Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Robert Stackpole of the Divine Mercy Insititute offers a thoughtful analysis of the positions of the major presidential candidates on health care at Catholic Online. I missed part one (and I don’t see a link), but the series, devoted to examining the electoral responsibilities of Catholics in light of their Church’s social teaching, is evidently generating some interest and debate.

Stackpole’s approach is interesting because he tries to steer a course between the two dominant camps that have developed over the last thirty years of presidential elections: Catholics who vote for Republican candidates in large part or solely because they are at least marginally and in some cases significantly more in line with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life with respect specifically to the legality of abortion (I belong here); and Catholics who, reluctantly or otherwise, vote Democratic because they perceive that candidate’s platform to be more in line with Catholic teaching on a range of other issues (death penalty, welfare, health care) and thereby to outweigh the Democrat’s unfortunate position on abortion.

Stackpole avoids two common mistakes made by Catholics on the Democratic side: he does not minimize the preeminent importance of abortion as a grave abuse that might be easily outweighed by other issues; and he does not oversimplify the respective Democratic and Republican positions on other issues by claiming, for example, that Church teaching indisputably favors the Democratic policy on welfare.

On health care specifically, he is scrupulously fair both to McCain and Obama, eventually siding with Obama’s plan as being more compatible with Catholic teaching. Not that I agree with the conclusion, but it is a serious argument.

On one more general point, however, Stackpole trips. Here is the problematic passage:

Strictly “political” issues would be things like who has the best experience to be the next president, who has flip-flopped more on key issues, who is beholden to which special interest groups, whose tax and spending policies would be best for the economy as a whole, who is right about offshore oil drilling, and who has the most sensible proposals for dealing with global warming. Such questions are purely political, matters of factual analysis and prudential judgement about which Catholic Social Teaching and the Divine Mercy message can have little to say.

In contrast, he asserts, the issues of abortion, health care, and the Iraq war are “matters on which Catholic Social Teaching can shed considerable light.”

I would say, instead, that every matter that he cites has a moral dimension, and the principles of CST can shed light on them all. It’s true that there are facts, independent of CST, that must serve as the basis for judgment about how to deal with all political questions. To give Stackpole the benefit of the doubt, he possibly means to say that the very narrow question about what economic impact a particular tax policy has is a question of fact, not moral judgment. The statement could easily be interpreted, though, as meaning that tax policy is purely a political question, when it instead has all sorts of ramifications, through the incentives it creates, for the discouragement or encouragement of personal virtue, healthy family life, and the flourishing of mediating institutions (including churches). To separate neatly certain “strictly political” questions from other matters with a moral dimension is, I think, a dangerous move for any person of faith.

Which is not to say that there are important distinctions to be made. Better, however, to go with the approach taken by Archbishop John Myers of Newark, in a 2004 statement on the political responsibilities of Catholics:

Some might argue that the Church has many social teachings and the teaching on abortion is only one of them. This is, of course, correct. The Church’s social teaching is a diverse and rich tradition of moral truths and biblical insights applied to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of our society. All Catholics should form and inform their conscience in accordance with these teachings. But reasonable Catholics can (and do) disagree about how to apply these teachings in various situations.

For example, our preferential option for the poor is a fundamental aspect of this teaching. But, there are legitimate disagreements about the best way or ways truly to help the poor in our society. No Catholic can legitimately say, “I do not care about the poor.” If he or she did so this person would not be objectively in communion with Christ and His Church. But, both those who propose welfare increases and those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment made by those entrusted with the care of the common good. It is a matter of conscience in the proper sense.

But with abortion (and for example slavery, racism, euthanasia and trafficking in human persons) there can be no legitimate diversity of opinion.

Acton Research Fellow and Director of Media Dr. Jay Richards was on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA in Los Angeles last night. Frank and Jay discussed the attempt to redefine the term “pro-life” in such a way that a pro-abortion candidate can claim to be “pro-life” in spite of their support for abortion; they also took a look at Barack Obama’s legislation that would commit billions of dollars to the reduction of global poverty.

You can listen to the discussion by clicking here (3 mb mp3 file).

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.

In the July 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano , a couple of articles related how Italians are reading less than their European counterparts, with 62 percent of the population failing to read even a single book during the year. “Above all, reading increases innovative capabilities, the ability to understand phenomena and in the ultimate analysis, worker productivity,” said Federico Motta, president of the Italian association of publishers.

According to Motta’s article, only 31 percent of Italian 20-29 year-olds have a university degree, compared to 34 percent in Spain and 56 percent in the United Kingdom. This pattern mirrors the levels of unemployment among the young: 20.3 percent in Italy, 18 percent in Spain and 14 percent in the UK. By affecting educational levels and worker productivity, this lack of reading also results in less social mobility and opportunities for growth.

In human capital terms alone, the cost is evident, but there are even greater cultural ones. With the growth of television, cell phones, video games, the Internet, and iPods, it is no surprise that young Italians are not developing a taste for books, i.e., the ability to read, understand, and learn from greats such as Dante, Leopardi, and Manzoni.

