Category: Christian Social Thought

Charles Malik. Photo credit: LIFE Magazine.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I highlight a little book by the Lebanese diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (1962). With regard to its continuing relevance, I write,

Malik would urge us to have the courage to take up our crosses today, each in our own capacities and competencies, putting the life of the spirit first, not settling for easy answers and scorning all distractions. “There are three unpardonable sins today,” wrote Malik in 1962 — but just as relevant now — “to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”

Above all, Christians can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ. “To be fair, to be positive, to be thankful — these are highly desirable Christian virtues today,” wrote Malik. But he did not stop at that commendable fairness, cautioning, “And of course you are not fair at all if, in trying to be fair to others, you are so fair as to cease to be fair to Christ Himself — Christ who was much more than just fair to you and me when He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross.”

Malik’s impressive work deserves more attention than it has received in recent years. And his record speaks for itself: In addition to co-drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, sitting as president of the U.N.’s General Assembly in 1958, acting as Lebanese ambassador to the United States, and dedicating his life to fighting communism and defending human rights, Malik was also a philosopher and theologian and served as vice president of the United Bible Societies from 1966 to 1972 and president of the World Council on Christian Education from 1967 to 1971. Such monumental work for both the common good and the kingdom of God ought not to remain obscure to Christians today.

You can read my full commentary on his 1962 work Christ and Crisis here.


Fr. Matthew Baker

Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.

Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.

The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.

As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)

“Being Godly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be wealthy. God makes no such guarantees in the Bible, so goodbye, prosperity gospel…[But] God clearly is not opposed to wealth in a kind of blanket way. He’s not even opposed, necessarily, to tremendous wealth, gobstopping amounts of money.” –Owen Strachan

In a lecture for The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Owen Strachan tackles the tough subject of whether it’s morally wrong for Christians to make lots of money. His answer: “No. But it could be.”

Although the unprecedented prosperity of the last century has been accompanied by unprecedented amounts of guilt and self-loathing, Strachan argues that “the focus of a true Biblical theology of wealth would be on how money is a gift from God.” Surely we need to be wary of the unique temptations that come with wealth, but when dedicated to, consecrated by, and stewarded in attentive obedience to God and the Holy Spirit, “it can be nothing less than an engine, a mighty engine, for spiritual good,” Strachan argues. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Friday, February 27, 2015

Yesterday the FCC reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, with additional provisions from Title III and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This was done for the purpose of ensuring net neutrality or open internet access, requiring ISPs to treat all data on the internet equally. Notably, yesterday’s Order also includes mobile broadband for the first time as well.

In a press release, the FCC claims,

Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers, while not burdening broadband providers with anachronistic utility-style regulations such as rate regulation, tariffs or network sharing requirements.

I have expressed concerns in the past about the smattering of regulations available under Title II, far beyond what would be required for net neutrality. On the surface, the press release would seem to indicate that the recent Order was designed to attempt to prevent those further regulations from being available to the FCC: (more…)

Are you now or have you ever been a Randian?

Are you now or have you ever been a Randian?

Over at The Stream, John Zmirak takes on a new McCarthyism which he says smears small-government Catholics as libertarian heretics. He compares the “outrageous instances of red-baiting” during the 1950s to the current practice by some leftist Catholics who tar conservative opponents indiscriminately as devotees of Ayn Rand, whether or not they have actual evidence of such sympathies. Zmirak:

The idea of a detailed, consistent, morally binding body of economic and political policies imposed by the Church on believers on pain of sin is nonsense on red velvet stilts. Elsewhere I argue the point at some length without going to an opposite extreme. Broad principles that inform our life and our politics, such as the dignity of the individual and the family, solidarity, subsidiarity and all the rest? Absolutely. A political platform? Absolutely not.

Nor has the Church ever made such a claim. Most Catholics with any knowledge of history have learned to forgive and forget individual outrageous statements by popes from the past, fully aware that the charism of infallibility is narrowly defined and almost never invoked — twice at least, eight times at most, and never on issues of economics or politics. Catholics are not obliged to support book-burning just because Gregory XVI did.

Rand-baiting is being used today as red-baiting was in the past, by those who support a deeply immoral institution, to silence those who object to it by equating them with extremists. What is that deeply immoral institution? The bloated, secularist, immoral and coercive governments that rule over most Western countries, including the United States.

Read “‘Rand-Baiters’ Target Conservative Catholics” by John Zmirak at The Stream.

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Image credit: Randall Munroe. Image linked to the surprisingly prescient source.

In his otherwise excellent work The Problem of Poverty, the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, as a man of his time (the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), commended the merits of colonialism as if there were not already people in other lands with their own calling to “till the earth” that God had made. While unfortunate for his time and context, recent events may open up a case in which colonization may be the Christian duty Kuyper believed it to be: Mars.

“[W]e must never,” writes Kuyper,

as long as we value God’s Word, oppose colonization. God’s earth, if cultivated, offers food enough for more than double the millions who now inhabit it. Is it not simply human folly to remain so piled up in a few small places on this planet that men must crawl away into cellars and slums, while at the same time there are other places a hundred times larger than our native land, awaiting the plow and the sickle, or on which herds of the most valuable cattle wander without an owner?

To be generous, we might say that at least Kuyper wasn’t exactly an alarmist with regards to the idea of overpopulation. But that would be quite generous.

In reality, that land was the home and those herds were the livelihood of real people, made just as much in the image of God as Western Europeans like the Dutch.

But what if there was a truly uninhabited land, just waiting for human cultivation to serve for the needs of others and the glory of God?

The present-day Dutch believe that Mars is just such a place. According to NBC news, (more…)

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”

According to the report,

In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:

  • Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).

Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.

This does not come as a surprise to me.

The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.

I write, (more…)