Category: Christian Social Thought

Contrary to current policy, this is not reality.

Last Saturday The Imaginative Conservative published my essay, “Let’s Get Back to Robbing Peter: The Welfare State and Demographic Decline.”

To add to what I say there, it should be a far more pressing concern to conscientious citizens that the US national debt has risen from $13 trillion in 2010 to nearly $18 trillion today. That is an increase of $5 trillion in just four years, or a nearly 40 percent increase. It is becoming more and more clear that, at our current rate, our nation’s entitlement programs represent the injustice that people today feel entitled to spend the tax dollars of tomorrow on benefits that we cannot realistically continue to afford. John Barnes wrote in 2010 that “the total value of all debt and unfunded promises made by the U.S. government is $61.9 trillion over the next 75 years.” I don’t know how much that figure has changed in the last four years, but I doubt it has shrunk, to put it lightly.

As any student of the Old Testament should know, God is very concerned about each generation leaving a proper inheritance to the next (cf. Numbers 27:8-11). No doubt many readers in their private lives have made provisions for their children after they pass. But as a nation, we are doing the reverse: paying for our provision today with the resources of tomorrow.

I write,

The German economist Wilhelm Röpke, commenting on the expansion of European welfare states in 1958, wrote, “To let someone else foot the bill is, in fact, the general characteristic of the welfare state and, on closer inspection, its very essence.” While he did not argue that, therefore, such state assistance should in all cases be stopped, he put the question in sober terms: “[T]he welfare state is an evil the same as each and every restriction of freedom. The only question on which opinions may still differ is whether and to what extent it is a necessary evil.”

In the interest of carrying on that same sobriety of analysis, I believe the picture is far bleaker today. Röpke, in the title to the essay quoted, characterized the welfare state as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But Sts. Peter and Paul were contemporaries. If only we would simply rob our peers! Then we could have a lively discussion regarding “whether and to what extent” such robbery is “a necessary evil.” Instead, it is our children and grandchildren who must “foot the bill.” Yet on our current course, when the time comes to pay up there will be much less welfare available to them.

Read more . . . .

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Rev. Robert A. Sirico clears away the media hype surrounding the Vatican Synod on the Family and offers an analysis of its early work. He observes that nothing about the synod “challenges the dogma of the church related to the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, the use of artificial contraception, cohabitation and homosexual acts. What it did was soften the tone of these teachings.” But things got interesting.

An early report led critics to say that it “reflected the opinion of Archbishop Bruno Forte, a special secretary to the synod and a progressive, who prepared the final document and presented it to the media.” But Rev. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, notes that one of the more powerful, conservative cardinals, George Pell, called the report “tendentious and incomplete.”

What is really happening at this synod is an earnest effort by pastors of the church to determine how best to encourage people to live the Catholic faith. This is no easy task. A move too far in the direction of merely repeating old formularies will not work. A move away from what constitutes the very definition of what it means to be Catholic will not only erode the church’s self-identity and betray her founder’s mandate, it will also insult and alienate many Catholics who strive to live by the church’s teachings. This is what we pastors call the art of pastoral practice.

The practice is best modeled by Jesus’ encounter with the woman “caught in the very act of adultery” (John 8: 1-11). His interlocutors somehow thought that they could drive a wedge between his allegiance to biblical law and mercy. So they cast the woman before him and demanded that he say whether she should be stoned, as the law stipulated. The tension built as Jesus doodled in the sand. Finally he replied, “Let you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The story does not end there. Jesus turned to the woman at his feet and delivered gentle, memorable words—a message that makes the whole story an encounter of faithful mercy: “Go and sin no more.” If this model—finding the balance between justice and mercy, which are often in tension—weighs heavily on the minds of bishops gathered in Rome, that will be an achievement for the church and its pastoral model.

Read “Beyond the Hype About a Vatican Upheaval” in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Liggio

Liggio

The Acton Institute, and the free market movement, lost a great friend yesterday with the death of Leonard Liggio, the “Johnny Appleseed of Classical Liberalism.” Writing for Forbes, Acton board member Alejandro Chafuen described Liggio’s “deep and encyclopedic historical knowledge” and how he fruitfully brought that to bear on many projects and institutions. “His understanding of the evolution of legal institutions helped me and many others put our economic and policy arguments into a better perspective,” Chafuen wrote. He remembered how Liggio’s expertise and encouragement also played a crucial role in the formation of the Acton Institute.

