Kevin J. Jones of the Catholic News Agency interviewed Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Dr. Steven Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, to find out how the Tea Party lines up with Catholic Social Teaching. Here’s a snip:

Fr. Sirico described the Tea Party as “an amorphous thing” with a lot of variety and as a “populist, spontaneous movement.” He thought its common themes include a desire for less government and a desire “to limit the power that politicians have over peoples’ lives.”

Participants find motivation in a variety of philosophies. Some have “well-developed Catholic sensibilities” while others’ sensibilities are “almost anarchistic.” He thought it was “remarkable” that the Tea Party could bring so many non-political people into the political process. The Church’s teaching on subsidiarity can meet these people and “augment what they’re doing,” he said, while also guarding against “the more fanatical edges of the tea party.”

Fr. Sirico explained subsidiarity as being the principle that higher levels of society should not intervene in lower levels without “manifest and real necessity,” and such intervention should only be temporary. “Needs are best met at the local level,” he said, calling government “the resource of last resort.”

Read the entire article at “Catholic thinkers examine Tea Party movement and Church teaching” on Catholic Online.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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A number of Acton staffers, including myself, had the pleasure of attending the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society held in Atlanta, Georgia. There will be more on some of the goings-on at this event to come, but to get a sense of what our presence was like in the exhibition space, check out the pictures below. Kudos especially to Kara Eagle who did a great job with design (assisted by Melissa Burkholder) and execution of our exhibit space.

Acton at ETS 2010 4

We had a great time meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. This is an audience that Acton is committed to engaging in the long-term.

Acton at ETS 2010 1

Last week we also launched the schedule for Acton University 2011, and we had a station (in use the above picture) for ETS attendees to register on-site.

Acton at ETS 2010 2

We enjoyed a lot of foot traffic during the conference, and had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our work to many people who either hadn’t heard of Acton or were not really very familiar with us.

Acton at ETS 2010 3

We also had time, however, to deepen relationships with friends and discuss weighty matters related to stewardship, natural law, virtue, ethics, economics, and the Christian faith. We look forward to seeing you next year if you attend the ETS meeting in San Francisco.

The University of Maryland — Baltimore County Orthodox Christian Fellowship and the school’s Secular Student Alliance sponsored a Nov. 16 debate on the subject of “The Source of Human Morality” with about 450 people in attendance. Fr. Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox Christian priest and president of the American Orthodox Institute (he blogs here), squared off with Matt Dillahunty, the president of the Atheist Community of Austin, and host of the public access television and Internet show The Atheist Experience. The debate’s organizer noted that Dillahunty “was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist, and was on track to become a minister until he started asking questions about the reasons for his belief. He rejected religion, and now serves as a public voice for rationality and secular morality.”

The debate was moderated by John Shook, Ph.D., Director of Education at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY. He is the author of The God Debates: a 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between).

Fr. Hans is also the editor of OrthodoxyToday.org and is a good friend of the Acton Institute. He has long argued that Orthodox Christianity has an important part to play in American moral renewal. In his article, “Orthodox Leadership in a Brave New World,” he explains why the culture wars are basically rooted in competing visions of the human person — a fundamental conflict about anthropology. And you’ll see him follow this line in his debate with Dillahunty.

For those wanting a deep dive into the “New Atheist” polemic, Fr. Hans is recommending David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

The Orthodox Christian Fellowship has been posting videos of the debate and some of Father Hans’ talks with students the following day on subjects as wide ranging as “The Intrinsic Value of the Human Being” and the Crusades. You can find these on the OCF’s YouTube channel, and they’re well worth the investment of time. I’ll share a couple here, from the debate Q&A and the talk with students.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 19, 2010
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Today is my last day at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting in Atlanta. I plan to make my purchases from the various book sellers this morning, having already reconnoitered the exhibits and mapped out my plan of attack.

One thing that has struck me is that there are a number of new books discussing ecumenism and Christian unity from host of different perspectives. On the one hand this shouldn’t be surprising. The unity of the church is a constant theme, one that is confessed in the Nicene Creed (“We believe…in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”).

But for a period of time it seemed that ecumenism was in decline. After all, it used to be its own area of theological specialization; there have been (and still are some) professors of ecumenics. On the broader level one thing that breathed life into the ecumenical movement in the last half-century was the founding of what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (I had the pleasure of meeting the pope’s representative, Fr. Gregory Fairbanks, at the WCRC Uniting General Council earlier this year in Grand Rapids).

An ENI story notes a recent address from Pope Benedict XVI regarding ecumenism: “Today, some people believe that this journey has lost its impetus, especially in the West,” the Vatican Information Service quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying. “Thus do we see the urgent need to revive ecumenical interest and give a fresh incisiveness to dialogue.”

