Archived Posts March 2014 | Acton PowerBlog

jeff20th Century historian Dumas Malone praised Thomas Jefferson as the exemplar of liberty. “To all who cherish freedom and abhor tyranny in any form, [Jefferson] is an abiding hope that springs eternal,” declared Malone. Jefferson crafted our creed as Americans and once wrote, “Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and inalienable rights of man.”

In the April issue of Carolina Journal, I review Long Journey with Mr. Jefferson. You can read the review on page 20 of the issue in PDF form. The book, which is a biography of Dumas Malone, was an enlightening read on a scholar who spent decades studying Thomas Jefferson. His six-volume biography of the author of the Declaration of Independence, titled Jefferson and His Times, spanned from 1948-1981. Malone received the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

While I haven’t read all of Malone’s volumes, the biography piqued my interest because of the complexity of studying Jefferson and the lengthy duration Malone spent on one man. One of the points I made at the end of the review was the stark contrast Malone provides to an American society that is becoming increasingly ignorant of not just its history, but the meaning and nature of our rights. Studying Jefferson is essential. It’s a great introduction into the whole ethos of the limiting of state power and especially elevating an important truth, that governments gain their legitimacy by their ability to protect the rights that predate government.

The Sword of Damocles - artist Wencelas Hollar

The Sword of Damocles – artist Wencelas Hollar

Like the proverbial sword of Damocles, the Obamacare deadline looms. Today is the last day to sign up…sort of. I’ll explain that momentarily.

First, let’s look at the proverb mentioned above, lest there be any misunderstanding. As classics scholar Daniel Mendelsohn says, there is often confusion as to exactly what this allusion means.

The real point of the story is very clearly a moral parable. It’s not just, oh, something terrible is going to happen, but it’s about realizing that what looks like an enviable life, a life of wealth, a life of power, a life of luxury is, in fact, fraught with anxiety, terror and possibly death.

I cannot think of a more apt description of what is facing the Obama administration regarding health care. In the U.S. today, almost 49 million people are uninsured. The plan was, of course, to get all those folks insured under Obamacare. Yet, less than 2 percent of those eligible have enrolled. And today is the deadline to enroll. Sort of. You can start the enrollment process today, and the government will give you until next week to complete the process. Unless they extend the deadline again. Despite the “hard and fast” date of March 31, it has become clear to the White House that this simply isn’t going to work. (more…)

noahAdmittedly, this writer attended a viewing of Noah last week with trepidation. A March 17 New Yorker profile on director Darren Aronofsky gave good cause for suspicion the film would be yet another Hollywood environmentalist screed wherein humanity is depicted as a cancer on God’s creation. Instead, the film (largely) avoids such proclamations in favor of some pretty intense – make that very intense – family psychodrama and a spun-from-whole-cloth story involving Watchers, clan rivalry and allusions to other Old Testament stories.

Before the first fistful of popcorn, Aronofsky provides a decent CliffsNotes version of Genesis. The filmmaker deftly avoids religious controversy until depicting Cain’s wickedness as not only manifested by the slaying of his brother Abel but — much worse by Hollywood standards — his  subsequent career as an “industrialist.” About here I’m thinking, “Oh, boy, we’re in for a slog.”

Described by Aronofsky as “a fantasy film taking place in a mythical quasi-Biblical world” and “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made,” Noah takes great liberties in its re-imagining of the Great Flood and the eventual reboot of humanity. Whereas other artists focused on Noah obsessing over the building of the Ark, Aronofsky depicts Noah (Russell Crowe) as a man clearly in communication with the “Creator” but – just as clearly – somehow getting his prophetic lines crossed as to what exactly his mission entails after the deluge. (more…)

got-toleranceCritics of homeschooling have long maintained that it fails to inculcate students with the civic virtues necessary to maintain our republican form of democracy. But a new study finds that when it comes to willingness to extend basic civil liberties to people who hold views with which one disagrees, homeschooled students are more tolerant than their peers:

Scholar Albert Cheng’s just-published fascinating and provocative study provides one of the first solid portions of empirical evidence about whether the homeschooled become more or less politically intolerant than others.[3] The researcher’s purpose was to compare college students from different school types – public school, private school, and homeschool – by analyzing political tolerance outcomes. That is, are students from any particular school background more or less politically tolerant than others? Political tolerance is “… defined as the willingness to extend basic civil liberties to political or social groups that hold views with which one disagrees” (p. 49).

Cheng used an instrument (e.g., a questionnaire) called the “content-controlled political tolerance scale.” In its first of two parts, the “… scale provides the respondent with a list of popular social and political groups, such as Republicans, gay-rights activists, or fundamentalist Christians. The respondent is asked to select the group with beliefs that he opposes the most … The second part of the political tolerance scale measures the respondent’s willingness to extend basic civil liberties to members of his least-liked group” (p. 55). Participants were asked to respond to items such as the following:
1. “The government should be able to tap the phones of [the least-liked group].”
2. “Books that are written by members of the [the least-liked group] should be banned from the public library.”
3. “I would allow members of [the least-liked group] to live in my neighborhood.” (p. 60)

With this scale, he studied students at a private university in the western United States. These students came from a variety of schooling and racial/ethnic backgrounds.

