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Eleven years ago, as another Christmas approached, I called up my favorite libertarian priest, The Rev. Robert Sirico, for some unique and principled seasonal advice.

Sirico is not your ordinary parish priest.

He is not only the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish in Grand Rapids, Mich., he’s the co-founder and president of The Acton Institute,

England's greatest Lord, Lord Acton.

England’s greatest Lord, Lord Acton.

a market-friendly think tank devoted to promoting “a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”

Father Sirico sums up the purpose of the Acton Institute, by reminding us of the beliefs of its great and brilliant namesake and relentless advocate of human freedom,  John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902).

Lord Acton gave us much, much more than his most famous and always apt quote:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.

Summing up his institute’s mission, Father Sirico says on his institute’s web site that, “Acton realized that economic freedom is essential to creating an environment in which religious freedom can flourish. But he also knew that the market can function only when people behave morally. So faith and freedom must go hand in hand. As he put it, ‘Liberty is the condition which makes it easy for conscience to govern.’ ”

Father Sirico has been a frequent contributor to the country’s top op-ed pages and a regular commentator on TV. Brooklyn-born, a lefty in his youth, he’s made it his extra-spiritual calling to educate future religious leaders about the principles — and moral virtues — of a free-market economy.

The Qs and the As:

Eleven years ago, when I was a real journalist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review doing a weekly Q&A with smart or important people like Father Sirico, I called up my favorite man of the cloth up and asked him about Christmas, gift giving and the health of Christianity.

Q: Why has Christianity been so successful for 2,000 years?

A: I think we have to understand that Christianity inherits a lot of its presupposition from Judaism, so we have to begin by linking Christianity to Judaism, which parenthetically is why Christianity has no place for anti-Semitism in it. I think that Christian and Jewish anthropology accounts for having laid the foundation for the building of societies that are free and virtuous. This understanding of who the human person is — in a transcendent dignity but a physical reality, a real-world embrace of contingency, of historical circumstance, indeed the emergence of economics — comes from this anthropological understanding. If I was to point to one thing, that would be the one thing that accounts for the success of Christianity and the building of Western Civilization.

Q: What or where are Christianity’s most important challenges today?

A: Today the greatest challenge of Christianity, both here in the United States and most acutely in Europe, is the challenge of secularism; the attempt to live off the legacy of Christianity without reference to its roots. What secularism does — and its moral companion, moral relativism — is attempt to have structures and appearance and success predicated on a Judeo-Christian ethic but without reference to the obligations and even the dogmatic formulations that are attendant and explicate those roots.

Q: Looking around the world, do you see Christianity gaining or losing its moral authority in our day-to-day lives, especially in politics and culture?

A: I think this is the struggle in the United States right now. In some sense, pockets of Christianity have lost a sense of moral authority. We’ve seen this in the mainline churches and to some extent in the more progressive elements of the Catholic Church– where these religious officials have substituted a confident proclamation of the traditions of the faith with a kind of politically correct and sociologically based agenda. So you see in the various statements of the religious headquarters a preoccupation with political, social issues — a kind of displacing of the theological paradigm, which is centered on God, on revelation, and in the case of Christianity, of Jesus Christ, with a sociological or psychological paradigm.

But the elements of Christianity that are growing are the traditional elements within Catholicism, in large part as the result of the encouragement of the model they received from Pope John Paul the Great and now Benedict the 16th and within evangelical Christianity, which has become rather sophisticated. It is not the kind of shad-belly, snake-handling, uneducated-preacher type any more. You have highly accomplished, intellectually sophisticated representatives of evangelic Christians.

Then on top of that, I think that the most interesting, exciting and vibrant dialogue that is occurring right withinreligious communities right now is occurring between evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics … that is, Catholics who really believe in theteaching authority of the church.

Q: Does Christianity have anything to fear from Islam?

