James 1:27 states:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Last week I had the chance to meet up again with Tom Davis, CEO of Children’s Hope Chest. Hope Chest works with orphans in various countries around the world including South Africa, Swaziland, and Russia. There mission is

to advocate a “community to community” partnership model. While many great organizations exist to provide individual sponsorship opportunities, we believe that holistic sustainable change in the poorest communities occurs when one community partners with another.

Tom is a great Christian man,father of 7, and a untiring advocate of the orphans around the world. He is also a prolific writer. You can visit his blog and look at his books here.

As a think tank, Acton spends a lot of time thinking about poverty and wealth creation. It was great to spend some time talking with Tom about his experiences in the developing world and his work with orphans and vulnerable women. As Tom says, a lot of evil things happen when there is extreme poverty. His work gives concrete examples of why wealth creation, rule of law, and an entrepreneurial culture that gives people the opportunity to unleash their creativity and make a better world for themselves and their families is so important.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
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There have been many published articles lately about school curriculum, school performance, school choice, and the Obama dictates that are aimed at pumping more money and asserting more control of an already mediocre performing public school industry. In The Wall Street Journal, University of Dallas professor David Upham comments on a revised Texas school’s U.S. History curriculum that has been proposed and awaits approval. It’s caused a stir among the educrates but that’s partly due to a longtime feud between academic types and the parent types that are found on school boards when things are working as they were meant to.

Teaching kids is supposed to be a family responsibility. At the least, schools were meant to be locally run with advice from elected boards from the community. Sadly, some school boards in the past – too many I think – have become entrenched with careerists and political types with their eyes on higher office or sinister agendas. Don’t believe me? Look at the resumes of some of your county, and state officials in various positions.

Texas is a big, populous state and to put it crudely a major market for school books; and only a week or so before the WSJ article appeared, I saw another published piece in Education Week on text book content and publishing costs that suggested that innovative digital and online sources would allow greater flexibility in the fine tuning of content to a school district’s proclivity in telling a story – in the matter we are addressing here – the story of America. Many big city liberals don’t like having to take what a publisher gives them when the content reflects a pro-Constitution, pro-middle America mindset. And the reverse is also true.

What is emphasized at school sometimes works to the disadvantage of the truth. I went to school in the 1950s and 1960s and one thing I’ve noticed in my post graduate work as a functioning adult is that The Progressive Era didn’t get taught back then. Woodrow Wilson was characterized as the hero of the innocuous “14 points” – not the promoter of a one world righteously enlightened order. And that story about FDR’s advisers – that some of them had met with the USSR’s Stalin and were strong advocates of collectivized farming – didn’t appear in any text books I ever saw: not in grade school, not in high school, not in college.

When I watch ACTON’s film The Birth of Freedom – the part where Rodney Stark talks about being “taught the dark ages” – I nod in agreement. A lot of U.S. history and history in general has a thin outline as far as school texts are concerned. I was taught “the dark ages” too. Yet if they were so dark, how did the sea compass get invented; the plow, the axle, harnesses? Somebody must have turned on a light somewhere.

As historian John Lakacs writes in the ISI volume A Student’s Guide to the Study of History, history is where we “re-mind” ourselves of what happened in the past. Unfortunately, curriculum choices and wrong emphasis has created at least three generations in The United States that need to be “re-booted” after some significant software downloads. (In that we’re taking Lukacs more literally than he had figured.)

And it’s not just Texas that’s having curriculum battles. In South Carolina, a revised curriculum proposed by the academics was going to ignore American History before 1877 until parents started shouting NO when it occurred to them that 1877 is a convenient date to start only if you want to leave out the founding of the country and all the founding documents.

One of the downloads in this re-minding project all families need to consider is another UD professor Tom West’s book Vindicating The Founders, wherein he takes on the misrepresentations of our history that are often promoted in today’s classrooms. In his chapter “Women and the Family” West does a good job of addressing the oft lamented despair of today’s feminists concerning women’s rights during the Colonial period. West’s is an explanation that considers times long past and relies on the reader’s understanding of human nature and the context in which society functioned.

Then, the family was a unit of special and particular value for which there was an ideal example – Adam and Eve. A husband was a protector, a provider. A wife was the nurturing partner who bore and raised children and knew how to shoot when his absence required it. They had become “one flesh” in the sacrament of marriage and made decisions as a unit within God’s ideal. Voting and property and “rights” were bound to that ideal. It’s understandable for those times, but today….

May 9th is coming up fast. It’s Mother’s Day just in case you needed a re-mind-er. There’s a Father’s Day too. They are meant to be family celebrations, not phone calls to two different area codes or glances at photos of people you never got to know.

So much for rights.

Labor Day 2009 in NJ: Joseph and Joan Endrigo of Ramsey wave the American flag during the Labor Day tea party protest held on the Morristown Green.

Join us on Tuesday, April 27, at Derby Station in Grand Rapids as we continue our Acton on Tap series, a casual and fun night out to discuss important and timely ideas with friends. This time around, Jordan Ballor & Ray Nothstine will host our discussion and friendly debate on the question, “Are Tea Parties good for America?” Our casual start time is 6pm; The discussion starts at 6:30.

