The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 12, no. 2 (Fall 2009) is now fully online. In the editorial for this issue, “A Legacy of Stewardship,” I write of the loss in 2009 of two figures of importance for the Acton Institute: “In the unique matrix of vocation that made up their lives, Lester DeKoster and Karen Laub-Novak have each left this world with a legacy of faithful stewardship, and it is to such that this issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is dedicated.”

In recognition of these legacies, this issue features a controversy on the question “How should Christians be stewards of art?” between Prof. Nathan Jacobs, professor of theology at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, and Prof. Calvin Seerveld, professor emeritus of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada. Jacobs argues that “the question of stewardship immediately raises questions about value, meaning, and reality that must be addressed,” and moves on to articulate a realist defense of his view of art and stewardship. Prof. Seerveld “challenges us to consider art from an eschatological perspective” and emphasizes God’s creational mandate to be imaginative in the faithful pursuit of the artistic calling.

In addition to this special feature, this issue of the journal includes the usual fare of substantial articles:

We also have a noteworthy set of book reviews in Christian social thought, ethics and economics, and the philosophy, history, and methodology of economics.

Access to the electronic versions of two latest “current” issues is available for individuals on a subscription basis. An electronic-only subscription is available for $10, and there are a number of other options for those wishing to receive the journal in hard copy form.

We also encourage you to recommend the journal to friends, schools, and institutions.

Journal of Markets & Morality

Catholic World Report published a roundup of commentary on the fifth anniversary of Benedict’s pontificate. I contributed a piece titled Retrieval and Reintegration and was joined by a number of outstanding writers whose work is indexed here.

Benedict’s efforts to let the past inform and guide the Church’s future

By Father Robert Sirico

On March 18, 2005, having been at the Vatican to speak at a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, I found myself concelebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with about 100 other priests. The principal celebrant was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I was at the far end of the line of concelebrating priests and was surprised when, at the Offertory, the Master of Ceremonies approached me (I was conveniently at the end of the row) to assist at the ablution rites at the altar.

I had not realized until I sat down to write this reflection in honor of Pope Benedict’s election that the cardinal for whom I effectively served as an altar boy would be pope within a month. Providence is sometime a sobering thing.

The priest with whom I concelebrated Mass that day in such close proximity is indeed the same priest I see celebrate the Sacred Mysteries as successor to St. Peter. His focus and intense devotion are the same. It is almost as though depth and continuity are written into the man’s DNA.

By now the idea of a “hermeneutic of continuity” is beginning to permeate the Church universal. Gone, or at least soon gone, are the days when Catholics sing of “calling a new church into being” with straight faces. Likewise, talk of a “pre-conciliar” versus a post-Vatican II Church seems dated. Benedict has shown us how to retrieve what is authentically ours by Tradition, how not to fear that past, and how to permit the ancient liturgy to inform, guide, and deepen our worship today.

Yet, it is not only in the realm of ecclesiology or liturgy that this Benedictine effort toward reintegration is felt. One sees at as well in his effective and tireless effort in reaching out to the Eastern Churches (admittedly a dimension of ecclesiology) and in his development of the Church’s social teaching, evident in each of his encyclicals, but most especially in Caritas et Veritate. All of this effort at retrieval and reintegration comprises what might be called the leitmotif of his papacy.

In each of these areas and others as well, one sees a very careful mind at work to rediscover and welcome disparate truths, skillfully bringing the parts together to demonstrate a deeper, richer whole.

And yet, Providence can also sometimes be cruel, as it might appear now, when Benedict presides as pope in a moment of great difficulty and pain for the Church, owing largely to past negligence in the protection of the innocent and in the clarity of Catholic moral teaching.

Here, too, we affirm that the Church does not need to reinvent herself to address these grave matters; she does not need a new discipline for her priests or new standard of morality to propose to the faithful. The Church simply needs to embrace that same faith that Christ taught to the Apostles and to represent it anew to a society—and at this time a Church—that seems in some places to have forgotten it.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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Last night I got a phone call from a polling organization that wanted to ask me some questions about local “upcoming elections and issues.” I listened to the introductory remarks politely but soon found myself persuaded to ask a question.

“Where are you calling from?”

If you don’t have call blocker, or an answering machine and still pick up your phone from time to time, you likely have listened to “Tina” or “Amy” from a remote area of Bombay or a Manila suburb try to sell you a re-financing deal or a scheme to eliminate your credit card balance. I can’t help but engage these callers and usually, indiscriminately ask them from where they’re calling.

“South Dakota,” the young male voice answered.

Hmmmm, I wondered. “How long have you been working for this company?”

“Two months,” he replied.

“Well, I can barely understand you, so please speak clearly.”

