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Acton Notes - July/August 2010

Acton University Continues Expansion

Acton University in Grand Rapids, Michigan continues to expand its reach. This year, the Acton Institute received over 800 applications and welcomed over 400 participants, representing 55 countries, who attended courses from June 15 - 18.

Acton University is authentically ecumenical, as faculty and students represent many faith traditions. Many participants are seminary students. Others are entrepreneurs, college faculty and administrators, missionaries, physicians, and retirees. They are leaders in their schools, churches, and communities.

This year at Acton University, there were 70 courses taught by 32 faculty members. Among some of the lectures this year was "The Federalist Debate: Balancing Liberty and Order" by Dr. John Pinheiro. Dr. Pinheiro is a history professor at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. Dr. Daniel Mahoney taught a course titled "Centralization and Civil Society." Dr. Mahoney is a professor of political science at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Mr. Brett Elder, who is the founder and Executive Director of the Stewardship Council, taught "Stewardship, Generosity, and Charitable Giving."

Mr. Jim Healy, a retired businessman, Acton supporter, and volunteer at Acton University, commented on the courses this year: "The enthusiasm both by the presenter and the participants this year was unbelievable. It really reinforces the validity of Acton University." The evenings featured special lectures as conference attendees continued learning about a free and virtuous society. You can purchase audio of many of the lectures this year at http://sites.fastspring.com/acton/product/ actonuniversity. Each lecture is only $1.99. Acton University is a unique, four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. Guided by a distinguished, international faculty, Acton University is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology and sound economics.

Acton Engages WCRC Conference

Focusing on a strategic opportunity to influence the course of a newly formed ecumenical body, the Acton Institute garnered exhibition space at the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) this June. The WCRC is the result of a merger between two smaller Reformed ecumenical bodies, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). The Uniting General Council of the WCRC was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the campus of Calvin College. At the top of the council's agenda was discussion focusing on the Accra Confession, a document coming out of the last general meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Accra, Ghana in 2004. The Accra Confession decries globalization and a neoliberal "empire" led by the United States. In opposition to this unbalanced perspective, the Acton Institute distributed hundreds of Accra Confession study kits, which included relevant academic papers and copies of the latest Christian's Library Press book, "Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness" by Jordan J. Ballor. The kits were well-received by the delegates, and when the new WCRC president Rev. Dr. Jerry Pillay of South Africa held his first press conference, he was asked about the book. Pillay said he "had not yet read" Ecumenical Babel.

In The Washington Times, Monica Crowley, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, stated American Exceptionalism is "So Last Century." Many scholars, pundits, and even politicians have declared that American Exceptionalism is dead and that it is a cause for celebration. The president himself said "I believe in American Exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British Exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek Exceptionalism." But what is American Exceptionalism, and when and where did these ideas of America's greatness take root? Are they good for America? When and how has American Exceptionalism been abused? What are the spiritual connections? Is America's greatness slipping away? Associate Editor Ray Nothstine answers all these questions and more at the next Acton on Tap.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area August 12 please join us at Derby Station for this event.

On June 12, Dr. Jonathan Witt, writer and Research Fellow at the Acton Institute led a discussion about J.R.R. Tolkien's views on freedom, capitalism, socialism, and distributism, and he looked at some of the ways those views have been misrepresented.

Acton on Tap features a speaker who briefly introduces a theme and leads group discussion throughout the evening.

The Birth of Freedom

The Acton Documentary "The Birth of Freedom" received renewed attention over Independence Day weekend. Six local PBS stations in Tampa Bay, San Diego, Baton Rouge, Syracuse, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Carbondale, Illinois aired the documentary. "The Birth of Freedom" tells the story of how modern understandings of individual liberty were developed and addresses the questions, "Why would anyone believe that all men are created equal? That all should be free?"

Arthur Brooks on America's Future

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, lectured at an Acton event and signed copies of his latest book "The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future." The breakfast event took place at the University Club in downtown Grand Rapids and was attended by over 150 friends and supporters of the Acton Institute.

Dr. Brooks says, "America is a 70 – 30 percent nation in favor of free enterprise," but the forces of statism have capitalized on the financial crisis and have an entire arsenal of federal power at their disposal to advance their agenda. He also discussed the importance of earned success and how it relates to happiness and human flourishing. Earned success is the ability to create value honestly and it taps into the entrepreneurial spirit.

In his review of Dr. Brooks's book, Acton Associate Editor Ray Nothstine noted:

What Brooks has crafted is a spirited defense of the free market economy and a challenge to its defenders to think more holistically, to be aware of spiritual value in a free economy. To fail to do so would only sustain the wellworn narrative of defenders of markets as greedy misers and swindlers.

During his lecture, he also praised tea party groups for raising moral concerns about the unsustainability and irresponsibility of federal spending in Washington. He referred to the defense of the free market system as a cultural battle. He blamed both political parties for the fiscal crisis in Washington and called for leaders of principle. "America needs leaders committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and defending free enterprise," he said. You can purchase copies of "The Battle" through the Acton Bookshoppe.

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks was also the speaker at last year's Acton annual dinner. Until January 1, 2009, he was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University. He is the author of eight books and many articles on topics ranging from the economics of the arts to applied mathematics.