Blog author: eschansberg
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By

In sports, there is a debate (between interesting and inane) about the meaning of a “Most Valuable Player” award: is it the best “individual” player (often measured in terms of a handful of statistics) or the player who is most valuable to his team (without that player, the team would not be nearly as good)?

The same could be said for holidays. For Christians, the “greatest” holidays are Christmas, Good Friday, and especially, Easter. But I’d argue that Thanksgiving is still the “best” holiday.

Christmas has a lot of cultural and consumerist baggage. Good Friday is vital but not the end of the story. And Easter gets overlooked easily– and in any case, doesn’t have an easy or appropriate way to celebrate it.

But Thanksgiving– at least in its ideal form– is awesome. It’s a time for extended family to gather and reflect, a four-day weekend which begins with gratitude and ends with worship, a grand opportunity to enjoy the fruit of the earth in combination with creative human preparation, and most of all, a time to enjoy God’s blessings and “give thanks”.

In this sense, Thanksgiving is like every other great holiday. It is meant to be a special celebration of that which we should celebrate every day. From Valentines Day to Mothers Day, from Veterans Day to July 4th, we set aside certain days for explicit celebration. But at the same time, the “event” is meant to be a continuous “lifestyle”– to celebrate, remember, or observe each of these every day of our lives. In this sense, all holidays are perhaps best understood through their etymology– as “holy days”– special but emblematic.

Speaking of etymology, I’m not certain that the words “grace” and “gratitude” are related. (A quick flip through my Websters does not resolve the question.) But they are certainly related conceptually. One angle on the Gospel is that Christians are grateful for God’s offer of grace and are then drawn to feeling and expressing graciousness in every aspect of their lives.

Thanksgiving allows Christians to celebrate God’s grace in its many forms– from the “common grace” extended to all to the providential graces of history through God’s sovereignty, from the universal grace available to all in Jesus Christ to the specific graces afforded to each of us in our daily lives.

In a sense, then, Thanksgiving allows us to celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter in one fell swoop. If so, maybe Thanksgiving is both the best and the greatest holiday of them all.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By

A General Thanksgiving.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (1928).

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By


For something to be deemed not relevant is the kiss of death in some evangelical Christian congregations across this country. As churches try to influence culture the Church at the same time is often swallowed up by it. The Pilgrims certainly would be categorized by many as severely irrelevant in lifestyle, separatist ways, and by their manner of worship in today’s culture.

The pastor of the church I attend preached an excellent two part series sermon on the Pilgrims. He discussed several lessons the Pilgrims can teach us, one was their wariness concerning the growing power of the state and how the state’s influence over the Church is harmful to religious liberty and freedom of worship.

The Pilgrims were a separatist sect committed to breaking away from the Church of England; the differences to them were irreconcilable. Freedom for the Pilgrims might be different than the freedom many of us envision for ourselves. Freedom for them was the freedom to worship in spirit and in truth, free from outside government intervention and the Church of England’s influence.

One the most important lessons that can be transferred to our era is that the Pilgrims understood that the more power that is centralized at the state level, the more power the government has to influence houses of worship and religious conduct. Understanding and defending our own Constitution and rights is essential to protecting the liberties and freedom we enjoy today. It is important to also note that there is a relationship between economic and social freedom. There is a danger of losing additional rights and freedom when a large segment of the population relinquishes economic freedom. There then becomes a greater dependency on centralized power. The ability of the person to create, innovate, and flourish becomes limited, as well as the ability to stand steadfast against the creeping loss of liberty.

Because of the great persecution religious dissenters in England faced, the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth also taught us that maintaining freedom is very costly. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth half of those who made the voyage would be dead by spring. Yet none of the Pilgrims returned with the Mayflower when it sailed back to England in 1621. With the help of Native Americans, the Pilgrim tradition of Thanksgiving was strong and vibrant because their great sacrifice and commitment to religious freedom bore fruit. The burdens they would bear were tolerable to them because their strong belief that ultimately it would bring glory to God. We can surely find inspiration and motivation in understanding that if you want to keep your freedom you have to sacrifice and pay something for it.

In 1647, Plymouth Governor William Bradford wrote in his notable historical work Of Plymouth Plantation:

Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.

Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here are kindled hath shone unto many, yea is some to our whole nation, let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By

Following up on our coverage of Pope Benedict’s economic “prophecy,” here’s a snip from yesterday’s “Papal Bullishness” editorial in Investor’s Business Daily. Read then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1985 article “Market Economy and Ethics” here.

The Pope gave a “prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules,” the ex-socialist lawyer and economics professor nonsensically claimed at Milan’s Cattolica University last week.

Tremonti conveniently omitted that elsewhere in the Pontiff’s 2,300-word analysis he grumbled that Theodore Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller spread “the notion that only Protestantism can bring forth a free economy — whereas Catholicism includes no corresponding education to freedom and to the self-discipline necessary to it, favoring authoritarian systems instead . . .”