We agreed to continue and I was told it would take 13 minutes. The questions were all over the place, and it became clear that the young man was unfamiliar with how to pronounce some of the names of persons, places and things he was asking me about. Do you “support; very strongly, strongly, not very strongly, not at all.” It went well enough until he got to a question that required him to say the word incumbent. He fumbled it a couple of times but I was able to understand what he was trying to pronounce so I interrupted.

“In-cum-bent,” I said slowly. Then I asked him if he knew what the word meant.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” he replied shyly.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Eighteen,” he replied.

“Are you in high school?” I asked.

“I’m a freshman in college,” he replied boldly.

I told him to listen carefully and took the next minute to define what an incumbent was and relate the word to the work he was doing in polling potential voters as to questions of whom they would support or vote for in the upcoming elections. I added that at eighteen years of age he was likely to be an eligible voter and knowing what the word incumbent meant seemed to me a minimal necessity of his civic duty. I also told him to take the script home and practice reading it more smoothly, and finding out what words like incumbent meant.

I told him to improve his skills and maybe he could be advanced at the little company he was working for. It was good advice.

But I wondered as I hung up the phone, as you may be wondering now. How many 18 year olds like this voted in November 2008.

A Polish friend recommended this NYT piece by Roger Cohen reflecting on the most recent tragedy visited upon the Polish people. Cohen’s friend, Adam Michnik in Warsaw, “an intellectual imprisoned six times by the former puppet-Soviet Communist rulers,” had said to him in the past that:

…my obsession has been that we should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.

Cohen observes the smooth constitutional transition of power upon the death of the Polish head of state, and points hopefully toward the potential for reconciliation between Warsaw and Moscow. In Cohen’s words, the show of grief by Vladimir Putin upon the anniversary of the Katyn murders signifies “the miracle of a Europe whole and free been built. Now that Europe extends eastward toward the Urals.”

The family friendly Movieguide published my review of Michael Moore’s trashing of the market economy, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Excerpt:

Perhaps the most egregious bit of manipulative effort Moore displays in his latest attempt, which by all reports has failed miserably at the box office, is his attempt to use religion, in particular the social teachings of the Catholic Church, to grant an imprimatur to his un-nuanced critique of the business economy.

Having come out of his Catholic closet (who knew Moore ever considered himself a serious Catholic?), he enlists Catholic priests (among them two bishops!) to lend credibility to an unequivocal denunciation of capitalism as intrinsically, irrevocably and wholly evil. The problem is, that one of the priests and one of the bishops have no standing in the Catholic Church. The one “bishop”, James Wilkowski, is neither a Roman Catholic bishop nor even a Roman Catholic, but rather a member of something called the “Evangelical Catholic Church.” The man identified as the priest who performed Mr. Moore’s marriage is not listed in the US Directory of Catholic priests.

The other two clerics are indeed priests, both being from the most left-wing extreme of the Catholic Church. They are certainly entitled to their opinions, but the opinions they offer in the film are far from representative of the official position of the Church.

Read “Socialist Lies Sink to a New Low” on MovieGuide.

Edmund Conway, economics editor of The Telegraph, looks at a new analysis of government debt by Dylan Grice of Societe Generale. The charts are eye popping. It’s not just a Greek, or EU problem. It’s also something that Americans must come to grips with, and soon. You might call it a moral issue — too long living beyond our means.

Conway quotes Grice, and then sums up:

“The most chilling similarity between the Greeks and everyone else isn’t in the charts above showing that their various debt metrics are in the same ballpark, it’s in the realisation that we too are subject to the same iron-clad laws of budget sustainability and that we too are as helplessly vulnerable to any reassessment of sovereign risk by the famously fickle Mr Market.”

In the end, all Western nations face a long-term dilemma (which has been the case since before the crisis, but is more front-and-centre of everyone’s minds now). Over the past 50 years we have committed ourselves to massive welfare states which our economies are simply not generating enough cash to finance.

Read “Greek lesson: we are all in the same boat” on the Telegraph site.

A very good piece on taxation, income inequality and fairness in today’s Wall Street Journal by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Brooks, a frequent guest speaker at Acton events, is also author of “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future”, forthcoming from Basic Books in June. Watch for the review on the PowerBlog soon.

Simple facts about our tax system do not support the contention that it is “unfair” in favor of the rich. According to the most recent IRS data, the top 5% of earners bring in 37% of the income but pay 60% of the federal individual income taxes. The bottom half of earners bring home 12% of the income but pay 3% of the taxes. Today, according to the Tax Foundation, 60% of Americans consume more in government services than they pay in taxes.

In sum: A large majority disagrees with the current administration’s redistributionist philosophy; believes the rich already face a tax rate that is too high; and disapproves of the fact that more and more Americans pay nothing in federal income taxes. So why do arguments like the president’s persist?

The answer is that nobody wants to sound anti-poor, so we too easily concede the notion of fairness to those who define it as redistribution and criticize redistribution only because it leads to economic inefficiency.

