Posts tagged with: christianity

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”

Appletons' Wesley John.jpg

By Jacques Reich (undoubtedly based on a work by another artist) – Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900, v. 5, p. 438, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8565386

“You are the spring that puts all the rest in motion; they would not stir a step without you.”

John Wesley (1703–1791) was talking about the slave trade and was impugning the buyers and owners of slaves as equally culpable as those who captured and sold them, those who “would not stir a step” without buyers for their wares.

But his observation applies to all transactions in a market economy, whether morally permissible or impermissible. The customer is king, whether he is buying illegal drugs or organic, cage-free eggs.

Recognizing the primacy of the buyer in the market economy is a key step in making appropriate moral judgments as well as formulating sound public policy.

A new collection of essays titled Christianity and Freedom: Historical Perspectives edited by Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke explores the ways that Christian beliefs and institutions have made contributions to the freedoms that are cherished by both Christians and non-Christians today.

Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently gave his analysis of this new collection of essays in a book review published at Public Discourse.  Gregg begins his review by recognizing that while Christians have played a huge role in bringing about religious freedom there have also been many occasions when Christians have been persecutors.  He says:

Any discussion of freedom and Christianity quickly surfaces the numerous instances in which Christians have undermined human liberty. Reference is invariably made to the various Inquisitions, the witch trials conducted by Puritans, forced conversions, and other instances of intolerance.

A particular strength of this collection of essays is that none of the authors denies that Christians and Christian institutions have on many occasions violated the rightful freedoms of others. This frank acknowledgment, however, is accompanied by an argument that permeates many of the papers: that it was, for the most part, Christianity that provided the moral, theological, and cultural principles upon which Christians and others have drawn to condemn unjust coercion. In other words, people have relied, consciously or otherwise, on Christian resources to identify and correct violations of freedom, including those committed in the name of the Christian faith. This suggests that liberalism by itself did not—and perhaps never could—generate the conceptual tools needed for this type of critique.

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Samuel Gregg

Samuel Gregg

On Monday evening, Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined host Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look to examine Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address as we approach the tenth anniversary of its delivery. Gregg emphasizes the fact that our understanding of who God is and what his nature is has important implications for how we understand human liberty and rationality, and argues that as western nations have gradually abandoned the Christian religious principles that formerly undergirded their societies, they have diminished their ability to respond to the various crises they face using reason.

You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.

Blog author: sstanley
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
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Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

A lack of reason may lead to violence and an inability to respond to crises, but that didn’t stop the West from abandoning it. In a new article for the Catholic World Report, Acton’s Samuel Gregg reflects on Pope Benedict XVI and his 2006 address near Regensburg, Germany. “Ten years later,” Gregg laments, the West is “still in denial.”

On September 12, 2006 Benedict made global news with his lecture–his words enraged, gained support, and were analyzed countless times. The speech was concerned with the “deep problems of faith and reason that characterize the West and Christianity today,” particularly in relation to Islam. Despite causing great controversy, this speech is considered to be one of the most important papal addresses on world affairs. Benedict argued that our understanding of the divine ultimately creates the foundation for how we view and “can judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable.” Gregg continues:

Most commentators on the Regensburg Address did not, however, observe that the Pope declined to proceed to engage in a detailed analysis of why and how such a conception of God may have affected Islamic theology and Islamic practice. Nor did he explore the mindset of those Muslims who invoke Allah to justify jihadist violence. Instead, Benedict immediately pivoted to discussing the place of reason in Christianity and Western culture more generally. In fact, in the speech’s very last paragraph, Benedict called upon his audience “to rediscover” the “great logos”: “this breadth of reason” which, he maintained, orthodox Christianity has always regarded as a prominent feature of God’s nature. The pope’s use of the word “rediscover” indicated that something had been lost and that much of the West and the Christian world had themselves fallen into the grip of other forms of un-reason. Irrationality can, after all, manifest itself in expressions other than mindless violence.

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Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, spoke to Vatican Radio about the upcoming U.S. papal visit. Pope Francis is planning to visit Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia in September. This 2015 trip coincides with the World Meeting of Families, which was established by St. John Paul II in 1994.

This will be Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit since being elected to the papacy.

Listen to Jayabalan’s Vatican Radio interview here.

 A member of a Christian militia unit tries to persuade Kamala Karim Shaya, one of the last residents of Telskuf, to move to a secured home near their barracks. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

A member of a Christian militia unit tries to persuade Kamala Karim Shaya, one of the last residents of Telskuf, to move to a secured home near their barracks. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

With persecution of Christians there at an all time high, many have chosen to leave the Middle East. Christianity Today, reporting on the latest Pew Research report, says the number of Christians in the Middle East has dropped from 14 percent of the population to just 4 percent. That translates to less than half a million people in the Middle East who identify as Christians.

The problem turned from bad to worse with the rise of the Islamic State as it intensified the Muslim persecution of Christians and other minorities as part of its campaign of terror in the region, the report said.

Now, “Christianity is under an existential threat,” said Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in the US House of Representatives and an advocate of Eastern Christians.

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