Posts tagged with: Religion/Belief

If we assume that the institutions of civil society, like churches, recreation centers, fantasy football leagues, and book clubs are essential for a flourishing society, it becomes very important to determine how such institutions are developed, maintained, and promoted.

For thinkers as varied as Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Kuyper, and Pope Paul VI, the realm of civil society provides an indispensable area of connection and protection between the individual person and the political order. In Quadragesimo anno, Paul VI writes of the need for “the reform of institutions,” necessary in part because of “the evil of what we have termed ‘individualism’ that, following upon the overthrow and near extinction of that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State.”

It is at this point that Paul VI invokes the principle of subsidiarity, which is dependent upon and recognizes the rich variegation of human social life, which consists in human identity not only in terms of the individual citizen and the political order, but also in the human person as friend, co-worshiper, family member, co-worker, neighbor, and so on. One of the things most pressing for Paul VI was the idea that these institutions of civil society needed to be strengthened, not only for their own good but also for that of the political order itself and even more broadly for the common good: “for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

How do we reinvigorate civil society once it has declined? How do we help build up what has atrophied? These are questions that are vital for moving beyond a false dichotomy of market and state or individual and state, not only conceptually but practically. As Matthew Kaemingk writes, “Their importance is often ignored by politicians, but sociologists tell us that a flourishing array of non-profits and free organizations consistently leads to measurable declines divorce, poverty, violence, obesity, depression, chronic illness, illiteracy, dependency, homelessness, and political apathy.” But if associations of civil society help lead to these outcomes, what helps lead to associations of civil society?

Melissa Steffan reports at Christianity Today this week on some research that bears on aspects of the necessary answers to these questions. Steffan writes, “Parents considering whether or not to send their children to private school can now weigh more than just tuition and curriculum. According to a new study from professors at Calvin College, the affiliation of a high school student’s school significantly impacts his or her sense of civic duty.”

She is referring to a new article from Jonathan Hill and Kevin den Dulk, “Religion, Volunteering, and Educational Setting: The Effect of Youth Schooling Type on Civic Engagement,” which appears in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
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Over at the IFWE blog, Art Lindsley continues his series on the gifts of the Spirit, offering seven reasons the gifts of the Holy Spirit matter for our work. “Whether working in creation or regeneration, the Spirit constantly empowers us to carry out the callings God places on our lives,” Lindsley writes.

Providing some brief Biblical basis for each, he offers the following reasons:

  1. The Spirit gives us power.
  2. We shouldn’t separate “natural” and “spiritual” gifts.
  3. The Spirit helps us reach our true potential.
  4. The Spirit provides gifts when we need them.
  5. The Spirit can increase our gifts for specific tasks.
  6. The Spirit’s gifts apply to all contexts, not just spiritual ones.
  7. The gift of leadership applies on many levels.

These points connect well with those developed at length in Charlie Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, in which Self explores the many ways that the work of the Spirit impacts the work of the Gospel in our churches and communities.

In his chapter on how the Holy Spirit empowers transformation of the economy and society, Self explains the role the Holy Spirit plays in moving us toward a more “creative integration” on such matters: (more…)

At Ethika Politika today, I examine the recent critique by David Bentley Hart in the most recent issue of First Things of the use of natural law in public discourse in my article, “Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience.” Ultimately, I offer a measured critique—somewhat agreeing with, but mostly critical of Hart’s position—pointing out Hart’s oversight of the vital role of conscience in classic natural law theory.

What I find so bizarre, and have for some time now, is the relative ambivalence, at best, of many contemporary Orthodox writers when it comes to natural law. Hart, for example, hints that he might approve of natural law reasoning so long as all parties involved hold to a metaphysic that acknowledges “a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate.” However, even then he is not clear. Indeed, he begins his article by writing,

There is a long, rich, varied, and subtle tradition of natural law theory, almost none of which I find especially convincing, but most of which I acknowledge to be—according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated—perfectly coherent. (emphasis mine)

Hart is not alone among Orthodox writers in this regard. With the notable exceptions of Stanley Harakas, Tristram Engelhardt, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (if there are others I apologize for my ignorance), contemporary Orthodox writers scarcely have employed natural law in their social ethics, if they even endorse it at all. Often it gets thrown under the bus in ill-advised false dichotomizing between all that is Eastern and therefore wonderful and all that is Western and therefore overly rationalistic. (more…)

Political activism  by religious took a relatively new twist during the last presidential election cycle when the Nuns on the Bus initiative hit the road. The Roman Catholic sisters insisted they backed neither candidate, but were vehemently opposed to Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget.

