Almost nothing is more common in sports than to hear a sportscaster going on about how some athlete is a fine young man or young woman. How they work hard, sacrificed for their sport, are respected by their teammates, and volunteer with children. We enjoy the thrill of athletic competition and rejoice in a game well played or a move perfectly executed, and it is natural that we hope these athletes are as excellent off the field as on.

We want heroes like Eric Lidell of “Chariots of Fire” fame, who overcame insurmountable odds in athletics and live heroic lives of sacrifice as well. But as we regularly witness in college and professional sports, and, recently, the Olympics these fine, young athletes are too often, unfortunately, not fine young men and women.

We have almost come to expect this from professional, and increasingly, college sports, but somehow the Olympics maintained its luster. Yet as the Winter Olympics came to an end on Sunday, more stories about lewd and vulgar behavior continue to emerge. From reports of supplying Olympic Village with over 100,000 condoms to racy photographs and admissions of wild nights and pornographic addiction, one lesson seems apparent: Don’t let your babies grow up to be Olympians.

Sports are often said to build character. They can and do. They teach hard work, patience, self-denial, and teamwork. But, especially in a sports-obsessed culture like ours, they also have the tendency to breed narcissism. Athletes become privileged entertainers who have been coddled and told they are special from the moment they showed prowess. They are adored, their misdeeds overlooked. It starts small, but those misdeeds can become a way of life as much as the sports themselves.

We want our sports stars to be role models, but instead they are increasingly purveyors of cultural decadence, selfishness, and a distraction from the serious moral challenges of living a life of real virtue and heroism. When Charles Barkley declared that he was not a role model, he was right. In his inimitable way, he was trying to tell us something: Find your real heroes elsewhere.

Yes, to become a professional or Olympic athlete requires great dedication and sacrifice, but it doesn’t really matter much unless those traits transfer into other areas of life. Instead, sacrifice and self-denial seem to be limited to one’s own search for glory.

The moral crisis that pervades sports is part of a larger social breakdown that is compounded by a culture that is afraid to speak about truth and virtue—much less moral evil and sin. Moral relativism has become the norm and freedom means doing what you want instead of submitting to some higher standard (at least outside of the sports arena). Authentic pursuit of virtue has been replaced by mere volunteerism and fashionable political activism, and the idea that young men and women should strive for moral excellence and self-control is viewed cynically. The 100,000 condoms for Olympians are emblematic of the message given to young people in a myriad of ways: They are expected to act like animals, unable to control themselves. But they are not animals—they can control themselves, and many do.

This may sound like a curmudgeonly grumbling about young people just having fun. I wish it were so. It would be less of a problem if entertainers—whether Olympic athletes or actors and rock stars—did not play such a central role in shaping our culture. Our post-industrialist, highly technological culture is dominated by entertainment. But the entertainers are barbarians within the gates, and their behavior is emulated by young, adoring fans who see that moral virtue and steady character are not requisite for athletic and social success.

This has long term consequences for our freedom. George Washington warned that a free society required a virtuous people with maturity and self-control. Liberty is not the property of adolescents unable to control their passions. Yet American cultural life is increasingly described by what Diane West called “the death of the grown up.”

We want our athletes to be heroes, but we also glorify an adolescent culture that follows its whims. The two are mutually exclusive. C.S. Lewis described the problem decades ago: “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst, we castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

http://www.acton.org/commentary/577_olympians_behaving_badly.php

In the Orange County Register, Senior Editorial Writer Alan Bock reviews the Acton Institute book, “Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.” (Available in the Acton Bookshoppe for the bargain price of $6).

Environmental Stewardship
The book might be viewed as an extended rebuttal to a famous 1967 Science magazine article by Lynn White that contended that the biblical injunction for people to have “dominion” over the Earth led to an arrogant view toward the environment that led to widespread environmental despoliation. The proper religious attitude toward the Earth, the authors argue, is one of stewardship, which includes using Earth’s resources to improve the lot of humankind, but doing so with an attitude of responsibility and even love, taking care not to destroy what cannot be replaced. Mistakes certainly have been made along the way, but these have resulted from an imperfect understanding of the requirements of stewardship – often by people who were not motivated by religious attitudes – rather than biblically decreed arrogance.

