On NRO, John Leo points out how Glenn Beck missed the mark in his recent criticism of “social justice” churches (the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, again). But Beck is on to something, Leo says:

When Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preach social justice, he allowed himself to be tripped up by conventional buzzwords of the campus Left. In plain English, “social justice” is a goal of all churches and refers to helping the poor and seeking equality. As a code word, it refers to a controversial package of goals including political redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, and a campaign against “institutional racism,” “classism,” “ableism,” and “heterosexism.” Beck was wildly off base linking “social justice” (of either form) to Communism and Nazism, but he was correct to note that the term is often used as a code.

Leo cites an article on Minding the Campus by Peter Wood, head of the National Association of Scholars, on one of the newest buzzwords in play today — sustainability:

The most potent of the current buzzwords is “sustainability,” which ties traditional environmentalism to the entire left-wing agenda. As Wood says, hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously “co-curricular programs run through student life and residence halls to ‘educate’ students about their mistaken ‘worldviews’ and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.” Kathleen Kerr, who ran an astonishing all-out indoctrination program in the residential halls of the University of Delaware (students were all expected to accuse themselves of racism, for example), admitted in a speech that “the social-justice aspects of sustainability education” included lessons on “environmental racism” “domestic partnerships,” and “gender equity.” We are far from tree-hugging here.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article for the Conciliar Press magazine AGAIN on the use of social justice language in the Orthodox Church as it comes to grips with globalization. When you talk about “social justice” you really need to be careful:

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

The religious left is making quite a stink about Beck’s criticism of social justice churches (and let’s be honest here — Beck deserves some of this for his hyperbolic and dismissive attack). Jim Wallis, for example, is egging on Beck for a public debate, so far with no luck. Well, well. Wallis has been ducking Acton’s invitations for years to debate the concept of social justice.

For a serious discussion of what social justice really means today, mark your calendars for these upcoming Acton events. (Jim Wallis, you’re invited!)

“Do the poor need capitalism?” March 18, Grand Rapids. Acton Lecture Series with Rudy Carrasco

— “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31, Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

— “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
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“…we are setting an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from.” – Barack Obama, Saturday Radio Address.

A few years ago I asked a friend and business owner why he put value on a college diploma when talking with entry level talent who had majored in subjects incredibly tangential to his job descriptions. He answered, “Well, it shows they can finish something.” That’s a pretty weak reason for a student and/or his family to lay out $50,000 to $250,000 of tuition and lost opportunity costs but I let him have his fantasy.

Former Heritage Foundation analyst Dan Lips lays out another kind of fantasy in National Review Online with a proposal to meet Obama’s goal in last weekend’s broadcast in light of the increasing cost of college in the U.S.. It’s a version of “virtual learning” accomplished online. That’s certainly not “college as we knew it” and not as it might or should be – a place where one seeks Truth and learns how to think – but maybe that education is unretrievable. Maybe all we can hope for are certificates of accomplishment in niche fields and employers like my friend.

Yet even with Lips’ online world, any bureaucracy including the academy deserves some closer inspection before we all jump on the web to search out our next degree. But this only makes sense if you agree with my premise that college has more of a role to play in one’s life than assuring a potential employer that you can “finish” something. Mr. Lips is rightly concerned about affordability – I’m thinking relevance. (more…)

The hugely influential reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) writes in his commentary on Romans 13:

Meanwhile, the Gospel teaches the godly properly about spiritual and eternal life in order that eternal life may be begun in their hearts. In public it wants our bodies to be engaged in this civil society and to make sure of the common bonds of this society with decisions about properties, contracts, laws, judgments, magistrates, and other things. These external matters do not hinder the knowledge of God from being present in hearts or fear, faith, calling on God, and other virtues. In fact, God put forth these external matters as opportunities in which faith, calling on God, fear of God, patience, and love might be exercised.

There is a certain wisdom worthy for a Christian to know. God cast the church into the midst of these occupations because he wants to become known among men in a common society. He wanted all offices of society to be exercises in confession, and at the same time exercises of our faith and love.

Wise words on justice and the social and political implications of the Gospel from the reformer whose impact is still felt today, 450 years after his death.

Rev. Jerry Hoffman, Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, reviews the NIV Stewardship Study Bible. “What I found was a remarkable resource that leads one to see how strong the stewardship thread exists throughout scripture…. I anticipate using this resource in my writing, preaching and teaching,” he says.

To keep abreast of the different resources available on stewardship, become of a fan of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible on Facebook and follow the Twitter feed @Oikonomeo, which means, “to be a steward.”

The NIV Stewardship Study Bible is available for purchase from the Acton BookShoppe (in hardcover or duo-tone), along with the complementary Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum.

Power Line has a post over at its site titled “Why Don’t Christians Care?” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit also linked to the post today. Powerline’s question refers to the lack of concern from the “mainstream” Christian community on Christians being massacred by Muslims in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a great question to ask.

Just for the record, we want to remind people that the Acton Institute cares. Last month I wrote a piece that received a lot of attention on the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. It’s also an issue we heavily address in the next issue of Religion & Liberty, which features an interview with Nina Shea. Shea talks about many pressing issues concerning global Christian persecution. An exclusive preview of the interview is currently available on the PowerBlog. Christianity Today referred to Shea as the “Daniel of Religious Rights.”

