Category: Christian Social Thought

I was transfixed by this video the other day. The simplicity of the video itself, the careful, skillful work, the lovely hands of a master at work – all brought to mind the goodness of work and creation that God granted to us. St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) says this:

It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”.

Italian edition of "The Good That Business Does " by Robert G. Kennedy (Acton, 2006)

Italian edition of “The Good That Business Does” by Robert G. Kennedy (Fede e Cultura, 2014)

On Oct. 23, before a capacity-audience at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the Acton Institute and Italian publishing house Fede e Cultura launched Robert G. Kennedy’s Il bene che fanno gli affari (original title “The Good That Business Does,” Acton, 2006, Christian Social Thought Series).

The pontifical university’s research center, Markets, Culture and Ethics, acted as co-sponsor with its vice academic director Dr. Juan Andres Mercado moderating the evening’s dialogue between the author and his two discussants – Salvatore Rebecchini, a commissioner from the Italian Antitrust Authority, and Giovanni Scanagatta, general secretary of Italy’s Union of Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers.

Kennedy told those in attendance that his book’s thesis was guided by a timeless principle of Catholic Social Teaching, namely, that all persons are born in the image of God, and therefore are called to be creative, rational and volitional agents of goodness in all their activities, including those of a commercial nature. He, however, said that the genesis of the book was to challenge the “perception of many who wonder how business can be justified” and therefore wanted to answer “this question of legitimacy.” (more…)

envyActon’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, ponders “Envy In A Time Of Inequality” in today’s American Spectator. Envy, he opines, is the worst human emotion. From the time that Cain killed Abel to today’s “near-obsession with inequality,” Gregg says envy is driving public policy…and that’s not good.

The situation isn’t helped by the sheer looseness of contemporary discussions of economic inequality. Inequality and poverty, for instance, aren’t the same things. That, however, doesn’t stop people from conflating them. Likewise, important distinctions between inequalities in income, wealth, education, and access to technology are regularly blurred. As recalled in a paper recently published by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, wealth inequalities can have greater impact upon people’s comparative abilities to build up capital for the future than income inequality. Yet we spend most of our time anguishing about the latter.

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AirportOver at The Federalist today, I ruminate on a conversation I overheard at an airport recently. I was an innocent auditor, I assure you. In the words of Sam Gamgee to Gandalf, “I ain’t been droppin’ no eaves sir, honest.”

The conversation had to do with the prices of goods and services on offer at airports. To simply blame (or credit) capitalism with the situation is misleading. As I conclude, “We should try to understand the words people are using, the way they are using them, and the assumptions underlying such uses.” After all, capitalism means different things to different people in different contexts.
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shadyBy giving us the ability to buy and sell, says Wayne Grudem, God has given us a wonderful mechanism through which we can do good for each other.

Buying and selling are activities unique to human beings out of all the creatures that God made. Rabbits and squirrels, dogs and cats, elephants and giraffes know nothing of this activity. Through buying and selling God has given us a wonderful means to bring glory to him.

We can imitate God’s attributes each time we buy and sell, if we practice honesty, faithfulness to our commitments, fairness, and freedom of choice. Moreover, commercial transactions provide many opportunities for personal interaction, as when I realize that I am buying not just from a store but from a person, to whom I should show kindness and God’s grace. In fact, every business transaction is an opportunity for us to be fair and truthful and thus to obey Jesus’ teaching: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Read more . . .

Reading-nook-4-480x367It’s no secret that I, like all good perfectionists, love a good list. And this is a good one: Paul Handley at Church Times gives us the 100 best Christian books. Of course, like any good list, we can debate the merits of inclusion and exclusion (that’s part of the fun of a good list!) but certainly, for any serious Christian, this offers great food for thought.

Just to get whet your literary appetite, here are the top ten: (more…)

publicdiscourseFor conservatives, a retreat into self-imposed isolation isn’t a responsible option, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg. Instead, he argues, we need more conservatives publicly witnessing that humans are wired to know and freely choose truth, and that this has implications for the political order:
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Mako Fujimura

Mako Fujimura

Acton broadcast consultant, Paul Edwards, took over the WOOD Radio microphone this morning to guest-host West Michigan Live here in in Grand Rapids. He covered a range of topics over the course of his broadcast hour, and spoke with artist Makoto Fujimura, whose 2014 ArtPrize entry, Walking on Water, was exhibited at the Acton Building. Their conversation focused on this piece, written by Mako, on his experience at ArtPrize and how the competition does – and does not – help artists.

With thanks to WOOD Radio, we’ve posted the audio below for your enjoyment.

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).