Alberta Government Funds Private Abortion Clinics with 16.5 Million Dollars Annually

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) annually releases statistics on induced abortions in Canada. Alberta has the greatest disparity in Canada between clinic abortions and hospital abortions. According to clinic manager Kim Cholewa, clinics bill Alberta Health Services approximately $1,600 to terminate a pregnancy.[i] In 2009, according to the CIHI, 78.6% of abortions in Alberta are performed in for-profit, private clinics.[ii] Multiplying the cost that clinics charge Alberta Health Services to perform abortions, we have private clinics being funded to the tune of $16,534,400 for their activity based on 2009 numbers.[iii]

In addition to significant government funding to private clinics when healthcare is already consuming 39% of the provincial budget,[iv] there is also a problem with disclosure in other jurisdictions. For example, clinic reporting of both the numbers of abortions and the cost in British Columbia is voluntary. There is no legislative requirement to report, despite the clinics being funded by the Government of British Columbia. The lack of disclosure from clinics means that the extent to which the government is publicly funding these clinics remains unknown to taxpayers.

According to the CIHI report, “Hospitals are mandated by their provincial/territorial ministry of health to report all hospital activity (not limited to abortions); therefore coverage of abortions performed in Canadian hospitals can be considered to be complete. However, there is no such legal requirement for clinics to report their activity (reporting is voluntary) [and this is why data is often incomplete].”[v]

Clinics that are independent, have no obligation to report their data, and that operate for-profit should not be funded with the limited provincial healthcare dollars.

If private clinics continue to be funded with public dollars, then they should be held to the same reporting and disclosure standards as hospitals.

But I ask: How would you reallocate the 16.5 million dollars annually being spent by the Alberta government on abortions?

– Amanda Achtman

[i] Simons, Paula. “Simons: Alberta should stop stalling, start funding Essure birth-control.” Edmonton Journal, October 11, 2011. Accessed November 1, 2011. Article archived here:

[ii] Canadian Institute for Health Information. “Induced Abortions Performed in Canada in 2009.” Accessed November 1, 2011.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Government of Alberta. “Budget summary by ministry.” Accessed November 1, 2011.

[v] Canadian Institute for Health Information. “Induced Abortions Performed in Canada in 2009.” Accessed November 1, 2011.

Books that have been recommended to me this summer 2012

The following list is a list of book recommendations that I received over the past few months. I am grateful to everyone whose recommendations have led to the compilation of this list. Feel free to leave further recommendations below in the comments section.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
How to Read A Book
by Mortimer J. Adler
The Canadian Founding: John Locke and Parliament by Janet Ajzenstat
The Political Thought of Lord Durham by Janet Ajzenstat
The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
“The Crisis in Culture: Its Social and Its Political Significance” by Hannah Arendt
The Opium of the Intellectuals by Raymond Aron
City of God by Saint Augustine
De Ordine by Saint Augustine
The Life of Teresa of Jesus: Autobiography by Teresa of Avila
Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Greg Koukl
Propaganda by Edward Bernays
Love and Friendship by Allan Bloom
Colloquium of the Seven by Jean Bodin
I and Thou
by Martin Buber
The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisted by John Carroll
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics by Alejandro A. Chafuen
Witness by Whittaker Chambers
The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton
“The Ballad of the White Horse” by G.K. Chesterton
On Loving God by Bernard of Clairvaux
“Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions” by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Beyond Politics by Christopher Dawson
Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry by Christopher Dawson
Religion and the Modern State by Christopher Dawson
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Pevear and Volokhonsky trans)
Alchemists of Loss: How modern finance and government intervention crashed the financial system by Kevin Dowd and Martin Hutchinson
Aims of Education by T.S. Eliot
“Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot
Progress and Poverty by Henry George
“‘The computer does not impose on us the ways it should be used'” by George Grant
The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The End of the Modern World by Romano Guardini
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington
The School of Salamanca by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson
Against the Heresies by Irenaeus
Modern Times by Paul Johnson
Selfish Reasons to Have More Children by Brian Kaplan
Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs by Leon Kass
Fear and Trembling by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
Two Ages: A Literary Review by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
A Program for Conservatives by Russell Kirk
Enemies of the Permanent Things by Russell Kirk
Creating the Kingdom of Ends by Christine M. Korsgaard
The rage of Edmund Burke: portrait of an ambivalent conservative by Isaac Kramnick
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
After Virtue by Alasdaire MacIntyre
The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope, and Reform edited by Robert Maranto, Richard E. Redding, and Frederick M. Hess
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Planned Chaos by Ludwig von Mises
Utopia, The Perennial Heresy by Thomas Molnar
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
Will it Liberate? by Michael Novak
The Democratic Spirit of Capitalism by Michael Novak
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
Leisure as the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper
Hippias by Plato
Laws by Plato
The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi
How to Read by Ezra Pound
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by Joseph Ratzinger
A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market by Wilhelm Ropke
Philosophy of Religion by Fulton J. Sheenam
Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides
A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking, and The Business Solution for Ending Poverty by Philip Smith and Eric Thurman
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970 Award Speech” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Justice by Michael Sandel
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel
The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith
Velvet Glove, Iron Fist by Christopher Snowdon
Potency and Act, Studies Toward a Philosophy of Being by Edith Stein
Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss
The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Waldo by Paul Theroux
Judith by Aritha Van Herk
Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta by Aritha Van Herk
Audacious and Adamant: The Story of Maverick Alberta by Aritha Van Herk
Becoming Human by Jean Vanier
“Liberalism and Its History” by Eric Voegelin
“In Search of the Ground” by Eric Voegelin
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
After Ideology: Recovering the Spiritual Foundations of Freedom by David Walsh
The Growth of the Liberal Soul by David Walsh
The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence by David Walsh
Guarded By Mystery: Meaning in a Postmodern Age by David Walsh
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Liberty, then what?

