Acton University 2008 was another prolific gathering for promoting the intellectual foundations of a free society. This year's attendees featured 400 participants from fifty one different countries. As Acton's director of programs, Michael Miller noted, "We are authentically diverse." This year's four day conference contained noteworthy lectures by twenty two faculty members for Acton University. There was over fifty different courses offered for the university, and many of the lectures are available on the Acton Institute PowerBlog site.
Lord Brian Griffiths delivered a lecture titled "A Theology of Market Capitalism." Lord Griffiths criticized theologians who use a soft form of Marxism to evaluate the world. He called this approach "disturbing." He pointed out that many church leaders are criticizing capitalism, while profiting from it at the same time. Speaking of social justice for the poor, Lord Griffiths added, "We believe in private property, free exchange, and free markets, but that's not the same as laissez-faire." He quoted Proverbs 31, saying, "We need to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. We need to be the defenders of the rights of the poor." He also said, "The charge is made that market capitalism inevitably leads to consumerism, and this can be a tricky issue." Quoting John Paul II, Lord Griffiths noted, "These criticisms are not directed so much at an economic system but at the ethical and human condition." Lord Griffiths noted that we need to distinguish the economic order from the moral and cultural order. He rightly slammed the prosperity gospel and continually stressed the importance of justice for the poor within market capitalism, tying it to our Christian duty, which separates us from secular defenders of laissez-faire. Lord Griffiths served as a special advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and is the vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
With the desire of connecting with bloggers for Acton University, the Acton PowerBlog hosted a social gathering for interested bloggers. The Acton Institute was especially thankful for the presence of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, Hunter Baker, and Tex. All of them receive considerable attention through their writings. Tex, a blogger pen name, writes at MereOrthodoxy.com and added to the coverage of Acton University with highly thoughtful analysis of the lectures and addresses. He wrote detailed critiques on the lectures of Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Dr. Stephen Grabill, and Mustafa Akyol.
Writing at the American Spectator Blog, Hunter Baker, called the Acton Institute, "The next big center right think tank." Baker also had generous words for Acton's new documentary The Birth of Freedom. Baker praised the production quality, and felt the documentary would receive strong ratings if it aired on The History Channel or public television. One blogger, with the name Anneli, offered a testimony of sorts on the new documentary:
Christianity is not just a personal belief system, not merely a personal faith. Christianity has changed the world, changed social structures, political powers, defined justice, declared that all people, whether slave or master, Jew or Gentile, male or female are all one under Christ.
Has this always been true? No. Have great injustices been committed by the Church, by Christians? Of course. But step back, get a bigger picture of the history of how the advent of Christianity slowly changed the world, and then rejoice that we know the end of the story.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who writes at wdtprs.com/blog/ has a huge Catholic audience of readers. He offered high praise for the passion of the young attendees of Acton University and the Acton support staff for their ability to find solutions to problems. Troy Camplin noted on his blog, "Even if the sessions weren't as great as they were, it would have been worth going just to meet all the people I met."
Acton's president, Rev. Robert Sirico, wrapped up Acton University with a moving address titled "Piety and Technique." Quoting Augustine and talking about his own spiritual conversion, Rev. Sirico testified, "Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new." Speaking to the participants, Rev. Sirico added, "You understand that human freedom and human dignity is the birthright of every human being."
Rev. Sirico reminded the audience that many of our rights and liberties come from the Judeo-Christian heritage. "Reason and not force is the power and means of man's survival," said Rev. Sirico. There were also serious warnings from Acton's president about the encroachment of government control over the lives of families and individuals. "There are voices in our nation and in our world that do not trust human liberty and distrust it in the name of religious and moral reasoning," said Rev. Sirico.
He called the participants "tillers of the soil, with an obligation to nourish it." He also added, "We must make the building of the free society once more a moral adventure, for its construction was morally inspired in the first place and it emerged from a vision of man and his inherent and transcendent dignity."
Dr. Arthur C. Brooks adressed the topic of happiness and faith on May 22 for the Acton Lecture Series. He is the author of Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America - and How We Can Get More of It. Dr. Brooks is the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management. "The studies show that 50 to 80 percent of happiness is determined by genetics," said Dr. Brooks. Dr. Brooks believes because of this it's even more important to have public policies that foster and encourage happiness. He also cited marrage and economic freedom as products that help make people happier.
The one kind of freedom that makes people more unhappy is moral freedom. "The very happiest people are those who have freedom in moral areas that they abridge of their own volition because of their religious and ethical views," said Dr. Brooks. While money does not buy happiness, charitable giving helps people receive a greater joy and a sense of worth in their lives.
Dr. Brooks challenged the view that secularism provides the greatest happiness, as some of his academic colleagues have claimed. "Religious people are about twice as likely to say they are happier than secular people," said Dr. Brooks. Additionally, Dr. Brooks said evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews are the happiest religious people out there, but every religious practicing group is happier than secularists. Dr. Brooks also asks why is it that political conservatives are happier than liberals? He says the data shows that this is directly tied to a faith aspect. "Religious people were a third more likely than secularists to say they're optimistic about the future," says Dr Brooks. The research of Dr. Brooks is highlighted in the July issue of Reader's Digest.
On March 26, 2008, Northwood University, a business school for aspiring business leaders in Cedar Hill, Texas, held a private screening of The Call of the Entrepreneur. The film served as the main attraction for Northwood's 2008 Founder's Day, an event honoring the founding members of the university. The Call of the Entrepreneur was viewed by over 250 business students, faculty, and university board members and honorees.
Following the film, Michelle Muccio, Washington D.C. representative and production associate for Acton Media, was featured in a panel discussion with David Kreiss and Michael Hoye, two successful entrepreneurs, to discuss the importance of the entrepreneur in society. David Kreiss is the founder and CEO of KM2 Solutions, and Michael Hoye owns and operates the North Texas Sailing School. Dennis McCuistion, host and executive producer of the award winning McCuistion Program on PBS, served as the panel's facilitator.
Northwood University's Cedar Hill campus is located eighteen miles from downtown Dallas, Texas.