Religion & Liberty Article Listing


The First Freedom

Twenty years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is worth recalling the distinctly salvific promises of the inhuman ideologies of communism and fascism that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people during the 20th century. The utopian promises of murderous ideologues were accompanied by a vicious fury against those faiths that proclaimed freedom and human dignity. The despot persecutes the believer, who refuses to offer the totality of his life to the ruling power. For this reason, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered religious liberty the “first freedom,” the foundational freedom upon which others are built. A brief selection of readings follows. – Editors.

Communism and Christianity

Communism... wants above all to be a “world outlook”; it is...

Not Celebrating Communism's Collapse

America’s Religious Left, having invested decades in dialogue with and advocating accommodation of the Soviet Bloc, was flummoxed and uncelebratory about the momentous collapse of East European Communism in 1989-1990.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops, representing 9 million church members in the U.S. were actually in session when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. They reacted by blandly commending the East Germans for their “openness and growing self- confidence” and by urging a “new trust and compassion throughout the world.” They also warned against the imposition of Eastern or Western value systems, as though the two were morally equal.

East German United Methodist Bishop Rudiger Minor assured his fellow prelates that East Germans would not exchange communism for West German capitalism’s “society of sharp elbows” and would instead...

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Explaining the realignment of American Southern politics is often a favorite area of study among historians and scholars. A region that was once dominated by yellow dog Democrats, has for the most part continued to expand as a loyal region for the Grand Old Party. One of the earliest and most common narratives among liberal historians and writers is the belief that the realignment in the South had to do with a backlash against desegregation. Steven P. Miller in his new book Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South puts considerable emphasis on Graham’s role in desegregation, public evangelicalism, and Graham as a spiritual and political adviser to presidents. Miller argues that Graham played a formidable role in reshaping the political climate of the South.

Early on Miller describes some of the dynamics of Graham’s insistence on holding...

A Rare and Tenuous Freedom: An Interview with Nina Shea

There are many anniversaries related to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe this year. Those countries were appropriately referred to as the “Captive Nations.” What thoughts do you have as you look back at that time and remember some of the great figures who toiled for political and religious freedom?

It was thrilling to come to know some of the heroic champions of freedom from that historic period—Soviet human rights advocate Andrei Sakharov, Lithuanian Catholic priest and long time political prisoner Fr. Alfonsas Svarinskas, former Jewish refusnik Natan Scharansky, Romanian poet Dorin Tudoran, and many other less familiar political dissidents, clergy, and writers of samizdat literature. Of course, many others I would only know by reading about because they never made it out of the gulag and labor camps. In the struggle for individual rights and...

Editor's Note

Recent press accounts of atrocities against Christians in the Muslim world too often point to mutual blame between the parties. In this issue, Nina Shea sets the record straight. Nina Shea, whom Christianity Today called “The Daniel of Religious Rights,” has committed her life to fighting for religious and political freedom across the globe. In this interview, Ms. Shea pays tribute to the ten-year anniversary of the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, an uprising that started in the fall of 1989. She also makes important connections between the persecution many suffer today and the long twilight struggle for freedom behind the Iron Curtain and in the former Soviet Union. Her work is immensely important, and we are fortunate and humbled for this opportunity to raise awareness of all she is doing for the sake of freedom.

Managing editor Ray Nothstine has contributed a book...

The Pope on "Love in Truth"

In his much anticipated third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI does not focus on specific systems of economics—he is not attempting to shore up anyone’s political agenda. He is rather concerned with morality and the theological foundation of culture. The context is, of course, a global economic crisis—a crisis that’s taken place in a moral vacuum, where the love of truth has been abandoned in favor of a crude materialism. The pope urges that this crisis become “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.”

Yet his encyclical contains no talk of seeking a third way between markets and socialism. People seeking a blueprint for the political restructuring of the world economy won’t find it here. But if they look to this document as a means for the moral reconstruction of the world’s cultures and societies...

A Christian Perspective for Health Care Reform

How should health care in the United States be reformed? The principles of social justice outlined in Catholic social teaching can be considered by all those of good will as guidelines for ethical health care reform. Those principles, are the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity. These four social-justice principles provide a foundation for a virtuous and economically sound improvement in medical resource allocation; a Christian prescription for health care reform.

It is clear that we have a duty to improve access, affordability, and quality of care for all citizens because of their human dignity. Frequently missing from the discussion of health care reform is the role of personal responsibility. Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized the point: “In the name of freedom, there has to be a correlation between rights and duties, by which every...