“May the intellectual winds occasioned by each conference carry you out onto the philosophical seas, upon which the shores of mediocrity cannot be seen on even the remotest of horizons.”
– my good friend Walter Reid

I begin composing this blog from the City Tavern in Philadelphia where I am drinking Thomas Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale. According to the menu, Jefferson made beer twice a year and this ale is made following his original recipe. After ditching my backpacks at the Apple Hostel on Bank Street, I strolled through the historic streets for a while. The city has character; it’s not pristine, but it is established. Before coming here, if you had said “Pennsylvania” I would have thought of the Pennsylvania Avenue and Pennsylvania Railroad squares on the Monopoly board.* If you had said “Philadelphia” I would have thought of cream cheese and if you said Pittsburgh, I’d have said “Penguins.” Before I came here I didn’t know that Philadelphia was a temporary capital of the United States, that it was here that the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, and that William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges helped to create a bastion of religious liberty. The city of brotherly love was so named for its “Holy Experiment” that had many failures, but also various successes.  So, as I often say, I am traveling the United States this summer to get an American education without paying American tuition, and also to learn some American geography.

I mentioned Tocqueville in my previous post and indeed this thought continues to come to mind: Tocqueville came to America to study the prison system and ended up writing about American democracy, constitutionalism, and liberty. I came to America to study liberty and am ending up learning about welfare statism, the unconstitutional expansion of state jurisdiction, and coercion.

This past week I attended a summer seminar hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies at Bryn Mawr College. Accommodations, meals, tuition, and books are funded for students accepted to the seminars through the generosity of private donors. Throughout the week, we study the ideas of liberty through the various humane disciplines or liberal arts.

I chose to come this particular week because I knew that Dr. James Stacey Taylor would be here and I had met him last year. He is a professor of philosophy at The College of New Jersey. He is also notorious for pushing the boundaries in libertarian thought (Are there boundaries?), especially with his arguments for the commodification of human organs, votes, and parental rights. His biography notes that his book Stakes and Kidneys: Why markets in human organs are morally imperative led to him being branded a heretic in the London Times.

WTF do positive rights come from?

Prof. J.S.T. argues that if J.S. Mill’s “Harm Principle” guided public policy, then many actions that are presently illegal would become decriminalized. He introduces students to central ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially Francis Hutcheson’s notion of “moral sense.” Additionally, Prof. J.S.T. encourages us to consider why positive rights are less important than negative rights (and might not even exist).

I mentioned to Dr. Taylor my interest in bioethics. Through conversation, he helped me to clarify my interest in philosophical anthropology over practical medical ethics. One of the best parts of Institute for Humane Studies seminars is the evening socials where debates rage on between professors and students, except they become much more interesting because there’s beer involved. So my friend Marc and I engaged in an intense philosophical chat with Dr. Taylor. He proposed numerous trolley cases. The first and most well known is this: There is a trolley about to hit five people. Would you switch it to another track if it meant killing one? I initially and consistently said, “No.” My answer is likely a combination of my study of Plato, Aquinas, Machiavelli, and Dostoyevsky.  I would not choose to destroy life for the sake of life. “But there’s more life,” said Dr. Taylor. The end does not justify the means. I am a Christian and not a utilitarian. One should not commit certain evil so that some possible good may come from it.

This is Marc.

Dr. Taylor is a utilitarian and he rigorously challenged my position. Eventually the hypothetical choice became between an anencephalic [meaning “no brain”] newborn and my new friend Marc, who was sitting across the table from me. I knew little about the particular condition of anencephaly, but resolved that I would not act. Essentially, Dr. Taylor was asking me the same question that Polus asked Socrates: “Would you rather suffer than do injustice?” Socrates replies, “I should not like either, but if I must choose between them, I would rather suffer than do [injustice].” The extension to allowing someone else to suffer rather than choosing calculatingly to commit injustice is simply an act in accordance with the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

C.S. Lewis says, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” I am interested in what miracles (or mysteries) tell us about the truth of what constitutes human life. A quick search online leads me to find examples of people living when nobody imagined it was possible. According to this article, Nicholas Coke, an anencephalic infant, is still alive at nearly four years old. Then, there is the incredible story of Chase Britton who was born without a cerebellum or pons – which control motor skills, emotions and sleeping and breathing. His mother Heather says, “’No one had ever seen it before. And then we’d go to the neurologists and they’d say, ‘that’s impossible, he has the MRI of a vegetable.’” Cases like these affirm my conviction that all human life is sacred not because of what we can accomplish, but because of what God can accomplish through us. These lives are changing the lives of those around them.

Dr. Taylor argued that he would call dolphins persons, but not fetuses on the basis of self-awareness as the fundamental criterion for personhood. Dr. Taylor raised many important questions that I intend to continue to explore including: What is a person? Why are persons more significant than other forms of life? Why do we have a moral responsibility to protect life?

