Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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You can view the most recent list of those companies that have received bailout assistance from the federal government via the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA), executed through measures like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), here (PDF updated 12/16/08).

I’m thinking about adding these companies to my own personal “naughty” list.

Visit the EESA homepage, where you can sign up for EESA e-mail updates as your tax dollars are spent for you. “How is this money being spent?” you might ask. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the government has not required any special reporting for how the bailees are using these funds.

Remember that rush to push the bailout through right before the election, when the government and the media were telling us that Congress needed to hurry up and authorize the use of more money than has been spent on the entire Iraq war? The legislation appears to be so sloppy that it allows the executive branch to distribute the funds as it pleases, without any accountability for how the funds are being spent, and without any restrictions on what sort of industry qualifies.

I guess it’s more important that the money gets spent rather than how it gets spent.

Since government is now in the business of rewarding failure (call it a “demeritocracy”), nominate those most deserving of money from the bailout in the comment boxes below. Here’s a list to get you started:

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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Ramesh Ponnuru says Social Security is worse than a Ponzi scheme.

He’s right. It’s more like an inter-generational pyramid scheme, a pyramid tipped on its side…


To be sustainable, over time (T) it has to take more from more people (thus a three-dimensional pyramid rather than a two-dimensional triangle. It’s really exponential rather than multiplicative).

Social Security. In case you forgot, it still needs fixing. This Christmas, think about the rather unpleasant gift we’ll be leaving the generations that follow in the form of unsustainable and unfunded “entitlements.”

Blog author: hunter.baker
Friday, December 19, 2008
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It’s the end of the year, so the book lists are out. I’m thinking about conservative icon Russell Kirk.

If you want a really enjoyable and edifying read, I recommend you begin with The Roots of American Order. That book will give you an understandable and historically grounded sense of what “ordered liberty” means. It will also open the mysteries of Kirk wide to the uninitiated reader. The prose is lively. Highly readable.

Kirk is more widely known for the book that made his reputation, The Conservative Mind, but I think The Roots of American Order is a better read for the vast majority of people.

In the latest volume of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, host Ken Myers talks with J. Daryl Charles, author of Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Eerdmans, 2008). Charles is associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University, and spent the 2007-2008 year as William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Myers at this year’s GodblogCon and am quite impressed with the work that Mars Hill Audio does. The conversation with Charles is a good one, in part because it directly addresses the current revival of natural law within certain circles of Protestantism in North America. Within the past few years a number of books have come out that consider the positive role of the doctrine of natural law within the Protestant theological tradition, particularly that of the magisterial Reformation.

Early on in the discussion, Charles credits Acton research scholar Stephen Grabill with opening up this new scholarly interest in natural law. Charles calls Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006) “a very important…pathbreaking work.”

In a review of Grabill’s book published in First Things, Charles writes,

Grabill’s examination of theological ethics in the Protestant Reformed mainstream is utterly compelling, and it represents a shot across the bow of theological ethics, as it were. Protestants for the past 250 years have found practical as well as theological justification for ignoring or vehemently rejecting natural-law theory. And despite its bewildering diversity, there exists across Protestantism a broad consensus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation. This consensus is mirrored in the fact that one is hard-pressed to identify a single major contemporary figure in Protestant theological ethics who has developed and defended a theory of natural law.

Given the historical link between the magisterial Reformation and natural law and the contemporary dissolution of that link, it should be obvious that judging the doctrines of previous centuries by the twentieth-century aversion to natural law (as is done by the reference to Francis Schaeffer in this post) is a serious methodological error. One thing we learn from the work of scholars like Grabill and Charles is that there are varieties of natural-law traditions, and it is as important to identify how these differ and can be distinguished as how they share common features.

In addition to the books by Charles and Grabill, I should also mention two other recent works. The first is David VanDrunen’s short and accessible A Biblical Case for Natural Law. And the second is Craig A. Boyd’s A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural-Law Ethics (Brazos, 2007), which VanDrunen reviews in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (Fall 2008).

Today saw the launch of a sharp new look for the Acton Institute website. This new iteration of the website puts content first, with a very uncluttered, fresh look. It also sports some of the latest and greatest in web technology, but I’ll spare you the geekspeak and let you discover all of the bells and whistles for yourself. In case you can’t recall, here’s what the old site looked like:


And for comparison, here’s an “after” screenshot:



We hope that you’ll continue to enjoy the Acton website and the rich collection of articles and resources that it provides.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 18, 2008
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The blogosphere is atwitter over the news that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, will give the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. The decision on Warren’s part to accept is getting criticism from the right, while Obama’s offer of the opportunity is getting criticized from the left.