A: Let me say that this encounter with Islam, for Catholicism, is not a new thing. Catholicism has encountered Islam in its various phases and various traditions over the centuries…. The important thing that I think was underscored by the Regensburg speech in Germany by Pope Benedict is that we must come to an understanding that religion must utilize reason in order to create the opportunity for conversation. If we simply resort to violence in settling our religious disagreements, then very soon there is bloodshed and things that would undermine the basis of civil order.

This is a warning not just directed to the more extreme elements of Islam. The speech by Benedict was really a warning to the West, which is rejecting reason along with Christianity. You find that many philosophers, especially those of the deconstructionist model, no longer believe that the human mind, and hence reason, has the capacity to apprehend truth — that there is no truth. This is associated with moral relativism.

So the threat comes not just from fundamentalist Islam, jihadist Islam, but also from highly secularized elements of European and American culture. I would like to think that the more moderate elements of Islam, who are repulsed by the hedonism and the secularism they see, might be willing to find some common cause with traditional Christians in promoting a society that can remain virtuous and retain a religious reference point.

Q: Christianity and Islam — didn’t they coexist rather peacefully at some point?

A: There was a period of several hundred years where they did. In the strict reading of the Koran, Christians would have to pay a tax for being Christians. But being people of ‘the Book,’ they wouldn’t necessarily be executed. They were certainly seen in the book — in the Koran — as second-class citizens. The question is whether Islam can formulate, or reformulate, an understanding of themselves that has a sense of tolerance and makes the distinction between the power and authority of the religion and the legitimate secular authority. Christianity did this predicated on Jesus’ words ‘Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.’ Islam apparently has greater difficulty in doing that. In one sense, Islam is awaiting its Augustine, it’s awaiting its Aquinas, to help formulate and develop these distinctions. That really is the debate: Can Islam develop? The more-jihadists say no, the text is written and is fixed and there is no exegesis. There is no development the way you had in Christianity. Therefore there is no distinction between power — which is coercive and external, namely government or legal — and authority, which is internal and moral — which would be the church’s role. Both power and authority are forms of constraint, but one is coercive and the other is based on persuasion.

Q: Christians complain about the commercialization of Christmas. Secularists complain about the cold-hearted immorality of the marketplace. Is capitalism a natural enemy of Christianity, or vice versa?

A: I don’t think capitalism is a natural enemy of Christianity. Capitalism is really an inadequate word; it only describes one dimension of what is really human freedom and choice in the economic sphere. Choice is morally neutral. It’s the chooser who can be moral or immoral, not the ability to make the choice. You have to have the ability to make the choice in order to choose. I think it is a mistake for religious leaders to condemn the free economy based on some of the results. What they may want to do is condemn the choices that people make and the lack of moral formation that they have.

But the notion of gift-giving as being sinful at Christmas is absurd. Where do we get gift-giving from? The Magi. They brought the gifts to Jesus. But I think it is very easy to lose focus on the core meaning of the season, which is human relationships. A part of that is economic, but not the whole of it.

Q: You recently wrote a column about how the act of gift-giving relies heavily on an economic system that allows free exchanges between individuals. Can you explain?

A: You can’t be generous with which you don’t first have — with which you have not first produced and possessed. So there is this moral dimension to it. The real danger is when you lose focus and the mere act is an end in itself, or the mere giving, or the mere buying, is an act in itself. This diminishes the understanding of who human beings are.

Q: Does that mean that it’s the end and not the means that matters? Usually it’s the other way around.

A: I think it’s both a means and the end. You have to be headed in the right direction — the end. You need to choose the appropriate means for that and I think market activity is an appropriate means to a right end. But economics as such does not have a moral reference point. By itself, economics tells us nothing about what is good and bad. It will only tell us what is in supply and what is scarce.In order to bring the moral reference point, you have to have human beings who are formed with a moral sensitivity.

Q: What’s the best Christmas gift anyone can give another person?

