obama prayer breakfastThe National Prayer Breakfast, a D.C.-event going back to 1953, was held this morning. The keynote was USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and President Obama added remarks. Obama chose to focus on religious freedom, calling it a matter of “national security,” and commenting that he was looking forward to his trip to the Vatican next month to meet with Pope Francis.

Obama also said,

Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.

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Australian P.M. Tony Abbott

Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote a special report, Finally, a Conservative Leader over at The American Spectator. Last year, a reporter asked Gregg who the current “outstanding center-right head of government” is. He responded that Margaret Thatcher was his first thought, though Australian Prime Minister “Tony Abbott is the real thing like no one since Margaret Thatcher.”  He goes on, “thus far Abbott has matched his open adherence to distinctly conservative convictions by implementing policies that reflect those principles.”

Gregg discusses Abbott further:

Elected prime minister in September last year, Abbott is in many respects the left’s nightmare come true. For one thing, he’s a practicing Catholic, who, though he doesn’t draw attention to his faith, is generally associated in people’s minds with the Church’s conservative wing. Among other brickbats, that’s earned him (rather sectarian) epithets such as the “mad monk.”

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Mr. President, Why Do You Oppose School Choice?
Israel Ortega, The Foundry

In a largely unreported story, a couple in Pennsylvania is facing charges that could land them in jail for nearly seven years. Their crime? Sending their five year old daughter to a public school outside of their school district.

Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Do
John Hayward, Human Events

Carney topped off his disastrous press conference by claiming that “freedom” is just a “buzzword,” a line that’s going to show up on T-shirts for years to come. Way to make the entire United States recoil in disgust from your Administration, dude.

U.N. Overreaches, Tramples Religious Freedom
Marco Rubio, National Review

The U.N. is in very real danger of becoming obsolete in the 21st century. I believe it can still play an important role in global affairs, but without reforms to ensure greater accountability and transparency, its ineffective leadership, ethical abuses, and misspending will remain rampant.

How Do We Advance Subsidiarity?
James Kalb, Catholic World Report

Like other aspects of Catholic social teaching, what subsidiarity requires most of all is that Catholics live as Catholics.

Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

In the editor’s notes of the new issue of Religion & Liberty, I mentioned Time magazine’s iconic 1964 photo spread “War on Poverty: Portraits From an Appalachian Battleground.” Appalachia was a major target of America’s war on poverty. Today many of those same problems persist despite the steady stream of federal dollars. Unfortunately, unintended consequences from government spending, has expanded many of the problems, as Kevin D. Williamson covered so well in the piece “The White Ghetto” for National Review. Fr. James Schall notes in this interview, “Governments are often the one agency most responsible for poverty in the name of getting rid of it.”

What I appreciate about the interview, is Schall gives us a unique perspective and new ways to think about poverty. Schall, a Catholic priest, is a prolific author who taught at Georgetown University for over 35 years.

The feature piece of the issue, written by Eric James Russell and Rodger E. Broomé is titled, “The Tipped Scales Against our Youth.” The authors cover the challenges facing many young people today and offer solutions toward fixing them.

Rev. Johannes Jacobse offers an excellent review of George Gilder’s new book, Knowledge and Power. Joseph Sunde posted an interview with Gilder on the new book on the PowerBlog. Timothy J. Barnett reviews Reckoning with Markets: Moral Reflection in Economics by James Halteman and Edd Noell.

The “In the Liberal Tradition Figure” for this issue is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). In reading some of her writings, I noticed a strong affinity for work, especially affirming the work of lay people within the Church. Unfortunately, a lot of her teachings have been hijacked by crackpots and various new age movements. R&L believes it’s important to recover the truth and holiness she championed. Hildegard is a saint in the Anglican and Catholic churches, and Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church.

Rev. Robert Sirico contributes a piece titled “Breaking Bread at Acton University.” If you are considering attending Acton University and have never been, this is definitely a must read.

There is more content in the latest issue of R&L, including our executive director’s explanation of why the Acton Institute is accepting Bitcoin donations. The decision by itself has garnered considerable media coverage.

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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Annette Gabbedy is a business owner and expert designer and goldsmith. She was also born without fingers, a disposition many might consider a “disability,” particularly in her line of work.

Yet, as you’ll see in the following video, having created and traded her wares for 23 years, Gabbedy sees no reason for this to inhibit her creativity and contribution to society.

As Gabbedy explains:

I tend to really look at people with fingers and think: Well, how can you manage with fingers, because they must get in the way? It’s just your own perceptive of how you look at yourself, and for me, I was born like it, so I’ve never known any different. I’m quite normal. I’m not disabled at all. (more…)

“Oral histories often paint a rosy picture of the moral fiber of previous generations,” write Anthony Bradley and Sean Spurlock in this week’s Acton Commentary. “But close attention to history reveals the truth about human condition: that regardless of our social status, everyone is in need of moral formation – and thus it has always been.”

In Britain and elsewhere, as the contrast between the publicly held moral code and private behavior became clear, the code itself was discredited. The need for repentance and reform among today’s aristocratic elite – in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, on Wall Street – is obvious. Thanks to the media, private indiscretions held in secret among the elite in a previous era are now part of the daily news cycle. Couple these stories with America’s high divorce rate and we begin to see why confidence in the virtues of marriage among our youth is on the decline.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

zero-sumWhy do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the second in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

In my first post, I covered the first four principles (#1 – Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences; #2 – Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles; #3 – To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government; #4 – We love economic growth because we love babies). In this post I want to consider points #5 (The economy is not a zero-sum game) and #6 (Poverty in America is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice).

5. The economy is not a zero-sum game.

In a zero-sum game, one person’s gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. It’s similar to dividing a pumpkin pie between five people: someone can only get a larger slice if someone else’s portion is smaller.

Many progressives in America, including far too many (though not all) liberal evangelicals, believe economics is a zero-sum game. They believe wealth, like a pumpkin pie, is fixed and that “there must be one winner and one loser; for every gain there is a loss.” This may be true in some economic systems, but it does not apply in free markets.

Jay W. Richards explains why free enterprise does not require that there be an economic loser for every economic winner:
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