Saturday, September 02, 2006

Effective Compassion

The Acton Institute has announced its 2006 Good Samaritan winner.

But first, a little information on the Institute, in case you haven’t bookmarked them…yet. Naming their organization after Lord Acton, they offer this thumbnail sketch:

Described as “the magistrate of history,” Lord Acton was one of the great personalities of the nineteenth century and is universally considered to be one of the most learned Englishmen of his time. He made the history of liberty his life’s work; indeed, he considered political liberty the essential condition and guardian of religious liberty.

In a brief biography, they describe his views:

Lord Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902)

“Liberty is the prevention of control by others. This requires self-control and, therefore, religious and spiritual influences; education, knowledge, well-being.”

… through his involvement in the first Vatican Council, Lord Acton became known as one of the most articulate defenders of religious and political freedom. He argued that the church faithfully fulfills its mission by encouraging the pursuit of scientific, historical, and philosophical truth, and by promoting individual liberty in the political realm.


The 1870s and 1880s saw the continued development of Lord Acton’s thought on the relationship between history, religion, and liberty. In that period he began to construct outlines for a universal history designed to document the progress of the relationship between religious virtue and personal freedom. Acton spoke of his work as a “theodicy,” a defense of God’s goodness and providential care of the world.


When he died in 1902, Lord Acton was considered one of the most learned people of his age, unmatched for the breadth, depth, and humanity of his knowledge. He has become famous to succeeding generations for his observation — learned through many years of study and first-hand experience — that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

So that’s the philosophy underlying the Acton Institute, which is also an important source for inexpensive books on the writings of Frederic Bastiat, a liberal economic philosopher who died young, in 1850. Here is one of his gems, about socialism:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” — from The Law

By the time Bastiat wrote that, Marx had begun his fulminations. This small quote puts Marxism in its place: the trash can. Or, as the mayor of Miami said, back when the Cubans really began flourishing in his city, ratcheting up the wealth and the economy of his area (which was in a decline when they arrived): “the best thing that happened to Miami since air-conditioning was when Fidel Castro read Karl Marx.” In other words, bad ideas drove out the intelligent and the ambitious from Fidel’s paradise and enriched Florida — and the nation — in the process.

All this to provide you the context for the Acton Institute’s Good Samaritan Awards. This year’s grand prize winner is in Nashville:
A Hand Up

Their “Who We Are” Page is pretty straightforward. They’ve been around since 1997 and were started by volunteers…dare I use the epithet, faith-based volunteers?? As they say:

The purpose of Christian Women’s Job Corps is to equip women for life and employment with basic life skills necessary for self-sufficiency, within her culture, which may include: sustained employment; adequate income; housing; transportation; child care; and/or medical care. CWJC provides a loving environment where self-image can be restored and a place where women can develop life skills, set personal, educational and career goals and discover a realistic plan for accomplishing them. CWJC of Nashville does this by offering women in need “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.”

Like all shoestring operations, they have a wish list. If you live in the Nashville area — or even if you don’t — there are practical things you can donate, including, but certainly not limited to, cash contributions. For example, one of their items is prayer, which is certainly free (in some ways, at any rate).

Good Samaritan AwardThe Acton Institute’s guidelines for nominations to the Good Samaritan Awards are clearly conservative (that is, classic liberalism), faith-based, and geared to outcomes rather than good intentions. In all of these, they exist in a parallel universe when it comes to the assessments government makes in its hand-outs to charities. Here’s one piece of the Institute’s work — how they go about identifying possible contenders:

Our online Guide examines a charity’s implementation of Marvin Olasky‘s principles of effective compassion, its emphasis on participant outcomes and transformation or change, and to what extent faith elements are present. These are represented among twenty rating factors by the designation of Good, Better, and Excellent. In the real world, charities have areas of strength and areas that could improve…

All the Good Samaritan winners are here.


Dymphna said...

Acton is admired, and the Institute is named after him, because his views of what makes for a just and equitable society turned out to be correct. As did Bastiat's.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church's teachings on economics are waaay too socialist, even now. It doesn't understand entrepreneurship and perhaps -- as hierarchically formed and bureaucratically byzantine as it is -- may well never understand economic theory. Which is unfortunate, since socialism is directly in conflict with the idea of God as abundant love. Socialism operates on the idea of scarcity, and it is this idea which informs the call for "justice." A more equitable economic theory is founded on "liberty" and the abundance which flows from there.

Both Bastiat and later, Acton, understood that freedom lies with the individual, that liberty transforms (to quote Bastiat) and that power tends to corrupt (to quote Acton).

OTOH,Pope Leo XIII (Acton's pontiff at the time), said " is quite unlawful to demand, defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, of writing or worship, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man..."

Given by "nature"?? Acton and Bastiat would have said -- in fact, did say -- "given by God."

Leo also told Italians not to vote in elections or to hold office...

The church moves slowly, but it moves eventually. Our current Benedict is a historian, fortunately. That is a strength, since the long view makes him less reactionary that some of his predecessors. Some Catholic theologians don't like his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" --but it was ever thus.

There has always been a wide spectrum of thought and much tension and conflict within the Church on what constitutes the ecclesia. This goes right back to the disagreements between Paul and Jerusalem, as displayed in a comparison of Acts 15 and Galatians 2...different reports of the same incident. Needless to say, Paul has his own version of how the meeting went, and in his eyes, he was correct and Jerusalem was wrong.

It is seldom a good idea to use contemporaneous church thinking on any particular individual's efforts. Far too often, the Church has had to eat its own words...
Galileo is prima facie evidence for that unfortunate fact.

And it is good to bear in mind that the only unchanging thing is change...even in the temporal Catholic Church.


BTW, just for the record, it's Dymphna on this post, not the Baron. Like Benedict, his interest is history, not theology.

X said...

Interesting you should bring up Peter and Paul. Their disagreement has been blown up over time in to something that it certainly wasn't, and there's more than emple evidence that they were in full agreement over what the problem was. Paul disagreed with Peter's attitude to gentiles when some jewish converts wer visiting, in that peter withdrew himself from the gentiles and repudiated them, whereas Paul, a man of the law for msot of his life, didn't. I suppose there's nothing scarier than a radical convert, which Paul would be compared to Peter... but the point is Paul's disagreement wasn't with the Jerusalem church, just with Peter's behaviour at that one moment. They made up afterwards, though there's also evidence that Paul may have carried a grudge about this for a long time anyway. He often spoke of the thorn in his side. It's pretty clear it was pride, which he would have carried over from his old life as a very successful rabbinical student (he had a lot of seniority for someone his age and was in line to sit on the council). A proud man would have a hard time giving up a perceived slight. It's to his credit that he didn't make more of an issue about it.