Derby Station [view map]
2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506

Find the event on Facebook.

I know I am a little late on this post, but…

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, but if we want to understand its origins, one of the best sources is Alexis de Tocqueville’s master work, Democracy in America and his chapter on Democracy and Pantheism. It’s short, but to the point. It’s also Tocqueville so read it carefully.

I found an online version at the University of Virginia’s website. You can read the chapter and the whole book here or get Harvey Mansfield’s translation or the edition translated by George Lawrence and edited by J.P. Mayer.

Tocqueville writes:

It cannot be denied that pantheism has made great progress in our age. The writings of a part of Europe bear visible marks of it:…This appears to me not to proceed only from an accidental, but from a permanent cause.

When the conditions of society are becoming more equal and each individual man becomes more like all the rest, more weak and insignificant, a habit grows up of ceasing to notice the citizens and considering only the people, of overlooking individuals to think only of their kind. At such times the human mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once, and it constantly strives to connect a variety of consequences with a single cause. The idea of unity so possesses man and is sought by him so generally that if he thinks he has found it, he readily yields himself to repose in that belief. Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator, he is still embarrassed by this primary division of things and seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.

If there is a philosophical system which teaches that all things material and immaterial, visible and invisible, which the world contains are to be considered only as the several parts of an immense Being, who alone remains eternal amidst the continual change and ceaseless transformation of all that constitutes him, we may readily infer that such a system, although it destroy the individuality of man, or rather because it destroys that individuality, will have secret charms for men living in democracies. All their habits of thought prepare them to conceive it and predispose them to adopt it. It naturally attracts and fixes their imagination; it fosters the pride while it soothes the indolence of their minds.

And then at the end the chapter–Tocqueville makes a passionate call against it. He writes

Among the different systems by whose aid philosophy endeavors to explain the universe I believe pantheism to be one of those most fitted to seduce the human mind in democratic times. Against it all who abide in their attachment to the true greatness of man should combine and struggle.

There is nothing more to add. Hope you had a happy earth day

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, April 22, 2010
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On The Christian Post, Chuck Colson talks about Earth Day and Christian world view in “Creation and Man.”

… Christians are rightly concerned that extremists have turned Earth Day into “Worship-Earth Day.”

Just listen to a few of these suggestions for Earth Day 2010 that some of the more radical groups are proposing: taking down “global eco-criminals” like Exxon-Mobil; having school kids meditate about the Spirit of Life (that’s “Spirit of Life” with capital letters); seeking international cooperation on reducing the human population; or working for, and I quote, the “ultimate, inevitable, and necessary dismantling of industrial civilization.”

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson

We Christians certainly do not want to be yoked with new agers, neo-pagans, or folks who just downright hate humanity. But there’s no reason for us to surrender creation care to them, either.

Our faith, our Christians worldview, tells us that the earth is good precisely because God created it and declared it good. It is worthy of our care, and indeed, we were commanded to tend it. Wasteful and immoderate use of natural resources is not a Christian virtue.

Colson also highly recommends the Acton Institute book, “Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.” Get it from the Acton Bookshoppe.

Some Earth Day thoughts, beginning with some reflections on the month of April by two great poets, over at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Prior to the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, we witnessed environmental catastrophes of nearly Biblical or World War proportions. Rivers caught on fire, whole species were on the brink of extinction and smog enveloped our cities. One could say a new breed of Man evolved from this morass, emboldened with the conservative spirit of preservation of our environment. It didn’t matter that many environmentalists considered themselves anything but conservative, because what was most important was their dedication to conserving and nurturing those aspects of life that bring immediate aesthetic, spiritual and corporeal value to our lives – namely clean water and air flowing through and over landscapes uncluttered by signifiers of human immoderation. Chaucer’s recognition of “aprill” as immediately realized rather than Eliot’s hope of April as a harbinger of rebirth.

Read “Earth Day 2010: Michigan’s Environment as Eden or Waste Land?” on the Mackinac Center site.

While you’re at it, you might be interested in “Windmills Power Controversy on Great Lakes,” Tom Gantert’s piece in Michigan Capitol Confidential.

actononairActon President Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Kishore Jayabalan, the Director of Acton’s Rome office, joined host Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon on Friday along with another guest to discuss the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI as the world marks the fifth anniversary of his elevation to the papacy; audio of the segment is available via the audio player below.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 12, no. 2 (Fall 2009) is now fully online. In the editorial for this issue, “A Legacy of Stewardship,” I write of the loss in 2009 of two figures of importance for the Acton Institute: “In the unique matrix of vocation that made up their lives, Lester DeKoster and Karen Laub-Novak have each left this world with a legacy of faithful stewardship, and it is to such that this issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is dedicated.”

In recognition of these legacies, this issue features a controversy on the question “How should Christians be stewards of art?” between Prof. Nathan Jacobs, professor of theology at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, and Prof. Calvin Seerveld, professor emeritus of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada. Jacobs argues that “the question of stewardship immediately raises questions about value, meaning, and reality that must be addressed,” and moves on to articulate a realist defense of his view of art and stewardship. Prof. Seerveld “challenges us to consider art from an eschatological perspective” and emphasizes God’s creational mandate to be imaginative in the faithful pursuit of the artistic calling.