This is an error. There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

Read “‘Spreading the Wealth’ Isn’t Fair” on the Wall Street Journal Web site.

Sign up for Acton News & Commentary here. This week, I contributed a piece on Jim Wallis’ new book.

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This class of the very poor – those who are just on the borders of pauperism or fairly over the borders – is rapidly growing. Wealth is increasing very fast; poverty, even pauperism, is increasing still more rapidly. – Washington Gladden, Applied Christianity (1886)

For three decades, we have experienced a social engineered inequality that is really a sin – of biblical proportions. We have indeed seen class warfare, but this war has been waged by the wealthy and their political allies against the poor and the middle class. – Jim Wallis, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street (2010)

One of Jim Wallis’ long running aims at Sojourners is to cast himself as a moderate or centrist (God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat). This is howling nonsense to anyone who pays attention to his policy prescriptions or watches the progressive/liberal company he keeps. With his new book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street (Howard Books, 2010), Wallis drops all pretense to holding the center as he piles on with the horde of religious left activists and others now demonizing Wall Street. The book, a clip-file pastiche of easy eat-the-rich moralizing, relentlessly pushes for the sort of collectivist policies that even the Obama administration is reluctant to take on directly (to Wallis’ chagrin).

The Wallis publicity machine casts him in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets with their fiery visions and passion for the social application of faith. Alas, he can only scold: “It’s clear that Wall Street has learned nothing, wants to learn nothing, and instead just wants to go back to the same old behaviors.”

With this new book, Wallis has ventured into the nation’s economic life with his cheap outrage. There, he has exposed himself as utterly ignorant of even the most basic economic principles. Not even a disinterested undergraduate halfway through a compulsory Econ 101 would make these mistakes. Case in point:

The market’s fear of scarcity must be replaced with the abundance of the loving God. And the first commandment of the Market: “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictum of God’s economy: namely, there is enough, if we share it.

Well, no, wrong. You cannot wish scarcity away. It is one of the most fundamental realities of economic life, involving everything from raw materials to money to the very time we have on God’s green earth. Still less can you wish away scarcity with shallow sentiment and decree that all of humanity will have enough (what is enough?) if we follow the “dictum” of “God’s economy.” Scarcity is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, you might say.

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shearlThe new issue of Religion & Liberty, featuring an interview with Nina Shea, is now available online. A February preview of Shea’s interview, which was an exclusive for PowerBlog readers, can be found here.

Shea pays tribute to the ten year collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, which began in the fall of 1989. The entire issue is dedicated to those who toiled for freedom. Shea is able to make the connection between important events and times in the Cold War with what is happening today in regards to religious persecution. Her passion on these issues is unmatched. Her experience and expertise on issues of religious persecution definitely shine through in this interview. I encourage readers to pay attention to her work.

Mark Tooley offers the feature piece for this issue, “Not Celebrating Communism’s Collapse.” It is an excellent look back at the religious left and their grave misjudgments about the true danger of Marxist dictatorships. Tooley declares, “Communism’s collapse did further discredit the Religious Left, and the political witness of mainline Protestantism and ecumenical groups like the WCC and NCC has arguably, and thankfully, never quite recovered from the events of 1989-1990.” Tooley is president of The Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

In this issue I offer a review of Steven P. Miller’s Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, which appeared first on the PowerBlog.

“Repressions” is a series of voices that speak to the danger of an ideology that reduces man to merely a material creature, while violently squelching the spiritual. Because of the danger of an all controlling state, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered religious liberty the “first freedom,” the foundational freedom upon which others are built. They understood that religious freedom is the hallmark to a truly free and virtuous society, and is also meant to act as an important wall from encroachment by the state into our lives.

The issue also pays tribute to a well known figure, especially among evangelical Christians, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Scaheffer, who spoke out against the godless totalitarian state also powerfully reminds us: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

A good back-and-forth at in character on health care reform between Karen Davenport and Heather R. Higgins. Question: Will the implementation of the health-care bill passed by Congress improve the character of our country?

Davenport says “yes”:

While we cede some rights, we also assume new responsibilities. First, we assume the responsibility to obtain and maintain coverage for ourselves, and acknowledge that we cannot wait to purchase health insurance until we are sick. We also take on greater responsibility for others, particularly by helping individuals and families purchase coverage if they cannot afford to do so on their own.

Higgins says “no”:

In contrast, the health bill is premised on the idea that people should expect to be taken care of. This law is more aligned with the sentiments of a European social democracy where hard work is devalued and income inequalities condemned. In the health bill, personal freedom and individual choice are replaced with bureaucratic dictates, one-size-fits-all parameters, and the removal of responsibility and consequence from individuals. Citizens are infantilized as wards of the state. But that’s only the beginning of the adverse consequence that this travesty will have on our national character.