This is a book review by Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute. He blogs at AOI’s Observer. This review will appear in the forthcoming Spring 2012 Religion & Liberty. Sign up here for a free digital subscription to R&L.

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Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991. By Leon Aron (Yale University Press, June 2012). 496 pages

Review: The Second Russian Revolution (1987-1991)

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

“There are different ways to understand how revolutions work,” writes Leon Aron in his new book Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and the Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 that chronicles the collapse of Soviet Communism during Glasnost from 1987-1991. The most dominant is structuralism, an approach that draws from Marxist thought and sees the state as the central actor in social revolutions. In the structuralist view revolutions are not made, they happen.

Aron explains that structuralism has some merit because of its chronological linearity. It can reveal the events that lead from point A to B to C; an important function because the historian’s first step is to grasp what actually happened. But structuralism also has a grave flaw: the materialist assumptions (“objective factors”) informing it are deaf to the “enormously subversive influence of ideas.” (more…)

Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico is scheduled to make an appearance on Raymond Arroyo’s “The World Over” tonight on EWTN. The live program begins at 8:00 p.m. EST. Take a look here for complete EWTN programming. Unable to watch tonight? Keep an eye on The PowerBlog in coming days for video.

 

Blog author: ckaupke
Thursday, July 12, 2012
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Yesterday I blogged about the unintended consequences of the federal government’s mandate that Stafford student loan interest rates would not double as scheduled on July 1. Organizations such as the Jubilee USA Network praised the government’s action as an act of Christian charity towards students who were oppressed and taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders. The phrase “predatory lenders” has been coined to describe entities that intentionally deceive borrowers into accepting loans they won’t be able to repay without going bankrupt. This is the accepted narrative, and is certainly what the Jubilee USA Network would like us to believe is true. However, this may not be the whole story.

In a working paper called “Complex Mortgages,” a group of four economists studied the differences between traditional mortgage borrowers – who paid down their balance over time – and complex mortgage borrowers, and found considerable evidence that suggested that many complex mortgage borrowers may have gone into mortgages fully intending to default. Thus the paper coined the term “predatory borrowers.”

The paper found that people who defaulted on complex mortgages were more likely than traditional mortgage borrowers to be highly educated and more highly paid, and to have higher credit scores, and they often defaulted even though they were not suffering financially. Complex mortgages are also more frequent in “non-recourse” states, where borrowers are legally protected from being pursued by lenders.

In summary, many mortgage defaults were not the fault of unscrupulous lenders, but rather, of unscrupulous borrowers. The accepted explanation for the housing bubble may only explain a part of the problem. If so, it is a sign of the moral laxity of our times that so many people seem to have no qualms about entering into agreements they fully intend not to keep.

Click here to read more.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, July 12, 2012
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Capitalism Is Not…
Isaac Morehouse, Values & Capitalism

Capitalism gets saddled with a lot of baggage that doesn’t properly belong to it. Some of this is the result of ignorance of basic economics, some of it a poor reading of history, but most of it is due to a bad definition of capitalism.

Will the Obamacare “Tax” Trump Religious Liberty?
Seana Sugrue, Public Discourse

Though the Supreme Court has long been hostile to tax exemptions for religious reasons, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Establishment Clause should give religious organizations reasons to hope that they won’t be penalized by the Obamacare “tax.”

Striking Contrast in Median Incomes of Men and Women Since 1968
James R. Rogers, First Things

Between 1968 and 2010, the number of men in the workplace grew by 68.6 percent. Over this same period, the number of women participating in the paid workplace more than doubled, increasing by a whopping 118.7 percent. Prior to 1979 there were more men working in the paid workforce than women. Since 1979, women have outnumbered men in the paid workforce every year.

Voucher demand soars in Louisiana
Will Sentell, The Advocate

More than 10,000 students have applied for state vouchers to attend private or parochial schools rather than troubled public schools, which is well above initial estimates, officials said Wednesday.

Most church-goers are used to announcements asking them to silence their cell phones before services begin. In a twist, Archbishop Lori of Baltimore did just the opposite, urging a congregation to pull out their cell phones and use them during Mass.

…Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore…called on the congregation to open their cellphones and text the word “freedom” or “libertad” to 377377. It was part of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty text campaign, and in two minutes about 2,500 people suddenly joined the effort. Those who texted signed up to receive text messages about the campaign, which still continues. Archbishop Lori admitted that asking people to turn on their phones at Mass was a first for him – and likely a first for everyone in the congregation.

An overflow crowd of 5,000+ people attended the July 4  Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, to close the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ campaign.

View the video of Archbishop Lori here.

For more on the Fortnight for Freedom, see ‘We didn’t pick the time, nor did we pick the fight‘ and “New Video: HHS Mandate and Religious Liberty‘.

Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and regular blogger at The Gospel Coalition, featured Rev. Robert Sirico’s latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, on his blog. DeYoung praises Defending the Free Market for making a serious moral case for a free market system:

Robert Sirico, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy (Regnery 2012). Rev. Sirico is a Catholic priest, the president of the Grand Rapids based Acton Institute, and a former radical leftist. As you can guess by the title, he’s since said goodbye to his socialist and Marxist leanings. It’s a shame than in our hyper-partisan climate many people will automatically dismiss the book as Republican propaganda. But it really isn’t. Sirico is picking up where Michael Novak left off in making a strong moral case for capitalism, free markets, and the calling of the entrepreneur. It’s a case that Christians need to consider more carefully, even if you end up disagreeing with some of Sirico’s points, especially the many pastors who bring a superficial understanding of business and economics with them into the pulpit. This would be a great book to read and discuss in a small group, a book club, or a senior seminar.

