Archived Posts February 2014 | Acton PowerBlog

amnesiaWhy, when I realize that journalists misrepresent topics that I know something about — such as religious liberty — do I trust them to accurately cover issues that I don’t know much about?

I’ve thought about that question for years but didn’t realize that the late novelist Michael Crichton coined a related term for this: the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

ukraine flagThe rapidly changing events in the Ukraine are causing concern throughout the world.  On March 4 at 3 p.m., a panel discussion entitled Ukraine: The Last Frontier in the Cold War?will be held at the Calvin College DeVos Communications Center Lobby area in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The panel will feature Todd Huizinga (Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Institute, Acton Institute Fellow, and co-founder of the Transatlantic Christian Council, with expertise on the European Union), Becca McBride (professor of Political Science at Calvin College, with research focus on Russia), and Joel Westra (professor of Political Science at Calvin College, with research focus on international relations and global security issues).  Kevin den Dulk (Executive Director of the Henry Institute and professor of Political Science at Calvin College) will serve as the moderator.

After a week filled with heated media discussions on religious liberty, Mollie Hemingway provides a devastating critique of how, legislation aside, our media and culture appear bent on diluting and distorting a freedom foundational to all else.

The piece is striking and sweeping, deeply disturbing and yet, for those of us in the trenches, somewhat cathartic in its clarity. Whether politics is downstream or upstream from culture, it appears rather clear that this battle is not a figment of our imaginations. Back and forth and back again.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but her concluding paragraphs helpfully crystalize why, regardless of your political perspective, your religious beliefs, or your personal position within the social and economic order, diminishing religious liberty will result in road-blocks aplenty on the path to human flourishing:

Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One? (more…)

godzilla1954cFear of the unknown hazards of technology has been the inspiration for science fiction cautionary tales from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Japanese superstar Godzilla. Sadly, this fear extends to the harmless – and indeed extremely positive – applications of science in contemporary agriculture, especially when it comes to producing cheap, plentiful food for people on every rung of the economic ladder.

Modern agriculture’s ability to feed the Earth’s population is nothing short of miraculous. Modern science and practices have enabled the farming sector to raise livestock and grow crops capable of offering inexpensive nutrition to the majority of the world’s billions. One group whom one would think ecstatic at such developments would be the religious shareholder investors at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. The ICCR folk, however, turn up their noses at genetically modified organisms that have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years, making it possible to grow drought-resilient and pest-resistant crops. (more…)

media-biasWould you be surprised to hear that the mainstream media hasn’t been telling you the whole story? Probably not. The failings of the media has been a perennial story since 131 BC when the first newspaper, Acta Diurna, was published in Rome.

But sometimes the media’s biases lead them to make claims that are especially egregious and harmful to the common good. Such is the case on the reporting of an amendment relating to the free exercise of religion in Arizona. Critics of the bill described it as an anti-gay bill and claimed it would be used to deny access to public accommodations for homosexuals. As the Christian Post noted, almost every media organization in the country, including the more conservative Fox News, have taken the side of the critics by describing S.B. 1062 as a “gay discrimination” bill.

Because of this biased (bordering on fraudulent) reporting, the media was able to sway public opinion on the issue, which pressured Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the amendment.

Fortunately, we live in an age when the mainstream media is losing its stranglehold on the public’s attention. Several outlets have explained the true substance of the amendment and exposed the mendacity of the media. If you want to learn the truth, here are a few places to start:


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

Venezuela has been at the top of the news lately because of violnent demonstrations and government abuses (for background on the situation in Venezuela, check out Joe Carter’s post). Director of research at Acton, Samuel Gregg, has written a special report at The American Spectator commentating on Venezuela as well as Latin America as a whole:

Given Venezuela’s ongoing meltdown and the visible decline in the fortunes of Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner, one thing has become clear. Latin America’s latest experiments with left-wing populism have reached their very predictable end-points. There is a price to be paid for the economics of populism, and no amount of blaming nefarious “neoliberals” can disguise cruel realities such as food-shortages, electricity-blackouts, endemic corruption, the disintegration of rule of law, utterly insecure property-rights, and wild inflation — all of which have helped Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador achieve the ignominious distinction of being categorized as “repressed economies” in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.

Certainly it’s not clear that Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela will lose power. As the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady has underscored, the Castros who run the prison camp otherwise known as Cuba will do whatever-it-takes to try and prevent that. Nor is it certain that Argentines won’t vote for yet another Perónist who promises to solve everyone’s problems via government decree when presidential elections come due in 2015.

But if crises are indeed opportunities, now is the time for those Latin Americans who recognize populism’s flaws to think seriously about what comes next. One mistake would be to imagine that all that’s required are different economic policies. (more…)

devil made me“It doesn’t matter what I believe…as long as I’m a good person.”

How many times have you heard that? As our society trends more and more to the secular, this type of thing becomes more common. We’ve gone from a society that, at the very least, paid lip-service to communal worship and having moral standards set by a higher authority, to “I can worship God on my own; I don’t need a church to do that” to “It doesn’t matter what I believe, as long as I’m a good person.”

Is that right? Can a person believe “whatever” and still be good. Fr. Robert Barron disagrees.

I would imagine that, if pressed, most people in our society would characterize “being a good person” as treating others with love, honoring the dignity, freedom, and inherent worth of their fellow human beings. And most would agree that ethical violations—stealing, lying, sexual misbehavior, infidelity, cheating, doing physical harm, etc.—are correctly seen as negations of love. But what is love? Love is not primarily a feeling or an instinct; rather, it is the act of willing the good of the other as other. It is radical self-gift, living for the sake of the other. To be kind to someone else so that he might be kind to you, or to treat a fellow human being justly so that he, in turn, might treat you with justice is not to love, for such moves are tantamount to indirect self-interest. Truly to love is to move outside of the black hole of one’s egotism, to resist the centripetal force that compels one to assume the attitude of self-protection. But this means that love is rightly described as a “theological virtue,” for it represents a participation in the love that God is. Since God has no need, only God can utterly exist for the sake of the other. All of the great masters of the Christian spiritual tradition saw that we are able to love only inasmuch as we have received, as a grace, a share in the very life, energy, and nature of God.