Category: Christian Social Thought

zero-sumWhy do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the second 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 hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

In my first post, I covered the first four principles (#1 – Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences; #2 – Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles; #3 – To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government; #4 – We love economic growth because we love babies). In this post I want to consider points #5 (The economy is not a zero-sum game) and #6 (Poverty in America is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice).

5. The economy is not a zero-sum game.

In a zero-sum game, one person’s gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. It’s similar to dividing a pumpkin pie between five people: someone can only get a larger slice if someone else’s portion is smaller.

Many progressives in America, including far too many (though not all) liberal evangelicals, believe economics is a zero-sum game. They believe wealth, like a pumpkin pie, is fixed and that “there must be one winner and one loser; for every gain there is a loss.” This may be true in some economic systems, but it does not apply in free markets.

Jay W. Richards explains why free enterprise does not require that there be an economic loser for every economic winner:
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Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
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Today at Ethika Politika, I reflect on what it might look like to adopt thanksgiving as one’s orientation toward human experience and society:

We may think of gratitude … as an appreciation of the joy that uniquely comes from what is virtuous and the recognition of “what God has done or is doing.” Now we have a hermeneutic for our experience, grounded in the God-given “‘eucharistic’ function of man,” to borrow from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is not enough to simply appreciate what is given. One must submit what is given to the standard of the Good, be thankful for it to the extent that it measures up, and be critical of it to the extent that it does not. The goal is ultimately transformative: In thanksgiving we offer up to God the good things he has given to us and receive them back transfigured by his grace.

In the ancient Church, one of the common charges early Christians brought against Gnostics, who denied that the God they worshiped was the Creator of the world, was that they were being ungrateful. Whoever our Creator is, they reasoned, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Thus, in this way they recommended a eucharistic worldview. (more…)

liberal-conservativeWe read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus. We go to the same churches and even agree on the same social issues. So why then do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues?

The answer most frequently given is that both sides simply baptize whatever political and economic views they already believe. While this is likely to be partially true, I don’t think it is a sufficient explanation for the views of more thoughtful and sophisticated evangelicals (which naturally, dear reader, includes you and me).* Even if we start with our naturally acquired political orientation, our engagement with the Bible tends to have a dialogical effect, causing us to modify and rethink our economic views in light of principles we discern from Scripture.

Because we conservatives and liberals come to different conclusions, though, one side will be right and the other wrong (or at least more right and more wrong than the other). We all believe our views on economics are true, which is why we are justified in holding these beliefs and think those who disagree are necessarily wrong. That is just how belief works.

But we often don’t have a sufficient depth of understanding about each others fundamental economic beliefs to know why exactly we come to such different conclusions. Too often we express disagreements about policy without comprehending what guiding principles are motivating our differences of opinion.
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Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined host Mike Murray on his show “Faith, Culture and Politics” on the Guadalupe Radio Network to discuss his latest book, Tea Party Catholic. The interview lasted nearly a half an hour, and you can listen to it via the audio player below.

The 2014 Acton Lecture Series got underway last week with an address from Jay Richards on the topic of “Why Libertarians Need God.” In his address, Richards argued that core libertarian principles of individual rights, freedom and responsibility, reason, moral truth, and limited government make little sense in an atheistic and materialist context, but make far more sense when grounded in a theistic belief system. The video of the full lecture is available below; I’ve embedded the audio after the jump.

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The Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) is an organization committed to “bioethical issues” such as surrogacy, stem cell research and human cloning, amongst other issues. They have recently produced a documentary entitled “Breeders: a subclass of women?”

It is a cautionary tale, and a very sad one. The film focuses on women who chose to be surrogates (one chose surrogacy several times), and the turmoil that arose. The issue of surrogacy comes down to the buying and selling of children, one woman states; contracts and money are involved. Yet, one lawyer interviewed admits surrogacy is a “chaotic” area of the law – there are few standards and precedents to help when things go wrong, as they often do. (more…)

How ’bout them Seahawks?

As a Chicago Bears fan the answer to that question means very little to me, but I did enjoy the annual ritual of binge-eating and loudly talking over friends and loved ones who gathered together around the TV for Super Bowl 48.

One thing that stood out was the tradition of having various NFL players and civil servants recite the Declaration of Independence before the game. Some of the powerful (and unmistakably religious) lines from our nation’s charter of freedom stirred up a few thoughts on the important role theology has played in this nation for more than hundred years.

For many Americans, the term “theology” is a confusing, misunderstood, or even meaningless one. It’s okay to admit that, even if you consider yourself a spiritual person.

Theology is simply the study, or understanding, of God. (more…)

Acton Institute Senior Editor Joe Carter joined host Darryl Wood’s Run to Win show on WLQV in Detroit this afternoon to discuss the issue of income inequality from a Christian perspective. The interview keyed off of Carter’s article, What Every Christian Should Know About Income Inequality. You can listen to the entire interview using the audio player below.

green_eyed_monster_by_citrisblossoms2-294x300There are, according to Christian teaching, 7 deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Unchecked, these dark places in the human heart will lead to the ultimate death of Hell (yes, some of us still believe in that.)

There is much discussion today about “income inequality.” President Obama has declared it the most important issue of our time. He says it is not about equal incomes, but equal opportunity, referencing the rise of Abraham Lincoln from poverty to presidency. CNN is now declaring such inequality “the great destroyer” and notes that it includes not just opportunity, but wealth and income as well.

I am left wondering: has “income inequality” become code for “envy?”

John Zmirak, in a piece from Crisis, asks us to test our envy, and I think it’s a good idea. First, let’s be clear as to what envy truly is. St. Thomas Aquinas breaks it down into four parts, and it is the fourth that really drives home the point: (more…)

justice is blindIn a rather snarky piece in The Atlantic, author Anthony Murray questions whether or not a Supreme Court justice who believes in “natural law” (quotations marks are Murray’s) can make sound rulings. Murray is especially worried about cases involving the HHS mandate such as Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary, etc. and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. v. Sibelius.

Murray misunderstand natural law. He believes it to be religious, and frantically scrambles through the words of Thomas Jefferson in order to prove his point. Rather, he says, the framers of the Constitution rely on “positive law:”

If natural law were regarded as simply a religious creed, it would not conflict with the positive laws embedded in our Constitution and laws. The threat lies in the use of natural law by courts in judicial decisions. Invoking it in construing the Constitution and statutes raises an obvious question: If natural law exists, what is in it? Is it a blank slate on which anyone may write subjective beliefs? Does it include religious dogmas? If so, of what religions? (more…)