On Friday, Glenn Arbery, president of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, praised Acton University for the “good diversity” that it demonstrated. Arbery argues that diversity today is too often pursued for its own ends, rather than for the truly virtuous end of coherence, of “unity in the good.” At Acton University, he says, there is true diversity, not simply “praising… the colors on a palette.” Arbery’s comments follow, with permission, in full:
Many good Catholics in their critique of modern thought have come to think of free markets as inimical to Christian virtue. Not so, says the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which exists “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” A number of Wyoming Catholic College students over the past few years have attended Acton University, a four-day program of classes and lectures held each June in Grand Rapids, and this year I am attending myself as part of an invited “Presidents’ Cohort” generously sponsored by Acton.
Headed by Fr. Robert Sirico, WCC’s commencement speaker in 2017, Acton seeks to bridge the divide between “good intentions and sound economics.” More than a thousand people from all over the world, including hundreds of participants from developing nations, have gathered this week to participate. Each day begins with religious services, Catholic and Protestant. Yesterday morning at Mass I saw the universality of the Church as I have never seen it outside Rome. There were priests from India, South America, and all over Africa; the homilist was from Nigeria, an impressive young priest, now studying in Rome, who gave a moving meditation on the Gospel passage in Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.
Why are these priests attending? Because they come from nations whose people have long lived in poverty and who want better ways than international aid to feed the hungry and cure the sick. They don’t need another program justified by another secular ideology. The opening lecture on Wednesday morning by Michael Matheson Miller, Director and Producer of the award-winning documentary, Poverty, Inc., set the framework for the whole Acton approach. Miller emphasized that if we misunderstand the human person, nothing we do will prosper, and he stressed the seven things we need to recognize to get it right: 1) our rational nature; 2) our free will; 3) the fact that we are good but fallen; 4) the fact that we are individual subjects but with a social nature; 5) the fact that we are embodied persons; 6) the fact that we have spiritual emotions; and 7) the fact that we have an everlasting destiny. This is not a narrow, strictly economic view of the human person as a function, not a subordination of Christian charity to market forces, but a broad, traditional perspective on human nature itself, one that sees “human flourishing” from a perspective largely lost to the secular world.
Many sessions at Acton University go on simultaneously—an embarrassment of riches. Yesterday morning, I attended “Good before Useful: Why a Good Liberal Arts Education Makes Better Business,” led by Prof. David Deavel of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Prof. Deavel went through the arguments usually made against the practicality of liberal arts education and countered them, showing that the CEOs of many of the largest companies majored in arts and sciences; he also drew heavily upon Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University to support his argument. Participants from Bolivia, Nigeria, and Uruguay raised questions. Colleges and universities in these developing economies, they pointed out, have a hard time justifying the liberal arts when their countries so desperately need practical acumen. Are the liberal arts a luxury? Prof. Deavel argued that education in the trades and technical professions is crucial, but even more crucial, especially for leaders, is the knowledge of the whole and the place of each part within it that Cardinal Newman so eloquently describes. Otherwise, what understanding will order these societies toward the good, both nationally and internationally?
What I see at Acton University is the strong desire of people from all over the world to relieve not only those in poverty, but those denied basic human liberties under the oppression of regimes like the one in Venezuela. The hunger to harmonize sound economics with spiritual and philosophical truths is evident everywhere among the participants, who come from over seventy different countries. Only in airports—Fiumicino in Rome or Heathrow in London—have I seen this mix of nationalities.
Last night at dinner with two friends of WCC, Mark and Pat Korb, we were joined by a non-denominational pastor who runs the Global Empowerment Christian Center in Kenya and a Muslim from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who leads the Islam & Liberty Network. Each had traveled for over forty hours to be present for these four days. Despite the differences in religion, each was looking for wisdom to take home, not so much practical advice but genuine understanding. What will allow us to be civil in our disagreements? How can we seek profit and also increase in the spirit of charity? What kind of truth allows human beings the liberty to act rightly toward God and neighbor?
Pictured: Glenn Arbery. Source: Wyoming Catholic College.