Category: Christian Social Thought

clinton-trump“When the value-bearing institutions of religion and culture are excluded, the value-laden concerns of human life flows back into the square under the politics of politics,” wrote Richard John Neuhaus, “It is much like trying to sweep a puddle of water on an even basement floor; the water immediately flows back into the space you had cleaned.”Although he made the comment thirty-two years ago, the late Fr. Neuhaus could be describing the current election season.

While there is much that could be said about how and why we allowed our “value-bearing institutions” to fall into disrepair, for now I merely want to discuss what has replaced them. Everything is now about politics and all politics is now about liberalism.

As David Koyzis notes in his superb study of ideologies, Political Visions and Illusions, the first and most basic principle of liberalism is that everyone possesses property in their own person and must be free to govern themselves in accordance with their own choices, provided that these choices do not infringe on the equal right of others to do the same.

Whether they call themselves a progressive, libertarian, or conservative, almost every politically involved American (and most who are not) subscribes to this foundational belief in the near-absolute sovereignty of the individual. The differences in political persuasions derive not from a denunciation of this principle but merely from disagreements over the role of the state in relation to the individual.

In his chapter on liberalism, Koyzis states that the ideology progresses through five distinct stages. While it is difficult to adequately summarize his explanation, the stages could roughly be outlined as follows:
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Over the past decade media coverage of the problems surrounding indigent defense has been increasing. For example, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing the state of Utah for failing to uphold that 6th Amendment which now provides opportunities for government provided criminal defense. The ACLU is claiming that Utah fell short of its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire one. While the merits of the case have yet to be properly sorted out, what is true is that public defenders offices are under much needed scrutiny.

With the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision back in 2013 a flurry of articles were published that highlighted some of the injustices in the public defense system that the Gideon verdict created. The Gideon verdict required states to provide defense attorneys, especially for the poor.

In 2013, a New York Times article by Lincoln Caplan on the anniversary of the Gideon decision summarized several of current problems around the United States regarding public defense. The article highlighted the problems with meeting the requirements of Gideon at the state level where 95 percent of America’s criminal trials take place. The best programs in the United States still struggle to meet the high number of cases that require public defenders. Caplan’s article highlights the Miami public defender’s office which handles far above the American Bar Association’s recommendation of 150 cases per year for a attorney. The demand in Miami has reached 500 cases a year, and has far outpaced the funding for indigent defense. The important distinction the author makes in this article is that not only is financing of public defense an issue, but the general attitude towards the poor the system has created. It is an attitude that Caplan and others describe as “contempt.” (more…)

Today at the FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), Zachary Slayback has an excellent overview of the decline in entrepreneurship among those under 30 since the late 1980s. He writes,

Between local, state, and federal regulations placed on everything from who is allowed to braid hair to who can tell you what color to paint a wall and where to place a door and a schooling culture and system that encourages young people to waste away the first 22-30 years of their lives away from the market, the systems placed upon young people today create a climate extremely hostile to entrepreneurship and economic growth.

Regarding barriers to entry (like our egregious state occupational licensing laws), I presented a paper in April at the APEE (Association of Private Enterprise Education) annual conference in Las Vegas on the subject, offering a theological and moral analysis. Particularly relevant to Slayback’s detailed post, I wrote, (more…)

The fight for religious liberty is only beginning to intensify in America, whether for retail giants, restaurant chains, bakers and florists, sacrificial nuns, or the imminent obstructions on the path paved by Obergefell vs. Hodges.

Yet even when facing these pressures for themselves, many American Christians still seek to withhold such freedoms from those of differing religious beliefs. Forgetting our position of exile, such a stance trades the first of our God-given freedoms for narrow self-interest and self-preservation.

Such profound disconnect was recently on vivid display at the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 Annual Meeting, where a pastor asked Dr. Russell Moore how a Christian can possibly support religious liberty for Muslims. “Do you actually believe that Jesus Christ would support this,” the pastor asked, “and that he would stand up and say, ‘Well, let us protect the rights of those Baal worshipers to erect temples to Baal’”?

Moore’s answer couldn’t be clearer:


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Margaret Thatcher“Economics are the method,” wrote Margaret Thatcher in 1981, “the object is to change the heart and soul.”

Guided by her Christian faith, the prime minister believed that the welfare state was not only harming her fellow citizens but damaging the moral fabric of the United Kingdom. As Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite explains, Thatcher’s fears about the welfare state were twofold:

First, she and her advisers thought that generous collective provision for unemployment and sickness was sapping some working-class people’s drive to work. Second, they feared the corrupting influence of what Thatcher’s close ally Keith Joseph called ‘the Father Christmas state’ on the middle class, who were thought to be in danger of relying increasingly not on their own hard work and thrift, but on collective action through trade unions and state hand-outs. Thatcher wanted to re-establish an economic and legal framework and a cultural ethos which rewarded what she saw as the ‘Victorian’ or ‘bourgeois’ values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.

“The aim was not to abolish the welfare state entirely,” adds Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, “but to chip away at it, leaving social security as a last resort for the very poorest minority, and making it irrelevant to those on middle and high incomes, who would choose private provision instead. In this, Thatcher was successful.”

But not everyone believed that Thatcher’s efforts were rooted in a moral concern. In 1985 the Church of England released a document authored by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas. The controversial report blamed the spiritual and economic malaise largely on Thatcher’s economic policies.

Now, thirty years later, the Church of England is admitting that perhaps Thatcher was right after all:
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Following the recent Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time”, held in celebration of 125th anniversary of Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on private property, the Industrial Revolution and the spread of Marxist ideology, Acton’s Samuel Gregg was interviewed by Shalom World TV.

Vatican journalist Ashley Noronha, who hosts the India-based religious news magazine Voice of the Vatican, asked Gregg what was the the connection between religious and economic freedom and how traditional Catholic social teaching is responding to contemporary threats such liberties.  This is what he had to say: (more…)

There’s been a lot of discussion leading up to the planned Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete this month. As is typical of councils in the history of the Church, so far it’s a mess, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

In what has been described as an act of self-marginalization by Bulgarian Orthodox scholar Smilen Markov, it looks like the Bulgarian Patriarchate has already backed out.

Antioch has a laundry list of grievances.

The OCA, which might not even technically be invited in the first place, has issued a statement.

And further statements from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, and others can be found.

No need to review the contents as the point is simply to note that, once again, the council is already a mess.

Officially, I should be calling it the “Great and Holy” council, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. That’s not out of cynicism (well, not entirely) but due to the record of history and the science of economics. (more…)