Posts tagged with: freedom

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 20, 2007

The US State Department issued its annual religious freedom report late last week (HT).

And earlier this month, Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute discussed the forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in the World 2007. He had this to say about economic and religious freedom:

If you take the worst 30 countries in terms of economic freedom, every one scored low with religious freedom. The top 30 countries all scored high. Why is that? We see two connections. First, wealth could help religious freedom. But we also believe that religious freedom helps general health, well-being, and wealth broadly understood. To the degree that people are not free to organize and manage their lives, you cut down on the possibility of independent economic activity. People are simply used to not doing things unless they’re told to do them.

China remains one of the most interesting case studies in terms of how necessary the correlation is between religious and economic (and political) freedom.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the (non)necessity of promoting a democratic government in post-invasion Iraq. I haven’t written much on Iraq in this or any other venue, for a number of reasons. But this piece is one that I’ve been waiting to write for a long time, and was really only waiting for the proper occasion. That prompting came a few weeks ago when U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra from Holland, MI said, “The mission for us is not to establish a democracy in Iraq, but to make the region secure and stable.”

This piece appeared earlier in the Orange County Register, “Iraq: Democracy not required,” which garnered this response, “Democracy without liberty? I think not” (see also the 2003 Acton Commentary, “Success in Iraq: Guaranteed Property Rights as a Precondition for Democracy”).

Here are some links that have been floating around my inbox that are related to some of the points brought up in this week’s commentary. First and most directly relevant, from Christianity Today, “Bush’s ‘Theological Perspective.’”

Next, here is a link to an H-Net review of a recent book on civil society in post-war Germany, particularly the “Heidelberg Action Group,” whose founding manifesto “challenged socialist ideologies that stressed the role of a strong state and the primacy of national interest. They envisioned a form of socialism focused upon the realization of individual freedom and the creation of autonomous and self-reliant persons.”

And finally I’d like to point you to a review in the Claremont Review of Books by Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett on a book that argues for a greater “democratization” of the American constitution. It may come as a surprise to some, but our Constitution was initially and still remains to a large extent “counter-majoritarian.”

And related to foreign policy in particular, Barnett notes the curiousity that “It has become de rigueur among American constitutional law scholars to refrain from recommending our particular form of government to others when advocating democracy around the world. While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret.”

Update: See “The Ottoman Swede,” by Roger Cohen, which says in part, “distinct peoples forcefully gathered into a dictatorial state will react in the first instance to liberty by trying to get free of each other rather than trying to imagine a liberal democracy,” and “The Road to Partition,” by David Brooks. See also these two Marketplace pieces (here and here) with the normally rather disagreeable Robert Reich, discussing in part his new book Supercapitalism.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Darkness and light have been used to symbolize powerful metaphors in literature, art, film, and all sorts of creative venues. In Scripture, darkness and light are often used to evoke good and evil. In the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind, who furthermore is brought into the fullness of light through faith in Christ. Jesus, however, implicates the Pharisees, by saying, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Joseph Puder tags a most appropriate title for his column in FrontPage Magazine, calling it Europe’s Heart of Darkness. Puder invokes enlightening contrasts as well, comparing historical and contemporary Europe, with that of the United States. Puder notes:

The origin of these attitudes can be traced to the social, economic and political developments on the Continent on one hand, and the legacy of the pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedom, individualism, and God, on the other hand. Europe began to lose its faith in Christianity and God following the French Revolution.

Europe it seems, has bought into Voltaire’s reasoning, and although the Europeans have accepted democracy, they have replaced the notion of the Voltaire’s “absolutist ruler” with the rule of the (welfare) State, and substituted “fundamentalist secularism” for Christianity and God.

Early American pilgrims from Europe, by way of contrast, sought to escape the stifling chains of European absolutism. They wanted to live according to their own conscience and beliefs and not by the dictate of an absolutist Monarch or church. The pilgrims understood the message of Saint Thomas Aquinas who believed that human beings have a natural capacity to know many things without divine intervention as opposed to the absolutist monarchs and the church that thought of themselves as being the repository of knowledge and truth. The pilgrims were also individualists who understood that in order to be virtuous and free of sin, they had to be free to choose, and choices included of course the sphere of economics, as well as religion.

