Posts tagged with: 2007 acton lecture series

Dr. Jay W. Richards

Dr. Jay W. Richards gave an impassioned address at the heavily attended Acton Lecture series yesterday titled, “Myths Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty.” This topic was especially relevant for me because I graduated from a Wesleyan Evangelical seminary, which constantly preached and proclaimed so many myths Richards addressed, especially “the piety myth.” This was a big problem in seminary, as the gospels were often linked to promoting the modern welfare state, and its goals of wealth redistribution.

Richards said the piety myth “focuses on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions.” An example he provided was rent control, which causes major shortages in housing, and of course the quality of housing. Moderately priced housing also diminishes significantly in communities with rent control.

Another essential example cited by Richards was the “zero-sum game myth,” which holds that wealth gained in one place always means that wealth was lost someplace else. To illustrate this myth, Richards used the example of pie, saying that if somebody cuts for themselves a larger piece by proportion, somebody else of course loses out. Most economists and entrepreneurs however understand that wealth is created, and Richards used the example of sand and the explosion of the microchip. Natural resources are one example of something being harvested for production and consumption.

While I was at seminary the hip thing was crusading against the retail giant Wal-Mart. Many students wanted to play the William Wilberforce role by freeing Wal-Mart suppliers from “slave trade” status. Wal-Mart was constantly accused of not providing a living wage, closing down small businesses, and causing the explosion of international sweat-shops. It was described as a “social justice” issue. In his talk, Richards did a fine job of explaining Wal-Mart’s value in the marketplace. And how places like Wal-Mart provide a reduction in food costs, especially for poorer families who spend more of their disposable income by percentage on food. Obviously many of the critics at my seminary came from upper middle class backgrounds who saw no use for a 25 cent savings on a grocery product, especially if it interfered with their notion of social justice.

In Richards lecture, he noted the need for comparisons between reality and reality, instead of reality and myth or reality vs. utopia notions. He said “many factories get accused of being sweat-shops.” He cited that sometimes the notion exists in the critics head that if the “sweat-shop” was closed down that person would be provided with an education, and a fantastic college degree, which is closer to the truth here in America, but not necessarily true somewhere else. It may be that their job keeps them out of the sex trade, or a life of wandering the streets searching for food, which I saw quite a bit while living in Africa. It’s also been said that many of these places of employment dubbed as “sweat-shops” have provided people in the Third World with the concept and practice of weekends for the first time in their life. In many places a culture of recreation and leisure time is existing for the first time among the poorer classes. The explosion of the middle class in places like India and China is a phenomenon we do not hear very often in news reports.

While compassion for the poor is a universal truth for Christians, compassion alone is not enough. As Christians we need to better understand why wealth is not being created in some places. Richards surmised class warfare serves more as a decoy, when we focus more on income disparity, rather than results. We will continue to see outdated recycled economic philosophies used to create Utopian societies. Communism promised a society of absolute equality, it just had to break a few eggs to achieve the omelet, right? Truth exists, and that is why Richards was so right to say free markets must not be weighed against unrealizable ideals, but rather live alternatives.

Michael Miller at ALS

“Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” – Ronald W. Reagan, Moscow State University 1988.

Today I attended my first Acton Lecture Series event which featured Michael Miller, Acton’s Director of Programs and Education. I felt very blessed somebody is speaking my language for a change.

I included this quote from our former president because Miller touched on the subject of Christians believing that all life has inherent value. This was contrasted with the totalitarian understanding of relativism, which stands in opposition to the belief in absolute truth. Miller even noted how totalitarianism seeks “men and women with blank slates – because they can be shaped.” A classic example in my mind would be the Khmer Rouge “Year Zero” campaign which tried to end the ideas of religion and private property ruthlessly.

A couple of great quotes I wrote down of Miller’s concerning the Church vs. the power of the state are:

“The Church by definition limits the state.”

“If you are under God’s authority the state is automatically limited.”

One would easily be aware of in this context of the power of some of the spiritual leaders in the fight against totalitarianism such as John Paul II, Whitaker Chambers, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The central theme of Miller’s argument: “Freedom and tolerance can only be sustained in a society where a robust commitment to truth exists.”

This may have been one of the greatest strengths of some of the above mentioned leaders. I think one of the qualities President Reagan embodied in terms of the presidency was raising the moral language and arguments against totalitarianism.

What was so powerful concerning the lecture was Miller’s warning of the extreme dangers of an absence of truth, and the slide towards what he called a “thinly veiled totalitarianism.” He also noted, “We defend the weak through commitment to truth and justice.”

He offered the audience a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is good because its people are good.” One can easily see the dangers Miller warned against that have emerged, especially in the last 40-50 years. He noted the secularization of Europe and the emerging secularization of our own country. I remember being criticized in seminary for “Constantinianism” for writing about the emergence of democracy out of Western Christianity and the Presbyterian form of church government.

Very importantly Miller also noted that scores of young people have rebelled against the “whatever” culture. He mentioned the many young Roman Catholics and Protestants who have committed their lives to a deeper purpose and especially the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told. I am now fortunate to work beside and with many of these people.

Dr. Samuel Gregg

Dr. Samuel Gregg – “Acton’s Chief Thinker,” according to our Executive Director Kris Mauren – put his thinking skills on display yesterday as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, delivering an address entitled “The Crisis of Europe: Benedict XVI’s Analysis and Solution.”

By any standard of civilization growth and decline, Europe is in crisis. Marked by collapsing birthrates, stagnating economies, and denial of its historical roots, Western Europe appears headed for cultural suicide. In his lecture, Dr. Gregg outlined Pope Benedict’s analysis of Europe’s contemporary problems, and discusses the his proposed remedies. If you weren’t able to attend the lecture in person, you can listen online by clicking here (10 mb mp3 file).

You’ll also want to register for our next Lecture Series event, as we’ll be hearing from Mr. Ralph Hauenstein, who will discuss his experiences serving under General Dwight Eisenhower as chief of the Intelligence Branch in the Army’s European theater of operations during World War II. As a history buff, I’ve had this one marked on my calendar for quite a while, no doubt much like a lot of other people. Here’s the link for more information and to register for the event.