Category: Christian Social Thought

Chelsen Vicari

Chelsen Vicari

If you’re familiar with the Acton Institute and with the discussions that take place here on the PowerBlog, you’ll know that Acton has had a lot to say about the Religious Left. (For instance, here’s an example from 2008 featuring Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico). This is to be expected, considering that the way we approach economics and society generally are often very different, and lead to very different ideas on how to build a stronger society and solve the problems that stand in the way of that process. But it seems fair to say that sometimes, these differences go beyond simple arguments over economics or policy disputes: there seem to be very real differences in the way the Christian Right and Left view the very faith that they claim to share.

On this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Communications Specialist and regular PowerBlog Contributor Sarah Stanley speaks with Chelsen Vicari, Evangelical Program Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, about her new book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith. You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, September 15, 2014
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slaveryThere is a near universal agreement that America’s experience with chattel slavery, where people are treated as the chattel or personal property of an owner and are bought and sold as if they were commodities, was one of our country’s gravest moral horrors. But some people seem to believe that the despicable institution aided the nation’s prosperity.

That’s not the case, explains economist Scott Sumner, who points out that countries with free labor tend to be more prosperous:

Between 1850 and 1880 the market value of slaves falls by just over 100% of GDP. And that decrease is almost precisely offset by a slightly more than 100% increase in capital (industrial and housing.) The total capital stock declines slightly in the Piketty graph, but that’s only because of a fall in the value of agricultural land, not capital.

Now here’s where mislabeling slaves as capital comes into the equation. At first glance it looks like America’s capital stock was unaffected by the abolition of slavery. But the actual capital stock rose by over 100% of GDP—an industrial revolution. If you insist on treating slaves as “capital” it doesn’t change the basic story. Because in that case a separate ledger of “labor resources” would have soared after 1865. Former slaves would now be classified as “labor,” and hence the labor stock would rise dramatically, even on a per capita basis. Either way, abolishing slavery made America a much more productive, and hence richer country.

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university-analysis-1To be a Christian requires, at a minimum, that a person subscribe to certain beliefs (such as that Jesus is God). For an organization to be labeled Christian would therefore imply that the members (or at least the leaders) also subscribe to certain beliefs. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is, as the name implies, a Christian organization, so it isn’t surprising that it requires it leaders to subscribe to Christian beliefs.

Sadly, it’s also not surprising that some people are offended a Christian organization would expect its leaders to be Christians. That’s why it is not altogether unexpected (though still disconcerting) that California State University schools has “derecognized” IVCF. As Ed Stetzer says,
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Those of you in West Michigan with a taste for libertarian cinema may want to to join local restaurateur Tommy Brann for a special screening of “Atlas Shrugged 3: Who is John Galt?” Brann is hosting the showing at Celebration Cinema North at Knapp’s Corner tomorrow (Sept. 12) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7.75 and email tombrann@branns.com to reserve your seat.

Before you go, read Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s essay “Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?” published at Patheos.com in 2011. Also see the PowerBlog post and video from 2012 in which Rev. Sirico talks about Rand’s “false gospel.”

long-spoons“How can we explain this emporiophobia—a fear of markets—given the overwhelming evidence that such institutions provide the greatest wealth, health and happiness for humankind?” When economics professor Paul Rubin asked that question last December he answered by saying that we need to shift the metaphor of markets from “competition” to “cooperation.”

Cooperation isn’t just more important in the economic sphere—it’s also more common. We cooperate with everyone involved in making all the products we buy and sell, millions of people we’ll never know.

[...]
This discussion may seem semantic, but words have meaning and power. People would feel much more favorably toward a “cooperative economy” than a “competitive economy.”

To emphasize the cooperative aspects of the market in order to provide a more accurate perspective requires that we apply new metaphors and symbols when explaining how markets work. A story I believe can be especially helpful is the “parable of the long spoons.” Caritas Internationalis created a video about the allegory that brilliantly emphasizes the utility of cooperation.
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Today at Ethika Politika, I caution against the sort of scapegoating that justifies ideologies at the expense of human effort:

Do you support capitalism? Socialism? Distributism? Something else? Wonderful. What does that look like among the mess of market forms that actually constitute the economy you participate in every day? Rather than criticizing those policies that fall short of your saintly ideal or align too closely with your Hitler, what ones constitute a first step in the right direction for you? And why? And what are the actual consequences, intended or otherwise, that may come about?

While there is a place for simply outlining one’s ideal, if we wish to actually do some good ourselves, we need to get our hands dirty in the mire of material reality. Gnostic scorn for the concrete and this-worldly boasts a broad road with a wide gate, but it is the narrow road of reality that leads to life; not only for ourselves, but for the common good; not just for this world, but for the kingdom of God.

In his recent book Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), Jordan Ballor begins with a similar call: (more…)

French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (more…)

nuns on the busIf you were told by your doctor to lose weight, you’d likely do what most people do: exercise more and eat healthier food. Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak have a better plan in mind:

Step 1: Start a fitness blog, collecting the best arguments you can find against obesity.

Step 2: Comb the Bible, Pope Francis’ Tweets, and the work of your fellow bloggers, for the choicest quotes on the deadly sin of Gluttony. Then post them in the comments threads of every article that seems relevant — such as blatantly fattening recipes that foodies selfishly post on their blogs.

Step 3: Spend at least four hours on Facebook and Twitter each day, sharing links and memes on the importance of physical fitness. Post photos of celebrities who have fallen out of shape, with snarky comments about the likely effects on their health and their careers.

Step 4: Write your congressman, your senator, and the President about the need for national legislation restricting the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods, and healthier school lunches in public schools.

Step 5: Add witty pro-fitness bumper stickers to your car.

Step 6: Join an activist group that pickets restaurants which refuse to post calorie counts.

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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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Texas Easter Prison Visit_6“If Christians cannot help prisoners find meaning behind bars,” wonders Stephen H. Webb, “how can they expect the Gospel to find an audience among those never convicted of a crime?” At First Things, Webb argues that revival of Christianity will only come when we reform America’s prisons:

Prisoners are test cases of how Christians deal with sinners in extremis. I don’t just mean that compassion for the imprisoned can serve as a corroboration of Christian charity, although that is surely true. I mean that the whole experience of imprisonment is absolutely central to the coherence and credibility of the Gospel message. How can captivity, a great biblical theme, have any meaning today if we treat incarceration as nothing more than “serving time”? How can salvation be proclaimed as the ultimate joy even in this life if we live in a society that continues punishing prisoners long after they have been released?

One of the strongest parallels between prisons and theology has to do with our conceptions of the afterlife. For example, many people treat the possibility of rehabilitation behind prison walls with the same skeptical indifference that even devout Catholics now bestow upon purgatory: We can’t even fathom how moral change happens, if at all, in either place, so we leave its remote possibility up to God. Cynicism at home breeds disbelief abroad. Nobody believes that isolation and humiliation reform criminals, just as nobody really believes that a cleansing fire burns away unconfessed sins in purgatory, yet without any plausible alternatives to humiliation or fire, the healing effect of punishment remains as mysterious for the Church as it does for the judicial system.

Read more . . .

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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City Summer 2014In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.

In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,

We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).

We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….

You can read the full article online here.

And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.