Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zenit News Service’s Father John Flynn, LC, offers an extremely perceptive analysis of a seemingly expanding culture of fear. He manages to tie together climate change hysteria, current electoral politics, and the pope’s recent encyclical. Its conclusion:

A world without God is a world without hope …. Perhaps, then, we should not be surprised at the fear-ridden state of modern society. Along with science, humanity needs to rediscover its faith in God if it is to heal the deeper sources of its fears.

Iowa and New Hampshire represent less than 1.5% of the U.S. population, but the way many pundits talk, these two small states apparently possess some obscure Constitutional right to choose the short list of presidential candidates for the rest of us.

After the Hillary Clinton’s second place finish in the Iowa caucuses, several journalists—apparently stricken with Obama Fever—were writing her campaign obituary, never mind that she led national polls of likely Democratic voters and has enough campaign cash to buy Cuba.

On the Republican side, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson finished a respectable third in Iowa, but when he faired poorly in the New Hampshire primary last week (a state where he did little campaigning), the media began drafting his obituary.

Thompson apparently didn’t get the memo. A recent Republican debate in South Carolina revealed a Fred Thompson many Republicans have been hoping for but hadn’t yet seen—Fred with fire in the belly. He spoke with clarity and authority on issues of national security, and he forcefully went after some of Mike Huckabee’s left-leaning domestic policies.

The question is, does it matter? Is it too late? Maybe there are so many voters with their fingers in the wind that Iowa and New Hampshire really do get to choose the short list for the rest of us.

The idea should offend those who make up the core of the Republican Party. Conservatives are supposed to bridle at the idea of having their choices dictated to them by beltway insiders or by a national media establishment intent on telling them what to think and do.

Republicans should be particularly suspicious of such winnowing efforts given the short list the media seems intent on assigning Republican voters. Mike Huckabee supported heaping helpings of big government and higher taxes as governor of Arkansas. Mitt Romney endorsed bigger government and higher taxes as governor of Massachusetts, has flip-flopped on abortion not once but twice, and more recently made protectionist, big government noises in an effort to appeal to Michigan voters. Rudy Giuliani (who, ironically, didn’t even contest Iowa or New Hampshire), is pro-abortion. And as Thomas Sowell has commented of John McCain, his “track record in the Senate is full of the betrayals of Republican supporters.”

Each of these four candidates has conservative elements to their agendas, and personal qualities that recommend them. But is it any wonder that the left-leaning national media seems eager to use the earliest contests to winnow a consistent conservative like Fred Thompson from the short list of Republican candidates, a conservative who is arguably the only true Reagan Republican in the bunch?

Thompson isn’t a perfect candidate. And I’m not endorsing him or any other candidate here. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses that Republican voters in each state should carefully assess. What Republican voters shouldn’t do is buy the media line that 1.5% of the American population gets to tell the other 98.5% of us who is and isn’t still in the race.

The English poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800, pronounced Cooper) was afflicted with severe bouts of depression and haunting despair for virtually all of his life. While he was a contemporary of George Whitefield and John Wesley, and Rev. John Newton served as a mentor, many have not heard of this 18th century English writer.

Much of Cowper’s depression and anguish stems from the death of his mother and four of his siblings all by the age of six. Cowper was then sent away to boarding school and terrorized for a number of years by an older bully. Later, he fell in love with a cousin only to have her father abruptly end the relationship. The refusal left a young Cowper deeply troubled and distraught. Cowper was pressured into law by his own father, an Anglican minister who was also the chaplain for George II. He buckled under the pressure and made several suicide attempts in the coming days. After several failed attempts by various methods he tried to hang himself with a garter, but it broke while he was unconscious on his third attempt.

His friends then intervened, and he was sent to an insane asylum run by a poet and committed Christian, Dr. Nathaniel Cotton. Under the guidance of Cotton he read Scripture and withdrew for a time from the misery inside his mind. Cowper read a passage from Romans 3:25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” Cowper declared:

Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel. Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder.

Cowper would continue to struggle in life with mental illness and a general melancholy. Often, he would withdraw into fits of despair because of dreams he had of God rejecting him. However, he became friends with John Newton and they compiled a work of writings in 1779 called the Olney Hymns. It produced many popular English hymns including Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” Another popular tune came from Cowper titled, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” The first verse reads:

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Cowper wrote many popular poems and was ahead of his time with his focus on a new sensitivity to nature and his surroundings, which greatly influenced the Romantic poets. Samuel Taylor Coleridge praised him as the “the best modern poet.”

Cowper also translated Homer and John Milton’s Greek and Latin poems. In addition, he became involved in the abolition movement, which was gaining greater concern from evangelical Christians during his life. However, perhaps his greatest legacy is how God used him mightily through his years of affliction and mental anguish. Cowper’s words and life speak to the very sovereignty, grace, and mystery of a God that saves, uplifts, and enlivens the troubled soul.

