Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg has a busy calendar of media appearances these days; late last week, he joined host Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look for a full broadcast hour to discuss the upcoming year in politics and wider society. That interview is available for your listening enjoyment via the audio player below. He’ll also be appearing this afternoon during the five o’clock hour on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon; streaming audio will be available at that link.
In the U.S., about half of adults live alone. Somewhere around 43 percent of kids in America are only children. In the past 50 years, the number of children living with only one parent has almost doubled. We are, in the words of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, living in a “de-familied” society.
Just prior to the current Pontifical Council for the Family, Archishop Paglia (who heads that Council) spoke to the National Catholic Register about issues he hoped would be addressed by the bishops at the council. The archbishop spoke of a major shift in our society’s manner of thinking, calling it a “delirium of omnipotence:”
Indeed it as is, today, homo homini Deus (Man is God for man). Now, this is the fundamental knot. Why? Because from this tearing apart and arbitrary rebuilding we are going towards a society “de-familied” and therefore weaker and less solid. [The theologian Richard] Baumann would say liquid. In this context, the one who wins is not “us,” but “I.”
Is there any societal reason to protect religion? That is, do we get anything out of religion, as a society, even if we’re not religious, and is that “anything” worth protecting?
In First Things, Movsesian says religion does do good for a society – a good that is worthy of protection.
Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state—even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness, and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.
“What is our salvation actually for?”
It’s a question that many Christians neglect to ask or seriously consider, and even for those of us who do, we tend toward answers far too focused on ourselves — our personal well-being, piety, or pathway to heaven.
But what if salvation isn’t just about us? What if it’s about something deeper, wider, and richer?
This is the question at the center of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a newly released 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Guided by storyteller Evan Koons, the documentary includes Acton researchers Stephen Grabill and Anthony Bradley, as well as other powerful thinkers and doers such as Amy Sherman, Tim Royer, John Perkins, and upcoming Acton University speaker, Makoto Fujimura.
The series is debuting nationally at this week’s Q Conference in Nashville, where Anthony Bradley is giving a related talk on “Life in Exile: How Do We Practice Being a Counterculture For the Common Good?”
Watch the trailer below:
“We are strangers in a strange land,” explains Stephen Grabill, yet “we are meant to make something of the world.” Our salvation is not about holding God’s gifts for ourselves, but rather, about being gift-givers to all and for all. Salvation is for the life of the world. (more…)
Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico had intended to join host Neil Cavuto in his New York studio to discuss questions of economics and religion, but Friday’s events in Centennial, Colorado prompted a different discussion altogether.
“Does the Vatican think water should be ‘free’?” asked Kishore Jayabalan in his post examining the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s latest document on water. Although he is now the director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute’s Rome office, Jayabalan formerly worked for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control.
In his post, Jayabalan referenced the analysis of George McGraw, the Executive Director of DigDeep Right to Water Project, a human rights and development NGO headquartered in Los Angeles. Mr. McGraw asked if we’d be interested in providing a counter-argument from a conservative perspective, so we’ve decided to publish his response below:
Dr. Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, has become something of a regular guest on Kresta in the Afternoon of late; below you’ll find audio of his two most recent appearances.
Leading off, Sam appeared with host Al Kresta on February 15th to discuss Pope Benedict’s concept of the dictatorship of relativism in the context of the HHS mandate debate, and the potential consequences of the death of absolute truth. Listen via the audio player below:
Then, on the 22nd, Dr. Gregg made another appearance with Kresta to discuss the concept of ordered liberty, contrasting the concepts of freedom for excellence vs. freedom of indifference. You can listen to the interview below, and if you’re interested, head over to the Acton bookshoppe to pick up a copy of On Ordered Liberty, his book on the same topic.
Today marks the beginning of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. Not simply a fast, it is a time for that true asceticism which, according to Fr. Georges Florovsky, “is inspired not by contempt, but by the urge of transformation.”
There is something of this true asceticism, even if imperfect and incomplete, at the basis of all human society. One must, even to only a small extent, renounce self-will to be a member of a family, a clan, or a tribe, not to mention a city, state, or nation. No community can exist or has existed without some semblance of this asceticism. Every member must deny some part of his or her self for a perceived common good in order to form any community, in order for society itself to exist.
Thus, asceticism is not and never has been reserved for monks in the history of the Church. As Florovsky notes, “Ascetical virtues can be practiced by laymen also, and by those who stay in the world.” Interestingly, Vladimir Solovyov even goes so far as to identify marriage as one of the first ascetic practices inasmuch as it constitutes a “limitation of sensuality” that results in increased “control of carnal passions.”
In a healthy marriage, the husband and wife likely find that the level of self-renunciation necessary to maintain family life extends far beyond the sensual as well. Indeed, during his address at Acton University this summer, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America remarked,
Is there any greater ascetic than a young mother, a new mother, who has to get up at all hours, night or day, to feed the child, to change the diapers? That’s the image, that’s asceticism—it’s total self-giving in love. All real asceticism is self-giving in love.
On a personal note, my wife and I are currently celebrating the birth of our first child, and (to my wife’s credit) I can confirm the truth of His Beatitude’s statement. (Don’t worry, I change diapers too, but my wife deserves far more credit for “get[ing] up at all hours.”) According to Florovsky, through asceticism “a new hierarchy of values and aims is revealed.” Certainly, any other new parents would agree with me that having a baby literally changes one’s whole world. Suddenly things I used to value seem so insignificant.
Through marriage I was transformed into a husband. Through the birth of my son, I am now also a father. As Christians, both of the East and the West, embark on the ascetic, spiritual journey of Great Lent that culminates in the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, I hope that all of us will also be spiritually transformed according to the likeness of Christ’s self-giving love.
Earlier this year I was invited to participate in a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies and Students for a Free Economy at Northwood University. In the course of the weekend I was able to establish that while I wasn’t the first theologian to present at an IHS event, I may well have been the first Protestant theologian.
In a talk titled, “From Divine Right to Human Rights: The Foundations of Rights in the Modern World,” I attempted to trace the development of the concept of “rights” in the West historically, from the ancient world to modern times. A corollary purpose was to show the students that liberty and religion are not inimical or diametrically opposed.
Shawn Ritenour, a faculty presenter at last month’s Acton University, pursues a similar purpose in a recent post at his blog, Foundations of Economics (after his book of the same name. Timothy Terrell reviews Ritenour’s book in issue 13.2 of the Journal of Markets & Morality). Ritenour writes, “While it is true that many non-believers embrace and promote the free society and many libertarians despise Christ[, i]t does not follow, however, that Christianity and liberty have nothing to do with one another.” He goes on to provide some more resources for this point, particularly arguing that “a close study of God’s Word reveals that social institutions that promote liberty are positively mandated.”
Human rights are one of these social institutions that promote liberty and are positively mandated by the Bible. In my presentation at the Northwood seminar, I drew on some resources from the Acton film, The Birth of Freedom. In particular, I shared this video featuring John Witte Jr. that addresses the question, “How Has Judaism Contributed to Human Rights?”
As Lord Acton puts it, in ancient Israel “the throne was erected on a compact; and the king was deprived of the right of legislation among a people that recognised no lawgiver but God, whose highest aim in politics was to restore the original purity of the constitution, and to make its government conform to the ideal type that was hallowed by the sanctions of heaven.”
Very often it is difficult to see in any concrete way how our work really means anything at all. The drudgery of the daily routine can be numbing, sometimes literally depending on your working conditions. What is the purpose, the end of our work?