Kishore Jayabalan, Director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office, made an appearance today on Vatican Radio to discuss efforts by the G-20 nations to address the growing problem of rising food prices around the world. Jayabalan discusses how natural events and bad policy are both contributing to the sharp rise in prices seen of late. Listen to the full interview using the audio player below:
I’m pleased to report that Hunter Baker is the recipient of the 2011 Novak Award from the Acton Institute. Hunter is associate dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and author of The End of Secularism (Crossway Academic, 2009).
From the release:
With his writing and speaking in a variety of popular and academic contexts, Dr. Hunter Baker has made a compelling and comprehensive case for the integration of the Christian faith into all areas of life, including economics and business.
Baker said the award was made all the more meaningful to him in light of the “power and diligence” that Michael Novak has shown over a long career. “Novak’s work helps readers understand the importance of the Christian faith as both a supernatural relationship with God that stirs the soul and as a powerful impetus for and sustainer of liberty, compassion, creativity, and excellence in the broader culture,” he said.
About the award: “Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom.”
Hunter has been a good friend to the Acton Institute, and as the award recognizes, holds forth a promising future for a career (building off of his already significant achievements) articulating the foundations of a free and virtuous society.
He’s a contributor to the PowerBlog, and here’s a sampling of his work elsewhere:
- Acton Commentary
- Regaining a Sense of Taste in Political Leadership (August 4, 2010)
- Imagine You Are a Doctor (August 18, 2009)
- Healthcare, Democracy, and Freedom (August 4, 2009)
- The Tyranny of the Obvious (May 26, 2009)
- End Times for Christian America? (May 12, 2009)
- Charitable Choice and Secular Goods (February 25, 2009)
- Religion & Liberty
- Radio Free Acton
- Concealing Christian Identity (January 19, 2011)
- Journal of Markets & Morality
- Controversy with Jonathan Malesic (Fall 2010): “Is Some Form of Secularism the Best Foundation for Christian Engagement in Public Life?” (PDF)
- The Gheens Lectures
There’s still time to register for tomorrow’s opening lecture of the 2011 Acton Lecture Series (click here to reserve your seat for Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “Christian Poverty in the Age of Prosperity”), and while we’re anticipating the start of the 2011 series we’ll continue our blog recap of the 2010 series. Today, we highlight one of my favorite lectures from last year: Joseph Morris’ “Alinsky for Dummies: His Persistent Influence and Its Meaning for American Society and Politics.”
Saul Alinsky might be called the “anti-Acton”. As Lord Acton warned that power corrupts, Saul Alinsky — the father of modern “community organizing” — rejoiced that corruption empowers. Decades after Alinsky’s death his ideas and teaching continue to shape the American political and social landscape. Barack Obama’s first job in Chicago was as an “organizer” for an Alinsky group; Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate thesis was written on Alinsky’s precepts; contemporary organizations from the notorious ACORN to the Catholic-Church-supported United for Power and Justice are among Alinsky’s progeny. Morris’ lecture supplies an overview of Alinksy’s thinking and shows its application in current events.
The Detroit News today published a new column by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:
Civility, not just after tragedy
The Rev. Robert Sirico
The tragic shootings in Tucson that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded and a score of others dead or wounded have sparked a national discussion about how we conduct our public discourse.
This is something we should all welcome, in an age of instantaneous media and its often vitriolic political and social debate.
For those of us who are Christians, our guide should always be to speak the truth in love. That is, we witness to the truths that are revealed to us by the Lord, without shying away from critical issues or glossing over important differences we have with others. This is especially important in an era of globalization and the need for greater interfaith relations, where words or phrases can so easily be misunderstood. And it’s possible to have this dialogue in a reasonable and respectful fashion.
Yet, I find it not a little strange that many of the voices calling now for civility and temperance in our political discourse were, not long ago, either silent in the face of hateful language or participants.
I speak, of course, of the religious left, which was so much a part of the “Bush derangement syndrome” in recent years and, with the rise of the tea party movement, seems to have shifted its fire in that direction.