And we can’t forget about the Book of Books. Can there be any hope for regaining the Christian roots of Europe without understanding the Bible? Here, at least, there is some reason for hope. The Italian Bishops Conference and in particular its National Catechism Office have promoted various initiatives that have successfully brought the Word of God to young people. Many Bible-study groups are also promoted by lay movements and parishes. This coming October, Pope Benedict XVI will launch a six-day reading of the entire Bible on Italian television, as the Vatican journalist John Allen has reported.

It will be interesting to see how the country reacts to such a public reminder of this lost treasure. Taking books seriously again will benefit Italy not only in terms of its economic productivity, but may also help rekindle its faith.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 28, 2008

The fourth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fourth leg of the journey took the bikers from Salt Lake City to Denver, a total distance of 478 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional at the beginning of this week focuses especially on the relationship of the church to culture. On day 22, the devotion notes that the “crucial pillars of civilization–education, family, government, and science–are in a state of decline and disrepair.” This may seem like a strange claim given all that humans have been able to accomplish over the last century or so. But if you look at the moral center of all these pursuits (for no human endeavor is “value” free), then the claim begins to make some sense.

Take, for example, the prayer from day 22, which focuses on gambling and the state of Utah’s position, which “forbids gambling and casinos.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected on a symptom of the lifelessness of modern society when he wrote,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Similarly, the day 22 devotion observes “that today’s culture, including the church, has sunk into a passionless routine.”

And in the same way, the day 23 devotion examines the ambivalent relationship between church and culture, although it ends on a rather optimistic note: “A hundred years ago biking was a Sabbath sin. Now our whole troupe bikes to church Sunday mornings. We, like the land, are being redeemed.” Even so, a consistent theme of critique towards destructive aspects of modern life is present throughout these devotions. As the day 13 devotion concludes, “Constant busyness is not godliness.”

The overall focus of the bike tour is poverty. To get involved in charities that effectively integrate faith and compassion, visit the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide. Be sure to check out the charities working in Colorado. Denver, the destination at the end of week 4, is home to two previous Samaritan Award honorees, “Providence Homes” (2004) and “Joshua Station” (2007).

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Friday, July 25, 2008

In his weekly column, the National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen notes Pope Benedict XVI’s references to the environment during the recent World Youth Day events in Australia.

Allen writes:

Although the point didn’t get much traction amid the pageantry of World Youth Day, it’s a striking fact that the most frequent social or cultural concern cited by Pope Benedict XVI in Australia was the environment. The pope talked about ecological themes seven times.

[snip]

If there was a distinctive twist to what the pope said in Australia, it was the need for reconfiguration of lifestyles, beyond and beneath policy questions. Repeatedly, Benedict warned against what he called the “folly of the consumerist mindset.”

One sign that somebody was paying attention: the Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids-based think tank with a pro-free market message, put out a press release rejecting impressions that the pope has “gone green” in the secular sense. Benedict wasn’t warning against a climate crisis, the Acton release stated, but a moral crisis.

Allen, the most reliable English-speaking journalist covering the Vatican during my time there, appears to have gotten this one wrong by misunderstanding the point of the Acton press release, which did in fact mention the Pope’s criticism of consumerism, but as a moral problem rather than an environmental one.

More seriously, Allen seems to misunderstand the Pope’s use of environmental issues. The Pope is not interested in the particular issues in themselves; rather he is more concerned with what our use or abuse of the rest of creation says about our relationship with God.

Whatever Benedict’s concerns for the environment may be, it is absolutely clear that he follows traditional Catholic doctrine by placing man at the center of all creation. Here is the key passage that follows the quotation cited by Allen from the World Youth Day welcoming address:

And there is more. What of man, the apex of God’s creation? Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement. From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people’s lives in many ways are steadily rising. Among yourselves there is a readiness to take up the plentiful opportunities offered to you. Some of you excel in studies, sport, music, or dance and drama, others of you have a keen sense of social justice and ethics, and many of you take up service and voluntary work. All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person – perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult’s readiness to forgive – fills us with profound joy and gratitude.

(more…)

It must be tough to be Al Gore sometimes. We all know that the weather has a habit of not cooperating with his “major addresses” on global warming; how many times have his big pronouncements been accompanied by major snowstorms?

Presumably, it would be better to try doing one of these speeches in the middle of summer, when you’re less likely to be iced out by the weather. But wouldn’t you know it – just when Gore gets his sweltering summertime platform to trumpet the need to act on the basis of the Global Warming Consensus, a big fight breaks out in a scientific organization that makes said Consensus look more like a sham than ever.

First things first: In Washington last Thursday, Al “a modern Jeremiah” Gore delivered a “major address” on global warming where he asserted that “The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk… And even more — if more should be required — the future of human civilization is at stake.”

