“The right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ affirmed in the Declaration of Independence is taken these days to affirm a right to chase after whatever makes one subjectively happy,” says James R. Rogers, associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University. “Further, the Declaration doesn’t guarantee the right to happiness, the thought usually goes, but only the right to pursue what makes you happy. This reading of the Declaration’s ‘pursuit of happiness’ is wrong on both scores.”
This week we feature an interview with Joseph Tenney, an arts pastor at Park Community Church in downtown Chicago. He is passionate about the integration of art and theology and has helped to encourage art in the church by having “Immersion Nights” which is described on the church site as “an evening filled with images of art and discussion around what they mean and how we can learn to look at art through the ‘Lens of Christ.’” You can follow him at his blog and on twitter.
I just read the introduction to Amity Shlaes’s forthcoming biography, Coolidge: Debt, Perseverance and the American Ideal. She has been very gracious in taking an interest in the work I have been doing on Coolidge and my recent Acton commentary on the 30th president.
Shlaes was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty about her book The Forgotten Man. I quickly realized in my own research there is no biography that captures Coolidge’s deep relevancy for today given the mammoth federal debt and the centralization of federal power. Coolidge took limiting federal power and its reach seriously.
Without naming names or titles, many of the Coolidge biographies in print are simply sub par. That will change with the release of her biography and this is a book that needs to be out now. There is no release date set in stone to my knowledge or I would offer it up to readers of the PowerBlog.
In the introduction, it is clear just how well Shlaes understands Coolidge’s leadership on economic issues and his emphasis on thrift. I love that she played off her title The Forgotten Man by calling Coolidge “The Forgotten President.” I’ve certainly noticed in my own talks when I go out and discuss Coolidge that so little is known about him.
In her introduction, Shlaes brilliantly draws out comparisons of Coolidge with George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, John F. kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Some of her insightful comparisons I would never have highlighted on my own. Shlaes is a gifted writer and I foresee this book being very influential with the ability to transform contemporary thinking about our national government.
One of the things that draws me to Coolidge is his appreciation for the past. He was a very modern president who oversaw great technological advances and an America that was modernizing at a rapid pace but he always reminded the people of who they were and the great heritage that gave birth to the American ideal. “If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it,” declared Coolidge.
O How I long to travel back,
and tread against that ancient track! . . .
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.
If Coolidge had heard those words, which is quite possible, I feel he would have loved them.
We have just wrapped up Acton University, our annual conference that focuses on integrating Christian theology and sound economic thinking. In light of that, it was interesting to read this post at Patheos.com, “America’s Premier Heresy,” where Scot McKnight takes a look at the Prosperity Gospel, especially as presented by Pastor Joel Osteen.
If you’re not familiar with the Prosperity Gospel, it preaches that God wants all of us to be wealthy and healthy in this life, and that riches and health are ours, simply for the asking, in faith and obedience to Him. The problems of poverty, ill-health, unemployment, underemployment and general malaise are that we don’t implore God to shower us with blessings. Once we recognize that God has only positive things in store for us, and we ask for them, it’s all ours.
It was interesting – to say the least – to have been reading this blog post while surrounded by some of the most intelligent people on the planet who had gathered at Acton University to discuss things like alleviating poverty in the developing world, business as mission and vocation, and the role of envy and fairness in economic thought. McKnight poses these interesting questions:
If you could offer a better theology to proponents of prosperity theology, what would it look like? How does an economic theory work into your critique or your offer?
Last week’s activities at Acton University offered a plethora of answers to these two questions, but I’m going to focus on just a few. First, the Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book Defending the Free Market recognizes the need for economic answers to questions of poverty. The recognition isn’t one of glamorous outpourings of wealth from a sugar daddy in the sky. It is, as Fr. Sirico puts it, “humdrum business”. That’s right: It’s just hard, creative work of human beings that lifts people out of poverty and helps them forge opportunities for themselves, their employees, families and communities. It’s not the same as asking God to simply make these things appear in one’s life; it’s being willing to partner with God, if you will, to bring about change.
