Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico is in Washington, D.C. to participate in the papal visit to the US; tomorrow he will be attending the Pope’s address to the US Congress. In the meantime, he’s being called upon to comment on Pope Francis’ trip and the challenges the Pope will offer to both sides of the political debate in the United States. Below, you can view Sirico’s interview on Bloomberg TV from this morning. And stay tuned to the PowerBlog for more updates on Acton experts being tapped for commentary on the Pope’s visit.
On Friday afternoon, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined Neil Cavuto on Fox News Channel to discuss the notable lack of outrage on the part of the media in response to the slaughter of Christians by terrorist organization ISIS.
Yesterday, Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg made an appearance on Relevant Radio’s The Drew Mariani Show to discuss Pope Francis’ recent comments calling money “the dung of the devil,” setting them in their proper context and discussing the Pope’s comments on cooperative organizations as well. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.
Oprah Winfrey recently announced her first-ever cross-country tour, “The Life You Want,” which will feature Oprah “like you’ve never seen,” in addition to talks from a series of “hand-picked” gurus, including Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, Elizabeth Gilbert, and former pastor Rob Bell.
“It’s about living the life you want,” Oprah explains, “because a great percentage of the population is living a life that their mother wanted, that their husband wanted, that they thought or heard they wanted…Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.”
Today, over at The Federalist, I offer a lengthy critique of the spectacle, arguing that behind all the glory and grandeur, much of this amounts to plain old cultural consumerism:
This is cultural consumerism at both its highest and lowest — humanistic in its instincts, privileged in its priorities, and carefully glazed with all the right marketing to deceive itself that justice is at hand and Neighbor Love has the wheel. It’s as if human desire has grown so weary of natural constraints and so content with its own appetite that it would prefer to label self-indulgence as “self-help” and be done with it.
It’s faux-self-empowerment for the self-centered, heart-religion as a mantle for hedonism.
As it relates to the areas of vocation, calling, and whole-life discipleship, getting first things first is fundamental to all that we do. Service and sacrifice must come before self-empowerment, and obedience to God before that: (more…)
In an episode on Subway, Don Fertman, the restaurant chain’s Chief Development Officer, goes undercover at several locations across the United States. Most of the episode includes your typical Undercover Boss fare — a bumbling executive, dedicated workers, teer-jerker employee recognitions — but I was struck by a particular branch that Fertman visits along the way.
Located in the heart of Buffalo, New York, the restaurant is located in the same building as True Bethel Baptist Church, and further, is owned and operated as a franchise by the church itself. The reason? To provide employment and job training to the surrounding neighborhood. (more…)
In this week’s Acton Commentary, I adapt a section from my latest book focusing on an instance of “cowboy compassion” we find in an episode of Bonanza. I focus on the example of Adam Cartwright, who helps out an economically-depressed family faced with the tyranny of a greedy scrooge, Jedediah Milbank.
There are many reasons to appreciate Bonanza, even if it is a product of its times, as in the stereotypical portrayal of Hop Sing, for instance. I also mention another favorite western of mine, Have Gun–Will Travel, in which Paladin functions as a kind of one-man A-Team. But this show, too, traffics a bit in the well-worn caricature of Asians, as the only other semi-regular appearing character is a Chinese bellhop known as “Hey Boy” (as in, “Hey, boy, come over here and pick up this suitcase.”).
But we have something to learn from such shows, warts and all. In the case of Bonanza, I think we have a kind of libertarian-cowboy in black, who no doubt wore “the black for the poor and the beaten down,” a man firmly committed to wedding together liberty and love.
As I conclude, “We can get our hands dirty by grubbing for money,” or as in the case of Adam Cartwright, “we can get them dirty by helping fix a broken well.”
Constantly in search of a sensational story, the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst once sent a telegram to a leading astronomer that read: “Is there life on Mars? Please cable 1,000 words.” The scientist responded “Nobody knows” — repeated 500 times.
I thought of that anecdote when I read Elise Hilton’s post earlier today in which she asks, “You remember ‘news’, don’t you? Every evening, a somber-faced reporter would come into your living room, and deliver the serious stories of the day.” She adds, “We seemed to have decided, as a nation, that ‘infotainment’ is more important to us than news.”
I don’t often disagree with Elise, but I have to register my dissent on this topic – a perennial theme of mine – for the news has been a form of infotainment in America for at least a hundred years (and possibly much longer). And when it comes to the medium of television, news cannot be anything other than infotainment.
As the late media theorist Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death,
In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the dynamics between gift, gratitude, and stewardship. The proper response to a gift that has been given is gratitude, and the proper expression of gratitude comes in faithful stewardship.
I’ve heard it repeated in many times and in many places that for a gift to truly be a gift, there must be no responsibility of response on the part of the recipient. As I write in “Gift, Gratitude, and the Grace of Stewardship,” that view is precisely what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his excoriation of “cheap” grace.
