Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We welcome a new contributor to the Acton Commentary crew: Dr. Dwight R. Lee, the William J. O’Neil Endowed Chair in Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University. In this week’s commentary, Lee discusses how the social objectives of clergy and economists are remarkably similar, even though their “windows on the world” suggest different approaches to achieving the shared aim of building a better, more humane society. This week’s commentary is adapted from an article to be published in the Journal of Markets & Morality (Vol. 12, No. 2; Fall 2009). Excerpt:

My hope is that members of the clergy, in their desire to achieve a better world, will begin to see economists as allies instead of adversaries. This hope may be dismissed as preposterous by some since, as an economist, I argue that market incentives are the most effective way of achieving many of the social outcomes most of the clergy favor. But those most opposed to market incentives for achieving desirable objectives have the most to gain by taking a look through the economic window. Much of the skepticism, indeed hostility, towards markets is based on distorted and mistaken views of how markets operate and what they accomplish.

Religious differences notwithstanding, most people respect the clergy for their noble objectives and effort to achieve those objectives by encouraging and celebrating “the better angels of our nature” mentioned in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Most approve of the clergy’s concern with encouraging behavior such as sharing with, and serving the interests of, others; helping the poor; sacrificing for the good of the wider community; acting as good stewards of the earth’s resources; being concerned with protecting the environment; and generally living a life that promotes social cooperation and harmony.

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Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rev. Robert Sirico delivered a sermon titled “Whistling Past the Graveyard” at Mars Hill mega-church in Grand Rapids, Mich on September 20. You can listen to his sermon in its entirety by clicking on the sermon title above. Mars Hill was founded by Rob Bell in 1999.

Rev. Sirico addressed Christology, mortality, atonement theology, and the problem of evil. In his remarks Rev. Sirico declared:

And the vision of that hill, there on Golgotha’s bloody mount, is the answer to the riddle of human existence. There in the crucified Christ, we see one who not only suffers for us…but he suffers with us. He enters our grief, our solitude, our pain. And because the one who is suffering so is innocent, he has the capacity to subsume into himself, into his divine person, all of humanity’s suffering, all the history of limitation and death.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 21, 2009

In a column in this past Saturday’s religion section, Charles Honey reflects on the second great love commandment in the context of the national health care debate.

Honey’s piece starts out on a very strong note, detailing the perspective of Dr. John Vander Kolk, director of a local non-profit initiative focused on the uninsured:

“Where would we see Jesus in our culture?” asks the member of Ada Bible Church. “He would be down there with his sleeves rolled up, helping the people that don’t have any access (to health care). That’s what we’re being called to do.”

An editorial published this month by George Barna takes a similar point of departure.

In short, Jesus Christ showed us that anyone who follows Him is expected to address the most pressing needs of others. You can describe Jesus’ health care strategy in four words: whoever, whatever, whenever, wherever. Whoever needed to be healed received His healing touch. Whatever affliction they suffered from, He addressed it. Whenever the opportunity to heal arose, He seized it. Wherever they happened to be, He took care of it.

But it is after this shared perspective that the respective pieces on health care and the Christian faith part ways.

Honey’s piece continues to argue, in the vein of the Forty Days for Health Reform, that the gospel imperative is best met through government action. “For many, it’s about treating others as you would want to be treated — seeing to it that they get the decent medical care you and I would expect. It’s just not that complicated.”

Barna, however, ends on a note of personal challenge. He writes,

Government clearly has a role in people’s lives; the Bible supports its existence and circumscribed functions. It is unfortunate that when God’s people, collectively known as the Church, fail to exhibit the compassion and service that He has called us to provide, we are comfortable with the government acting as a national safety net. In a society that has become increasingly self-centered and self-indulgent, we simply expand our reliance upon the government to provide solutions and services that are the responsibility of Christ followers. Some Christians have heeded the call, as evidenced by the medical clinics, pregnancy centers and even hospitals across the nation that were initiated and funded by small numbers of dedicated believers who grasped this responsibility. Imagine what an impact the Church would have on society if it truly reflected the model Jesus gave us of how to care for one another!

