Category: Christian Social Thought

cow-faceDuring the Spanish Civil War, an American farmer named Dan West served as an aid worker on the front lines. His mission was to provide relief to weary soldiers, but all he was allotted to give them was a single cup of milk.

This meager ration led West to wonder if more could be done. “What if they had not a cup,” thought West, “but a cow?”

The “teach a man to fish” philosophy behind that question inspired West to found Heifer International, an organization that provides farm animals to needy families and communities in developing countries. It’s an appealing model (like many Americans, my family has made donating a farm animal a holiday tradition) but does it work? Is giving an animal an effective option for helping the poor?

Developmental economist Bruce Wydick agricultural economics professor Chris Barrett studied the impact of farm animal donations:
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The discussion is certainly on-going among the 220 opinion leaders who attended and spoke at Acton’s December 3 Rome conference In Dialogue with Laudato Si’: Can Free Markets Help Us Care for Our Common Home?

The Institute’s Rome office had hoped that the “dialogue” would continue well past the conference itself – within the Vatican, its pontifical universities and mass media – after heated discussion erupted over what is magisterium and debatable opinion in encyclical letters. When discussing environmental issues treated by Francis in Laudato Si’,  questions focused especially on technical matters related to economics and the material sciences as well as calling into question the expert secular counsel the Vatican often seeks to inform itself in areas of prudential judgment.

One of the panelists invited to the debate, economist Philip Booth of England’s St Mary’s University and Institute of Economic Affairs, was particularly outspoken about the pope’s own criticism of the financial industry and so-called manipulation of global food prices. (more…)

carolers2Over the last century, Christianity has declined in social influence across much of the Western world, leading many to believe it has little place or purpose in public life.

In response, Christian reactions have varied, with the more typical approaches being fortification (“hide!”), domination (“fight!”), or accommodation (“blend in!”). In each case, the response takes the shape of heavy-handed strategery or top-down mobilization, whether to or from the hills.

And yet the cultural witness of the church ought to flow (or overflow) a bit differently. For Greg Forster, it has less to do with “cultural lever-pulling,” and a whole lot more to do with joy.

“Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to,” Forster writes in his latest book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. “…The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.”

As we experience the joy of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our attitudes and activities are transformed. As Christians, our primary task is not to take that transformation and funnel it toward end-game tactics, but to faithfully embody it across culture: blessing our neighbors and cultivating civilization, whether in the family, our work and the economy, or citizenship and community (Forster’s three main categories). (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
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Church-Social-ResponsibilityAfter years of rejecting or downplaying so-called “organized religion,” evangelicals are beginning to appreciate the church not only as organism, but as institution.

As Robert Joustra explains at Capital Commentary, a “minor renaissance in thinking” is taking place, wherein the church is viewed “not as a gathering of hierarchy-allergic spiritualists” but as “a brick and mortar institution, something with tradition, and weight, and history.” Evangelicals are beginning to see view it not as a “catchphrase and metaphor for likeminded people who love Jesus,” Joustra continues, but “as an inheritance, as spiritual and cultural lifeblood, as common practice and belief, as community.”

Once that view is regained and restored, another question begins to demand a bit more attention. If the church is, indeed, an institution, what social responsibility does it bear? Historically, it has started schools, hospitals, charities, and a range of other associations. It has spoken out on injustice, launched and inspired political movements, and influenced public policy.

What, then, is its proper institutional role in today’s social context?

Such questions are explored at length in the forthcoming book, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, a collection of essays edited by Joustra and Jordan Ballor. (Contributing authors include Vincent Bacote, Carl F.H. Henry, David T. Koyzis, and Richard J. Mouw.)

Though the book does consider certain “practical” effects of the church’s institutional witness, its primary goal is to ponder the “theological argument for what and how the Church should speak.” (more…)

Note: Don’t take this guy’s ship. It didn’t work out well for the last guy.

With the newest installment in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, releasing this Friday, I figured we need more Star Wars posts here at the PowerBlog. (Does the Force tend to corrupt?)

Because I’ve completely failed to maintain a cautious optimism and am now totally geeked for the new film, I recently re-watched the original trilogy (not that other one, oh no). Among other insights, I noticed that at least one major character is a small business owner: Lando Calrissian.

Lando explains his business philosophy in the clip from The Empire Strikes Back below … right before he sells out Han and Leia to Darth Vader and Boba Fett.

If you keep watching, you get see what is perhaps the worst first meeting with a girlfriend’s dad ever.

Now, notice: Lando’s gas mining operation on Cloud City has done well because he’s managed to keep the government, the Empire, out of his business as well as stay out of the mining guild. Doing so is “advantageous to everybody.” It attracts a certain clientele that would either be under-served or not served at all by larger businesses under a different regulatory climate.

No doubt, operating under the radar (or tractor beam, as the case may be) also allows Lando to charge lower prices, as he presumably wasn’t paying taxes to the Empire or dues to the mining guild.

However, (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, December 10, 2015
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Over at the blog of the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics, Drs. Chad and Brian Engelland, authors of an article on consumerism and the cardinal virtues for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, share their insights on the challenge of consumerism in a commercial society:

Is consumerism an inevitable by-product of capitalism?

Brian: Capitalistic systems do come with the inherent risk that the acquisition of private property can turn into an excessive drive for money, power and prestige, rather than as a means for authentic human development. But people living in socialistic economic systems also fall victim to consumerism.

Chad: Companies provide many goods and services that solve genuine problems and improve lives. But consumerism trains us to think of products as the solution to all our problems, and to think about only problems that advertised products might be able to solve. Practice of the cardinal virtues offers us an antidote. Our article is intended to help both consumers and producers avoid this ever-present possibility. The cardinal virtues enable us to engage in business and buy products without compromising human development and happiness.

Read more . . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 10, 2015
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ls-popeIn a reply to theologian David Bentley Hart, Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg says that instead of engaging in sweeping condemnations of contemporary capitalism, those concerned about the present state of Western culture should focus upon the theological and philosophical errors shaping our time.

In an article praising Pope Francis in the December 2015 edition of First Things, the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart confesses his bafflement at “the anxiety, disappointment, or hostility he clearly inspires in certain American Catholics of a conservative bent.” Referring to Francis’s environmental encyclical, Hart states that “I can quite literally find not a single sentence or sentiment in Laudato Si’ to which it seems to me possible for any Christian coherently to object.” Hart adds that he “simply cannot find an assertion anywhere in its pages that strikes me as anything other than either a plain statement of fact or a reasonable statement of Christian principle.”

Such comments are audacious but untenable. Close examination of some ofLaudato Si’s arguments does raise questions about their coherence. Many of the encyclical’s “plain statements of facts” are equally debatable, including by Catholics who (1) hold to the Church’s settled teachings on faith and morals and (2) understand that the magisterium does not claim any authority to rule on scientific and empirical matters qua scientific and empirical matters. As Cardinal George Pell stated in a Financial Times interview not long after the encyclical’s promulgation, “the Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.”

Read more . . .