Category: Christian Social Thought

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
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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…)

_70189222_464_unemployedUnemployment is a spiritual problem. When a person loses their job, they’ve lost a means to provide for their family, an important aspect of their human flourishing, and the primary way they serve their neighbors. With the loss in vocation comes a loss in meaning. Not surprisingly, unemployment can have long-term negative effects on communities, families, and a person’s subjective well-being and self-esteem.

The most disturbing effect of unemployment is the despair that can lead people to take their own lives. One out of every five suicides in the world can be associated with unemployment, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. As Business Insider reports,
(more…)

Oscar_RomeroThe Rev. Robert Sirico, in The Detroit News today, remembers the faith of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom Pope Francis recently declared a martyr. Rev. Sirico recalls his trip to the church where the Salvadoran archbishop was killed.

While on a lecture tour of El Salvador about a year ago, I asked my hosts if it were possible to visit the church where Oscar Romero celebrated his last Mass in 1980.

The Salvadorian archbishop was assassinated by a government hit squad at the point in the Mass known as the Offertory.

Here, the priest slightly raises first the host and then the chalice in a re-enactment of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, which Catholics believe to be the self-offering of Christ for the salvation of the world.

Sirico calls Romero “a man of deep prayer and spirituality” whose life had been co-opted by liberation theologians.

Read, “Sirico: An archbishop driven by faith, not ideology” at The Detroit Free Press.

Through Christian’s Library Press, the Acton Institute has published four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics, including Baptist, WesleyanPentecostal, and Reformed perspectives. Each offers a distinct contribution to the subject, and when taken together provides a rich and coherent framework for Christian stewardship. The books are part of Acton’s growing Oikonomia Series.

primer-group1

This week, Acton and CLP will be giving away two complete sets of the series (that’s 4 books total for each winner!), including Chad Brand’s Flourishing FaithDavid Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place, Charlie Self’s Flourishing Churches and Communities, and John Bolt’s Economic Shalom.

The contest will end Friday night (February 13) at 11:59 p.m. To enter, use the interface below. To get started, all you need to enter is your email address! After that, there are five ways to enter, and each will increase your odds (with extra points for tweeting).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Due to certain constraints, print copies are only available to contestants who live North America. Winners who reside elsewhere will receive a digital copy.

datacenter_workWhere can people turn when technology eliminates their jobs? Greg Forster argues the answer is the “church.”

Forster offers five things the church can be for those whose jobs are eliminated or endangered by technological change:

The church can be a place where people find their true identity.

The church can be a place where people find healing.

The church can be a place where people find wisdom and vision.

The church can be a place of cultural entrepreneurship.

The church can be a place where the poor flourish.

Check out his article at TGC where he expands on each item.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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In his book, Heavenly Merchandize, Mark Valeri, professor of church history at Union Presbyterian Seminary, finds that the American economy as we know it emerged from a series of important shifts in the views of Puritan ministers:

IDEAS: You’re saying that the market didn’t rise at the expense of religion, but was enabled by it?

VALERI: You need to have a change in your basic understanding of how or where God works in the world before you can envision different economic behaviors as morally sufferable. These religious changes come first. The market–networks of exchange, converging prices, things being adjudicated in courts–is not put in place in North America until the 1740s,1750s. The religious changes come before that. They’re integral to it.

IDEAS: Your book comes out at an interesting moment for America’s relationship with free-market economics–to a lot of people, it looks like everyone in the financial markets has been behaving in defiance of the broader interests of the society.

VALERI: I asked a hedge fund manager I know if he had said to the traders described in [Michael Lewis’s] ”The Big Short,” ”What you’re doing will result in huge financial calamity, unemployment, people losing their homes–isn’t that socially irresponsible?”, what would they have said? He said, ”Their response would be, ’that doesn’t matter, that’s not my concern. My job is to make as much money as I possibly can.’”

My book shows the people who built the capitalist system did not think like that. The people who built the market economy had a whole cluster of deep collective loyalties and moral convictions.

Read more . . .

A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.

“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.

Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.

For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.

Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.

Creación_de_AdámDorothy Sayers, playwright, novelist and Christian scholar, wrote an important work in the 1930s entitled, Are Women Human? In her essay, she presents the biblical case for gender equality in a humorous and insightful way, grounding mutuality in theological anthropology. From the Genesis narratives to the new earth of Revelation, she affirms this thesis:

We are all human beings, made in the image of God with a job to do. And we do our jobs as a man or a woman.

This theological vision — of men and women in mutual love and respect carrying out their vocations for the glory of God and the good of others — undergirds the best of ecclesial, economic, political, and social liberty, and it has implications for the full range of human interactions and relationships. Notice the order of reflection: Creator > human identity > the call to worship/work > gender identity.

Alas, the effacing (not erasing) of the imago dei has led humankind down all manner of oppressive pathways, from dehumanizing and disintegrating practices of pagan and secular ideologies to the degrading subjugation of women, minorities, and many others in the name of “religious tradition.”

For followers of Jesus, a full vision of God’s reign includes living the future now in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the church as the herald and witness of the fullness to come. This includes redeeming the wholeness of being human, integrating all facets of individual and social being, including relational shalom. Women and men who love Jesus are icons of the coming kingdom. Singleness is not incompleteness, but a signpost of a future where all God’s people are married to Christ and sisters and brothers of one another. Marriage is a special illumination of Christ’s delight in his church, not a superior status. (more…)