One of the most striking illustrations to me of this dynamic came as I watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. One of the main characters is Tim Riggins, a fan favorite who begins the series as a student and ends it as a man. Over the last two seasons Tim’s maturation really comes through, as he has graduated from high school and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Tim’s got a troubled background that doesn’t need to be explained here, but suffice it to say that the only family he’s got is his older brother Billy. Despite his better judgment and discomfort with the idea, Billy convinces Tim to help him with his new garage, which by night becomes a chop shop operation. The brothers are eventually busted, but Tim generously and lovingly takes the rap for his brother, who has a new wife and child that he’s trying to support.
After some time, Tim is paroled and comes back to Dillon, Texas. As you might imagine, Tim isn’t the happiest guy around after his stint in jail. But what really angers him is his sense that his brother Billy hasn’t done enough with the gift of freedom he’s been given by his brother’s sacrifice. After the brothers fight, Billy asks, “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?” Tim responds, “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”
Tim has given Billy a great gift, and it’s clear that Billy feels a sense of responsibility. Tim recognizes it, too, which is why they both know that there is something, some obligation, to be “held over” Billy. That doesn’t make what Tim did any less of a gift. But it does illustrate that there is a deep connection between gift and gratitude, or what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”
Tim’s sacrifice, in this way, is an echo of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who showed the greatest love there is in laying down his life for us (John 15:13). The reality of this gift of costly grace ought to inspire in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility, to do something good with the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.
But as I also note in the piece, there are some other instances of this classic shipwrecked literary device, including the TV show Lost. The basic point of these reflections on community and the human person is that no man is an island, even when they are on an island.
Consider this speech with the conclusion “if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone,” from Jack Shephard, in Lost episode 1.5, “White Rabbit.”
As the tagline of the “Hang Together” blog reminds us, the dynamic between human sociality and community is at the heart of the American experiment in ordered liberty. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Ben Shapiro was at the Heritage Foundation recently to talk about his new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Publisher HarperCollins describes the book as “the inside story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history has become a propaganda tool for the Left.”
Shapiro made the point at Heritage (see the video of his talk here) that conservatives underestimate the power of narrative and its purpose — moving the emotions — and that’s the case we’ve been making here at the PowerBlog for some time.
“Narrative matters,” Shapiro said at Heritage. “Unfortunately, conservatives have abandoned narrative as an emotional tool … you hear it on talk radio all the time. We have all the logical arguments; we have the facts on our side; they just rely on emotion all the time. Yeah, [because] it works.”
But logical arguments aren’t often the stuff of mass entertainment. Liberals, on the other hand, move the emotions via story telling and write sympathetic characters who may “behave badly” yet advance their agenda. Shapiro:
They’re very clever about it; they recognize that if they slide their messaging in, it’s much more effective than if they simply come out and hit you in the head with a two-by-four.
In a May 2009 PowerBlog post about film making, not television, titled “Cheesy Christian Movies and the Art of Narrative,” I pointed out that “the cultural right still hasn’t mastered even the rudiments of cinema storytelling.” That may have overstated the case somewhat, given that more and more films are coming to screens that conservatives can like (see NRO’s list of best conservative movies). But by and large the right is still much better at rhetoric than it is at storytelling. My main point from “Cheesy”:
The power of narrative lies in its ability to reach the whole person, the heart and the head. It begins by creating an effect on the emotions — moving a person — and can register indelibly in human memory. Thus, narrative can serve as a powerful means of communicating ideas, but not primarily in message form. It works at a deeper level, sometimes tapping into the mythic consciousness of an entire people. That is why narrative is essential for political mass movements; once you get the hearts and the minds of the people excited, you can then move their feet in the direction you want them to go.
I’ve been meaning to do an in-depth post examining the various troubles facing the recycling industry. One day I’ll get to it. For now, though, I’ll settle for the rather snarky observation that some newspapers are finally worth the paper they’re printed on.
That’s right, the value of a ton of recycled mixed paper is exactly zero right now. There are those who argue that the economics of recycling are still solid, even though the demand for recycled commodities has sharply declined in recent months.
That may well be true, but now more than ever some discernment is needed. As Christians concerned about proper stewardship of the environment, we need to use our minds as well as our hearts and test the spirits, so to speak.
The right answer to the drop in the value of recycled commodities doesn’t seem to be an uncritical spending spree. That is, we shouldn’t buy flatscreen TVs and other electronics from China just in order to give the recycling industry a boost. Recycling qua recycling isn’t all its cracked up to be. And if there’s less demand for recycled commodities, that in part means that people are reducing (and even re-using). Remember the “three Rs”? Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
But continued recycling might make sense (and dollars) in other areas (metals, for instance, are perhaps the most valuable recycled commodities, with a nearly infinite capacity for re-purposing). Not all recyclable commodities are (re)created alike.
When the industry doesn’t need to be supported by taxpayer money and the items are valuable enough to have someone come and collect them (rather than me having to pay in one form or another to have them recycled), then I’ll be a true believer.
And speaking of unintended consequences, just how much electronics waste is the mandated switch to digital TV in the United States going to create?