Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 6, 2013

At Fieldnotes Magazine, Matthew Kaemingk has an excellent article on why Christians should care about intermediary institutions:

When presented with almost any social problem (education, health care, poverty, family life, and so on), today’s leaders typically point to one of two possible solutions—a freer market or a stronger state. But in opposition to these rather myopic solutions, I think there is a more complex and biblical lens through which leaders can consider the social eco-system and the people who move around in it.

Instead of simplistic descriptions of human beings as either clients of the state or competitors in the market, the Christian Scriptures present humanity in a refreshingly complex way. We find a complex creature with a wide variety of gifts, abilities, interests, aspects, loyalties, and solidarities. Created in the image of God, human beings in the Bible are anything but simple. They are musical, communal, religious, artistic, familial, charitable, scientific, literary, moral, athletic, fun, and funny. The robust anthropology found in the Bible depicts a creature that could never be fully defined, controlled, content, or nourished by the market or the state alone—thank God.

If history has taught us anything, it is that creative and complex homo sapiens will consistently refuse to be limited to economic or political categories. Even under extreme political and economic oppression, human beings consistently long for things like beauty, charity, comfort, sport, friendship, rhyme, worship, and play. These aspects of the Imago Dei seem to demand an ever-wider range of human groupings, beyond the state and market.

Read more . . .

Political activism  by religious took a relatively new twist during the last presidential election cycle when the Nuns on the Bus initiative hit the road. The Roman Catholic sisters insisted they backed neither candidate, but were vehemently opposed to Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget.

The election has long since been decided, but the progressive crusade of Nuns on the Bus and its parent organization Network continues apace not only on the nation’s highways and byways, but as well in corporate boardrooms. This last is precipitated by proxy resolutions by “social justice” activists who are elbowing their way into annual shareholder meetings, courtesy of retirement funds invested in stocks or tax-deductible stock donations made to such organizations as Network.

On its website, Network asserts: “Gifts of stock are a great way putting the stock market to work for justice!” However, Network’s concepts of justice don’t necessarily align with the faith that all nuns have taken vows to uphold. (more…)

In a story about looming budget cuts associated with the federal sequestration, Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing was called on by Aleteia to suggest “ways Catholic social teaching might be used to guide the cuts.” Schmiesing pointed out that the “cuts” are really “only a slow-down in the rate of growth in federal spending.” More:

“Much more dramatic cuts and/or revenue increases are needed to reach a position of fiscal responsibility,” he said in an interview. But the principle of “solidarity,” from Catholic social teaching, he suggested, would guide specific cuts in spending to be made in a way that “expresses shared responsibility for our nation and its problems.”

“For example, firing a lot of lower staffers while preserving intact the comfortable salaries and benefits of the higher-level staffers might be seen as a violation of solidarity,” he said. “It puts all of the sacrifice on one segment of the population.”

Schmiesing suggested too that cuts should be “managed in a way that encourages rather than undermines the institutions that operate at a level more local than the federal government.” This would be based on the principle of subsidiarity, which, to cite one example, would be violated by “closing a military base – cold turkey – that serves as the foundation of a local community comprised of families, churches, and businesses.”

In addition, budget decisions “must keep foremost in mind the effect on those who are most vulnerable,” Schmiesing said. “It would not be in line with Catholic social teaching (and its principle of a preferential option for the poor) to preserve inviolate the comfortable salaries of upper middle class bureaucrats while at the same time firing” lower-wage office staff.

Read “The Concrete Impact of Sequestration” on Aleteia.com

Alex Chafuen’s Forbes article on “champions of innovation,” which Michael Miller blogged here recently, is now one of the top features on the contributors page at The Blaze. Here’s an excerpt:

When Adam Smith wrote his famous “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” he helped shift the terms of the discussion. Centuries earlier, work focused on different aspects of poverty. Jurists and city authorities analyzed whether the poor should be allowed to beg freely and move to other cities. Charities were set up to help the destitute. The great Florentine Saint, Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), even set up a charity to serve the “shameful poor” (poveri vergognosi). These were formerly rich people who were impoverished by government attacks and injustices, but who would prefer to die rather than beg. It is easy to be poor; it is harder to understand how wealth is created. Smith changed the approach.

PovertyCure tries to create a similar shift among those who work in this field. It seeks to move efforts from aid to enterprise and from paternalism to partnerships. We often ask how to alleviate poverty. But the real question is: How do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities?

Read “From Aid to Enterprise: Intelligent Poverty Cures” by Alex Chafuen at The Blaze.

What do we mean when we talk about “liberty?”

roman-slaveWhile it may appear that we all use the word in the same way, closer examination reveals that Americans have a wide range of meanings for the term. For instance, when those of us at Acton refer to liberty we tend to have in mind the definition we use in our “core principles”: Liberty, in a positive sense, is achieved by fulfilling one’s nature as a person by freely choosing to do what one ought.

Other individuals and organizations often define the term in ways that differ, either subtly or radically, from the Acton Institute. Liberty, then, is less an easily definable term than a word used to refer to a range of loosely related concepts. Understanding how “liberty” has been used in the past can therefore help us understand how and why we have different views of it today.

