Category: Christian Social Thought

Last week on the Acton PowerBlog, Anthony Bradley raised the issue of the war on men, specifically the high rate of imprisonment among men in the United States.  At one point in time, America acknowledged that prison might be a place of rehabilitation rather than simply the warehousing of criminals (read Ray Nothstine’s work on Angola Prison to see that rehabilitation in prison is possible.)

Catholic blogger Mark Shea interprets the high rate of imprisonment as a sign of the de-Christianization of our culture: we’ve de-valued life, and slavery becomes acceptable. The infographic below shows that prison – no longer rehabilitative and no longer warehousing – is profitable. Prisoners are cheap labor and big business. Rather than tending to criminals, visiting the imprisoned and helping men and women who’ve committed crimes become better people, we’re using them. It might be a money-maker, but is it just?

Prison, Inc - The Secret Industry

puppy stethescopeLike most of you, I have experience of being a child and a teenager. I’m also a parent, and thus have much experience trying to reason with children and teens.

When I was 16, I was as straight-laced as you could get. I didn’t drink, smoke, party or get Bs on my homework. Yet, I rather stupidly got quite drunk – in my own house, with my father home – at a party I’d thrown. I won’t embarrass my children by publicly telling tales about their adolescence, but let’s just say that I’ve got a stack of stories that would highlight their inability to make informed and intelligent decisions. A BIG stack.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that the human brain doesn’t mature until one hits the mid-20s: (more…)

列印Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fifth and final entry in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found here; Part 4 can be found here. A PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

11. Free markets are information systems designed for virtuous people.

All self-identified evangelicals share at least one trait in common: we self-identify with the information system that goes by the name of evangelicalism. That tautology – the people who self-identify as evangelicals are the people who self-identify with evangelicalism – may not be very useful, but it can be helpful for us to recognize that evangelicalism is an information system that we share in common.

To claim that evangelicalism is an information system is merely to say that (whatever else it may be) evangelicalism provides a systematic means of creating, collecting, filtering, processing, and distributing information about a particular form of Christianity.
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JMM_16 2The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 16, no. 2, has been published online at our website (here). This issue’s articles explore a range of subjects from biblical understandings of poverty, Islamic scripture, John Locke, the ills of apathy, an Eastern Orthodox view of the family and social justice, and much more.

In addition, this issue includes our regular symposium of the papers from the Theology of Work Consultation at the Evangelical Theological Society’s 2012 conference.

2013 marked several important anniversaries, as executive editor Jordan Ballor points out in his editorial, (more…)

Finding the right pastor or priest for a congregation can be a trying ordeal. It is stressful for the candidates, stressful for committees, stressful for elders and bishops (where applicable).

In some cases, qualified ministers have no church, and churches have no permanent minister. What accounts for the disconnect between what sort of candidates are vying for churches and the sort for which churches are actually looking? In economic terms, why is there seemingly a dissonance between supply (ministers) and demand (congregations)?

In order to get a better look at the problem, I have designed a brief survey (1-2 minutes, just 10 questions), asking the question, “What do you look for in a pastor/priest?”

If you are interested in discovering trends that might give a better picture of the source of the problem, please consider taking this survey and passing it on to friends and fellow church members.

I’ll keep the survey open for a month and post the results after that, as well as further follow up surveys if necessary.

You can access the survey here. Thank you!

shovel_and_dirt_No2Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fourth in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama signaled that income inequality will be his domestic focus during the remainder of his term in office. The fact that the president considers income inequality, rather than employment or economic growth, to be the most important economic issue is peculiar, though not really surprising. For the past few years the political and cultural elites have become obsessed with the issue.

That was not always the case. In 1990, a Nobel-winning economist wrote:

One reason that action to limit growing income inequality in the United States is difficult is that the growth in inequality is not a simple picture. Old-line leftists, if there are any left, would like to make it a single story–the rich becoming richer by exploiting the poor. But that’s just not a reasonable picture of America in the 1980s. For one thing, most of our very poor don’t work, which makes it hard to exploit them. For another, the poor had so little to start with that the dollar value of the gains of the rich dwarfs that of the losses of the poor.

The economist who wrote that was none other than Paul Krugman, who more recently said, “the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time.”

The reason for Krugman’s change of opinion has less to do with economics than with political partisanship. In the apparent absence of other real economic problems, some progressives have decided to allow covetousness to drive their political agenda.
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schoolchoicesignWhy do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the third in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here. Part 2 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

7. The best way to compensate for structural injustice is to increase order and individual freedom.

As it relates to economics, structural injustice could be defined as occurring when outside forces unjustly limit some person’s opportunities to enact their morally legitimate plans. Almost all evangelicals – whether liberal or conservative — agree that structural injustices still exist and that they must be opposed. Where we disagree is about what forms of structural injustice are most pervasive in 2014 and how they should be corrected.