Now this story is in the context of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican dialogue. But “new energy” needs to be found in the mainline ecumenical movement as well. I outline some of the reasons for the decline of groups like the WCC, LWF, and WCRC in my book, Ecumenical Babel. And as the Vatican celebrates fifty years of institutional ecumenical efforts, we have seen a corresponding decline in vigor in the mainline Protestant groups. Some evidence of this is the consistent outreach and emphasis on engaging “evangelicals” from the WCC, whose new president expressed such sentiments at both the WCRC Uniting General Council and the recently concluded Cape Town 2010 meeting of the Lausanne Movement.

So says Mark Tooley of IRD. “Sadly, over the last 50 years, it (the ecumenical movement) has faded into the sidelines and is now largely ignored,” he said. In the 1980s Ernest Lefever, founder of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, observed that “the ecumenical movement’s social witness has become obsolescent, marginal, irrelevant, or worse.”

I outline some of the things needed to reinvigorate the mainline ecumenical movement in my book. I outline correctives on three main levels: the ecclesiastical, the social ethical, and the economic. But I conclude too that

Without pursuing correctives along these general lines, the answer to Gustafson’s challenging question, “Who listens to the moral teachings of Protestant churches?” will continue to be indeterminate, and deservedly so. Without doing the hard work of serious ethical deliberation that engages a variety of conflicting perspectives, the ecumenical movement has little claim to possess authentic moral authority in the public square or among the churches.

After the break you can read the full ENI story on the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican secretariat (now council) for promoting Christian unity. (more…)

Joseph Epstein’s essay, “T.S. Eliot and the Demise of the Literary Culture,” in the November issue of Commentary, strengthens the case for The Waste Land author’s enduring legacy. Epstein captures the high points of Eliot’s biographical and literary accomplishments in only eight pages – an admirable feat given the extent of Eliot’s influence on the past century. After filling out the checklist of Eliot’s early poetry, friendships, jobs, marriages, alleged anti-Semitism, and criticism by rote, Epstein concludes Eliot was a tremendous poet and literary critic more than likely destined to be forgotten due to the imminent collapse of Western culture.

One cannot help but agree with Epstein’s assessment of Eliot as an erudite writer and speaker who could fill a hall with 15,000 attendees – in Minnesota, no less – eager to hear the Nobel laureate speak on literature. Epstein notes it is doubtful any writer living today could match Eliot’s drawing power for a live audience. But the Internet and television render such expectations moot. For example, I don’t have counts on how many people visit Web sites devoted to Seamus Heaney, another Nobel laureate poet, but one can easily imagine a number such as 15,000 boosted a hundred-fold.

Likewise, I respectfully reject Epstein’s too-easy assessment of Eliot as the last of a dying breed and the end of culture. While admitting many of Epstein’s concerns about the present and future cultural climate, your writer is not quite ready to throw in the towel. Call me stubborn, foolish or naïve. But I witness culture thriving on a daily basis, from the glorious Gilead by Marilynne Robinson to the agrarian short stories, novels and poetry of Wendell Berry.

Let readers recall as well Eliot knew that our literary tradition evolved, subsuming all that was best from preceding generations as well as what was once considered avant-garde. It’s easy to dismiss contemporary culture simply because there’s so much Cracker Jack to riffle through before finding the prize.

Depicting Eliot as nothing more than a literary high-brow, in any event, misses the totality of a fascinating individual who boasted of his correspondence with Julius Henry Marx – the inimitable middle sibling Groucho of the Marx Brothers and You Bet Your Life television legend – and a English Music Hall regular who would have been more than likely pleased by the success of the Broadway musical Cats based on Eliot’s children’s book, Ol’ Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. (more…)

In today’s Acton Commentary I explore “The Legalism of Political Christianity.”

This quote from Ernest Lefever (not included in the piece but which does appear in my book) represents the basic position well:

It is dangerous for any Christian body to identify itself fully with any specific political cause or order, whether the prevailing one or a challenge to it. In identifying with a secular power or agency, the church runs the risk of losing its critical distance and of subverting its prophetic function, its capacity to judge all movements and systems by universal Christian standards.

For more reading of related interest, see the review survey at The Gospel Coalition of three recent books on politics from evangelical publishers.

There’s a story that I heard, of a miner, a family down in– it was in the Appalachia area and the church there really thought that they were doing a great deal because they would go in, they said they would pick the poorest families and they would take them Christmas gifts and turkeys and that sort of thing. So they did. They went to this family and they presented them with all the gifts and gave them to them and all the children had gifts; they had a hot meal on the table. The church was so pleased with what they had done, and then they left. And the husband just broke down and cried because he said, “You mean in this community, we are thought of as the poorest family in the community?” The shame that came with that, with the charity that had been given so lovingly out of the best of intentions, but it absolutely shamed him and it destroyed his life. I heard it from his son. He said, “It destroyed my father because he said he was so shamed in front of the rest of the community because they didn’t think that he was a person of worth that they had to take care of his family for him.”

