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Acton Notes - March / April 2010

American Thought & The Acton Lecture Series

Dr. John Pinhiero and Mr. Michael Miller delivered Acton Lecture Series addresses in downtown Grand Rapids in January and February. On January 21, Dr. Pinhiero spoke on “Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding.” Dr. Pinhiero is associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College in Michigan.

He quoted Lord Acton who said, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” He said Lord Acton’s thought is keeping in the tradition of Augustine, who stressed the freedom to incorporate morality in our decisions. Dr. Pinhiero discussed the political philosophy of those who founded this nation. “In the eighteenth century most every founder believed liberty was a gift from God. They believed we possess liberty simply by being human,” he said. He also talked about the founders views on the French Revolution and the thinking of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Dr. Pinhiero declared, “All the founders believed virtue was critical to government.”

Michael Miller’s lecture “Does Capitalism Destroy Culture?” discussed the positive and negative impact of capitalism in society today. Miller pointed out that it’s not just Christians that are worried about culture and that it is just not a right or left issue. Many are also worried about rampant consumerism and the perceived danger of technology. Miller also addressed the Southern Agrarians and their conservative critique of industrialization.

Miller noted that it was much easier to blame capitalism for our woes, “because it is much easier to see and things like unemployment are very measurable.” Miler said that we have something much worse than capitalism, “We have a managerial capitalist economy, with a secular progressive culture and political centralization, which is a potent and dangerous mix for society, culture, and human flourishing.”

Acton on Tap

A large and engaged crowd enjoyed the launch of a new event sponsored by the Acton Institute in February. Conceived as a way to encourage fellowship and discussion in a casual atmosphere, Acton on Tap features a speaker who briefly introduces a theme for the evening and leads some group discussion. These aspects complement ongoing informal and casual discussion throughout the evening.

For the inaugural Acton on Tap, associate editor Jordan Ballor introduced the theme, “The End of Liberty.” This topic, focusing on the idea of “end” as “purpose” or “goal,” was inspired by the comments of Lord Acton: “Liberty and good government do not exclude each other, and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.” For Lord Acton, liberty serves the purpose of allowing the realization of other ends, the goals and purposes of civil society. “It is not for the sake of a good public administration” that liberty is necessary, says Acton, “but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.” Foremost among these objects is the goal of religion, or as the Westminster divines put it, the chief end of humankind to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Ballor likened the role of government in Acton’s conception to the role of a good referee in sports. “The best games are usually the ones in which you do not notice the referees,” said Ballor. The referees are there, doing their jobs, but they are not the center of attention; the game itself is. In the same way a government that promotes liberty opens up and protects space for other institutions, like the family, the church, charities, voluntary organizations, clubs, and schools, to “play the game” of life and human flourishing.

Follow-up discussion included reference to the difference between the view of the civil magistrate in a Christendom and post-Christendom context, with special comparison between the views of Lord Acton and John Calvin on political authority. A group of over fifty attendees came from as far as Ann Arbor on Michigan’s southeast side to Derby Station in East Grand Rapids. The next Acton on Tap is scheduled for Tuesday, March 31, and will be hosted by Rudy Carrasco. Rudy is an associate director at Partners Worldwide, a Christian non-profit focused on eliminating poverty through job creation. Discussion will be around the question, “Must social justice and capitalism be mutually exclusive?”

Acton Luncheon with Rev. Sirico

Rev. Robert Sirico will give an address at the Newberry Library in Chicago on April 29. The title of the address for the event is “Does Social Justice Require Socialism?” Rev. Sirico will discuss the increasing calls for government intervention in financial market regulation, health care, education reform, and economic stimulus in the name of “social justice.”

Mr. Joseph A. Morris, who is the chief executive officer of the Lincoln Legal Foundation, has agreed to serve as emcee for the event. Mr. Morris served under President Reagan as assistant attorney general of the United States.

If you would like to attend the Chicago luncheon or find out more about this event please contact Kim Brink in the Acton office at 616.454.3080 or kbrink@acton.org.

Liberating Black Theology

Liberating Black Theology, the new book from Acton research fellow Dr. Anthony Bradley, was recently published by Crossway Books. In addition to his work as an Acton research fellow, Bradley is also a professor at King’s College in New York.

Bradley, whose Ph.D. dissertation was titled Victimology in Black Liberation Theology, was interviewed about his book in February for World Magazine. Bradley told World:

If theology emphasizes “victim status” and not something more ontological, the remedy is often short-sighted: When your theology is nothing but politics and sociology, it doesn’t help you when you get cancer or your husband leaves you. If your theology of liberation is grounded in the Imago Dei, you’re much more open to looking at the multiple ways in which the Fall affects human life.

Bradley has provided valuable work for Acton because of his extensive research on black liberation theology. During the 2008 election he was a host on several cable news shows discussing the theology of Jeremiah Wright. Wright was President Barack Obama’s pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Bradley penned a series of essays on Black Liberation Theology for the newsletter published by Glenn Beck and was also a guest on Beck’s 2008 CNN show. In his work he has also been a guest on Fox News, CourtTV Radio, and has had a constant presence on National Public Radio.

He is a frequent contributor of commenatry for the Acton Institute where his research focuses on the ties between culture, theology, and economics.

In a video promoting his book Bradley says, “I wrote Liberating Black Theology because these theological pioneers veered off course. In the book I suggest a way forward that maintains the voice of historical Christianity to both personal sin and structural sin.”

Bradley’s book can be purchased through the Acton BookShoppe. Please check the BookShoppe page for information on how to place an order.