Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, November 7, 2013

ChristendomOur ideal as Christians is a social world that encompasses everyday life but is oriented toward God and the good, beautiful, and true in all its aspects, says James Kalb. “In our time,” says Kalb, “the phrases ‘culture of life’ and ‘civilization of love’ have been used to refer to basic aspects of such a world, but Christendom seems the best name for it overall.”

Has this ideal of Christendom gone away?

Christendom may be gone as a matter of public law, and perhaps in the consciousness of most believers, but it’s still here as a substantive reality. Obedience and loyalty form a hierarchy for Christians, with God at the top, the Church and secular connections farther down, and natural law helping to sort and order the pieces and hold together the ones that can be used. If something in our present life finds a place in that hierarchy, it’s part of Christendom.

Read more . . .

Royal Coat of Arms of the NetherlandsDrawing on some themes I explore about the role of the church in providing material assistance in Get Your Hands Dirty, today at Political Theology Today I look at the first parliamentary speech of the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

In “The Dutch King’s Speech,” I argue that the largely ceremonial and even constitutionally-limited monarchy has something to offer modern democratic polities, in that it provides a forum for public leadership that is not directly dependent on popular electoral support. In the Dutch case, the king broached the largely unpopular subject of fundamentally reforming the social democratic welfare state.

This is in rather sharp contrast to the social witness of the mainline of Dutch church leaders, at least over the last few decades. But the churches, too, have a role in acting as makeweights against democratic majoritarian tyranny.
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Bansky No StoppingOver at the University Bookman today, I review John Lanchester’s novel Capital. I recommend the book.

I don’t explore it in the review, “Capital Vices and Commercial Virtues,” but for those who have been following the antics of Banksy, there is a similar performance artist character in the novel that has significance for the development of the narrative.

As I write in the review, the vice of envy, captured in the foreboding phrase, “We Want What You Have,” animates the book. Capital “provides a richly textured and challenging narrative of the challenges of affluence, the temptations of materialism and envy, and the need for true human community expressed in a variety of social institutions.”

I note the insights of my friend and colleague Victor Claar in the review, and for a more thorough academic engagement of the ethics and economics of envy, check out our co-authored paper recently accepted for publication in Faith & Economics, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order,” as well as my piece slated to appear in Philosophia Reformata, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”

I and Jordan Ballor have already commented on Ender’s Game this week (here and here), but the story is literally packed with insightful themes, many of which touch upon issues relevant to Acton’s core principles. Another such issue is that of the problems with Neo-Malthusianism, the belief that overpopulation poses such a serious threat to civilization and the environment that population control measures become ethical imperatives.

Such a perspective tends to rely on one or both of the following fallacies: a zero-sum conception of economics ignorant of the last 200 years of sustained economic growth, which have allowed humankind to escape the Mathusian trap; or a belief that people are the problem when it comes to poverty.

In Ender’s Game, the story begins (more obviously in the book) with the fact that Ender Wiggen (Asa Butterfield) is a “Third,” a third-born child in a time when the international government of Earth had adopted a two-child policy. His parents had received special permission to have a Third because their first two children, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and Valentine (Abigail Breslin), had shown so much promise. Unfortunately, Peter had proven too aggressive and Valentine too compassionate. The government hoped that Ender would be a happy middle. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Monday, November 4, 2013

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the relevance of the work of Immanuel Kant for conservative Christians:

Immanuel Kant does not always receive the fairest treatment among self-styled conservative theologians.

I have read works in which his whole philosophy is caricatured and dismissed in a single paragraph — hardly charitable treatment of one of the most brilliant minds of the modern era. The motivation tends to be that Kant’s philosophy creates problems for some traditional Christian convictions, such as the possibility of recognizing supernatural revelation or obtaining knowledge of God or the importance of historicity to the Christian religion. Rather than engage his philosophy justly, giving it credit where due and honestly struggling with such problems, many take the easy road of rejecting it off hand.

