Posts tagged with: freedom

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…)

By now even many people who didn’t watch the Oscars have seen or heard Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech for Best Actor. The Texas actor thanked God for all the opportunities in his life, thanked God some more (cut to Academy members squirming in their seats), and then he told a story about when he was a teenager and was asked who his hero was.

The answer he gave at the time: his hero was Matthew McConaughey in ten years. Then when he was asked the same question ten years later, he gave the same answer: himself in ten years; and so on and so on throughout his life because, as he explained, he’ll never achieve the ideal he was striving for, but the important thing is to aspire to the heroic ideal and chase after it.

It’s easy to make fun of this: an apparently narcissistic actor picking his future self as his hero, thanking God while being infamous for the wild oats he has sown, and drifting into theological incoherence at certain points in his speech. And while all that may be worth noting, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. (more…)

washingtonIf the American Founding got one thing right more than anything, it was its commitment to a broad and liberal religious liberty. In 1790, President George Washington told a Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation.”

Currently, the country faces a number of threats to religious liberty and America seems to be squandering its profound moral authority it can offer to a world starving for its example. On the evening of February 4, I’ll address many of these challenges at Acton on Tap in Grand Rapids. The title for the event is “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.” If you are local to the area please join us and be prepared to share your own thoughts and insights.

The weakening of religion of course inevitably leads to more centralization and government. Thus, the American Framers clearly saw the need for a strong religious and moral fabric to guarantee liberty. “The people, who are the source of all lawful authority, are inherently independent of all but the moral law,” declared Thomas Jefferson. The framers were concerned that freedom would break down and become less about restraint and more about license.

It is undeniable that one of the gravest problems we face in this country is a misunderstood and disordered view of liberty that permeates society. Lord Acton put it well when he said liberty is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

While America has dramatically changed over the centuries, I believe the founding period offers a lot of important lessons today. Religious persecution in America was an ongoing problem at that time, and would remain to degrees, but there was a deep desire to avoid the kind of devastation that fomented religious wars in Europe. I’ll address that more at Acton on Tap. One thing is certain, with all the challenges America now faces in regards to surviving as the home for a free people, it’s ludicrous to believe that is possible without a vibrant morality and a championing of religious liberty.

Dietrich BonhoefferWhile imprisoned by the Nazis at Tegel military prison, and shortly after learning of the last failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a short poem for his friend, Eberhard Bethge, titled “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”

I’ve come across the poem before, but in recently reading Eric Metaxas’ fine biography of the man, I was reminded of its power and potency in describing the essence of Christian freedom. It becomes all the more compelling given its context, serving as a “distillation of his theology at the time,” as Metaxas describes it.

Though we must be careful to appreciate the time and place from which it sprung, it brings with it plenty of implications for the ways in which we order our lives and allegiances. Indeed, in his prodding toward obedience, discipline, and submission to God — features many would find contradictory or in opposition to freedom — Bonhoeffer’s embrace of this profound paradox dovetails quite nicely with Lord Acton’s famous notion of “defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

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If you want to improve the material conditions of the poor and working classes, what is the one economic metric you should consider most important?

carpooling-Life MagFor progressives the answer is income inequality, since a wide disparity between the incomes of the rich and poor is considered by them to be an obvious sign of injustice and a justification for using the force of the government to redistribute wealth. But for conservatives, the answer is upward economic mobility, the ability of an individual or family to improve their economic status. One of the benefits of the free market is that it harnesses liberty, diligence, and hard work in order to advance economic mobility.

The economic realm, though, exists in the physical realm, which is why economic mobility often requires effective means of physical mobility, that is, reliable transportation. While progressives tend to favor government-controlled public transit (such as busses and subways), conservatives tend to prefer individual transportation, especially access to cars. The reason is that history has shown, as Sasha Volokh says, that freedom drives a car:

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Acton’s second documentary, The Birth of Freedom, begins with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and ends with an image from the Civil Rights movement. The documentary, which aired on PBS, explores how the speech is rooted deeply in the Western freedom project and how that centuries-old project is itself rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. If you watched one promotional about the documentary, it was probably the official trailer, but Acton also made a shorter teaser for the film, which features King’s speech front and center. Here it is below, and below it, a link to order and share the documentary– (more…)

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I find the new investigative essay by journalist Michael J. Totten about Havana before and under communism poignant and beautiful, a must-read for anyone interested in Cuba, communism and the universal hunger for liberty. The long essay is worth every word, but I’ve excerpted a few of the most arresting passages here:

The rotting surfaces of some of the buildings [in the tourist district] have been restored, but those changes are strictly cosmetic. Look around. There’s still nothing to buy. You’ll find a few nice restaurants and bars here and there, but they’re owned by the state and only foreigners go there. The locals can’t afford to eat or drink out because the state caps their salaries at twenty dollars a month. Restored Old Havana looks and feels no more real than the Las Vegas version of Venice….

