Category: Christian Social Thought

[Part 1 is here.]

Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

The sociologist Robert Nisbet has some useful insights here. In his 1953 work The Quest for Community, he developed the case that greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.
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titiaan_abraham_izaak_grtIn our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.

When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’tknow or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.

To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”

When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.

This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.

When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:

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Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura with his personal copy of The Four Holy Gospels at Acton University 2014

What does it mean for Christians to use our gifts to fulfill God’s purposes in cultural flourishing? Makoto Fujimura, internationally renowned artist, intellectual, and founder of the International Arts Movement, is well placed to address this question. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Fujimura joins host Paul Edwards to discuss his art, his story of faith, and how a “culture care” mindset can change the way we look at a wide range of issues. It’s a wide ranging conversation, and you can listen via the audio player below.

You can download your own free copy of Mako’s plenary address from last week’s Acton University conference – “Culture Care: From Common Grace to Loving Your Enemies” -  at the Acton Institute Digital Dowload Store; it’s available in the “2014 Evening Talks” category. While you’re there, be sure to check out our still-growing collection of lecture audio from the conference; nearly 90 lectures are currently available for purchase including talks from the likes of Peter Kreeft, Peter Heslam, Judge Andrew Napolitano, and Ross Douthat, among many others. And don’t forget to check out For The Life Of The World: Letters To The Exiles as well in order to see Mako’s contribution to Acton’s latest curriculum series.

Additionally, you can follow Mako on Twitter: @iamfujimura; Be sure to check out the Radio Free Acton archive; And last, and certainly not least, be sure to follow the amazing @ActonUnicorn twitter feed as well. If Makoto Fujimura enjoys it, why shouldn’t you as well?

ethics surrogacy2India has a huge and still-growing medical tourism industry. A $2 billion part of this industry is the surrogacy business. India has few laws regulating surrogacy, and it is a popular place for people from the U.S. and the EU to head to for a baby. But the lack of regulations also means very little help, support and care for the women producing these children. The women literally become cogs in a giant machine. If one cog breaks, it’s simply replaced with another.

Sushma Pandey was a 17 year old scrap worker in 2010. She was lured into the surrogacy industry to produce eggs via hyperstimulation, which causes the woman to over-produce eggs via chemical inducement. She donated eggs three times in 18 months, and then she died.

The Mumbai High Court asked the police to investigate the role of the hospital, but so far no one has been held responsible. Pandey is India’s first known case of death from egg harvesting; she suffered “brain hemorrhage and pulmonary hemorrhages due to ovarian hyper stimulation,” according to news reports quoting her autopsy results.

For each session she had earned a little over $400.

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Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Christian’s Library Press has released Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works by John Addison Teevan, a book that seeks to challenge popular notions of “social justice” and establish a new framework around what Teevan calls “biblically integrated justice.”

The term “social justice” has been used to promote a variety of policies and proposals, most of which fall within a particularly progressive economic ideology and theological perspective. Educated in economics, theology, and intercultural studies, and with extensive experience in both politics and the pulpit, Teevan has witnessed these tendencies firsthand, proceeding to dissect the host of flaws, gaps, and inconsistencies therein.

Teevan’s unique and creative approach will surely interest the most experienced of “social justice” interlocutors, but his writing is also highly accessible for those just getting warmed up. Weaving together thought and action from a variety of directions and points in history with remarkable clarity, Teeven concludes with a refreshingly integrated economic, philosophic, and biblical framework. For young evangelicals in particular, who have lately become fond of leveraging “justice” vocabulary toward a variety of aims and ends, Teevan’s unique blend of careful analysis and practical application offers a particularly relevant challenge to the status quo.

Teevan explores a variety of areas and ideas, ultimately pointing the way to a framework wherein the pursuit of justice is expanded beyond mere economic redistribution, restoring many of these activities to the realm of personal stewardship through which “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). (more…)

barcodebaby_mainJessica is a professional: a language teacher and a surrogate. She’s rented out her womb several times, as a way to help mainly gay couples have children. She says being pregnant is rather easy for her, but even she has some issues with the process.

[Jessica] had a less positive experience with a third set of New Yorkers seeking her services. She signed a nondisclosure agreement, which prevents her from naming the couple, and will only say they are “well-known,” “mega rich” and working in the entertainment industry. They were due to pay her a fee which was significantly higher than the amount she received the first time she was a surrogate.

“I really tried to bond with them, but it just wasn’t there,” she says. “It was like a business transaction. After a while, I started calling myself a commodity.”

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[Part 1 is here.]

A common reading of Western history holds that the principles of the free economy grew out of the secular Enlightenment and had little to do with Christianity. This is mistaken. The free economy (and we can speak more broadly here of the free society) didn’t spring from the soil of the secular Enlightenment, much less, as some imagine, from a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog philosophy of life.

The free economy sprang from the soil of Christian Medieval Europe and the Renaissance, beginning in the monasteries and city states of Medieval northern Italy and spreading from there across Europe, taking particularly firm root among the Dutch and English.

Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, and other secular Enlightenment thinkers propagated the myth of a so-called Dark Ages, an age of regression, religious superstition and irrationality. And some of my Protestant forebears happily seized upon this distorted characterization in the interest of discrediting Catholicism. (more…)

JMM_17 1As a new feature for the Journal of Markets & Morality, the folks at Journaltalk have helped us create discussion pages for the editorial and each of the articles of our most recent issue, vol. 17, no. 1 (Spring 2014). The issue is forthcoming in print in the next few weeks but already published online. While all articles require a subscription (or a small fee per article), this issue’s editorial on the state of academic peer review is open access.

Just another reason to sign up for or recommend a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Subscription information can be found here.

Our most recent issue (17.1) can be found here.

And be sure to check out discussions on other articles and publications at Journaltalk here. It looks to be a promising forum for continuing discussion of academic research and scholarship.

Given the dynamics of the information age and ever-accelerating globalization, humanity faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges when it comes to creating, collaborating, and consuming alongside those from vastly different contexts.

Although Pentecost Sunday has already past, Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong wrote some related reflections on this very question, particularly as it relates to Christian vocation. As Yong notes, “location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers — religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential.”

Globalization has been a blessing for many, yet for Christians, it raises the question of what role the Gospel plays as we engage with and bear witness to our brothers and sisters across the world. As Yong asks: “How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?”

The answer, he continues, can be found at Pentecost:

A look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)