Doing so, however, runs the risk of overlooking areas of concordance in which conservative theologians and Kantian philosophers may have something to offer one another. Oddly, the second century Christian saint and apologist Athenagoras defended the doctrine of the resurrection on — we may anachronistically say — Kantian grounds that may serve to demonstrate the value of such dialogue between ancient theology and modern philosophy, Kant in particular. (more…)

At Public Discourse, Nathan Shlueter takes an unusual approach in his review of Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic — it’s a memo to the faculty of Georgetown University as written by Sen. Paul Ryan:

As Gregg’s book makes clear, defending market economies does not make one a libertarian. And, in fact, no libertarian or Randian egoist would approve of my budget plan, which—whether you agree with it or not—is a sincere attempt to preserve and improve a financially endangered social safety net, not destroy it. Nor should defense of the market be confused with crony capitalism, which is profoundly unjust, and which I have spoken out against strongly and repeatedly. Finally, the market is not a panacea for all our ills, and is even a source of a few of them. There are common goods that can only be secured by good government. And, like government, the market will only be as good as the human beings who act within it.

The fact that we disagree on some matters of policy does not necessarily mean that either of us is outside Catholic social teaching. As Gregg points out, in most cases, Catholic social teaching only provides the correct principles for resolving complex social and economic questions, rather than specific policy requirements. This means that in most cases there is room for legitimate disagreement on the correct application of those principles.

Read more . . .

Babel-2000In a recent review of Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, Paul Louis Metzger wonders, “What leads people to associate with those who are similar, while distancing themselves from diverse others? What causes us to categorize other groups in distorted ways?”

I remember reading H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism early in my seminary career, and Niebuhr’s analysis made a very strong impression on my admittedly impressionable sensibilities. It was clear to me then, and still is now, that much of what constitutes disunity in the Christian church is imported from the broader culture and has nothing to do with a people in which there is “neither Greek nor Jew.” These concerns for principled ecumenical unity are in large part what animated my later book Ecumenical Babel.

And yet in denouncing the tribalism that is an endemic temptation for all forms of fallen human community, we must be careful not to embrace a simplistic, milquetoast version of Christianity that papers over our real differences, and our uniqueness as individual persons created in the image of God, each one of us with our own perspectives, callings, hopes, fears, and trials.

We need to embrace an understanding of diversity without falling into disunity, a diversity within unity that mirrors in our own creaturely way the call to unity expressed in Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
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lady libertyArchbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore is one of the Chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty. He recently celebrated what is known as a “Red Mass”, an annual event throughout the church for lawyers, judges, legislators and others in the legal profession, at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Richmond, Va. In his homily, he addressed issues of religious liberty pertinent to Americans today.

First, he stressed the link between sound society and morality:

In his farewell address, George Washington famously said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.” (more…)

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateToday at Ethika Politika, John Medendorp, former editor of Calvin Seminary’s Stromata, reviews Jordan Ballor’s Get Your Hands Dirty for my channel Via Vitae. He writes,

Although Ballor’s book is very accessible, the reading is by no means “light.” I would call it “engaging heavy reading.” While the concepts are clear and the analogies riveting, Ballor has a way of putting so much into a sentence that it can take some time to work through his ideas. I found myself time and time again putting the book down for a few minutes to digest a thought, or re-reading a paragraph to make sure I followed the contours of his thought. There is a lot here, and it is thought provoking. Whether one agrees with all of Ballor’s ideas or not, he offers clarifying insights into many aspects of Christian social thought and action. Even where I disagreed with Ballor, I found his writing helpful for articulating my own positions.

A few basic assumptions underlie Ballor’s work, assumptions that would not surprise anyone familiar with Christian tradition. Central to Ballor’s thesis is the fact that human beings are created in the imago dei, the image of God. Like God, we are naturally oriented to love. Like God, we are naturally creative and industrious. Like God, we are naturally inclined to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Of course, because of the fall of humanity into sin, these naturally inclinations and orientations have been corrupted and twisted by evil. Nevertheless, there remains a natural order of things, inherent in creation and revealed in Scripture, towards which we as responsible human persons ought to strive: love for our neighbor, care for creation, industry, community, procreation, responsible use of resources (in all senses), and mutual recognition and respect of one another’s humanity.

One particularly poignant theme that Ballor strikes home again and again in the book is the nature of human beings as social persons in community, and the corresponding responsibility that we have to that community, which always was, but increasingly (and obviously) is global.

Read more . . . .

iraq persecutionWhile Christians in the West are often faced with moral temptations and dilemmas regarding our faith life, we do not – for the most part – know the persecution faced by our brothers and sisters in places such as Syria, Iran, Pakistan and other countries where Christians are openly persecuted. Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona heads the Chaldean Catholic eparchy of Mosul, Iraq, and knows just this type of persecution. He writes at National Review Online that there is a way for Christians to face these very difficult times: (more…)