Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Editor’s Note

The Houston-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) treats convicted criminals as if they were “raw metal in the hands of a blacksmith— crude, formless, and totally moldable.” PEP puts prisoners through a rigorous character training and business skills regimen to prepare them for a productive, even flourishing, reentry to life after incarceration. Ray Nothstine took part in PEP’s “pitch day” presentations where prisoners present their start-up dreams before a panel of business people and investors. In the main feature of this Spring 2015 issue of Religion & Liberty, Nothstine describes his day at the Cleveland Correctional Center near Houston and interviews Bert Smith, PEP chief executive.

Also in this issue, Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation, a new book by Terry Anderson and...

What to Expect at Our University

For an adequate formation of a culture, the involvement of the whole man is required, whereby he exercises his creativity, intelligence, and knowledge of the world and of people. Furthermore, he displays his capacity for self-control, personal sacrifice, solidarity and readiness to promote the common good. Thus the first and most important task is accomplished within man’s heart. – Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

In about a month, we will be enjoying Acton’s annual assemblage, Acton University. We chose to call it a university rather than simply a conference because of its rigorous intellectual nature. Attendees are asked to attend foundational courses their first year, to be present at every session they have chosen, and to delve into truly substantial topics.

Looking back at our plenary speakers over the years, there is a sense of...

Isabel Paterson [1886 – 1961]

In the Liberal Tradition

Whoever is fortunate enough to be an American citizen came into the greatest inheritance man has ever enjoyed. He has had the benefit of every heroic and intellectual effort men have made for many thousands of years, realized at last.

Journalist, philosopher, and literary critic Isabel Paterson may have faded into obscurity in the last few decades, but she is one of the greatest classical liberal thinkers of her time. She is lauded as one of the three women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand) who launched the libertarian movement in America.

Paterson is probably most wellknown for her 1943 book The God of the Machine, a treatise on political philosophy, economics, and history. Ayn Rand said this book “does for capitalism what Das Kapital does for the Reds.” This book is especially significant because it was not...

The Burden of the Christian

Charles Malik is not a household name among educated Christians who stand for a free and virtuous society. Some may vaguely recall his name from his involvement in the formative period of the United Nations and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But his name is often overshadowed either by more familiar personages, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, or by the way in which the Universal Declaration was used to justify a 1974 charter “to promote the establishment of the new international economic order, based on equality, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, irrespective of their economic and social systems,” which is an intentional compromise with Communism that runs counter to Malik’s own thoughts on the matter. “The classical Western values of freedom, personality, excellence, rank,...

Nature, Markets, and Human Creativity

A review of Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal. (Palgrave Macmillan, January 2015).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his statement for the 2015 World Water Day makes a number of assertions that, while inspired by morally good ideals, are morally and practically problematic. book Nature, Markets, and Human CreativityChief among them is his assertion “that environmental resources are God’s gift to the world” and so “cannot be either considered or exploited as private property.” While certainly not absolute, the Orthodox Christian moral tradition doesn’t reject the notion of private property. In fact, property is valued “as a socially recognized form of...

Prison Entrepreneurs: From Shark Tank to Redemption

Shortly after the day’s guests arrive at the East Texas prison, and well before they begin to mix with the inmates, they hear a low rumbling noise in the distance. As they make their way closer to the prison gymnasium, the low rumbling grows into a constant and thunderous clamor. For those making their first visit to the Cleveland Correctional Center, located 45 minutes north of Houston, the roar of the inmates’ husky voices is disconcerting—maybe even intimidating—as they wonder what awaits them. The energy inside the prison is relentless, almost palpable. When the doors swing open to the gymnasium, the day’s guests walk single file through a sea of shouting inmates. One hundred and twenty-six prisoners to be exact.


Molding Men, Shaping Futures: An Interview with Bert Smith

The vast majority of prison ministries focus on evangelism and engage with inmates much as they would with any other mission project. The Houston-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which receives no state funding, is receiving national and international accolades for its unique integration of entrepreneurial skills and character transformation. Prisoners who come to the program are treated much as a blacksmith takes a “crude, formless, and totally moldable” piece of metal and turns it into something useful, even beautiful. (See related feature story in this issue, Prison Entrepreneurs: From Shark Tank to Redemption.)

Bert Smith has been actively involved in PEP since 2005 and CEO since 2010. Smith has a business background in power plant engineering and energy technology. He holds an AB in economics from Princeton University and a Juris...

How can I more deeply engage with Acton if I don’t live in West Michigan?