At Redstate Erick Erickson views Warren’s participation as evidence of his desire to be the next “Protestant Pope” after the decline of Billy Graham. Erickson writes that Warren “wants to be the moral voice of the moral majority the way Graham used to be and he has a bigger ego to boot. So he’s happy to lay his hands on the new President and have the media give him the legitimacy the media once gave Billy Graham.”

And from the other side of the spectrum, Peter Daou’s entry at the Huffington Post does a good job summarizing the massive criticism Obama has gotten from the more radical strands of his party. In Daou’s words “the progressive community is outraged.”

Of course, they were also outraged when Obama participated in Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. And so too were many religious conservatives doubtful about Warren’s commitment to the two rails of the Religious Right, marriage and abortion. Many conservatives were pleasantly surprised when Warren (politely) pressed Obama on his views about abortion, which spawned the now-infamous “above my paygrade” response from the now President-elect. Quite frankly, Warren doesn’t need the media to “give” him legitimacy…his popularity, his pulpit, and his ability to bring together politicians in a public forum do that well enough.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren again surprises his conservative critics, even though an inauguration invocation is hardly the place for political grandstanding or pontificating. My opinion about Warren remains unchanged. At the time he organized the Saddleback forum, I thought it was a mark in his favor that he could act as a fair dealing arbiter and get the two major presidential candidates to appear. Only someone who had garnered a level of trust from both sides could achieve that kind of thing, and that’s where the comparisons to Billy Graham are most accurate and complimentary to Warren: “Perhaps Warren has had to upset the margins on both sides of the political aisle to get himself into a position that could command the kind of respect from both candidates that would get them to this platform.” He seems to be doing the same thing here.

Gina Dalfonzo over at the Point says that “a Christian leader given the opportunity to stand up and pray for the nation in public on an important occasion should generally take it, I think, no matter who’s doing the asking.” I do think pastors should avoid partisanship, as best they can, and I think Warren has done so rather admirably.

On this point there’s an interesting comparison to be made between Warren’s appearance at a presidential inauguration and the offer to Joel Hunter and Cameron Strang to pray at the Democratic National Convention. Strang, who is the founder and CEO of Relevant magazine, initially accepted the invitation, and then declined under criticism that his appearance would lend partisan credibility to Obama. Strang explained his choice to withdraw, saying, “If my praying at the DNC was perceived as showing favoritism and incorrectly labeling me as endorsing one candidate over the other, then I needed to have pause.”

So here’s the question: is praying at an inauguration more or less partisan than praying at a party’s convention? Or are the two equally partisan? I’m inclined to think that praying at the inauguration isn’t nearly so easily identifiable with “endorsing one candidate over the other” or “showing favoritism.” Once the election is over, the President is everybody’s President. Before the election, that’s a different story.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, best known for his masterpiece, Paradise Lost. An essay by Theo Hobson, author of the newly-released Milton’s Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty (Continuum, 2008), well summarizes Milton’s integrated theological, political, and social vision (HT: Arts & Letters Daily).

John Milton (1608-1674): “None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.”

Instead of secularizing a figure that has been deemed important in the history of political philosophy by some sort of post-Enlightenment textual deconstruction, Hobson attempts to show how Milton’s Christian convictions positively informed his perspective on the responsibilities of both state and church. For Milton faith was no vestigial appendage that contemporary observers might feel at liberty to amputate with warranted zeal.

At the same time, notes Hobson, Milton “started working out a coherent account of England’s religious situation. It wasn’t enough to insist that the church should be more ‘Protestant’, for that term was vague. He realised that the Reformation had evaded the whole issue of church-state relations; it allowed for an authoritarian state church. Real religious reform entailed going right back to the time of Constantine, and questioning the idea of a politically empowered church.” Hobson works out this thesis regarding Milton’s contribution to judge that Milton’s influence has been much more positively felt on the American side of the Atlantic rather than in his native land.

To say that the Reformers “evaded” the issue of church and state is perhaps misrepresenting Milton’s criticism a bit (or if it isn’t then Milton’s criticism ill-stated). It’s one thing to say that the Reformers didn’t address the question in the right way, or came up with the right solution, or didn’t go quite far enough in “reforming” the relationship between church and state. But it’s quite another thing (and a patently false one at that) to say that they didn’t directly and rather thoroughly discuss the issue.

