The Emotive Cry for Community

UnknownMichael Novak, in his stirring memoir of a journey from left to right, devotes an entire chapter to community, as I noted yesterday. He writes: “One of life’s most time-consuming tasks is to achieve disagreement with an ideological opposite. Without blinking, you might object; ‘It’s not had to disagree. Heck! Most people do it all the time” (282). But aren’t disagreements really inevitable? After all we have different understandings of terms, widely varying perspectives on history, and unique sets of fears and rosy scenarios that we all entertain? But, says Michael Novak, “We are most often like two ships passing in the night” (282). Is he right? Could this really be true? I think so.

One of America’s most wise and important Catholic thinkers in the last century was the Jesuit John Courtney Murray. Novak says that Murray once said two people cannot (to use Novak’s description of Murray’s point) come to a “real disagreement without sticking to the argument for a very long time–maybe long enough to work through a case of brandy together as they ruminate.

The Carter Years and the Bankruptcy of Bad Economic Ideas

Unknown-2The Carter years profoundly convinced Michael Novak of the bankruptcy of his previous economic ideas. While Novak explains Carter’s personal love for Jesus Christ as genuine, and easily misunderstood, he rightly separates the good heart of the man from some of his very bad ideas about what makes for a free and prosperous society. During the Carter years Novak’s own views were taking new shape. He was writing more about economics and making new friends globally. When Ronald Reagan was elected the president in November of 1980 he asked Michael Novak, lifelong Democrat, to become his ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights. After a time in Geneva Novak returned home but then was sent back again in 1982. This work had an immense impact on Novak’s view of the world.

Novak’s new friends, which he cultivated in the late 1970s, began to gravitate to his home for meals and thus came into his personal life as confidants. These friends included Fr. Robert Sirico, Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, Mort Kondracke, Ben Wattenberg, Irving Kristol, George Weigel, Henry

From Socialism to Capitalism – A Move That Cost Michael Novak Friends and Prestige

124_2013_bknovack8201_s640x821Michael Novak, author of the memoir Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Basic Books, 2013), writes eloquently of how he became disillusioned with the “new” versions of the old Keynesian liberalism of the 1970s. This economic view promoted government spending to excess in order to stimulate the economy and create jobs. The core belief was that this approach would solve the problems of the poor through a greater expression of compassion which would come about through direct governmental help. Nothing awakened him to the failure of this kind of thinking quite like the policies, and outcomes, of the Jimmy Carter era.

As I noted in my blog on Novak’s memoir last Wednesday (1/29) one of the reasons that I so deeply appreciate his position, and thus his memoir, is that he openly explains why he  “resist[ed] libertarianism” (159). He admits that he found great reasons in libertarian arguments to reject his strident socialism but not enough to compel him to embrace the total package. To make sure his position is properly stated I

Writing from Left to Right: An Engaging Memoir

124_2013_bknovack8201_s640x821One of the most fascinating and engaging political stories that I have read in years is the recently published book, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Image: New York, 2013). This unique memoir is written by Roman Catholic scholar Michael Novak. I found Novak’s memoir so deeply interesting, for both Christian and personal reasons, that I decided to write several blogs on the ideas of Novak, a foremost intellectual among serious social thinkers over the last four decades.

I have followed the work of Michael Novak for thirty years. Michael Novak is the retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute. He is an author, philosopher, and theologian. Michael Novak now resides in Ave Maria, Florida, where he is a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. I had the privilege of serving on a national board with Michael Novak in Washington about a decade ago. It was through this context that I got to know him personally. Several shared meals allowed me some

Our Global Future – How Will We Respond?

imagesGrowing population and poverty are inextricably linked together in the modern world. Very few Christians in America recognize this problem for what it is nor do they seriously discuss solutions and responses. It seems to me that a simple, basic expression of the love of God requires that we not only have this dialogue but that we prepare our churches and missions to respond to this moment of modern crisis. Can we do less?

In the poorest countries people generally have children at the highest rate, believing that their future is in their children. (It is hard for Westerner people to grasp this since our birth rate is declining rapidly and we are not even replacing our own population unless you include immigrants and undocumented workers who have larger families.) Very little of the financial aid that is given to less developed countries addresses the root problems or leads to sustainable, replicable changes.