Acton has been blessed with a wonderful building in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids where we host dozens of events each year. Despite our presence in this community, most of Acton’s constituents live outside of West Michigan. If you’re one of those individuals, there are plenty of ways to engage with the institute or share Acton’s mission and message in your own community. Our online PowerBlog ( features new blogposts daily, but you can also keep up with Radio Free Acton, a podcast featuring engaging videos and interviews about current events dealing with the intersection of faith and economics. There are videos of nearly every Acton Lecture Series and evening speaker, as well as videos of Acton analysts appearing on local and national news broadcasts. You can also subscribe to Acton at There,...

Faith is the Cross

Sitting in a comfortable chair in a warm home makes it easy to forget how close religious persecution really is. The 20th century saw the most martyrs in recorded history, and the 21st century is off to a bloody beginning. As I write this, the world mourns the deaths of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya at the hands of the Islamic State group.

The remarkable writer, Flannery O’Connor, once said in a personal correspondence, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.” Unfortunately, far too many in our world today know exactly how much faith costs. From the current persecution of Jews in Europe, to the slaughter of Christians by Islamic terrorists, to those who struggle to bring faith to nations with dangerous regimes,...

Nathaniel Macon

Nathaniel Macon

Ours is a government of suspicion; every election proves it; the power to impeach proves it; the history of Caesar, of Cromwell, and Bonaparte proves that it ought to be so to remain free.

Long before there was Jesse Helms, dubbed “Senator No,” North Carolina had another vigorous dissenter of centralized power and federal expenditures. Nathaniel Macon was born in Warrenton, North Carolina, almost two decades before American independence. After attending The College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton, Macon joined a New Jersey militia company in 1776. Four years later, Macon turned down a military commission and enlisted in a North Carolina unit during the American Revolution and was soon elected...

Why is PovertyCure starting the Outreach Program?

PovertyCure is an initiative of the Acton Institute that works to bring about change in the way we think about aid and poverty alleviation. PovertyCure has interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from developing nations, former NGO leaders, nonprofit leaders, and more in the hopes of finding out what leads to economic growth and prosperity. This program works with students, nonprofits, and the PovertyCure Partner Network to share this message. We know that enterprise, not aid, is the longterm solution to poverty. And who would benefit more from this knowledge than churches and missionaries?

Missionaries are the boots on the ground in poverty-stricken nations. While they work tirelessly to bring their faith to new nations, they often also bring material goods and their own labor. It aims to transform the paradigm of thinking among short- and long-term mission workers, empowering...

Awakening the World’s Moral Conscience

Watchers of the Sky

The mass killings of minority groups, which have occurred time and time again throughout history, are often beyond comprehension. How can humans be capable of such evil?

But even more inexplicable and troubling is the fact that many of these atrocities have gone largely unnoticed. They have not received due recognition and response either from heads of states or the public at large.

Fortunately, these tragic historical events have not eluded all. The new documentary, “Watchers of the Sky,” released on DVD in February 2015, details the story of Raphael Lemkin, the largely unknown Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word “genocide” and almost singlehandedly lobbied the United Nations to...

Double-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word - Psalm 53:2-4

God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on God.

Sometimes it seems evil is more powerful than God. Especially when we see and hear of brutal and devastating beheadings of Christians in the Middle East. The rise of Islamic State group and their ghastly, violent acts is particularly disturbing. If we look at the world, or even our own sphere of influence, it may appear that the wicked prosper and the Lord has little control over the events of the day.

The problem of evil and suffering is one of the chief reasons people abandon their faith and belief in God. The psalmist in Psalm 53 echoes Psalm 14, reminding humanity...

The Consumer Conundrum


Those of us who affirm the market economy as a path to human flourishing need to offer an alternate to the basically negative view of human consumption that critics as well as apologists of the free market too often assume. This is especially true for men and women of faith who hold to a higher vision of human life, its purpose, and the means required for the person to become fully and truly who they were created by God to be.

To that end, it is worth looking at two seminal figures in the history of economic thought: the mid-20th-century economist and retail analyst Victor Lebow and the late 19th- and early-20th-century economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen. These two thinkers illustrate the analytical dangers inherent...

A Journey from Religious Radical to Nothing New

A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir

Review of Thomas C. Oden’s “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir,” (IVP Academic, November 2014) Hardcover, 384 pages, $30.58

One reason Thomas C. Oden wrote “A Change of Heart” was “to alert people to question the realism of those collectivist and unexamined illusions.” The “illusions” and collectivism Oden refers to is a fashionable abandonment of the truth and Christian orthodoxy within academia, especially by mainline Protestant seminaries. This abandonment of classic Christianity led to the rise of Marxist liberation theology, sexual libertinism, and the radicalized parish pulpit. Oden offers a fascinating...