Second, those who attended Acton University had the privilege of hearing Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute speak. (You can download a recording of his speech here.) Much of Mr. Brooks’ speech is typified in this quote from his book The Road to Freedom:
Under free enterprise, people can pursue their own ends, and they can reap the rewards and consequences, positive and negative, of their own actions.
Again, notice that the emphasis is placed on the work we must do, as free human beings, in order to create good things in our lives.
Finally, Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Faith in Communities at Sagamore Institute talked to us about our stewardship responsibilities in our work lives.
The big Gospel reminds us of God’s big story. He created a paradise and invited us to steward it, legitimating all kinds of work. We blew it, but God did not retract the cultural mandate from us even after the Fall. But the Fall meant that our work would be much more difficult and sometimes feel futile. Jesus’ redemption means that the restoration project is underway. Jesus’ great salvation work pushes back every aspect of the curse: redeeming the broken relationship between humans and God, humans and themselves, humans with one another, and humans with the creation itself. All of that is Jesus’ work, not just “saving souls.”
The 800+ attendees at Acton University can answer the questions posited by Mr. McKnight in his critique of the Prosperity Gospel. What economic theory and theological insights can we offer as an answer to the theology of Joel Osteen? It’s just plain, hum-drum business, free enterprise and the freedom for people to create – in cooperation with God – a better life and abundant economic opportunities.
(For more on the Prosperity Gospel, listen to Glenn Sunshine’s Acton Lecture Series presentation “Wealth, Work and the Church“.)
In an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS’s This Morning, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said,
If government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don’t know what its purpose is.
Since Bloomberg seems to be unclear about the purpose of government, perhaps we should make him a list. How about: establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
While that list doesn’t exhaust the purposes for government, those items should probably take precedence over protecting New Yorkers from trans-fats and sugary beverages.
(Via: The Corner)
Friday was the last day of Acton University 2012. Here are a few photos from the day’s events. Did you miss AU this year? Be sure to check out our downloadable lectures here.
The first is an interview with Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton in Rome, on Distributism as a ‘Third Way':
Gorra: Why do you think distributist premises are so appealing to some?
Jayabalan: Distributism is appealing because it recognizes that there is more to life than economics and especially the production and consumption of material goods. Liberal commercial societies have produced all kinds of wealth and opportunity, but from a Catholic perspective, we know that these are not the ends of life, but rather the means to ensure a just society and eventually to help us lead holier lives. It’s also true that large corporate interests and big government collude to reduce competition and that there is something wrong with our current economic system. It’s always tempting for humans to think that the past was better, that progress is delusional, that we’ve lost our way. But the question is whether the past was as noble was we think it was, and whether some kind of return to a pre-modern way of life is possible or even desirable.
Thursday at Acton University included a lot of high quality lectures, including ones from Eric Metaxas, Victor Claar, Samuel Gregg, Jon Pinheiro, and Jonathan Witt. Here are just a few photos of the day’s events. If you’d like to listen to some of these lectures, we have a digital downloads page for AU2012 set up where you can buy each for $0.99 here.
On the drive over to Acton University this morning I heard an argument on the radio about how the economy would have been fixed if only the dollar amount of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would have been doubled. What a sad statement to pin your hope to in order to fix the American economy. That argument is unlikely to be uttered at Acton University. Fixing economic problems and lifting up the human condition is not measured by dollars here. Present at Acton University is the strong sense that solving complex problems and failures in society are attainable outside of centralization or a materialistic worldview.
It is easy to walk outside the community and walls of AU and give up on society. But this week has been a powerful reminder that there are hundreds of people here who are certainly brilliant, but more importantly, empowered by our Lord. The conference convicts you that you can do more to transform a hungry and needy world.
It has been a blessing to converse and share fellowship with people like Michael Novak. Novak was speaking out aggressively about the free and virtuous society when free markets were even less popular in the intellectual and academic arena. In a lecture on Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Ed Ericson cited Novak’s brilliant essay in response to Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address in 1978. Novak, in responding to that address, notes that “the most serious seekers after truth come to unexpected and remarkable convergences.” I can’t think of a better summary for the community and fellowship here at Acton University. While there are certainly theological differences, we are all united and invigorated by the truth. And as Solzhenitsyn himself declared, “One word of truth outweighs the world.”