Blog author: mhornak
Monday, April 30, 2012
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Is ‘fair trade’ more fair or more just than free trade? While free trade has been increasingly maligned, The Fair Trade movement has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Many see this movement as a way to help people in the developing world and as a more just alternative to free trade. On the other hand, others argue that fair trade creates an unfair advantage that tends to harm the poor.
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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, April 27, 2012
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During last year’s Acton University—have you signed up for this year yet?—Nelson Kloosterman gave a lecture on the subject of school choice and private education. In the latest issue of Comment magazine, Kloosterman expands on his claim that parental choice is “the next civil rights movement“:

Let me begin with some contextualizing comments designed to set up the discussion that follows.

First, and most importantly, I believe that the fundamental issue in this matter involves parental choice, even though the far more popular phrase is school choice. Parental choice underlies and undergirds school choice, and forms (or should form) the heart of the debate on accessibility to and support of education today. I am assuming the right of parents to raise and educate their children in ways consistent with their parental convictions.

Read more . . .

Susan Jacoby and Dinesh D’Souza met here in Grand Rapids at Fountain Street Church on Thursday, April 26, to debate the merits of religion in public discourse. The debate, co-sponsored by The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, was titled, “Is Christianity Good for American Politics?”

Susan Jacoby is program director at The Center for Inquiry and author of The Age of American Unreason and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History. She argued for the total removal of religious matters from the public square to avoid any tendency toward establishment of a particular religion.

Dinesh D’Souza is president of The King’s College in New York and author of What’s so Great About Christianity? His argument repeatedly returned to the difference between recognition and establishment and the contested meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Here’s a sample from their exchange:

Jacoby: The first amendment was intended to protect religion from government … Our whole tradition prohibits supporting an establishment of tradition. What would happen in this society, if the government were forced to consider every religion? It would require absolutely equal treatment … We are not allowed to make judgments about which religions to favor or not.

Dinesh: You can’t simply chant separation of church and state and declare the matter settled. What we’re trying to figure out is why we have a prejudice against religious figures who have had an historical, moral, political, and even lawful impact, while we don’t have that prejudice against secular figures similarly situated. You keep chanting the same phrase from the constitution, when it is the meaning of that phrase that is up for discussion … My question is the meaning of the word establishment.

In Utopia, many modern intellectuals say Sir Thomas More advocates an ideal political and social order without private property, competition, citizens quarreling over worldly possessions, poverty and other “evils” supposedly brought on by a market-based society.

At least that is the way social liberals, including left-leaning Christians, tend to interpret this great saint’s 1516 literary masterpiece, believing the English Catholic statesman’s work presents his vision of an ideal Christian commonwealth modeled on the early Church (even if those proto-communist experiments failed).

Recently, Istituto Acton (Acton’s office in Rome) hosted an illuminating seminar led by the medievalist scholar, Dr. John Boyle, whose April 23 presentation Why Thomas More’s Utopia is not a Communist Manifesto addressed some of the common misconceptions of More’s political fiction.

Dr. Boyle is director of the Graduate Program in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and is currently finishing a semester teaching at the University’s Rome campus. He is also a former professor of mine from my glory days at the St. Ignatius Institute of the University of San Francisco in the late 80s. We welcomed him to lead our monthly “Campus Martius” seminar – organized for English-speaking students of the pontifical universities.

Dr. Boyle began the seminar by putting Thomas More’s Utopia in its proper place as a work of intellectual sarcasm.

The entire work, Boyle said, does not represent a paradise-on-earth scenario the English political genius and martyr actively searched for.

Indeed, Boyle explained that Utopia was so cleverly crafted in the Latin language that even erudite Renaissance humanists – the audience to whom More addressed the great social-political questions of his time –might not have understood the subtle brunt of his irony: “Utopia is certainly a puzzling work, which puzzled even More’s contemporaries. Indeed, Utopia is a work of stunning complexity and sophistication, written especially for More’s renaissance contemporaries,” Boyle said.

The seminar was attended by Zenit’s Rome correspondent, Ann Schneibel, who published a follow-up interview with Dr. Boyle yesterday.

While remarking on some of the main communist values playfully envisioned in Utopia (e.g. command and control economies, regulated lifestyles and fashion, shared gardens and housing for family communes, absence of private property, eradication of human envy, etc), Boyle told Zenit:

The political order is not the source of our happiness. This is a theological point, but it’s very dear to More’s heart. The political order can serve to help order men to their happiness, but it cannot achieve it. This is a matter of Church, of the City ofGod. Political order can more or less help, but it can’t achieve what I think, in the modern sense, is the Utopian dream.

Utopia is a very cautionary tale. I’d say it’s relevant in all kinds of ways, as well as reminding us of humorous good things,” Boyle said.

During the seminar Dr. Boyle explained that More’s life-long friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, the great Dutch humanist and Catholic priest who arranged for the publication of Utopia, wrote to his colleagues in private letters that if they really wanted a good laugh they had better read More’s book about the fictitious island.

“Some of the names [of places] used in Utopia are famously indicative of this [humor]…Utopia is a Greek neologism for ‘nowhere’, the principal city of the island is Amaurot, which means “foggy or phantom”, the principal river…is the Anider,  which is Greek for ‘waterless,’ and the man who tells the story of Utopia, Raphael Hythloday, [his surname] is probably best translated as ‘peddler of nonsense’.

To read the rest of Dr. Boyle’s Zenit interview, go here. For your pleasure, you can listen to the entire April 23 Campus Martius seminar below.

 

On October 31, 1998, Charles Colson came to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan to deliver the closing address at Acton’s “The Legacy of Abraham Kuyper & Leo XIII” conference, sponsored jointly with Calvin Seminary.

“This is a momentous time for the Church as we reflect on two thousand years since the birth of Christ, and as we approach the millenium. And the question, I suspect, that all of us are asking and that the Church should be asking across the board is the question the Jews asked of old after a time of great trial. And that was: How shall we then live?”

Joe Carter recently posted a summary of a new study conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs that shows that college-aged Millennials (18-24 year olds) “report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated.” He also noted the tendency of college-aged Millennials to be more politically liberal.

Just yesterday, the same study was highlighted by Robert Jones of the Washington Post, who wrote,

According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger Millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

Jones goes on to say, “These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life.”

But is this true? I am not entirely convinced. (more…)

“Think, Think, Think” –Pooh

It’s always hard to sit down and write. There are a million distractions that tempt us away from the keyboard or notepad and entangle us in the details of life. Not that these details are bad. In fact, as a community focused on being On Call in Culture, many of those details are the whole purpose.
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Our friends at the Heritage Foundation have created an invaluable online tool for learning about the U.S. Constitution:

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Is religious liberty only for individuals or also for institutions? As Ryan Messmore explains, America’s founders thought that the Constitution’s “first freedom” is for both:

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Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that

The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.

This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,

I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.

On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”

In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:

Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?