The French Revolution ushered in the age of totalitarianism in Europe. Not content with controlling the political and economic lives of their subjects, the absolutist rulers sought to control their minds as well. The twentieth century saw the rise of Communism and Fascism (and Nazism) that culminated with the horrors of the Holocaust being committed on European soil by European absolutist totalitarians. F.A. Hayek, in his book “The Road to Serfdom,” pointed to the close ideological connection between Socialists and Fascists. He noted, they have more in common with each other than either have with classical liberalism, including the tendency to reduce the individual to an organic part of the state.

Joseph Conrad, in his novel “Heart of Darkness,” portrays the darkness of hypocrisy and moral decay of the colonial adventurers in the Belgian Congo. Conrad specifically mentions the “whited sepulchre” of the various corporate enterprises headquarted in Brussels, Belgium. It is an analogy taken right from Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ himself says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Conrad’s novel serves as a reminder of the corruption of absolute power, and the depravity of mankind.

Whether it is the belief in the supremacy of the state, or other types of utopian ideals and philosophies, they are fundamentally in error, because they cannot check or contain the weight of human sinfulness. In contrast, Christianity at its foundation believes all humans are created in the image of God. In truth, a strong religious understanding and spirit recognizes the need to reflect God, it is there where more human progress is found than all the programs, nation-states, and freedom imitators combined.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
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.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A contingent from Austria that attended last year’s Acton University produced a video on their experiences:


Want to learn more? Register for next month’s Acton University 2007 (June 12-15, 2007) today.

Applications are also open next month for the Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference to be held in Sonntagberg, Austria, Sept. 20-23, 2007. Applications will be accepted June 1-July 1, 2007.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kishore Jayabalan reported yesterday on the latest happenings with the Acton Institute’s office in Rome and the most recent installment of the Centesimus Annus Conference Series, “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom.”

As Kishore notes, the conference took place within the context of the spate of media attention to the religious situation in China, especially with reference to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

Last month Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg wrote in The Australian about the increasing integration of religious identity into Chinese society. “Christianity and other religions previously viewed with intense suspicion by China’s communist authorities are increasingly considered potential social lubricants for China’s fast-transitioning economy,” he writes.

Gregg also observes that “increasing numbers of Communist Party members are reportedly embracing religion, even though this violates party policy.” But given the Marxist antipathy toward religion, how can this be?

As Gregg rightly points out, there is increasing recognition of the social benefits of religious belief…perhaps the Party leaders are seeing the usefulness of religion as a means of increasing social stability and productiveness. And, indeed, the Marxist view of religion as an “opiate” would fit well with a regime obsessed with social control.

But there’s another phenomenon that is facilitating this odd mix of Communism and Christianity. As Forum 18 reports, the radical secularization of religious belief into a hermetically-sealed private sphere provides assurance that religious beliefs won’t impact Party loyalty.

The report sounds a note of caution:

It would be hard to argue that the rising number of religious believers across China will never affect government policies. However, it would be wise not to assume that greater numbers of religious believers automatically lead to changes in government policy on religious freedom. One (or three) hundred million “individual” religious believers, unwilling to engage in direct dialogue and negotiation with – let alone to confront – the government, are not in themselves a collective force for positive political change for all of China’s citizens.

Indeed, a religion that restricts itself to a realm of authority subservient to and derivative of the state may fulfill the role that the Party desires, but it does not reflect the comprehensive symmetry of doctrine and practice, faith and love, that is at the core of Christianity.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 15, 2007

According to published reports, China is planning on adding new censorship regulations covering blogs and webcasts (HT).

President Hu Jintao says the government needs to take these steps to “purify” the Internet, leading to “a more healthy and active Internet environment,” according to the Xinhua news agency.

Estimates put the number of Internet police manning the “Great Firewall of China” at 30,000-40,000. To see if those cops are looking at a particular website, test it at GreatFirewallOfChina.org.