C. Neal Johnson, from an Interview Oct. 8 at a Partners Worldwide Conference in Grand Rapids.

I just sent off a draft of a brief review of Carl Trueman‘s new book Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative to appear in the next issue of Religion & Liberty. (You can get a complimentary subscription here).

I recommend the book as a very incisive and insightful challenge to any facile and uncritical identification of the Christian faith with particular political and economic ideologies.

Here’s a snippet of the review:

[Trueman’s] project is not about demonizing capitalism, wealth, or profits one the one hand, or political power on the other. It is about putting the pursuit of profit and power in its proper place. Thus what he writes about the market applies equally well to the government: “no economic system, least of all perhaps capitalism, can long survive without some kind of larger moral underpinning that stands prior to and independent of the kinds of values the market itself generates.” It is in this larger and prior system of belief and action, the Christian faith, that we are to seek our primary identity and unity, and in pursuit of this Trueman’s book is a bracing and worthwhile effort.

I have been saying in various venues for quite some time now that Trueman’s book can be read as a kind of complement to my recent book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. But whereas Trueman’s proximate context is the conflation of conservative politics and the Christian faith by evangelicals, my book’s context is the conflation of progressive politics and the Christian faith by mainline ecumenists.

But both books share a basic thesis that, in Trueman’s words, “The gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing.”

I’ve just returned to Rome following our Lisbon conference on Catholic Social Teaching, Free Enterprise and Poverty. Judging from the crowded auditorium and the lively comments from the audience, it was a very successful event. Here I’ll mention a few of my personal highlights from the event:

– Bishop Filippo Santoro gave an excellent presentation on the errors of using income transfers to achieve a more equal society, and especially the dependency the poor develop on the state.

— Professor Raúl Diniz reminded us that there is no particularly “Catholic” model of economics and that more Catholics should heed the advice of free-market or “liberal” economics in our time.

— Fr. João Seabra offered a spirited defense of Pope Pius XI’s anti-communism, which sadly still needs to be recalled twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

— Paul Atkins explained to our Portuguese audience how decades of well-intentioned policies carried out by the US government to promote home ownership lead to the recent financial crisis and the lessons concerning regulation that should be drawn by developing countries.

— Samuel Grottis spoke about how successful businesses are not just profit-making but transformational.

— Professor João César das Neves exploded the myths surrounding the Chinese economy, calling it a seductive form of Marxism. (Apparently his PowerPoint presentation was quite a hit as well, but I couldn’t see it from where I was seated as the moderator of his panel. Perhaps the good professor will kindly share it with us on the PowerBlog.

There were many other intriguing points raised by the speakers and during the Q&A session about the challenges of capitalism to Christianity and the conference could have easily lasted another day or two. The viewing of the Poverty Cure trailer was especially well received.

On a side note, the Saturday before the conference, there was a large protest of public-sector employees against the Portuguese government’s austerity plans. From what I could tell from my meanderings through the streets of Lisbon that day, even the slightest reduction in benefits will meet with stiff resistance from the public-sector unions, which should put paid to the idea that government workers are somehow more concerned with the common good than private-sector workers.

All in all, it was an auspicious beginning for what many hope will be a continuing fruitful relationship between the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal and the Acton Institute. Mui obrigrado to all who made this a great conference.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, November 11, 2010
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An exciting new book for anyone interested in the intersection of morality/theology and economics is John Mueller’s Redeeming Economics. I haven’t yet seen the book myself, but Acton Senior Fellow Jennifer Morse reviews it here. Drawing on Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, Mueller argues for recovering a fourth element of economics (besides consumption, production, and exchange): gift. He calls his approach neo-scholastic economics.

Here’s Morse:

The enemies of the state who ought to resist state encroachment of the family’s domain have been reduced to treating the family as a special case of the market. This rhetorical strategy has made it difficult to do justice to the deep human need for personal connections, a need that cannot be satisfied by commercial relationships. At the same time, the enemies of the market who ought to defend the family against commercialization have typically offered the government as the only alternative. These critics have been blind to the state’s encroachment on the proper domain of the family and the accompanying replacement of family bonds with impersonal government transfers and bureaucratic control. Mueller’s synthesis allows us to see the genuinely social arena of human life, where people are more than autonomous individuals, and where actions nevertheless remain none of the government’s business.