Al Gore as the Human Torch - Gore Torch
Flame on!

This assertion is based, of course, on the unshakable scientific consensus that human activities – specifically our carbon emissions – are causing potentially catastrophic climate change to occur. On the basis of that solid foundation of science, Gore went on to explain that we must:

…do away with all carbon-emitting forms of electricity production in the United States within 10 years, replacing them with alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal power, conservation and so-called clean-coal technology in which all carbon emissions from the burning of coal are captured and stored.

It’s entirely possible that Al Gore doesn’t believe what he’s saying here. Goodness knows that he’s not shy at all about taking liberties with the truth in order to advance his agenda. But really, the ridiculousness of this particular bit of puffery is breathtaking. Columnist Vincent Carroll took Gore to task in the Rocky Mountain News thusly:

Gore would subject 300 million people to an experiment in which baseload power that is needed 24 hours a day to keep the economy – and our livelihoods – humming is replaced willy nilly by power sources still susceptible to natural disruption (such as lack of wind or lingering cloud cover), that cost more (at least in the case of solar) and are far less plentiful in some regions than others (Colorado is lucky at least in that regard).

He’d inflict monumental utility price hikes on consumers who’d pay for both the shutdown of old plants and construction of the new – with who knows what economic fallout.

With such a short timetable, we’d have to shred this nation’s federal system of utility regulation in favor of national directives, presumably from Congress or a muscle-flexing Environmental Protection Agency charged with regulating greenhouse gases. Not since World War II have we seen anything remotely comparable in terms of central planning.

[Cue Superfriends announcer voice] Meanwhile, back in the real world… (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 25, 2008

Last week I attended a lecture on the campus of Calvin College given by Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford. His lecture was titled, “God and Morality,” and was the fourth in a series of lectures for a summer seminar, “Science, Philosophy, and Belief.” The seminar was focused on the development of Chinese professors and posgraduate students, and included lectures by Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, and Owen Gingerich.

Swinburne, who is a convert from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, has recently turned his attention to questions of morality, having previously dealt with most every aspect of the philosophy of religion. I will not attempt a summary of his presentation here. The lecture has been digitally archived on the seminar site (downloadable MP3 here), and the comments and critiques I offer below will best be understood after having listened to the presentation yourself.

Swinburne’s list of publications includes a forthcoming article, “What Difference Does God Make to Morality?” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics, ed. R.K. Garcia and N.L. King (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), scheduled for release in October of this year later this month. This article will presumably present a similar case as appeared in Swinburne’s lecture. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the July/August issue of Touchstone, which features a cover story by Acton research director Sam Gregg, “The European Disunion,” a bit of wisdom is passed along to us by senior editor Anthony Esolen in the magazine’s section, Quodlibet:

If you have a virtuous people, you don’t need quite so many laws, and the laws you do pass will have a lot less to do with restraint than with man’s creative participation in God’s governance of the world.

This statement captures well the sentiments I expressed regarding the relation of Christianity to political freedom, which appear in Kevin Schmiesing’s post, “Freedom and Christianity,” at American Creation.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Winter issue of Religion & Liberty is now available online. The interview with David W. Miller is titled, “Theology at Work: Faithful Living in the Marketplace.” Miller is the executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, and co-founder and president of the Avodah Institute. Miller brings an unusual “bilingual” perspective to the academic world, having also spent sixteen years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. Miller’s book, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement was published in 2007.

Joseph K. Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, offers his own analysis of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey with a piece titled “Brand Loyalty in the American Religious Marketplace.” Knippenberg notes:

My preliminary bottom line is this: in terms at least of nominal adherents, American Protestantism is doing well, better than any other faith tradition except Hinduism, which has the “advantage” of being a culturally distinctive religion closely identified with a particular community of relatively new immigrants. What’s more, Protestants who leave their childhood denominations are much more likely to move to another Protestant denomination than they are to leave religion behind altogether. Indeed, they are for the most part more likely to move to an evangelical denomination or church than they are to leave religion behind. For our hitherto dominant American religious tradition, the flow toward evangelicalism is stronger than the flow out of religion altogether. I haven’t seen that headline yet.

John Couretas reviews Thomas C. Oden’s Deeds not Words: The Good Works Reader, while I penned a review of Ronald J. Sider’s book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Rev. Robert Sirico’s column offers an analysis of “Ethics and the Job Market.”

Also, Religion & Liberty paid tribute to William F. Buckley who passed away in February of this year. In his autobiography of faith titled Nearer, My God, Buckley declared:

It is of course obvious that it is mostly features of this world from which we take our satisfactions. The love of our family, the company of our friends, the feel of wind on the face, the excitement of the printed page, the delights of color and form and sound; food, wine, sex. But there is that other life that only human beings can experience, and in that life, and from that life, other pulsations are felt. They press upon us, in the Christian vision, one thing again and again, which is that God loves us. The best way to put it is that God would give His life for us and, in Christ, did.