World Youth Day being held in Madrid August 16-21 will be an important opportunity for Pope Benedict XVI to speak regarding Europe’s Christian roots. George Weigel summarized some remarks from the Holy Father to religious and cultural leaders in Zagreb, Croatia. The pope spoke on many important topics including freedom, free society, human rights, and democracy. It is important to note that though obvious to many Americans, these points are still “wildly counter-cultural” in Europe. Like Weigel, I hope someone takes notice to help bring needed religious, political, business and cultural change to Europe.
The debate over the separation of church and state as well as religion’s role in politics has been intense and ongoing for years. In this week’s Acton Commentary, Tony Oleck seeks to add clarity to the debate. In his commentary, Oleck balances the desires of the Founding Fathers with what it means to be a Christian. Get Acton News and Commentary every Wednesday in your email inbox. Click here to sign up today.
Controversial Christianity: Understanding Faith and Politics
By Tony Oleck
As the race for the 2012 party nominations for president heats up, the question of religion and its place in politics surfaces yet again. Whether the controversy is over mosques or Mormonism, religion permeates much of today’s political talk, despite various pleas for a “separation of church and state” from both the secular and religious worlds. But what does the separation of church and state truly mean?
While many use the phrase to refer to a complete isolation of religion from politics, history tells us that the most famous advocate of this principle in America, Thomas Jefferson, may have had a different idea of what a “wall of separation between church and state” really meant. In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson writes:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship. . . I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church & state.
What Jefferson sought to prevent was state intervention into religious affairs. And the separation of church and state, as our founding fathers understood the phrase, meant the avoidance of a church-state. A church that acts as or controls the state is not in accordance with Christ’s message, but a church that informs the state is. If the role of the state is to allow for and to promote the freedom and well-being of its citizens, then it has only to benefit from the Christian understandings of truth, freedom and God’s undying love for the world.
I am reminded of something a former English teacher once told me about religion and politics. “It’s like when I go to get my car fixed,” he said, “I don’t determine which mechanic to go to by what religion he practices.” While I would agree, I tend to take the leadership and future of my country a little bit more seriously than whether or not my radio works. Granted, a candidate should never be excluded from office for solely religious purposes, but a Christian nevertheless need not feel ashamed for supporting a particular candidate because of his or her religiously-based position on certain social issues.
Why did our founding fathers describe man as “being endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”? And why were the words “In God We Trust” and “One Nation under God” added eventually to our currency and our pledge of allegiance, respectively? It was because they realized that only in recognizing man as having been created in God’s own image as a species set apart could America grow and prosper. It was this common Christian heritage that allowed the state to grow in the first place. While not all of America’s founding fathers were necessarily practicing Christians, they understood that for the American experiment to succeed it must at the very least be founded on Christian principles; on both faith and reason. They understood the transformative nature of Christ’s teachings and the dignity and truth which they expounded to human beings.
This is not to say, of course, that the United States only has room for Christianity as a system of belief. Religious freedom is a necessary condition for a just and prosperous society. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his World Day of Peace address this past New Year’s, “Where religious freedom is acknowledged the dignity of the human person is respected at its roots and through a sincere search for truth and good, moral conscience and institutions are strengthened. For this religious freedom is a privileged path to peace.”
But while religious freedom is necessary for peace, it is never an excuse for inaction. Christians often feel the need to separate their religious beliefs from their political views so as not to “impose” their beliefs on others, but this separation is contrary to the Gospel message. Because acceptance of the Gospel and the subsequent sharing of the Gospel go hand-in-hand, a Christian who is content to confine his faith to the walls of his own home may be a Christian by name, but he is an atheist by practice.
Christianity is more than a moral code. It is by its nature both transformative and truth-seeking. And if Christianity is meant to transform our lives and to expound truth (whether that truth is culturally attractive or not), then it becomes necessary that we allow our faith to inform our politics. It offers the lens of a true enlightenment, through which we can understand the meaning and purpose of political action in the first place.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was named the next archbishop of Philadelphia on Tuesday, and mainstream coverage of the story immediately turned to sex abuse scandals. Which makes a lot of sense because, you know, that has dominated his tenure in Denver. As John Allen pointed out, that’s not the case at all, but George Weigel reminds us not to expect anything else.
What Archbishop Chaput is justly notable for is his Christian contribution to public debate. In his books, including the influential best-seller Render Unto Caesar, his writings in periodicals, and even his testimony before Congress, the Archbishop has been a model of evangelization of the secular world. He sees the Christian vocation to preach the Gospel as inseparable from an engagement in the public square. As he told John Allen, evangelization “is about trying to see the best of the world around us and to show how the Gospel makes it better and richer, and how the Gospel at the same time corrects it and purifies it. There’s no way the Gospel can embrace and purify the world unless it knows the world.”
Now Archbishop Chaput has been considerably more engaged in public life than many bishops, but he insists that an engagement driven by the Gospel cannot be a passive one, that a cleric is “unavoidably a leader, not a facilitator or coordinator of dialogue. A priest can’t just be a man of dialogue and consensus, because at some point he also has to lead.”