Take, for example, the Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee, who in recent weeks has become an apostle of civility. This is the same man who said this in response to the “shellacking” that the Democrats got in November: “There was very little values-narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns.”
Really? This was true of those millions of Americans who were pushing back against out-of-control government spending, ruinous debt, an intrusive and badly flawed health care bill, and a general sense that our nation was losing its moral bearings?
Remember, if you will, the invective and hate hurled at former President George W. Bush over the Hurricane Katrina response. Entertainer Kanye West famously said at the time that Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”
Where was the hue and cry from the liberal pastors and priests over West’s outrage? In fact, former Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, said the Bush administration funding for AIDS relief and malaria eradication programs for Africa probably saved 10 million lives worldwide.
Following the election of Bush in 2000, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a “civil rights explosion.” He stood in front of the Supreme Court and vowed to “take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him.” I had my differences with Bush on a number of important issues. But he endured eight years of attacks, some of them vile, like this and the “social justice” ministers said nothing about it.
We all need to raise the level of public discourse, and not just as it applies to our political favorites. The Christian’s calling is to purify the heart, because it is the seat of the passions. And all actions begin there.
St. John Chrysostom, in a famous homily on fasting, warned us not to be too legalistic in its observance. More important than the foods we are abstaining from are our actions and the “disgraceful and abusive words” which we sometime use to “chew up and consume one another.” In this he echoes the words of Jesus Christ, who taught us that “what goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11).
The point here is to remind us that our words have weight and effect. Yes, let’s proclaim the truth, and do it in a civil and even a loving fashion. That’s the civility that both the left and the right deserve.
Peter Wehner on Commentary Magazine’s Contentions blog looks at the recent joint statement on civility from Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson:
… what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”
Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”
As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?
More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?
These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.
My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.
Read the whole thing at Contentions.
Lord Acton: “There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”
Billy Graham says he “would have steered clear of politics”
By Chris Herlinger
New York, 25 January (ENInews)–American evangelist Billy Graham – who has been called “the pastor for presidents” for having met and prayed with every U.S. president in the last six decades, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama — has publicly acknowledged regret at sometimes crossing the line between ministry and politics.
In an online question and answer with the American evangelical magazine Christianity Today, Graham, 92, said he “would have steered clear of politics” – without specifically mentioning his friendship with the late Richard M. Nixon and defending the scandal-ridden president during the Watergate era.
Graham is also said to be close to former President George W. Bush.
Graham told the magazine in a 21 January web post: “I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to.”
“But looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now,” said Graham, who has rarely been in seen public in recent years due to his increasingly frail health.
Among those critical of Graham for his closeness to those in power, including Nixon, was the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. In a 1969 essay, “The King’s Chapel and the King’s Court,” Niebuhr warned that the “establishment religion” espoused by Graham risked becoming a vocation practiced by “high priests in the cult of complacency and self-sufficiency.”
“Perhaps those who accept invitations to preach in the White House should reflect on this,” Niebuhr wrote, “for they stand in danger of joining the same company.”
As for other regrets, Graham said in his q-and-a that he would have spent “more time at home with my family, and I’d study more and preach less.”
Asked about the success of the American and global evangelical movement, Graham said he was “grateful for the evangelical resurgence we’ve seen across the world in the last half-century or so. It truly has been God’s doing.”
But he warned that “success is always dangerous, and we need to be alert and avoid becoming the victims of our own success. Will we influence the world for Christ, or will the world influence us?”
Catching up on some recent Acton commentaries. We welcome a new writer, John Addison Teevan, who is director of the Prison Extension Program at Grace College. He also teaches economics and Bible courses at the Winona Lake, Ind., school. This column was published Dec. 29. Sign up for the free, weekly email newsletter Acton News & Commentary here.
A Tithe for Uncle Sam
By John Addision Teevan
Political leaders talk as if the money Americans keep (not paid in taxes) belongs to the government and that our keeping money they could tax is an actual cost to them. This kind of distorted thinking has led us into the fiscal irresponsibility that threatens to destroy our country.
