Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More Deeply Rooted in Freedom ... and Religiously So

Recently returned from Acton Institute's annual Acton University. It was quite an event. Met many good people and heard some worthwhile talks. The Q & A opened up the sessions to further good discussion and at times some important clarifications.

Aside from Fr. Sirico's typically moving closing talk, I would say the highlight for most was "Making Freedom a Reality: Estonia's Path from Communism to the Free Market," the talk by the former Prime Minister of Estonia, Dr. Mart Laar (see photo).

You can read a blurb about it here and you actually can hear the talk here.

I should have said "the highlight with regard to talks" because the conversation during breaks, at meals, and at the hospitality times at the end of each day were quite rewarding as well. Some good friendships continued and some new ones were embarked upon.
One aspect of Acton events is that folks from all sorts of different backgrounds are invited. There were students, teachers/professors, businessmen, charitable organization members, clerics, retirees, and so on ... along with the many different countries that were represented ... from US, Canada, and Mexico to countries in Europe, South America, and Africa.

That said, Fr. Schall's latest piece highlights an aspect of the University. In "On The Intellectual Needs of Ordinary People," Fr. Schall, SJ, writes

The danger of recent rhetoric about "options for the poor" is that it tends to deprive the impoverished of their intrinsic human dignity by implying that no wrong perpetrated by them is caused by themselves. Rather, all faults are said to be caused by environment or "structures" of society, whatever they might be. This dangerous theoretical position is a hold over--an intellectual hold over--from the influence of Rousseau in modern thought. To put the issue more positively, we can have saints who are poor, saints who are rich, and saints who are everywhere in-between. The same obviously holds true for sinners. What we cannot have is a saint or a sinner who is automatically made so by his external social condition alone.

Nor, to cover the other extreme, is it true that our political and social institutions make no difference at all in our moral character. Aristotle quite clearly maintains, as does Aquinas following him, that a certain sufficiency of wealth and political participation is advisable for the possibility of virtue for ordinary people. The real issue here is what kind of political, moral, and economic ideas and institutions cause this sufficiency to come into being through the workings of human enterprise itself. Many theories and ideas about helping the poor do not help them, even when it is claimed that they do. Not a few ideas even destroy them. In practice, the intention to help someone, whatever his situation, is not by itself a guarantee that the help will do what it is supposed to do. The poor should not be conceived as objects of one's social experiments.

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