Doing Justice - Benedict's Way

As the squabbling continues over various policy suggestions contained in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate, there’s a risk that the deeper theological themes of the text will be overlooked. It’s also possible some of the wider implications for the Catholic Church’s own self-understanding and the way it consequently approaches questions of justice will be neglected. For historical perspective, we should recall that before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council there was—and remains—an intense theological debate within the Catholic Church about, firstly, how it renews itself in order to spread the Good News more efficaciously; and secondly, what this means for the church’s engagement with modernity.

Putting the matter somewhat simplistically, one group of twentieth-century Catholic theologians—including Henri de Lubac, S.J., Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou...

Lester DeKoster

Lester DeKoster“God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on His investments.”

At once a father, professor, librarian, editor, publisher, and author, Lester DeKoster leaves a powerful legacy that resonates far beyond the borders of his school and denomination. In 1951 DeKoster became director of the library at Calvin College and Seminary, affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During his tenure at the college, DeKoster was influential in expanding the holdings of what would become the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, one of the preeminent collections of Calvinist and Reformed texts in the world. DeKoster also amassed an impressive personal library of some 10,000...

How the Byzantines Saved Europe

Ask the average college student to identify the 1,100 year old empire that was, at various points in its history, the political, commercial, artistic, and ecclesiastical center of Europe and, indeed, was responsible for the very survival and flourishing of what we know today as Europe, and you’re not likely to get the correct answer: Byzantium.

The reasons for this are manifold but not least is that as Western Europe came into its own in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, Byzantium gradually succumbed piecemeal to the constant conquering pressure of Ottomans and Arabs. When Constantinople finally fell in 1453 (two years after the birth of the Genoese Christopher Columbus), Europe, now cut off from many land routes to Asian trade, was already looking West and South in anticipation of the age of exploration and colonization. Byzantium and the Christian East would fall under...

Editor's Note

Our lead interview with author Amity Shlaes about the Great Depression and its various interpreters has obvious parallels to the often heated debate about what has caused the financial crisis of 2008-09. In The Forgotten Man, a superb examination of the history of the Depression and the mythologies that have grown up around it, Shlaes makes important connections for us. In speaking of the “forgotten man” she says, “Our own children and grandchildren are forgotten men because they will pay the taxes in the future that will result from our over expansion today.”

Executive editor John Couretas contributes a review of two books about Byzantium, an often forgotten empire by those in the West. He takes a look at The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies which has multiple editors, and Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin. In...

Money, Greed, and God

The belief that the essence of capitalism is greed is perhaps the biggest myth Jay W. Richards tackles in his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem. One reason for confronting this challenge is that many freemarket advocates subscribe to the thought that capitalism produces greed, and for them that’s not necessarily a negative. But for those with a faith perspective, greed and covetousness are, of course, serious moral flaws.

It’s also the kind of myth that less articulate writers would rather not challenge, especially in this troubling economic climate. Richards does, however, have a skill for tightly honed logical arguments, and he not only is able to defend free markets but to tear lethal holes into many of the economic ramblings of the religious left. He even takes on holy of holies like fair trade and Third World debt...

Why is the Acton Institute Partnering with the Stewardship Council?

Following the successful production of Acton Institute’s Effective Stewardshipcurriculum, and with an eye to the launch of Zondervan’s NIV Stewardship Biblein the fall of 2009, we have formed a close partnership with the Stewardship Council, a five-year-old nonprofit that was established as an outreach to the broader evangelical community. The Stewardship Council is a natural partner for the work that Acton has been doing now for almost twenty years.

The Stewardship Council, a leader in the development and delivery of stewardship content and resources, will share office space with Acton in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The council is no stranger to us. It has, for much of the last four years, partnered with Acton in the research, writing, and editing of the Stewardship Bible, which will be one of the major publishing events in the Christian book world in...

Debating the Depression: An Interview with Amity Shlaes

Your book, The Forgotten Man, has played a major role in challenging the consensus about the New Deal that prevails in the acad- emy and in popular culture. I'm interested in what motivated you to write the book.

We grew up with various versions of the 1930s. One version was that Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office and made it better. That Roosevelt cured the depression, in essence. A less simple version was: Roosevelt didn't cure our economic ailment in the 1930s, but that didn't matter because he gave us back our confidence. Another version said the Depression was caused by monetary problems and the rest doesn't matter. That the Depression was about monetary problems the way the play Hamlet is about a Prince–there's no play without the prince. That's the version that markets-oriented people grew up with, following Milton Friedman...

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.

Toward the close of his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, Alexander Solzhenitsyn affirmed the power of literature “to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties.“ In this, the great man affirmed the power of literature to communicate the moral truths of our lives, our societies, across all national and ethnic boundaries. Solzhenitsyn, perhaps known by most as a Soviet dissident, was nonetheless an artist of great distinction who heroically exposed the lies at the heart of Marxism-Leninism and the...