I appreciated how he challenged me with the utilitarian argument that if you value life, then should you not value the choice in favor of saving more lives over fewer? “There would be so much more dignity and flourishing. It is multiplied,” he said. I could not agree. I was firmly opposed because life that is intrinsically valuable cannot be held up against other lives of the same intrinsic value. It reminded me of a line in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which I am reading slowly): “True, we love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.” It is as though the utilitarians are saying: True, life is valuable, not because we value life itself but because we live to value.

One of the most important things I learned in History 200 is to not consider a philosopher apart from his or her biographical and historical context. I had read Dr. Marco Navarro-Genie’s paper on J.S. Mill and Auguste Comte’s correspondence and considered myself mildly more equipped this year to critique Mill’s utilitarianism, positivism, and even millenarianism. I also had a powerful line from his Autobiography on which to dwell throughout the week. Mill wrote about the “crisis of [his] mental history” that occurred when he was twenty. He said:

“Suppose that all the objects in your life were realised; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interests in the means? I seemed to have nothing to live for.”

That sounds like downright Augustinian restlessness. I bit my tongue from asking Dr. Taylor, “What’s the most pleasurable thing on earth?” and changed the question to this: “If life is about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, then what is the height of pleasure and is pleasure really the best we can get?” To this he simply said that pleasure is good enough and that pleasure is “pretty darn good.” I wasn’t satisfied.  There are too many testimonies of pleasure failing to please.

Throughout the week, we had sessions on such themes as: spontaneous order, the harm principle, constitutionalism, rational ignorance, formal versus informal institutions, natural morality, libertarian class analysis, schools of economic thought, the Great Depression, the failure of foreign aid versus market-based development success, war, and property rights.
It was an intensely enriching week. I joked that the reason I choose to be a university student during the year is mainly to be eligible for these summer conferences. Of course, both university and summer education is wonderful. I like to, as the mottos go: “Vacation with a purpose” and “Think more, sleep less.”

We had a very interesting debate during the week on whether or not someone can alienate his or her liberty. I raised the point that J.S. Mill makes when he says, “The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom.” This issue is raised under the applications section of Mill’s “On Liberty” where he discusses suicide and voluntary slavery. Prof. J.S.T. disagrees with this point and says that voluntary slavery is perfectly morally acceptable because liberty is instrumentally valuable in enabling individuals to lead lives that they see fit and secure the goods that they prefer.  He said:

“Imagine this: Somebody is a devout Catholic and they decide to enter a monastery. They want to enter an order where every one of their actions is controlled by their abbot. They’re going to give up their liberty. They’re doing so freely and voluntarily; to secure a good that they believe is worth it: A regimented life in service of God. I think that people should be allowed to do that. And indeed, we do allow people to do this. […] I believe that liberty is extremely valuable, but it’s valuable instrumentally, as a means to securing the ability of persons to live their lives as they see fit.”

Cloistered Nuns. Voluntary Slaves?

I found this account very interesting and appreciated that he, one of the staunchest defenders of liberty I know, clarified his position that liberty is essentially instrumental, not an end-in-itself. In one session, Prof. J.S.T. discussed legal rights versus moral rights. He teasingly calls legal rights the Lego blocks of rights that we give to lawyers to play with. Moral rights are much more interesting and moral rights are the ones with which philosophers are concerned. At the end of the week, I thought: moral rights are fun, but moral truths are even more exciting. Once we have freedom from coercion and our actions have moral weight, what are the very best actions we can choose to be flourishing human persons fulfilling our freedom in truth? And then, I find myself returning to Aristotle’s Ethics and spiritual reading and gaining increasing enthusiasm for ordered liberty.

This year, I found more people at the seminar to be sympathetic to religious ideas, or at least a bit less hostile. I met some students from Latin America and asked if any of them are planning to attend World Youth Day next summer in Brazil. From there, I had a conversation with a young woman from Guatemala.

She asked, “Have you also been struggling to reconcile libertarianism with your Catholic faith? I thought I was the only one!” So we sat down on some steps and had a very good discussion. We were warned in our conference binders that: “Through all this learning and sharing, new ideas can create a sense of what some researchers call ‘disequilibrium.’” I asked my new friend, “What do you think of the young men at this conference? Do you find yourself asking: Would they make good husbands? Would they make good fathers? As soon as I started speaking like this, I could tell that what I was saying was resonating with her. It is unattractive when people confuse liberty for sheer license and this is the tendency that we had observed.

Also, she goes to Universidad Francisco Marroquin, a free-market, pro-liberty university in Guatemala. (Yes, in Guatemala. You read that correctly.) We discussed how it is practically a competition there, much like at this seminar, to be dogmatically libertarian. (For example, I was called a fascist for supporting laws against drunk driving and age of sexual consent laws. One of the sessions was titled: “Why Not Anarchy?”)

So she was curious about my views on libertarianism and faith. I shared with her some of my experiences. Last year I had attended my first Institute for Humane Studies seminar. I became quite enamored with libertarian ideas, especially since I found them fairly easy to learn and quite difficult to refute. I was beginning to think that freedom makes truth. On a World Youth Day pilgrimage this summer in Madrid, I began to reflect on John 8:32. It says: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” I saw libertarianism as a reversal of this passage and thought about how I was confusing the means for the end. In the Gospels, the disciples are confused too: “”We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’” Jesus explains to them that they are slaves to their sin.