The perhaps counterintuitive but, on reflection, logical thread running through the three essays – along with a statement called the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship promulgated in 1999 by an interfaith group meeting in Connecticut – is that achieving a certain level of wealth in a society seems to be a prerequisite to effective environmental stewardship. A secondary theme is that a system of private property and relatively free markets is the most effective way to achieve both societal wealth and environmental protection and improvement.

Read the entire review on the OC Register site.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
By

On February 25th, while Barack Obama chatted about ObamaCare with members of Congress, the Federal Department of Education – lead by its cabinet level chief Arne Duncan who’s also from Chicago – prepped for release to the public his and his boss’s second assault on our freedom; this time a scheme to further intrude on your child’s education. As an announcement from two think tanks put it: “generationally important Tenth Amendment issues [were] opened on two fronts—the prospect of centralizing health care and education policy.” And that’s pretty much what’s going on, but using expressions like “two fronts” assumes a great deal from the average reader or listener these days. That’s because such expressions harken back to historical events the facts on which the general populace is thin. Doubt me? Ask anyone under 40 why Hitler shouldn’t have invaded The Soviet Union.

I’ve only recently discovered the long history of the federal government’s intrusion into education in the United States. (Readers who are more astute with that history need to bear with me on this.) The Office of Education was begun in 1869. Are you surprised? For those of you who might not pass a history test, that’s four years after The U.S. Civil War ended. In Europe in those days, what we know as Germany was called Prussia and it was a kingdom. Recall that kingdoms were commonplace back then. The United States had only eliminated our “kingdom connection” one-hundred years earlier. How time flies.

According to my source, the first commissioner of education — Henry Barnard — put the case for his new department in these terms: “In Prussia the Minister of Education is one of the most important ministers of the State. The Department of Instruction is organized as carefully as that of War or the Treasury, and is intended to act on every district and family in the kingdom.” Barnard went on to bemoan that, “No serious responsibility in respect to public education [in the U.S.] rests anywhere.” Just so you understand the impact of Bernard’s Prussian love affair: Kindergarten is a German word.

It’s coincidental that when you Google “U.S. Office of Education” you pull up some stories about Indian Affairs. Anyone who has watched a movie about our wild west knows what the government did for Indians, so it’s not much of a surprise to be living with what its done to learning. A real cynic might see some relationship with “Indian Gaming” that proliferates around the country and school charter treaties that let groups of parents delude themselves into thinking public education under new management will teach Billy and Susie their cyphers; or how to behave while mom tries to go it alone after throwing dad out of the house, or visa versa. As both pursue the net income that will allow them to pay their cable bill and keep the ESPN option, they leave educating the kids to the public school; and hope for the best.

What Obama and Duncan are trying to do with RTT – the acronym for Race To The Top – needs as much scrutiny as the “health care” ruse they’re foisting, and folks would be well served to dig deeper. Schools are supposed to be locally run and guided by school boards and parents. But Obama has announced that $900 million more – more than already pumped out with the “stimulus” bill – will be made available for education. I’ve watched as even Catholic school administrators drool at the money pile. It’s intoxicating. But like government healthcare, it comes at a price: Control. And in education control is spelled c-u-r-r-i-c-u-l-u-m. And its synonym is accreditation. Neither should be the government’s business in a free society.

Too few of us are aware of the history of education in The United States of America. In his 2001 best selling biography John Adams, author David McCullough offers glimpses of colonial schooling in his portraits of life in New England. Young John Adams is taught initially to read at home, then attends a “dame school – lessons for a handful of children in the kitchen of a neighbor, with heavy reliance on The New England Primer… But later at the tiny local schoolhouse, [he is] subjected to a lackluster ‘churl’ of a teacher who paid him no attention.” And so we are told young Adams lost all interest. When his father heard of the boy’s dislike for the teacher and desire to go to another school, he enrolled him “the next day in a private school down the road where… he made a dramatic turn and began studying in earnest.” Adams goes on to enter Harvard and, as the phrase goes, the rest is history.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute has just announced findings of its latest study, reporting that over 50% of elected politicians do not know the three branches of the federal government or their responsibilities under The Constitution of the United States. Do you? And these pols include college graduates. Do you honestly think it’s much better among those passing through high school – Hello-OOOOO – and then voting?

