Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

These Russian Orthodox cosmonauts get it. Click photo for source.

… Or does religion need Mars? So argues social commentator James Poulos at Foreign Affairs:

What’s clear is that Earth no longer invites us to contemplate, much less renew, our deepest spiritual needs. It has filled up so much with people, discoveries, information, and sheer stuff that it’s maddening to find what F. Scott Fitzgerald called a fresh green breast of a new world — the experience of truly open horizons and an open but specific future. That’s a problem that does suggest a terrible calamity, if not exactly an imminent apocalypse. But by making a fresh pilgrimage to a literally new world — say, red-breasted Mars — we could mark our pilgrims’ progress from the shadows of ignorance and apartness from God.

I’m sympathetic to Poulos’s general point that Mars — and those, like Elon Musk, who want to colonize it — needs religion. (Perhaps even Calvinism in particular!) However, I’m not so sure that Earth has lost its ability to evoke spiritual renewal. (more…)

As fall takes hold, it’s time once again for the Acton Lecture Series to take center stage here at the Acton Institute. Last Thursday, John Wilsey, assistant professor of history and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, kicked off our fall 2016 series with a lecture on how to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Wilsey explores ways that Tocqueville’s background shaped him as an author, and the unique insights into American society that Tocqueville shared in his classic work.

Wilsey has produced Democracy in America: A New Abridgment for Students which will be appearing this November, and is also the author of One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America, and American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea.

You can view his lecture in its entirety via the video player below; to hear his appearance on Radio Free Acton, click here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We Abandon Social Conservatism at Our Own Peril
Carlos D. Flores, Public Discourse

Fiscal conservativism cannot exist without social conservatism. Strong families form the foundation of healthy societies and strong economies.

Straight Talk About Christopher Columbus
David Tucker, Wall Street Journal

Europeans acted the way that conquerors always did. We judge them harshly because they spread a then-novel idea: equality.

Turkey Builds 9,000 Mosques, Bans Orthodox Christian Liturgy
Robert Jones, PJ Media

While the Turkish government has built so many mosques across the country with state funds, it has banned Orthodox Christian liturgy in the Sumela Monastery, a historic site in Trabzon.

Will Americans Ever Trust Their Government Again?
Salena Zito, The Federalist

It’s not just scandals like Watergate that have crippled voters’ trust. It’s also attitudes of entitlement and media fear-mongering.

Economic GrowthIn 1820, America’s per capita income averaged $1,980, in today’s dollars. But by 2000, it had increased to $43,000. That economic growth has benefited the rich, of course. But it has also transformed the lives of the poor—and prevented many more from becoming or staying poor. Because of economic growth we not only have less poverty and hunger, but less disease and and increase in life expectancy measured in decades.

Yet despite these benefits we are often uncomfortable with economic growth, i.e., a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens. Indeed we are, as Benjamin M. Friedman says, we tend to denigrate the material welfare of ourselves and our neighbors are being of little moral consequence:

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 10, 2016

taxesLast week, before the most recent news about Donald Trump and the current US presidential campaign burst onto the scene, Think Christian ran a short reflection of mine on the question of taxation. As I argue, “There is no duty to pay anything other than what we owe in taxes. But whatever we do owe we must pay in good conscience and out of a spirit of justice.”

If you spend any time on the internet reading about political liberty, you are likely to come across the formula, “Taxation is theft.” The picture the Apostle Paul paints is rather different. The point of departure for my thoughts on taxation is his instruction: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.”

So the moral status of taxation as such doesn’t seem to be problematic. But as I note in the piece, the question of implementation is different and much more complex. Just because taxation isn’t in itself theft, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t forms or levels of taxation that cannot devolve to that level.

Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, considers appropriate taxation. He warns of the necessity “that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation.” He continues,

The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. (47)

As with so many questions of political economy, the issue turns on the question, “Who decides?” What Paul and Leo make clear, however, is that there is a divine standard of justice to which those who require and those who pay taxes must both adhere.

initiativeThe term “free market” doesn’t really capture the essence of the economic system that produces prosperity, says Michael Novak. The secret that “liberated more than a half billion of their citizens from poverty” was not mere freedom but private ownership and personal initiative.

The new economy in which we live is often called “the free market economy.” But markets are universal. Markets were central during the long agrarian centuries, through biblical times, in all times. For this reason, the term “the market economy” or even “the free-market economy” somewhat misses the mark.

More accurate is the “initiative-centered,” the “invention-centered,” or in general the “mind-centered economy.” More than anything, mind is the cause of wealth today. The Latin word caput (head) — the linguistic root of “capitalism” — has inadvertently caught the new reality quite well.

“The free economy” captures only part of the secret — it emphasizes the conditions under which the mind is more easily creative, in the fresh air of freedom. Freedom is a necessary condition, but the dynamic driving cause of new wealth is the initiative, enterprise, creativity, invention — which use the freedom.

Freedom alone is not enough. Freedom alone can also produce indolence and indulgence. To awaken slothful human beings out of the habitual slumber and slowness of the species, the fuel of interest must normally be ignited. One must move the will to action by showing it a route to a better world. Since humans are fallen creatures, mixed creatures, not angels, the fuel of interest is a practical necessity. The fire of invention lies hidden in every human mind, the very image of the Creator infusing the creature. To ignite it, one must offer incentives, a vision of a higher, better human condition, not only this-worldly, but also nourishing the expansion of the human soul and easement of bodily infirmities.

There is a natural desire in every human being, although it is often slumbering, to better his or her condition. And it is good for a woman to liberate herself and her whole people from the narrower horizons within which they find themselves. It is good for humans to catch glimmers of new possibilities for human development.

This, or something very like this, is the famous, celebrated and usually misunderstood “spirit of capitalism.” This is not a spirit of greed or avarice, which are grasping and small, not creative. It is an esprit, a gift of the spirit rather than of the body.

Read more . . .