Category: Christian Social Thought

db_file_img_930_160xautoIn case you missed it when it came out, I thought it’d be worth posting a reminder that the Acton Institute recently partnered with the Christian History Institute to produce an issue of Christian History magazine. The issue (which you can download as a free PDF) examines the impact of automation on Europe and America and the varying responses of the church to the problems that developed. Topics examined are mission work, the rise of the Social Gospel, the impact of papal pronouncements, the Methodist phenomenon, Christian capitalists, attempts at communal living and much more.

Check out these feature articles:
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Anthony Bradley revisits the thought of Abraham Kuyper as a way of understanding the relationship between creation, Christ, and culture.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster follows up on a series of ruminations about the gospel described as both a “pearl” and a “leaven.”

He proceeds to focus on the reality that so many place the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate in conflict by highlighting a couple of scriptural passages: Colossians 3:23-24 and Romans 12:2:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As Greg notes, here are two places where “we might find these two imperatives stated more clearly in the form of ethical commands, rather than in parables.”

To take another approach that riffs off of musings on the idea of “hanging together,” I’d like to highlight another verse, Colossians 1:17, which says of Christ, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

One way of understanding the verb appearing as “hold together” in this verse is the act “to bring together or hold together something in its proper or appropriate place or relationship” (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). This verb, I think, captures the dynamic between our orientation of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate and their orientation and subordination to Christ. The key question is how we properly relate each one of “all things,” including structures like family, work, church, and government, to Christ.

For the implications of what it might mean for cultural production, engagement, and transformation from the perspective of things “holding,” or even with a bit of license, “hanging,” together in Christ, I submit this from Anthony Bradley, who relates what Abraham Kuyper’s vision of Christ’s sovereignty means for the church today. As Bradley says in light of the doctrine of creation and in specific reference to Colossians 1:17, “Now sin destroyed this shalom, but Christ’s sovereignty over creation and culture did not end.”

Today at Ethika Politika, Fr. Gregory Jensen, a contributor to the PowerBlog as well as other Acton publications, explores the potential of the Orthodox Christian ascetic tradition as a response to the paradox of American individualism:

We come to know each other in our uniqueness “only within the framework of direct personal relationships and communion…. Love is the supreme road to knowledge of the person, because it is an acceptance of the other person as a whole.” Unlike the more theoretical approaches we alluded to above, to say nothing of our own neurotic strivings, love doesn’t “project on the other person” our own “preferences, demands or desires.” Rather love accepts the other as he or she is, “in the fullness of [his or her] uniqueness.” This is also why our highly individualistic culture struggles with a whole range of problems related to sexuality. It is “in the self-transcendence and offering of self that is sexual love” where husband and wife learn to live in mutual acceptance of each other’s uniqueness (Yannaras, p. 23).

For the theological anthropology of the Orthodox Church, “‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person” (p. 22). Christian asceticism has as its goal the liberation of the truly personal from the merely individualistic. In the full and proper sense, moreover, the liberty that ascetical struggle offers is not simply an absence of constraints (a “freedom from” if you will) but a “[p]erfection and sanctification” that makes possible the person’s “restoration to the fullness of [his or her] existential possibilities” and so to be what he or she “is called to be — the image and glory of God” (p. 109).

Read more . . .

Philip at the Solovki monastery

In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, the “In the Liberal Tradition” section profiles Metropolitan St. Philip II of Moscow for his defense of faith and freedom in the face of the tyranny of Tsar Ivan IV, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible.” In contrast to Ivan, who used his power to oppress his own people, Philip taught, “He alone can in truth call himself sovereign who is master of himself, who is not subject to his passions and conquers by charity.” Among the many spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition geared towards freeing a person from being “subject to his passions,” we can see Philip’s love of labor in his many projects at the Solovki monastery in the years before he was made Metropolitan of Moscow. (more…)

Economists did not need psychology to tell them that people can act irrationally and unjustly, says Michael Hendrix. They just needed to listen to theologians:

Why don’t we study the links between the two fields? Both economists and theologians operate on the basis of certain fundamental beliefs on the nature of humanity. They are subjects under the sway of irrationality. They are both, as Michael Jinkins put it, “in the business of constructing belief systems based on faith assumptions, and both of us are subject to irrational forces.”

