Category: Christian Social Thought

The late, great Chuck Colson had impeccable taste in literature. By that I mean that he liked all of the same books that I like. Or I suppose that I should say, I like all of the same books he liked.

I especially loved the BreakPoint commentaries he’d do that focused on a great author. It always inspired me to hear Mr. Colson speak so eloquently and passionately about great novels that didn’t need Kirk Cameron starring in the movie version of them for Christians to praise.

While commenting on Fyodor Dostoevsky and his classic work Crime and Punishment, Colson said the following:

(more…)

“With every passing year, and each new EU bailout, Europeans seem to be forgetting where they came from,” writes journalist David Aikman in a new review of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. In The Weekly Standard, Aikman commends Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s book for showing how the long post-war project designed to advance European integration, economic security and social welfare has in fact degenerated into government dependency and bureaucratic bloat. The former Time magazine senior correspondent and bestselling author also applauds Gregg for reminding us that Marxist inspired “redistributionism” is really the core problem. Excerpt from the review:

The idea of a European federal superstate as an economic and political entity was never far from the minds of Europe’s key founders. Democratic capitalism was to be the main economic engine of that entity. But as Samuel Gregg points out in this cogently argued study—which frequently refers to Alexis de Tocqueville—whereas the American federal experiment emphasized economic and political freedom as the prerequisites for social prosperity and “human flourishing,” Europe’s postwar program was heavily influenced by social democracy. The goal became economic security for everyone, an idea that required labor-union political power and large bureaucracies to administer the welfare state.

Gregg correctly reminds us that behind social democracy’s stress on fair economic outcomes for Europe’s population lay the fundamental Marxist principle of redistributionism. He certainly does not attribute the European Union’s recent woes to the influence of Marxism, but he assembles a variety of ingredients that add up to what he calls “social Europe,” a social-welfare coterie of EU countries in which general prosperity has declined as economic freedoms have been whittled down. (more…)

Back in October, I was a guest on the radio show World Have Your Say on BBC World Service. The occasion was the suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limburg, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known as the “bishop of bling.” The bishop had reportedly recently spent 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served as his residence, inciting his suspension and a Vatican investigation into these expenditures.

Using this as a springboard, the subject of the BBC discussion was “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?”

Today, Tim Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter records a similar, but perhaps more ambiguous, case with regards to the Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan:

Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan has purchased a new residence, an historic mansion that once served as the home of the president of Rowan University.

The New Jersey diocese purchased the 7,000 square foot home with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms for $500,000. The residence will provide Sullivan with more room for entertaining dignitaries, hosting donors and for work space, according to Peter Feuerherd, diocesan spokesman.

He said the bishop will live there “with at least two other priests, maybe more.”

The home, built in 1908, has been on the market for about two years. According to a report in the Camden Courier Post newspaper, the home was purchased in 2000 for Dr. Donald Farish, then president of Rowan University. Under the university’s ownership, the house underwent about $700,000 in renovations.

Some of the amenities include an in-ground pool, three fireplaces, a library and a five-car garage. (more…)

family-reading-bible-3The decline of marriage and fertility is one factor in the global economic crisis, says sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox:

The long-term fortunes of the modern economy depend in part on the strength and sustainability of the family, both in relation to fertility trends and to marriage trends. This basic, but often overlooked, principle is now at work in the current global economic crisis.

That is, one reason that some of the world’s leading economies — from Japan to Italy to Spain to the euro zone as a whole — are facing fiscal challenges is that their fertility rates have been below replacement levels (2.1 children per woman) for decades. Persistent sub-replacement fertility eventually translates into fewer workers relative to retirees, which puts tremendous strains on public coffers and the economy as a whole. Indeed, one recent study finds that almost half of the recent run-up in public debt in the West can be attributed to rapid aging over the last two decades.

Read more . . .

Writing in The Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, the “much talked about, but little-read” document titled “The Joy of the Gospel” with a special emphasis on how the pontiff understands the problem of poverty. The president and co-founder of the Acton Institute notes how Francis “speaks boldly through effective and moving gestures.” Excerpt:

It is no surprise that the man who took as his model and name the model of il poverello of Assisi would place the poor as a central concern of his pontificate: their dignity, their rights and their sustenance. Yet, the spontaneous gestures and the impromptu manner in which they are displayed ought not to beguile us into thinking this pope is offering a superficial dichotomy between left and right; between capitalism and socialism. To think that any pope, but especially this pope, is animated in his concern for the poor and vulnerable by a particular political ideology is to miss him completely.

While renouncing the notion that the market alone is sufficient to meet all human needs, Francis is also prepared to denounce a “welfare mentality” that creates a dependency on the part of the poor and reduces the Church to the role of being just another bureaucratic NGO. The complexity of his thought surprises some, on both the Right (some of whom worry, needlessly, that he is a liberation theologian) and the Left (who are already using his words to foment a political “Francis Revolution” in his name). Such tendencies reveal a rather anemic understanding of this man but also of Catholicism, which has historically been comfortable balancing the tensions of apparent paradoxes (Divine/human; Virgin/Mother; etc.). It is too facile a temptation to collapse 2,000 years of tradition, commentary and lived experience into four or five politically-correct hot button sound bites that are the priority, not of the Church, but of propagandists with an agenda.

