Category: Christian Social Thought

Not the Only “Option”

This is the question I ask in response to Rod Dreher et al. at Ethika Politika today. By liberalism, of course, I mean the (classical) liberal tradition as a whole, not just progressive forms of it common on the social and political left.

I write,

So in one sense Benedict Option enthusiasts are not all wrong. Liberalism is the problem the same way “culture” is the problem, or “society,” or “religion,” or “secularism,” or any other general noun that mutually admits of several concrete forms with varying degrees of moral worth. And it’s everywhere.

… Even our anti-liberals are liberals. Long ago, most gave up on their respective utopias and decided that reform from within liberal societies was a more prudent path than violent revolution or quietist withdrawal. So [Jeff] Guhin is right when he says, “We are all liberals now.”

Why, again, is that a bad thing?

Read my full essay, “The Liberal Option’s Answer to the Benedict Option,” at Ethika Politika here.

JMM_18.1 front cropOur most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

Volume 18, no. 1 is a special issue. Guest editor Shirley Roels details the origins of the contributions in her (open access) editorial:

To highlight the 2013–2014 English publication of the first volume of [Abraham] Kuyper’s theological commentary on common grace, the Calvin College Business Department organized an October 2014 symposium, which was co-sponsored by the Acton Institute. Faculty, business practitioners, and students gathered to think about the meaning of Kuyper’s common grace theology for twenty-first-century business. Over an exceptional day of discourse, presentations and panels were woven into a robust discussion about the light of faith for business when that life is shared together by Christians and those who follow other paths. Leaders from banking, manufacturing, natural resources, film, food, and floral industries, among others, joined with business educators to shape the current intertwining of common grace and business.

The symposium was framed around three themes that emerge from Kuyper’s writings about common grace. Its planners described these as the protective, constructive, and imaginative functions of common grace. Through such grace, God protects remnants and echoes of his good created order as gifts for all people despite continuing human perversity. God designs the expectation and possibility that together humans will construct institutions to respond to needs and support social order. God provides continuity between the values and virtues of all people so that Christians as well as those in other faith traditions can work together imaginatively.

The article contributions to this journal issue originated in that October 2014 symposium. Peter Heslam’s opening article provides some of Kuyper’s less-known commentary about business life. Then eight articles, all authored by Christian business educators, articulate the implications of Kuyper’s common grace theology for business ethics, strategic planning, global debt markets, entrepreneurship, market pricing, the accounting profession, operations management, and human resource frameworks. Richard Mouw’s closing article enjoins us to bring robust Christian faith to the business spaces where God’s light can readily flood. (A separate review essay unrelated to the symposium also appears as part of the journal’s regular publication schedule.) Finally, integrated into the journal’s book review section are four reviews of recent books about faith and business that highlight resources to deepen this intersection of faith and business.

In addition to Dr. Roels’ editorial, I have made my review of The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism by Jonas Norgaard Mortensen open access as well. You can read it free here.

If you are interested in a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality, subscription directions and prices can be found here.

Once you’ve purchased a subscription, you can read our most recent issue, volume 18, no. 1, here.

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEPope Francis has said that he’s generally “allergic” to financial matters. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from criticizing capitalism and suggesting radical changes for a global economic order. During his recent trip to Latin America, the pontiff has been especially denunciatory, saying the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.”

Not surprisingly, many critics have complained that Francis is presenting a distorted, incomplete, and naive view of capitalism. To his credit, the pontiff has vowed to consider these reactions before his trip the U.S. this September. “I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”

It’s encouraging to hear Pope Francis say he’s interested in dialogue on the topic. Naturally, since we share many of the same values and concerns, an ideal partner in such discussion would be the Acton Institute. As Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico has said,

From the inception of the Acton Institute . . . we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people.

If the pope is interested, we even have a branch in Rome—Istituto Acton—that he can visit. It’s a mere 20 minute walk from Vatican City or about 5 minutes by mini-popemobile. We’d also be willing to send him any resources he might find useful, such as our PovertyCure DVD series or Rev. Sirico’s book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

In the meantime, though, I think Pope Francis could gain a lot of insight by simply pondering these three points:

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Martin Luther: Inventor of Austerity?

Martin Luther: Inventor of Austerity?

On the The Economist’s religion and public policy blog, the writer Erasmus pokes holes in a theory put forth by Giles Fraser, a left wing Anglican priest, who sees conflicting theories of the atonement of Christ as one of the causes of so much misunderstanding in the European Union. Erasmus explains:

… traditional Protestant and Catholic teaching has presented the self-sacrifice of Christ as the payment of a debt to God the Father. In this view, human sinfulness created a debt which simply had to be settled, but could not be repaid by humanity because of its fallen state; so the Son of God stepped in and took care of that vast obligation. For Orthodox theologians, this wrongly portrays God the Father as a sort of heavenly debt-collector who is himself constrained by some iron necessity; they prefer to see the passion story as an act of mercy by a God who is free. Over-simplifying only a little, Mr Fraser observed: “the idea that the cross is some sort of cosmic pay-back for human sin [reflects] a no-pain-no-gain obsession with suffering,” from an eastern Christian viewpoint.

Erasmus rightly describes this sort of thinking as a gross simplification. He quotes the Anglican priest, who said that “capitalism itself was built upon this western model of redemption” and that Angela Merkel is, in a sinister twist, is the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Erasmus: (more…)

A model highlighted from Africa Fashion Week

A model highlighted from Africa Fashion Week

We’ve all seen the pictures: a little African boy wearing nothing but an dirty, over-sized t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a U.S. sports team, or a little African girl, dressed in rags and pitifully surrounded by flies.

As you might imagine, Africans don’t particularly appreciate the rest of the world viewing them this way.

Frustrated by the constant images of poverty and disaster, a new Twitter movement started by young Africans shows that the continent is much more diverse and complicated than the mainstream media’s portrayal. The hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou has been tweeted by more than 45,000 in the past month.

Diana Salah (@lunarnomad), a 22-year-old Somali-American student living in Seattle, helped to start the social media campaign, she told Fusion: “I got involved because growing up I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent.

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pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Insitute’s Rome office – Istituto Acton –  has issued the following statement today regarding Pope Francis’s much-awaited enviromental encyclical Laudato Si’. Among other things, Jayabalan notes: “[Francis] seems to blame markets, over-consumption and especially finance, rather than human sin, for all our environmental problems.”
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At an auction in 2007 Andreas Gursky turned 99 cents into $3.34 million.

Well, sort of. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say he turned 99 Cent II Diptychon, a photograph depicting an interior of a supermarket, into a few million. At the time this was the most expensive photograph in the world:

andreas-gursky-99-cent-ii-diptychon-2001

Even more amazing is that this was the third print of the same image that had sold for millions. Two others sold in 2006, one for $2.25 million and another for $2.48 million. Altogether the images earned $8.07 million. Not bad for a snapshot of a grocery store.

Gursky digitally altered the image to reduce perspective, forcing the viewer to see a familiar sight from a different perspective. Mostly what we notice in the picture is colors. In focusing on that aspect, though, the image draws our attention away from something beautiful and complex that we often take for granted. I’m neither an artist nor an art critic but I want to draw your eye to that feature.

Imagine if we zoomed in closer on the photograph. We might see something like this:
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