A: I think themselves. By that I mean love, relationship. Sometimes that will take the form of a material expression. The best gift is the gift of self, because in giving oneself, one is giving everything else. After all, this is what follows the model of Christ himself. In his condescension to come to Earth to be with us, he gives himself. There was a cute little takeoff of the Hallmark slogan years ago that Christians used — ‘God cared enough to give the very best.’ I don’t mean to be just poetic in saying it, but I think the best gift we can give people is ourselves.

FullSizeRenderJohn Kasich of Ohio is not BS-ing when he says he knows how to get things done in Washington.

He’s been proving it since he was a freshman at Ohio State.

In 1970, young John was so much in love with Richard Nixon he wrote a 3-page letter of encouragement to Tricky Dick.

Kasich was just an unknown, unconnected 18-year-old working-class Republican kid  from Pittsburgh  — a mailman’s son, etc. etc.

But his letter — probably the only love note Nixon ever got from a college student during the Vietnam War — was so persuasive the president invited him to meet him man-on-man in the White House.

Unfortunately, Kasich talked to the hometown press afterwards and said some sweet things about Nixon that he might wish now he hadn’t.

The mailman’s son told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he thought Nixon “was very dynamic.”

Worse, the young war hawk also defended Nixon, saying that before people criticize the president they should realize that he “knows more about Vietnam than the public does.”

Kasich is the last Pittsburgh native left in the presidential race. A good bet to beat Donald Trump in the Ohio primary, he’s the Republican establishment’s last hope to derail the Trump Circus Train.

What happens after Kasich wins Ohio, not even Joe Scarborough and Mika can predict.

****

Kasich is really not from Ohio.

He defected there after college, when Pittsburgh’s steel industry was dying, and made his political career in the Buckeye State as a Reagan conservative with a soft heart and a yearning for balanced budgets and a strong military.

Except that he’s not a union-loving Democrat, he remains a typical Pittsburgher.

He’s not a phony. He’s a regular guy, a rumpled, kind of cranky Everyman, forever the son of a mailman.

He’s still a big foolish hawk, unfortunately, but he’s grown as a Republican.  Now he’s also a big hugger.

It says in the PG’s article that Kasich is from Stowe Township, but he was really from McKees Rocks, which is just an extension of working-class Pittsburgh a few miles up the Ohio River.

He grew up in the humble 1950s suburban brick house pictured below, which,  if Republicans are luckier than they deserve,  someday may be the 20th-century equivalent of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin.

kasi

In the second season premiere of Politics for People Who Hate Politics, I had a terrible connection, and we all had technical difficulties, but then — wonder of wonders — things went really well. And that is very surprising when you consider that we were not discussing paranoia or aliens or fun stuff like that, but politics.

My panel was me (hi), Joe (he’s terse, I can be terse — once in flightschool I was laconic), Franklin Harris (assistant metro editor for the Decatur Daily News), Todd Seavey (website! book!), and Liberty.me king Jeff Tucker (also he’s at FEE now!). We covered the debates, what hope libertarians can have in politics, how much Rand Paul sucks or doesn’t, how dangerous Donald Trump is or isn’t, how Jeb Bush could possibly seem less awful than, well, anyone, and why libertarians always pick one dumb side or another. Our Better Than Politics segment was about Halloween! Spoiler alert: Jeff Tucker is a very dapper fast food item. (To be fair, that’s sort of every day, isn’t?)

Give it a watch. It was one of those fun discussion that I therefore hope is fun to watch.

A libertarian podcast hosted by Lucy Steigerwald: where ranting is optional, and smashing the state is mandatory.

Out panel discussed Hillary Clinton and her emails, or lack thereof (in the FOIA-able sort of way). We also noted the slap on the wrist that Gen. Petraeus received for leaking information, as contrasted with the brutal punishment doled out to to heroic folks like Chelsea Manning. Politicians are the worst, we realized (we realize that every other day, as well). We talked about a new, but very tired argument against libertarianism which was published on Alternet and Salon.com. There was a brief segue about Latin America and liberty, thanks to Gomez, and we definitely wished we knew more about that. We talked about the nature of authority, and we don’t need none of that. And we ended with a prayer to the gods that national treasure Harrison Ford was okay after flying into a golf course.

