Acton Institute Powerblog

Spiritual Capital and Social Justice

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The Chi Rho symbol, pictured here from the Book of Kells, is a traditional abbreviation of the Greek word “Christos” or Christ.

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the connection between the spiritual practice of meditation — the Jesus Prayer in particular — and justice:

If we take justice to mean “to render to each what is due,” we may have some understanding of how this relates. Practice of the Jesus Prayer increases focus and builds a habit that helps to drive out wandering thoughts and pacify our emotions.

Internally, then, it helps us render to each part of ourselves what is due. Rather than being tossed around by vagrant thoughts and emotions and appetites, we are able to stay in the present and, more importantly, coram Deo.

Furthermore, beginning by rendering to God what is due, we do not end there. Indeed, love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40).

I go on to note the work of Christian Miller regarding the emotion that Jonathan Haidt calls “elevation.” Basically, there is a correlation between virtuous examples in one’s life and one’s own degree of virtuous behavior.

Thus, I write,

It would appear that having more such examples in our lives would, then, increase our tendency “to acknowledge all men’s rights.” Virtue, including justice, has a contagious quality through good examples, be they parents, elders, friends, or even the lives of the saints. Inspired by others, we are more likely to think, “Maybe I can do that too.” This can be seen as empirical support for the saying of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

The Jesus Prayer relates in several ways, as I note more fully in the article. One thing that I note is that the Jesus Prayer heightens one’s moral sensitivity and self-control. The formation of a habit of constant prayer involves transferable skills to other virtuous habits as well. Through practicing the Jesus Prayer, one can become more calm, self-controled, and virtuous, and in the process one serves as an example to others, which, again, correlates with more virtuous behavior not only in oneself but in others as well.

Thus, this seemingly individual spiritual practice, done rightly, can have a positive social effect as well.

With regards to social justice in particular, in addition to asking what laws and social structures may or may not help relieve the plight of the poor, perhaps we should also ask which spiritual practices will inspire others (and ourselves) to be more generous, hard working, and hospitable. Or, put simply, what sort of spiritual capital do we personally need to cultivate in order to better encourage human flourishing for all? While by no means a comprehensive recipe, I would argue that the Jesus Prayer is one, too-often-overlooked ingredient.

Read my full article, “Justice and the Jesus Prayer,” at Ethika Politika here.

Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.

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