Economics is a long way off from developing a fully coherent and versatile alternative to the rational actor model. The alternative is a certain bounded rationality, informed at turns by psychology and theology. Individuals become more than creatures bent solely and selfishly on maximizing utility. Humanity is seen as both created and creator, fashioned in the image of God and yet embedded in its fallen nature and institutions. The potential ultimately is for economics to be both a hard science and a social science.

Theology can and should serve as a foundation for interdisciplinary study into economics, especially its behavioral kin. Economics needs to know why humans act the way they do and begin to construct a more complete science that reflects human nature. To be clear, Christian anthropology and secular psychology are not quite on speaking terms, but their contributions to economics may prove far more complimentary than most people think. Groups like the Acton Institute and the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics are blazing a path toward the reconciliation of these disciplines in the economic sphere.

Read more . . .

Millennials (born 1982-1994) often get a bad rap for being narcissistic and difficult to employ. However, according to new research by Ranstad, today’s young adults have more in common with those born before 1946 (mature workers) with respect to positive workplace sentiments than any other generation alive today. According to the research,

When asked about their feelings toward their current job, millennials and mature workers responded more favorably than other respondents across the board. In fact, 89 percent of mature workers and 75 percent of millennials say they enjoy going to work every day, and a majority of both groups feels inspired to do their best at work (95 percent of mature respondents and 80 percent of millennials). These workers additionally perceive a higher morale in the workplace than other age groups, with 69 percent of millennials and 64 percent of mature workers finding a positive energy at work, compared to just a 53 percent average among other generational groups.

One important difference between millennials and mature workers is that young adults would give serious consideration to a job offer from another company (57 percent), if given the opportunity this year, and 47 percent would proactively seek out a position with a different employer; however, only 20 percent of mature workers would consider making a career move and even fewer (12 percent) would look for a new job. Given their respective stages of career this difference between the generations should not be too surprising.

When people are in positions where they are ennobled through their work, it is a benefit for employers, employees, and the overall economy because it increases productivity. But there’s more. When we experience joy and dignity through our work, it provides opportunity for God’s people to reflect on the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection, as Pope John Paul II explains in Laborem exercens,
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A friend at church recently loaned me the New York Times bestseller Same Kind of Different as Me, which tells the story of how a wealthy art dealer named Ron Hall and a homeless man named Denver Moore struck up a friendship that changed both their lives. I’m only half way through it, but it’s already instructive on several levels that connect to the work of Acton.

Denver grew up as an illiterate sharecropper in Louisiana, an orphan who loses a series of guardian relatives while growing up and eventually finds himself in a class a notch below sharecropper—the field laborer who isn’t entitled to a share of the crops he works but simply works dawn to dusk for the food, clothing and minimal shelter he’s given on credit. In Denver’s case, since he couldn’t read, write, or do arithmetic, he couldn’t determine how much he owed, what the interest was, what his labor was worth, or even that he’d been denied his right to an education.

Economic conservatives talk a lot about the morality of the free economy, and the power of the markets to better the lives of the poor. It’s stories like Denver Moore’s that underscore why Acton spends so much time talking about a free and virtuous society, about the importance of ordered liberty. You see, in the book, at no point did anyone put a gun to Denver’s head and make him pick cotton dawn till dusk. At a superficial level, he was a participant in an un-coerced labor market (slavery had been abolished generations ago, after all). But any thoughtful look at Denver’s extraordinary story of struggle, despair, and escape will register the fact that Denver’s liberty had been violated in a host of subtle and not-so-subtle ways during his youth. These were like the strands of a spider web: individually they are of little consequence and hard to see, but taken together they have the power to bind. (more…)

Blurring the distinction between religious faith and totally unrelated political activism has attained new levels of absurdity during the 2013 proxy resolution voting season.

One needs look no further than the network neutrality proxy resolutions submitted to AT&T Inc. by a host of clergy and religious organizations for evidence. These groups assert that net neutrality – described in their resolution as “open Internet policies” – “help drive the economy, encourage innovation and reward investors” when nothing could be further from the truth on all three counts.

