pope-oreoBased on their latest headline, it looks like someone from the Acton Institute is writing for the The Onion:

Pope Francis Reverses Position On Capitalism After Seeing Wide Variety Of American Oreos

As the article says:

Admitting the startling discovery had compelled him to reexamine his long-held beliefs, His Holiness Pope Francis announced Tuesday that he had reversed his critical stance toward capitalism after seeing the immense variety of Oreos available in the United States. “Oh, my goodness, look at all these! Golden Oreos, Cookie Dough Oreos, Mega Stuff Oreos, Birthday Cake Oreos—perhaps the system of free enterprise is not as terrible as I once feared,” said the visibly awed bishop of Rome while visiting a Washington, D.C. supermarket, adding that the sheer diversity of flavors, various colors and quantities of creme filling, and presence or absence of an outer fudge layer had led to a profound philosophical shift in his feelings toward the global economy and opened his eyes to the remarkable capabilities of the free market.

Sadly, the article is only satire. But buried underneath the humor is a serious question worth considering: What does our abundance of choice say about our economic system? As I wrote in my post on “3 Things I Wish Pope Francis Knew About a Free Economy“:

DeKoster-3-dimensions-of-workLester DeKoster’s short book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, sets forth a profound thesis and solid theological framework for how we think about work.

Although the faith and work movement has delivered a host of books and resources on the topic, DeKoster’s book stands out for its bite and balance. It is remarkably concise, and yet sets forth a holistic vision that considers the multiple implications of the Christian life.

The book was recently re-issued, along with the new afterword by Greg Forster. In it, Forster outlines DeKoster’s underlying framework, which “invites us to view work as a complex, three-dimensional reality.” Each of these dimensions is summarized as follows (quoted directly from Forster).

1. Objective-Subjective

One dimension of our work is defined by the distinction between objective and subjective. No matter how pious your feelings about it are, it still matters to God whether your work is actually having a beneficial effect on other people. At the same time, human dignity and the shaping of the self for God can only be lived out if we do our work with the right sense of identity and motives. We see this dimension most clearly in DeKoster’s twofold understanding of God’s presence in our work—that we love God in our work by serving our neighbor (objectively) and shaping ourselves (subjectively).


Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

what-is-a-class-6-felony-670x442After years of working for a tech company, you decide to start your own business designing websites. One of your first clients is a charity that focuses on teaching traditional religious customs and practices. While building the website, you link to other organizations that share some, but not all, of your charity’s views.

You’ve just committed an arguable federal felony: Because information on the websites to which you link contained advocacy of religious extremism, you have broken the federal Patriot Act provision of Providing Material Support to Terrorists.

Now imagine you decide to have a picnic in a national park with your family. After finishing your meal you throw away your trash. Your son, however, isn’t so careful – he leaves behind a few leftover items. As you leave your picnic area, a park ranger asks if you or your family has left trash in the area. You tell him that you’ve cleaned up after yourself.

You’ve just committed an arguable federal felony: False Statements to a Federal Official. Any false statement made to a government official – even when it is made in conversation and not under oath nor in writing – can leave a citizen vulnerable to a “false statement” charge.

Those may seem like absurd examples but as civil rights lawyer Harvey A. Silvergate notes, these hypothetical examples have real-life parallels. Overcriminalization and an increase in vague regulations have made most of us unknowing and unintentional felons.

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

America Exclusive: Vice President Biden on Pope Francis, Faith and Public Life

He made it clear, it is not the papacy’s role to be the scientist-­in­-chief and/or the political arbiter. But what he talked about are basic fundamental assertions. Look, the way I read it, and I read it, is it was an invitation, almost a demand, that a dialogue begin internationally, to deal with what is the single most consequential problem and issue facing humanity right now. And so the fact that he talked about — I mean even our department of defense has written long papers several years ago talking about what a danger to national security failing to deal with this is. Sea levels rise another foot, you’ve got tens of millions of people being displaced. You think there is a migration problem in Syria, watch what happens when hundreds of millions of people in South Asia are displaced trying to find new territory to live. Look what’s happened with Darfur. Darfur is all about climate change. It’s about arable land being evaporated, figuratively and literally, and warring over land. So I think it’s a total misrepresentation of the pope’s encyclical tosay it’s a political document. It’s a human document.

