A failed charter school and someone looking to start a charter school in Kansas can only look to Kansas City, Mo., and wonder what impact high-performing public charter schools may have for kids in the state.
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…)
Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, was tapped by BBC World News last week for his analysis of the meeting between Pope Francis and President Obama at the Vatican. We’ve got the video, and you can watch it below.
In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about this week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican, and reflects on the differences in philosophy that make a Presidential/Papal alliance such as what occurred during the time of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II unlikely.
This past Saturday, I attended the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) 2014 summit. APTE is a student group at OSU in Columbus, OH, and they put together a wonderful cast of ten speakers on the subject of the future of social entrepreneurship. With seven pages of notes (front and back), I unfortunately cannot cover every detail of the conference, but instead I will briefly focus on a theme that recurred throughout the afternoon: private, often for-profit, solutions to public service problems facing the poor.
APTE brought together an impressive lineup of speakers for two rounds of individual presenters, followed by a Twitter Q&A, with a panel discussion on the city of Detroit in between the two groups: (more…)
Today at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.
With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,
… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:
Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.
He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life. He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.
This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)
As noted previously this week, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan shot down a $9.5 billion (reported in some news accounts as $6 billion) judgment against Chevron for allegedly bespoiling Ecuadorian wilderness in cahoots with PetroEcuador. Judge Kaplan exonerated Chevron, and had some particularly nasty things to say about Steven Donziger, the attorney who sued the oil company for $113 billion.
I pointed out that Donziger’s since-discredited claims were taken up quickly by religious shareholder activists, many who submitted resolutions requesting that Chevron concede to Donziger’s extortion. Attach the “environmental disaster” epithet to any given legal claim and some leftists will buy it at face value. Mother Superior jumped the gun – before waiting for the courts to determine if Chevron would be exonerated. Indeed, Donziger’s charges were found without merit – as well as completely fraudulent, and the initial judgment rendered by the Ecuadorian court was found to have resulted from bribery, coercion and a vast public relations conspiracy consisting of half-truths, lies and bald-faced lies. (more…)
Philosopher and theologian, Michael Novak recently delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America on the vocation of business and Forbes published the transcript. Novak argues that “capitalism is lifting the world out of poverty.” As many Asian and African economies shift from socialist to capitalist, they are seeing enormous economic growth, and small businesses are the force behind these economic gains:
Even in developed nations, most jobs are found in small business. In Italy, over 80 percent of the working population works in small businesses. In the U.S., the proportion is just about 50 percent, but some 65 percent of new employment is in small businesses.
During the great economic expansion of 1981-1989, the U.S. added to its economy the equivalent of the whole economic activity of West Germany at that time. Sixteen million new jobs were created in the U.S., the vast number of them in small businesses. Startups peaked as new businesses came into being at a rate of 13 percent (as a portion of all businesses) – an all-time high. Much the same happened under Clinton in 1993-2001, but even better – 23 million new jobs were created.
In the creation of small businesses, four factors are necessary. First, ease and low cost of incorporation; second, access to inexpensive credit; third, institutions of instruction and technical help (such as the system of local credit unions in the U.S.), and the steady assistance of the extension services of the A&M universities; and, fourth, throughout the population habits of creativity, enterprise, and skills such as bookkeeping and the organization of work. Economic development is propelled, as John Paul II said, by know-how, technology, and skill (Centesimus Annus 32). Therein, perhaps, lie the greatest entry-points for Americans and others who wish to help poor nations by proffering assistance in economic development from the bottom up. (more…)
Today at Ethika Politika, I take issue with Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue.
The basic idea is that, due to the Enlightenment, we have lost the social conditions — in particular a shared moral and religious narrative — that make virtuous living an intelligible and shared social standard. Thus, MacIntyre claimed, “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” He concludes, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”
Dreher has done much to popularize this “Benedict Option,” which he defines as “an intentional and thoughtful retreat into narrativity, by which I mean a reclaiming of the church’s story, inculcating commitment to it within the lives of its members, in defiance of the narrative collapse around us.”
There is at least one major problem with this, however. I respond,
Yet as Owen Chadwick noted, it was not until the early ninth century, and that due to strong papal support, that the Rule of St. Benedict became the standard rule in the Frankish Empire. Until that time, the dominant rules were often Celtic, especially the Rule of St. Columbanus, as well as a strong influence from St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, and the fathers of the Egyptian desert.
And the Celts, importantly, were not retreating from the world but rather from Ireland in feats of what they termed “green martyrdom,” missionary exile as ascetic discipline. If Thomas Cahill is even half-right, the Irish played just as much a part in saving civilization as the Benedictines, if not far more so. Far from a retreat, their approach was quite confrontational (as was St. Benedict’s, as Goerke points out).
Thankfully, we need not wait for a “new and very different” Irish people as the Irish are still with us. Indeed, the equal respect accorded to Roman Catholics in the United States today is the result (in large part, at least) of a hard-won, confrontational battle of Irish immigrants to carve out an equal place in American society for their children and their cultural and religious heritage (see, e.g. Dagger John). Perhaps traditional Christians looking to preserve a moral culture today have more to learn from them.
It might have been better had I written “see, especially, Dagger John,” since his story is one of remarkable social action and spiritual reform, defending the cause of religious liberty and equal rights for Irish Roman Catholic immigrants in the 19th century and emphasizing the vital role of personal responsibility. (more…)
H.L. Mencken once said, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
Over at Political Theology Today, I take a look at what a confrontation between a pirate and Alexander the Great has to teach us about politics and proximate justice, taking some cues from Augustine and Cicero, and in conversation with John Mueller and Peter Leeson.
For a bit more fanciful look at a conflict between a pirate and a prince, you can also read my reflections on “The Princess Bride” over at the University Bookman.