What Milton was really concerned to fight, which Hobson accurately articulates, was the influence of a sort of Constantinian Protestantism, communicated to Britain via figures like Martin Bucer (whose De Regno Christi appeared in 1550) and Wolfgang Musculus (whose Common places were published in translation in 1563 and 1578 in Britain). And while there were important varieties of this Constantinian or magisterial Protestantism in the sixteenth century, there was near unanimity among the major first and second generation Reformers on the question of civil enforcement of both tables of the Law.

Both Bucer and Calvin preferred the hypocrite, who only endangered his own salvation, to the open apostate, who could lead many astray.

The distinction between “religious” obligations in the first table and “civil” obligations in the second table is not identical to a distinction between internal motives and external works. The conflation of these two distinctions is what paves the way for a corrosive kind of secularism, the kind that privatizes or internalizes religion and faith. And as Milton clearly saw, the institutional separation between state and church in no way entails the withdrawal of faith from public life. Indeed, since his own religious convictions so profoundly influenced his political views, to say otherwise would have been to render Milton’s own position untenable.

Here is quite the unique story from 13WMAZ in Macon, Georgia. The clip highlights what Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy Snow is doing to help those in need during the Christmas season. While serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Snow and friends from his unit have been shopping online and sending food, new clothes, and even mp3 players back to his mother, who is retired military. Margie Snow then unpacks and hands the gifts over to the local Loaves and Fishes ministry for distribution. “Everyday he calls about a different box on its way,” she says.

While the story is unique, in light of all the care packages that leave the U.S. for Iraq, it is not surprising when you consider the character of so many who serve in our Armed Forces. One of my first reactions after reading the story and watching the news video is that there is little excuse not to give after learning about Staff Sergeant Snow’s first class generosity. It is of course common knowledge that those who serve in the military do so with a modest salary, especially among the enlisted ranks.

In life, I think it’s always helpful to think about how you want to define yourself, how would you like other people to perceive you, and who would you like to emulate? Giving is one of the clearest examples I can think of that reflects your inner and outward character.

Also always deserving a mention is the United States Marine Corps Reserve and their 61 year program of bringing the joy of Christmas to needy children nationwide through their Toys for Tots Foundation. Below is a great commercial promoting their charity.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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With the approach of Christmas, we again hear calls to shun gift buying as somehow sinful and materialistic. In this week’s Acton Commentary, Rev. Robert A. Sirico explains the real reason we give so generously at this time of year and how in giving, we receive.

If you haven’t yet read Rev. Sirico’s commentary, you can do so by visiting the Acton website and then come back and join the discussion over here at the PowerBlog.

We’re a fortnight away from the new year, and that means that you are probably getting a spate of letters, postcards, and packages appealing for your donations in this critical giving season. I want to point out a number of opportunities to help you decide where your charitable dollars ought to go.

Your first stop should always be the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide, a project that goes beyond the information available from the standard IRS forms that power other charity rating sites. The Samaritan Guide focuses on charities that take little or no government money and attempt to integrate faith into their works of love. You can use the Guide to focus on charities by location, type of service provided, and a variety of other factors to find one that suits the kind of work you feel called to support.

You should also keep your eye out for non-traditional ways of giving, which may make your dollar stretch further than usual. One way to integrate giving into your daily activity is by using a service like GoodSearch, which gives money to a charity of your choice every time you use their Yahoo-powered search engine. And of special note during the gift-giving season is the related GoodShop service, which partners with online merchants to shift a portion of the money you spend online to your selected charity. You can assign the Acton Institute to be your GoodSearch and GoodShop recipient by clicking here.

Other ways you can get more bang for your charitable buck is by looking for matching grant opportunities, and the Acton Institute has an incredible chance for you to double or even triple the amount of your contribution. Thanks to the generosity of a stalwart supporter, the Acton Institute has the opportunity to triple donations received from now until January 15, 2009 through a very generous 2-to-1 matching grant (for renewing supporters, the grant will match the increase from last years giving).

Please act quickly to help us leverage your contributions to the Acton Institute. To donate now via our secure online form, please click here. With your involvement, and the help of others, we can realize the full potential of this matching grant opportunity. As always, your gift will help us continue to promote a free and virtuous society. If you have any questions related to this extraordinary giving opportunity, please contact us at (616) 454-3080.

If the recent financial crisis teaches us anything, it should be the value of the institutions of civil society that depend on the charity of the people. With tools like the Samaritan Guide, you can give smarter and more effectively. But this Christmas season, be sure to give as you have been given.