Furthermore, the only apparent English translation of the paper is on the Web site of Fr. Robert Sirico’s Michigan-based Acton Institute. Why would a think tank devoted to emphasizing the free market’s spiritual underpinnings tout an anti-capitalist tract?

National Review Online today published Rev. Robert Sirico’s “A House Built on Sand,” his Acton commentary on the financial crisis.

Wall Street has been skewered and denounced in almost every attempt to examine the moral dimension of this crisis. Yet, Wall Street is too often denounced for all the wrong reasons — as a surrogate for the free economy, for seeking and making a profit, as though the alternative was somehow a preferable moral result.

No, if we are going to offer a moral critique of Wall Street, this should not be done because free markets allocate and produce capital, without which people’s homes and savings evaporate. Rather, it should be done because all these previously private businesses are now waddling up to the governmental trough begging to be nationalized and asking for their share of the dole.

Rev. Sirico was also a featured speaker on the recently concluded National Review 2008 Post-Election Caribbean Cruise, which drew more than 700 attendees. Jim Geraghty, on NRO’s Campaign Spot, offered a review of the event and this about Rev. Sirico’s panel of speakers:

If that panel had a surprise star, though, it was Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, who cut through a lot of numerical haze by pointing out the moral dimensions of all economic choices – and that it is morally wrong to accept a loan that you know you are unlikely to be able to repay, and that it is equally wrong to loan money that is not yours to someone you know is unlikely to pay it back. At the heart of the housing/banking/market chaos is a lot of people who faced a choice that they had to know was wrong on some level, and did it anyway.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, November 24, 2008
By

——————– Start of message from list: eni-summary ——– Ecumenical News International News Highlights
24 November 2008

Ukrainian church marks 20th century ‘genocide’ Russia disputes

Warsaw (ENI). Ukraine’s largest Orthodox church has marked the anniversary of an early 1930s’ Soviet-engineered famine, in which millions died, by describing it for the first time as an “act of genocide”, a description rejected by the Russian government. “A crime like this could only happen in an environment hateful of God and man,” the holy synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, said in a statement following an 11 November Kiev meeting. “It will always painfully remind us of the time when the devil reigned over both Ukraine and other nations of the former Soviet community.” [514 words, ENI-08-0944]

Appearing in the next issue of Religion & Liberty will be my review of Philip F. Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture (Encounter Books, 2008). There is no point in dwelling on how well-written and insightful the book is, as it has already won plaudits from other, more significant reviewers, but I can give my own “Acton spin” to Lawler’s exceptional work. Here is the piece in full, an exclusive preview for PowerBlog readers:

Lord Acton’s quotation concerning the corrupting effect of power is widely known. Less so is the fact that the target of his criticism on that particular occasion was the power possessed not by government but by church officials. Acton’s understanding of ecclesiastical authority (as distinct from power) is debatable, but his insight into human nature is not. A case study—not that we need another to file away in the vast archives of the history of human frailty—is the collapse of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Philip Lawler documents the details in this skillfully written account of the triumphs and travails of Boston’s Catholics. The history is episodic rather than thorough, but Lawler chooses his episodes well. The bulk of his attention goes to the last forty years, and much of that is focused on the sexual abuse scandals of the last ten. For anyone who has followed these developments closely, there will be little in the way of new revelations. Yet Lawler’s style, at once sympathetic and bluntly critical, is engrossing. The devout Catholic reader who was dismayed by the character and scale of the abuse scandal will be drawn back to those unpleasant times when it seemed that each new day brought fresh reasons to be ashamed of one’s faith.

(more…)

I cannot tell you how many times Catholics have used “the common good” as an excuse for more government involvement in peoples’ lives and the installing of socialistic, “spread the wealth” programs. This version of the common good is the foundation for some people’s idea of distributive justice, but actually it is based on the “Robin Hood fallacy” of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

How did I come to this conclusion? I did so merely by reading Aristotle and St. Thomas. Both of those great thinkers say that government must rule for the common good, but both of them oppose “common good” to the “particular” or “private” good. This means, as Aristotle writes, that any law must be good for not a ruler alone, or his cronies, or even the majority, but for the state as a whole. To use the analogy Plato makes in the Statesman, a physician gives a medicine to a sick person even if the sick person finds it distasteful. When he leaves the scene, he leaves behind a prescription containing his instructions. The instructions are not for his good, or the family’s benefit, but for the health of the sick person. BUT . . . nowhere in Aristotle or St. Thomas does it say that the common good is the exclusive or even main province of the government. They merely give a negative prohibition that the state cannot make laws which are good for only one segment of society.