We tend to think of structural injustices as macro-level phenomena (such as racism) that affect the actions, practices, beliefs, and laws of a large region (such as the Jim Crow laws that that codified racial segregation and discrimination). That has historically been the case in America. But today, structural injustices are usually created on the micro-level and affect a smaller area. Take, for example, the issue of poverty. In 2014, the two factors that are most likely to create structural boundaries that keep a child in poverty are their parents and their local community.
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NovakIt is no stretch to say that Michael Novak is a towering figure in 20th century Catholic social thought. His 1982 seminal work, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, influenced thinkers in the U.S., Latin America and Soviet-controlled countries. George Weigel has summed up Novak’s vocation and contribution to Catholic social teaching, economic thought and moral culture in an article at City Journal. Weigel begins by stating that Novak’s work wasn’t simple:

Novak has applied his philosophical and theological skills to virtually every consequential aspect of the human condition. He has not followed a preset itinerary but has deliberately charted previously unexplored territories and terrain. That choice—to break out of conventional patterns of thought and become one’s own intellectual GPS—has not always made for an easy life.

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naturallawA few weeks ago I asked why natural law arguments more persuasive. Natural law advocates intend for such argument to persuade both believers and non-believers, so how do they account for the relative ineffectualness of such arguments? Why don’t more people find them to be persuasive?

In response to my question (as well as questions and criticisms from others), Sherif Girgis proffered a defense and explanation:

Yes. Over the last few years, my coauthors and I have heard from many saying we had convinced them to join the marriage debate by showing them its value (and giving them the moral vocabulary and syntax to discuss it); from others who decided to retire this or that contrary argument; and from still others who switched to our side of the issue. These have included non-Catholics, non-Christians, agnostics, even a prominent former Marxist thinker. We have often remarked, channeling Chesterton, that the argument for marriage has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found (we’d say feared) difficult and left untried.

Then where are the mass conversions? We freely admit that moral philosophy can’t produce them. It doesn’t convert en masse, because evaluating its arguments takes sustained attention. It requires holding several pieces together; discerning subtle patterns; and generating and testing alternatives by turns, in an always-unfinished process. Philosophy is famously better at knocking down than building up; even the strongest of its affirmative conclusions do not overpower but invite, suggest, recommend. And by itself, philosophy tugs so softly at the imagination and senses that it can pull the head before the heart, leaving readers not so much moved as divided.

Girgis adds that while natural law arguments may not sway the masses, it may change the thinking of the influential elites:

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Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

Fresco of Lazarus and the rich man.

In the editor’s notes of the new issue of Religion & Liberty, I mentioned Time magazine’s iconic 1964 photo spread “War on Poverty: Portraits From an Appalachian Battleground.” Appalachia was a major target of America’s war on poverty. Today many of those same problems persist despite the steady stream of federal dollars. Unfortunately, unintended consequences from government spending, has expanded many of the problems, as Kevin D. Williamson covered so well in the piece “The White Ghetto” for National Review. Fr. James Schall notes in this interview, “Governments are often the one agency most responsible for poverty in the name of getting rid of it.”

What I appreciate about the interview, is Schall gives us a unique perspective and new ways to think about poverty. Schall, a Catholic priest, is a prolific author who taught at Georgetown University for over 35 years.

The feature piece of the issue, written by Eric James Russell and Rodger E. Broomé is titled, “The Tipped Scales Against our Youth.” The authors cover the challenges facing many young people today and offer solutions toward fixing them.

Rev. Johannes Jacobse offers an excellent review of George Gilder’s new book, Knowledge and Power. Joseph Sunde posted an interview with Gilder on the new book on the PowerBlog. Timothy J. Barnett reviews Reckoning with Markets: Moral Reflection in Economics by James Halteman and Edd Noell.

The “In the Liberal Tradition Figure” for this issue is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). In reading some of her writings, I noticed a strong affinity for work, especially affirming the work of lay people within the Church. Unfortunately, a lot of her teachings have been hijacked by crackpots and various new age movements. R&L believes it’s important to recover the truth and holiness she championed. Hildegard is a saint in the Anglican and Catholic churches, and Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church.

Rev. Robert Sirico contributes a piece titled “Breaking Bread at Acton University.” If you are considering attending Acton University and have never been, this is definitely a must read.

There is more content in the latest issue of R&L, including our executive director’s explanation of why the Acton Institute is accepting Bitcoin donations. The decision by itself has garnered considerable media coverage.