Powerblog: Rogue One and Religious Diversity

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I look at the unique depiction of the Force in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’:

We already know of two traditions of Force religion: the Jedi and the Sith. But shouldn’t we expect that an inter-galactic religion should have many divergent traditions? Global religions on Earth certainly do. And those differences matter. Think of how sociologist Max Weber argued that the “Protestant ethic” shaped the “spirit of capitalism.” Even those who have disagreed with Weber do not generally dispute that religious sub-traditions have important impacts on societies and economies — how much more so on galaxies?

While I don’t have high hopes for complex inter-religious relations in future Star Wars movies, I take Rogue One’s contradictory monistic depiction (as opposed to the light/dark dualism of the other films) to be a positive move toward a better portrayal of religious diversity in Star Wars beyond the antagonism between the Sith and the Jedi.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Vouchers, the Progressive Policy that the Right Loves

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I ask the question, “why isn’t there more skepticism on the right [for school vouchers] and support on the left?”


Vouchers do increase competition, but they also increase the potential for government influence. When tuition money comes from the state, the state can attach strings. Those who hope this could be a boon for private schools may find that if, purely hypothetically, vouchers became universal, down the line the very thing that helped these schools and families in the short term is used as a channel to manipulate them and undermine their sovereignty.

It’s not as if we haven’t recently seen religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor have to fight all the way up to the US Supreme Court3 just to prove that they should qualify for a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act. Do we want religious schools across the country to have to fight the same battles, with equal uncertainty of success?

Add to this the fact that for Betsy DeVos (again, only hypothetically at this point — she hasn’t proposed anything yet) to mandate vouchers from her post as Secretary of Education would be a hugely top-down move, violating state’s rights in determining education policy.

So why aren’t more people on the right skeptical?

But that’s not all. There’s another angle to this as well: Vouchers work by redistributing resources from the upper classes (primarily through income and property taxes) to the lower classes. They are explicitly aimed at fighting economic inequality, not only by providing funding but through the goal of better educational outcomes, which in turn correlate with higher incomes. It reduces the privilege of the privileged. Sounds pretty progressive to me.

So why don’t more people on the left support them?

Read the whole post here.

Mere Orthodoxy: Rejoicing and Weeping After Election 2016

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I offer my take on a Christian response to the complex and still hotly discussed results of our 2016 presidential election:

Writing to early Christians in Rome, St. Paul the Apostle offered a succinct summary of the Christian ethic in the twelfth chapter of his epistle. It is worth reading the whole thing with the events of the last week in mind, but here I’ll just look at one verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Many are weeping and rejoicing after last Tuesday. A Christian who weeps ought to know how to rejoice with those who rejoice. One who rejoices ought to know how to weep with those who weep.

I realize that this is hard to do. Rejoicing with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those who mourn the very thing that we celebrate – that’s hard. Rejoicing with those who celebrate the very thing that we mourn – that’s hard. But that is “the way which leads to life.”

This way is especially difficult, given the self-aggrandizement and demonization of others that have so often characterized this election cycle. Do you think everyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, and homophobic? If so, I doubt you are rejoicing with those who rejoice right now. Do you think everyone who voted for Sec. Hillary Clinton is a pretentious, radically pro-choice, uber-progressive, out-of-touch, sore loser? Then you probably aren’t weeping with those who weep today.

Something to keep in mind when sitting across from eccentric uncle Earl this Thanksgiving.

Read the whole post here.

Everyday Asceticism: My Son’s Questions about “Our Father”

Last night at Everyday Asceticism, I reflected on my son’s questions about the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.”

Brendan, who is four years old, has been able to recite the prayer from memory for over a year. I have prayed it with him nearly every night since he was born. So now that he’s bigger he’s the one who says it. As a reward, he gets a smiley face on his chore chart.

After a few months of having him pray, he started asking questions. “What’s evil?” was the first one. “What’s heaven?” was the second. He has also asked what “our daily bread,” “our trespasses,” and “temptation” are. These are great questions!

I’ve tried my best to answer him in ways he could understand.

“What’s evil?”

“Evil is when good things go bad.”

“What’s heaven?”

“Heaven is where everything is good and right and true.”

“What’s our daily bread?”

“That’s everything we need every day.”

“What’s trespasses?”

“Trespasses are when we do things that we shouldn’t do.”

“What’s temptation?”

“Temptation is when we feel like we want to do something we shouldn’t. It can also just mean when life gets hard.”

Read the whole post here.

Religion & Liberty: Money Matters

In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, I explain why money matters:

Now imagine that Maggie has a cow in a monetary economy. She sells her cow for the best price she can find and receives that price in money. With that money, she can then go and buy all the things she needs and can afford. She isn’t stuck exchanging a lasso for some turnips with the hope that she can then exchange the turnips for something she actually wants and needs. Maggie can’t cut a chicken into parts and keep the gizzard with the expectation that someone will be willing to trade two apple pies for that gizzard later. But she can sell a chicken for some money and then use the money to buy any variety of things she wants or needs, whenever she needs them. Money serves a vital human need by helping economic exchange better serve other human needs.