The Church, as opposed to some Catholic writers, recognizes this. The Church holds to the principle of subsidiarity, originally enunciated by Leo XIII and actually named as such by Pius XI. Firstly, this principle states that nothing should be done by a higher level of society that can be done by a lower level. This means that, say, in my profession, the professor in the classroom is presumed to be doing his job unless some serious problem arises. His department chairman is not to be breathing down his neck and nitpicking his work. Certainly, the chairman’s boss, the dean, has no business butting into the professor’s work. If a problem arises, and the dean hears about it, he should ask the chairman to investigate it and take care of it, assuming the chairman has not done so already, which is an unlikely assumption. Secondly, the principle of subsidiarity says that nothing should be done by a government agency that can be done by a private agency. This means that government is a last resort, when all private possibilities are exhausted and the problem is a serious violation of justice or something that only a government can resolve, like an invasion.

Take a look at how Vatican II defines the common good: “The common good of society consists in the sum total of those conditions of social life which enable men to achieve a fuller measure of perfection with greater ease. It consists especially in safeguarding the rights and duties of the human person.” The fact that the Church does not have a list of specific positive programs here is that it is clearly stressing the notion that the common good is a “habitat” in which the human person can flourish. The onus is on the person to do the flourishing, with the assistance of the spontaneous institutions arising in a free society which are there for that purpose. On the other side of the coin, the onus is also on the individual to make sure that his fellows have that environment to flourish, with the government as a last resort remedy for that which individuals and social groups cannot do to provide that habitat.

Therefore, we can conclude with Bertrand de Jouvenel that a healthy society has many social organizations, and that the role of these groups should not be usurped by government. If government participates in this usurpation, it is rejecting the human person’s duty and ability to help himself and his brothers and sisters. Remember what we wrote about John Paul II and personal responsibility? (Maybe you should review it). Personal responsibility is founded on self-governance and self-governance leads to self-determination. Surely, self-governance of a social being like man leads him to take responsibility for the success of ourselves and of our fellows who cannot succeed by themselves, but it should never substitute for the action of the persons themselves. Neither should government. Nor should the citizens demand that government take over the responsibility for themselves or their fellows, except when they CANNOT succeed in doing so. Not only does this have dire consequences, which are not part of this essay, but—and this is the most important reason—it violates the person’s dignity.

Read more from Dr. Luckey at “Catholic Truths on Economics.”

Blog author: hunter.baker
Friday, November 21, 2008
By

The latest issue of Religion & Liberty contains an essay I wrote for Acton about whether the relationship between social conservatives and libertarians can be saved. A student at my university (Houston Baptist University) read the essay and formulated a number of thoughts on his own. I was so affected by what this undergraduate sent me, I had to pass it along:

I have strong beliefs about limited government, states rights, individual liberty, free-markets, etc. But these beliefs come under fire when I see how one person’s pornography addiction leads to rape after years of unsatisfiable self-gratification, or when innocent children are born fatherless to promiscuous mothers.

There are 2 things I’ve come to realize. First, that every law is a removal of liberty. Second, that every system of law is either based upon the will of man, or based on that which we perceive to be Natural Law. Given this reality, the latter necessitates a belief in higher power, while the former holds no basis for the concept of “inalienable rights” whatsoever.

Without a giver of freedom the only “freedom” is that which is given by he who is stronger to he who is weaker.

Libertarian belief in liberty is founded in the idea that we have a God-given right to such liberty, and in that sense they share commonality with social conservatives.

But Liberty without order is chaos. There’s no doubt, law in our land is based on Natural Law. So the question is not whether we should legislate morality, but to what extent it should be done.

This is a question I still struggle to answer.

The young man’s name is Wesley Gant. I suspect this is the kind of thinking that regularly emerges from students who attend Acton events and/or read Acton publications.

Linked yesterday on the Drudge Report and picked up by news outlets all over the world is a brief Bloomberg report on a statement from the Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. Tremonti attributed to Pope Benedict XVI a “prophecy” dating from over twenty years ago concerning the current global financial meltdown.

Again, the story is quite brief, and here’s the gist:

“The prediction that an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules can be found” in an article written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in April 2005, Tremonti said yesterday at Milan’s Cattolica University.

Tremonti’s remarks were made at the inaugural academic year address at the university. It’s unclear to me what the context of Tremonti’s prophetic attribution is, and perhaps some of the colleagues in our Rome office can enlighten us as to Tremonti’s economic and religious perspective.

But if you want the original context of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements, avail yourself of the only readily-accessible English translation of the article cited by Tremonti: “Market economy and ethics,” given by Ratzinger in in 1985 at a symposium in Rome, “Church and Economy in Dialogue.”

Here’s the full quote from Ratzinger’s paper:

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength.

As you can see from this quote and the context of the larger paper, the import of Ratzinger’s warning is not simply about an “undisciplined economy,” but more specifically about an economy that lacks participants who act from the basis of a serious and committed moral foundation, one that is “sustained only by strong religious convictions.” It’s about a lack of religious discipline as much as economic discipline.

Reading Tremonti’s quote as it appears in the Bloomberg article (which admittedly might be quite different in its own original context) might lead one to think that Ratzinger was simply talking about the lack of material discipline, for which the “new frugality” would be an adequate cure. But as Ratzinger rightly observed then, the causes of poverty and economic distress are not simply material, but also spiritual.