In addition to this special feature, this issue of the journal includes the usual fare of substantial articles:

We also have a noteworthy set of book reviews in Christian social thought, ethics and economics, and the philosophy, history, and methodology of economics.

Access to the electronic versions of two latest “current” issues is available for individuals on a subscription basis. An electronic-only subscription is available for $10, and there are a number of other options for those wishing to receive the journal in hard copy form.

We also encourage you to recommend the journal to friends, schools, and institutions.

Journal of Markets & Morality

Catholic World Report published a roundup of commentary on the fifth anniversary of Benedict’s pontificate. I contributed a piece titled Retrieval and Reintegration and was joined by a number of outstanding writers whose work is indexed here.

Benedict’s efforts to let the past inform and guide the Church’s future

By Father Robert Sirico

On March 18, 2005, having been at the Vatican to speak at a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, I found myself concelebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with about 100 other priests. The principal celebrant was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I was at the far end of the line of concelebrating priests and was surprised when, at the Offertory, the Master of Ceremonies approached me (I was conveniently at the end of the row) to assist at the ablution rites at the altar.

I had not realized until I sat down to write this reflection in honor of Pope Benedict’s election that the cardinal for whom I effectively served as an altar boy would be pope within a month. Providence is sometime a sobering thing.

The priest with whom I concelebrated Mass that day in such close proximity is indeed the same priest I see celebrate the Sacred Mysteries as successor to St. Peter. His focus and intense devotion are the same. It is almost as though depth and continuity are written into the man’s DNA.

By now the idea of a “hermeneutic of continuity” is beginning to permeate the Church universal. Gone, or at least soon gone, are the days when Catholics sing of “calling a new church into being” with straight faces. Likewise, talk of a “pre-conciliar” versus a post-Vatican II Church seems dated. Benedict has shown us how to retrieve what is authentically ours by Tradition, how not to fear that past, and how to permit the ancient liturgy to inform, guide, and deepen our worship today.

Yet, it is not only in the realm of ecclesiology or liturgy that this Benedictine effort toward reintegration is felt. One sees at as well in his effective and tireless effort in reaching out to the Eastern Churches (admittedly a dimension of ecclesiology) and in his development of the Church’s social teaching, evident in each of his encyclicals, but most especially in Caritas et Veritate. All of this effort at retrieval and reintegration comprises what might be called the leitmotif of his papacy.

In each of these areas and others as well, one sees a very careful mind at work to rediscover and welcome disparate truths, skillfully bringing the parts together to demonstrate a deeper, richer whole.

And yet, Providence can also sometimes be cruel, as it might appear now, when Benedict presides as pope in a moment of great difficulty and pain for the Church, owing largely to past negligence in the protection of the innocent and in the clarity of Catholic moral teaching.

Here, too, we affirm that the Church does not need to reinvent herself to address these grave matters; she does not need a new discipline for her priests or new standard of morality to propose to the faithful. The Church simply needs to embrace that same faith that Christ taught to the Apostles and to represent it anew to a society—and at this time a Church—that seems in some places to have forgotten it.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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Last night I got a phone call from a polling organization that wanted to ask me some questions about local “upcoming elections and issues.” I listened to the introductory remarks politely but soon found myself persuaded to ask a question.

“Where are you calling from?”

If you don’t have call blocker, or an answering machine and still pick up your phone from time to time, you likely have listened to “Tina” or “Amy” from a remote area of Bombay or a Manila suburb try to sell you a re-financing deal or a scheme to eliminate your credit card balance. I can’t help but engage these callers and usually, indiscriminately ask them from where they’re calling.

“South Dakota,” the young male voice answered.

Hmmmm, I wondered. “How long have you been working for this company?”

“Two months,” he replied.

“Well, I can barely understand you, so please speak clearly.”

We agreed to continue and I was told it would take 13 minutes. The questions were all over the place, and it became clear that the young man was unfamiliar with how to pronounce some of the names of persons, places and things he was asking me about. Do you “support; very strongly, strongly, not very strongly, not at all.” It went well enough until he got to a question that required him to say the word incumbent. He fumbled it a couple of times but I was able to understand what he was trying to pronounce so I interrupted.

“In-cum-bent,” I said slowly. Then I asked him if he knew what the word meant.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” he replied shyly.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Eighteen,” he replied.

“Are you in high school?” I asked.

“I’m a freshman in college,” he replied boldly.

I told him to listen carefully and took the next minute to define what an incumbent was and relate the word to the work he was doing in polling potential voters as to questions of whom they would support or vote for in the upcoming elections. I added that at eighteen years of age he was likely to be an eligible voter and knowing what the word incumbent meant seemed to me a minimal necessity of his civic duty. I also told him to take the script home and practice reading it more smoothly, and finding out what words like incumbent meant.

I told him to improve his skills and maybe he could be advanced at the little company he was working for. It was good advice.

But I wondered as I hung up the phone, as you may be wondering now. How many 18 year olds like this voted in November 2008.