Read “Pope Francis, without the politics” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico in The Detroit News.

persuasion-postAs an evangelical who is extremely sympathetic to natural law theorizing, I’ve struggled with a question that I’ve never found anyone address: Why aren’t natural law arguments more persuasive?

We evangelicals are nothing if not pragmatic. If we were able to recognize the utility and effectiveness of such arguments, we’d likely to be much more open to natural law theory. But conclusions based on natural law don’t seem to be all that useful in compelling those who are unconvinced. Indeed, not only do they not seem to change the minds of non-believers, they often fail to sway believers. For instance, nominal Catholics, a group that should (at least theoretically) give them a fair hearing, don’t seem to take such arguments all that seriously. Why is that?

We evangelicals, of course, have our own explanation for such arguments are inefficacious. As Al Mohler said after an interview with Robert George:

(more…)

incomeinequalityIs unequal distribution of income inherently un-Christians or unjust? That was a question The Christian Post recently posed to several Christian scholars, including Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor. Ballor points out that income inequality is not inherently unbiblical:

“The challenge is distinguishing natural inequalities, which arise out of the variety of human gifts and talents, from unrighteous and unjust inequality,” Ballor explained.

[. . .]

“You don’t see envy talked about very much in this discussion — you hear greed,” the Acton scholar explained. “The Bible warns about greed, but it also warns about envy — when you grieve at something someone else has been blessed with.”

Envy can have two results, Ballor argued. It can drive someone to take the good away from the person they envy, making everyone worse off, or it can drive them to work harder to become more productive and achieve the same thing as the person they envy. Envy drives the idea that wealth is a fixed pie, where if the rich get more, it is because they stole it from the poor. But that is not how the economy works, Ballor said.

“We need to get out of that envying, fixed-pie mindset and get into a serving, other-directed mindset that improves the quality of life for everyone,” the Acton scholar argued. In a free market economy, he explained, people become rich by serving others, by producing something they would willingly buy. Jesus’ commandment that we love one another will make us more productive, and therefore richer.

Ballor has a paper on inequality in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Reformata. From the abstract of his paper, The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity:
(more…)

Blog author: rjmoeller
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
By

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

-David Shulman, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

Some 237 years ago today, the Continental Army was stationed along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border preparing for a secret attack upon British and Hessian troops. Beleaguered and under-supplied, the brave men under General George Washington’s command knew they needed a miracle. The plan was to send three raiding parties across the Delaware River at different points to surprise the enemy at Trenton.

Weather and the elements had other ideas.

The crossing of the River using the Durham boats, ferry boats and other craft took longer than expected as a nor’easter effected the area causing sleet and freezing rain to pelt the weary troops. Large ice flows and flood-like conditions hindered the nighttime maneuvers.

27c37b57

From an archived column by National Review‘s Rich Lowry:

Arriving at Trenton at 8 a.m. the following morning, his spirited troops seemed “to vie with the other in pressing forward,” he wrote afterward. They surprised the Hessians, not because they were sleeping off a Christmas bender. Harried in hostile New Jersey, the Hessians had exhausted themselves on constant alert. They didn’t expect an attack in such weather, though. The battle ended quickly — 22 Hessians killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 900 captured, to two American combat deaths.

“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote.

Washington followed up soon enough with another victory at Princeton. In the space of a few weeks, the Americans killed or captured as many as 3,000 of the enemy and irreversibly changed the dynamic of the war.

David Hackett Fischer (author of Washington’s Crossing) sees in that resurgence after our fortunes were at their lowest a reassuring aspect of our national character in this season of discontent: We respond when pressed. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a great supporter of the American cause, wrote: “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” 

May it still be so. 

A great reminder of an important story from our nation’s unique past. The freedoms we enjoy were won with a price. Violence on this holiday was the result of something a tad more important than the newest Air Jordan sneakers. 

 

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, December 23, 2013
By

In my Acton Commentary today, “The Great Exchange of the Magi,” I reflect on the fact that, due to the material poverty of the holy family, the gifts of the magi can be considered alms in addition to homage:

The magi set forth an example of the heart that all of us need to have when it comes to stewardship of our material blessings. They knew their own poverty of spirit, and gladly gave the riches of this life for the blessing of eternity: worship. Their almsgiving, then, had a particular attitude attached to it. They did not see the holy family as mere victims of an unjust world, but as persons worthy of their investment, the Child whom they worshiped most of all.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), I think an additional application is worth reflecting on: whenever we give alms, we, like the magi, also pay homage to God incarnate. (more…)