HowTheWestWon_FrontCoverSamuel Gregg recently reviewed Rodney Stark’s new book, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. Gregg begins by pointing out that discussion of Medieval Europe “is invariably understood as a period of unmitigated darkness–so much so that words like “feudal” are used today, even by many well-informed Catholics, as synonyms for backwardness.” How the West Won seeks to analyze as well as dispel common misunderstandings and myths about how the West developed. Stark begins his argument by warning his readers, “This is a remarkably unfashionable book.”

While there are many studies and books making similar points, Gregg explains why How the West Won offers something new:

What makes Stark’s book different from these and other studies are two things. First, he weaves his arguments about pre-Christian Europe, the medieval period, the Crusades, and the development of capitalism (to name just a few) into an account which dissolves many prevailing conceptual divisions between the pre-modern and modern worlds. Many secular-minded people—but also many Christians—will be surprised at the high degree of continuity, for instance, between minds like Saint Albertus Magnus and Sir Isaac Newton. Sometimes this occurs by Stark pointing to evidence that has hitherto escaped most people’s attention. In other instances, it is a question of looking at the same evidence but through a more plausible interpretative lens.

The second distinctive feature of How the West Won is how Stark shows how particular historical myths have less to do with the facts than with efforts to paint Christianity as a backward regressive cultural force. To give just one example, Islamic Spain is regularly portrayed, Stark notes, as an oasis of tolerance compared to a repressive Christendom, despite the undeniable evidence of the widespread and long-term persecution and subjugation of Jews and Christians by the Moors. (more…)

I have five kids. I thought I was sane, but apparently, I’m living a crazy alternative lifestyle.

Freestyle halfpipe skier David Wise won gold at Sochi. NBC, rather than being impressed with his world-class athleticism, focused on his “alternative lifestyle.” You see, Wise is married to Alexandra, and they have a young son. Wise is also considering becoming a pastor.

San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has had his critics in terms of his play, but there are also critics of his “alternative lifestyle”: he and his wife, Tiffany, have six kids (they recently had a seventh child.) ESPN noted with this comment:

Six kids? Regardless of your profession, it’s impossible to be a good parent to six kids. Not enough hours in the day.

(more…)

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Over at Real Clear Religion, Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg discusses Pope Francis’s recent appointment of Cardinal George Pell to “Secretariat of the Economy.” The secretariat has authority over the economic activities of the Vatican City State and the Holy See.

Gregg explains his take on Cardinal Pell and this appointment:

It may well turn out to be the greatest challenge of his priestly life.

You don’t need to watch the Godfather Part III to know that the Catholic Church has struggled for several decades to address some real problems in the management of the Holy See’s finances. Just looking at an organizational chart of the various units involved in some way in administering the Holy See’s resources is enough to make even devout Catholics think that maybe Dan Brown’s novels are onto something.

What’s often called “the Vatican Bank” — it’s more formal title is the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) — is just one of several institutions that the Holy See has created over the years to manage various resources. In many ways, a far more important structure is the lesser-known “Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See” (APSA), which, as it stated under its governing document, serves “to administer the properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
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Ukraine Names Baptist Pastor as Acting President
Timothy C. Morgan, Christianity Today

After 88 die in protests, Ukrainian evangelicals call nation “to learn to love yesterday’s enemies.”

Some inconvenient facts for income inequality worriers
James Pethokoukis, AEI Ideas

The reform conservative movement seeks to strengthen the middle class, reform the safety net, and increase the rewards for low-income work. At the same, it rejects crony capitalist policies that enable vast wealth through government favor rather than innovation

The Pope’s radical call to the new evangelization
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, L’Osservatore Romano

American Cardinal on the message of this Pontificate

UN Commission Finds Severe Human Rights Abuses, Including Religious Persecution, In North Korea
Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced yesterday the release of the report of a commission of inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea

venezuela-protestsWhat’s going on in Venezuela?

A wave of anti-government demonstrations has been sweeping through Venezuela since early February. There have been at least 13 people been killed, 150 injured, and over 500  arrested.

Where exactly is Venezuela?

Venezuela is a country on the northern coast of South America that borders Columbia, Brazil, and Guyana. The Caribbean Sea is along the northern border. The country, which is nearly twice the size of California, is is one of the ten most biodiverse countries on the planet.

What is the cause of the conflict?

The protests began earlier this month when students demanded increased security after a female student alleged she was the victim of an attempted rape. (Venezuela has the fifth highest murder rate in the world and crime plagues many of its urban areas.) The protestors are also concerned about record inflation (official figures suggest yearly inflation in December 2013 stood at 56.2%) and shortages of basic food items. One in four basic goods is currently out of stock, according to the central bank’s monthly scarcity index released Feb. 10. Milk, for example, is reported to have been missing from supermarket shelves for months.
(more…)

facebook_ad_large_1On-demand ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are on the rise, allowing smartphone users to request cab drivers with the touch of a button. But though the services are popular with consumers and drivers alike, they’re finding less favor among their taxi-company competitors and the unions and government bureaucrats who protect them.

Calling for increased regulation, entrance fees, and insurance requirements, competitors are grappling to retain their privileged, insulated status. In Miami-Dade County, an area with particularly onerous restrictions and regulations, Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, argues that the change is bound to “ruin the very thing it’s trying to improve,” all because it threatens the fat cats who pay his salary, and who can afford to jump through the regulatory hoops. “When looking at new technologies,” he writes, “we must also be sure people’s basic civil rights and the safety of the riding public are protected.”

Bringing these petty municipal battles into the limelight, actor Ashton Kutcher, an early investor in Uber, recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, decrying “antiquated legislation,” “old-school monopolies,” and “old-school governments” who continue to stand in the way of innovation and consumer demand. In areas like Miami, Kutcher says, there is a “Mafioso mentality” against letting the “new guys” in.

Indeed, as Miami’s Feliciano aptly demonstrates, the protectionist mindset only sees what is, viewing economic activity in static and self-centered terms, and failing to recognize or value the type of opportunity and possibility that comes with increased freedom and ownership. Feliciano claims that he’s interested in “safety” and “basic civil rights,” but the only folks being protected are those with power and pocketbooks. (more…)

The Department of Health and Human Services, under the direction of Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration, has a website aimed at stopping bullies: StopBullying.gov. While it has pages for parents, kids, educators and other community members, it apparently needs to add a page for politicians.

Michigan resident Julie Boonstra is currently featured in a tv commercial funded by Americans for Prosperity. Boonstra suffers from leukemia, and lost her health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. She calls out Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters for voting for Obamacare. Peters doesn’t like that, and he’s turned to bullying tactics: (more…)