Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,

Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.

The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.

Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)

Christian churches in the West have been focused on redistribution of income rather than the creation of wealth, says Brian Griffiths in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Through much of the post-war period in the West, the formation of economic policy was dominated by Keynesian activism on the part of governments seeking an increasing role in providing public services, reducing material poverty, and reshaping income redistribution.

In the United States, President John F. Kennedy launched the New Frontier program and his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, soon after embarked on what came to be called the Great Society. In both cases, emphasis was placed on increasing the role of the state in order to solve problems of poverty and destitution. In intellectual terms, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made the case for trade unions and government becoming “countervailing powers” in capitalist economies in order to check the power of large corporations. In Britain, Harold Wilson nationalized various industries, developed a national plan, a comprehensive prices and incomes policy, and extended the scope of the welfare state. Across the Channel and Rhine, the Social Democrat Willy Brandt was a major influence in extending the role of government in social policy throughout West Germany.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Today is the first World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, as declared by the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement:

To stop the traffickers, we must sever funding pipelines and seize assets. I urge all countries to ratify and fully implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.”

International Justice Mission is one of many organizations that fight human trafficking on a daily basis. They track down both victims and traffickers, with the hope of bringing traffickers to justice and help victims rebuild their lives. The video below tells the story of Suhana, a trafficking victim and the fight for justice.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This Chart Proves the War on Poverty Has Been a Catastrophic Failure
Robert Rector, The Daily Signal

If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S. How can the government spend so much while poverty remains unchanged?

Obama Taps First Non-Christian to Serve as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom
Lauren Markoe and Brian Pellot, Religion News Service

Rabbi David Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America in 2009, will head the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Dodging Bullets Over Religious Freedom
Jim Tonkowich, Juicy Ecumenism

We are dodging bullets, bullets that would be fatal to our way of life because they are aimed at our religious freedom.

Cronyism Impacts More than Inequality – It Affects Your Relationships, Too
Anne Bradley, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

As described in Job 34:19, God created each of us in his own image with unique gifts and talents. In the past few months, we have often discussed income inequality and cronyism, but it is worth revisiting the way the consequences of cronyism bear out across the market and relationships.

Crucible of Poverty

Stuart Ray, Donn Weinberg, and Anielka Munkel discuss solutions to poverty – July 17, 2014

On July 17th, the Acton Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “The Crucible of Poverty: Perspectives from the Trenches.” The discussion examined the issue of poverty, with a focus on what strategies for poverty alleviation have worked, what strategies have failed, and how we can better help the most vulnerable among us.

The panelists for the discussion were Mr. Stuart Ray, Executive Director of Guiding light Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Mr. Donn Weinberg, Executive Vice President of The Harry and Jeanette Wienberg Foundation; and Ms. Anielka Munkel, Project Manager here at the Acton Institute, and a co-producer of the PovertyCure DVD series.

The discussion ranged from analysis of the roots of poverty in west Michigan to questions of federal policy relating to poverty, and how foundations can ensure that grant recipients are actually pursuing the goals supported by foundations.

The full discussion is available via the audio player below.

We’ve just posted the final bundle of 107 audio files from Acton University 2014 available for $14.95 at our digital download store.  Our lunch and evening lectures are also free, including talks from:

Rev. Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute and author of Defending the Free Market
Makoto Fujimura,
Artist and Public Intellectual
Andy Crouch, Executive Editor, Christianity Today
Ross Douthat,
Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times

Here’s the full list of lectures:

  1. Opening Lecture – Rev. Robert A. Sirico
  2. Culture Care: From Common Grace to Loving Your Enemies – Makoto Fujimura
  3. Getting Social Justice Right – Ryan Anderson
  4. Christian Anthropology – Dr. Samuel Gregg
  5. Biblical Theology of Covenant – Dr. Scott Hahn
    (more…)

irf-reportYesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”

“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
(more…)

Mincaye of the Waodani

Mincaye of the Waodani

As we continue to encounter the adverse effects of certain forms of foreign aid and other misaligned efforts to alleviate poverty, it becomes increasingly clear that those in need require a level of care, concern, and discipleship not well suited to detached top-down “solutions.”

But just as we ought to be careful about the types of solutions we create, we ought to give the same level of attentiveness to the needs themselves, which are no less complex and difficult to discern.

Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to the Waodani people of Ecuador, offers some helpful insights and warnings along these lines, critiquing the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs.

“When people visit the Waodani,” he explains, “they look around and think, ‘Wow, these people have nothing!’” Yet, when the Waodani encounter the lifestyles of foreign outsiders, they tend to find them unseemly and excessive. (more…)

pope washing feetArchbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke recently at the Napa Institute on Pope Francis’ view of economics. Archbishop Chaput reminded the audience that the pope was not an economist, but spoke rather as a pastor and theologian. He went on to say that some of what the pope has to say about economics is “hard for some of us to hear” but told his listeners to read the pope’s writings for themselves, without the filter of the media.

Archbishop Chaput also stated that Pope Francis’ message is not so different from that of his predecessors.

In matters of economic justice, Francis’ concerns are the same as Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, and Pius XI’s and Leo XIII’s. He understands economic matters through the lens of Church teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Like his predecessors, he defends human dignity in a world that consistently threatens it. But Francis stresses more directly than they did that human solidarity is a necessary dimension of human dignity. We need both. Human dignity requires not just the protection of individuals, as in our prolife work, but an on-going commitment to the common good. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fighting parasitic bureaucracies and crony capitalism
Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

“Pare down the parasitic fringe” of government. “Favor a gospel of work” instead of aristocratic entitlement. “Rationalize finance” and “reverse the Parkinson’s law of bureaucracy.”

Religious Leader Looks to West For Help for Iraqi Christians
Natalie Johnson, The Daily Signal

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch is appealing to the international community for action against ISIS’ expulsion of Christians in Mosul, deeming the situation as “21st century genocide.”

Middle Eastern Christians Face Calamity
Richard L. Russell, Crisis Magazine

The Middle East is embroiled in chaos and what little remains of the ancient Christian communities there are being destroyed with the latest tragic turn of events in Iraq.

Court Rejects Atheists’ Attempt To Remove Ground Zero Cross from Museum
The Becket Fund

Recognizing the important role that religion plays in society, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order on Monday rejecting the effort by American Atheists, Inc. to force the National 9/11 Museum to remove the Ground Zero Cross from its display or to include a plaque honoring atheists alongside the Cross.