Acton’s The Birth of Freedom comes to six PBS stations this Independence Day weekend, and AEI’s Enterprise blog has a good post about the Christian foundations of American freedom and The Birth of Freedom: “It’s a good place to start if you’re interested in recalling, learning, or helping others to learn about the deep roots of the freedom we celebrate every Fourth of July. Those roots define, in part, what it means to be an American citizen.”
PBS Airings This Weekend
Tampa Bay, WEDU–July 4th, 9:00 p.m.
Carbondale, Illinois, WSIU/WUSI–July 4th, 1:00 p.m.
San Diego, KPBS–July 5th, 12:00 am (also July 7th, 4:00 am and July 11th 3:00 a.m.)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana Public Broadcasting–July 4th, 8:00 a.m. on LPB2
Grand Rapids, Michigan, WGVU–July 5th, 12:30 a.m.
Syracuse, New York, WCNY–July 4, 3:00 p.m.
Here’s the PBS station finder if you want to thank your station for airing it or find out if your station plans to air it later.
In a new column in the Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico warns of a “cultural shift which would reject Christian revelation’s role in the forming of American and Western civilization.”
June 29, 2010
Don’t devalue Christian heritage
By Fr. Robert Sirico
A week or so ago I struck up a friendly conversation with a cleaning lady upon entering a hotel.
She right away asked me, “Did you hear the news of the statue of Christ being struck with lightning in Ohio?”
How could I avoid it? For some inexplicable reason the news of this “act of God” had attracted a great deal of attention. Why, I began to wonder, did this relatively marginal story gain so much press attention?
“Do you think it was a sign?” the lady asked.
“A sign of what?” I replied.
I thought of our conversation for the rest of the morning. I am not one given to “signs and wonders” to discern some kind of mystical revelation, though I grant there is plenty of historical precedent for such epiphanies. Yet, I could not get the image out of my mind and the fascination it held for so many.
It does not take the training of a professional sociologist to realize that a major cultural shift regarding faith, morals and the place of Christianity is under way in Western Civilization. And this has nothing, really, to do with some haphazard lightning strike in Ohio.
Consider the following, which is a mere sampling of recent efforts to undermine the place of faith in the public life of Western democracies:
– The European Union’s insistence that neither God nor the Christian Church be mentioned in its Constitution, despite the clear historical role belief in the form and the institution of the latter played in the formation of Europe.
– The litany (if you will excuse the pun) of coarse jokes, cheap shots and outright viciousness directed specifically at the person of Christ or the Christian faith on TV and which are passed over by the same people who would readily file hate crime charges against their promoters if addressed to any other religion.
– The subtle but clear shift in language away from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” on the part of the current administration, retaining only one dimension of religion (worship) while setting the stage to curtail its public witness. It is freedom of religion, not merely worship that has been venerated since the American founding.
This is not mere paranoia. Numerous other examples exist, but these should be sufficient evidence of a trend that is attempting to foster an entire cultural shift which would reject Christian revelation’s role in the forming of American and Western civilization.
For secularists and some non-Christians this might seem a worthy undertaking. After all, they might reason, why do we need a religion to be telling us how to live our lives, much less a religion that makes a claim to truth? And what is truth anyway, they might ask, not even realizing they are echoing Pilate’s own question to Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion?
Yet, aside from the historical amnesia this would represent, there are several significant ramifications which might well ensue were a complete repudiation of Christianity achieved.
The very idea of limited government and hence tolerance (yes, tolerance, which is not to be confused with the relativism offered as a substitute) emerge from the Judeo-Christian view of the sovereignty of God in personal and social life, rather than the sovereignty of political elites.
The very juridical systems we have grown accustomed to — and have been the envy of the world — did not just appear; they unfolded from the logic of the biblical faith. So, too, with the scientific method which followed from the knowledge that, if things are ordered by a divine plan and we are made in the image of God, then the truth of the physical world is knowable to reason.
Christianity has endowed Western Civilization with a priceless heritage. To lose this to a mass amnesia in the culture, would be an inestimable loss to the sense of who we are as a people and to any real hope we might have of building a just and tolerant future.
Acton Media’s second documentary makes its public television debut Sunday, May 2, with a 3-4 p.m. airing on Detroit Public Television (HD channel 56.1). The film trailer is here.
The Birth of Freedom opens and closes with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. King appealed to Americans to live out the true meaning of this nation’s creed that all men are created equal. The documentary sets that appeal within the broader context of the Christian West’s slow but ultimately triumphant march to freedom.
Send it to a friend or loved one. Let freedom ring.
In connection with the worldwide celebrations of the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth in 2009, the Acton Institute BookShoppe recently made available a limited stock of the hard-to-find Light for the City: Calvin’s Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty (Eerdmans, 2004). In this brief and accessible work, Lester DeKoster examines the interaction between the Word proclaimed and the development of Western civilization.
“Preached from off the pulpits for which the Church is divinely made and sustained, God’s biblical Word takes incarnation in human selves and behavior, creating the community long known in the West as the City. Calvinist pulpits implanted the Word even now flourishing in the great democratic achievements of the Western world,” argues DeKoster.
And in the wake of Reformation Day this past weekend, check out some reflections at Mere Comments, which include even more recommended sources for study of the Reformation.
Finally, while it’s often the case that the blogosphere breaks news before the official announcements are made, I can report that the Meeter Center’s Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL) is now publicly available. The PRDL is a select bibliography of primary source documents focusing on early modern theology and philosophy, spanning publicly-accessible collections from major research libraries, independent scholarly initiatives, and corporate documentation projects.
The PRDL editorial board includes representatives from institutions from North America and Europe: Dr. Richard A. Muller (Calvin Theological Seminary); Jordan J. Ballor (University of Zurich/Calvin Theological Seminary); Albert Gootjes (Calvin Theological Seminary/Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva); Todd Rester (Calvin Theological Seminary); Lugene Schemper (ex officio/Calvin College & Seminary); and moderator David Sytsma (Princeton Theological Seminary).
In the wake of the global financial crisis, stories from the pundit class and blogosphere abound proclaiming the imminent death of the conservative movement. This is part of a longer and broader discussion with roots in the post-Reagan era of American politics. (As you’ll see in my comments below, I’m not so inclined to think that a move toward particular kinds of populism is necessarily a move away from conservatism.)
Writing in the American Conservative earlier this month, Claes G. Ryn argues that our recognition of the corrupting nature of power shouldn’t make us abdicate all forms of government and authority:
Without some people governing others, basic social order could not exist, to say nothing of effecting desirable change. The prejudice against power-seeking has left politics too much to people with the wrong kind of ambition, most of whom desire power as an end in itself. Yet wanting power need not be immoral. Pursuing it can be a means to good.
the old American constitutionalism is inseparable from the moral-spiritual culture that gave it birth. Limited government and liberty were made possible by people who, because of who they were, put checks on their appetites, ran their own lives and communities, and generally behaved in ways conducive to freedom under law. Restoring American constitutionalism would presuppose some kind of resurgence of that old culture. Americans would have to rearrange their priorities and start acting differently, placing more emphasis on family, private groups, and local communities. They would have to want to take back much of the power ceded to politicians far away. Is that likely to happen? If not, the Constitution may not be salvageable.
Ryn discusses what he calls the “coup from within,” where under the guise of conservatism, “People of great ambition who want to exercise the power being abdicated by Americans are trying to make us accept and even welcome the final disappearance of constitutionalism and its culture of modesty and self-restraint.”
I’m not as pessimistic as Ryn about the seemingly inevitable outcome of the crisis and the government interventions and consolidations of power, at least in the economic sphere. He says of those perpetrating the coup, “Their response to the crisis, which they have aggravated, will hasten the crumbling of the American constitutional order. Their prescriptions contain the outlines of tyranny.” He may well be right about that, and Ryn’s concerns shouldn’t be limited to the American scene but apply to the international scene as well. As John Witherspoon said, “A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”
But despite all this, common sense folk are realizing again that virtues like frugality, thrift, and self-discipline are necessary parts of a broader view of stewardship. This is in part why the bailout has had difficulty finding any serious measure of popular support…it is a plan that is counter-intuitive on so many levels, and despite the media’s best efforts to sell the bi-partisan scheme, the American citizen isn’t convinced. In fact, the concept of stewardship is a pretty good model for Ryn’s view of the appropriate pursuit of power.
It is certainly an uphill battle to practice traditional virtues against a government and a culture that tells us to spend all we can on credit. We have just about maxed out the credit borrowed from the moral and cultural capital of previous generations. In response to those pushing the expansion of federal and executive power, it’s time to, as Ryn says, “expose their false solutions to what are real problems and to explore by what measures the best of our civilization might, despite daunting odds, be given a new lease on life.”
The impending death of conservatism might just be the kind of big-government conservatism that is virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberalism on the scope and size of the government. If that’s the case, then let us celebrate: “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism.”
From a review in the New Yorker magazine (HT) of David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215, in which the author
clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.” It was “one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire.” This is a bold hypothesis.
To say the least. It is of course true that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Muslims had been in possession of a number of Aristotle’s works in Arabic that were not readily available in the Latin West. It isn’t so clear, however, that the depth and breadth of Greek philosophy and the classical virtues were saved by Islamic philosophers during the West’s “dark” ages. There’s much more on that here, including this summary:
The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved.
In any case, here’s the take of the New Yorker reviewer on Lewis’ book:
I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.
So, the development of free market economies so often attributed to Western civilization are actually due to Muslim nation-states…and for that reason we ought to prefer European culture!
For those of us who cherish liberty and the freedom we enjoy in the west to engage in spirited debate, stories like this are very disturbing:
Up north, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced the other day that at least two of Canada’s “Human Rights Commissions” – one federal, one provincial – had agreed to hear their complaints that their “human rights” had been breached by this “flagrantly Islamophobic” excerpt from my book, as published in the country’s bestselling news magazine, Maclean’s.
Here’s hoping that this one gets tossed out of court quickly. And remember – eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Dr. Samuel Gregg – “Acton’s Chief Thinker,” according to our Executive Director Kris Mauren – put his thinking skills on display yesterday as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, delivering an address entitled “The Crisis of Europe: Benedict XVI’s Analysis and Solution.”
By any standard of civilization growth and decline, Europe is in crisis. Marked by collapsing birthrates, stagnating economies, and denial of its historical roots, Western Europe appears headed for cultural suicide. In his lecture, Dr. Gregg outlined Pope Benedict’s analysis of Europe’s contemporary problems, and discusses the his proposed remedies. If you weren’t able to attend the lecture in person, you can listen online by clicking here (10 mb mp3 file).
You’ll also want to register for our next Lecture Series event, as we’ll be hearing from Mr. Ralph Hauenstein, who will discuss his experiences serving under General Dwight Eisenhower as chief of the Intelligence Branch in the Army’s European theater of operations during World War II. As a history buff, I’ve had this one marked on my calendar for quite a while, no doubt much like a lot of other people. Here’s the link for more information and to register for the event.