Category: Christian Social Thought

Today at Public Discourse, I examine recent data that strongly suggests that “freedom from government restrictions on religion often paves the way for economic liberty.”

I write,

Thus, we can say that if someone wishes to promote economic liberty worldwide, one should not neglect to encourage religious liberty at the same time. This requires facing the challenges of any given country’s religious context and history, while underscoring the importance of interreligious studies for international economic development efforts.

These findings also ought to affirm a tempered realism among international development organizations and advocates who hope to encourage free economies in countries with high government restrictions on religion. Such liberalization is not impossible, as Singapore, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain demonstrate. However, the strong correlation clearly favors those countries with moderate to low government restrictions on religion and preferably with moderate to low social hostility toward religion as well. A country that values and protects religious liberty offers fertile soil for economic liberty to flourish.

Exploring the connection between religious and economic liberty is one of the central focuses of the Acton Institute. For more on this subject, check out Michael Novak’s recent Acton Commentary, “Economic Tyranny Trumps Religious Liberty,” and be sure to look into our Religious and Economic Freedom Conference Series (here).

You can read the rest of my article, “Connecting Religious and Economic Liberty” at Public Discourse here.

Almost twenty years ago I learned an important lesson in Christian ethics from a Jewish writer. In his book, Think a Second Time, Dennis Prager explains a principle from the Talmud about consumer ethics. While I had read several book about business ethics, I don’t recall ever hearing much, if anything, about the ethical obligations of consumers.

Prager helped me see not only how the “shopkeeper’s law” should apply to my consumer choices, but also to many of the relationships in my life. This lesson helped me to understand a practical way of applying the most important principle in Christian ethics (Matthew 7:12).

In the video below, Prager explains the concept and how it shows “the customer isn’t always right.”

Christianity sets forth that humans are made in the image of God — that we have particular God-like characteristics when it comes to creation, cultivation, compassion, relationship, and so on. Such a remarkable truth tells us something deeply profound about the world we live in, as well as how we ought to respond in any number of situations.

In an excerpted video from the PovertyCure series, John Stonestreet explains how the Christian worldview transforms our approach to poverty:

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It has become a regular occurrence at conservative publications to note the strong correlation between traditional marriage and family and higher income levels. Take, for example, Ari Fleischer, who wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal last June:

If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family.

He continues, “One of the differences between the haves and the have-nots is that the haves tend to marry and give birth, in that order.”

Despite my traditionalist leanings, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of these sorts of editorials. For example, contrast this with Ben Steverman’s recent article in Bloomberg:

Divorce among 50-somethings has doubled since 1990. One in five adults have never married, up from one in ten 30 years ago. In all, a majority of American adults are now single, government data show, including the mothers of two out of every five newborns.

These trends are often blamed on feminists or gay rights activists or hippies, who’ve somehow found a way to make Americans reject tradition.

But the last several years showed a different powerful force changing families: the economy.

He goes on: (more…)

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them.

Today the Acton Institute, in conjunction with the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, will hold a conference from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Washington titled, “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The event brings together leading clergy and scholars—theologians, philosophers, economists—to discuss this increasingly important issue, and the manner in which is affecting institutions ranging from business to church organizations.

If you’re in Grand Rapids, you can watch the event live in the Acton auditorium at 98 E. Fulton St. Details here. Or watch the live web stream beginning at noon on the video player after the page break. (more…)

The BBC visited Baton Rouge, specifically the most violent part of Baton Rouge. The reporter asked people who live there what they would change about America. It’s an insightful little piece of journalism.

Several people mentioned the need for God and prayer. One young man who owns his own business credits his success with having a father who lived with him and raised him – something he says most of his peers didn’t have.

One man, showing off his scars from his violent tendencies, said he couldn’t worry about other people. He had to worry about himself and his family. “You have money and I don’t,” he bluntly stated as the problem.

Finally, one young entrepreneur says he thinks the main issue with people in his area is lack of exposure. Too many people, he says, don’t see anything else except that little zip code. “You live here, you go to school here…what else is there to aspire to?”

The Bible teaches wise welcome, not blanket amnesty. Biblical teaching would give first consideration to foreigners applying to come to America as blessing, and lawfully (there are four million who’ve applied and are waiting). I believe blanket amnesty of many millions more is unwise. Amnesty is unkind to nearly 20 million Americans who are currently looking but cannot find a job. Wisdom and kindness would bring millions of jobs to America before more competition for scarce jobs. Biblical wisdom would protect Americans from open borders and the risks associated with amnesty: illegal entry into the country by violent Islamists, narco gangs and those who knowingly enter with dangerous diseases like Ebola. Our goal is not hostility, but hospitality.

Economist Thomas Sowell puts it this way:

Not only the United States, but the Western world in general, has been discovering the hard way that admitting people with incompatible cultures is an irreversible decision with incalculable consequences. If we do not see that after recent terrorist attacks on the streets of Boston and London, when will we see it? ‘Comprehensive immigration reform’ means doing everything all together in a rush, without time to look before we leap, and basing ourselves on abstract notions about abstract people.

God loves us all and yet nowhere in Scripture do we find support in God’s teaching for blanket amnesty. Rather, we see the respect of boundaries, borders and admonitions to remember and to advance the teachings of Godly wisdom for human and cultural thriving. We see welcome of the lawful immigrant who comes as blessing, such as Ruth and the Good Samaritan. And we see Ezra and Nehemiah leading a nation in the rebuilding of walls for cultural healing and renewal. (more…)

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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