You can also check out more details about the global spread of Internet censorship, “practised by about two dozen countries and applied to a far wider range of online information and applications,” in this FT story, “Web censorship spreading globally.” China is described as one of 10 “pervasive blockers,” and it seems that countries that are new to the censorship racket are “learning from experienced practitioners such as China and benefiting from technological improvements.”

Update: Apparently not having learned its lesson from the China debacle, which Sergey Brin called “a net negative,” this from Slashdot: “Google Aids Indian Government Censorship.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 12, 2007

As promised I saw ’300′ on Saturday night. The IMAX was sold out, so I saw it in “digital cinema presentation,” which was of noticeably higher quality than a regular showing.

I really liked the film (Anthony Bradley gives it a ‘B’). The visuals are quite striking and impressive. The action sequences alone are well worth the price of admission. Gerard Butler gives a powerful performance as King Leonidas, and his wife, Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey), does more than hold her own. When an emissary from Xerxes arrives in Sparta, he is taken aback that a woman dare speak in the counsel of men. Gorgo responds that only Spartan women are capable of birthing “proper men.”

In the strength of her performance, however, Headey stands above the rest of the cast, which are constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer forcefulness of Butler’s portrayal. In particular the portrayal of Delios, the narrator and witness to the events of ’300′, by David Wenham (who also played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) suffers notably in comparison to Butler’s Leonidas.

There is a fair bit of titillation, from the sensuality of an “drunk adolescent” oracle to the lurid temptations faced by the Ephialtes, and once the violence starts it is quite graphic. This film certainly won’t get the Dove Foundation’s approval.

The grim gallows humor of the dialogue lends itself to numerous memorable one-liners, mostly from the mouth of Leonidas. He tells the self-proclaimed god-man Xerxes, for instance, that he cannot kneel in submission because his legs are cramped from killing Persians all day. At other times the dialogue seems a bit uneven, perhaps because of the notable difference in verbal requirements between a graphic novel and a screenplay.

The film has received mixed reviews, in large part due to the facile comparisons that could be made between Leonidas and George W. Bush. A leitmotif of the film is the battle between the free citizen warriors of Sparta and the slaves under the tyrannical domination of Xerxes. Thus, says Leonidas, “A new age has come, an age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it.”

Particularly suited to contemporary comparison is the scene in which the other Greeks abandon Leonidas and his Spartans to their death at the hands of Xerxes’ forces. It is almost impossible at that point not to think of the splintering of the coalition forces in Iraq. Of course there are many reasons that the movie shouldn’t be taken as an allegory for the modern situation, but the ease with which parts of the film can be interpreted in this way no doubt explains much of the media’s ambivalence toward the film.

It’s worth noting what Lord Acton observed about the character of freedom and democracy in particular after the united Greeks were victorious in the Persian wars. This ushered in a period where Athens dominated the confederation of city-states, and whose abuse of power (from the perspective of the Spartans) led to the Peloponnesian War.

Acton writes of Athens and their democracy, “But the lesson of their experience endures for all times, for it teaches that government by the whole people, being the government of the most numerous and most powerful class, is an evil of the same nature as unmixed monarchy, and requires, for nearly the same reasons, institutions that shall protect it against itself, and shall uphold the permanent reign of law against arbitrary revolutions of opinion.”

We can see this danger in the film itself, as the commitment of the warrior-state of Sparta to the purity and strength of bloodline leads to the practice of eugenics and infanticide. This practice comes home to roost in an ironic fashion indeed, playing a direct role in the demise of Leonidas himself. And so perhaps there are some contemporary lessons to be learned from ’300′ after all beyond the obvious ones about the value of bravery, fortitude, and commitment.


This review has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Good news (at least I think it is). Acton.org is a site not blocked by the “Great Firewall of China” (i.e. government censors). A big HT to GetReligion (which is blocked).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Via CrossLeft, which promises to bring “balance” to the Christian voice, this short and interesting piece from Larry James’s blog Urban Daily, which documents his reflections as “president and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.”

Says James, “If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts.”

Of course the realization of freedom, which revolves around asking the question, “Does a program prepare clients for independence, or does it keep them dependent?,” is one of the hallmarks of effective compassion.

For groups that put these principles of effective compassion into practice, both in Dallas and around the country, check out the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide.