The second in Acton Media’s series of shorts accompanying its latest documentary The Birth of Freedom, this new video asks the question, “How has Judaism contributed to human rights?” In the video, John Witte Jr. demonstrates how the teachings of Judaism significantly impacted the western understanding of human rights, contributing the foundations for concepts such as human dignity, due process, and covenantal agreements.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

There’s a pretty entertaining piece on Salon.com by Christopher Noxon, “Is my kid a jerk, or is he just 2?”

There’s mild language, but the gist of the piece revolves around this observation:

As much as it goes against the current mode of progressive, project-management-style parenting, I take it for granted that some kids are trouble right out of the gate. They’re the preschool gangsters and playground terrorists, flicking boogers and insults at those they’ve identified as too weak to fight back. Just as some kids are born sweet-tempered and naturally gentle, others arrive as thuggish as HMO claims adjusters.

If you’re interested in the topic, and how reality flies in the face of “progressive, project-management-style parenting,” read the whole thing. And you can do so in dialogue with St. Augustine, who made this memorable observation about infancy:

For this I have been told about myself and I believe it–though I cannot remember it–for I see the same things in other infants. Then, little by little, I realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not much like what I inwardly desired and when I was not satisfied–either from not being understood or because what I got was not good for me–I grew indignant that my elders were not subject to me and that those on whom I actually had no claim did not wait on me as slaves–and I avenged myself on them by crying. That infants are like this, I have myself been able to learn by watching them; and they, though they knew me not, have shown me better what I was like than my own nurses who knew me.

Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because they were older–not slaves, either, but free–and wiser than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could, to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have done me harm to have been obeyed? Thus, the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind. I have myself observed a baby to be jealous, though it could not speak; it was livid as it watched another infant at the breast.

So there you have it. The substance of the doctrine of original sin affirmed indirectly by Salon.com, “For in thy sight there is none free from sin, not even the infant who has lived but a day upon this earth.” Indeed, even the kids whom Noxon believes “are born sweet-tempered and naturally gentle” might be described differently in a moment of true honesty by their parents who know them best.

The Associated Press has an article reporting on controversial statements made by Governor Sarah Palin at the Wasilla Assemby of God church in Wasilla, Alaska. Governor Palin makes an appeal for prayer about troops in Iraq declaring, “Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.” She also made an appeal for students to pray for the implementation of a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state. The short impromptu address was given to graduating students at the Assembly of God church in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla.

Governor Palin attended Wasilla Assembly of God from the time she was a teenager until 2002, according to the AP article. The Wall Street Journal reports that Palin attends Juneau Christian Center, also an Assemblies of God church, when the state government is in session. Another AP article refers to her current church as a non-denominational church, Wasilla Bible Church.

The earliest denunciation of Palin’s talk was highlighted by the Huffington Post on September 2. Their site also has the full video of Palin’s words to the students, and concerned readers should shape their own viewpoint from watching the video. The intention of the piece at the Huffington Post is to clearly link together similarities between the questions and concerns laid on Barack Obama for his long-time attendance at Trinity United Church of Christ, and his strong association with his former preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The Huffington Post declares:

And if the political storm over Barack Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright is any indication, Palin may face some political fallout over the more controversial teachings of Wasilla Assembly of God.

You can read the Huffington Post for a highlight of the “controversial” teachings they mention. My thoughts on the prayer differ from some of the critiques I have read. For those who have attended charismatic services, her language will certainly not seem unfamiliar.

Conversationalist prayer style, and petitionary prayer is delivered in a style that assumes submission to God’s will or Divine Providence. There is also a strong evangelical note where she emphasizes the importance of regeneration when she says, “All of that stuff doesn’t really matter if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God.”

It’s ludicrous to suggest that God can’t be present or desire transformation in Iraq just because the U.S. military is present. The religious left and its sympathizers cannot unconditionally identify the will of God with an American defeat. Does that necessarily imply God endorses this conflict? Of course not. At the same time it certainly doesn’t excuse mistakes that were made in the conflict from a political perspective. But God can certainly support justice for those who were persecuted and still persecuted, and deliverance for those who suffered and suffer under tyrants. Certainly many military chaplains can greatly attest and testify well to the presence of God in Iraq, as well as the protection for our soldiers, airmen, and Marines.

Palin’s prayer certainly falls within those parameters. It’s far too easy for those who hold a secular worldview to simply scoff at the prayer appeal. It also may be easy for some who hold a theological degree or advanced seminary training to find fault with some of the language. But it is still true that this is how most people pray in their congregations and in their own personal prayer life, especially those who attend churches outside of traditional Christianity or a church that has little or no liturgical makeup.

Possibly the most famous member of the Assembly of God denomination who was in public service was former senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft was unfairly demonized as a puritanical fundamentalist Christian, who supposedly ordered a bare-breasted statue at the Justice Department covered.