The study found that “those [college students] with more exposure to homeschooling relative to public schooling tend to be more politically tolerant.”

(Via: Cranach)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, March 31, 2014

Of Course Corporations Like Hobby Lobby Have Rights Of Conscience, And You Probably Shop At One
Trevor Burrus, Forbes

Big and intrusive government threatens all types of rights of conscience. When government expands into new, values-laden areas, it is best to realize that while today it may be them, tomorrow it could be you.

Mistakes To Avoid For Theologians Talking About Economics
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Patheos

The problem of Catholic social doctrine isn’t that it follows the wrong school of thought, it’s that it should follow any thought at all.

The Christian Penumbra
Ross Douthat, New York Times

In the Christian penumbra, certain religious expectations could endure (a bias toward early marriage, for instance) without support networks for people struggling to live up to them.

For Religious Liberty, Desperate Times; Faithful Measures
Matthew Cochran, The Federalist

As a Christian, I am used to speaking about faith in a very specific sense—a trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ through which we receive God’s promises. Though this is not primarily an activity of the intellect, faith manifests itself in the intellect inasmuch as a person possesses one.

In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about this week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican, and reflects on the differences in philosophy that make a Presidential/Papal alliance such as what occurred during the time of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II unlikely.

Today was the day for our event highlighting the growing problem of human trafficking, and a great panel discussion it was; we’ll be posting video from the event soon. In the meantime, you’ll have to be satisfied with the following clip, featuring Acton Communications Specialist Elise Hilton. She joined host Emily Linnert on WOOD TV 8‘s Daybreak show here in our hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan to discuss the human trafficking crisis.

Today at Ethika Politika, I review The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha’s Path by Addison Hodges Hart:

Addison Hodges Hart, a retired pastor and university chaplain, offers in The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd a wonderful exercise in comparative religion, examining the common ground that can be found in spiritual practice between Christianity and Buddhism. Hart focuses on the ten ox-herding icons of Zen, originating in China by the master Kakuan and accompanied by his verse and prose commentary. Hart, then, adds his own Christian perspective on the spiritual journey depicted and described by Kakuan, highlighting in the end his emphasis that outer acts of compassion require a prior, inner transformation.

One such person who was inspired by an inner, spiritual conversion not only to “outer acts of compassion” but also to build a freer and more virtuous society was the Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Lord Acton writes in his address “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,”

But in all that I have been able to cite from classical literature, three things are wanting: Representative Government, the emancipation of the slaves, and liberty of conscience. There were, it is true, deliberative assemblies, chosen by the people; and confederate cities, of which, both in Asia and in Europe there were so many Leagues, sent their delegates, to sit in federal councils. But government by an elected parliament was, even in theory, a thing unknown. It is congruous with the nature of Polytheism to admit some measure of toleration. And Socrates, when he avowed that he must obey God rather than the Athenians, and the Stoics, when they set the wise man above the [civil] law, were very near giving utterance to the principle. But it was first proclaimed, and established by enactment, not in polytheistic and philosophical Greece, but in India, by Asoka, the earliest of the Buddhist kings, 250 years before the Birth of Christ.

Tantalizingly, this is all that Acton says about Ashoka (=”Asoka”). Who was he? Why does Acton single him out? (more…)

hobbylobby1The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby contraception case. But which arguments will have the most influence on the justices? Michael McConnel, a respected Religion Clauses scholar from Standford, explains which four arguments are most likely to be important:

Cutting through the politicized hype about the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga case (“Corporations have no rights!” “War on Women!”) the Justices during oral argument focused on four serious legal questions, which deserve a serious answer:

(1)  Could Hobby Lobby avoid a substantial burden on its religious exercise by dropping health insurance and paying fines of $2,000 per employee?

(2)  Does the government have a compelling interest in protecting the statutory rights of Hobby Lobby’s employees?

(3)  Would a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby give rise to a slippery slope of exemptions from vaccines, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the like?

(4)  Has the government satisfied the least restrictive means test?

I think the answer to all four questions is “no.” I offer brief thoughts on each below.

Read more . . .

Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Tables_of_the_Law_(detail)“Are there then no laws in the legal sense in the law of Moses?” asks Cornelis Vonk, the Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher.

“Of course there are, but there is much more besides.”

This, and what follows, comes from Vonk’s newly translated Exodus, the second primer in CLP’s growing Opening the Scriptures series:

Through his law, the Lord also taught Israel what sorts of social measures did and did not please him… Neither did the Lord forget to teach his people through the torah how they could please him through wise and generous economic measures…

…In the torah the voice of a Father is heard. God was teaching his chosen people what life is really all about so that they would follow his example and model themselves after his image.

He wanted them to be friendly and merciful, righteous and wise in daily life. Time and again the torah tells the Israelites, “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deut. 15:14–15). The Lord’s commands to Israel often had such a reason or motive attached to them. The torah had its basis in the deliverance from Egypt, which was the liberation of life. That’s why the various social, economic, and legal measures all contain a hearty echo of the gospel. (more…)