Yet the bones of Cuba’s capital are unmatched in our hemisphere. “The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world,” [Theodore] Dalrymple wrote. (more…)

Painting of 'Render Unto Caesar' by Peter Paul Rubens.

Painting of ‘Render Unto Caesar’ by Peter Paul Rubens.

Richard Weaver, one of the great intellectuals of the 20th Century, and author of Ideas Have Consequences, published an essay in the early 1960s on Lord Acton (pdf only). Much of Weaver’s essay is worth highlighting, but one excerpt in particular reminds us of the central significance of Christianity in the battle for freedom. It reminds us too of the dangers of secularism and where our indifference to God is inevitably leading us.

It was inevitable that, lacking one vital element, the ancient governments should have collapsed into despotism. That vital element was introduced by Christianity. This was belief in the sacredness of the person and thus in a center of power distinct from the state. What the pagan philosophers in all their brilliance had not been able to do, that is, set effective barriers to the power of the state, was done in response to that injuction: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’ This instituted a basis of freedom upon which the world since that time has been able to build.

In Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of our Time, published in 1964, Weaver noted the cure for the ailment of the decline of Western Culture,

But the road away from idolatry remains the same as before; it lies in respect for the struggling dignity of man for his orientation toward something higher than himself which he has not created.

khomeiniAs a child I was fascinated with world news and current events. I was especially drawn to reports about the rabid anti-Americanism in Iran and their almost decade long war with Iraq. It was not the film “Argo” or even living in the Middle East that renewed my interest in Iran, but an excellent book by Mark Bowden titled, “Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.” Still, I knew little about the suffering of Iranians, especially Christians, in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution.

Earlier this year, I read “Prisoner of Tehran,” another impressive book about the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The author, Marina Nemat, delivered a keynote address at Acton University this year and that’s where I sat down to interview her about her prison experience and the state of the Middle East today. She offers a lot of insight on torture, the hope we have as Christians, and what exactly is going on today with many of the uprisings we see in that region in the news.

The feature article, “But What if They’re All Republicans?” is written by Andrew Yuengert. He is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. Yuengert argues that an overly politicized Catholic episcopacy damages the Church’s social witness.

David Deavel reviews a new work on Adam Smith authored by James Otteson. The book on Smith is part of the Bloomsbury series “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” Deavel notes in his review, “In James Otteson’s short, witty, and well-sourced introduction to Smith, one can see why Kirk and Burke thought so highly of this figure— and why our contemporaries should, too.”

Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic is garnering a lot of attention and we offer an excerpt from the book in this issue. The article focuses on Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carrollton was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last surviving signatory of the document.

Margaret Thatcher is honored as the “In the Liberal Tradition” figure. “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul,” Thatcher once told the Sunday Times.

There is more content in this issue of Religion & Liberty and you can find it all on our publications page. Check out my editor’s notes for the issue too.

actonLord Acton once said of the American revolution: “No people was so free as the insurgents, no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” It was America’s high view of liberty and its ideas that cultivated this unprecedented freedom ripe for flourishing. Colonists railed over 1 and 2 percent tax rates and were willing to take up arms in a protracted and bloody conflict to secure independence and self-government.

In a chapter on Lord Acton in The Moral Imagination: From Adam Smith to Lionel Trilling, Gertrude Himmelfarb explains how Acton was a historian who saw moral absolutes, and these were the same absolutes Lord Acton found in America’s Framers.

In America, there is certainly a great dearth of moral clarity in today’s political culture and really most of society. I think a large segment of our population certainly feels aimless and fatigued over the trajectory of not just the political debate, but where our nation is headed. As a country that is losing its history, many thirst for a return to first principles and away from the kind of relativistic rot which has become the status quo. Below is an excerpt from Himmelfarb’s book which discusses Lord Acton’s view on the American Revolution:

Although the first tentative overtures toward freedom came in ancient and medieval times, only in modernity, Acton claimed, did it emerge in its true nature. English Protestant sects in the seventeenth-century discovered that “religious liberty is the generating principle of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious.” But not until the American Revolution had “men sought liberty knowing what they sought.” Unlike earlier experiments in liberty, which had been tainted by expediency, compromise, and interest, the Americans demanded liberty simply and purely as a right. The three-pence tax that provoked the revolution was three-pence worth of pure principle. “I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound, Acton quoted Benjamin Franklin, “to defend my right of giving or refusing one other shilling.” Acton himself went further. The true liberal, like the American revolutionists, “stakes his life, his fortune, the existence of his family, not to resist the intolerable reality of oppression, but the remote possibility of wrong, of diminished freedom.” The American Constitution was unique in being both democratic and liberal. “It was democracy in its highest perfection, armed and vigilant, less against aristocracy and monarchy than against its own weakness and excess. . . . It resembled no other known democracy, for it respected freedom, authority, and law.”