chapter of redemptive history when Christ returns to consummate his kingdom. We are called to work toward shalom while we await the return of Christ.

Cardinal Dolan on Assault on Religious Freedom: Not a Slippery Slope, But a Ski Slope
Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review

Further addressing the connections between the story of union power politics and the HHS mandate fight, Dolan said: “If we give in now, they will not leave us alone. No. That never happens.” Twenty years ago, it was a union. Today it is the federal government, in a regulation it has manipulatively demogogued into utter confusion.

Vatican to UN: 100 thousand Christians killed for the faith each year
Vatican Radio

The Holy See has expressed “deep concern” for violations of religious freedom and systematic attacks on Christian communities in regions of the world such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Blog author: mbrandenburg
posted by on Thursday, May 30, 2013
One of the five nuclear reactors in Chernobyl

One of the four nuclear reactors that loom over Chernobyl

Twenty-seven years have passed since the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl endured the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. In 2005, the United Nations predicted 4,000 people could eventually die from the radiation exposure, although different estimates exist. In a recent presentation at Aquinas College, Father Oleh Kindiy, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and visiting Fulbright Scholar, and Luba Markewycz, a photographer and member of the education committee at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, shared insights on the current state of Chernobyl and what can be learned from the tragedy. All images in this post are copyright of Luba Markewycz.

Kindiy’s reflections on the situation include the following:

1)  “No matter how grave the technological disaster, human solidarity and support reveals the vulnerability, interconnectedness, and dream for the better in us.”

2)  “Since the times of the Enlightenment of the 17th century, the Western Civilization has believed that all problems can be solved by science and technology, but in fact besides them, there is faith, tradition, and moral responsibility that need always be taken into account. Without them, technology by itself is a loose cannon that can explode at any time.”

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 30, 2013

thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”

Facing a corrupt and repressive government, about 36,000 Eritreans fled last year into the eastern Sudan where they faced harsh weather and the threat of kidnapping. Human trafficking has become a serious threat for these Eritrean refugees. Bedouin people-trafficking gangs find weary travelers then kidnap, torture, and often kill them. The gangs do this hoping to extract ransom from their victims’ families.

Despite the dangers that Eritreans face, many still choose to cross into Sudan, looking for freedom. According to the BBC, Eritrea has one of the most corrupt governments; it “has been accused of repression and of hindering the development of democracy.”

The BBC recently published a piece about Philemon Semere, an Eritrean refugee and a victim of human trafficking. He crossed into Eastern Sudan and was immediately captured by one of these human trafficking gangs. He was thrown with several others into the back of a truck and transported North almost 2,000 miles to a house in the Sinai peninsula. He said this about his ordeal: “Words are not enough to say how good I’m doing right now. I’m so relieved after everything I went through. Death was very near to me and at one point all hope was gone.” Philemon was frequently forced to call his family members and beg for the ransom of $33,000.  While they were tortured often, it was always significantly worse when the victims were on the phone with family members.  Philemon said that the first time he called his mother, “She heard my screams and couldn’t stop crying. I was crying too. We both just cried and cried until we had no tears left.” He explained that relatives were more likely to pay the ransoms if they could hear the victims “screaming and crying in pain.”

mapPhilemon was held captive with 19 other Eritreans, but more than half died in captivity. Philemon was released after his poverty-stricken family scraped together $13,200, and two other captives paid $10,000 on his behalf. Philemon made it to Cairo along with hundreds of others who underwent to the same horrors as he did. When he thinking of his ordeal and what he plans to do in the future, Philemon said, “God brought me out of the deepest darkness and only he knows what lies ahead for me now.”

For more information, please see Joel Millman’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ruthless Kidnapping Rings Reach From Desert Sands to U.S. Cities.

 

 

Blog author: mbrandenburg
posted by on Thursday, May 30, 2013

When we consider poverty alleviation, what areas should be focused on to yield effective and sustainable results? In the blog article, “The fruits, the roots, and the soil,” PovertyCure’s Mark Weber asserts that it is oftentimes the neglected aspects that are most necessary for long-term prosperity. We can often be lured by attractive, short-term assistance approaches, rather than recognizing and building the strong foundations that allow individuals and communities to thrive. We need to focus on the soil.

He says,

We poverty junkies spend a lot of time examining the fruits and the roots. But what of the soil? Humanitarians generally focus on the former, i.e. physical needs such as food, water, clothes, and medicine. Development types generally focus on the latter, i.e. infrastructure, agriculture, education, and various government or multilateral programs. Send out an agronomist to analyze a section of land for agricultural fertility, and his primary focus will be on the nature and fertility of the soil. We can have all the fancy technology in the world, we can genetically engineer seeds for pesticide resistance and higher yields, we can till the land with the powerful machines, but if the soil is sterile, nothing will grow.

Microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus touches on the soil issue in his poignant metaphor of the bonsai tree:

View the entire article on the PovertyCure Blog.