Joseph D. Martinez, a 2008 alum of Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society program, produced a great video to introduce readers to my new book, Liberating Black Theology (now in the Acton Book Shoppe. Buy it here). Thanks, Joe!

“Liberating Black Theology” book promo from Joseph D. Martinez on Vimeo.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

It is a good thing from time to time to step back and remember just what it is that we who believe in the free society fight for each day. I stumbled across Michael Totten’s exploration of Romania – Twenty Years After the Fall of the Tyrant. With the passage of time, it is easy to forget – at least for those of us who never directly experienced it – just how suffocating and cruel the Communist dictatorships of the 20th century were.

“Communism changed our mentality,” said Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania’s Money Channel. “We are still fighting now to come back to what we were. We lost the culture of private property. We lost this sense of privacy and respecting each other’s time and respecting people as individuals, as human beings. That was the worst thing that happened to us. This is why we are struggling so much now to get back to the capitalist society, to the free market, which can run only if there is respect for private property…”

Totten details the continuing consequences of totalitarian rule in Romania, and the country’s struggle to rebuild itself. All in all, a fine reminder to all of us who experience the blessings of liberty to never take those blessings – or the systems that were built to protect and preserve them – for granted.

See also: The Architect as Totalitarian by Theodore Dalrymple

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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In many urban areas, maintaining Catholic schools and maintaining some semblance of educational choice are synonymous: the old Catholic schools represent the only alternatives to a big, clumsy, and often unsatisfactory public school district. The issue is especially poignant because the student populations served by these schools are frequently the most educationally challenging populations in the nation. Thus, proponents of school choice are dismayed at the continued shuttering of dozens of major-city Catholic schools across the country. The search for solutions—such as conversion to charter schools, highlighted in this recent story from Baltimore—continues.

A phenomenal new resource in this area is Saving America’s Urban Catholic Schools, just released by the Philanthropy Roundtable. The main purpose of the book is to guide philanthropists who want to assist, but it would be beneficial reading for anyone interested in education policy or involved in education as a teacher or administrator. It covers some of the same territory, and takes much the same perspective, as my 2009 CSTS volume, Catholic Education and the Promise of School Choice, but it delves more deeply into topics whose surface my analysis merely skimmed. Authors Stephanie Sarocki and Christopher Levenick persuasively show why this problem is urgent not only for Catholics but for all Americans, while they balance the portrayal of crisis with real-world examples of victory against long odds and concrete ideas for future improvement. Highly recommended.

LifeSiteNews.com recently asked me to comment on statements made by Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Vatican bank, about the economic effects of demographic decline in Western industrialized countries. Tedeschi told the Zenit news service that the “true cause” of the financial crisis is the low birth rate in these countries.

“Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”

“With the decline in births,” he explained, “there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world. And there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective.

“In practice the fixed costs of this economic and social structure increase. How dramatically they increase depends on how evidently unbalanced the structure of the population is and how much wealth it has. The fixed costs however increase: The costs of health increase and the social costs increase.”

This is from reporter Peter J. Smith’s article on LifeSiteNews.com:

Sirico explained that the Vatican economist’s view opposes that of population control groups, who subscribe to a different vision of economic activity: what he called a Marxist or “redistributivist” paradigm: “If there is a pie and there are more people added to the pie then there is more poverty.” But the reality, Sirico says is that “the pie is dynamic.”

“Mr. Tedeschi is saying is that: no, the human person is himself creative. Human beings are not mouths that consume, but minds that produce,” he said. Sirico added that John Paul II hit on this very point in his social encyclical Centesimus Annus, when he wrote that “Man is man’s greatest resource.”

Because human beings are also creative producers, the excess of what they produce becomes the basis for trade in the economy, and the creation of wealth, said Sirico. Contrary to population controllers obsessed with overpopulation, he noted, it is incredibly population dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong that are incredibly rich, while sparsely populated areas of the globe such as Angola are comparatively very poor.

Read “President of the Vatican Bank: Zero Population Growth Responsible for World-wide Recession” on LifeSiteNews.com

Choosing the Common Good from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I review a new statement titled Choosing the Common Good (download it here) from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. In the introductory video linked above, The Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, introduces Choosing the Common Good and discusses the key themes in Catholic Social Teaching “as a contribution to the wide-ranging debate about the values and vision that underpin our society.”

Here is the text of my commentary:

Two Cheers for the Bishops of England and Wales

What a difference 15 years can make.

Back in 1996, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a document, The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching, to address political issues facing Britain at the time. Leaving aside the incoherence that characterized much of that text, a distinctly skeptical tone about market economies pervaded the document – almost to the point of being an anti-Thatcherite screed.

The 1996 document was written with a view to informing Catholics’ consciences before Britain’s 1997 General Election. Shaping Catholic consciences is, after all, part of a Catholic bishop’s job. But it was very difficult to read the 1996 text as anything other than a less-than-subtle appeal to vote for the then-opposition Labour Party.

Fast-forward to 2010. With a General Election imminent in Britain, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued a new document, titled Choosing the Common Good. To the joy of many, it is a remarkably sound text. Characterized by a focus on principles, sobriety of expression, and avoidance of tedious policy-wonkery, the English and Welsh bishops have authored a document that repays careful reading. (more…)