This echoes the words of Abraham Kuyper, who in an address on the social question of poverty, wrote, “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honour of your Saviour.”

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Friday, September 18, 2009

If it doesn’t faze you that

  1. Uncle Sam badly mishandled the stimulus porkanaza
  2. Congress would have directed bazillions to a surreally corrupt Acorn but for these two young heroes
  3. Michael Moore’s Sicko is Wacko
  4. Canadians will no longer have a free market healthcare system to flee to
  5. Government-run health care will look and smell and feel like the Department of Motor Vehicles … with sharp needles and bedpans
  6. If none of this has convinced you that a government-run healthcare system is a bad idea, then spend some time perusing Jay Richards’ thoughtful blogging work on health care here at The Enterprise Blog.

And have a blessed weekend.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today is Constitution Day in the United States.

It seems appropriate to remember especially this day the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

What a wonderful expression of federalism, a component feature of which is the concept of subsidiarity, or rather, coordinated and variegated sovereignty. Lord Acton said that federalism “is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.” He also noted that federalism is “is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.”

I’m not greatly familiar with them, but it might be worth checking out the Tenth Amendment Center today. There’s more background on the Bill of Rights at the Stand to Reason blog today.

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, at least the book is, anyway. The End of Secularism is now in stock at Acton.org and should be available in stores, too. Help me, faithful readers.

I don’t think I’ll disappoint you. Francis Beckwith, David Dockery, Russell Moore, Father Robert Sirico, Herb London, Jennifer Morse Roback, and Glenn Stanton all liked it. I hope you will, too.

Did you get the best part, by the way? FATHER ROBERT SIRICO. Here is his take on the book:

The task of discerning the alternative to practical atheism lived by many nominal Christians and the pretense of a neutral secularism has been made easier by this rich study. Once authentic Christians grasp the ramifications of the incarnation of Christ, then and only then will it be apparent that, as Baker argues, secularism only makes sense in relation to religion.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Memo to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore: Free markets didn’t cause the financial crisis. The biggest culprits were government planners meddling with the market. That’s the message of Acton’s newest video short.



So why on earth is Michael Moore (Capitalism: A Love Story, Sicko) so eager to route even more power and money through Washington? Centralized planning is economic poison. Doubling down isn’t the cure.

(Also, Acton’s resource page on the economic crisis is here.)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In this week’s commentary I argue that the shape of the debate over the public health care option over the next four years should focus on the critical role played by mediating institutions of civil society: charities, churches, and voluntary organizations.

While President Obama’s health care speech last week was in part intended to dispel myths about the proposed health care reforms, it perpetuated some myths of its own. Not least of these is the idea that “non-profit” must mean “governmentally-administered,” or that we do not already have non-profit competitors for profit-driven corporations in the health insurance industry.

The president ended his speech by appealing to the compassion of the American public, and I support this wholeheartedly. But compassion is apparent most obviously in those deeds we undertake voluntarily and selflessly. It’s apparent in efforts like healthcare sharing ministries (HCSMs), which would face elimination under proposals for a federal health insurance mandate.

To be sure, there is deceit, half-truth telling, and rumormongering running rampant in this health care debate. But this goes not only for the opponents of the president’s plans but also for his supporters, an accusation popularized by Joe Wilson’s shameless outburst at the president.

From the transcript: AUDIENCE MEMBER: You lie! (Boos.).

For exhibit A, see this Facebook video of Robert Reich, who says that the public option’s “scale and authority” and “bargaining leverage” do not amount to a governmental subsidy: “The public plan would not be subsidized by the government or have the government set the rules for anyone.” Of course, as I note in the commentary, relying on governmental bureaucracy and authority is most certainly a form of subsidy.

