Some of this is repeat from earlier web-log posts, and for that I apologize. However, the launching of “Acton University” (AU) 2016 compels me to remind Christians of good will (Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) that AU, despite its name, is not a credible academic endeavor on any level. Rather, it is a four-day indoctrination session which, inter alia, seeks to graft free-market ideology onto Christianity. And although the Acton Institute (AU’s chief sponsor) disclaims being a “Catholic organization,” the truth is that its chief operators are Catholic; a majority of its programs and publications are directed toward Catholics; and a great deal of energy is placed behind drawing both Catholic instructors and students to AU each year. In theory, this should mean that serious attention be put into making sure AU conforms with what is generally referred to as the “Catholic social tradition” or “Catholic social teaching” (or, as I prefer, the Church’s social magisterium) rather than worrying about making sure AU’s “message” coheres with the tenets of liberalism and capitalism. Moreover, AU should also endeavor to make sure that it presents Catholic teaching is a clear, open, and charitable manner rather than, say, offer a hit job course on Distributism taught by a free-market ideologue.
The problems with AU don’t end there, however. As a brief perusal of AU’s course list reveals, considerable emphasis is placed on economics and economic questions, and yet there is no evidence that the courses offered by AU are sufficient in scope and depth to both properly introduce a neophyte to the economics discipline and convey the considerable internal disputes which have animated economic research for decades. Rather, AU attempts to present the heterodox “Austrian School” of economics as normative while quietly setting aside the mountain of intra-disciplinary criticism of “Austrianism” (including its links to libertinism, materialism, and hedonism). Further, AU is geared toward promoting both liberalism and Americanism despite the fact the Catholic Church has routinely condemned both for nearly two centuries. Is any mention made of this during the AU lectures? Are those who attend AU even made aware that these ideological cancers are two of the chief culprits in the degradation of both society and the Church for more than a century? It would seem not.
Beyond just “Catholic matters,” AU should raise red flags for Eastern Orthodox Christians as well. Despite bringing on Orthodox priests and laity claiming to offer up authentic “Orthodox social teaching,” not a single course takes into account Orthodoxy’s strong anti-liberal tradition, a tradition recently reaffirmed by the Moscow Patriarchate in its statement, “Economy in the Context of Globalization.” While credit should be given to Dylan Pahman (a former Calvinist convert to Orthodoxy) for at least recommending students read “The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church,” Chapters VI and VII of that document (on labor and property) does not endorse AU’s pro-market views. Given what Pahman has written before on “Orthodox social thought,” one has to wonder how open he truly is to conveying what the Eastern Church, including its Fathers and spiritual luminaries, has had to say about political and economic liberalism.
As we enter a point in history where it has become abundantly clear that the so-called “promise of liberalism” has failed both Church and society, the existence of ideological black boxes such as the Acton Institute and its AU program should be a source of deep sorrow for all Christians. Instead of trying to impress the princes of this world and genuflect before Mammon, Christians should be preparing for the great struggle which is to come, the struggle to maintain our Faith, our families, and our Christ-centered way of being. AU promotes the falsehood that Christians can, nay, should be both in the world and of it. It is that very falsehood which has helped usher in an age of rapid, even militant, secularization and, in the process, placed millions of souls in peril.