However, attempts to tie Palin to Ashcroft or other perceived stodgy Christians of the “religious right” should fail miserably. Sally Quinn has tried to drive a wedge between “value voters” and Governor Palin, as if conservative Christians were ready to pounce on her family with a scarlet “A.” The criticisms of Quinn and her ilk tell us more about how much these critics don’t know about the Gospel story than they do about Christians with a conservative worldview.

GodblogCon 2008 is two weeks away. The Acton Institute is a proud sponsor of this event, held in conjunction with the BlogWorld & New Media Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, September 20-21.

The conference will be a great opportunity to connect with bloggers and internet figures you’ve only read about or corresponded with in a virtual environment. You’ll also have the opportunity to attend valuable sessions and learn the basics of blogging, vcasting, and how social networks work.

I found last year’s event to be really stimulating and it energized me for weeks and months afterward. If it fits into your schedule, you should really consider attending. Check out the website for more details about the schedule of events and roster of speakers.

Next week, in anticipation of the event, the PowerBlog will unveil its conference program ad…try to maintain your composure as the excitement builds.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 5, 2008

The ninth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The ninth and final leg of the journey took the bikers from St. Catharines, Ontario, to Jersey City, a total distance of 430 miles. By the end of tour, the riders had covered 3881 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional contained a key biblical point in the day 57 entry. Reflecting on the separation from family members over the 9 weeks of the tour, hope was expressed that such an experience might “make us more aware of those who are constantly torn from their loved ones and remind us that the water of baptism is thicker than family blood.” As I concluded in a 2005 post, “The water of Christian baptism is thicker than the blood of natural flesh. ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’” The reality of baptism sets upon a path of service to our neighbors. This is a good point of departure for discussing questions of poverty and prosperity.

A good deal of the devotional focuses on the particularities of the experience of riding a bike. This is fitting because the text was designed for use by the riders of the poverty tour. But a few weeks ago I discussed another kind of bike rider, Pastor Bike of China, who was imprisoned because of his bicycle-based evangelism.

The good news coming out of China this week is that Pastor Bike has been released. Praise God.

My concern in following the CRC Sea to Sea bike tour over the last months has focused on the relation of material poverty to spiritual poverty. This remains an open question for me regarding the social justice advocacy of the denomination. There is a real danger that the social justice focus of the Christian Reformed Church will lapse into a post-milllenialist form of the Social Gospel.

The texts and materials of the tour itself were a bit uneven on this. In the end I think the focus is rightly aimed at divine reality. But the prudential judgments about how material poverty relates to spiritual concerns remains under-developed. When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” he was effectively saying that until he comes again we will always have to deal with the realities of sin and imperfection.

But he gave us guidance as to how to live in the midst of this sinful reality: “You can help them any time you want.” The one lesson we should take from this tour is that there is a real and pervasive Christian responsibility to give to the relief of the poor in a way that addresses both material and spiritual realities. Give thoughtfully and prayerfully. But be sure to give. For a moving testimony on this, see “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels founder cites personal faith, Bible verses as reasons to give.”

An interesting post over at First Things from Jonathan V. Last, who discusses why the left not just opposes, but hates Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. He identifies four particular issues, all revolving around her family, that provoke the left. It’s difficult to pull a quote out of the post; it’s all very good. But here’s a small taste to get you interested:

Governor Sarah Palin

…there is the left’s long-standing concern about overpopulation, which has become a staple of modern environmentalism, beginning with Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 best-seller The Population Bomb. Ehrlich preached a Malthusian near-future in which hundreds of millions would perish by famine as the world’s unchecked population growth spiraled to infinity. As it happens, Ehrlich’s predictions were entirely incorrect: Not only has increased food production reduced famine to a weapon of political conflict, but the world’s population growth has slowed to a crawl. Fertility rates around the globe are falling and world population will peak around nine billion by 2050. From there, we will experience population contraction.

But Ehrlich’s prognostications never fell far out of favor, particularly with environmentalists who take it as an article of faith that the planet is already overcrowded. To them, the prodigious Palin family is surely seen as taking more than its fair share.

I’m curious to see what PowerBlog readers think of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, and to have your thoughts on the Presidential race in general. I can say with certainty that this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting elections of my lifetime; what say you?

More Cultural Differences: Via A Second Hand Conjecture, here’s an interesting bit from the Volokh Conspiracy on the “western vibe” of the GOP ticket:

What is the “western” vibe? This is purely subjective, but to me it is the feeling of no-nonsense, self-reliant, egalitarian, outsiderism, sort of Barry Goldwater-ish. Is it libertarian? Not exactly, but it does have that sort of feeling to it, to me at least. It feels like Goldwaterism. And I think this trickles through to the worldview of the candidates and then to policy. It seems pretty clear to me (especially after last night) that John McCain sees himself as Gary Cooper riding into to town to single-handedly clean-up corruption and gun down the rascals…

…The only caveat to this is that McCain’s westernism is tempered by his military background. And frankly, this is what concerns me most about him–his mind seems like a command-and-control, top-down worldview. To put the matter more elliptically to many but more accurately to my thinking, I think he simply does not understand or trust the idea of spontaneous order. In his worldview, things happen (good or bad) because somebody makes them happen. This is not a worldview that is conducive to understanding spontaneous order. That’s a statist streak in him that offsets some of his westernism.