The left has its pope
Thomas Sowell, WND

In 1900, only 3 percent of American homes had electric lights but more than 99 percent had them before the end of the century. Infant mortality rates were 165 per thousand in 1900 and 7 per thousand by 1997. By 2001, most Americans living below the official poverty line had central air conditioning, a motor vehicle, cable television with multiple TV sets and other amenities.A scholar specializing in the study of Latin America said that the official poverty level in the United States is the upper middle class in Mexico. The much criticized market economy of the United States has done far more for the poor than the ideology of the left. Pope Francis’ own native Argentina was once among the leading economies of the world, before it was ruined by the kind of ideological notions he is now promoting around the world.

On visit to U.S., pope will find a church in transition
Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times

The Roman Catholic Church that Pope Francis will encounter on his first visit to the United States is being buffeted by immense change, and it is struggling — with integrating a new generation of immigrants, with conflicts over buildings and resources, with recruiting priests and with retaining congregants. The denomination is still the largest in the United States, but its power base is shifting.

Reconstructionists Set Yom Kippur Climate Change Service for Pope’s Visit

The services Tuesday night and Wednesday “will follow the traditional rituals with a focus on atonement for damage to the environment,” Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s director of social justice organizing program and one of the leaders of the Yom Kippur services, said in a statement.


Acton Institute External Relations Officer Peter Johnson wrote recently at The Federalist that “If Francis can imagine a way to affirm my generation’s devotion to the marginalized while delivering a stern warning against the sort of degenerate sentimentality and paternalism that advocating for the poor can engender, then I think Francis could have an astounding impact here.” He’s been called upon a number of times now to share his thoughts on this topic on a variety of podcasts, and we’d like to highlight a couple of interviews here.

First of all, Peter appeared on the Larry Conners USA program to discuss his article; the interview is available in full below.

Peter also made an appearance on the Cam & Co. podcast on NRA News, which you can listen to below.

The global conversation on poverty alleviation has taken some interesting turns over the past decade, with an increasing range of economists, government leaders, and even rock stars beginning to challenge the status quo of economic development and foreign aid.

Contrary to the longstanding model of top-down solution-seeking, we are seeing a new emphasis on the power of markets and the importance of bottom-up “searchers.” And yet, even as we begin to make productive steps toward improved quality of life and widespread economic progress, we must be careful that our efforts don’t simply replace the problems of poverty with those of prosperity – enabling vice and replacing old struggles with new temptations.

As Christians, this risk is particularly clear, and we are well aware of the solution to meet the need. As explained in the following excerpt from the PovertyCure series, the Gospel is the only solution that can truly set free the human spirit, and that includes redeeming the fruits of economic progress.


Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

27 Facts About Pope Francis
Kate Scanlon, The Daily Signal

Pope Francis is about to make his first visit to the United States. According to his schedule, Francis will arrive in the United States on Sept. 22, and he will visit Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Homeschooling in the City
Matthew Hennessey, City Journal

Frustrated with the public schools, middle-class urbanites embrace an educational movement.

We Can’t Solve Poverty Without Addressing Families
Maura Corrigan, The Federalist

New poverty statistics can’t show that fighting poverty is more difficult and more expensive because of America’s fragmenting and chaotic families.

Perhaps the most powerful defense of market capitalism you will ever read
James Pethokoukis, AEI Ideas

“The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments. Explaining it is the central scientific task of economics and economic history, and it matters for any other sort of social science or recent history.”

Blog author: jsunde
Monday, September 21, 2015

tree-colorful-4Over at the Reformation21 blog, Michael Jensen compares what he calls the “scarcity mindset” of the world with the “abundance mentality” of God, noting that “the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God.”

Although Jensen’s portrait of civilizational progress is undeservedly bleak (if anything, we’re learning to see beyond scarcity), and although he overstates the conflict between “growing populations” and “diminishing resources” (see Matt Ridley et al), he manages to frame the basic theology quite well:

A theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth.

The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn’t supposed to be there – it exceeded nature’s fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren…The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess.