The Archbishop is a model for other Christian leaders whose congregations look to them for guidance when religion and public policy intersect. He combines Christian charity with absolute fidelity to Christian moral precepts and proper circumspection. His position on Health Care exemplifies this attitude:
Health care, of course, is one of the things the church has done in imitation of Jesus Christ, who came to heal the sick and to drive out evil in the world. It’s very important for us to be involved, but in a way that Jesus is involved, and not to do anything at all that would contravene the teachings of the Gospel.
As St.Paul said, “We may never do evil that good may come about” (Romans 3:8). Chaput is one of those bishops who understands that while Christians may have prudential disagreements about how to realize a good end, there are certain accommodations that a Christian may never make. The distinction is missed by many Christians and non-Christians.
Archbishop Chaput’s approach to public discourse may best be summed up by his answer to Allen’s Benedict-or-John Paul question at the end of their interview: “I hope that I have the evangelical energy of John Paul II, and the clarity of preaching of Benedict XVI.” That is quite an aspiration, but it is one which all Christians, and especially clergy, ought to share.
There has been a lot of buzz throughout the Roman Catholic Church as it prepares to implement a new missal on November 27. As the Church begins a new chapter in its history, Tony Oleck writes an article for Crisis Magazine titled “The True Beauty of Liturgy.” Oleck is a Roman Catholic seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross and a summer intern at the Acton Institute.
In his article Oleck explains the reasoning behind Pope Benedict’s new missal while also keeping a keen eye towards the beauty of the liturgy:
That is why Benedict’s reforms of the Roman Catholic liturgy could have an impact that reaches far beyond the Catholic Church. The Church is described in Light of the World as “giving expression to God’s message, which raises man to his highest dignity, goodness, and beauty.” This is and always has been the mission of the Church — to transform and to elevate man by creating a culture that fosters human flourishing. With his attention to liturgy, Benedict reminds us of the truth of our existence: that we are pilgrims on this earth, and we were created to live for more than the temporal.
The true beauty of liturgy is that it raises our eyes and our hearts toward Heaven, reminding us of the eschaton, the day when we pass from the temporal into the eternal. The Church exists to transform the world, to prepare it for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Because liturgy is the primary place where this transformation occurs, Benedict is right to put it at the top of his agenda. If what we pray is what we believe, then the way we pray will determine the way we will live.
Click here to read the full article.
In Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg has a new article that looks at how Catholics reflect on a wide range of financial questions ranging from the federal government’s fiscal woes to consumer debt to a fragile banking system.
Today one looks in vain for Catholic thinkers studying our debt and deficit problems from standpoints equally well-informed by economics and sound Catholic moral reflection. We don’t, for instance, hear many Catholic voices speaking publically about the moral virtues essential for the management of finances such as prudent risk-taking, thrift, promise-keeping, and assuming responsibility for our debts — private or public.
Instead, one finds broad admonitions such as “put the interests of the poor first” in an age of budget-cutting. The desire to watch out for the poor’s well being in an environment of fiscal restraint is laudable. But that’s not a reason to remain silent about the often morally-questionable choices and policies that helped create our personal and public debt dilemmas in the first place.
One Catholic who has proved willing to engage these issues is none other than Pope Benedict XVI. In his 2010 interview book Light of the World, Benedict pointed to a deeper moral disorder associated with the running-up of high levels of private and public debt. The willingness on the part of many people and governments to do so means, Benedict wrote, “we are living at the expense of future generations.”
In other words, someone has to pay for all this debt. And clearly many Western Europeans and Americans seem quite happy for their children to pick up the bill. That’s a rather flagrant violation of intergenerational solidarity.
Read “Debt, Finance, and Catholics” on the Crisis Magazine website.
It appears then that these Catholic academicians who have written to Speaker Boehner do not understand the distinctions the Church herself makes between fundamental, non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines, and the prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching. Here Speaker Boehner need only consult the text of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which the authors of the letter say they have delivered to him, wherein he will read: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions.” (no. 571)
The specifics of the 2012 Budget proposed by the Speaker and his colleagues are, the letter’s authors contend, the result of either ignorance or “dissent.” I think they are neither; they simply reflect a different, and in many people’s estimation, more accurate and economically-informed way, of proposing how we achieve worthy goals. Indeed, it could be said that what these Catholic academicians are proposing is not a “preferential option for the poor,” but rather a preferential option for the State. They make the unfortunately common error of assuming that concern for the economically weak and marginalized must somehow translate into (yet another) government program.
That assumption is wrong, and flies in the face of another principle of Catholic social teaching — the principle of subsidarity. With good reason, this is something the Catholic Left — or whatever remains of it these days — rarely mentions or grapples with, because they know that it would raise many questions about the prudence of any number of welfare programs they support.
Indeed, what strikes me about this letter to Speaker Boehner is how reactionary it is.
