Category: Christian Social Thought

poverty_2226036b1Over at the New York Times, economist Jeffrey Sachs opines about the need for greater measures to “end poverty” in countries across the world where people are truly suffering. Using data from the World Bank, Sachs reports that the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line has declined sharply from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Sachs then explains what is needed in order for this to continue:

Here are the basics: economic growth, and hence a market economy, is vital. Africa’s poverty is declining in part because its growth rate picked up from 2.3 percent per year during the lackluster years of 1990-2000 to 5.7 percent during 2000-10. Without economic growth, there cannot be sustained gains in income, health and other areas. Continued progress depends on heavy investments in major infrastructure — water, electricity, waste management — and these in turn depend on large-scale private financing, hence a suitable market framework.

So anti-market sentiment is no friend of poverty reduction. But neither is free-market fundamentalism. Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone. Disease control, public education, the promotion of new science and technology, and protection of the natural environment are public functions that must align with private market forces.

At this point we can begin to see the lack of social imagination in the goal of simply “ending poverty.” The Christian tradition, instead of focusing on only two spheres of society — government and the economy — pushes the conversation forward toward human flourishing and sustainable economies because people are made for more than simply living in a less-bad world. Christian teaching places emphasis on the moral, social, political, and economic contexts that contribute to societies where humans can flourish in morally excellent ways consistent with their creational design. Sachs completely misses, then, the importance of mediating institutions.
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Acton On The AirSamuel Gregg made yet another radio appearance this morning in support of his latest book, Tea Party Catholic, this time on 570 WBKN in Youngstown, Ohio with host Dan Rivers. It was another fine discussion, and even included time for Sam to take a few calls from listeners. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.

greek foodGreece is, economically, a mess. With a youth unemployment rate exceeding 65 percent, leaving two-thirds of the nation’s young people unable to find a job, there is not much to celebrate in a country where family life – like many cultures – revolves around meals. Greece is also facing a sharp decline in population. Here is a story of what happens when people who love to cook, but have no one to cook for, meet people who love to eat, but have little money for food. (more…)

poorActon’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, offers some fresh thoughts on Pope Francis today at Crisis Magazine. Gregg points out that there has been much talk about “poverty” and the “poor” since the election of Pope Francis, but that this is nothing new in the Catholic Church.

…Francis isn’t the first to have used the phrase “a poor church of the poor.” It’s also been employed in a positive fashion by figures ranging from the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, to critics of Marxist-versions of the same theology. In a 2011 meeting with German Catholic lay associations, for instance, Benedict XVI challenged the very wealthy—and notoriously bureaucratized—German Church to embrace poverty. By this, Benedict meant the Church detaching itself from “worldliness” in order to achieve “liberation from material and political burdens and privileges,” thereby breaking free of the institutional-maintenance mindset that plagues contemporary German Catholicism and opening itself “in a truly Christian way to the whole world.”

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Acton On The AirSamuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, continues to promote his fine new book Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy and Human Flourishing via radio interviews all across the country. Today, Sam spoke with Jan Mickelson on Des Moines, Iowa’s 50,000 watt WHO Radio. It was a fine conversation, with Mickelson calling the book “a spirited read,” well worth your time. To pick up a copy of your own, head over to the book’s website. Listen to the interview via the audio player below.

Acton On The AirLast week, the first major interview with Pope Francis was released to the world via a number of Jesuit journals; you can read the interview for yourself at America Magazine. As usually happens, major media outlets reported on the interview, often putting their own spin on it (the New York Times provides an example of this type of coverage here).

This morning, Frank Beckmann of Detroit, Michigan’s WJR Radio called upon Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico to discuss what the pope really said, and how Pope Francis’ thinking will shape how the Catholic Church addresses the big issues of our time. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.

diversity2_0_011American Christians have a tendency to see their own denomination, local church, association of partner churches, and so on, as “the church.” With this reduction comes a number of blind spots about what the church looks like around the world.

The Westminster Confession of Faith makes a distinction between the invisible church, those who have been or will be united to the Triune God by faith throughout the entire history of God’s people, and the visible church which is “catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion: and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” The 1960 Manual of Church Doctrine according to the Church of Scotland also explains that “we who are alive represent in place and tie the whole which God alone sees in completeness. The great procession of the faithful crosses the world’s stage–and only such part of as is actually crossing that stage is visible; and it passes through the world.” As such, because the visible church is fully international already, American Christians have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the flourishing of “the church” which is never simply about America nor the West.

While secular humanism continues to dominate the cultures of Western Europe and North America, the visible church is growing and expanding in ways that nicely represent the rich and ancient diversity of the people of God, which Pew Research estimates about 6.9 billion. Pew Research explains,
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iraqThe National Catholic Register asked prominent Catholic intellectuals Michael Novak and George Weigel to address the current U.S. involvement in Syria and its involvement with Iraq 10 years ago. While both supported the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, they have a different take on the current situation with Syria.

First, George Weigel;

There were obviously a lot of things that could have been done better in securing the peace after the regime fell,” he acknowledged, in a reference to the Bush administration’s inadequate planning for both an on-going jihadist threat and the costs of rebuilding a battered nation.

“But anyone who thinks that the world or the Middle East would be better in 2013 with Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad, having re-ramped-up his WMD [weapons of mass destruction], is living in a fantasy world.”

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In the most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1), I review The Mystical as Political by Aristotle Papanikolaou. I write,

In The Mystical as Political, Aristotle Papanikolaou seeks to construct a political theology rooted in the Orthodox Christian conviction that all of creation, and humanity in particular, was created for communion with God. He begins by offering a helpful survey of political theory in the Orthodox tradition, focusing especially on Eusebius of Caesarea, Saint John Chrysostom, the Emperor Justinian, Vladimir Soloviev, and Sergius Bulgakov, inter alia (chapter 1). In the following chapters, he addresses the relationship between church and state (chapter 2); personhood and human rights (chapter 3); divine-human communion and the common good (chapter 4); and honesty, forgiveness, and free speech (chapter 5). In the process, and refreshingly for an Orthodox writer, he also engages Western theologians and philosophers — including William Cavanaugh, Jacques Maritain, Stanley Hauerwas, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, to highlight only some of the more prominently featured — acknowledging their genuine insights while, nevertheless, criticizing what he sees to be various shortcomings. The Mystical as Political represents a careful and irenic, though not uncritical, Orthodox Christian approach to political theology, ultimately offering a positive appraisal of liberal democracy and human rights. Although essential reading on the subject with much to commend it, it has several shortcomings of its own.

In particular, I hone in on “an overemphasis on the particular over against the general, the dynamic and the uniqueness of persons over against the static and the common nature of humanity.” As this is a continuing interest of mine and a subject I have explored in the past here on the PowerBlog, as well as elsewhere, my review is offered as open access to anyone who may be interested in the subject here.

I previously explored the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law here.

And Fr. Michael Butler lectured on the subject of “Orthodoxy and Natural Law” and “Orthodoxy, Church, and State” at Acton University this summer, my summaries of which can be found here and here.

Whenever Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg and Al Kresta of Kresta in the Afternoon get together, you’re bound to be in for a great discussion. They got together this afternoon, and ended up providing a great overview of Sam’s new book, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human FlourishingYou can listen to the interview using the audio player below: