The 2014 Acton Lecture Series got underway last week with an address from Jay Richards on the topic of “Why Libertarians Need God.” In his address, Richards argued that core libertarian principles of individual rights, freedom and responsibility, reason, moral truth, and limited government make little sense in an atheistic and materialist context, but make far more sense when grounded in a theistic belief system. The video of the full lecture is available below; I’ve embedded the audio after the jump.
The domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.
Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.
We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)
Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”
What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.
The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.
When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”
“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”
Here’s a key section from a speech given by Nelson Mandela in 1998 at the World Council of Churches:
At the end of a century that has taught that peace is the greatest weapon in development, we cannot afford to spare any effort to bring about a peaceful resolution of such conflicts.
Nor can we allow anything to detract from the urgent need to cooperate in order to ensure that our continent avoids the negative consequences of globalization and that it is able to exploit the opportunities of this important global advancement.
That means working together to ensure that the legacy of underdevelopment does not leave Africa on the margins of the world economy.
That means finding ways to deal with the world’s highest incidence of AIDS, to advance and entrench democracy, to root out corruption and greed, and to ensure respect for human rights.
It means together finding ways to increase the inward flow of investment, to widen market access, and to remove the burden of external debt which affects Africa more than any other region.
It means cooperating to reorient the institutions that regulate the international trade and investment system, so that world economic growth translates into the benefits of development.
It means finding ways of ensuring that the efforts of countries to put their economies on a sound basis in order to uplift their people are not set back by huge flows of finance as they move across the globe in search of quick profits.
The challenge facing today’s leaders is to find the ways in which the prodigious capacity of the contemporary world economy is used to decisively address the poverty that continues to afflict much of humanity.
As I outline in Ecumenical Babel, this kind of a platform for ecumenical engagement of the issues surrounding globalization would have been much more positive, constructive, and promising than the course that was pursued by the mainline ecumenical organizations. Mandela’s words here provide a much more balanced and nuanced assessment of globalization than is often found in ecumenical pronouncements, including the deliberations that ended up leading to the Accra Confession of 2006.
In a recent event co-sponsored by Christian’s Library Press, professor Oliver O’Donovan engaged in a robust conversation with Matthew Lee Anderson and Ken Myers on the topic of the Gospel and public engagement. The audio is now available via Mars Hill Audio. Sign-up is required, but is both simple and free.
Anyone who has read O’Donovan is familiar with the weight and depth he brings to such matters. As was to be expected, this is a conversation filled with richness, nuance, and the types of rabbit trails that, to one’s great delight, end up not being rabbit trails after all.
The discussion is worth listening to in full, but O’Donovan’s kick-off discussion of “the secular” is of particular relevance to our discussions about economic, cultural, and political transformation. For O’Donovan, modernity has wielded a peculiar influence on the way Christians view “common life” in the “common world” — one that has led to a problematic approach to what we now think of as “the secular.”
It used to mean something quite different:
Historically, the word secular meant to do with the affairs of this world – i.e., it was the life of creation extended into history as distinct from the intervention into this world and the work in this world of redeeming it and saving it. So every Christian lived a secular life and a spiritual life, in that a Christian is engaged, has tasks, has a life to live within the common terms of a common world, and at the same time an awareness and response to the work of God in saving it. (more…)
New York magazine’s fascinating interview with Justice Antonin Scalia offers much to enjoy, and as Joe Carter has already pointed out, one of the more striking exchanges centers on the existence of the Devil.
When asked whether he has “seen evidence of the Devil lately,” Scalia offers the following:
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore…What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
As my friend Irene Switzer kindly reminded me, Whittaker Chambers set forth a similar hypothesis in an elegantly written essay for Life magazine in 1948. “When the Age of Reason began,” the sub-head begins, “the Devil went ‘underground,'” his strategy being “to make men think he doesn’t exist.”
Setting the scene at a New Year’s party in “Manhattan’s swank Hotel Nineveh & Tyre,” Chambers constructs a fanciful conversation between the Devil and a “pessimist” — a Modern Man what-have-you, who exhibits familiarity with Reinhold Niebuhr and C.S. Lewis (an indication of rejection over ignorance, no doubt). (more…)
Challenges to religious freedom are not only becoming increasingly more common but are being based on a broader range of social, legal, and political arguments. The one unifying feature of these attacks, claims R.R. Reno, is the desire to limit the influence of religion over public life:
In the world envisioned by Obama administration lawyers, churches will have freedom as “houses of worship,” but unless they accept the secular consensus they can’t inspire their adherents to form institutions to educate and serve society in accordance with the principles of their faith. Under a legal regime influenced by the concept of public reason, religious people are free to speak—but when their voices contradict the secular consensus, they’re not allowed into our legislative chambers or courtrooms.
Thus our present clashes over religious liberty. The Constitution protects religious liberty in two ways. First, it prohibits laws establishing a religion. This prevents the dominant religion from using the political power of majority rule to privilege its own doctrines to the disadvantage of others. Second, it prohibits laws that limit the free exercise of religion. What we’re seeing today is a secular liberalism that wants to expand the prohibition of establishment to silence articulate religious voices and disenfranchise religiously motivated voters, and at the same time to narrow the scope of free exercise so that the new secular morality can reign over American society unimpeded.
This book introduces the history of Christian political thought traced out in Western culture--a culture experiencing the dissolution of a long-fought-for consensus around natural law theory.
Last week the ruling party of the province of Quebec, Parti Québécois, unveiled a new charter which would prohibit public employees from wearing overt religious garb. The document states:
We propose to prohibit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel in carrying out their duties. This restriction would reflect the state’s neutrality.
Included in their examples of “conspicuous signs would not be allowed to state personnel” is the dastar, the turban worn by Sikh men. The problem with such a prohibition, as Brandon Watson explains, is that banning the dastar makes the religious symbolism of Sikhism even more overt:
The Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, echoed the Rabbi Cohen’s statements, telling CNA that “I think that there is a clamp-down on religious liberty in this country, but it’s so incredibly simple that we aren’t catching the signs.”
“If one religious identity’s freedoms are taken, then all suffer,” he added.
He warned, however, against over-correction, such as moves by the Russian Orthodox Church to establish Russian Orthodoxy as the official state religion. “There is a problem when the Church relies on the fist of Caesar to protect it rather than the loving hand of Jesus,” he cautioned, although he noted that “the government should guarantee us our freedom to express ourselves.”
Read “Diverse faith leaders unite over religious freedom concerns” at the Catholic News Agency.
As part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “Fortnight For Freedom” campaign, the USCCB has enumerated a number of threats to Americans’ religious liberty. Besides the on-going battle with the Obama Administration regarding the HHS mandate and the gutting of funding to Catholic programs that fight human trafficking, the bishops want us to be aware of these perils to religious liberty:
- Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
- State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.
- Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. Litigation in this case continues.