More fodder for discussion. Carry on.

Coming next spring is a major academic event at the intersection of theology and economics, the 25th anniversary conference of the Association of Christian Economists. Hosted by Baylor University and organized by Journal of Markets & Morality advisory board member John Pisciotta, the conference promises to deliver many sessions of interest. Birth of Freedom commentator Rodney Stark and Acton Lecture Series speaker Arthur Brooks will be among those giving plenary addresses.

Posted at present is the call for papers, and registration information will be forthcoming.

Blog author: rob.holmes
posted by on Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In the latest edition of an otherwise scholarly theological journal, a writer, who only ever writes about one subject, attacked the free market as usual. He wrote: “Neither can economics be satisfied with leaving human beings to the mercy of markets with their supposed ‘laws.’. . .” While there is certainly no space to take on his whole article, this part might just be the most serious error in it.

This particular writer, and those trained in his school, which he denies is the German Historical School, but it is, operate from a nominalistic approach. Nominalism, a school of thought begun in the Middle Ages by the Franciscan, William of Ockham, denies that there is any human nature. Therefore, human beings have no necessary consistency in them. In ethics, each person makes up his own code, and the codes can be very much at odds. To a nominalist, everything is will alone, not reason. This is why the writer in question asserts that people are at the “mercy of markets.” To those who think like this, everything is power. Even in moral theology, the reason one obeys the Ten Commandments is that it’s God’s will only, and there is no connection with those commandments and the nature of things. God could have commanded ten other things we were to avoid, and we would be required to obey them, because they are His will, even if they were the opposite of those actually listed. (I am sure many people would not have any trouble with the commandments were that the case) Thus, to those who think in this manner, markets are power, and that’s why there are no laws of economics. That’s why corporations are evil; because money gives them power, which they use to take advantage of others.

The truth of it is that human beings do participate in a common nature, created by God, and this common nature leads people to think and act alike generally speaking. The laws of economics come from this consistency of human nature. Markets do have laws because people make free choices as to what is best for them. The market exists for the sake of the consumer, which includes everybody. If I go to the store and want to buy bananas, and the bananas are rotten, why should I buy them; to support the farmer or the store? If we all did that, people would be encouraged to make junk and I would be encouraged to continue to buy it even if it did not fulfill my needs. Why would I do that?

Let’s take the example to a higher level. I know that there is a demand for office space in my city, so I want to build a tall office building. The office building has to be tall because land in a city is very scarce and therefore very expensive, so I have to build “up.” To do so I need strong steel. If company X has crummy steel, it will not hold up and the building will come crashing down at the first sign of stress. So I must go to company Y that sells steel that will be appropriate to the height of my proposed building. Should I buy the company X steel because I feel sorry for the workers who will not get my business? You tell me; rather you go tell that to the families of the victims of my collapsed building.

Will the steel from company X be cheaper? Perhaps. If I buy it and the building comes tumbling down, am I evil? Well, we cannot judge the soul of another, nor can we read his mind. One thing we do know is that this builder did ignore the laws of economics (and probably those of engineering as well).

Think about the decisions in your life, and see if there are no laws governing your decisions. If gasoline is $.10 per gallon cheaper in the next town, which is 45 minutes away, would you think it is worth it to drive there to get that particular gas, given not only the price but the time involved, and whether it is raining or snowing, and other things that you have to do? Well, you just did a cost-benefit analysis, which every sane human being does in their head many times a day whether they realize it or not. How can anyone say that there are no laws of economics.

Read more from Dr. Luckey at “Catholic Truths on Economics.”

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Today Acton Media released a new video short titled, “What is Freedom?” In this short, experts William B. Allen and Samuel Gregg discuss the nature and implications of true freedom. The clip is first in a series of shorts designed to supplement Acton Media’s latest documentary, The Birth of Freedom. Comprised of footage that didn’t make it into the documentary, these clips provide additional insight into key issues and as such, could be considered the film’s “extended scenes”. Acton Media plans to release a new short each Monday. View the entire series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In a Zenit article titled “What is Good Journalism?,” author Marta Lugo interviews journalist and author Gabriel Galdón. He is professor of journalism and information ethics at Madrid’s CEU St. Paul University, and the director of the Observatory for the Study of Religious Information. By “objectivist” here, I take him to mean what American journalism professors teach as journalistic objectivity, i.e., reporting without political bias or any other slant that colors the information.

One of the problems of journalism’s objectivist paradigm is that there are million of events — published daily as news — that are of no use. They are ephemeral, vacuous and gobble up what is really essential. French writer Jean Guitton entitled one of his books “Silence sur l’essentiel” (Silence on the Essential). Often in the informative landscape there is silence on the essential and clamorous noise on the accidental and ephemeral.

Info-ethics calls, in the first place, for speaking about what people really need to know to be free and to struggle for their dignity. It is a different informative choice, but entails a radical change: from the “agenda setting” to the recipient.