If you want to make your own example of public school failure beyond civic literacy, take a look at this Civil War era letter home from a home schooled farmer’s son and compare it to the last email or Twit you received from your son or daughter, or the stuff they receive from their friends. More convincing: take a sober look at the stuff you get at work from associates or hear on radio news.

American taxpayers in 2010 are being charged $667 billion by state and federal taxing authorities to “educate” around 50 million K-12 students. That’s over $12,000 per student, and doesn’t include the additional $900 million Obama wants to throw at the problem. The result has been a public that doesn’t even know when its government is neglecting or stomping on the law of the land.

Mr. Barnard would be pleased–Danke sehr!–but you don’t have to be. Not all may be able to spell STOP; but they can still yell it. And that time has come.

Saturday February 27 was the second anniversary of the death of the conservative giant William F. Buckley, Jr. I first saw Buckley in person when Ole Miss hosted Firing Line in 1997. I read National Review in High School even though I admit I did not always understand some of his words at that age. It was a wonderful reminder of the importance of  intellectualism and conservatism, and that I still had a lot to learn. The political left too had to respect Buckley’s brand of conservatism because of the seriousness of those ideas. It didn’t hurt that he was charming, gracious, and extremely generous.

After his death, Buckley was publicly honored with the Faith & Freedom Award by the Acton Institute at its annual dinner. He had long been a friend of Acton and Rev. Robert Sirico. Kate O’Beirne accepted the award on his behalf. It was a very touching evening and one we still remember well. The media department, with most of the leg work coming from Tabitha Blanski, produced this tribute video in honor of Buckley. It premiered at the 2008 Acton Annual Dinner. It is available publicly and on the Powerblog for the first time. The tribute is well worth the view.

Nina Shea

Nina Shea

In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with Nina Shea. The issue focuses on religious persecution with special attention on the ten year anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. A feature article for this issue written by Mark Tooley is also forthcoming. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington D.C. In regards to Shea, the portion of the interview below is exclusively for readers of the Powerblog. In this portion of the interview Shea discusses Egyptian Copts, Sudan, President Barack Obama’s record on religious freedom and Iranian dissidents. Below is a short bio of Shea:

Nina Shea has served as an international human-rights lawyer for over twenty years. She joined the Hudson Institute as a senior fellow in November 2006, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom. For the ten years prior to joining Hudson, She worked at Freedom House, where she directed the Center for Religious Freedom, which she had founded in 1986.

Since 1999, Shea has served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency. She has been appointed as a U.S. delegate to the United Nation’s main human rights body by both Republican and Democratic administrations. She recently spoke with Religion & Liberty’s managing editor Ray Nothstine.
(more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, February 26, 2010
By

[news video expired/removed]

No, that’s not the new Bruce Willis movie. That’s the spectacle we’re witnessing now of general strikes in Greece in response to proposed austerity measures designed to keep the country from the fiscal abyss — and maybe dragging down other European Union members with it. But Americans shouldn’t be too smug. Despite some very substantial differences in political culture and economic vitality, the United States is showing early signs of the mass hysteria, the widespread delirium tremens that sets in when the omni-competent welfare state begins to renege on its promises. If the root problems underlying the Greek debacle include reckless spending, a bloated and self serving bureaucracy, a heavy tax burden, and a complete political failure to face up to reality, then how is California any different in this respect?

Writing in the February issue of Reason magazine, Steven Greenhut offers a lengthy and detailed account of the rapid expansion of the California state payroll and how elected officials and public employee unions work hand in glove to make themselves very comfortable at the expense of taxpayers:

People who are supposed to serve the public have become a privileged elite that exploits political power for financial gain and special perks. Because of its political power, this interest group has rigged the game so there are few meaningful checks on its demands. Government employees now receive far higher pay, benefits, and pensions than the vast majority of Americans working in the private sector. Even when they are incompetent or abusive, they can be fired only after a long process and only for the most grievous offenses.