Clearly my understanding of farming is unhealthily shaped by Western films, Little House on the Prairie, and that Oregon Trail computer game.

Read the whole article here.

PowerBlog: 2016 Election Turnout Encourages Humility

Yesterday at the Acton PowerBlog, I continued my dive into the post-election data. As with my last two posts, I found some surprising things when examining more detailed reporting on voter turnout.

There is a meme going around of a graph that shows depressed turnout for Democrats compared to 2012 and 2008, implying that Sec. Clinton lost because she failed to turn out her base. There may be some truth to this, but it doesn’t add up when we remember that presidents in the United States are elected by the Electoral College and thus on a state-by-state basis.

I write,

I’m unsure the source of the data. It may be completely accurate, but even if so it is misleading. As Carl Bialik wrote last week for FiveThirtyEight, “On average, turnout was unchanged in states that voted for Trump, while it fell by an average of 2.3 percentage points in states that voted for Clinton. Relatedly, turnout was higher in competitive states — most of which Trump won.”

So turnout was depressed for Clinton, but apparently only in those states that she won. Low turnout, then, can’t explain why she lost the states she didn’t win. And, in fact, this doesn’t even capture the phenomenon accurately, since she is on track to win some states by a greater margin than Obama did in 2012. Thus, depressed turnout in the states she won might mean fewer Republican-leaning voters there and not that she failed to turn out her Democratic-leaning base.

To me, this sort of complexity ought to encourage humility. There are limits to our knowledge and explanations, and failing to forget that only gives warrant to unhelpful, even if well-intended, self-justifications.

I write,

All this is not to say that anyone who shared the graph … is some self-serving huckster looking for Facebook “likes” or even that they are therefore rationalists. I almost shared it myself, in fact. It is interesting, and I’m thankful that someone shared it with me. Rather, my point is only to highlight that while turnout is another piece of the puzzle, it also turns out to be more than it appears. Correcting our assumptions about the existence of unexplainable aspects of reality can help us maintain our humility and safeguard against making hasty conclusions, mistakenly presuming that all of reality can fit into our heads, even as we admirably seek to know all that we can.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Beware the post-election narratives

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I have a follow-up to my post from yesterday that examined New York Times exit polling data. The theme today is that no single narrative, no matter how comforting, can satisfactorily explain an unexpected event like the election of Donald Trump. Knowing this, we ought to guard ourselves against simply grabbing a hold of the narratives that best fit our own preconceptions.


[W]hile fascinated by the many factors that appear to have affected the result of the 2016 presidential race, I’m also trying to resist the need to have an easy explanation. Depending on the person, casting the result as wholly good or wholly disastrous may be comforting, but doing so simply does not reflect the complex composure of those people, equally created after the image of God as you and me, who actually voted in this country.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Diverse Voters, Deep Passions

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I take a look at what New York Times exit poll data tells us about last night’s election. Excerpt:

In all, despite sharp division and incisive rhetoric, the electorate was far more diverse in their voting this year than I, at least, expected, and than many made it seem in their reporting last night.

To me, the perhaps most interesting division is on the level of the passions that motivated voters: Trump voters were angrier and more pessimistic. They were also more opposed to Clinton than in favor of Trump. Clinton voters were more satisfied or enthusiastic with the status quo, more supportive of their candidate, and more hopeful for the future. However, these numbers were not always as sharply divided between parties as they were in 2012.

Read the whole post here.

Mere Orthodoxy: The Christian Statesman and the Gospel to the Poor

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

This essay will be the first in a series. As Jake Meador, editor of Mere O (as the kids call it), noted as a preface:

Over the next week we’ll be running pieces multiple pieces on political economics. The chief question we are addressing is “What duties a Christian magistrate has to the poor?” In today’s post, Dylan Pahman of the Acton Institute is giving a classical liberal answer to that question. Tomorrow we will be running a response to the same question written by a Christian socialist.

It is my understanding that we will then respond to each other’s essay and end with a statement of common ground.

So, if you ever wondered what hath Christian classical liberalism to do with Christian socialism? (other than “not much”), you can find out this week at Mere Orthodoxy.

Read the whole essay here.

Narrative Now! #amwriting #amrevising #amquerying

Reading Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake for my book club, I realized that my manuscript needs the narrative present.

Narrative present (or historical present), is basically what it sounds like: instead of telling a story in the past tense, you write it in the present.


Heathcliff felt discouraged as he walked to the store.


Heathcliff feels discouraged as he walks to the store.

(No, my manuscript does not contain a character named Heathcliff.)

There are important pros and cons to the narrative present, and some have complained that it has been overused in recent years. But it hadn’t even occurred to me to use it until reading Atwood. Continue reading