Acton Institute Powerblog

Presuming the Best

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All Saints church - C19 stained glass - geograph.org.uk - 1638069Kierkegaard once wrote, “The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes–but the real task is in fact to be objective toward one’s self and subjective toward all others.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Discounting the Unseen,” I explore our responsibility to presume the best of others, particularly with regards to what remains unknown or assumed about them. This is a significant task given our natural propensity to excuse ourselves and to condemn others. We might consider this to be a salutary if mundane exercise in moral imagination, described by Russell Kirk as “the power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.”

To put it in economic terms, there should be a negative discount rate for the unseen actions and experiences of others. To put it in moral terms, we should have compassion on others, and moreover we should realize that the Christian is called “to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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