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of Johnny Cash’s live recording of the album At Folsom Prison. On the 1999 re-release, the brief song “Busted” (originally recorded by Cash in 1962) was included.


And while the price of cotton is more like 50 cents per pound now (which is much lower than the cost of inflation over the same period), the song still speaks to the situation of many folks today:

“My bills are all due and the babies need shoes but I’m busted
Cotton is down to a quarter a pound and I’m busted
I’ve got a cow that went dry and a hen that won’t lay
A big stack of bills that get bigger each day
The County will haul my belongings away I’m busted!

I went to my brother to ask for a loan I was busted
I hate to beg like a dog for a bone but I’m busted
My brother said there ain’t a thing I can do
My wife and my kids are all down with the flu
And I was just thinking of calling on you I’m busted!”

Something of note in that tune penned by Detroit native Harlan Howard: when in need, the man turns to his family first (not the government).


The Acton Institute is proud to unveil the first edition of our brand new audio podcast, Radio Free Acton! We’re excited about the possibilities of taking our podcast to the next level, and we hope that if you haven’t already subscribed to our feed, that you’ll do so now. Just add this link to whatever podcasting program you use, or subscribe through iTunes right here.

For our first show, I’m joined by Jordan Ballor, Ray Nothstine, and John Couretas to discuss the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan. This particular race has provided a rich vein of material for those interested in the intersection of religion, economics, and politics, and we dig into all of those issues as they relate to candidates Romney and Huckabee especially. Additionally, we hear from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse on how Marxist thinking about the traditional family still influences the modern left.

To download the podcast, click here (13.6 mb mp3 file).

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some of the most extensive discussion of a very extensively discussed subject here in the U.S.—religion and politics—occurs at the Pew Forum. The online proceedings of an early December conference on the subject were just brought to my attention. Of particular interest is the transcript of the presentation by John Green. Green, who cooperated with Acton years ago on our survey of economics in seminaries, is arguably the most respected and most widely quoted authority on religion and electoral behavior. Personally, I approach the whole polling industry with a large dose of skepticism, but with all the requisite caveats in place, Green’s work is indeed among the best in the business.

The transcript, with full Q&A, gets rather lengthy, so I’ll focus on a couple points. One is that it is remarkable how the distinction between “active” or “churchgoing” and less active, non-regular churchgoers has assumed preeminence in analysis of religion and politics. Green suggests that the distinction may not be as politically significant this year (and he may be right, although I think that depends greatly on which two candidates end up with the nominations). Yet the difference has clearly become a focus of investigation, a significant (and positive) change from the days when most analysts approached the subject with the blunt categories of “evangelical Protestant,” “mainline Protestant,” and “Catholic.”

The second is that EJ Dionne, with whom I frequently disagree, makes some of the most salient and incisive points. The section begins here. A sampling:

I believe, and this will be a controversial statement, that the era of the religious right is over. Now, as Bill Clinton would say, I suppose that depends on what the meaning of the words “religious right” is, but I believe the religious right, viewed as a conservative political movement within the Republican party that rose from 1978 or 1980, is breaking up, in significant part because the evangelical community itself is changing and also because the issues confronting the country are changing. Again, I’m not predicting that this group will suddenly shift overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, but I think we’re going to see a very different style of politics in the coming years.

If you put untroubled and troubled skeptics together, that’s 26% of the electorate. So if anyone wonders why Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and all those folks have sold so many books, 26% is a very significant number of Americans. If you combine that 26% with the reluctant believers group, that is over a majority. It is simply not true that if you go out and say how religious you are and talk about it all the time, you are automatically appealing to a majority of the electorate.

But also, I think Huckabee is very interesting because Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who does have strongly conservative positions on the social issues, has actually been broadening the evangelical agenda. He speaks critically of Wall Street; he has linked his Christian commitment to a concern for the poor and their access to education and health care. I think Huckabee may understand better than most politicians how much the religious conversation is changing within his own evangelical community. I think the most interesting criticism of Mike Huckabee came from Fred Thompson, who called him a pro-life liberal. There are, indeed, times when Mike Huckabee sounds a little bit like our friend Jim Wallis.

There are also fascinating differences by state, and I had a long list of these, and I won’t belabor you with them, but I actually once took apart the 2004 exit polls to look at how the religious question played state-by-state. You’ll find that the religion gap barely exists in Louisiana; is enormous in Minnesota and Washington State; and that California was the only state in which Bush failed to secure a majority among weekly churchgoers. Now, all these may have demographic explanations. In Louisiana, the Democratic share among regular church attenders was boosted by African Americans and, to some degree, Cajun Catholics. Minnesota and Washington have relatively small African-American populations, and in California the Democratic vote is boosted by Latino Protestants.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

I’m passing along this message from Kara Eagle, a program officer here at the Acton Institute. If you are a blogger and are interested in learning more about the pursuit of a free and virtuous society, keep reading:

Greetings!