For a free chapter of Sirico’s book, check out the official book site here.

Cranach, autoritrattoDaniel Siedell, Director of Cultural and Theological Practice at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a fine review of Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation in the latest issue of Books & Culture.

As Siedell observes, “Ozment liberates Cranach from the confines of art history by offering a broader cultural framework within which to evaluate Cranach’s historical significance.”

One of the merits of Ozment’s study is that he thus situates Cranach in the context of his position in the royal court of Frederick the Wise:

His duties included decorating the Elector’s castles, designing and painting festival tents and uniforms, documenting hunting trips and his extensive relic collection, as well as making cake molds for birthday parties. This kind of workshop production has struck art historians as unbecoming of a fine artist.

Indeed, there is much in the modern approach to art that disdains such worldly and workaday considerations. As Siedell writes, noting a piece on the entrepreneurial aspects of early modern art, “most artists, especially those working at the highest echelons of culture, are obsessed with getting paid, in part, because at those levels, payment is much more sporadic and asking for it much less becoming.”

Indeed, “Art does not exist without some kind of market. The task of any artist is to find—or create—it, yet art historians have been slow to accept the market as a defining feature of artistic practice.”

As for the theological and religious aspects of his life and work,

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

For more on Ozment’s book on Cranach as well as more generally on the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and its relevance for today, check out the eponymous blog of Gene Edward Veith.

And for more on art, culture, and the Christian calling, check out Abraham Kuyper’s newly-translated work on common grace in science and art, Wisdom & Wonder (also reviewed in the latest issue of Books & Culture).

Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico is slated to appear on The Frank Pastore Show tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST. Based out of Los Angeles, the Frank Pastore Show explores “the intersection of faith and reason.” Sirico’s segment can be streamed online at the show’s website.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
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Young people everywhere are attracted to the idea of doing good as they consume products and services. Tom’s Shoes appear on the feet of students all over my campus. The shoes come with a promise that a pair will be distributed in the underdeveloped world each time a pair is purchased. The same is true of Warby Parker glasses. I own a pair, though I bought them for affordability and quality rather than because I wanted to see a pair distributed. Young people are also busy buying “fair trade” coffee, t-shirts, and other goods. The idea is that through our buying habits, we can achieve a greater good than the one that comes from a straightforward exchange of money for products and services.

This concern for those who are less well-off or who live at a disadvantage to ourselves is, of course, nothing new. Certainly, the desire to aid the poor, the widow, and the orphan is a core element of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In my own generation (and really a generation or two before me), Francis Schaeffer criticized Americans (comfortable Christians included) for their addiction to “personal peace and affluence” and their “noncompassionate use of wealth.”

The buying practices I have mentioned are aimed at curbing the tendency of well-off westerners to consume too casually and perhaps too enthusiastically. There is an attempt to encourage thoughtfulness about the way one acquires consumer items. Buy the shoe that results in a pair being delivered to a poor person in Africa at the same time. Purchase the goods that have been produced in a more humane fashion than the ones that belch forth from a sweatshop. Good ideas. (more…)

Much has been made of income inequality in the United States this election season. Income inequality exists in the United States, more so than almost any other developed nation. Around sixty years ago, America’s Gini coefficient–the best measure of income equality, where zero represents the least inequality and one the most–was .37. Today, it is .45.

These numbers are startling, especially for a country that so proudly proclaims all men to be “created equal.” But, as Matthew Schoenfeld points out in The Wall Street Journal, income equality is a far cry from the equality the Framers preached in the Declaration of Independence.

Schoenfeld’s article, titled “Air Jordan and the 1%”, transposes the issue of income inequality from the public policy arena to the basketball court. For many people in and around public policy, a rising Gini coeffecient is enough to call for economic redistribution. Of course, this narrow reasoning doesn’t hold up in other arenas, as Schoenfeld’s basketball analogy points out:

And that brings us to Michael Jordan, who starred for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998. In 1986, the Bulls’ median player salary was $300,000. The team’s lowest-paid player made $135,000, and its highest-paid player made $806,000. The team’s Gini coefficient was 0.36. But Jordan’s superstardom increased the team’s popularity and revenues, and by 1998 salaries looked different. The median income was $2.3 million, the lowest was $500,000, and the highest (Jordan’s) was $33 million. The Gini coefficient had nearly doubled, to 0.67.

Jordan’s salary of $33 million consumed over half the payroll, but everyone was better off. The median player in 1998 made more than seven times what the median player made in 1986, while the income of the lowest-paid player in 1998 quadrupled that of his 1986 peer.

Schoenfeld’s analysis calls to mind a line from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In the book, de Tocqueville claims, “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” Equality is certainly a necessary virtue, one that ensures that all can enjoy basic rights and freedoms. But it is not equality alone that generates human flourishing. This is what the Framers, de Tocqueville, and the 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls got right. Humans require freedom and opportunity to fully tap into their inherent creative potential. To return to basketball:  Every successful offense is built around creating the best shot, and the opportunity for a slam dunk always trumps a prayer from half-court.