Category: Christian Social Thought

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…)

The Dow Chemical Co., along with E.I. Du Pont de Nemours, has come under fire from the Adrian Dominicans and the Sisters of Charity due to the companies’ production of genetically modified organisms.

No, the sisters aren’t mounting the barricades outside the two corporations to protest what they might term “Frankenfoods,” but they have submitted proxy shareholder resolutions to demand, among other things, the companies review and report by November 2013 on:

  1. Adequacy of plans for removing GE [genetically engineered] seed from the ecosystem should circumstances require;
  2. Possible impact on all Dow seed product integrity;
  3. Effectiveness of established risk management processes for different environments and agricultural systems.

According to the As You Sow 2013 Proxy Preview, Harrington Investments – described in the preview as “religious investors” – are pressing Monsanto to provide even more detailed reports by July 2013.

AYS, for its part, is taking on Abbott Laboratories with a resolution seeking the company remove all GMOs from the company’s Similac Isomil infant formula “with an interim step of [requiring] labeling” that Isomil includes GMOs. The resolution reads, in part, that Abbott: (more…)

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster takes a long look at the images of the gospel as “pearl” and “leaven” and the implications for Christian engagement and creation of culture, particularly within the context of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate:

The main difficulty we seem to have in discussing Christian cultural activity is the strain between two anxieties. These anxieties create unnecessary divisions between brothers, because those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is leaven view those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is pearl as people who are leading the church astray, and vice versa. We treat people as opponents when we could be treating them as allies, if we could just get over our fears.

The question of what it means to be a Christian line worker on a factory floor gets precisely at many of the thorny issues that have led to so many debates, disputes, and controversies over cultural engagement (or transformation), the “two kingdoms,” natural law, and faith and work.

Teachings of Jesus 11 of 40. parable of the pearl of great price. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible (more…)

Rep. Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan

Last week’s spike in gasoline prices hasn’t slowed Nuns on the Bus a whit. The nuns and Network, their parent organization, are squeezing every drop of mileage out of their new-found fame, which has more to do with supporting liberal causes than reflecting church principles of caring for the poor and limiting government’s role in the private sector.

Over the weekend, the CBS program 60 Minutes had a sympathetic overview of the supposed Vatican crackdown of the sisters’ activities – censorship! Inquisition! – that was presented fast on the heels of the group’s March 13 press release registering its displeasure with Rep. Paul Ryan’s FY14 budget proposal.

The CBS profile failed to cover the nuns’ weighing in on such topics as averting climate change and the Affordable Care Act via proxy shareholder resolutions while focusing on social topics regarding the ordination of female priests and same-sex marriages. While sensitive to the very real works of compassion performed by the nuns, the network depicted the Vatican as hard-hearted and unyielding in its enforcement of church doctrine. (more…)