Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 16, 2008

We had a very active week on the blogosphere during this year’s Acton University. The daily round-ups are linked below, as well as updated links to summary and reflective posts written after the conference’s completion. Many of our bloggers have been inspired to produce a series of reactions in the days and weeks following this year’s events.

If you’ve posted your thoughts on Acton University 2008 and we haven’t noted it above, kindly drop us a line in the comment boxes below.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosted 183 governments at a three day summit in Rome, from June 3-5. World leaders tried to find possible solutions in order to tackle the recent food crisis which has already caused hunger and civil unrest in several developing countries. Jacques Diouf Director General of FAO asked for $30 billion a year in extra financing to the United Nations needed to address world hunger threatening 862 million people.

Despite international efforts and estimates, the situation appears to be far more complex and certainly requires more than just a call for greater funding and a return to discredited subsistence economies. There is an alarming “silence” on what has contributed to this crisis and on what possible solutions already exist and can be found in Catholic social teaching.

The market economy, for instance, should not be looked upon with suspicion of greed and pure self-interest. Instead, the market economy has defeated poverty and paved the way for democracy, the promotion of human dignity, all important values of Christian social thought. It should, therefore, be considered as a resource used to fight corruption and misgovernment part of many developing countries affected by this crisis.

New solutions are, likewise, urgently required. Archbishop Silvano Tommasi, head of the Holy See’s office to the U.N. in Geneva, clearly pointed this out in an interview with the Vatican Radio. He also stressed the need to support local entrepreneurs and small farmers, encouraging them not to abandon the agricultural market.

Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the FAO summit also called for new solutions, defining this crisis as “unacceptable.” Highlighted by Zenit, the Pope underlined the need for “political action which, inspired by those principles of natural law written in man’s heart, protects the dignity of the individual.” He also underlined the need to “increase the availability of food by rewarding small farmers’ hard work and guarantee them market access; too often in fact, small farmers are penalized domestically by industrial farming and internationally by protectionist policies and practices,” as recalled by Asia News.

Diverse solutions have also been proposed by humanitarian NGOs who are following the FAO Summit, such as Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and Care, who are condemning traditional financial aid, specifying the need to, once again, eliminate bio-fuels, protectionists regimes, VAT on food and the need to cultivate nutrient-rich food.

Unfortunately, Catholic NGOs such as Caritas Europa, FOCSIV, and Sant’egidio still do not seem to have an opinion on the matter. It is a great loss to the creativity needed for solving this crisis. These Catholic NGOs have field projects in several developing countries and surely with their longstanding experience could develop new perspectives to this situation in the light of Catholic social teaching.

Picking up on themes we’ve touched on here, here, and here, last week NYT columnist David Brooks weighed in on the culture of debt in the United States.

“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined,” he writes. “The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”

Brooks has his own proposed solutions for this cultural shift. Elsewhere Richard Posner and Gary Becker debate whether there has been a paradigm change and if so what it means.

I submit that a good place to start to look would be religious institutions. Max Weber had a profound insight when he pointed out the specifically theological backgrounds (even if he didn’t get the particular backgrounds quite right) and their impact on morally-informed behavior make all the difference between someone like Richard Baxter and John Wesley on the one hand and Benjamin Franklin on the other (the easy cloak vs. iron cage comparison). A divine mandate inspires and motivates in ways other things simply aren’t able.

Brooks wants us to return to Franklin-esque “bourgeois virtues.” But it may just be that those secular virtues don’t have cultural staying power on their own, and when divorced from religious undergirding become a waystation on the way to rampant consumerism.

But hey, at least this guy has figured out a way to make the economic stimulus package permanent (unlike the Bush tax cuts).

Here’s some insight into J. K. Rowling’s perspective on tyranny, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, speaking of the arch-villain of the series:

Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many vicitms, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different! Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action… (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 510).

My most immediate thought upon reading this passage was the account of King Herod in the book of Matthew.

Rowling’s work is worth paying attention to, if not for its insight and its own merits (which there certainly are), then at least for its importance as an influence on popular views of life, liberty, and love.

Also, if you want a truly strange take on the popularity of the Harry Potter series, be sure to check out this article, “Harry Potter: The Archetype of an Abortion Survivor” (HT?: The Point).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 13, 2008

We’re wrapping up the final day of classes here at Acton University 2008. Check out some of the initial reactions to Day 3 proceedings below.