Throughout the week, many idealistic visions of a libertarian utopia completely free from coercion were envisioned. I thought about how a book might be written in the same vein as Thomas More’s Utopia with these ideas. Still, there would be human nature. Still, there would be pride. Still, we would not be able to redeem ourselves. Libertopia would not satisfy, nor could it possibly exist. Liberty is the indispensable condition for moral choice. That’s why I want to defend and advance it. But liberty exercised in a refusal to respond rightly to moral truth is misdirected and unfulfilling.

During some of the sessions at World Youth Day, I thought: Wow, I have never heard anything so beautiful, so good, and so true! I asked my friend: Did you ever find yourself thinking that the sessions throughout the week were pointing to something beautiful, good, and true? We concluded that, as much as we learned from the sessions and found them to provide a solid foundation, they did not point very far. She summed up the conversation best when she said, “We need transcendence.”

At the end of the week, Prof. J.S.T. gave another good explanation of the nature of liberty. He said that he considers liberty both “a means to” but also “a necessary part of” the ends which it is instrumental to securing. Oftentimes, a child will be drawing or painting a picture and not doing a very good job. He may sometimes realize that he will do a worse job than the adult supervising him. Still, the child will say, “I want to do it myself.” Dr. Taylor says he thinks that this behavior can give us important insight into human nature and he thinks this desire “to do it myself” is carried through beyond childhood. This reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s character Bernard Marx in Brave New World who says, “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

The Institute for Humane Studies seminar was another enriching educational experience. I am grateful to the students, faculty, organizers, and donors for making it happen. I appreciated the opportunity to explore the philosophical foundations of free society and to question my assumptions. Dr. James Stacey Taylor was particularly helpful. He challenged me rigorously, welcomed me to conversations, and was respectful, patient, and kind.

At the very end of the week, I asked him if there is one thing that he advises that students bear in mind. To this he replied: “Remember that most people genuinely want to make the world better.” Since most people seem to attest to this by their lives, I am inclined to take it to heart and try to repair the world (Tikkun Olam), but not to redeem or recreate it.

*I have since learned that Pennsylvania Avenue is “America’s Main Street” actually located in Washington, D.C.

Fortnight for Freedom: The Battle for Religious Liberty in America

Throughout the United States, American Catholics are participating in a Fortnight for Freedom. This two-week period, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a national campaign for religious liberty. The campaign comes at a time during which “[o]ur liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power— St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.” Additionally, the campaign is a period of prayer, fasting, civil disobedience, and other activities devoted to defending religious liberty.

Religious liberty is under attack in more realms than one. The current focus, however, is on the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which forces the Church to provide coverage for abortion inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations. The Supreme Court is currently ruling on the constitutionality of the healthcare policy on the grounds of enumerated powers. Other challenges have been brought forth on the grounds of the First Amendment also. According to this article, “forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country have announced religious liberty lawsuits against the federal government to challenge the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.”

I attended mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Huntley, Illinois yesterday on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and on the First Sunday in the Fortnight for Freedom.

Fr. Jonathan Bakkelund delivered the homily. He spoke with great fervor and urgency on the issue of religious liberty.

He began by discussing the history of religious persecution in America. Then, he said, “This is not a republican or a democratic, a conservative or a liberal issue. This is not a Catholic issue.This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. This is an American issue which threatens the God-given, inalienable rights of every Muslim, every atheist, every man, woman, and child of this great nation. This is an issue of Religious Liberty.”

He explained that so-called accommodation in the mandate for religious employers.
“To qualify for an exemption, you must employ primarily those of your own faith, and serve primarily those of your own faith.  Parishes would be exempted, but Catholic hospitals, universities, charitable groups, relief organizations, and publishing houses would all be excluded. […] It’s never been the government’s job to tell us which babies we can clothe or whose mouths we can feed…it’s never been the government’s job to tell us we’re gonna have to start asking for baptismal certificates at the door.”

In this video, Bishop Joseph R. Cistone says, “The word accommodation is a strange one to me. We have a right to religious freeedom. And so that right has been infringed upon. And now we hear of an accommodation to protect us from that infringement. We want to go back to the right itself. There is no need for an accommodation.”

Fr. Bakkelund continued, “If you study your history books well, every single epic in the history of the world when the Almighty State has attempted to privatize religion, and force her into seclusion, removing her from the public square… every single one of these epics has seen the degradation of the human person.”

He spoke sincerely saying, “As a young priest, I pray, God willing, to serve Our Lord and His Church as a priest for the next fifty years. I am deeply concerned that in those fifty years I could see my work and my ministry become illegal.”

He ended with the following quotation of Pope Saint Pius X:
“Kingdoms and empires have passed away; peoples once renowned for their history and civilization have disappeared; time and again the nations, as though overwhelmed by the weight of years, have fallen asunder; while the Church, indefectible in her essence, united by ties indissoluble with her heavenly Spouse, is here to-day radiant with eternal youth, strong with the same primitive vigor with which she came forth from the Heart of Christ dead upon the Cross. Men powerful in the world have risen up against her. They have disappeared, and she remains. Philosophical systems without number, of every form and every kind, rose up against her, arrogantly vaunting themselves her masters, as though they had at last destroyed the doctrine of the Church, refuted the dogmas of her faith, proved the absurdity of her teachings. But those systems, one after another, have passed into books of history, forgotten, bankrupt; while from the Rock of Peter the light of truth shines forth as brilliantly as on the day when Jesus first kindled it on His appearance in the world, and fed it with His Divine words: “Heaven and earth shall pass, but my words shall not pass” (Matth. xxiv. 35).”

