Seattle, Washington

by Sean O’Connell

“Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral laws are written on the table of eternity.” These words by Lord Acton speak well of the Christian concern presented during the Acton Institute’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference held in Seattle, Washington during the spring of 2007. It was precisely this concern that attracted my attention at the conference. As a seminary student studying for the priesthood, it often times seems difficult to reconcile moral truths while being bombarded with the propaganda of our times. This misinformation which appears to direct one’s focus to “so called” legitimate explanations for societal machinery can be extremely destructive and worrisome.

The Acton Institute’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference is exactly the type of remedy that is needed in our times. The Conference focused on that idea of freedom which speaks toward personal responsibility underlined by Christian morals and rights. One of the speakers, Mr. Michael Miller, explained at one of the first lectures: “when we own ourselves, we can give ourselves”, certainly a simple explanation of Christian freedom, but something much more difficult to live out in our time. However, this was the type motivational thought that permeated throughout the weekend.

Another supreme aspect of the conference was learning to understand the numerous economic fallacies which flash across radios, newspapers, and televisions everyday in our country. Let us take for example the Nirvana fallacy which is often times used by politicians when expressing a desire to “eliminate” poverty, terrorism, and other social flaws. Unfortunately, these politicians fail to understand the impossibility of comparing actual things with their idealized counterparts. Another example is the fallacy of Composition which is used to compare one industry with an entire economy. This idea of comparing the individual to the whole or group is extremely disturbing and historically has shown to have disastrous consequences.

What a pleasure it was to sit and listen to a group of tremendously bright presenters who were more interested in having us as future Christian leaders understand the concepts offered, than tout their own intellectually advanced theories and opinions. This showed a genuine concern for our entire group and a respect for the Acton Institute as a whole.

Nothing can be taken away from the group’s immediate connection with the material presented, but even more so, the group’s direct bond with each other. Here were men and women from all types of Christian traditions sharing in meaningful dialogue and friendship. A person might claim that they learned nothing new from the material presented, but it would be impossible to say that they did not walk away with a better understanding of the Christian presence infused throughout the country by men and women dedicated to living out the Gospel. Often times the classroom discussions would spill out into the lobby and outdoor gardens. I had to chuckle when I heard the same three people discuss one particular idea presented for almost an entire day. However, that was the beauty of the entire weekend, it allowed people to take a break from their hectic lifestyle and contemplate and discuss ideas with people very similar, but also quite different.

I cannot say enough about the Acton Institute’s professionalism and dedication towards these types of conferences. The presenters and staff worked constantly to provide us with excellent accommodations and showed an indisputable regard for the dignity of all our Christian traditions. I am forever grateful for this experience and hopefully will continue to keep in contact with the Acton Institute for many years!