Too strong? Well, look at where it’s led the Golden State. Here’s California Attorney General Jerry Brown earlier this month: “California is deeply in debt. You could say that it’s bankrupt.” Is it one step closer to insolvency with this week’s postponement of a bond sale? (more…)

Blog author: michael.severance
Friday, February 26, 2010
By

socialism1Popes in Rome have attempted to steer the Catholic flock away from the “seductive” forces of socialist ideologies threatening human liberty, which since the  late 1800s have relentlessly plucked away at  “the delicate fruit of  mature  civilizations” as  Lord Acton once said.

From Pius IX to Benedict XVI, socialism has been viewed with great caution and even as major threat to the demise of all God-loving free civilizations, despite many of their past and present socio-political and economic “sins.”

In their various official publications and social encyclicals, at least since the advent of the latter with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Roman pontiffs have given socialism a bad rap: It has never been positively perceived as a good political order, east or west of the Tiber River.

Why so? We do not have to look further than the popes’ own teachings regarding their vision of human work, anthropology, happiness and basic dignity.

First of all, socialism ultimately allows political authority to direct the ends of human happiness; that is to say, its supports the secular state’s programs and its functionaries’ potential and power to resolve much of man’s social and economic needs. It, therefore, replaces and distrusts individuals, local communities and families acting in free alliance with their Creator to build a good and better society for all. In a nutshell, socialism treats ordinary citizens like children incapable of governing themselves. When replacing  private charity with public welfare programs, socialism takes full advantage of the contemporary crisis of adulthood infecting free societies, whose dishonorable,  capricious and selfish citizens are unwilling to make sacrifices gratuitously for their neighbor  (see these two Acton videos one character by Lawrence Reed and Michael Miller).

Hence, socialism tends to defile human dignity and dehumanize the personal and local processes of free collaboration and personal responsibility. And as socialism advances closer its pure form in political practice, it ultimately attempts to dictate and bureaucratize all of human socio-economic well being, a concept of social justice built on the dangerous quicksand of modern materialism, which ultimately drags human freedom down to a slow, merciless death.

As the current pope, Benedict XVI, writes:

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person − every person − needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.… In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (Deus Caritas Est, n. 28)

In order to give you a smattering of just how other popes have tended to view socialism, I recommend reading Gustavo Solimeo‘s “What the Popes Have to Say About Socialism” published for The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

In Mr. Solimeo’s article we read that various popes believe that socialism is part of an “iniquitous plot…to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs” (Pius IX); that “communism, socialism, nihilism (are) hideous deformities of the civil society of men and almost its ruin (and part of) a wicked confederacy” (Leo XIII); socialism is “contradictory (in) nature to the Christian religion (…) No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist” (Pius XI); socialism has “no account of any objective other than that of material well-being” (John XXIII); and finally that the “fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature…. (It) considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” (John Paul II)

actononairVatican Radio in Rome turned to Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Instituto Acton, for comment on a recent Italian court ruling which held three Google executives criminally responsible for a YouTube video depicting a teenager with Downs Syndrome being bullied. Vatican Radio’s short article on the matter is here; the audio is available via the audio player below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I review a new book by economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. Text follows:

A rare growth industry following the 2008 financial crisis has been financial crisis commentaries. An apparently endless stream of books and articles from assorted pundits and scholars continues to explain what went wrong and how to fix our present problems.

In this context, it was almost inevitable that one Joseph E. Stiglitz would enter the fray of finger-pointing and policy-offerings. As a Nobel Prize economist, former World Bank chief economist, former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, it would be surprising if he had nothing to say.

Moreover Stiglitz has assumed the role of social-democrat-public-intellectual-in-chief since his door-slamming departure from the World Bank in 1999. From this standpoint, Stiglitz opines about, well, pretty much everything. He also increasingly labels anyone disagreeing with him as a “market fundamentalist” or “conservative journalist.”

Yet despite his iconoclastic reputation, Stiglitz reveals himself in his latest offering, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, as a rather conventional Keynesian-inclined economist who, like most Keynesian-inclined economists, thinks everything went wrong in the early 1980s. (more…)

actononairOn Monday, Acton Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico took to the airwaves of the BBC and squared off against Oliver Kamm of the London Times in a spirited debate over the merits of Michael Moore’s latest “documentary,” Capitalism: A Love Story. Audio from the BBC3 show Nightwaves is available via the audio player below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.