Instead, the only groups advocating for net neutrality are left-of-center organizations who wish to shackle the profitability of Internet providers and stifle the growth of what has become one-sixth of the nation’s economy over the past 20 years. Joining these organizations with the AT&T proxy resolutions are the following Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility members:

  • Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Rose Marie Stallbaumer, OSB;
  • Trillium Asset Management Corporation, Jonas Kron;
  • Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, Sr. Henry Marie Zimmermann, OSB;
  • Christus Health, Delia Foster;
  • Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Carolyn Psencik;
  • Nathan Cummings Foundation, Laura Shaffer Campos;
  • Congregation of Benedictine Sisters, Boerne TX, Sr. Susan Mika, OSB.

The resolution filed by these groups reads: “AT&T expects mobile data traffic to grow more than eight times from 2011 levels.

“A critical factor in this growth is the open (non-discriminatory) architecture of the Internet. Non-discrimination principles are commonly referred to as ‘network neutrality’ and seek to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment for all content.”

Keep in mind that Comcast sued the Federal Communications Commission over net neutrality regulations in 2010 – and won in a unanimous decision by the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (more…)

Duccio di Buoninsegna 029Today is Maundy Thursday in the Western church. One account of the origin of the unique name for this day is that comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” The command referred to here is that contained in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

There’s a sense in which this command isn’t new, of course. The basic obligations to love God and love our neighbors were constitutive of the covenantal community from the era of the Old Testament. Consider, for instance, Leviticus 19:18, which enjoins the Israelite to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

As Cornelis Vonk writes of the Torah, “It acquaints the church of today with her God, Yahweh, the Creator and Giver of life, who also has shown himself to be a Lover and Preserver of life, of genuine human life. We know that he loved life so much that he sent his own Son so that we might have life.”

So while there is continuity with the old dispensation of the covenant of grace, there is something really new about the commandment as well. Just as we refer to the era of salvation history ushered in by Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection as the “new” covenant, so this new commandment takes up the obligations of the old covenant and displays them in a new way.

The most obvious new way in which this love is displayed is in the life and work of Jesus Christ himself. This is what is “new” about the new commandment: Jesus himself is basis and the model for our love.

Over the rest of this Holy Week, consider just what that love means: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).

But just as in the old covenant, the covenantal relationship isn’t just about God and the individual person. We are to “walk before” God, to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” But just as Jesus’ example shows us, this love must be expressed in the context of community. There must be “others” for us to love, “friends” for us to show our sacrificial love to.

This is the new community created in the new covenant of Christ’s blood, governed by the new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

National Public Radio did a roundup of views on what to expect from Pope Francis on economic issues. Reporter Jim Zarroli interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg and several commentators on the Catholic left. NPR host Audie Cornish introduced Zarroli’s report by observing that the new pope “comes from Argentina, where poverty and debt have long posed serious challenges. In the past, when thrust into debates about the country’s economic future, Francis had made strident comments about wealth, inequality and the markets. Now, some Catholics are hoping their new pope will play a similar role, giving voice to the poor and exerting influence on a global scale.” But Cornish cautioned that if “some say the idea that Pope Francis is some kind of economic liberal is to misread him and the church.”

Here’s the exchange between Gregg and Zarroli that wrapped up the report.

ZARROLI: But anyone who expects Francis to take an active role as a critic of capitalism is sure to be disappointed, says Samuel Gregg, research director of the Acton Institute. Gregg says even as the new pope was criticizing the IMF, he was also taking a stand against liberation theology, the leftist movement that swept some parts of the church in the 1970s and ’80s. Gregg says Francis saw the movement as tainted by Marxist ideas that were at odds with church teaching and he didn’t want the church in Argentina to become politicized.

SAMUEL GREGG: Liberation theology, at least certain strands of liberation theology, insisted that the church had to become involved in more or less revolutionary movements for justice. And his response was no, that is not the responsibility of priests. Priests are supposed to be pastors. They’re supposed to be guides. They’re supposed to offer the sacraments. They’re not politicians. They’re not revolutionaries. (more…)