Category: Acton Commentary

Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought Cover Front DraftThe contrast between the treatments by David Bentley Hart and Dylan Pahman of the question of the intrinsic evil of “great personal wealth” this week pretty well established, I think, that in itself wealth is among the things neither forbidden nor absolutely required. In fact, as Pahman puts it at one point, perhaps “Christians should strive to have wealth from which to provide for others.”

But all this is to merely show that wealth isn’t absolutely forbidden. From this it does not follow that we can merely do whatever we want or simply seek to gain as much as we can. Riches do remain a temptation, however, and a powerful one at that.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper expounds in some detail the power of money to corrupt us and turn us away from God. The temptation is unavoidable because of the way in which money can mimic God. As Kuyper puts it, “In money, there rules a power that closely approaches God’s omnipotence, at least insofar as the satisfaction of the needs and wants of one’s outer life is concerned.”

These warnings from Kuyper about the abuse of money and its power to enthrall us come from one of his later works, the first volume of Pro Rege, part of a three-volume series that focuses on restoring the Christian understanding of the lordship of Christ and its implications for all of life (these volumes are also part of the larger Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology).

One of Kuyper’s other works dealing with wealth, poverty, and economics is his earlier speech at the opening of the 1891 Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam. And earlier that same year Pope Leo XIII had promulgated the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum. Together these two texts usher in an era of modern Christian social thought and they sound very similar notes on the challenge represented by “the social question,” or the relationship between labor and capital.
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Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)

Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)

“In the world of literature,” says Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary, “perhaps only Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did more to expose the lies and cruelty of 20th century totalitarianism.”

What makes Darkness at Noon such an enduring artistic work is Koestler’s firsthand knowledge of his source material. Indeed, Darkness at Noon is an imaginative effort, but unlike The Gladiators – set in the first century B.C. and detailing the failed slave revolution led by Spartacus – and Arrival and Departure – set for the most part in Neutralia, a slightly fictionalized Portugal, during World War II – Koestler’s second novel documents its author’s reasons for abandoning the Communist Party of which he had been a loyal adherent.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
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bookIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “Piety and Politics: The Church’s Social Responsibility,” I take up the Kuyperian distinction between the church conceived as organism and as institute and point out some ways in which such ideas can help us navigate the dangerous waters of social and political engagement.

When the Letter to Diognetus describes the diffuse influence of Christians in the world, it uses the living imagery of the soul:

What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.

Hunter Baker has more recently argued that “the church is the soul of the system.” If this is not to be understood in a clericalist sense, then it must refer to the organic church as the soul of the polis, so to speak.

Abraham Kuyper presents the organism/institute distinction in his sermon, “Rooted & Grounded,” which appears in the forthcoming anthology On the Church, part of the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Kuyper’s ecclesiology can well be understood as the crux of his public theology, and the organism/institute distinction is at the core of his conception of the church in its relation to God and the world.

In “Rooted & Grounded” Kuyper observes that both realities the distinction points to must be kept together. We have to do justice both to the dynamic, living, organic aspects of the body of Christ as well as the structural, formal, and institutional expressions of this community.

Thus, says Kuyper,

“Rooted and grounded” unites organism and institution, and where Scripture itself refuses to allow any separation, it weaves them together. By means of the person who sows and plants, the metaphor of vital growth overflows into that of the institution; by means of the living stone, the metaphor of the building flows over into that of the organism. The church of the Lord is one loaf, dough that rises according to its nature but nevertheless is kneaded with human hands and baked like bread. The church is called a multitude of priests, legitimated through birth but consecrated only through anointing. A bride brought forth by the Father but accepted by choice. A people, finally, who indeed sprouted from the living trunk but nevertheless are organized with wisdom and guided with self-motivation.

Just as body and soul are united in the human person, the church as organism and institute are united in the people of God and, ultimately, in union with Jesus Christ.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
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This question of whether government should mandate a higher minimum wage is not a new one, says Curt Biren in this week’s Acton Commentary. In fact, it comes up in ancient Jewish texts — related to property rights, labor law and charity law:

Economists have studied the idea, but they often disagree on its impact. Some can cite statistics that purportedly show that there is no marked decline in employment. Others have data to prove that the imposition of higher minimum wages does reduce employment. The issue may seemingly not be resolved until we have sufficient social science data.

But there’s a deeper question. In mandating higher minimum wages, government is requiring that employers pay their lower-skilled workers more than they might otherwise pay them — and more than the rate at which those workers would be happy to be employed. Is this consistent with our traditional notions of justice?

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
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“When Nicaragua is in the news, it is usually bad news,” says Paul J. Bonicelli in this week’s Acton Commentary, “and so it is once again as it descends into another dynastic dictatorship.”

The man currently building the latest family-run state is the incumbent president Daniel Ortega, although apparently the irony is lost on him since he led a socialist revolution 40 years ago to overthrow the previous dynasty. The history of Nicaragua is a cycle that runs from dictatorship to democracy and back to dictatorship again; a hope and change story that is now ending very badly. There are heroes of liberal democracy, Nicaraguans from all socio-economic classes who understand the value of democratic capitalism and want to be free, and they deserve our praise and pity, for they have suffered the cruelest fate of having put their country on the right track only to see it return to the road to serfdom.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
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“The appeal of Bernie Sanders’ socialism is a puzzle to many, but it shouldn’t be, not if we understand how most people think about economics,” says Rev. Johannes Jacobse in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Economics rightly understood then touches on deeper, transcendental truths. And, as the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn taught, any discussion about materialism and transcendence must answer the fundamental question about whether the final touchstone of truth lies inside or outside the human person. The answer determines how we comprehend the world around us and how we act in it. Here the materialist and traditionalist clash, and the first battleground is always language.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
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Although not everyone see its, technological progress has meant progress in human flourishing, notes Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary.

To answer the Luddites, first of all we must acknowledge that there is truth to what is seen. People see workers losing their jobs due to technology. When that happens (and it does), Christians and other people of good will should not be indifferent.

However, not all people who complain about the loss of manufacturing jobs see even this. The economic nationalists who oppose trade, like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, clearly do not. According to economist Ben Casselman, “In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. Today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening.” He continues to note, however, that manufacturing production in the United States is still quite strong, having more than recovered since the 2008 recession. At the same time, manufacturing jobs have not increased proportionally with that production. Why? In part because of technology. Despite their smaller numbers and the relative unpopularity of their cause, the neo-Luddites have a better case to make than the economic nationalists.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.