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Book Review – One and Indivisible: The Relationship between Religious and Economic Freedom

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One and Indivisible is a new collection of essays on the connection between religious and economic liberty. Those who regard freedom as essential should uphold the importance of both religious and economic liberty; these essays dig deeper in search of an essential connection or natural interplay between the two.

Now on sale in the Acton Book Shop
Now on sale in the Acton Book Shop

One and Indivisible connects both freedoms as complimentary and symbiotic. Richards discovers a “virtuous cycle” between religious and economic freedom. Michael Novak traces the foundations of each through the American natural rights tradition, finding that economic liberty is both a product of and a supporter of religious freedom.

The book successfully connects the foundations of economic and religious freedom with the challenges society faces today, in the United States and abroad. Especially timely are Jay Richards’ examination of the threat to religious freedom posed by the loss of economic liberty in the Affordable Care Act and Cardinal Joseph Zen’s exploration of the paradox of high economic freedom and low religious freedom in China.

Later in the collection, a case is made for the strength of the symbiosis of religious and economic freedom in combating poverty and restoring an anthropological understanding of private property. A key thought echoed by each essayist is the ability of Christian anthropology to undergird poverty alleviation, natural law, and conclusively economic development. At the end of her essay, “Faith and Freedom and the Escape from Poverty,” Anielka Münkel Olson wraps the ideas of economic flourishing and religion together by quoting St. John Paul II in his address to the United Nations:

We must not be afraid of the future…It is no accident that we are here. Each and every human person has been created in the “image and likeness” of the One who is the origin of all that is. We have within us the capacities for wisdom and virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of god’s grace, we can build in the next century and the next millennium a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom.

Olson proves how the dignity and worth of people exhibiting God’s image contributes greatly to her philosophy of a prosperous society. Additionally, Samuel Gregg draws from this fountain of Christian anthropology by arguing for a return to the “ultimate foundation of reason.” Gregg explains how the support for economic and religious freedom is intertwined with reason exhibited in God alone:

God is divine reason. It follows that sentimentalist concepts of God undermine the idea of natural law, which in turn undermines the idea of rule of law, which in turn undermines a society’s capacity to promote freedom and reduce poverty. It turns out that God—especially our understanding of who he is—really matters.

Gregg concludes, stating succinctly that “if we care about freedom—whether it is political freedom, economic freedom, or religious freedom—we have to care about reason, and we have to care about the ultimate foundation of reason.”

Another highly insightful essay, written by Michael Matheson Miller, lays the groundwork for a deeper understanding of crucial Jewish conceptions of private property as seen in the Old Testament. This emphasis placed on private property does reflect the connection between economic flourishing and religion. Miller explains his statements, writing that he does not believe that Christianity or Judaism mandates necessary support of capitalism or competitive market economies, but that “throughout Scripture and tradition we see an undeniable respect for private property, and this has an impact on how we understand economics.”

The importance of this book is well-exemplified in a quote from Richards’ essay:

Our most important ideas are often the ones we take for granted; the unstated premises that inform as if by an invisible hand our conscious thoughts and deliberate actions. Because of the way religious freedom has developed and has been purified by history, it is easy for Americans to dwell blissfully in the branches of the tree of liberty and forget entirely the roots that anchor the tree to the ground.

The scope of subjects addressed in One and Indivisible is wide, thoroughly examining each facet of economic and religious freedom. It successfully presents an accurate account of those roots and in affirming the importance of the freedoms that grow out of them. Those who wish to preserve these crucial freedoms at home and extend their influence to all nations should not miss this book.

 

Caroline Roberts Caroline Roberts has a B.A. in English from Grove City College and produces the Acton Institute’s podcast, Radio Free Acton.

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