The election has long since been decided, but the progressive crusade of Nuns on the Bus and its parent organization Network continues apace not only on the nation’s highways and byways, but as well in corporate boardrooms. This last is precipitated by proxy resolutions by “social justice” activists who are elbowing their way into annual shareholder meetings, courtesy of retirement funds invested in stocks or tax-deductible stock donations made to such organizations as Network.

On its website, Network asserts: “Gifts of stock are a great way putting the stock market to work for justice!” However, Network’s concepts of justice don’t necessarily align with the faith that all nuns have taken vows to uphold. (more…)

On the website of Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the “tsunami of unsolicited advice from pop atheists, incoherent playwrights, angry ex-priests, and celebrity theologians that has erupted since Benedict XVI’s abdication.” Then there’s Hans Küng’s article in the New York Times:

Much of Küng’s article involves his familiar tactics of citing dubious polls (as if polls somehow determine Christ’s will for His Church) about Catholics’ views of the usual subjects as well as propagating myths about Church history. Then there is his mockery of the evident love for Benedict and his saintly predecessor by young church-going Catholics. According to the good professor, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to “the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups.” Plainly it’s been a very, very long time since young Catholics have applauded Father Küng—assuming, that is, they even know who he is. As one such person recently remarked to me: “Hans Küng? I thought he was dead.”

Hans Küng

Hans Küng

Writing in his Carnets du Concile during the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuit theologian and council peritus Henri de Lubac—who was no reactionary—described Küng as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and habitually speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms. Nothing, it seems, has changed. But amidst his litany of half-truths, Küng is right about one thing. There is something dying in global Catholicism. It’s just not what he thinks it is.

Read “Catholicism, True Reform and the Next Pope” by Samuel Gregg at Crisis Magazine.

LecraeAt last fall’s evangelical-oriented Resurgence Conference, Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore encouraged the American church to rethink how it engages culture, urging Christians to move beyond what has become a narrow, overly introverted “sacred-secular divide” (HT):

We are great at talking about salvation and sanctification. We are clueless when it comes to art, ethics, science, and culture. Christianity is the whole truth about everything. It’s how we deal with politics. It’s how we deal with science. It’s how we deal with TV and art. We can’t leave people to their own devices. We just demonize everything. If it doesn’t fit in the category of sanctification or salvation it’s just evil…

…I believe that the reason why the church typically doesn’t engage culture is because we are scared of it. We’re scared it’s going to somehow jump on us and corrupt us. We’re scared it’s going to somehow mess up our good thing. So we consistently move further and further away from the corruption, further and further away from the crime, further and further away from the post-modernity, further and further away from the relativism and secular humanism and we want to go to a safe place with people just like you. We want to be comfortable…

…I’m not saying let’s redeem the world and create this utopian planet. I’m saying let’s demonstrate what Jesus had done in us so the world may see a new way, God’s way, Jesus’ way … the picture of redemption that Jesus has done in us. So Jesus redeems us and we desire to go to the world and demonstrate that so that others can see what redemption looks like.”

These tensions can be difficult to ride, as evidenced by the struggle in American evangelicalism that Lecrae points to. To counter this type of unhealthy dualism, Abraham Kuyper’s elaborations on the doctrine of common grace are very helpful, equipping us with a robust theology of public service and cultural engagement. (more…)

In a story about looming budget cuts associated with the federal sequestration, Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing was called on by Aleteia to suggest “ways Catholic social teaching might be used to guide the cuts.” Schmiesing pointed out that the “cuts” are really “only a slow-down in the rate of growth in federal spending.” More:

“Much more dramatic cuts and/or revenue increases are needed to reach a position of fiscal responsibility,” he said in an interview. But the principle of “solidarity,” from Catholic social teaching, he suggested, would guide specific cuts in spending to be made in a way that “expresses shared responsibility for our nation and its problems.”