It is, of course, fair to say that there are many exemptions that, if eliminated, could bring in more tax revenue. But Congress prefers a tax code of convoluted exemptions and tax breaks that they create and sustain to keep various interest groups coming to their offices. Taxpayers love breaks such as the homeowners’ exemption that allows taxpayers who itemize to deduct their mortgage interest. Although paying less in taxes is in general a good thing, all such exemptions confuse the process, contribute to an impossibly intricate tax code and keep lawyers, accountants and tax prep software companies prospering. The amount we spend on tax preparation in terms of actual cost and time wasted compared to a simplified tax code is worth billions.
The most extreme example of the fallacious notion that government has a right to its citizens’ money is the idea is that the cost to the government of not taxing the disposable income of all Americans at 100 percent is $11.5 trillion (as if we’d bother working if we faced a 100 percent tax rate). Economist Arthur Laffer noted that the government might collect little in taxes if the tax rates were either very low or very high, because in the latter case Americans would adjust their income according to tax incentives. Government officials unfortunately tend not to think in terms of incentives but of rules and therefore assume, contrary to Laffer’s findings, that higher tax rates always bring in more revenue.
Taken to its conclusion, this thinking leads tragically to socialism. If we think the government is the best source of compassion for the needy and the engine of economic growth, then it makes sense to set taxes at high rates so the government can do all good things for the people. One small faction that I read about in an Ohio paper wants Uncle Sam to hire all unemployed people and then print the money to pay them. This childish scheme is really a variation of the more respectable idea that tax cuts “cost” the government in the same way that spending on defense or health care does.
The foolishness of the concept can be illustrated by analogy with a church. Imagine a congregation of 100 families with a budget that reflected an estimated tithe on $65,000 average family income. Using government thinking, the church budget could be $650,000 (10 percent of 100 x $65,000), even if the actual offerings to the church were only $300,000. This is based on the fairly reasonable idea that the people owe their church 10 percent of their income.
Here’s how government budget thinking might work in that church.
Budget: $650,000. Expenses: charitable relief for church members: $350,000 (54 percent), staff: $150,000 (22 percent), building expenses: $50,000 (8 percent), ministry expenses: $50,000 (8 percent); debt retirement: $50,000 (8 percent).
What is that $350,000 for ‘charitable’ relief for church members? That is the part of the tithe that the members should have given to the church, but did not. Rather than ignore it, the church would reckon it as both income and expense even though not a single dollar changed hands. Government thinking sees any foregone revenue as an expense so that the largest item in this budget is the (fictional) $350,000 expense as if the church spent that money on its own parishioners.
As it stands, the federal government appears to be incapable of balancing income and spending. Right now it is collecting about 16 percent of GDP in taxes and spending well above 20 percent, creating an immense government borrowing gap. Many politicians’ proposed solution is to demand that the existing tax regime be repealed in favor of higher rates; we can’t “afford” the lower rates, they argue. In an economic downturn, however, raising taxes is a surefire way to suppress recovery.
Addressing the spending side of the budget equation is politically painful, no doubt, but it is unavoidable. America faces difficult challenges as we try to grow out of the recession. Having the government think soberly about its tax income and budget expenses would be a good start.
The Acton Commentary this week from my friend John Teevan compares church budgets to government budgets, and what “government thinking” might look like if it were reflected in charitable and ecclesiastical budgeting. He writes, “If we think the government is the best source of compassion for the needy and the engine of economic growth, then it makes sense to set taxes at high rates so the government can do all good things for the people.”
On that point, over at Evangelical Perspective Collin Brendemuehl asks some salient questions in comparing government welfare to private charity.
Is the government 50% efficient? 75% efficient? I can’t venture a guess. But apparently neither can the bureaucrats. But even so, is it a stretch to say that the government is more than likely much less efficient than these charities? Not a tough one, really. Though government has the advantage of being in tough with society on a broader scale, it is also much less capable at targeting specific needs in a short amount of time. Anyone remember how fast Feed the Children and others got into New Orleans ahead of government? They were there faster, with just as much material, and actually met needs. (They did not randomly hand out $2,000 debit cards without accounting.)