And why wouldn’t groups other than the government have this “scale and authority” or “bargaining leverage” to negotiate lower prices? Because their power doesn’t ultimately lie in the threat of coercion and they can’t arbitrarily raise taxes to increase revenue. This is of course the same reason that so many corporations and businesses go rent seeking; the government’s coercive regulatory power is the ultimate trump card. A gun is a great bargaining tool.

For a more thorough fisking of exhibit B, check back with the PowerBlog later.

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The other day on this PowerBlog I posted “Learning To Tell The Truth” and ended the article with an observation:

It may be instructive to note that the young female reporter who took part in the videos is named Hannah. For Jews the Biblical namesake is one of the prophetesses whose prayer is remembered at Rosh Hashanah [coming soon] and the mother of Samuel. You may recall that Samuel had problems with his succession choices. They weren’t sufficiently obedient to God’s instruction in handling the errant, sinful tribes. Of course, that wasn’t Hannah’s fault. She did what God asked and was rewarded.”

I wondered in my final comment what the effect of Washington’s problems with disobedience to God might be. We’re likely to find out over the next several weeks and perhaps months because of this modern Hannah and her friends. I hope there are other Hannahs in our midst and in our counsel.

A reader made the following comment:

Interesting thoughts. I liked the Hannah reference…I hadn’t thought about that.”

I was happy that he got it and let me know.

Tuesday afternoon I listened to the 20 year old reporter Hannah Giles being interviewed on a radio program. The host shared my admiration for her spunk. Her explanation in reply to his compliments was something on the order of “a lot of people tell us we have courage but we never thought that we couldn’t do it.”

In an article early in the string of indicting ACORN videos and document postings at www.biggovernment.com, Hannah Giles wrote the following:

“Most people come up with ridiculous ideas, things that graze against societal norms. However, not all are capable of action because not all are comfortable with action. Many lack the desire for truth and justice, most don’t even know to want it.  But on occasion, the previous join forces. The right people with the appropriate calling unite against a common enemy, then the sky is the limit and hell is the target. There will be no compromises, only adaptation and infiltration.”

To some who think about having an effect on life’s ills, that statement may seem a little strong. I prefer to focus positively on her phrase “then the sky is the limit and hell is the targetl” To which others might say, “Oh, to be young again!”

Anyone who believes in truth and invests themselves in the search for it should be inspired by this young woman and her friends. And remember that it’s not to be young again, but to put your trust in Him and see where He leads you.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just about every state has dealt with the issue over the last few years, it seems. But here in Ohio, the legal status of gambling is the issue that won’t go away. It’s on the ballot again in November, this time as a constitutional amendment to permit casinos in four cities.

The issue is something of a dilemma for Christians with limited-government inclinations. In general we don’t want prohibitions on legitimate business activity or entertainment, and most Christians don’t consider games of chance to be inherently immoral. Yet the societal repercussions of Big Gaming don’t appear very attractive from any angle. For one, as Acton’s Jordan Ballor pointed out in his treatment of the subject a few years back, revenue from lotteries and other gambling represents an all-too-easy source of funds for expansive state governments. Even more serious, as a recent analysis by Fr. John Flynn on Zenit underlines, gambling often amounts to a regressive tax on the poor, who tend to throw away a much higher proportion of their incomes in this fashion than do the better off.

In any case, it appears that widespread legalized gambling is here to stay. So what now? Fr. Flynn has one important answer: a return to the classic virtue of temperance, “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.” (It was given sort of a bad name in the US in the early twentieth century when the “temperance movement” became the “Prohibition movement” and enacted the ill-fated 18th amendment, but there’s nothing puritanical about temperance.)

I’ve noted in other contexts the importance of temperance: for example, the implications to health care of moderation in food, drink, physical activity, etc. Its relevance for gambling is self-evident. And of course there’s consumerism, the mortgage crisis, and financial speculation. So, pastors, writers, teachers: we’re long overdue for some sermons, commentaries, and lessons on the contemporary indispensability of that ancient virtue, temperance.