The entire congregation stood and applauded this message. It was the first time in my life that I have heard a homily that roused the whole congregation to such a response.

Check this out:

Acton University: Day 2 – Foundations

This was my first year at Acton University and so I was enrolled in the foundational lecture series. The foundational lectures for first timers included: Christian Anthropology, The Christian Vision of Government, Economic Way of Thinking, and Biblical Foundations in Freedom.

Looking back on Acton University overall, the main lesson that I take away is the importance of a good anthropology, of a proper understanding of the human person. Thomas Aquinas began his work On Being and Essence by quoting Aristotle’s De Coelo: “A slight initial error eventually grows to vast proportions.” If an error is made at the outset, then subsequent statements will be improperly concluded. This alerts us to the importance of being grounded firmly in true starting points, in solid philosophical foundations.

During Dr. Matheson-Miller’s foundational lecture, he told us that John Paul II said, “The primary fault of socialism was anthropological in nature.” “What [Pope JPII] meant,” explained Dr.  Matheson-Miller, “is that socialism failed because it got the person wrong.”

Dr. Matheson Miller stressed the issue of the common acceptance of the Rousseauian account as an alternative to the creation narrative in Genesis. “Individualism is false,” Matheson-Miller said, “We are born into families.” It is a totalitarian tendency rather than an expression of liberty to impose our relentless fictions on the nature of reality. He also maintained that there are no individuals, but only human persons. The family is a natural community that is pre-political. It is not a construct, but a biological and social reality, he explained.  

Biblical theology and Greek philosophy are the pillars of western civilization. In Greek philosophy we have the Socratic recognition of the limits of knowledge in the story of the Delphic oracle. In biblical theology, we have the Judeo-Christian recognition of the limits of human goodness in the story of creation and the fall. G.K. Chesterton called original sin “the only provable Christian doctrine.” Socrates affirmed his own ignorance. The humility necessary to recognizing limits is a unifying aspect of both biblical theology and Greek philosophy.

Peter Kreeft says that we come to know truth by its goodness, but that goodness is ontologically dependent on truth. The paradoxical nature of Christianity is easier to reconcile when we see that our philosophical tradition equally attests to a humble recognition of limits so as to grow in knowledge and holiness in order to lead lives worthy of men on earth.
Retaliation against biblical theology for its account of the weakness of human nature is an equally problematic retaliation against western philosophy. In both cases there is a rejection of the limits of knowledge. This tends consistently to boundlessly rationalistic system construction oriented to perfection that cannot be attained because, as Genesis and Thomas More have illustrated, of human pride.

If we could achieve perfection in knowledge, would we not be able to be perfectly good? If we could achieve perfection in our goodness, would it not be through the perfection of our knowledge? And yet, as St. Paul expressed so succinctly, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Like Augustine we are confronted with the perplexity that arises when we realize that we have become mysteries to ourselves. Augustine confesses, “For in your sight I have become a riddle to myself and that is my infirmity.”

What does it mean to be a person? What is human nature? These questions are fundamental and they matter for every discipline and for every person. Modern rationalism, system construction, and freedom apart from human excellence are roadblocks to arriving to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Christian anthropology. Let us take all of the other anthropologies and test them against the Christian account of persons as images of God, who discover true liberty when they love the law that God has written upon their human hearts… that they might abide in Him and be loved by Him, held in His Order and Truth.

In gratitude for his good lectures and advice, this post is dedicated to Dr. Michael Matheson-Miller.

Acton University: Day 1 Kick-off with Ambassador Novak

Acton University is a four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. An initiative of the Acton Institute, Acton University draws hundreds together in Grand Rapids for an ecumenical conference on morality and markets.

During the flights, I alternated between reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and conversing with my fellow travelers. (And by that I do not mean fellow travelers in a communist sense but fellow travelers in the sense that there were interesting people on the plane with me.)  

Upon arrival to the airport, I struck up a conversation with a young woman named Sarah-Beth. She is a Master’s student at Louisiana State University. Making the typical introductions, we learned that we have a great deal in common. We are both studying political science with an emphasis on political theory and we both take a great interest in bioethics.

After registering at the conference, I settled into the hotel. There I met my roommate Tessa from Seattle. She studied international relations and now works at a think tank called the Discovery Institute.  We discussed American and Canadian politics and quizzed one another on the historical basics of our respective countries. After she kindly converted the forecast into Celsius on her computer for me, we got ready and returned to the Devos Convention Centre for dinner.

“Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” – Dr. Samuel Gregg

The room was filled with more than eight hundred conference attendees from about eighty different countries. Acton Institute Research Director and emcee for the evening, Samuel Gregg noted the diversity of attendees highlighting that there were Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox, and Straussian participants. In fact, this was my first conference during which people teased one another about being Straussians or Voegelinians.

After Dr. Gregg’s introductory remarks, Acton Institute Founder Fr. Robert Sirico hosted a conversation with Ambassador Michael Novak. As a theologian, author, and former United States ambassador, Novak brought a wealth of experience, insight, and joy to share with all of us.

Ambassador Novak reminded me of Preston Manning. Novak spoke about his life, work, and faith in a manner that was humble, down-to-earth, and friendly. He spoke about growing up in poverty and said that he wrote articles to make enough money to get by. Novak said that he became a critic of the left from the left and did not have a road to Damascus conversion to conservatism. He noted that it was initially because of the abortion issue that he became a Republican. A lover of truth and order, Novak learned that there is not a need to have a command system to achieve order. In fact, such systems are essentially opposed to ordered liberty.