In 1950 the industrialized nations were the most populous. But in the second half of the century birth rates plunged while those in the least developed

Payback: How We Understand Debt and Revenge

The famous Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood defines the subject of her book “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth” — which originated as the 2008 Massey Lectures in Toronto — as “one of the most worrisome and puzzling things I know: that peculiar nexus where money, narrative or story, and religious belief intersect, often with explosive force.” In a wide-ranging history of debt Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood investigates the many meanings of debt through the ages, from ancient times to the current global financial meltdown. With all that has transpired in the United States in the past few decades many of us wonder: how could we have let such a collapse happen? How old or inevitable is this human pattern of debt? Payback is an imaginative, topical and insightful reconsideration of our ideas of ownership and debt.

Ms. Atwood is a brilliant writer and this particular work is filled with insights that I found most unsettling when I saw Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary version of the story, also titled Payback, which was inspired by Ms. Atwood’s book. (The film and book title should not

Don't Let the Suburbs Kill My Soul

My friend Jeff Gokee, executive director at partner ministry PhoenixONE, shared this You Tube song with me yesterday. It is written and performed by Christian musician Ben Rector. I had never even heard of the guy until I listened to this song. The plaintive and prayerful plea is to “not let the suburbs kill my soul.” I have done a lot of reading and viewing lately about how suburbia broke down community, broke up America’s cultural oneness and then drove us to independence in radical ways that harm our collective soul. This music strikes me as a haunting challenge to life as I’ve known it my entire adult life. I now pray, “Lord, do not let the suburbs kill my soul.” Tell me what you think when you hear it.

What Andreas Widmer Learned About Business and Entrepreneurship from the Pope

Front-cover-for-web-194x300 Business entrepreneur Andreas Widmer has a truly great story to tell. His new book, The Pope and the CEO, tells this story and makes a hugely valuable point about both business and poverty. Widmer says, “The pope showed me what real leadership looks like. He modeled for me how to pursue our God-given potential. Not coincidentally, this also makes us and those around us better employees, more capable of and more willing to work hard at building a stronger company. That is something that makes both good human sense and good business sense.” Amen!

Andreas Widmer served as a member of the elite Swiss Guard for two years. The guard is a security detail that protects the pope. (I had the opportunity to talk to some members of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican in March and find their work very interesting.)  In this new book Andreas Widmer gives us a behind-the-scenes look into the life and thinking of Pope John Paul II, “the most authentically human person

By |October 24th, 2011|Categories: Acton Institute, Business, Poverty, Wealth|

The Freedom & Virtue Institute: A Grassroots Commitment to Human Dignity and Flourishing

In my role as a Senior Advisor to Acton Institute I enjoy many opportunities to teach, write and network with other Christian leaders. One of those leaders is Ismael Hernandez. I met Ismael at Acton University in Grand Rapids in June of this year. (If you are interested please note that the next AU occurs June 12-15, 2012. I hope some of you will plan to join me.)

3.5x5IsmaelHernandez 048 At our meeting this June Ismael Hernandez and I exchanged business cards and then began a correspondence. I grew interested in his small but well-focused work. He directs the mission of The Freedom & Virtue Institute in Ft. Meyers, Florida. This work is dedicated to the disseminating idea of a free and virtuous society and thus champions the ideas of freedom and virtue and supports practical strategies to realize and implement these ideas.

Ismael correctly believes that human freedom and private initiative are the best instruments to effect lasting and positive change in society. This is why

By |September 2nd, 2011|Categories: Acton Institute, Ideology, Wealth|

Dealing with Consumerism Through Biblical Asceticism

Let’s face it – there is a growing personal freedom that comes by living in a culture deeply rooted in materialism and consumerism. If I have enough money, and the desire to spend it, I can buy a new car, a bigger home or a new iPhone or iPad. In fact, I can have all of this stuff and never even pay for it, or at least not for several years anyway. This is not all bad. But this particular kind of consumerism feeds into two major problems – individualism and hedonism. And these two problems create devastating moral consequences in our society. This explains, I believe, why so many well-intentioned Christians link free markets with consumerism and them reject them both in the process. I tried to show yesterday why this connection was false.

Make no mistake about this — the dangers here are very real. In fact, a great deal of modern evangelistic practice has fallen into a consumerist trap. We seek to fill a personal niche by appealing to consumer needs and desires. We tell consumers (the non-Christians we are evangelizing) that they need


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