Category: Christian Social Thought

socialism-0916Since its development as a political movement in the 1700s, socialism has spread to numerous nations, especially in Asia and Africa. Yet even when the U.S. government began adopting socialist policies (see: the New Deal), Americans tended to reject any direct connections to socialism. Why is that?

One possible answer may be that America is simply too religious. As Andrew R. Lewis and Paul A. Djupe of FiveThirtyEight explain:

To understand the relationship between socialist values and religion, we used the 2013 Public Religion Research Institute’s “Economic Values Study.” As part of the survey, respondents were asked how much they agreed with a battery of statements regarding economic values, including “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” The government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor” and “The government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens.” We combined these into a “socialism scale,” the results of which suggest the average American is just left of center.

The conventional wisdom is that the individualist, evangelical style of American religion is a strong antidote to socialism. If faith alone can lead you to salvation, then efforts to reshape society are beside the point. But the animosity between them has been more pointed, especially regarding so called “Godless communists” who portrayed religion as the “opiate of the masses.” In these data, those who agreed that social problems would be resolved if enough people had a personal relationship with God were 20 percent less socialist than those who disagreed. A worldview that pits faith directly against collective action explains clearly why collectivist efforts have traditionally foundered in the U.S.

Based on this data, it’s not surprising that the Americans who are most supportive of socialism are the “nones.” As Lewis and Djupe note, “Nones are 10 percent more socialist, on average, than religious Americans.”

19893712-mmmainAbout twenty years ago I made some terrible choices and found myself in a serious financial bind. The amount I needed wasn’t much — about $200 — but without it I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I took out a payday loan that cost me $30 every two weeks. It took about eight weeks to get clear of the loan, resulting in a cost of $120 to borrow $200 for two months.

Was I fooling myself thinking the loan could be paid in two week? Not at all. In fact, I knew quite well that there was likely no way possible for me to pay it off in that timeframe. I knew precisely how much money I was going to be able to earn and how much my expenses would be during that two-week period. I had, roughly speaking, about $40 a week that I could apply toward the loan.

But $40 was not sufficient to cover the balloon payment of $200 that was due at the end of two weeks. So I had to roll over the loan, applying $15 a week to the new fees and saving $25 a week to be paid toward the principal. That is why it took me eight weeks to pay off the original loan: $25 a week for principal + $15 a week for fees = $40 x 8 weeks = $320 ($200 for principal + $120 for fees.

If you’re middle class and think of it in terms of interest rate, that repayment cost sounds appalling usurious. And it is. But as the poor will tell you, man does not live on APR alone. Having to pay an extra $120 was cheaper than having to find a new place to live. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it was better than all my other choices. I didn’t agree to the loan because I was bad at a math; I did it because I was desperate. And the payday lending company was more than willing to take advantage of my desperation.

How then do we solve the problem of rollover fee that take advantage of the poor when they are in dire straits? As I’ve argued before, I believe a helpful first step is to get churches and other faith-based organizations involved in providing alternatives to commercial lending agencies. The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama seems to be providing a wonderful example of how Christians can help.

This past Sunday the church announced it will pay off the payday loans of 48 people — a combined total of more than $41,000 on high interest rates of 36 percent or higher.

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person-pewDespite the widespread complaints about the attitudes, ethics, and attention spans of millennials, it can be easy to forget the failures of generations gone by.

Not unlike the baby boomers of yore, we millennials were raised in a world of unparalleled prosperity and opportunity. This has its blessings, to be sure, but it also brings with it new temptations to view our lives in grandiose terms, punctuated by blinking lights and marked by the vocabulary of “world change” and “social transformation.” Behold, we are the justice seekers, sent to “make the world a better place” and put society to rights.

But how does real transformation actually take place?

In an article for Providence, Walter Russell Mead offers some lessons from the boomers, noting how the next generation might learn from their fruits…or lack thereof:

Most of us [boomers] (at least of that part of the generation that was interested in public service) ended up putting our energy into anti-poverty programs, human rights NGOs, environmental organizations, and so on. All of these are much stronger now than when my generation first got involved with them. The enormous growth of the NGO sector both in the United States and abroad has been one of the hallmarks of the Boomers’ engagement with the world.

Looking back, I think we got it wrong. In our eagerness to change the world, and to embrace the tumult and challenge of our times, we overlooked the most important NGO of all: the Church of Christ.

Alas, for as important as various programs and policies may be, the church provides the spiritual and cultural lifeblood that connects the dots between the individual and society. The church coordinates the contours of man’s efforts and institutions, conducting them toward the mysterious harmony we sometimes call “flourishing.” (more…)

What if there was an easy-to-implement government policy that would hardly affect ordinary people but would make it substantially more difficult for criminals — from drug dealers to terrorists to human traffickers — to carry out their illicit trade? What if the policy simply required inaction from several Western governments, for them to stop doing what they’ve been doing? Does that sound like a crime-fighting policy Christians should support?

The proposal is rather simple: Eliminate high denomination, high value currency notes, such as the $100 bill (U.S.), the £50 note (UK), the €500 note (EU), and the CHF1,000 note (Switzerland).

“Such notes are the preferred payment mechanism of those pursuing illicit activities, given the anonymity and lack of transaction record they offer, and the relative ease with which they can be transported and moved,” says Peter Sands, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:
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Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 18, 2016
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True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.

Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.

Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.

It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.

“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)

Church-Social-Responsibility“Evangelicals are starting to believe in institutions again — and not a moment too soon.”

So begins Jordan Ballor and Robert Joustra’s introduction to a new collection of essays, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, which ponders the role of the church and the shape of its social witness.

Organized religion, long the object of derision by authenticity-addicted millennials and prophets of the new atheism alike, is losing its boogeyman status among younger generations,” they continue. “Thus has begun a minor renaissance in thinking about the church, less as a gathering of hierarchy-allergic spiritualists and more as a brick and mortar institution — something with tradition and weight and history.”

But what does such a renaissance imply for the church’s social responsibility? Historically, the church has started schools and hospitals and charities. It has taken up and transformed a range of areas and institutions. It has spoken out on injustice, launched political movements, and influenced public policy.

But why is the institutional church so powerful? How should it go about these matters in the current cultural and civilizational landscape? Who ought to speak on its behalf and how?

These questions are at the center of the exploration, including contributing voices such as Carl F.H. Henry, Richard J. Mouw, Vincent Bacote, Jessica Driesenga, David T. Koyzis, Stephanie Summers, and more. Together, they provide a rich portrait to inform and invigorate the social imagination of the church. (more…)

On Jan. 27, Acton’s Rome office sponsored a presentation of The International Property Rights Index at the Dominican-run Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. The private seminar was a premier event in Rome for the index’s publisher, introducing data and case studies sampled from 129 industrialized and developing nations. It was attended by some 40 leveraged opinion makers from the ranks of legal, political, academic and religious sectors.

coverSpeakers included the university’s dean of social sciences, Fr. Alejandro Crosthwaite, who gave an excellent exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatise on property, including the medieval philosopher’s explanation of incentives for personal responsibility by way of individual as opposed to collective ownership. He also took time to explain what the Catholic Church teaches on the universal destination of goods, which is often misinterpreted as a contradiction to individual ownership. In referencing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (quoted in part from No. 177), leaders in attendance were reminded:

“Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute…The principle of the universal destination of goods is an affirmation both of God’s full and perennial lordship over every reality and of the requirement that the goods of creation remain ever destined to the development of the whole person and of all humanity. This principle is not opposed to the right to private property but indicates the need to regulate it. Private property… is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.” (more…)