In an article appearing on EWTN News, Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, is interviewed on rising food prices and the effect on the developing world. In this article, Dr. Gregg contributed to a broad discussion on the many factors contributing to the rising food prices.
He advocates for a free market economy in agriculture by discussing the effects agricultural subsides in Europe and the United State, and how these market distortions contribute to stifling the growth of agriculture in the developing world. Furthermore, the effects of the oil industry on food prices is also discussed along with Pope Benedict’s call for the need to address the problems of food insecurity in Caritas in Veritate.
Developing world’s food crisis seen as a ripple effect of over-regulation
By Benjamin Mann
The dramatic rise in global food prices was high on the agenda of the 2011 World Economic Forum on Africa, held from May 4–6 in Cape Town, South Africa. According to a leading Catholic economist, excessive government regulations are to blame for the rise in prices.
A complex combination of factors – including natural disasters and higher oil prices, as well as a rising standard of living in countries like China, India and Brazil – have made food less affordable in recent months.
The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization has warned that the “food price shock” could have devastating effects upon the world’s poorest people.
At meetings in Cape Town, South Africa this week, African leaders discussed a “road map” to help the continent cope with rising prices through market-based approaches that would encourage local agriculture.
Some factors behind higher food prices, such as natural disasters, cannot be controlled. But Dr. Samuel Gregg, an economist at Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said other factors – especially agricultural subsidies and the manipulation of oil supplies – were preventing poorer countries from bringing their productive capacities to bear in the global market.
The result, he told EWTN News on May 6, is an under-supply of food, and higher prices.
“All the subsidies that go into agriculture – through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies – have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries,” Gregg observed.
Without the ability to sell their products at competitive prices on the global market, these countries end up producing less food, and attracting fewer investors.
“They end up saying, ‘We can’t compete because of subsidies in the European Union and the United States.’ Consequently, the supply of food starts to be reduced, because there isn’t the incentive for agricultural investment.”
“This effort to protect American and European farmers has the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of agricultural products from other people.”
He said farm subsidies, going mainly to large corporations rather than individual growers, were a “very good example” of how “a government program can have a completely unintended negative effect” on a critical area of the world economy.
If the barriers to competition were lifted, Gregg said, developing countries could attract more investment and increase their own productive capacities, to cope with global demand and bring food prices down.
But agricultural subsidies have the backing of powerful interest groups, and are often perceived as vital to the national interest.
Gregg also holds oil-exporting nations of OPEC responsible for high fuel prices that translate into more expensive food.
“The energy sector of the economy is not a free market – it’s a cartel,” he stated. “That’s something to keep in mind with all discussion about energy prices. This is why we worry about what OPEC is going to set as the price for gas, or for the production of barrels of oil.”
“It’s not the market that is controlling the price, for the most part. Generally speaking, it’s a cartel – which means that OPEC and other oil-producing countries introduce a whole range of price-distortions into the energy sector, resulting in higher prices.”
Oil prices, he said, “don’t reflect the true state of supply and demand.” Rather, Gregg said, they tend to reflect the will of countries exporting oil, and the inefficiency of frequently nationalized oil production.
Elsewhere, government regulations surrounding the refinement of oil into gas also play a role in raising prices, when refining capacity fails to keep pace with crude oil supply.
“There’s plenty of oil,” Gregg stated. “The problem is, there’s a disparity between supply and demand.” Meanwhile, this imbalance in the oil market has a ripple effect. “Just as energy prices go up,” he explained, “so do food costs.”
Another obstacle to meeting rising demand for food may come from ideological opposition to genetically-modified crops.
“There are all sorts of restrictions in place around the world, upon the development of genetically modified food,” Gregg noted. Genetic modification is highly controversial, and skeptics worry such crops could harm local ecosystems or human health.
But Gregg said that these concerns had to be weighed against the world’s urgent food needs, given that genetic modification could enable crops to be grown “in conditions where they might not otherwise be able to be produced.”
Many of these crops are also designed to resist natural occurrences – such as droughts, floods, and disease – that destabilize food prices.
“There’s no question that if more countries were enabled by law to engage in genetically modified agriculture, the supply of food would go up, and prices would come down,” he observed.
Gregg’s advocacy of what he called a “true free market in agriculture,” geared toward attracting investment in the developing world, reflects priorities that Pope Benedict XVI outlined in his 2008 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”
In that encyclical, the Pope said that “the problem of food insecurity” had to be addressed by “eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it, and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.”
“This can be done,” the Pope wrote, “by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology.”
Pope Benedict stated said the developing world’s most urgent need in this area was “a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food.”
Gregg believes a general draw-down of government involvement in agriculture, as well as energy, would allow these kinds of economic institutions to develop locally and compete globally.
The result would be a boost in developing countries’ food production capacity, and more affordable food for the world.
“Obviously you need some kind of regulatory framework,” Gregg said. “But if it were a less onerous regulatory framework, and different groups weren’t trying to influence the process for political and ideological reasons, I think you’d find that the price of food – and the price of energy – would fall.”