As a blogger who is interested in the relationship between morality and freedom, you are invited to apply to attend the June 10-13, 2008 Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI. A limited number of special fee and travel fellowships are available to those bloggers who qualify and are willing to document their experiences at Acton University on their weblogs. This could be a daily reflection on the interaction and discussion, a final summary of the event, or anything in between. We expect that the engaging speakers, topics, and attendees will give you plenty to talk about.

This year’s updated curriculum will once again provide an in-depth four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. As a participant of Acton University, you will be guided by a distinguished international faculty and will delve into the moral, cultural, economic, legal, and theological underpinnings of the social order that values human liberty. You can build your own curriculum, choosing from more than 50 courses ranging from the theological and philosophical, to the policy-oriented and practical.

One of the significant benefits of the program is the opportunity to interact and network with people from diverse educational, vocational, and international backgrounds who all share a concern about issues at the heart of faith and freedom. For instance, the 2007 Acton University conference included participants representing 44 different countries! Undergraduate and graduate students, non-profit professionals, clergy, professors, and business people will find Acton University particularly relevant, but anyone interested in deepening their understanding of the integration of sound economics, rigorous philosophy, and the Judeo-Christian faith is encouraged to attend.

If you are a participant on a group or institutional blog and are unable to attend, feel free to nominate another frequent contributor to your blog by sending me their name and email address.

Please visit www.acton.org/actonu where you will find the online registration form along with complete conference information. Be sure to reference this message when you fill out the form. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me via email or at 616.454.3080. We hope to see you in June!

Kara Eagle
Program Officer
Acton Institute
616.454.3080

Alan Donagan, the moral philosopher, in his text The Theory of Morality reflects upon Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make mankind in our image…”). This text can be seen, he writes,

as an affirmation that the earth and all that is on it exist for the sake of the rational beings who live in it; that is, for the sake of man. Yet mankind at large, like any limited human society, is a partnership of the living with the dead and the unborn. The right of the living to use the earth does not entitle them to despoil it. They must respect those who come after them, and not their contemporaries only.

It’s a good thing to remember, and not just with respect to the care of the earth as specifically concerns the environment, but with stewardship of other things, such as oure shared culture, religious doctrine and tradition, and as Dr. J. and others have written recently, fiscal and monetary responsibilities.

Robert Samuelson is absolutely right in today’s column. The next generation faces an increasing proportion of the Federal budget that goes to pay the expenses of retired workers. We can’t go on like this. These costs amount to a massive barrier to fertility for the next generation:

Our children face a future of rising taxes, squeezed — and perhaps falling — public services, and aging — perhaps deteriorating — public infrastructure (roads, sewers, transit systems). Today’s young workers and children are about to be engulfed by a massive income transfer from young to old that will perversely make it harder for them to afford their own children.

That is, we are signing up to look like Europe. Samuelson continues:

No major candidate of either party proposes to do much about this, even though the facts are well-known.

Spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — three programs that go overwhelmingly to older Americans — already represents more than 40 percent of federal spending. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office projects these programs could equal about 70 percent of the present budget by 2030. Without implausibly large budget deficits, the only way to preserve most other government programs would be huge tax increases (about 40 percent from today’s levels). Avoiding the tax increases would require draconian cuts in other programs (about 60 percent). Workers and young families, not retirees, would bear the brunt of either higher taxes or degraded public services.

I agree with Samuelson. We need to act now to make the necessary corrections. I am a Baby Boomer. I’ve been talking about this, and I must say, planning around these facts for my entire adult life. It’s time to act.

Crossposted at my blog.

What have many academics and a good number of religious leaders learned from the collapse of communism and the failures of so many utopias of socialism that couldn’t deliver on their promises? Well, nothing. In “The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI on Socialism,” Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at a critique of the socialist impulse offered by the Pope in his new encyclical Spe Salvi.

In the article, published on InsideCatholic.com, Rev. Sirico discusses the futility of a salvation based on a materialistic worlview:

History is strewn with intellectuals who imagined that they could save the world — and created hell on earth as a result. The pope counts the socialists among them, and Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.

Socialist theorizers simply cannot wish away economic realities. “The economic problem is intractable,” Rev. Sirico writes. “Simply asserting that the new world will magically appear begs critical issues, such as how we are to feed, clothe, and house people.”

Pope Benedict sees this flaw clearly. This is from Spe Salvi:

Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.

This utopian impulse, Rev. Sirico says, blinds the socialist to unchangeable realities of the economic order:

… the pope has put the problems of economics exactly in the right light: the practical issue that needs to be settled within the framework of a sound morality and understanding of human nature. Socialism fails for a precise and practical reason: It has no system for pricing factors of production to make economic calculation possible. Prices come from the exchange of the very private property with which socialism dispenses.

Read the encyclical letter Spe Salvi on the Vatican Web site here.