Of course, as with all the miracles, it’s an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn’t a world in which things will run out. It’s a world in which things overflow, because that’s the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven’t counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need.

Again, I think these glimpses into the abundance of the not yet are far more prevalent in the here and now than Jensen seems to believe. We have seen unprecedented bursts of innovative and value-creative activity in so many ways, leading to more material needs being met and more bellies being filled than ever before. Surely human greed and vice continue to tempt folks throughout all of that, and the “scarcity mindset” is alive and well among many. But free societies have secured gains not out of quest for self, but by learning to orient inventors, entrepreneurs, and employees in the service of neighbor. (more…)

hungerinamericaUpon the release of the annual household food security report in 2009, President Obama said, “we received an unsettling report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found that hunger rose significantly last year.” This month the USDA released its latest report, which claims 48 million Americans live in “food insecure” households.

Does that mean nearly one in six Americans is going hungry?

Before we answer the question we should try to “guesstimate” for ourselves what percentage of the population is going without food. In the U.S. approximately one out of four persons is a child under the age of 18. That is the size of the population that the U.S. government is claiming is hungry. Should the population that is hungry be nearly equal to all of the kids in America?

Does it even seem plausible that every fifth person we encounter doesn’t get enough to eat? If not, what could explain the discrepancy?

The answer is a misleading conflation of hunger with “food insecurity.” The USDA defines food insecurity as being “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” They also add, “For most food-insecure households, the inadequacies were in the form of reduced quality and variety rather than insufficient quantity.” As James Bovard explains,

The definition of “food insecure” includes anyone who frets about not being able to purchase food at any point. If someone states that they feared running out of food for a single day (but didn’t run out), that is an indicator of being “food insecure” for the entire year — regardless of whether they ever missed a single meal. If someone wants organic kale but can afford only conventional kale, that is another “food insecure” indicator.

Bovard points out that even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has criticized the government for conflating hunger with food insecurity. The USDA requested the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies to convene a panel of experts to undertake a two-year study to review the issue. Their conclusion:

The panel therefore concludes that hunger is a concept distinct from food insecurity, which is an indicator of and possible consequence of food insecurity, that can be useful in characterizing severity of food insecurity. Hunger itself is an important concept that should be measured at the individual level distinct from, but in the context of, food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a legitimate problem, and one that should concern us. But it is not the same as hunger. A large number of persons who are food insecure are obese—a problem rarely found in those who are perpetually hungry.

To truly end the problem of hunger in this country we need to know how many people are being affected. We need an accurate methodology for identifying who is hungry so that we can know how many of our neighbors need assistance. But we’ll never get an accurate measure if the federal government remains content with misleading the American people. Before we can fix the problem the government needs to stop playing politics with empty bellies.


Blog author: bwalker
Monday, September 21, 2015

bob dylanWhen it comes to addressing the latest hit-piece in Rolling Stone regarding the Acton Institute, Rev. Robert Sirico is front and center, top of the charts, so to speak. I’d like to take a whack at it, myself, if readers will indulge me.

“Pope Francis’ American Crusade” appears in the same magazine (in)famously trumpeting liberal causes for nearly 50 years, and the very same publication with a boss worth more than $700 million, earned primarily from a magazine that applauds the conspicuous lifestyles of thuggish actors and “musicians;” and the same magazine that has celebrated unabashed materialism while bashing capitalism since its inception. The very same magazine that could be accused of white, American capitalist imperialism for ripping off its very name from the titles of famous songs by Muddy Waters (a black man) and Bob Dylan (Jewish and Minnesotan) as well as a British rock group.

It seems the article’s author – one Mark Binelli – succumbs to the tried-and-true tactic employed by the magazine’s editorial contributors since time immemorial, which is to quote anyone regardless credibility or integrity if they support the Rolling Stone writer’s agenda. For example, famed scofflaw Rep. Charles Rangel is quoted: “People can distort the Bible any way they want to, but when you have science and religion on the same side of a question, there’s no place for fundamentalists to go. You speak against the pope at your own risk.” Apparently, according to Binelli, readers should consider Rangel a martyr because he “says he has had invitations to speak at Catholic high school graduations rescinded by local religious leaders, apparently because of his pro-choice views.” (more…)