USA Today has an excellent assessment of the impact of faith-based charities in an October 7 piece titled “Faith-based groups man the front lines.” The gist of the article points out the obvious to those who are still recovering from devastating hurricanes, and that’s that religious charities understand and are committed to the long term need of hurricane victims.

As a Katrina evacuee myself, I have witnessed the commitment and work of Christian churches and charities perform life changing assistance to victims on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They are able to bypass bureaucracy, adding the all important human touch in not only helping rebuild totaled homes, but improve the foundation of one’s life. One of the clear contrasts of faith-based charities verse federal assistance is that it’s simply a lot less discriminating in who they can help. Additionally, they are much better equipped to make decisions on the ground or at the scene by meeting specific needs of those needing help. Instead of only saying “we can do this for you”, they can discern and meet the immediate need.

My father directed the relief efforts at his evangelical church in Pass Christian, Miss. At the church in Pass Christian they had an army of Mennonite, Amish, and evangelical volunteers from the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania. My dad estimated their labor time consisted of a conservative estimate of $1.3 million, and they donated just over a $1 million in equipment and supplies. This is all from one community in Pennsylvania which was based out of one fairly small church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Business leaders pitched in as well, as the employer of a construction company in that Pennsylvania community paid his workers through the relief effort.

There are thousands and thousands of inspirational stories from faith groups committed to hurricane relief efforts and this article captures just a couple of them. When you have churches and people driven and influenced by the Lord, there is literally no limit to their service and what they can accomplish. The USA Today article notes:

Shortly after the storm, [Julius] Moll was filling gas in his truck in a nearby town when a neighbor told him about Catholic Charities. The next day, Moll met with Catholic Charities officials who had set up a command post at Jean Lafitte’s Town Hall. They told him they would gut his mother’s house for free. Moll lowered his head and cried.

‘I was overwhelmed,” he says. “It’s unbelievable how people can come in and help you.’

Acton Media’s seventh Birth of Freedom short features Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason. In the video, he discusses the question “Why didn’t China have an industrial revolution before the west?” Although evidence points to the beginnings of an agricultural and industrial revolution in the 10th century, the lack of protection for private property has been a disincentive for innovation and hard work.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Paola Fantini has expanded her blog post on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s new work on Catholic social doctrine into a book review for the forthcoming Religion & Liberty quarterly published by the Acton Institute. She has also translated the prologue to the book by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill. These articles are, to my knowledge, the first to translate anything from Cardinal Bertone’s “The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) into English. The Italian title is “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa.”

In her review, Fantini writes:

Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”

For Kirill, fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth; he often recalls the duty of serving the nation. At the conclusion of his prologue, he writes, “For us, the principal meaning of our work must be to serve God, our neighbour and the Patria [nation], through the creation of material and spiritual goods fundamental for a worthy life.”

Bertone, by contrast, stresses more universal, “transnational” aspects and never uses the nation-state as a center of focus. Recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus caritas est, Bertone even criticizes the nation-state for crowding out charity with social spending. “The State, presupposing a [strong sense of] solidarity among citizens to realize their rights, makes social spending obligatory. In this way, the State compromises the principle of gratuitousness, denying space to principles other than solidarity.”

In the prologue to the book, Metropolitan Kirill is harshly critical of economic globalization which does not meet the demands of “efficiency and justice.”

History demonstrates that only the aspiration to an ultimate good, the ability to sacrifice material goods in favor of heavenly ones, the ability to pursue duties of a higher order, render society vital and give meaning to the life of every single person. The states and peoples that have negated the value of spiritual life have disappeared from the scene of history. For this reason it is very important, when one speaks of the economy and the growth of well-being, never to forget their ultimate end: to serve the material and spiritual common good, not to hinder but favor man’s salvation.

Read Fantini’s new review here. Read Metropolitan Kirill’s prologue here.

Dirt… we sweep our floors, wipe our shoes, and wash our clothes to get rid of it. But how often do we stop and reflect upon the very fact that without soil life would not be possible?

This November, the popular RBC television program Day of Discovery will launch a three-part series titled “The Wonder of Creation: Soil.”

Acton Institute research fellow Jay W. Richards will be featured as a guest expert in the series. It will air on Ion TV the following days:

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Foundation of Life, Part I
November 9, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Sustainer of Life, Part II
November 16, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: The Work of Life, Part III
November 23, 2008 at 7:30 AM

Jay W. Richards, Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media, was interviewed for a story in the Grand Rapids Press on the topic of religious and nonreligious views.

The article, written in light of outspoken atheist Bill Maher’s new movie, looks at differing views of people such as Christopher Hitchens and John Ortberg.

Jay Richards debated Christopher Hitchens at Stanford University last January on the topic of atheism vs. theism. Throughout the debate Hitchens grew increasingly angry and by the debate’s end, he had actually turned his back to Richards. “It’s clear he’s (ticked) off at God,” Richards said.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 13, 2008
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Speaking of the Nazis, I highly recommend Heiko A. Oberman’s essay, “From Luther to Hitler,” contained in the posthumously published The Two Reformations (Yale University Press, 2003). The piece is short and pointed, well worth the read, and just one of a number of excellent essays in that collection.

Here’s how Oberman concludes (p. 85):

I do not intend this analysis to serve the cause of exculpating the Germans who were fated to be born too early. Rather I hope to direct attention to the decade of decision between 1925 and 1935, particularly to the responsibility of academic leaders, who enjoyed a status of respect unparalleled in the rest of Europe. Among those leaders martin Heidegger, Emanuel Hirsch, and others constituted a kind of Nazi think tank that provided Hitler with some of his most effective ideological executioners. Although they are now restored to what may be their rightful glory as scholars, they have forfeited their claim to be regarded as citizens of humanity.