“For example, firing a lot of lower staffers while preserving intact the comfortable salaries and benefits of the higher-level staffers might be seen as a violation of solidarity,” he said. “It puts all of the sacrifice on one segment of the population.”

Schmiesing suggested too that cuts should be “managed in a way that encourages rather than undermines the institutions that operate at a level more local than the federal government.” This would be based on the principle of subsidiarity, which, to cite one example, would be violated by “closing a military base – cold turkey – that serves as the foundation of a local community comprised of families, churches, and businesses.”

In addition, budget decisions “must keep foremost in mind the effect on those who are most vulnerable,” Schmiesing said. “It would not be in line with Catholic social teaching (and its principle of a preferential option for the poor) to preserve inviolate the comfortable salaries of upper middle class bureaucrats while at the same time firing” lower-wage office staff.

Read “The Concrete Impact of Sequestration” on Aleteia.com

During his address to German students yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry offered a defense of freedom of speech and religion by saying that in the United States “you have a right to be stupid if you want to be.”

john-kerry“As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view,” Kerry told the students in Berlin, the second stop on his inaugural trip as secretary of state.

“People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another,” he added.

“The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be,” he said, prompting laughter. “And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be.

“And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for,” he added. “The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.”

No one familiar with John Kerry’s career should be surprised that he is snootily dismissive of Americans who hold views different from his own. And perhaps we should be grateful that a man who could have been president of the United States believes in “tolerating” those of us who stupidly oppose infringements on our religious liberties.

Still, as Ken Blackwell says, instead of talking of “tolerance” and how we “tolerate” ideas we think are stupid, Kerry might have told the young Germans about George Washington’s eloquent Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport.

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I have recently accepted the honor of becoming a contributing editor at Ethika Politika, and I begin my contribution in that role today by launching a new channel (=magazine section): Via Vitae, “the way of life.” In my introductory article, “What Hath Athos to Do With New Jersey?” I summarize the goal of Via Vitae as follows:

Via Vitae seeks to explore this connection between the mystical and the mundane, liturgy and public life, the kingdom of God and the common good. While I value technical discussions of public policy and believe that the work of advocating for civil laws that reflect the law of God constitutes a true vocation, I see a lacuna in our discourse when it comes to the habits necessary to enable persons to live morally in the first place, however just or unjust the law itself may be. (more…)

Today the Acton Institute announced the 2013 Novak Award winner. Full release follows:

Although he has only recently obtained his doctorate, David Paul Deavel’s work is already marking him as one of the leading American scholars researching questions of religion and liberty. In recognition of his early promise, the academic staff at the Acton Institute has named Deavel the recipient of the 2013 Novak Award.

Deavel is an associate editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and a contributing editor for Gilbert Magazine. He is also currently a Fellow of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), where he teaches courses in the Department of Catholic Studies and the St. Paul Seminary.

Deavel pursued his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and English literature at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and earned a Ph.D. in historical theology from Fordham University in New York.

Much of Deavel’s research and writing has been on topics related to the Catholic intellectual tradition, most often reflecting his acquaintance with John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton. His writing has appeared in numerous books and a wide variety of popular and scholarly journals including America, Books & Culture, Catholic World Report, Chesterton Review, First Things, Journal of Markets and Morality, National Review, Nova et Vetera, New Blackfriars, and Touchstone.

He is a native of Bremen, Ind., and a 1992 graduate of Bremen High School. Deavel currently lives in St. Paul, Minn., with his wife, Catherine, a philosopher at the University of St. Thomas, and their five children.

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. Recipients of the Novak Award make a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. The Novak Award comes with a $10,000 prize.

The Novak Award forms part of a range of scholarships, travel grants, and awards available from the Acton Institute that support future religious and intellectual leaders who wish to study the essential relationship between theology, the free market, economic liberty, and the importance of the rule of law. Details of these scholarships may be found here.