Ambassador Novak became frustrated with liberation theology and was inspired to begin insisting to people: Show me how liberation theology helps the poor. He discovered that it doesn’t.

Novak described his experience of losing friends over his principles and clashing with his own publisher who argued against publishing his book with “capitalism” in the title. Yet, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism became his greatest masterpiece and was published underground in Poland in 1984, and after 1989 in Czechoslovakia, Germany, China, Hungary, Bangladesh, Korea, and across Latin America.

The best indicator of genuine development, explained Novak, is how many small businesses are being created. He insisted that education, low-interest credit, and the ability to incorporate businesses quickly and cheaply are among the key development solutions oriented toward promoting human flourishing.

A question was posed to Novak about Vatican II. Ambassador Novak said that he was in favor of the mass in the vernacular, but reminded us that it was not expected that the Latin would perish. He emphasized the elevation and succinctness of the Latin that requires a special mental discipline and contributes to the liturgical beauty. Novak said that people who do not experience the Latin mass are likely missing out. He also made a few remarks on his general views of the English language; he called English “a down-to-earth language with a natural Aristotelian bent.”

After his keynote, I had a few minutes to visit with Ambassador Novak. He grasped my hands in a warm, grandfatherly way. I told him that when I was in Cuernavaca in Mexico, I insisted on a Spanish speaker translating a few pages of his book Will it Liberate? aloud to me. I told him I was starving for some common sense in order to help me deal with the troubling liberation theology that I had confronted down there during Easter. He smiled and said, “Who would have known that my book would help put a pretty young woman to sleep?”

In the evening, I visited with many of the Acton University attendees. We discussed theology, politics, economics, history, the evening program, and the sessions that we anticipated in the week ahead. It was energizing to be among a crowd of people so motivated in striving for a civilization of love, a culture of life, and a free and virtuous society.

Global Vision’s National Youth Ambassador Caucus in Ottawa

Global Vision is an organization that was created in order to train young Canadian leaders. Terry Clifford founded the initative in 1991 while he was a Member of Parliament. Global Vision has trained more than 25,000 Canadians, many of whom have travelled on economic trade missions to represent regional and industry-related interests abroad.

I arrived to the Ottawa Residence Commons Building (or “90 U” as it is called here). The building was familiar because I had toured it when I was discerning which university I would attend. Though I did not choose to pursue a degree here, I was excited to be staying on campus for the weekend. Conferences and events provide the opportunity to be a student at many more places than one could possibly study formally. It is a delight to taste the student experience in different contexts.

In the evening I chatted with a former Sudanese refugee, a former Yugoslavian refugee, ate poutine, drank St-Ambroise, and debated abortion, national parks, and prison spending. It is always good to return to the nation’s capital!

Jacob, from South Sudan, told me his story. He was separated from his family when he was seven years old and spent fifteen years in a refugee camp. He lamented the lack of opportunity, belonging, and purpose among the youth in his country. I proposed that the student protesters in Montreal have, to a different degree, a similar lack of purpose and belonging. Jacob agreed with the comparison. We then discussed the urgency of having worthy aims to strive for, goals towards which one can direct passion and from which one can derive meaning.

My new friend Vanja, who was born in former Yugoslavia, also had some good stories. Realizing my interest in refugees and immigration, he took out his BlackBerry and showed me an image of his Grade 2 class list. “When I was a refugee in Germany,” he began, “I lived in a small town and the phone numbers were only four digits. Here is a class list. What do you notice about the names of those students who have no phone numbers listed?” He explained that he and the other immigrant families were not allowed to have telephones. He also told a story of an apartment occupied mostly by immigrants that was graffitied with the words, “Immigrants Out!” Police did not respond to complaints about this. Yet, when some of the immigrants graffitied a nearby garbage bin with the words, “Germans In!” the police prosecuted the vandalism. It was amazing to be hearing this from someone my own age. I take Canada for granted.

On Sunday morning we had a scavenger hunt in Ottawa. The Amazing Race included such tasks as: Get a Business Card from Any Establishment on Bank Street, Take a Photo with a Server from Zak’s Diner, Bring Back a Penny from 1974, and Find Out How Many Rooms are in the Château Laurier. (There are 684 rooms. Also, the 100th anniversary of the Château Laurier was celebrated on Friday.)

I went to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. The church was overflowing with congregants and fifty teens were confirmed during the noon mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

In the afternoon we listened to: John Treleaven, a former Canadian ambassador to the Philippines; Terry Clifford, the founder of Global Vision; and Jacob Deng, Founder of Wadeng Wings of Hope.

The following day, our first guest speaker was Julie Marshall from the United Nations World Food Programme. I challenged her to address the problems of foreign aid perpetuating dependency, distorting local markets, and being unsustainable. Naturally, she shot back in desperation asking, “What’s the alternative?” Her entire focus was on food security. How can people who love life and liberty work to promote true solutions to global hunger and advance food freedom?

In the afternoon we listened to Jean-Francis (JF) Carrey, one of the youngest Canadians to climb Everest. He encouraged us to “flirt with our dreams.” He did this by making an initial visit to Nepal during which he traced some of the steps of Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Everest.

Then, JF made a t-shirt with a photo of Everest on it. “Then my goal was on a t-shirt. I had no choice but to do it since it was on a t-shirt!” said JF.

Since JF had to raise $100,000 to pursue his goal, he says that he went to dozens of events and associations. “I was going to these networking events… women in business, you name it,” he said.

JF noted that we are always reminded how dangerous things are and how people before us have failed. So we need to know what it is that sets us apart he figures. JF says that climbing Everest was not fundamentally about getting to the top but rather to experience the beauty of the sunrise at the summit. Still, JF stressed, “The summit was the cherry on top of the sundae. I encourage you to enjoy the journey.”

Another excellent speaker was Deepak Obhrai, a member of parliament. He was born in Tanzania and says that it was the socialist policies in Tanzania after the country gained its independence that is the reason for his conservatism. “That was a lesson in not being a socialist and that’s why I am a conservative,” he said. Addressing his decision to be a leader in Canada rather than in Africa, he said that Tanzania’s policies drove him out and that Tanzania’s loss is Canada’s gain. Deepak went to a school on a visit to Tanzania and asked, “How many of you would like to come to Canada?” About ten students raised their hands. “Who thinks that they could become an elected official in Canada?” he asked. Not one student raised his or her hand. “You can do it,” he told them. “I did.”

Policies of socialism and protectionism drive people out when they do not succeed in merely trapping people within. The hope for the future lies in free markets and globalization. Student attendees at this conference were encouraged to travel the world. Many of the speakers said that this is the best way to depart from the usual tendencies that students have towards protectionism and socialism.

After the conference had formally ended, I joined some of my friends who are interning for the Conservative Party of Canada at a military fundraiser event.

The following day I had lunch with my friend Matthew. Then, I saw some news reporters. As I walked by I exclaimed, “Radio Canada!” They said, “You speak French? Let us interview you!” Well, I am conversational in French, but speaking on television might be a stretch. They insisted, “You can do it!” So I asked: What is the issue of the day? It turned out the latest issue was a new casino in Ottawa. And so I made a few comments briefly in French about government’s addiction to casino revenue.

I enjoyed strolling downtown Ottawa on an beautiful summer day. Another highlight was running into one of my favorite members of parliament, MP Rod Bruinooge. He and I discussed Motion 312 and the Romney campaign briefly before he took off in his green shuttle to parliament.

This blog post is dedicated to Amy Giroux and Terry Clifford, respectively director and founder of Global Vision and to my friends who I had the privilige of visiting in Ottawa including: Mattea Shubat, Laura Mac, Matthew McGowan, Doug Chiasson, and Paul Hamnett.

Visiting Jeremy Bentham at the University College London

After learning about Jeremy Bentham in my History 200 class in first year university, I was inspired to visit his auto-icon (self-image) at the University College London. As the father of utilitarianism, Bentham argued: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.” He promoted the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” and advocated in favour of anything that could be calculated as maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

Here is an excerpt from Jeremy Bentham’s Last Will and Testament:

“My body I give to my dead friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned and I direct that as soon as it appears to any one that my life is at an end my executor or any other person by whom on the opening of this paper the contents thereof shall have been observed shall send an express with information of my decease to doctor Southwood Smith requesting him to repair to the place where my body is lying and after ascertaining by appropriate experiment that no life remians it is my rewuest that he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my will and at the top of which I have written ‘Auto-Icon’… 

For more information on the Bentham Project at the University College London, click here.

Thanks to Dr. Marco Navarro-Génie for introducing me to Bentham and for sharing the anecdotes about his narcissistic eccentricism that prompted my visit to the auto-icon.

Reflections on Rwanda: Part X

The Reflections on Rwanda trip has been an incredible experience and I would like to encourage all eligible students who are interested to apply.

Here is some information on the program:

SHOUT Canada is a grassroots, national, not-for-profit organization administered by a volunteer Board of Governors.  Reflections on Rwanda (ROR) is SHOUT Canada’s flagship program, in the context of its primary organizational mandate, which is to help foster a generation of students with the power, voice and determination to affect change.

The ROR program was conceptualized and created in 2008 by the organization’s founding members who were all full-time students at the time. The year was spent putting together a pilot project, which came to fruition in the summer of 2009. Indeed, the group spent the better part of that summer in Rwanda visiting historical sites, solidifying relationships with individuals, as wells as governmental and non-governmental groups. The pilot project was implemented to lay the grounding for the 2010 ROR program.

On May 17th 2010, the first ROR cohort, comprised of 11 young Canadians from all corners of the country, met at London’s Heathrow Airport to be briefed about their imminent arrival in Kigali. On May 15th, 2011, the second ROR cohort landed in Kigali. In this context, SHOUT Canada is pleased to be offering the ROR program again in 2012 [and stay tuned for 2013!]