Ideas have consequences and academic leaders have a public responsibility. History, too, has a duty to judge the moral quality of those ideas and what consequences they had.

Mark your calendars! Jennifer Roback Morse is coming to Grand Rapids to speak at Aquinas College on Wednesday, November 19 at 7:00pm.

Dr. Morse will speak on the topic of her provocative new book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World.

An excerpt from the prologue:

The sexual revolution has been a disappointment, but people continue to acquiesce in its assumptions because no appealing alternative seems to be on the horizon. Many Americans think the only alternatives are some combination of Leave it to Beaver and the Taliban. They imagine that if it weren’t for the sexual revolution, women would all be at home in dresses and high heels, in their spotless kitchens with cookies in the oven, waiting for the Beaver to come home from school. If it weren’t for the sexual revolution, men and women alike would be in danger of ever-increasing surveillance by the state for deviant sexual acts. Without modern sexual mores, women would be but one step away from the burka and public stoning for adultery.

In her latest book, Morse explains why marriage is in crisis and why we should care. Strong, lasting marriages, she argues, are essential for the survival of a free society, not to mention basic human happiness. She fires the opening shots of a new sexual revolution and shows how everyone, married or single, can help.

This event is free and open to the public but space is limited, so please register online or contact Charissa Romens at 616.454.3080.

What is the root cause of the sub-prime crisis shaking the global economy? We need to know so we don’t allow it to screw up our economy even worse.

Many point to dishonesty and poor judgment on Wall Street. There was plenty of that leading up to the near-trillion dollar bailout, and even now the stock market is busily disciplining stupid, dishonest companies.

Others point to the many people who falsified loan applications to get mortgages beyond their means. That too played a role.

But dishonesty and poor judgment are as old as Adam and Eve. Something more was at work in the present crisis, a crisis of unprecedented scope. Why didn’t profit-minded loan companies run thorough credit checks? Why did they keep pumping out low interest loans to high risk borrowers, ignoring the risks?

It’s as if somebody spiked the financial system’s punch bowl with stupid juice, driving normally prudent financiers to dash, en masse, over the cliff.

It seems that way because it is that way. The brewers of the stupid juice were largely (if not exclusively) politicians in Washington who sought to redistribute wealth from the rich and middle class to poor people with bad credit. These politicians fostered various laws and institutions that directed, cajoled and legally bullied mortgage companies to extend big loans to people with little credit.

A case in point is a group called ACORN—Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Stanley Kurtz explains in an Oct. 7 essay at National Review Online:

“You’ve got only a couple thousand bucks in the bank. Your job pays you dog-food wages. Your credit history has been bent, stapled, and mutilated. You declared bankruptcy in 1989. Don’t despair: You can still buy a house.” So began an April 1995 article in the Chicago Sun-Times that went on to direct prospective home-buyers fitting this profile to a group of far-left “community organizers” called ACORN, for assistance. In retrospect, of course, encouraging customers like this to buy homes seems little short of madness.

… At the time, however, that 1995 Chicago newspaper article represented something of a triumph for Barack Obama. That same year, as a director at Chicago’s Woods Fund, Obama was successfully pushing for a major expansion of assistance to ACORN, and sending still more money ACORN’s way from his post as board chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Through both funding and personal-leadership training, Obama supported ACORN. And ACORN, far more than we’ve recognized up to now, had a major role in precipitating the subprime crisis.

(more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
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There’s an interesting clip on YouTube of a discussion about the world food situation between, primarily, author Michal Pollan and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant.

Pollan is a champion of the “slow food” movement, which is, to simplify, associated more generally with trends such as whole foods, farmers markets (“localvores”), organic food production, etc. (The participation of otherwise fiscal and cultural conservatives in what is often presented as a left-leaning movement is a phenomenon that gave rise to the term “crunchy cons.”)

A variety of observations might be made on the exchange, but I’ll focus on one. All the discussants underemphasize the role of free human action in the market. World hunger, they seem to assume, is a problem “we” need to solve, whether that be by research, technological dispersion, food distribution, or changing agricultural practices. Pollan’s suggestion that food production and distribution must be a “public” (i.e., government) enterprise is surely wrongheaded–the worst famines in history been the result of government interference or government failure (war, anarchy), not market failure–but Grant, too, apparently views big agricultural business as playing a kind of orchestrating role in steering food production in the right direction.

By all means, let’s continue research, let’s share knowledge with African farmers, and let’s create partnerships between corporations and non-profit entities. But the task of supplying the world’s food needs in the future will not be accomplished by the management of the economy by CEO’s, NGO directors, or heads of state. It will be accomplished if the market is permitted freely to convey information about supply and demand, if production and distribution are not thwarted by corrupt governments and military strife, and if obstacles to participation in the world market are removed.

Alarums raised about impending food shortages have been proven wrong again and again. They will this time, too, as long as the market’s incentives are not tampered with. The world can feed itself, if it is allowed to do so.

In the sixth Birth of Freedom video short, William B. Allen addresses the question, “What was Christianity’s Role in the rise of the idea of human equality?” In his discussion, which traces the Judeo-Christian origins of a “universal perspective,” he concludes that “what informs the spirit of Republicanism in the modern era, is this long development, this slow working-out of a specific revelation from God that leads human beings into the discovery of the fullness of their personality in the recognition of their universal status.”

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.