To be updated as more final day posts and overall reflections roll in.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, June 12, 2008

Acton University 2008 is in full gear as we proceed with the second full day of classes. Our staff is working hard at capturing audio from the conference, which you can keep abreast of here.

And our attendees are continuing their excellent work in their commitments to attend each session and bring critically thoughtful engagement with the topics. Highlights of the blogging from Day 2 include:

As in our previous blogger round-ups, if you’ve got a post that should be included, let us know by dropping us a line in the comment boxes below.

The WSJ reports, to the relief of the White House and Capitol Hill, no doubt: “U.S. retail sales increased in May, rising double the rate expected in a sign consumers were using stimulus payments and that the economy might not be as weak as feared.” Whether or not this is really evidence of the “success” of the government stimulus package, you can be sure that it will be proclaimed as such from on high over the next days and weeks.

We can have a good debate about the best place to send your charitable dollars (and the Samaritan Guide is a great place to start that conversation), but at least here’s an example of someone who didn’t run right out and buy an air conditioner or a flat-panel HDTV.

(Marc, it looks like the government’s fears may have been misplaced. You can finally rest easy.)

Rebecca Hagelin of the Heritage Foundation picks up on my thoughts on consumerism and capitalism and expands on them helpfully in a Townhall.com column.

We should all take her observations about stewardship to heart. I have been a student and a leader of Crown Financial Ministries curriculum, and during my time at Calvin Seminary was even part of a study group to suggest revisions of the curriculum to better reflect Reformed theological sensitivities. I’ve also recently gone through one of Dave Ramsey’s books.

If you’re struggling with debt and controlling your spending, invest your time in one of these or another practical and biblically-grounded guides to responsible financial stewardship.

And speaking of stewardship, participants in this year’s Acton University get the privilege of hearing Dr. Scott Preissler, who is Eklund Professor and Chair of Stewardship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s giving a talk on “Stewardship and Charitable Giving.” Acton’s own Stephen Grabill is giving a lecture titled “A Theology of Stewardship.” And as his ActonU bio states, you should keep your eyes peeled in coming months for the forthcoming Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, of which Dr. Grabill is the general editor.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A number of bloggers have begun posting their summaries, thoughts, and reactions to the first day of sessions at Acton University 2008. Below is a list, which will be updated periodically throughout the day.

If you have a post that ought to listed, please note it in the comments below and I’ll add it to our watch list.

“ … what is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?” — Alexis de Tocqueville

Acton University, the four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society, opens today in Grand Rapids. This event has grown rapidly since its inception in 2005. This year’s AU, which will integrate course instruction in philosophy, Christian theology and economics, is drawing nearly 400 attendees from 51 countries. The schedule features more than 57 courses and 20 discussion and networking sessions, ranging from small seminars to evening lectures. Check out the course schedule here.

Kresta in the Afternoon, Ave Maria Radio’s flagship national production, will be broadcasting live from AU from Wednesday, June 11 through Friday, June 13. For those of you who cannot pick up the broadcast signal, you can listen live on the Ave Maria site as host Al Kresta interviews AU speakers and attendees.

AU’s expert faculty for 2008 hails from 6 continents. A few featured lecturers and speakers include:

Lord Brian Griffiths, Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former advisor to Margaret Thatcher. He has served as a lecturer in economics for the London School of Economics at the University of London, the director of the Bank of England and the dean of the business school at City University. He has also written numerous articles and books.

Rev. John Nunes, President of Lutheran World Relief. For over 25 years he has worked as a speaker, musician, writer, youth director, pastor and professor. A research associate for Urban Ministry to Wheat Ridge Ministries and author of Voices from the City. Lutheran World Relief works with partners in 35 countries to help people grow food, improve health, strengthen communities, end conflict and recover from disasters.

Mr. Mustafa Akyol, deputy editor and columnist for Turkish Daily News, Turkey’s foremost English-language daily. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, The Weekly Standard and First Things. His focus is the relation between Islam and modernity.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute regularly lectures both in the United States and around the world. His writings have appeared in various journals, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, National Review, The Financial Times, and Crisis.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, well known economist and Acton Senior Fellow, who is heading up a course series on Marriage and the Family. She has been on the faculty of Yale University and George Mason University, and is the author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family doesn’t work.

Acton also welcomes its many blogger friends to AU. Over at What Does the Prayer Really Say?, Fr. Z is already blogging about AU and his visit to the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

On the Mere Orthodoxy blog, Tex is promising live blogging from AU. Yeah, Tex!

Check back for updates on the PowerBlog as AU week rolls out.