Here is some recommended reading material and films on Rwanda via the Reflections on Rwanda leadership team:

Reading Material:
1. Power; A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide
2. Des Forges; Leave None to Tell the Story
3. Melvern; Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide
4. Melvern; A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide
5. Courtemanche; A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
6. Hatzfeld; A Time for Machetes
7. Dallaire; Shake Hands with the Devil
8. Gourevitch; We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our
9. Prunier; The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide
10. Prunier; Africa’s World War
11. Hatzfeld; Into the Quick of Life
12. Thompson et al; The Media and the Rwandan Genocide
13. Temple-Raston; Justice on the Grass
14. Mushikiwabo; Rwanda Means the Universe
15. Immaculée Ilibagiza; Left to Tell

Films and Documentaries:

1. Sometimes in April
2. Shake Hands with the Devil (there is a documentary and a feature film)
3. Shooting Dogs
4. 100 Days
5. A Sunday in Kigali (based on A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali)
6. Journey into Darkness (documentary)
7. A Culture of Murder (documentary)
8. When Good Men do Nothing (documentary)
9. Triumph of Evil (documentary)
10. Ghosts of Rwanda (documentary)
11. Scream Bloody Murder (documentary with Christian Amanpour, you can view this on Youtube)
12. Africa United (New light-hearted film about Rwanda that doesn’t mention the genocide!)
13. If Only We Had Listened: The Prophecy of Kibeho

If anyone would like to ask me any questions about the trip, please email me at

I look forward to speaking in schools, universities, churches, and other public forums about the genocide commited against Tutsi. Please contact me if you have any suggestions to this end.

Amanda (Action) Achtman

Reflections on Rwanda: Part IX

As the programming changed from memorial site visits to meetings with current and emerging leaders who are moving Rwanda forward, we seized the opportunity to visit the Office of the Canadian High Commission to Rwanda in Kigali.

Promising that they would make an effort to avoid speaking to us in “Bureaucrat-ese”, Willow and James discussed the relationship between Canada and Rwanda. We learned that the first provost of the National University in Butare was a Catholic priest from the Université Laval in Quebec. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has been active in Rwanda since 1967. There are opportunities for student exchanges between Canada and Rwanda.

We also discussed the influence of the funding cuts to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) on development initiatives in the country.

Then, we visited an Islamic cultural centre and school. The centre and school were a donation of the former ruler of the Libyan Arab Republic, Muammar Gaddafi. Reportedly, the centre and school were not attacked during the genocide and no one was killed there, we were told, because of fear that Gaddafi would intervene during the genocide if the Islamic centre was attacked.

Later, we spent the afternoon at a coffee shop discussing religion and genocide. The discussion was not too profound and centred mainly around the failures, to say the least, of religious leaders and lay people to lead lives worthy of their callings.

Absolutely no topic has been off limits on this trip. I admire my new friends for their courage to be challenged by controversy and their dedication to challenging others and inspiring them to reflection and action.

The next day we visited the National Commision for the Fight against Genocide. An article was written about our visit and appeared on the CNLG. Here is an excerpt from the article:

A group of 18 scholars from Canada who came for official visit to Rwanda, on Wednesday May 23, 2012 were received by the Executive Secretary Mr. Mucyo Jean de Dieu at CNLG Headquarters in Remera, Kigali.

The Executive Secretary explained to them that though the Genocide was perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda, it’s a crime that concerns the whole world because it’s a crime that violates human rights. He told them that the National Commission for the Fight against  Genocide was established in 2008, but the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission had been established before the Genocide, from Arusha agreement of 93, to fight against hatr[ed] and discrimination based on cultures that Rwandans had even before…

Following that we had a meeting at the Association des Veuves du Genocide (AVEGA). AVEGA is an organization dedicated, in particular, to serving widows, orphans, the disabled, and elderly victims of genocide. Services provided range from medical aid to micro-financing grants.

Later we met with Zozo, who was a concierge at Hôtel des Milles Collines [Hotel Rwanda] during the genocide. It was a crazy experience to read his name, the day after having coffee with him, in the novel that a friend lent me called A Sunday at the Pool at Kigali. For a moment I put down the book and paused to reflect: “Whoa, we just met him!”

He was the most chipper and bubbly man. He seemed to laugh in such a way so as to stave off tears. Cracking endless jokes and speaking teasingly, we marvelled at his sense of humour while discussing the tragic events of eighteen years ago.

We also had the opportunity to meet with members of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF). The military members who hosted us were extremely friendly. We felt as though we were receiving the sort of hospitality expected by lofty foreign ambassadors and not by students. The RDF members were courteous and engaged in an enriching period of questions and answers.

A neat stop on the way to lunch one day included a visit to a gift shop filled with locally-made crafts. The shop is managed by the cousin of one of the founding students of Reflections on Rwanda, and so we were especially enthusiastic to shop there for souvenirs for our Canadian family and friends.

We visited the Institut de Recherche et de Dialogue pour la Paix (IRDP), the Commission for Unity and National Reconciliation, and also attended an excellent presentation on the Gacaca courts.

Operating under the principle that “justice delayed is justice denied” it was determined that the ordinary court system would not be adequate for trying genocide crimes in a timely manner. For this reason, Gacaca courts, a form of community justice inspired by ancient tradition, were used to try genocide crimes. With ordinary courts, only 6000 cases had been heard in 5 years. But in ten years, the Gacaca courts handled two million cases.

There are three tiers in the Gacaca system. The first level concerns organizers, leadership, and planners in genocide. The second level concerns those who executed orders. The third level concerns property-related cases. In most cases, it was ruled that property stolen simply be returned or compensated. Immediate confessions often led to reduced sentences. Sometimes a perpetrator would receive the option to complete half of his or her sentence in prison and the other half in community service. The Gacaca courts are set to close on June 18, 2012.

The people of Rwanda have made tremendous strides and the country is developing at an impressive pace. After spending one week focused on the past and the second week focused on the present and looking to the future, I have certainly learned a lot.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this trip possible!

In gratitude for their leadership, this post is dedicated to Audrey, Kurt, Rachel, Margot, and Faustin.