Now that’s not to say that efficiency is the only valid factor to consider when evaluating charities or government programs. But it is an important factor and has to do with meeting one’s obligations as a steward of other people’s money or property. It’s in this sense that, as Collin writes, “Government is a servant. At least it ought to be.”
On the question of giving to charities and churches, D. G. Hart has raised this question of extra-ecclesiastical giving in a couple of posts over at Old Life. My final commentary of 2010 made the point that “Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church.” But as I said in a follow-up post over at Mere Comments, I don’t think Christian giving ends there. I wonder why Hart has focused so much on The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, and Redeemer City to City in particular. It seems his critique would apply equally as well to other organizations like the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Ligonier Ministries.
In “Human Nature and Capitalism” on AEI’s The American, Arthur C. Brooks and Peter Wehner look at three different “pictures” of what it means to be human and point to the one, foundational understanding that has undergirded the flourishing American culture of democratic capitalism:
“If men were angels,” wrote James Madison, the father of the Constitution, in Federalist Paper No. 51, “no government would be necessary.” But Madison and the other founders knew men were not angels and would never become angels. They believed instead that human nature was mixed, a combination of virtue and vice, nobility and corruption. People were swayed by both reason and passion, capable of self-government but not to be trusted with absolute power. The founders’ assumption was that within every human heart, let alone among different individuals, are competing and sometimes contradictory moral impulses and currents.
This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.
And they draw a parallel to institutions of government where democracy, with all of its flaws, also works itself out to be the most fitting form of government under this model of human nature. When I engage with critics of the market economy, I use the following Churchill quote but substitute “market economy” for “democracy.” Valid, I think, because we have some disastrous experience with political systems that do not operate in concert with a more or less open market.
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. — Winston Churchill (House of Commons, Nov. 11, 1947)
Brooks and Wehner:
… our “picture of human nature” determines, in large measure, the institutions we design. For example, the architects of our government carefully studied history and every conceivable political arrangement that had been devised up to their time. In the course of their analysis, they made fundamental judgments about human nature and designed a constitutional form of government with it in mind.
What is true for creating political institutions is also true for economic ones. They, too, proceed from understanding human behavior.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this matter. The model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one embraces (free-market capitalism versus socialism) to the political system one supports (democracy versus the “dictatorship of the proletariat”). Like a ship about to begin a long voyage, a navigational mistake at the outset can lead a crew to go badly astray, shipwreck, and run aground. To use another metaphor, this time from the world of medicine: A physician cannot treat an illness before diagnosing it correctly; diagnosing incorrectly can make things far worse than they might otherwise be.
Those who champion capitalism embrace a truth we see played out in almost every life on almost any given day: If you link reward to effort, you will get more effort. If you create incentives for a particular kind of behavior, you will see more of that behavior.
A free market can also better our moral condition—not dramatically and not always, but often enough. It places a premium on thrift, savings, and investment. And capitalism, when functioning properly, penalizes certain kinds of behavior—bribery, corruption, and lawlessness among them—because citizens in a free-market society have a huge stake in discouraging such behavior, which is a poison-tipped dagger aimed straight at the heart of prosperity.
Read the full article on The American.
In this week’s commentary I say that part of the reason less money is being given to local churches is that it is reflective of a broader trend of distrust towards institutions.
Commentary magazine’s blog contentions has some more recent data confirming this overall shift. The post summarizes the December issue of AEI’s “Political Report” (PDF), which focuses especially on trust in the government. It finds that “contemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep” and that, for instance, “Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991.”
But more broadly and inline with what I point to in this week’s commentary, we find that this lack of confidence in the government is not exception to the general loss of institutional faith. Indeed,
The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.
No doubt this applies to “big religion” as well. My friend John H. Armstrong has examined whether and why “young doubters” are leaving the church in seemingly greater numbers. And we can see how all this has negative implications for denominations and super-denominational structures (like the mainline ecumenical groups). As I argue in Ecumenical Babel, this means that many of these institutions might well be ripe for reform, in part because that is their only avenue for survival.