A prime example is political historian Quentin Skinner’s explanation of “neo-Roman liberty.”
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I have recently accepted the honor of becoming a contributing editor at Ethika Politika, and I begin my contribution in that role today by launching a new channel (=magazine section): Via Vitae, “the way of life.” In my introductory article, “What Hath Athos to Do With New Jersey?” I summarize the goal of Via Vitae as follows:

Via Vitae seeks to explore this connection between the mystical and the mundane, liturgy and public life, the kingdom of God and the common good. While I value technical discussions of public policy and believe that the work of advocating for civil laws that reflect the law of God constitutes a true vocation, I see a lacuna in our discourse when it comes to the habits necessary to enable persons to live morally in the first place, however just or unjust the law itself may be. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, February 26, 2013

While the Christian Left tends to be skeptical of appeals to scripture, one Biblical author they do favor is James. The book of James is often used to justify appeals to social justice. But as David Nilsen realized, James wouldn’t necessarily support their position:

In the course of dialoging with my friend about federal welfare programs, I quoted from James, perhaps to establish my social justice cred, and also to preemptively rebut potential accusations that I don’t think Christians have a duty to care for the poor.  When I looked up the passage I had in mind, to quote it accurately, I was a little surprised.  James 1:27 reads,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)

Now, I always hear about the orphans and widows, but rarely hear about remaining unstained by the world, to the point that I forgot it was even part of the verse.  This prompted a thought.  While I believe it is certainly possible for Christians to support social welfare programs that demand more and more tax revenue and ever increasing government power, what happens when James 1:27a butts heads with James 1:27b?  In other words, what happens when our attempt at following the first half of James’ instruction ultimately forces us to compromise on the second half?  When Christians place the necessary responsibility of caring for widows and orphans in the hands of an increasingly secular entity whose goals are frequently in opposition to other important Christian beliefs, this dilemma is sure to follow.

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Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, February 26, 2013

With the most recent fiscal cliff approaching this Thursday (February 28), it is worth asking, “How did we get into this mess?” My answer: a little leaven works its way through a whole lump of dough….

Touchstone Magazine
(March/April 2013) recently published my article, ”The Yeast We Can Do,” in their “Views” section (subscription required). In it, I explore the metaphor of yeast in the Scriptures—how little things eventually work their way through our whole lives and can lead to big consequences. In some cases, I point out, this is a bad thing. For example, I write,

According to Evagrios the Solitary, one of the early Christian hermits of the Egyptian desert, our spiritual struggle can be summarized quite simply: it is because we have first failed to resist little temptations that we eventually fall to greater ones. Following John the Evangelist’s warnings against succumbing to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), Evagrios identifies three “frontline demons” in particular: gluttony, avarice, and seeking the esteem of others.

Little by little, when we give in to small temptations, they eventually work their way through our whole lives, leaving us vulnerable to bigger, related areas of temptation.

Now, how does this relate to our over $16.5 trillion national debt and annual deficits over $1 trillion for the last four years that brought us to a looming sequestration deadline, with little time to come up with some solution to drastically cut spending to get our finances under control, adversely affecting the lives of millions? Well, as I said, a little leaven works its way through the whole lump of dough. (more…)

One has to wonder how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to the state of black America in 2013. From the nonsense that regularly spews from the mouth of rappers like Lil Wayne to the black-on-black violence that continues to plague many black urban and rural neighborhoods, we are moving further away from King’s dream. Did MLK die so that rappers like Lil Wayne could saturate their music with misogyny and materialism? Did MLK die so that young black males could sabotage their lives and the lives of others in their neighborhoods? Moreover, what continues to baffle many of us is the curious absence of a discussion about the promotion of moral values in low-income communities as a way to undermine the mass incarceration epidemic in the black community because of the government’s failed drug policies.

Maria Lloyd, Business Manager for Your Black World Network, recently wrote a column outlining a few of the social consequences of the mass incarceration of African American men resulting from failed federal drug policy including the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and mass incarceration. In fact, a December 2012 recent Justice Department report observes that “nearly half (48%) of inmates in federal prison were serving time for drug offenses in 2011, while slightly more than a third (35%) were incarcerated for public-order crimes.” Lloyd continues,
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Blog author: abradley
posted by on Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brittney C. Cooper, Assistant professor of Women’s and Gender studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, writes at Ebony Magazine.com that President Obama is being unfair to the black community by pointing out that many of the violence-related pathologies in inner cities are a result of fatherlessness. Cooper objects saying,

Instead when the president began by suggesting that we need to “do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,” I started shaking my head. Rather than empathizing with those Black families that have been destroyed by violence, he blamed the prevalence of non-nuclear Black families for contributing to it! Recycling this tired narrative about broken families and absentee Black fathers does nothing to address the steady flow of guns into our communities, nor the pathologies that lead young people to fire them.

Later on, Cooper raises a good point when she observes that although 70 percent of Black children are born to unmarried parents, this does not mean that 70 percent of Black children don’t have active fathers. Cooper concludes that the social pathologies we find in inner-city black communities are the result of economic stress. Cooper says,
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