Host: Lucy Steigerwald, writer for VICE, Antiwar.com, etc.; @lucystag
Panel: Joe Steigerwald, technical website wizard, guitarist for Act of Pardon; @steigerwaldino
Michelle Montalvo; not an intern, sci-fi enthusiast; @michellemntlv
Camilo Gomez: Philosophy student, contributor to Counterpunch and other outlets; @camilomgn
Zachary Yost: Political science student, Young Voices Advocate with Students for Liberty; @ZacharyYost

A libertarian podcast where ranting is optional, and talking about aliens is mandatory for this one episode.

Our fearless panel of libertarians looked into their hearts and at the skies and asked, what if we’re not alone in the universe? And what are the most awesome movies about space aliens? And — Mr. Skeptical Libertarian — does believing in aliens do any damage, like disbelieving in vaccines does? Or is it harmless — albeit spine-tingling — fun? And is Bier’s credibility dashed because he was scared after watching “Signs” as a child? (No.) We asked Seavey about his readings lately in the subject of “most credible and mysterious sightings of UFOs” and we believed him extra hard, because he’s usually a skeptic. We also enjoyed his story about Kevin McCarthy, or at least Steigerwald did. We dabbled a little bit in the mothman, Big Foot, and ghosts of all sorts. We came to very few conclusions, except that we should all go to Mothman Fest and Roswell at the next available opportunity. We forgot to even mention important concepts like the Great Filter and the Fermi Paradox, which would have given us a lot more cred. Maybe next time.

Host: Lucy Steigerwald: writer for Antiwar, VICE, Rare, and The Stag Blog; wry human of Bourbon and Bitches@LucyStag
Meg Gilliland: Social Media director Voice and Exit, cofounder Creative Destructors deadpan sass goddess of Bourbon and Bitches; @MegGilliland
Dan Bier: Skeptical Libertarian, official killjoy; @SkepticalDan
Todd Seavey: ghostwriter, excellent and tragically infrequent blogger, sometimes podcaster, former cable news producer;@toddseavey
Seth Wilson: Writer of things; cultwestern.com; @TheJackaLopeTX
Zach Fountain: Writer and musician; rushmorebeekeepers.com; @rbeekeepers
Resources:
Fortean Times magazine

The ladies of Bourbon and Bitches — Meg Gilliland, Tiffany Madison, and Lucy Steigerwald — joined forces with Politics for People Who Hate Politics staple Joe Steigerwald, to make one mighty crossover podcast episode. The theme? Reasons for optimism about liberty. The conversation? Very tech-heavy, and also full of regret on Lucy’s side for being a sectarian douchebag libertarian for a minute there (sorry about that, Matt). We cheered about Uber, AirBnB, and 3D printed octopuses metaphorically attacking the police. We tried gamely to find any optimism about war, then changed the subject. Platonic Ideal of Libertarian Optimism Jeffrey Tucker popped in briefly — possibly because we summoned him like a deity. We wrapped things up with many, many tangents, until Joe no longer had time to visit the gym.

Host: Lucy Steigerwald: writer for Antiwar, VICE, Rare, and The Stag Blog; wry human of Bourbon and Bitches@LucyStag

Panel: Joe Steigerwald: technical wizard for various websites, mighty bass player for Act of Pardon, older, rarely wiser brother;@steigerwaldino
Meg Gilliland: Voice and Exit, cofounder Creative Destructors deadpan sass goddess of Bourbon and Bitches; @MegGilliland
Tiffany Madison: VP of Coin Congress, cofounder Creative Destructors, writer for all sort of places, rant queen of Bourbon and Bitches; @TiffanyMadison

Jeff Tucker (in brief): Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me, distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education;@JeffreyATucker