In 1990, Manuel Ayau (1925-2010), the founder and late president of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, asked Leonard and I to help him build the program of a regional [Mont Pelerin Society] meeting. Although the topic always led to major disagreements among classical liberals, we organized a panel on religion and liberty. We invited Father Robert Sirico to speak. That meeting led to conversations among us and eventually to the founding of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. The co-founders, Sirico and Kris Mauren asked us to become founding trustees.

Chafuen pointed to Liggio’s deep faith: (more…)

monastic signChurch of England Archbishop Justin Welby thinks young bankers would be well served if they spent time as “quasi-monks” before entering the marketplace. In The Telegraph, Welby says that ambitious young people should

…quit work temporarily so they can pray and serve the poor.

He said he believed their natural ambition would encourage them to join his Godly community.

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, October 9, 2014
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bread“The ability to earn a profit thus results in multiplying our resources while helping other people,” says Wayne Grudem. “It is a wonderful ability that God gave us, and it is not evil or morally neutral, but is fundamentally good.”

Some people will object that earning a profit is “exploiting” other people. Why should I charge you $2 for a loaf of bread if it only cost me $1 to produce? One reason is that you are paying not only for my raw materials but also for my work as an “entrepreneur”—my time in baking the bread, my baking skill that I learned at the cost of more of my time, my skill in finding and organizing the materials and equipment to bake bread, and (significantly) for the risks I take in baking 100 loaves of bread each day before any buyers have even entered my shop.

In any society, some people are too cautious by nature to assume the risks involved in starting and running a business, but others are willing to take that risk, and it is right to give them some profit as a reward for taking those risks that benefit the rest of us. It is the hope of such reward that motivates people to start businesses and assume such risks. If profit were not allowed in a society, then people would not take such risks, and we would have few goods available to buy. Allowing profit, therefore, is a good thing that brings benefits to everybody in the society.

Read more . . .

bradleyatCHC“What if we thought about our politics and economics from the person up?” asked Dr. Anthony Bradley in a recent lecture at the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

According to Bradley, an associate professor of theology at The King’s College and research fellow of the Acton Institute, conservative Christians continue to isolate themselves because they are allegedly the only ones to “get the gospel right”, while progressives isolate themselves because they are allegedly the only ones who care about justice and changing the world:
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pic_related_100614_LB_BThroughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians, though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments. These ministries have primarily been developed and promoted by evangelicals. But earlier this month a Catholic group launched a new HCSM:
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Employer/employee relationships, in themselves, are not morally neutral, says Wayne Grudem, but are fundamentally good and pleasing to God because they provide many opportunities to imitate God’s character and so glorify him.

Employer/employee relationships provide many opportunities for glorifying God. On both sides of the transaction, we can imitate God, and he will take pleasure in us when he sees us showing honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, kindness, wisdom, and skill, and keeping our word regarding how much we promised to pay or what work we agreed to do. The employer/
employee relationship also gives opportunity to demonstrate proper exercise of authority and proper responses to authority, in imitation of the authority that has eternally existed between the Father and Son in the Trinity.

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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, September 22, 2014
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o-WOMEN-AT-WORK-facebook-1050x700.jpg.pagespeed.ce.PapYl9sXixChristians not only have a duty to work for virtue in their souls and the production of material goods in the world, writes Acton’ Dylan Pahman at Humane Pursuits, but also to encourage and enable others to fulfill this divine commandment.

One might object that locating our self-worth in our work, even if only in part, is misguided. Our American, capitalist culture is overworked and work-obsessed, or so the story goes. We work so much and overvalue it to the point that people who are not currently able to work feel ashamed.

Certainly, one can place too much value in a job. There is a grain of truth to that caution. But abuse does not negate use; overvaluing work does not justify undervaluing it. And the latter fails to acknowledge the dignity of work and those who could be workers.

It is a dignity, I would add, that is grounded in duty. The nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Solovyov argues that such a duty is part of the natural and God-given order to the world.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 18, 2014
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bible-studyMost Christians recognize that the Bible has lot to say about economic topics, such as money and poverty. Yet there is a paradoxical assumption, whether stated or unspoken, that these passages don’t speak to larger economic issues. Occasionally this is true, but more often than not, we can find principles from Scripture that can help us discern how we should think about matters related to economics.

Consider, for example, the issue of economic systems. The Bible doesn’t claim to favor any particular nation-based economic system, such as American-style capitalism or the old Soviet-style communism. But Scripture does seem to have a clear preference for the economic activities that underpin the free market. As David Kotter explains,
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